Category Archives: media

THE MADDENING WORLD OF MAD MEN

Women are treated as second class citizens at best. Everyone smokes so incessantly, the mere acting of watching them puffing away makes me nauseous. And the drinking – did people really drink that much in the ’60’s? Some of the story lines are so infuriating they make me want to reach, if not for the remote, at least for the “esc” key on my laptop. And yet, I couldn’t help jumping on the Made Men bandwagon.

Well into its fifth season, I am still delighting in Season 2. So, what is it that makes this show so compelling? The writing is good but a far cry from the Sopranos (the holy grail of all tv shows as far as I am concerned) but, like the Sopranos, it’s hard to look away from flawed characters with some redeeming qualities. People like us. Sort of.

What I enjoy most is how multi-faceted every single character is. It’s impossible not to root for prissy looking Peggy, trying to climb the corporate ladder at a time when women couldn’t even dream of the ceiling – never mind that she disposed of an unwanted pregnancy early on by giving the baby to her family and quickly losing interest in him. What’s not to love about the Marilyn-esque bombshell with a brain who uses her physical attributes rather than her smarts to get ahead, because it simply wasn’t done any other way?

Betty is more problematic: her algid beauty is too perfect for sympathizing with, not to mention the vacuity of her life. Despite being a show about the male world of Madison Avenue in the 60’s, women play a big and maddening role, with many instances when I would gladly throw a pie at the screen in frustration. Wake up sisters, it doesn’t have to be that way.Was it really that dismal for women 50 years ago? How has it all changed in the course of my lifetime? Let’s see.

Peggy could get an abortion freely in the state of New York, instead of hiding her offspring. Many women in her situation, though, would have miles to travel and money to spend to be able to, even now.

Joan could choose to go to work dressed in sexy attire but it’s most likely her business acumen that would get her ahead. Unless she worked in Silicon Valley, where women at the top are still in the single digits.The glass ceiling has been broken but equal pay for equal work can still be a chimera and that ladder to the top has turned into a stairway to heaven.

Trudy and Pete Campbell could opt for in vitro fertilization or for another woman to carry their baby, rather than having to consider adoption as the only solution. And maybe Trudy could start obsessing over curtains and dinner entrees.

And Betty could get a job and a life, instead of frittering away her days in the suburbs, riding horses and raising children she is not very good at handling. But, wait, some women choose to do that – I am hoping their choice, in this day and age, brings them satisfaction and not resentment.

And yes, Don Draper, is eye candy. But in the middle of season two, he has already ploughed through four women, other than his wife, with a free pass accorded to creative men since time immemorial. I suppose it was the 60’s and marriage vows came with abundant caveats. Now, has that changed?

 

 

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POST OSCAR GLOW

In one word: underwhelming. More boring than usual. From the nominated movies, that most people haven’t actually seen, to Billy Crystal who might be a pro, but is way too old-fashioned (and what’s up with dying his hair that deep shade of black?). Give me Ricky Gervais’ acerbic humour any day. The acceptance speeches were kept short but, aside from Christopher Plummer and Meryl Streep, who was witty, articulate and looked like she was speaking off the cuff, every one else missed out on eloquence (or just basic English) or, else, they were French, and half mangled their written notes. At least from the actors, one would expect better performances, nervousness notwithstanding.

Some of the clothes were outstanding: Gwyneth Paltrow’s Tom Ford, Michelle Williams’ Louis Vuitton and Jessica Chastain’s Alexander McQueen in particular stood out. Jennifer Lopez, on the other hand, insists on showing her beautiful curvy “bodois” but ended up looking like a silver amphora, and Meryl Streeps’ golden robe matched, if nothing else, the statuette.  And a note on Angeline Jolie, and I swear it is not dictated by envy – possibly the most beautiful woman walking the planet at this point in time, she has nevertheless arms that  belong on a starving African child. A few helpings of pasta now and then would work wonders in restoring a normal look to Ms. Jolie’s limbs.

If one bothered at all to tune into the commercials, one would have been hard pressed to figure out what the upcoming tv shows on ABC are all about – all the trailers conveyed was the sense that it was best to stay away from them at all costs. Not that anyone watches ABC anyway.

Tom Cruise presented the award for best movie and it might have been the best thing he has done for his career in a while. He was poised, he looked amazing and it’s high time he made a good movie that doesn’t involve gadgets and car chases.

When all was said and done, what stood out was the utter boredom and predictability of it all. And then they wonder why their viewership is shrinking…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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THE INEPT BLOGGER

As I was re-reading yesterday’s post (not something I am in the habit of doing), I was painfully aware that I wrote about a wonderful meal in a visually interesting and intriguing place and I didn’t attach a single picture. The reason being, I didn’t take any and, for once, it wasn’t out of forgetfulness.

