Sunday, January 28, 2007

TiVo Is Life, The Rest Is Just Details

All the buzz last week may have been about the Oscar nominations, but I was so excited about the mid-season return of my two favorite shows (Veronica Mars and Battlestar Galactica) that I thought this was a good time to take stock of my television viewing to date. Part of the last few weeks has been devoted to catching up on Heroes. I refused to allow another pop-culture juggernaut (like Lost) pass by while I watched forlornly from the sidelines. It’s too much like a Jr. High School dance. I won’t have it.

So I started in on Heroes during the hiatus and have pretty much caught up on the characters and the backstory. It’s a really clever concept with great twists and cliffhangers. But with the possible exceptions of Hiro and the indestructible cheerleader, I don’t really feel invested in most of the characters and their inner lives. So I think it’s good—good enough to rank a season pass slot on my TiVo—but not great.

Moving On…

Biggest Disappointment: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
Way back in the fall I was insanely excited for Studio 60. West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin, Josh Lyman and Chandler Bing joining forces? How could it miss? By being painfully self-important, that’s how. Self-important works when you’re writing about the White House, but not an SNL knockoff. I cannot handle one more pompous speech about how the culture war is played out every week on a late-night comedy sketch show. It’s not. The last funny thing I saw on SNL was Justin Timberlake singing about his dick in a box. How’s that for high-brow?

On the flip side, I’ve been strangely charmed by 30 Rock the couple of times I’ve caught it. This could be because I have a bit of a girl crush on Tina Fey (the thinking man’s hot chick), or because Alec Baldwin is a comedic God.

Best New Discovery: Weeds
Take heed, ladies of Wisteria Lane. If you want to skewer the suburbs, this is how it’s done. I always knew I loved Mary Louise Parker, and now I know why. She leads a great supporting cast in this dark, caustic comedy about single parenthood, suburbia and the mind-altering drugs you need to survive it.

Most Over: Grey’s Anatomy
Forget about all the backstage scandal. I know we tune in for the McDrama, but can’t the characters at least PRETEND to be doing some actual doctoring once in a while? Also, American Idol. Every year I say I’m not getting sucked in, this time I mean it. I’m holding strong.

Most Excited For: Finding out who killed the Dean, and who the Final Five are. If you don’t know what that means, I can’t help you.

That’s all I’ve got for now. In the future I plan to dedicate an entire post to the demise of The OC, and tackle why the American version of The Office is NOT as good as the British in its own special way. Until then, happy viewing!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Critical Mass

It seems that high fashion models—those gazelle-like creatures that Tyra Banks keeps trying to bring back to relevancy—may now have to follow rules other than “Don’t leave your blow on the toilet seat” and “If you’re going to abuse your assistant by chucking a phone at her head, make sure you offer a generous settlement.”

A few weeks before the start of New York’s Fashion Week, a council of fashion designers have cobbled together a list of “guidelines” aimed at keeping their human clothes hangers from looking like, well, human clothes hangers. The geniuses who decided that it was high time to bring leggings and skinny jeans back to the masses have put forth mind-blowing suggestions such as placing nutritious snacks backstage and requiring models identified as having an eating disorder to receive professional help.

In a stunning act of hypocrisy, great avatars of fashion like Anna Wintour and Diane von Furstenberg actually came out in favor of a so-called crackdown, apparently realizing that the jutting clavicle beast they’ve created has spun out of control. When models become so distractingly thin that they pull the attention away from the couture, it’s a problem. When five Brazilian modes die in quick succession from anorexia, that’s just bad P.R.

The recommendations fall short of the more drastic measures taken in Milan and Madrid, where fashion show organizers banned models whose body mass index fell below World Health Organization standards. And in an even less promising sign, several elite clothing brands have announced the advent of a new size—the double zero.

Downsizing seems inevitable since “zero became the new two and two became the new four.” So says Stanley Tucci to Anne Hathaway in a scene from “The Devil Wears Prada”—a film that mirrors our own schizophrenia by simultaneously skewering and revering the fashion world. Although it’s played as satire, hearing Anne Hathaway’s slender but healthy body derided throughout the film strikes a nerve. It hits us where we live, knowing that no matter how thin we are, we’re never thin enough. (Six is the new fourteen, didn’t ya know?)

Granted, we live in an obese nation where the associated health risks rightfully receive a great deal of attention. America needs to put down the chicken wing and lose some weight. But the skinny obsession has a lot more to do with status than with health consciousness, and weight has become emblematic of the growing divide between the haves and have nots. Americans are fat and getting fatter every day. Kids are fat and getting fatter every day. But as the average mortal expands, the standard of beauty has shrunk to literally deadly proportions.

