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Friday, June 30, 2006


Lee Siegel Vs. Ball Caps In the World Series Of Love

Via Steve Gilliard, The New Republic's culture writer Lee Siegel, fresh off his battle with the "hard fascism" of the left-wing blogosphere, has found a new enemy:

Siegel V. Baseball Caps
Oh how I hate these things. I didn't mind them when a few people wore them. Then it served as the rudimentary expression of taste, or as the vague outline of identity. But soon everyone began putting them on their heads. It's gotten so black kids from the ghetto have to wear them with the bill pulled down over their eyes just so they won't be mistaken for yuppie bankers.

The baseball cap's insinuation that life is a game with transparent rules gets to me. Also the insinuation that by wearing a baseball cap in inappropriate situations--like indoors--you have what it takes to break the rules and win the game. And I'm bothered by the herdlike nature of the baseball-cap trend mixed with its affectation of insouciance. The baseball-cap people want to have the lofty cool indifference of an aristocrat, yet their need to have it in the standard approved way makes them anything but cool and indifferent.

But the baseball cap signifies, most of all, a lazily defiant casualness. It's less insouciant than I-don't-give-a-shit. I have an inborn antagonism toward any type of hierarchy, but I think natural elegance is the best reply to assigned status, not sloppy rebellion. Wearing your standard-issue baseball cap in a restaurant isn't a blow for egalitarianism; it's a hopelessness about the possibility of originality ever to fly in the face of hierarchy. It also gives the impression of someone whose ego is angrily planted on his head. NO, I won't take it off!When I see someone wearing a baseball cap in a movie theater, I want them to bring back the guillotine.
Next in TNR:

Lee Siegel Wishes Someone Would Take These Damnable Beatniks And Flay Them Alive. Seriously.

Lee Siegel Vs. The Punk Kids Who Won't Get Off My Lawn

Lee Siegel Hates Women Who Wear Dungaerees Like They Think They're Working Men

Lee Siegel: "Rock and Roll has got to go!"

Lee Siegel Takes On "Casual Fridays". With A Flamethrower.

Lee Siegel Wants To Know Why Anyone Would Take A Baby On An Airplane, And Will Someone Please Kill Them With A Chainsaw?

Lee Siegel Thinks Tattoos Are Horrid, And Only For Tribesmen

Lee Siegel: You Know What Was Really Sexy? When Women's Clothing Left Something to The Imagination! A Well-Turned Ankle Is Far Sexier Than Some Strumpet Parading Around In Her Bathing Outfit!

Lee Siegel Asks, "quesadilla"? Is that Mexican for grilled cheese sandwich? Why not just call it a Mexican grilled cheese? Who are they trying to kid? (Kill...Kill...)

Lee Siegel's 25 Favorite Lawrence Welk LPs.

Lee Siegel's Jihad Against Ketchup

Lee Siegel thinks the NBA playoffs are too long, and they should just give the medal to the team with the best record at the end of the season. The game has gone downhill anyway since they replaced guys like Bob Cousy with this current crop of baggy pants-wearing jokers. You know what I mean.

Lee Siegel's "Hipper Hopper" Problem...And Yours

Lee Siegel Vs. The Ringtone Of Doom

Lee Siegel On The Prime Example Of Declining Societal Standards, Stanley Crouch

Lee Siegel Saw This Thing On TV The Other Night That He Hated. Not That He Has A TV.

Why I Don't Fart, By Lee Siegel

Lee Siegel Wants These Motherfucking Baseball Caps Out Of This Motherfucking Restaurant.


Take-Offs And Landings

So the Superman films are about fathers and sons*, and now they are more overtly about adoption. But if the Donner/Lester and Singer pictures are about anything, they are about land; the lands we come from, the lands we come to, the lands we claim, fight and kill over.

