Featured

Welcome to the Blog [Reservoir Dogs]

Click here for Did you blank it? home page.

The idea of a heist where no one knows each other is maybe the best representation of internet life in film. I was immediately drawn to the characters in Reservoir Dogs, who were all dressed the same and brought together for the same reason, and also veiled their identity with the same pseudonym, ‘Mr.’+‘color.’ The whole practice is so Tarantino-cool and added weight to a heist that had no background or build. An amazing storytelling tactic.

Yet, by the end of the movie, as we learn more about the characters and they reveal more about themselves to each other, this cool practice also becomes vaguely ridiculous because when the heist went to shit, none of that mattered anymore. In other words, when they needed their anonymity the most, the mode of providing that anonymity was destroyed. That’s what’s so tragic about Mr. White crying over the body of Mr. Orange. At the only point in time where it would have served him to not know the truth, he found out the truth, and the points where it would have benefited to know the person, he did not know enough. 

This all feels a bit too analogous to our own existence in both the concrete world and the abstract one we create on the internet. We join this heist together, all looking the same and here for the same reasons, hidden by pseudonyms and constructed personas, weighed down by an unjustified sense of importance, and yet too often those personas and identities and flattened images of ourselves leave us inappropriately ignorant, or gluttons of information we’d be better off not knowing.

The long and the short of it, the philosophical and the bare bones, is that the pseudonyms in Reservoir Dogs are awesome and they suck, they protect and they harm, they feel like the double-edged sword that is so often wielded when we venture into public discourse on the internet. 

As an ode to the two-sided nature of this world, I have adopted the pseudonym Mr. Blue on this site because I think its cool (and maybe for other reasons, but if I told you those that would be defeating the point now wouldn’t it?). As I do so, I imagine anyone who reads this will get to know me devoid of background or build, based solely on the identity constructed through my words and thoughts about the stuff I write about, which is also cool. And it could be a great representation of who I am, or this might be a poor representation of who I am, and you could end up cradling my bleeding body as you put a gun to my head to end my rat-bastard life (Too much? That was probably too much). 

The Reservoir Dogs got to shoot the shit at the diner without any preconceived notions, and Mr. Orange claiming tipping is ridiculous made him look like a complete asshole, and they all got to feel like they were in it together without any of the messiness that comes with relationships. But those relationships formed anyone despite their misguided attempts at isolation. I want my writing to be like that. 

Enjoy it if you like it and hate it if you hate it. Either way I hope we get a cool poster made of us strolling down the street, looking like badasses, that every kid in college puts on their dorm room wall. And now this analogy has officially gone too far.

Anyways, these are the conversations I want to have on this site. The stuff that transcends the ‘is it good or bad’ bickering of most internet conversations about media. I love talking about the things I blank, but I don’t love the internet’s discussion about those things. It too often gets all blanked up. 

I would like to have the strange and useless conversations we have in real life after blanking something. Where we sit on crappy couches with nothing to do, so we talk about the uselessness of the pseudonyms in Reservoir Dogs. Those are the moments that make blanking so much fun. If you also enjoy these types of conversations come back as much as you’d like. After all, now we are all in it together.

Did you like this post? Click here for Did you blank it? home page.

If you liked this, you may also like:
The Dance Scene [Pulp Fiction]
The Setting Of [Prisoners]
The Man the Internet Created [My Dad, the Facebook Addict]
I Got Hitler On My Mind [Jojo Rabbit]
Can We Talk About [Vice]?
On Trial [The King’s Speech] vs [The Social Network] (Best Picture)

Addiction And Obsession: The Ending Of [The Queen’s Gambit]

The Queen’s Gambit can most succinctly be described as a series that explores the two-sided nature of obsession and addiction, and it uses one very engaging young woman and the world of chess to do so.

And it works really well. The seven-episode series is pure entertainment, easy to binge and rewarding if taken slow. It is well made, with beautiful shots and intricate themes that use both imagery and story, as well as a plot rife with conflict and suspense.

I really enjoyed it, and most of the people I have talked to enjoyed it as well.

I am going to repeat how much I liked the show, because the rest of this post is going to nitpick one part of the series that I have trouble wrapping my brain around, and I do not want the takeaway to be that the nitpick invalidated the show or decreased my appreciation for or enjoyment of it.

As I stated, The Queen’s Gambit illuminates the thin veneer between addiction and obsession. Beth Harmon is addicted and obsessed with chess as well as substances. And the two are not mutually exclusive, her substances aided her chess mind and journey, and chess aided her ability to use and experiment with substances. This worked in the negative as well, her obsession with chess deepened her addiction to substances and her reliance on substances harmed her ability to play chess.

This is best seen in the teaser scene in the beginning of the first episode, which is revisited later as a culminating moment in the show. Beth is awakened in her hotel room in Paris, which is a mess of empty alcohol bottles and drugs. She lunges out of a filled bathtub in full dress, scrambles to get ready, leaves her room and runs through a busy hotel, eyes following her as she does so. She enters a room where paparazzi light her up with their flash bulbs. She gains her composure, walks to a chess table and shakes hands with a mysterious and disapproving man, who we later find out is the greatest chess player in the world, as a chess clock already ticks away, indicating that Beth is very late, and the game is already underway. At this point, the teaser at the beginning of the series ends. When we revisit this scene later, in context, we watch Beth implode against the man she had spent her whole life striving for an opportunity to face. She was beyond dehydrated, guzzling pitchers of water. She was scattered and unfocused, her eyes darted everywhere (Her eyes and hands are the ways we understand what is going on in her chess matches, which is a competition without a scoreboard to tell an uneducated audience how it is going. When her eyes are focused and move with purpose and her hands are on the table or under the chin, we know Beth is kicking ass, when her eyes dart about and her hand covers her neck and her body hunches over the board, we know she is losing). She eventually lost the match and spiraled into more substance abuse.

