The Taser's Edge

New Pleasant Ways to Destroy Your Mind

That’s code for “New Television Shows Worth Watching.”

1. Raising Hope (Fox): If you liked Malcolm in the Middle, this has the same kind of energy. It does have some troubling depiction of poor white ‘trash’ that I’m still struggling with.  And if you are a new parent, it might make you physically ill.  Otherwise, it’s hilarious.

2. Outsourced (NBC): There’s going to be some controversy here for awhile, around issues of culture, ethnicity, race, religion, globalization.  The trajectory is not clear yet, but the foundation against offensiveness is that every character is well-formed (which is not mutually exclusive with ‘stereotypical’), the ensemble cast is great, and American culture seems to be the ultimate butt of every joke.  Finally, how many prime time comedies sandwich a reference to Glengarry Glen Ross between a penis joke and a joke about fake vomit?  This is not a dumb show.

3. Running Wilde (Fox)–So Arrested Development got cancelled, and then people started watching it.  Fox got its creator and half the cast back for the alternately somnolent and vomitous animated Sit Down, Shut Up.  Some AD fans (like me) found some sanctuary in following Portia de Rossi to the similarly quirky and similarly musically scored Better Off Ted, which also got cancelled.  And now I think some of our hope muscles were too tired to be excited for another Hurwitz show.

Thankfully, it is pretty great (although some questionable race stuff in the first episode or two with the South American tribe).  Strangest fact about the following trailer from May of this year?  Two principal actors were replaced doing the same lines sometime between the trailer and the airing of the actual show (Will Arnett’s Latino chauffeur, Migo, and Keri Russell’s eco-terrorist boyfriend, now played by still another AD alum David Cross).

Playing the Field (er, Politically Speaking)

I don’t know where I first heard about the concept, but it was very likely NPR (which might inform how you read the rest of this post).  A number of people have begun to talk of the trend of polarization in politics, and specifically of the way that the change to Internet news has allowed us to control our intake of opposing views more than ever before.  I would say that polarized media has also had a major part to play, with the rapid rise of choose-your-favorite-24-hour-newschannelism.

For some reason, when I again read about the trend yesterday, I thought of the opposite possibility.  With Google Reader, it is true that I can limit myself to only those people and sources with whom I tend to agree.  Or I can purposely bring opposing views together.

Under my new “Politics” tab: National Review Online, The Corner on National Review, The New Republic, The Weekly Standard, The Huffington Post, Drudge Report, Sojourners: God’s Politics, First Things: On the Square.  Those last two are sometimes labeled as the left and right voices of Christianity-and-politics debates, if you’re wondering what they are.  And while it is slightly stacked on the conservative side, my main news sources are the New York Times/International Herald Tribune, BBC News, and NPR, so some might say I’m still skewed toward the left.  Let me know if you have any suggestions for replacements/additions/subtractions.

The experiment is already bearing some fruit.  I would never have seen The National Review’s “International Law v. the United States”, in which Andy McCarthy writes, “Battle lines are being drawn regarding whether the United States is going to be a sovereign nation ruled by a Constitution voluntarily adopted by our body politic or a satellite in a world government under ‘the rule of law’ as fashioned and evolved by international law professors, human-rights activists and other transnational progressives.”

While his language is certainly rhetorically stacked, McCarthy raises an interesting point.  How does the phrase “by the people” change if “the people” are politicians and political interests on the other side of the world?  Or, a more extreme way of putting the question (one I won’t claim he’s pushing for): is globalization (whether or not capitalistic) necessarily a form of neo-colonialism?

Slumdog Dickens

No, that’s not an amazing band name.  Or, rather, it is an amazing band name, but that’s not the point of this post.  It’s my understanding of India based on Slumdog Millionaire.  Now note the similarity between these kids:


And these kids: oliver-twist

That’s right: Fig. 1–Jamal, Latika, and Salim; Fig. 2–Oliver and Company.

Watching Slumdog made me think about the many parallels between 19th-century Britain and 21st-century India: rapid industrialization, exploding population, pollution, disease, poverty, tremendous socio-economic class divides, underdeveloped social services for its people.  Think especially of the Dickensian version of the London of that time vs. Slumdog Millionaire’s version of modern Mumbai and Bombay.  Sure the kids are orphaned, taken in by unsavory characters who exploit them for money, likely raping the girls and possibly the boys.  Charles Dickens and Danny Boyle are making very strong social statements with their works, but somehow when you finish reading those books or finishing seeing the movie, you find yourself feeling strangely uplifted and hopeful, especially with (warning: spoilers contained in the link, so click, look away quickly, and then grab a loved one and do your own dance scene until you can see this particular dance scene at the end of the film; use plenty of arms in the air for maximum effect and accuracy) the amazing final dance scene.

To be clear, I’m conflicted.  I love Dickens (not that I’ve actually read him widely or recently) and I adored Slumdog (and am still feasting upon its glorious soundtrack).  I love the energy that Danny Boyle creates and the optimism that you leave the theater feeling.  What I don’t so much like is that nagging feeling inside me that I don’t want to let myself think about the reality of India’s (or the world’s or the US’) hungering, suffering, and impoverished human beings, particularly the children.  It’s not ruining the movie to mention an opening scene in which one of the children grins as he seeks out a celebrity’s autograph while covered from head-to-toe in human waste.  My whole theater, at least, laughed.  My stomach turned.  What was intended by the scene?  I don’t know, and maybe I’m one of those people who is taking it too seriously when I should have just taken as a sight gag.

What was intended by the movie?  I’m sure that there is money involved in the minds of its creators.  But I think Boyle wanted to pack out theaters and get people to see something that we hate knowing about, just as Dickens wanted to sell a whole bunch of books while making people read about human lives that they didn’t want to know about.  Is it possible that there’s a choice to be made between (1) providing me with an immaculately accurate depiction which crushes all my hopes that there can be hope and (2) glossing over some of life’s messiness for the greater good that my optimism might encourage me to do something?

I just tabbed over to the official movie website in hopes that there would be at least some link to a charity or something…and there isn’t.  Even now my cynicism is telling me that no one walks out of Slumdog and starts planning how to help the children of India’s slums.  I neither want to end this post on a complete downer or to insist cheesily on hoping, so I’ll go for the middle road approach.  It’s a big deal if a ton of Americans, a particular set of Americans who use their disposable income to see a movie about India, start thinking about India more.  Because I think those are some of the same Americans who might be able to use some of their other resources to help somebody.

Oh yeah…see Slumdog as soon as possible.