Over at Dave's Long Box, many commenters are bemoaning the lack of giant robots for Superman to kick the shit out of. I sympathize, and I hold out hope for a spectacular homage to the Fleischer Mechanical Monsters cartoon in any potential sequel (again, Warner's, Brainiac) but giant robots have nothing to do with the central preoccupation of these movies to date. And that's land.

Donner sets up Krypton and Earth as a contrast in land. The land of Krypton is dead and cold, its civilization old and tired. Krypton is a husk playing out the string until its sun goes supernova. Compared to this, Donner's Earth is Eden, amber waves of grain rolling across endless fields, bursting with life, color and humor. Post-Krypton, Donner's film shows us the Earth's land in all its variety, from mountains to valleys to cities to the molten center of the Earth itself.

For all that, the obvious exemplar of the land theme is Lex Luthor, recast by Donner as an obsessive would-be land baron, introduced with grand schemes of sinking California in order to establish a new coast under his control. Then, in the second film, he ingratiates himself with Zod in order to claim Australia. In Singer's new film, Luthor ratchets up his ambitions, hoping to swamp the enitre United States in order to establish a brand-new continent--a land mass, not coincidentally, made from the stuff of Krypton itself.

As others have pointed out, Luthor's invasion of the Fortress, and pillaging of Jor-El's memory tapes, show him stepping in as a kind of brother to Superman. "He thinks I'm his son", Luthor says of Jor-El's recording. And Luthor and Superman are very much doubles, because Superman is just as concerned with land as Luthor--but for entirely different reasons. Luthor just wants his cut, while Superman wants a place to belong.

As an aside, this is where Anthony Lane's New Yorker reviews so often fail for me. He's so consumed with using the week's movie to make sarcastic jokes at the film's expense, he often misses what the movie is actually about. In his Superman Returns review, he treats Luthor's motivation this way:
Picture my disappointment as I realized that, for all the pizzazz of “Superman Returns,” its global weapon of choice would not be terrorism, or nuclear piracy, or dirty bombs. It would be real estate. What does Warner Bros. have in mind for the next installment? Superman overhauls corporate pension plans? Luthor screws Medicare?
I'm not going to speculate that Lane can't see the reason for Luthor's plot because he's British, and doesn't share the deep, often unhealthy American manifest destiny fixation on land itself as totem/prize/birthright, but for whatever reason, he just doesn't get the point of the movie on a basic level. He also doesn't seem to understand that in our world, the ultimate aim of all that terrorism, nuclear piracy and dirty bombs is...wait for it...land. Bin Laden wants Saudi Arabia. The Isrealis and Palestinians may deeply disagree on matters of religion and philosophy, but it wouldn't matter if they didn't wantto live on the same postage stamp.

And by the way, Lane's Medicare joke sucks.

But enough of him. Luthor knows who he is and what he wants. The character of Superman is just as concerned with land, but as a way of defining his identity. He makes a five-year journey just to see the land that cast him out. Most of the land from Krypton that has made its way to Earth has turned to Kryptonite and is deadly poison to him. He aches for a homeland that spends all of its time now trying to kill him.

Then there are all of the landing/flight puns: the rocket landing in the fetishized Kansas wheat fields (land that I love), Superman gracefully landing all of the objects plunging dangerously from the sky (the airplane, the Daily Planet globe, construction workers, Kitty's car) to Superman's own landings as he steps down gracefully from the clouds. His most interesting landing isn't graceful at all, as he drops with the force of a small mountain onto new Krypton, the force of his arrival cracking the ground around him. The gag seems constructed merely to show Superman's anger, power and determination, but this is a ersatz chunk of Krypton itself he's stepping onto for the first time, and his abuse of the land he walks on is no accident of the filmmaker. Adopted kids turn emotional cartwheels over their birthplaces and birth parents. Longing and anger are often tangled up in a knot. It's hard for me not to see Superman talking out his frustration on the land that literally spit him out by punishing it a little. By the end of the sequence, Superman overtly throws this ugly hunk of Krypton away from Earth, much as Krypton once threw him into the void. With this he has made his choice for Earth once and for all. Then he begins his final landing, plummeting unconscious back to earth like a shooting star. It's a pretty scene, the unconscious hero falling through the sky into the embrace of our land (this land is your land). It reminds me of the classic "Panic in the Sky" episode of The Adventures of Superman TV series, (in which George Reeves' Superman flew up to stop a meteor, then fell back to earth, losing his memory in the process) as it ties up the themes of the movie in a nice bow. As I mentioned in my last post, Luthor ends up with as much land as he deserves, while Superman eventually awakens to embrace the very rocky terrain of his new life: a broken relationship with his true love, and a son he must entrust to others. Superman's no "deadbeat dad" as some facile critics have suggested; he's doing exactly what Jor-El did, giving his son up for adoption because it's the right thing to do. Superman's world has exploded, and his son will be safe with the Earthlings.