The scene serves as a shorthand illustration of the echo chamber that Beth’s two addictions play in her life. She is in Paris because of chess. She met the person who convinced her to party the night before the big match because of chess. She has the money to afford these things because of chess. On top of that, her drug use has freed her mind to be better at chess, to help her visualize the game during times where she was not allowed to play. But she also uses them as an escape before matches she might lose and after matches she does. They make her irresponsible and absent from this world, because after all, when she was introduced to drugs as a child in a children’s home, that was the point, and now she relies on substances to help her disengage from life when it goes wrong. So Beth’s conflict was to separate her addictions and obsessions, that feel the same, into a healthy obsession with chess and an addiction to drugs and alcohol that she could fight against. 

And it is subtle and beautiful and haunting to watch. And in the final scene, after Beth Harmon beat the best chess player in the world and became the best in the world (no drugs needed), she walked the streets of Russia sober in mind and body. She came across some street chess players playing at a park full of old chess boards. She sat down at a board with the old men who play on the streets. She smiles and begins the game, showing her obsession with the game is intact after overcoming her addiction to drugs. In fact, she is better than ever, free to play a meaningless game in the park, not for study or competition but, for the first time in who knows how long, just for the love of chess.

It’s a good ending to the show. It’s cathartic and ties up loose ends, without dragging on forever.  But I admit… I struggled with it. 

The Queen’s Gambit convinced me for seven excellent episodes that addiction and obsession (at least for Beth) were two sides of the same coin. They were the white and black of a chess board, so thoroughly blended together in the form of chess and drugs that they combined to be the board on which she played life. Beth simultaneously hated and loved drugs and everything they did to and for her ever since she was a child. She used them as an escape from Methuen but became so dependent on them she broke into the nurse’s station and OD’d. And the point of the series was to see her slowly gain control of her drug and alcohol use and, in doing so, gain control of her obsession with chess. This control ultimately creates the serene Beth who decimated her opponents in the Soviet Union, who learned to rely on her friends that helped her along the way to come together and beat Borgov. But could she so easily separate her addiction from her obsession?

Part of the reason the show was fun to watch was because Beth always loved chess. Harry Beltik even told her, that he quit playing because he realized he could never love it like she did. But I struggle to see how she could love something so intricately entangled with her darkest addictions. Her chess enabled her drug use, and her drug use enabled her chess, yet somehow she is able to love one and not the other.

THE QUEENÕS GAMBIT (L to R) ANYA TAYLOR-JOY as BETH HARMON in episode 106 of THE QUEENÕS GAMBIT Cr. PHIL BRAY/NETFLIX © 2020

It made for better watching, less frustrating, less dark than an already dark show. But I have trouble understanding how it is possible.

Because to me, based on this relationship the series established so well between her addiction and obsession, either one of two things is true. Either, because chess enables her addictions, she would hate chess the same as her addictions because they will forever be linked in her mind (leading to a much more conflicted journey for Beth as she tries to achieve her purpose while having to overcome it) or since her addictions enabled her chess, she would be unable to continue playing chess because they cannot be extricated from each other (leading to her having to walk away from them both which becomes her victory).

I guess there is a third way to approach this as well, from a bird’s eye view up above. In Beth’s life, what were chess and drugs for?

The answer is as easy as any in television analysis- they were an escape from an awful life. When she was in Methuen, drugs helped her escape the pain of her situation, and chess gave her a purpose and something to occupy her mind, and in this home their relationship to each other became forever linked. As she grew older they helped her escape a bad home life, social awkwardness, a lack of love, her mother’s addictions etc…

So in order to kick her addiction Beth needs to stop trying to escape life. And this happened. She felt the love of Jolene and Harry and Towns and Benny and the twins. She also controlled herself in order to win in the Soviet Union and beat Borgov and achieve her purpose and ultimately feel worthwhile. And she controlled her addictions in the process, both drugs and chess. But what seems strange is that once she achieved this goal and made her life worth living by overcoming her addiction and obsession (she’s the best in the world after all). She walked down the streets of the Soviet Union, sat down at a chess table and immediately fell back into her obsession.

Reading it from a storyline standpoint, this feels almost ominous. Akin to her stopping at a drug store to grab some more green pills to end the series. 

THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT (L to R) ANYA TAYLOR-JOY as BETH HARMON in episode 107 of THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT Cr. COURTESY OF NETFLIX © 2020

But it wasn’t portrayed that way. This was a happy ending, where she overcame her addiction, but was still able to maintain her love for her obsession. I’m just not sure that’s possible.

Did you like this post? Click here for Did You blank It? homepage.

For more posts like this, like, comment, or follow, or check us out on Twitter @BlankDid.

If you liked this, you may also like:
Top Ten TV Shows
Rewatching TV And Movies
Why We Need Season 3 Of [Mindhunter]
The Last Season of [Game of Thrones]
Ranking Major Characters [Game of Thrones, A Song of Ice and Fire]

Can We Talk About [Back To The Future]?

Wait a minute. Wait a minute, Doc.

One movie transcends time and space like no other.

Are you telling me you made a time machine…

It transcended the ’80s. 

Then it went back and transcended the ’50s. 

And ever since its release, it has been transcending every time period since.

…out of a DeLorean?

And I don’t have anything specific to say about it. But let’s talk about Back to the Future!

Michael J Fox

Zemeckis started shooting Back to the Future with Eric Stoltz cast as Marty McFly before deciding to turn back the hands of time and do a redo with a new up-and-comer who displayed a more youthful joy-de-vivre in his acting, Michael J Fox. And thank Scott he did…

Back to the Future is a great movie for many reasons, but without Michael J. Fox, it is easy to imagine the movie falling into rank with a bunch of other fun ’80s classics like War GamesBreakfast Club, The Goonies, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and the like… all of which are great movies, but movies we lump together as the ultimate display of an era of film. But Back to the Future doesn’t usually get placed in that grouping. It is usually placed in the ‘Greatest Movies of All Time’ grouping, and Michael J. Fox, especially considering the way he received the role, could be considered the scale-tipper.