I scour, subscribe and follow a number blogs – some food related – and I am always amazed, and a touch envious, at how much photographic content people come up with, and a lot of it better than average. I am an inept photographer, which is problem number one, as you might have surmised by the instructional photos of my recipe posts. And then there is the age factor. I will whip out my phone to take impromptu pictures of my canine companions at the drop of a hat, I will take shots while travelling or on special occasions but I draw the line when sitting down for dinner in a restaurant.

Mostly, I want to enjoy my meals without forcing everyone to stop, move back and let me take pictures. And, secondly, I don’t want to look like yet another blogger or geek or out of towner having to snap every dish set in front of me –  but since when did I start caring about appearances? In reality, I don’t. This is where the generational gap comes into play. Unlike younger people, I haven’t grown up bombarded by images, or in front of videos or too intrigued by what things or people look like. I am still insanely attached to words.

In the blogosphere, this is decidedly a drawback. Every site, news item, blog, Facebook page draws you in with a single shot. In my case, I persevere with my lunacy, for those who are as attached to words as I am and to satisfy a perverse need to be contrarian. Which also comes with age, by the way.

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REPORTING NO MORE

There are printed articles I will read no matter what they are about, simply because of who wrote them. For example, this morning NY Times’ story by Alyssa Rubin, on the practice of “baad” in tribal Afghanistan, the kidnapping of young girls as payback for a slight received, is one of them. I have been following Ms. Rubin’s printed career since she was a budding foreign correspondent for the Los Angeles Times  and her pieces that tend to focus on the plight of women in war zones are insightful and compelling. Anthony Shadid was another foreign correspondent whose words I would gobble up no matter what he was writing about. My long fascination with the Middle and Near East political situation was often informed by Mr. Shadid’s articles.

Anthony Shadid died yesterday, after smuggling himself into Syria, a country that has shut the doors to foreign journalists to better cover up the state sanctioned violence that is taking place and that has now turned into full-blown civil war.

It would have been the story of a lifetime, instead cut short by an apparent asthma attack, probably brought on by the horses that were being used by the guides who smuggled him and Tyler Hicks (whose photo reporting from war-torn zones is fearless and empathetic at the same time) over the Turkish border. After trying to revive his colleague for over 30 minutes, Mr. Hicks brought the body of his friend back to Turkey, in what must have been the grimmest and most somber assignment of his life.

What made Mr. Shadid’s writing so compelling was his clarity when explaining complex situations, the understanding and re-telling of the human face of war and, above all, the knowledge that to get a story, THE story, the only possible way was to be where the action was. Far from an adrenaline junkie, Mr. Shadid often stated that reporting through information obtained by phone or second-hand sources couldn’t be accurate, nor compelling, which is why he must have felt that strongly about entering a country like Syria illegally, so he could tell the world what was really happening on the ground.

We will never read the words that would have poured out of such an experience. Above all, a woman and two children have been left widowed and fatherless. I feel privileged to have become familiar with Mr. Shadid’s work that did so much to enlighten me and helped me form opinions about countries that will most likely remain foreign to me.

 

 

 

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HITCH-ED

It was the ’80’s in Thatcher’s England and a group of young writers was pushing to the forefront with their unconventional and interesting writing. I had read Ian McEwan’s “The Cement Garden” and Martin Amis’ “The Rachel Papers” and little did I know I had embarked on a long literary love affair with both men.  Still in college, I was required to write a paper on a book that hadn’t been translated into Italian and I settled on “The Rachel Papers”. While spending the Summer in London, I even went so far as to send a letter to Mr. Amis, care of Penguin and, amazingly, on my last day in town, I got a phone call from the writer himself, inviting me over to his house to chat about his book.

Fat chance of that happening now, nearly 30 years later. I splurged on a taxi and I reached  Ladbroke Grove with some trepidation but Mr. Amis, opening the door to his new house which, judging from the fresh paint and the minimal furniture looked as if he had just moved in, showed me to the overstuffed couch, offered me a glass of wine and charmingly answered all my questions. My paper turned out great and I went on to read every book he wrote ever since.

To Christopher Hitchens, I got much later in life. I don’t quite remember what piece made me fall in love with his writing, but in love did I fall. And like all love affairs, my reader/writer relationship with Hitchens was rife with disagreements, maddening stomping off and make-up sessions. Part of that same golden generation of British writers who, for better or worse, came to represent my generation, Hitchens was a opinionist, journalist and essayist it was hard to agree with at times but the force of his ideas, his standing by them with lucid logic and his wordplay commanded respect, if not always agreement.