The recent backlash against models and actresses with negative body fat might be a sign that toothpick-chic has officially outlasted its welcome. Or it could be a signal that we’re squarely trapped in the Catch-22 being played out daily on tabloid covers, where slim frames are celebrated and celebrities who gain weight are splashed unflatteringly across the pages. However, celebs who lose too much weight—as Nicole Richie and the Olsen twins have learned the hard way—become the unhappy recipients of even more derision.

True, outright revolt is always an option. Like peasants storming the Bastille, we could hurl carb-loaded breadsticks at models strutting the New York runways and shout to the heavens, “I’m hungry as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” But it’s hard to fight against a cultural ideal that’s slowly ingrained and then re-enforced a thousand different times a day. Logic and reason seems like insufficient weapons against such a stealth campaign.

The only comfort is that every cultural pendulum eventually swings back. By the time it does we will have likely found a new and more ingenious way to wreck ourselves in the name of fashion. But someday, maybe sooner than we think, six might once again become the new six.

Friday, January 19, 2007


The L.A. Times wrote a story a couple of days ago about the sad state of independent bookstores in Los Angeles.

I feel pretty cool knowing that I shop at the same place as Diane Keaton.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Things That Make You Go Hmm...

When I started this blog (a whole three weeks ago) I intended it to be more of a forum for my observations of the world at large, rather than a personal online diary. That’s still pretty much my intention, but I have to share a few stories about my friend Gina.

Gina—one of my dearest friends from college—is in Los Angeles this week on a business trip. As much as I love her, it’s a general rule that when Gina comes to town it’s time to break out the survival gear. Much like Halle Berry from the X-Men movies, Gina controls the weather. Well, not so much controls it as brings it with her wherever she goes.

Our Junior year, we both spent the spring semester in London. After the semester ended, we spent a couple more weeks traveling together. We started in Switzerland, with a plan to take the Eurorail south through Italy. On our first day in Geneva, it rained torrentially. We quickly learned that Geneva—known for its botanical gardens and beautiful vistas—is not an indoor city. The storm followed us all the way to Italy and down the boot. We got stranded in Milan and were waylaid for a night in fair Verona while we struggled to get out of the waterlogged city on the last train.

Thinking that I was going to be spending the trip soaking in the late-spring Italian sun, I packed mostly capri pants and tank tops. The rest of our luggage was left in storage at Heathrow Airport. I had packed one sweatshirt, one jacket and one pair of jeans in case it got chilly at night. I wore those clothes for six days in a row.

A couple of years later, Gina, two other friends and I went on a cruise that stopped at an island off the shore of Haiti. At about the same time, Haiti was hit by a hurricane.

Not long after that, Gina came out So Cal for a visit. The week she was here marked the most consecutive days of rain in like a century. Mountains fells and giant sinkholes swallowed houses whole. The day she left to fly home?—75 degrees and sunny.

Gina arrived back in town on Wednesday. Today, I woke up to a dusting of snow on my front lawn and car. IT SNOWED. IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA.

I am now convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that medical science and atmospheric researchers need to be contacted. This is a phenomenon that must be studied. The plus side is that if she learned to harness her powers she could be a one-woman solution to global warming.

Remember Gina…Save the Cheerleader, Save the World.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The End of a Beautiful Friendship

I’ve always loved bookstores. Whether they’re small independents or corporate behemoths, I love them all. There’s something indescribably comforting about the rows of unread books ripe for browsing, the fact that Jane Austen and Michael Chabon can share a shelf, the soothing affirmation that we’re not quite living in a post-literate society.

So it’s with a heavy heart that I say good-bye to one of my favorite Los Angeles haunts. The one and only independent bookstore in Beverly Hills closed its doors at the end of December. For Matt and I, it was a favorite stop on our semi-regular expeditions into how the other half lives. Hang a left at Jimmy Choo, and there it was—a small inviting space tucked away on an unprepossessing street in Beverly Hills’ shopping district. Even though it was just a couple of blocks away, it felt far removed from the gawkers and self-conscious opulence of Rodeo Drive.

But this is L.A., people, and even a bookshop isn’t without a hint of glamour. It was the location of my infamous Ben Stein sighting. (He was spotted walking through the store saying “Phil?…Phil?…Phil?” I’ve often wondered if there actually was a Phil present, of if Mr. Stein does that in public just to mess with people.) We exited the store that same afternoon to see Djimon Hounsou engaged in conversation on the sidewalk.