But it is not just that he was the late addition that put the movie over the top. He also put together an all-time performance and created a character for movie lore. He embodied Marty McFly and his complicated relationship to his parents, young and old. And his delivery and, maybe more importantly, his facial expressions, deliver re-watch after re-watch after re-watch.

Great Shot!

When I think about the greatness of Back to the Future, I remember how fun the story is and certain scenes that are unforgettable (hard to forget a mom jumping her own son in a parked car). But upon watching it recently (Okay…I watched it twice) I kept thinking about how killer certain shots were.

Some are iconic, like the flames jetting between the legs of Doc and Marty, but there are more subtle shots as well. I love the view of Marty skateboarding next to Einstein right before the DeLorean is revealed. I also love the over-the-TV shot of the picturesque ’50s family watching television at the dinner table. 

There are also shots that are funny, like when Biff stands in front of Marty after being tripped in the soda jerk, and we only see Marty’s eyes peak over Biff’s massive shoulder, widening with surprise at the size of the man. Or as Marty’s face slowly appears next to George McFly’s, after he realizes it is his father… as a teenager. Or even the hard cut from debating whether Marty could play guitar at the Enchantment Under The Sea Dance, to him methodically strumming the red guitar. The movie is full of ‘em…

Johnny B. Goode

Although John Mulaney may have ruined some of the humor of this scene- well he ruined most of the humor in the entire movie- with his Back to the Future bit (If you don’t know what I am talking about, you need to leave this post immediately and look it up. Then watch all three of his stand ups on Netflix- don’t bother with Sack Lunch Bunch.  I’ll wait…) this scene is still a classic.

The scene is funny, as Marty woodenly strums his guitar, and tense, as Lorraine is taken from George’s grasp (Although I feel like they went to the well one to many times with a guy grabbing/groping Loraine. Couldn’t they have come up with another way to do this?). 

And then, in a moment of levity after a huge conflict is resolved, Marty let’s rip Johnny B. Goode, which is, for some unknowable reason, the exact song he should have played in that moment. I get amped every time he preps his band, “Alright guys, let’s do some blues riff in b, watch me for the changes, and uh, try and keep up, okay?”  Then the opening riff hits, and away we go into movie magic.

And then white people steal the song in a bit of cultural appropriation, but I digress…

Timeless Story of Love…

Ever since Oedipus did the dirty with his mom, Freudian pscho-analysts have had a field day with hot moms and the poor sons they birthed. And just when people thought the story couldn’t have another derivation (only repetition), Back to the Future swoops in and gives us Lorraine and Marty.

Their interactions are equal parts painful, hilarious, and cringey, shaken and served in a martini glass with lime. But this storyline, that could so easily become unenjoyable because of everything mentioned above, remains innocent and fun in the hands of Zemeckis.

Not only that- or maybe because of that- this plot-line also creates some terrific commentary on family life in the ’80s and ’50s. It pokes holes in the apple-pie-view that children of the ’80s had of their parent’s teenage years, smeared with the grease of wholesome good times and innocent adventures. But when Marty goes back in time, he sees the foundation, for his world of the ’80s in his parent’s world of the ’50s. He sees the way his parents became who they were (and who they could have been), the rebellion that was brewing under the ‘square’ establishment that was telling them how to live, and the beginnings of the disconnected families that so defines the ’80s, including families sitting together, but not together, while watching TV at the dinner table.

All of these stories are told through the love struck eyes of Lorraine as she navigates her feelings for her own son.

Did you like this post? Click here for Did You blank It? homepage.

For more posts like this, like, comment, or follow, or check us out on Twitter @BlankDid.

If you liked this, you may also like:
Can We Talk About [Vice]?
Can We Talk About [Jaws]?
Can We Talk About [Fight Club]?
Rewatching TV And Movies
Reaction To The Original [Dune] (1984)

Long Overdue Recap Of Season 1 [The Sopranos]

This is over twenty years too late. But as I re-watch The Sopranos, I keep getting a tug to write about it and sort out my thoughts on its greatness. And this is the place where I write about things… so two decades, two shmecades. 

I often struggle to consolidate my thoughts on The Sopranos into a meaningful post about one aspect of the show- as I do with my other posts. The show is too intertwined, too intricate. But, having finished the first season once again, I finally felt an angle that appealed to me. I want to look back at the breadth of the entire season (and the subsequent ones when I finish those). I think my past troubles with trying to write about The Sopranos is that no individual moment, or a person’s commentary on it, can do justice to the show as a whole (which I would not say is true for all shows). Instead, I want to paint with a broader brush and capture swaths of the show. It is in the broader view, that I appreciate The Sopranos the most and find the most to say (and maybe it will lead to some smaller commentary along the way).

So enjoy a stroll down TV memory lane, or analyze an amazing show a bit further with me. Let’s talk about season one of what I believe to be the greatest TV show of all time…

Storylines

Tony’s Depression

The Sopranos begins with the story of a mob boss dealing with depression and anxiety and hinges on his psychological well-being and fear of losing his family. The first season is the perfect microcosm of this arc, beginning with a panic attack and ending with Tony surrounded by his family (both immediate and crime), reconciled with all those he wants to bring close, and with all other loose ends tied up, except for one…

But in this final scene we see the resolution of the smaller, more specific sources of Tony’s anxiety- storylines that don’t deserve their own section in this post. His guys finally know about his therapy and have come to grips with it. Mikey P. lies dead in a ditch. All ended well with Artie and his restaurant, and their friendship remains intact. Meadow and AJ still love him as their father, despite both of them making heavy realizations about his profession. Plus, nobody is trying to kill him, so that’s always nice.

