Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I'm #26! Yay!

Ranking blogs is so "old media".

There was a time when Time Magazine was a truly national magazine, without an obvious political agenda and as such, was a valuable resource for newshounds. I think that time was for a year or two in the mid 1970's.

Alas, those days are gone. What better evidence for this than their current list of the top 25 blog sites for 2009? I was discouraged and outraged when I discovered that my own blog A Model Media Ecologist is not considered by Time Magazine to be one of the top 25 blogs (in the country, the world, the blogosphere?) Time seems to be completely unaware that A Model Media Ecologist won the Blogger of the Year Award (see here).

Here's a Media Ecology question. Why aren't magazines in trouble like newspapers? Specifically, why isn't Time in jeopardy?

I realize that such sour grapes are unbecoming a model media ecologist. Time Magazine has as much right to exist as the next main stream media publication, biases and all. Of course, you may wonder why any of the main stream media should be judging and ranking any the new media in the first place. Isn't there a conflict of interest there?

I wrote an imaginary letter of complaint to Time and received this imaginary reply:

Dear (your blog name here):

We appreciate your concern about the many worthy blog sites that did not make it into our pantheon of the Top 25. Perhaps it will be of some solace to you to be told (and this is completely off the record) that your own blog missed it by only that much, that is, (your blog name here) came in at 26!

Congratulations, and better luck next year!


Time Magazine

It is some solace, but not much. I might feel better if my imaginary Time Magazine correspondent had taken the trouble to actually type the name of my blog into his boilerplate.

Oh well, its on to the Peabody Awards!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Un-Buttoning Cinema

Film criticism prospers when time flies like a boomerang.

In the current issue of The New Yorker, David Denby bemoans the decline of the Academy Awards selection process, focusing on the paltry quality of this year’s Oscar picks compared to previous years. In toting up the golden votes present vs. past, he notes:
The total of thirteen nominations for “Benjamin Button” has to be some sort of scandal. “Citizen Kane” received nine nominations, “The Godfather: Part II” eleven, and this movie, so smooth and mellow that it seems to have been dipped in bourbon aging since the Civil War, is nowhere close to those two.

If we accept Denby’s premise that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Awards was ever about quality rather than commerce, and concentrate on the seeming vacuity of Benjamin Button it is clear that Denby misses the true message of the film, which is both a savage rebuttal of traditional linear modes of film viewing and a call to arms for all of us to revisit and re-evaluate our cinema favorites by viewing them in reverse.

I have obtained a bootleg DVD of Benjamin Button and have discovered that the film plays much better backward rather than forward. By means of the reverse button on my remote control, I can watch the marvel of the film’s protagonist growing old while everyone and everything around him rejuvenates. For example, Cate Blanchette transforms from a crotchety middle aged woman with a truly Medean mother complex into a vibrant young woman with an alarming Oedipal complex.

In forward time Benjamin Button takes us through a veritable IMDb of cinematic classics as the protagonist de-matures through a Grapes of Wrath New Orleans, an End of an Affair Moscow, a Guns of Navaronne war era, A Harold and Maude 50’s romance, a decidedly non Brando-esque Wild One on a road trip, until finally settling into a perverse version of Look Who’s Talking. In reverse, Benjamin Button’s United States of America progresses from its present Bush-ian chaos back to a golden age when robber barons, racial apartheid and the absence of womens’ or workers’ rights characterized the century.

Benjamin Button is beyond post-modern and therefore deserves something beyond post-modern critcism. Looking backwards, as it were, may be the new technique for looking forwards. For example, run Citizen Kane in reverse, and the Wellsian morality tale takes on a new patina. Rather than summing up or explaining a man's entire life experience by means of a lost childhood toy, getting that "Rosebud" discovery out of the way at the beginning of the film enables us to see that Kane is really about growing young gracefully. In the end (former beginning) of the film, young Kane is joyfully reunited with his beloved sled and returns to a life where happiness is determined by the ups and downs of snow accumulation.

The Godfather: Part II in reverse chronicles the ascent of Michael Corleone from the depths of mafia moral corruption of America circa 1955 to the heights of the mafia moral corruption left over from The Godfather: Part I, setting us up for his ultimate regeneration in the backwards viewing of that previous epic.

This new approach to film criticism, which might be call pre-post modernism, works for film after film, whether its Tom Joad and his family triumphantly returning to their Oklahoma farm, in effect putting the wine back into the grapes, or Moses closing the Red Sea as the Israelites reconsider the relative merits of being the “chosen people.”

I’ve run dozens of films through this reverse critical process and the result has been a deeper understanding of the human condition and the art of filmmaking. The sole exception so far for some reason is Memento, which makes no sense no matter which way its viewed.