While I understand why Singer cut footage of Superman at Krypton's ruins from the start of the film, for length, pacing and to provide for the more dramatic introduction in Ma Kent's field, part of me wishes the scene had stayed in. It would have made the land theme a little easier to see, and served as a good parallel with the expulsion of New Krypton at the end of the film. Ah, well, that's what the DVD is for.

Many detractors of Superman Returns criticize its air of seriousness. Comic book movies, they think, should know their place, and that place is camp. But when the center of your movie is land, there's nothing out of place about a little gravity.

*As Anne pointed out to me, to say that the movie is about father and sons is incomplete. Say that Krypton, as embodied by Jor-El, represents the father for Superman--laws, ethical rules, knowledge. If Krypton is Dad, then Earth is Mom--literally, Mother Earth, represented by the nearly voiceless love of Ma Kent, patiently waiting, then embracing Clark in the corn field upon his return. After that, Clark's character arc is all about coming to terms with Lois as mother. When Superman finally casts New Krypton into space, in some way he is casting out or putting aside his own father ("the father becomes the son and the son becomes the father" or whatever Brando's drug-induced rambling was about), allowing him to step into the role of father. He then falls back again, at the end of the film as in the beginning, to the embrace of the mother planet, yet another parallel in a script loaded with them. This is one of those movies where I find it curious almost no one is talking about the film on its own obvious thematic terms. It's curious that so many critics have had nothing at all to say about what I consider to be the film's clear subject matter. In my opinion, those who cry "boring" or "not enough punching", or who complain that Luthor's scheme was recyclyed from previous films, (without bothering to ask why Luthor would be consistently imagined with a real estate fixation in these films--and what that means for his opposite number) had no idea what they were watching, or what Singer and his writing crew were even trying for.

Thursday, June 29, 2006



Fundamentally decent hero, decent film.

Yesterday afternoon I left work early to join Anne, Theo and Abe (in his homemade Superman suit, of course) for the first matinee showing of Superman Returns. Tim O'Neil will undoubtedly hate its self-important ponderousness (it's as sure a thing as the sun rising tomorrow.) Nevertheless, I had a good time. And yes, I did tear up more than once, particularly toward the beginning, when the Williams score kicks in and at Superman's first public appearance upon his return. The casting was surprisingly good--even Kate Bosworth as Lois--and the script had a satisfying sense of thematic logic, resolving all of its major points in visually clever and satisfying ways. (I particularly like the irony of Luthor's final fate, considering his goals.) Further, I really appreciated the willingness of the filmmakers to follow through on the set-ups of the first two Donner movies, even if it meant straying, perhaps irrevocably, from the traditional Clark/Lois/Superman relationship formula--if such a thing could even be said to exist anymore given Lois and Clark's long-standing comic-book marriage. By the end, this movie has certainly taken a very different path than the comics, something I can't discuss any further without...