Tony and his Mother

Re-watching the early seasons of The Sopranos makes you wonder what they had in store for Tony and his mother if not for the untimely death of actress Nancy Marchand. But for this season, we got more than we could ask for out of this top tier TV villain. She sparks anxiety in Tony more than any fight with his wife, lazy son, or hit taken out on him ever could, and she is the cause of much of Tony’s woes all season. 

She is impudent, bitter, conniving, spiteful, malicious, and deceitful and then we get to the second half of the season. Tony’s care for such a ungrateful old hag can be baffling, and we are torn between wanting her to recognize the special child she has and wanting him to cut her off entirely.

The culmination of this tension has a big payoff- a chilling interaction between Tony and Livia as she is rolled away on a stretcher. Tony finally tells her off in the most satisfying, in your face, spittle-flying, finger-pointing way, and Livia smiles her wicked smile, having figured out another way to stay untouchable. She will forever remain the true OG of The Sopranos.

Carmela and the Priest

Carmela telling off that shnorer in the last episode of this season is an underrated Sopranos moment. I believe she said, “you have this M.O. where you manipulate spiritually thirsty women. And I think a lot of it is tied up with food as well as this sexual tension game.” Which is both a stinging insult as well as a succinct and well phrased summary of a complicated relationship. 

It is hard to fault Carmela her small indiscretions throughout the series (even though she always picks the most complicated ways to be indiscreet), but it is quite easy to hate Father Intintola, who in his own way is as two-faced as Tony, as he both criticizes Tony’s way of life and then tries to substitute himself into it in Tony’s absence. So, when Carmela rebukes him and, in her Carmela way, turns back to Tony, it feels good. But it also feels bad for Carmela, who, even when things go well, still ends up getting the short straw.

Christopher Finding his Arc

Chrissy tried to explain a character arc to Paulie, which was terrific because Paulie has no fucking clue what he is talking about, and also because Paulie is one of the few characters on the show who doesn’t really have an arc…

But Christopher has an arc. Oh Lord does he… He has arcs for days. But in this season, as he contemplates life in the mob, and his disillusionment with the glamor and accolades he thought it’d bring, he only sees himself as a useless pawn in someone else’s story. So he builds a mental escape hatch and makes himself the main character of his own story by writing poorly spelled screen plays that promise the fame and fortune he is not receiving in his life of crime, but that only leaves him empty as well. But a few hits, a mention in the newspaper, and an added workload with the disappearance of Pussy, bring him, momentarily, into the fold with the man who gives him too many chances. Well… until his next breakdown…

Junior Needing to be the Boss

Junior’s insecurity rages in this first season. The only trait Tony and Junior share is their last names. Junior thinks he is the boss Tony is, and Tony pines for the era Junior is from. And so they come into constant conflict with each other. The moment Tony’s love for his Uncle- and all he represents- brings him close, Junior’s ego and poor leadership drive a wedge right back in-between them. And the moment Junior feels like he has the reigns, Tony’s position with the other guys brings his insecurity rising back up like a whitecap. It only made sense that Junior tried to kill him, they could never work together. 

Then The Sopranos clever writing takes over, Junior’s hit misses, and then he narrowly escapes his own death- which was clever. But Junior getting offered a way out of jail if he admits to his greatest fear, that Tony actually runs things… that was damn Shakespearean. 

Thus, Junior holds on to the only thing he ever had, his inflated view of himself, and he ends up filling the role Tony intended for him since the beginning of the season, the lightning rod for any heat coming from the feds. Junior’s insecurity trips him up once again, and the part of Junior that Tony hated the most, ends up keeping Tony out of jail. Of all the storylines that wrap up nicely, this one… *chef’s kiss*.

Closing Thoughts

As much as I wish I could have watched The Sopranos while it was airing, there is something gratifying about watching it while knowing the whole story. The way each season provides its own arcs for each characters and new storylines to play out, and each episode has their own arcs and storylines that support the season, and then to look at all 6 seasons and see how they continue arcs and storylines from season to season- it is an impressive sight. And I look forward to reflecting on it all.

And that is what I noticed the most about this first season. I think a lot of first seasons hedge their bets by creating a season that can stand alone (in case they don’t get renewed) and one that can continue on for more seasons. I imagine writers of The Sopranos were assuming there would be more seasons, but I enjoyed the way the last episode wraps everything up (maybe besides Pussy) and makes it seem like no more episodes need be made, but also knowing that many, many more episodes were going to be made (thank God they were) made re-watching it all the more enjoyable.

Did you like this post? Click here for Did You blank It? homepage.

For more posts like this, like, comment, or follow, or check us out on Twitter @BlankDid.

If you liked this, you may also like:
Rewatching TV And Movies
Top Ten TV Shows
The Meaning Of ‘Those Goddamn Ducks’ [The Sopranos]
Dictionary of Malapropisms [Sopranos]
Father Of The Year: TV Drama’s Bad Dads

Rewatching TV And Movies

I’ve never been much of a re-watch guy. I always preferred the risk/reward proposition of a new film or show, the untapped potential, the raw possibility that this untrod journey may be one of my favorite journeys of all time. I anticipated meeting new characters, some which I may love, some which I may hate, and empathizing with a new set of conflicts and groups of people. 

But lately, I have found myself hitting play, not on new watches with infinite possibilities, but old shows and movies I have loved for a while. The one’s whose characters are as familiar as old friends, whose problems seem complex yet understandable, whose surprises are rooted in understanding rather than discovery. 