Then there was the time we observed a guy introducing his blond, model-esque girlfriend to the wonder of reading. He kept stacking books higher and higher in her arms. When he shoved Love in the Time of Cholera at her, explaining how it had changed his life, I thought she was going to faint. It was like watching Henry Higgins instruct a large-breasted Eliza Doolittle.

Despite our frequent visits--and the patronage of sundry monotone celebrities--I realize that we are precisely the reason why the place couldn’t stay afloat. All of their best efforts to drive actual book purchasing were completely lost on us. There was the time we ambled inside to find we had missed Al Gore signing copies of An Inconvenient Truth by mere minutes. Our visits were always punctuated with sentences like, “why didn’t we know Amy Sedaris was going to be here last week?” We didn’t even know the place was closing until we walked past and found the doors locked. To be honest, I think the only thing I ever actually bought there was a birthday card.

Apparently that means that I am complicit in the spread of the evil corporate empire. I’m a mass-consuming drone lured by the promise of Internet purchasing ease and 30 percent off of all bestsellers. But the truth is that I like Barnes&Noble, just as I like Banana Republic and find Dunkin Donuts coffee to be superior to just about anything else in the universe. In the end, a bookstore is a bookstore. It’s not like B&N has stopped stocking Dostoevsky in order to free up shelf space for more copies of The Da Vinci Code.

I’m guessing that, much like myself, most people don’t go to places like Dutton’s to actually buy books. It’s a discovery. A haven in the midst of the retail jungle where you can linger peacefully for hours without having to actually purchase anything. That’s why we come to love such places. Why, when we find them, we plant our metaphorical flags there and declare them our own. It’s a shame they can’t survive on love alone.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Hear me roar

Will 2007 go down in history as the year of the woman?

Nancy Pelosi was sworn in this week as the first female Speaker of the House, bringing with her the advent of the dreaded “San Francisco values.” (I’m not sure what that means, but apparently it has something to do with gay people being able to hold hands in public.)

On her well-tailored coattails: a Democratic Congress that boasts the highest number of female lawmakers in our history. As stunning an achievement as this is, it begs the question…. What Took So Damn Long?

We could have this conversation about any minority group that’s underrepresented in our profoundly white and male government. The only difference being that women aren’t a minority. At last count, we still comprise about 51 percent of the population. That means, in theory, the share of women in our representative government should be hovering around half. This year, a record 16.5 percent of Capitol Hill will be female.

According to the Associated Press, the United States lags behind 79 other countries--including China, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam, and even Afghanistan--in the share of women serving in the national legislature. The U.K., Israel, India and Chile are just a few of the nations that have been led by women while we’re just now grappling with what it might mean to have our first formidable female Presidential candidate.

One of the major reasons there are fewer women in American government is simply that fewer women run for office--often because of child care concerns and the fact that they are less likely than men to be asked to run for office by party leaders, according to the A.P. Once women decide to run for office, they are just as successful as men.

But I think it’s fair to say we’re a nation still conflicted by the idea of women in power, as opposed to the more traditional role of political helpmates. Laura Bush, the spotlight-eschewing, oh-so-ladylike First Lady, has remained popular despite her husband’s downfall. Yet, I’ve always suspected that the main reason so many people hate Hil so very much is not because of her politics or even her shaky moral compass, but for being a calculating striver who used her role as First Lady to ascend to the highest rungs of national power. In some circles, that might be called gumption.

It’s a strange dichotomy we’re living in when it comes to messages about female achievement, especially for the younger generation. Girls are consistently outperforming and outpacing their male counterparts in college admissions and academic achievement. At the same time, there’s a noticeable cultural backlash against feminism, characterized by the dominance of the Pussycat Dolls and Paris Hilton. How are we to reconcile these conflicting phenomena?

While its troubling to think young women may have abondoned the notion of “housewife” in favor of “sex kitten” instead of, say, “CEO”, maybe the role of women in this country defies such neat labels. Perhaps second wave feminism and it’s goal of a gender-blind equality is no longer relevant in a culture where the rules are slowly being rewritten and where push-up bras and straight A’s are not mutually exclusive. The next generation of girls may simply take it for granted that you can grow up to be either Carrie Bradshaw or the President of the United States.

It will be interesting to see where this road and this new Congress take us. There’s a lot riding on the next few years, which will likely be seen as a referendum on both the Democrats’ ability to lead in a time of war and on the ability of women to chart the course of the most powerful nation in the world. Let’s hope we’re all up to the challenge.