Many critics find nonsensical Superman's decision to abandon Earth for a quest to revisit the remains of his birth planet, Krypton. I'm not the first to say this, but they obviously don't have close experience with adoption. Many adopted children feel compelled to return to their birthplaces, to seek out some connection to their original home, to understand why. Of course, in Superman's case, the reason why is both more grandiose and more clear-cut than it is for most adoptees. Jor-El and Lara felt that they were incapable of raising their son, not because of economic hardship or social stigma, but because, to be blunt, their planet was exploding. While I hope I never find myself in Ma Kent's shoes, wondering if my son will ever come home, I fully understand that someday Theo, whom we adopted from South Korea at 6 months old, might need to make his own journey. Director Brian Singer, also adopted, uses his simple comic book movie to show how emotionally complicated this can be. Superman doesn't find what he's looking for in the dead remains of Krypton; he screws up nearly every relationship in his adoptive home by leaving; and finally, he casts out Luthor's New Krypton, definitively hurling a heavily symbolic chunk of his birth planet into space--without solving any of his problems back on Earth. Instead he chooses to simply accept them as problems he must live with.

Aside from the adoption issues, consider that at the end of Superman 2, the hero had just sacrificed his best chance at personal happiness with the love of his life. His magic kiss made her forget, but he couldn't. I might want to take a road trip under those circumstances. And again, Superman Returns points out all of the negative consequences of Superman's decision to put his own desires first--which either works as a thematic echo of Superman 2 or makes you wonder if the guy will ever learn.

I don't know how it will play out in any sequels, but for the purposes of this movie, Superman's son, and Lois's relationship with Richard White, feel like organic outgrowths of the characters and circumstances as previously established. The kid also brings the father/son themes of the first film full circle (probably in a way Donner never intended ) that now seems gratifyingly obvious in retrospect. Unfortunately, the goofy Metropolis Clark Kent is now an almost useless construct, as pining for Lois (as a proxy for all of humankind) was pretty much the only thing that anchored him to the identity. Perhaps it's no coincidence that the Clark persona disappears from the back half of the picture, once the question of his relationship with Lois is resolved.

But is their relationship resolved? I can't help thinking of this movie in terms of Raimi's Spider-Man. I strongly suspect that Singer and Warner's have made a conscious decision here to emulate Raimi blockbuster template: doomed romance, decent fella as rival for the girl's affections, a strong focus on how heroic sacrifice tend to ruin your personal life. But of course, Raimi closely based his Spider-Man movies on Donner's Superman pictures, so the two series at this point feel like two dogs chasing each other's tails in an endless circle. However, if Richard White is intended to fill the Harry Osborn/John Jameson role, then moving forward, his relationship with Lois might not be as stable or permanent at it seems at the end of this movie.

The most difficult aspect of the new movie for me has been wading through all of the media pontification about what Superman Is, what he Means, ad infinitum, watching critics and feature writers make points either too obvious or flat-out wrong about a subject I ponder nearly every day, and which they were paid to think about for six hours. Actually, after 30+ years of reading, watching and thinking about Superman, I feel no compulsion to make any grand, definitive statement about the character or what he represents to the greater culture. (For that you'll have to take the class.) All I can say with any degree of certainty at this point is that Anthony Lane is, in blogger parlance, a total wanker. Although it is very nice for him to point out the absurdity of everyone's inability to see through Clark Kent's disguise. How could no one have ever caught that before?

Lane is also still earning that reputation as a master of comic writing. The name Jor-El sounds like "a failed airline"? That's some Dorothy Parker-level shit right there. I know I feel more smugly superior to, and wearied by the rest of the culture having read Lane's review, which is usually the point. It's wonderful of the studios to make all these pictures to serve as punch lines to Lane's uptown Rex Reed routine.

And now, I implore every last one of the Warner Brothers. Please: bring on Brainiac.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


President, Emphasis Added

On Social Security (6/27/06):
If we can't get it done this year, I'm going to try next year. And if we can't get it done next year, I'm going to try the year after that, because it is the right thing to do. It's just so easy to say, let somebody else deal with it.

On Iraq (3/21/06):
[Withdrawal of U.S. forces] will be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq.

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