I like this new phase. Its less aggressive. I am not consuming as much as viewing. I feel like  a trained eye turned to a familiar task, rather than a novice learning a new trade. But I do wonder why I shifted to this new mode, why I am more comfortable on my third re-watch of The Sopranos, my fourth re-watch of Succession or my ‘enth’ re-watch of Mad Max: Fury Road or Vice or Fight Club

I know that one reason is because I have discovered that they still surprise me. When I was younger, I never understood re-watching a story you’d already seen. I assumed the surprises were gone, that the journey would somehow be diminished because I knew the destination. But this isn’t the case. I know what awaits Tony Soprano at the end of the sixth season. And far from diminishing the journey I have become a more observant viewer, understanding decisions in the light of their fatality as opposed to some notion of singularity. And didn’t I always know what lay at the end of these great stories? Hasn’t it always been about how we get there? 

I did not expect how often the twists and turns of a show or movie I have already seen would still remain hidden to me around an unseen corner. My memory is not as good as I thought, or maybe a good show will always make a viewer suspend their disbelief just enough to disconnect them from their knowledge and reality in order to surprise and delight, where Pussy’s death still hurts, where Logan’s manipulations still rankle, where MacKay’s jokes still have the same zing. 

I now look forward to my favorite moments and lines. Like in Mad Max: Fury Road, when everyone is working on a dying Furiosa, and Tom Hardy mumbles, in the most Tom Hardy of lines, “Max… my name’s Max…” or for the most Baltimore of lines whenever Stringer Bell is on screen, or when that single, uncovered bulb, dangling from the ceiling, illuminates Tyler Durden as he reads the rules of Fight Club. These aren’t moments that are experienced once. Great moments can be returned to time and time again.

And they have an uncanny ability to take you back. Every time I watch Django Unchained, I remember going to the theater with my brother on Christmas Day (I think it was his first Tarantino believe it or not). I remember a woman sitting down next to me and pretending to drink from my soda (the weirdest introduction I have ever received), and her leaning over to me to tell me “That’s the director” as Tarantino lit up the screen with his brutal Australian? accent. And when I watch Avatar (and when people dog it on Twitter) I remember, on opening night in a packed theater, those tiny droplets of water combining into one, seemingly right in front of me, during my first 3D feature film experience. These moments are like the warm covers of an old bed after a long day.

And the weight of experiences and expectations and understanding coupled with new revelations fit like a favorite pair of jeans. They don’t need any breaking in, there will be no unpleasant chafing, I know they fit just right. 

In a media age where I constantly feel behind on the new releases of TV shows and movies. I have taken a step back. I have stopped trying to keep up. It was, quite frankly, stressing me out. I have started watching what I want. I am just surprised that what I want is that which is familiar.

Maybe it’s a sign of a year where everyone wishes it was a different one. Or a symptom of growing just a bit older and more boring. But damnit, I love it.

Did you like this post? Click here for Did You blank It? homepage.

For more posts like this, like, comment, or follow, or check us out on Twitter @BlankDid.

If you liked this, you may also like:
Top Ten TV Shows
Noteworthy Book-Movie Adaptations
Can We Talk About [Fight Club]?
The Setting Of [Prisoners]
Father Of The Year: TV Drama’s Bad Dads

Top Ten TV Shows

Out of all the forms of entertainment to rank, television shows may be the most difficult. I would attribute this to the expanse of a single show, reaching across so many characters for so long, introducing new storylines and plot lines every season, growing and adapting the feel and mood of the show based on new budgets and the passage of time. The variables in both the storytelling and the story are so much greater. Because of this, the conversation becomes that much more fun and interesting. 

So below are my top ten favorite shows, ranked in order, but also separated into confidence tier. In each tier, I would be comfortable shifting the order around in whatever way. This is my way of hedging, but it also provides a deeper look into how much I like each show. There is a difference between a clear 2 and a clear 3, and a 2 and 3 that could switch depending on the day or how recently I watched each show.

Criteria:

  • Entertainment Value
  • Quality Assessment (i.e. pacing, acting, writing, and filming)
  • All shows must be completed (or else Succession and Stranger Things would be on this list)

Tier 3

There are a few honorable mentions that also make it into Tier 3, but I will not mention them because I wanted to keep this post to Ten TV Shows.

10. Silicon Valley

Sneaking onto the list out of the scrum of every other TV show I have watched, is Silicon Valley. A bit inconsistent because of exiting characters and diverting plotlines, but overall, a hilarious and sharp comedy poking fun at a region that has no humor… its namesake, Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley recreates companies like Google and the neurotic and socially unhealthy CEOs who run them and then tears them apart by making them navigate complex business and interpersonal conflict. The show works because in such a complex and larger than life area, surrounded in mystery and legend, the absurdity of the characters is believable- the key to any successful comedy. And those ridiculous characters easily slip into equally absurd plotlines and conversations based on their affinity for technology and computation (like a refrigerator that plays porn or if a man can actually jack off an entire conference room of people in a certain amount of time).

9. Downtown Abbey

Downtown Abbey is a dramatic play in six seasons. Every time I hit play, I felt like I was sitting down at a local theater waiting for the curtains to come up, and it was delightful.

I have found with distinctly British television (The Crown is another example that comes to mind), I rarely am exckted to begin a new episode, however, I am high on investment while the show is playing. Downtown Abbey is the epitome of this phenomenon. To the point where, whenever I didn’t want to watch the next episode, I just told myself to give it a few minutes, rarely did I get past the opening scene without finding myself transported to rural Britain and into the privileged lives of the Crawley’s and the hardworking lives of those that served them. 

The writing is top notch, the acting is top notch, the setting is scenic and engaging. From the fundamentals to the story everything is done so well that Downtown Abbey gets a spot on this list.