The papers will say that Mr. Hitchens lost his battle with pancreatic cancer today. He fully knew this time was coming and he approached it with the same fierceness that characterized his writing. His columns in Vanity Fair (a magazine I tend to avoid for a bizarre antipathy towards Graydon Carter’s hair) dealt with his disease and its effects without a trace of self-pity or redeeming qualities. Unapologetic in his atheism, he gave me the final push towards believing that there is no point in believing.

I will not be alone in missing his vitriolic, reasoned, provocative and precise writing. He said that “if you can talk, you can write”, a point that could be argued. In his case, though, he did both beautifully.

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A THOUSAND WORDS

Massoud Hossain/Agence France Presse – Getty Images

There is no more pleasurable ritual than retrieving my New York Times from the bottom of the driveway first thing in the morning. Ottie and Portia in tow, rain or shine, we quickly climb back to the house and lay out our breakfast. As much as I enjoy my NYT app, especially when I am on the move, there is nothing more satisfying, in an old-fashioned way, than to sit at my kitchen table, smoothie in hand, turning the pages of my favourite daily, especially on Wednesday, Food Section day, the one I skip to first, with nary a glance to the front page.

In a digital era, it must feel less relevant, or less compelling to have to choose a photo for  the front page. Or does it? This morning, it was a photo that stopped me in my tracks before I even sat down, making me forget breakfast and food section. Frankly, it mattered little where the scene might have taken place. The silent scream of a little girl, body tensed in fear and horror, at the center of a pile of dead or wounded bodies, was worth more than a thousand words. A toddler, in his lime green tracksuit, head down on the ground, is perched atop a grown-up in a pose that indicates very little life left in him. It’s Afghanistan but it could be any other place devastated by sectarian infighting, civil war, terrorist attacks, occupation or dictatorship. The pain and the fear on the girl’s face, so alive in the middle of a still devastation, are a common denominator in far too many places.

I cut out the photo and tacked it to my office wall, to remind me of many things, especially the courage this little girl will need to wipe away the nightmares.

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THE LOT

My first day of work in Los Angeles wasn’t, strictly speaking, the first time I set foot on the lot. I had visited for a series of interviews, taken in the sprawling and neurotic construction but I was too nervous, excited and scared to think about where my office would be.

The now defunct A&M Records’ headquarters were housed in what used to be Charlie Chaplin’s studio lot. On the outside, on the corner of Sunset and La Brea, it looks like an incongruous assemblage of Swiss or Austrian chalets, deposited there straight from the Alps when no one was looking. Clearly Mr. Chaplin had very definite architectural preferences.

Inside, apart from the famed A&M recording studios towering in the center, the offices were a jumble of wooden structures dating back to the ‘20s and ‘50s and legend has it that the stairs that conducted to my department were used in countless tv episodes of Batman and that Ironside was also filmed there.

Whenever it rained, it was extremely inconvenient to go visit a colleague from another department and the entire structure, although extremely well-kept, was starting to show signs of aging. One afternoon, sitting at my desk, I heard rustling inside the waste paper basket. I figured I must have dropped something heavy in it that was making paper sink, until a giant rat popped out, making me run all the way out, screaming and dragging the headset I was wearing and the phone with me, leaving my caller under the impression I had just suffered a stroke. I refused to re-enter until the rodent was dealt with.

Sunset and La Brea were far from hip 16 years ago. Going out for lunch meant an inedible slice of pizza from Raffallo or take-out chicken from a fast food joint. Few ventured into the Chinese take-out that no doubt cooked the giant rats that infested their trash cans at the back, although at times, for variety’s sake, we broke down. Craving a gum or a candy after dark also posed some threats, as the surrounding streets were a drug selling haven and, if you dared walk around, one of the guards at the entrance booth would always warn you to be careful.

But at Halloween the most creative staff members decorated the entire lot with witches, ghosts and oversize spider webs and, even on a bad day, the place never felt corporate or sterile. Throngs of bewitched Japanese tourists would appear at the gates throughout the year, in a pilgrimage to honor the memory of Karen Carpenter (the Carpenters were huge in Japan).

The memories of the place, now owned by Jim Henson of Kermit fame, came flooding back as some of my former colleagues gathered at my house a few days ago. Some with children in tow, some still in the music industry and feeling their days numbered and some, like me, doing activities not even remotely connected to our former careers. Surprisingly, we didn’t spend much time talking about the good old days – we fell into our old lunch banter, looking at the future.

On the day A&M closed, at that point absorbed by Universal that had no intention of keeping such an extravagant place on their books, the LA Times published a front page photo of the rotating round sign that had stood atop the Swiss chalets for decades. One employee had climbed up and put a large black band over it.

Even now, every time I drive by, I half expect to see the familiar sign and I wonder if wide-eyed skinny Japanese girls still peer through the front gate, looking for Karen’s ghost.

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