8. Arrested Development

This may sound silly, but Arrested Development is modern Shakespeare. It is deeply rooted in traditional comedy established in Shakespeare’s comedies, often using those reliable tropes like mistaken identity, a half-heard conversation, situational irony etc. Arrested Development cuts through an era of comedy based on one liners and clever observations and creates situational comedy, where lines are only as funny as the people who say them and the context in which they are spoken (“The money is in the banana stand”). Because of this, Arrested Development will always be funny (unlike shows like The Big Bang Theory which get stale), because it is a true comedy rather than a television show that is funny. This show may not have some of the bells and whistles of shows on the higher tiers, but I would put its writing up against any other.

Tier 2

This section, I think, has room for the most argument.

7. Mad Men

Let me pour a martini while I write this section. Mad Men is the most sophisticated of these shows, a smart and subtle period piece that is both entertaining and enlightening. Mad Men creates lots of layers and then thrives off of the drama created when those layers interact. There is an overarching narrative of 1960s disillusionment that affects misogyny in the workplace and family life that in turn affects office relationships which are made more precarious by business deals and politics which… so on and so forth. This creates the slow burn of a well-paced and confident show with an intelligent structure. It all just feels exactly like Don Draper looks.

6. Sherlock

A lot of these shows in Tier 2 and below have a base that is ‘take it or leave it’ but it seems like if you watch Sherlock, you love Sherlock. Part of this can be attributed to the topic, which is well known and therefore selects its own audience. Also, the episodes are so long, that anyone on the fence about watching deselect themselves. But maybe the greatest reason, is because this show slaps. 

Nothing seems less appealing to me the then ole ‘modernize an old classic’ shtick, but with Sherlock it worked scary well. Cumberbatch brings an old character to new life with a perfect rendition (I feel confident saying perfect because of how many other renditions tried to do it in the wake of Sherlock’s success, and frankly… sucked) of outdated antics and neuroticisms in a more modern approach, and the stories are rooted in the old plots, yet navigate the tough waters of new forensic tools and cell phones and a more sophisticated police force with a dazzling display of storytelling and thought. Each episode feels like a feature film, and each feature film is worth the price of admission.

5. Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones was destined to be in Tier 1 and maybe even the show that would become the definitive favorite and dethrone the triumvirate of commonly recognized ‘best shows of all time,’ forever ending the argument and residing as Queen. But instead, with a poor final season, they missed the landing and end up in the second Tier of great TV shows, a coveted spot for any other show, but when, with one season to go, GoTwas flying so high, it feels like a disappointment (I wrote about the last season here).

In the wake of that last season, I even heard rumblings of this show falling out of some people’s top 10 list entirely. I think that is an overreaction. Even if you are an extremist in your feels about the last season, there are still five top notch seasons of groundbreaking entertainment that prop up the weak final season. It could even be argued they are the reason the last season feels so bad (expectations vs reality). Game of Thronesbrought an entire generation of TV watchers over a decade of water cooler fodder and memorable moments of dragons and battles and deaths that didn’t seem possible before this series existed. To me, that easily places it in tier 2 of the Top Ten TV Shows.

4. Fleabag

This is my dark horse TV show that is probably higher than most people would have it. Fleabag may not even make it on a lot of other viewer’s top TV Show lists (Or maybe it would, I just don’t hear a lot about it, not trying to sound patronizing). But this two-season jab to the diaphragm is a clinic in comedy writing and acting, and it provides enough new content in a relevant plot that it feels groundbreaking in its approach.

Admittedly, this show might not age well, over time it may become niche, but I think the story told is significant enough, and the execution is strong enough, that it will grow in its esteem in relation to its availability and familiarity. 

Phoebe Waller-Bridge is a comedy star and created a character that should be placed in the pantheon of TV characters. I would also not be surprised if she creates another show that pushes its way onto this list. 

Tier 1

The argument sometimes changes, but in aggregate, it always comes down to these three. As it should…

3. Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad is a common favorite for the #1 spot among avid TV watchers. It provides everything a viewer could want- intrigue, escapism, action, great writing, unforgettable moments, and a perfect ending- and it does so in a bingeable format. Lots of people (including, most notably, Anthony Hopkins) watch the series over the span of days rather than weeks or months. 

Breaking Bad is frighteningly relevant and relatable to the widest of audiences, which accounts for its popularity. The topics of drugs, the middle-class American rut, and the ambiguity of morality can apply to youth and adults alike. But Breaking Bad’s greatest strength is the confidence in which you can recommend it to just about anybody and know they will find something in it in which they can relate.

2. The Wire

The Wire might be a perfect series, and depending on the day, I may have it as my number one pick, but, in the words of the King of Gondor, today is not that day. I don’t want to delay on any criticism of The Wire, but I think I prefer the entertainment value of The Sopranos, which is equal parts light and dark to The Wire, which is perfectly executed but dominantly dark in tone.

But that is not a criticism as much as a preference. The clarity in which this show was created (which could be said about all of the shows in Tier 1) is a bit astounding. Rarely does a show feel like they were one hundred percent consistent from the first episode to the last, but The Wire does. Even though the characters and settings change in extreme ways, it is always The Wire. The extremity of the changes and the consistency of the show is one of the most astounding achievements in television. The cops largely stay the same, but the cast of characters that surround them, and the challenges of the streets of Baltimore are so wildly different it would be crazy to suspect any two seasons have anything in common. But the clarity of the writers and directors are able to wrangle in the broad sweep of the show and provide a united message. 

TL/DR The Wire has the power to change your view on the world.

1. The Sopranos

My favorite. The Sopranos introduced me to amazing television, the kind of television that makes the rest of the day feel like it’s in the way- ‘I got this show I need to go watch’ or ‘I got these characters I want to spend some time with.’ And no cast of characters is better than that of The Sopranos. Full of life and often in conflict with the roles they must fill, they may surprise you with their brutality or their tenderness. And the connection you build with them makes it that much harder to see one get whacked and know that their role in the show and your life is finally over.

But it doesn’t stop there. The political intrigue of the Soprano crime family, as well as the Soprano family, is layered and engaging. It introduces the viewer to a crime vocabulary that is as foreign as the familial angst is familiar. And all of it fits comfortably into an American commentary that so easily shifts, in those therapy chairs, from mob activity to issues with Tony’s mother to the struggle to find his American Dream. I was and still am in love with the story told throughout these seasons.

Did you like this post? Click here for Did You blank It? homepage.

For more posts like this, like, comment, or follow, or check us out on Twitter @BlankDid.

If you liked this, you may also like:
The Meaning Of ‘Those Goddamn Ducks’ [The Sopranos]
Dictionary of Malapropisms [Sopranos]
Looking Into The Lens [Fleabag] (Season 2)
Best Stewy Moments [Succession]
Why We Need Season 3 Of [Mindhunter]

The Apache Relays: The Greatest Upset In Camp History [Heavyweights]

The 90s movie classic Heavyweights is a feel-good comedy that discus-tosses body shaming into the lake like an Apache Relay trophy and then asks viewers all across the world to judge people by their character in order to make them feel good about who they are, which will lead to better decisions and a healthier life.

But I got a real problem with this movie…

The whole film builds to a climax at the Apache Relays, where Camp Hope- the overweight reject underdogs- take on Camp MVP- the athletic reigning champs- in a relay race that presumably favors Camp MVP because Camp Hope has never ever won the Apache Relays before.

The logical assumption, then, is that the Relay relies on some sort of athleticism, endurance, or physical prowess that would benefit the athletes of MVP over the fat kids of Camp Hope.

Thus, when Camp Hope wins in a fat camp “do you believe in miracles?” moment, the audience feels good, the fat kids feel good, MVP, the arrogant bullies, receive their come-uppance, and Tony Perkis Jr’s Perkis System is replaced with kindness and self-esteem.

But let’s look a little closer at the components of the Apache Relay that Camp MVP has so long dominated…

The announcer informs us that the Relay will take place in three parts.

  1. The Obstacle Course
  2. The Hall of Intelligence
  3. The Grand Prix

Hmmm…

These three parts are separated into smaller components as well, some of which we get to glimpse in the movie. We witness parts of the following…

  • A sack race
  • Making a goal on a soccer goalie from the opposing team
  • A structure course including a balance beam, monkey bars, climbing wall, and…a zip line? Okay. I guess.
  • Throwing a football through a tire
  • And shaving a balloon… wait a second

After the Obstacle Course, the competitors move on to the Hall of Intelligence, where they are required to name five American vice presidents, and presumably, answer other similar questions. Then the competitors go skipping out of the Hall, side by side, to drive a go kart to the ultimate finish.

My issue is not that they leave the Hall of Intelligence side by side after clearly seeing Camp Hope take a major lead after the Vice Presidents question- I’ll allow it. 

But I am wondering how in the hell Camp Hope ever lost the Apache Relay.

Just look at the three main parts of the Apache Relay- The Obstacle Course, The Hall of Intelligence, and The Grand Prix. Two of these components have absolutely nothing to do with athleticism. And in fact, one of them actually benefits the sedentary lifestyle of the overweight, who are more likely to read books while at home and therefore be smarter than jocks who are constantly outside playing organized sports rather than learning.

The only way Camp Hope could lose, would be if Camp MVP were able to get so far ahead in the Obstacle Course that Camp Hope would never be able to make up the deficit. But even two of the obstacles had nothing to do with athletic prowess (zip line and balloon shaving) making it infinitely harder for Camp MVP to create a lead large enough to carry them through the other two parts of the Apache Relay.

On top of that, we have to assume, based on the development of the race, that there is some sort of fail safe for any individual obstacle that a team cannot pass. For example, that Camp MVP kid was never going to shave the balloon correctly, and that Camp Hope kid was never going to climb that wall, and that Camp MVP kid was never going to name 5 Vice Presidents, so therefore, they were probably allowed to bypass an obstacle after a certain amount of time elapsed or use some other such safety measure. A wise and fair addition to the Apache Relays. However, if this is the case, it would prevent Camp MVP from ever being able to gain a lead large enough to make up for the fact that two thirds of the race does not benefit them or is stacked against them.

I mean honestly, the Apache Relays is at best a wash for favorites. But I could easily argue that Camp Hope are the favorites. If Vegas had a line on this thing it would probably be Camp Hope -250. 

The only other way to explain a 33-year losing streak in a race where your camp is the clear favorite is if the relay changes every year (which would be a shit relay, the whole significance of the Apache Relays is that it is always done, and that Camp MVP has won it 33 years in a row, and that prestige and tradition go out the window if it is a different race every year). And if the relay is different every year then it would also seem safe to assume the host camp gets to choose the course. So in this year, Camp Hope hosted and created a new obstacle course on which they were able to break their 33 year drought. 

But now this is just cheating… That is not the lesson you want to teach these youth- when your out of shape and can’t do something, rig the damn system. That’s a whole different movie.

Much more likely, this course has those three main parts every year, and the components of those parts may change, but the overall relay is largely the same. In which case, every year for 33 years there was a Hall of Intelligence and a Grand Prix, and Camp Hope still managed to lose. This story was about a great upset, but it was the fact that for 33 years Camp MVP upset Camp Hope in the Apache Relays.

Did you like this post? Click here for Did You blank It? homepage.

For more posts like this, like, comment, or follow, or check us out on Twitter @BlankDid.

If you liked this, you may also like:
How can you not be romantic about baseball? [Moneyball]
Advertising For [Jurassic World] and [Jurassic Park]
Is Ivan Drago Overhyped? [Rocky IV]
Three Tiers Of Will Ferrell Movies
The Soundtrack for [Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga]

Books About Writing

I love stories and movies and shows and books, and they were a motivating factor in starting this blog. But my main inspiration for blogging was to be able to have a platform to consistently write, to try new styles and voices, to practice selecting the right word and forming the right structure, in short, to learn to communicate more effectively. And I hope if you consistently read Did you blank it?, you can appreciate the writing, if not for its skill, at least for its adventurism. 

And where my love of books and writing meet are a slew of books about writing that have impacted the way I write, the way I view writing, or inspired me to do more writing. These are few of those books…

On Writing by Stephen King

Is it possible that one of the most popular writers of a generation, the biggest household name in literature maybe ever, is underrated? I think maybe… And I started to consider this option, not after the twentieth book of his that I read, or after placing my third book of his on my Personal Top 50 book list, but after I read is memoir on writing called, aptly, On Writing

Equal parts memoir and writing guide, King combines his experience and his knowledge to create a guide about how to be a great writer, not in a functional sense, but as a human. How a writer lives, what a writer values, what a writer does. And it is equal parts profound, helpful, entertaining, and wholly daunting. 

His challenge at the beginning of his chapter about ‘Reading to Write,’ (I guess it wasn’t an explicit challenge, but I certainly viewed it that way) where he claims writers need to read a lot and that he reads anywhere from 70-80 books a year, made me revise my entire day to be able to read 80 books a year. That stat is not merely an excuse to tell you how much I read, but a way to let you know the type of impact this book had on me and could have on you.

On Writing Well by William Zinsser

One word makes all the difference between King’s memoir and Zinsser’s how-to guide. King writes about writing, Zinsser writes about writing ‘well.’ 

Zinsser does not write a book that will impress us with his breadth of experience, but will explain to us what good writing is, in a feat of great writing all itself. On Writing Well is maybe the most interesting textbook of all time, at times it feels more like a novel that both exemplifies and explains the subtle and intentional ways that a nonchalant and casual voice is carefully crafted through time, effort, and revisions.

Zinsser narrates the importance of such abstract ideas as clarity, concision, word choice, style, audience, and unity, in concrete ways that make the most inaccessible aspects of writing seem obvious.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott provides a secondary option for a writing memoir that combats King’s On Writing. Less circulated, but still impactful, Lamott presents a neurotic and hectic look at the writing life. Bird by Bird tends to reflect on the low points of writing, and how they can be indistinguishable from the high points. Lamott is reflective and funny and transparent about a life of writing and it prepares you for the unconquerable.

In a world of books that worship at the altar of writing, this book feels like the Old Testament of the writing Bible.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway’s memoir is absurdly self-aggrandizing, obviously inflated, as unattainable as it is narcissistic, and I love every page of it. Since Hemingway published this masterpiece, every woman or man who has taken up the pen or sat at a blank computer screen has looked to capture the ethos of this writing experience. Nevermind that it probably wasn’t this great and comes from a bygone era. A Moveable Feast is the father of the desire to live, however meagerly, on the profits of writing, to write words others read, and to have a life dedicated to writing and experiencing the world in a way worth writing about.

It also provides the most nonsensical and inspiring piece of advice ever given to the writing community- when you do not know what to write, sit down and try to write the truest sentence you can think of. 

Damnit Hemingway…

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

Some people may cry foul on this one and claim this is not a book about writing. They may say it is a book about fiction and the power of reading to help people overcome the ties that bind. But inverse to that story in Reading Lolita in Tehran, is the story of creation, of women who had everything in their lives taken away or regulated except for their powers of imagination, and with those powers of imagination, they created poetry and literature and this book.

Nafisi, the guide through the literature that her illegal book club consumes, writes this memoir about her time in the Islamic Republic of Tehran as a woman, a literature professor, a lover of books, and a writer. Through her experience, we can understand the power of reading and the importance of writing words worth reading.

Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve by Ben Blatt

This book is the most unique book on writing I have read, and I really liked it. It didn’t change any way that I wrote, but it confirmed the values taught to me in the books above. Inspired by the way scientists used data to discover authorship of unknown books, like with the Federalist Papers, Blatt compiled massive amounts of data on the way people write, tracked the success of books through various metrics, and suggested that certain truisms in writing (like don’t use adverbs) may actually be true for a reason. 

This is the most 2000s way to go about writing about writing, using data and metrics to try and discover what great books are made of, but it also is an interesting look at how great writing often has an intentional structural make-up. Books are words and sentences and paragraphs and great books are great words and great sentences and great paragraphs. A book may sound casual and effortless, but those are the very books that were anything but.

Writing is hard. It is greedy. It is relentless. Anyone who writes knows how easy it is for inspiration and desire to dwindle, especially when we just do this on the side. These books served as a needed boost to continue to do something I love in the moments where I felt anything but love for it.

Did you like this post? Click here for Did You blank It? homepage.

For more posts like this, like, comment, or follow, or check us out on Twitter @BlankDid.

If you liked this, you may also like:
Personal Top 50 Fiction Book List (Ranked)
Empathy Through Reading: Recommendations During Racial Unrest
A Very American Reading List
Movies Inspired by [Neuromancer]
Noteworthy Book-Movie Adaptations
The 2000 And 2020 Presidential Election [Recount][Too Close To Call]

The 2000 And 2020 Presidential Election [Recount][Too Close To Call]

Over the weekend, the long awaited 2020 election decision was made, most of the ballots were counted, and Joe Biden was declared the 46th President of the United States. However, the declaration will not go uncontested. President Trump has promised litigation up the wazoo in order to combat the decision based on allegations that… well it doesn’t really matter what he is alleging, he is just alleging, and anyone following the three months leading up to the election, starting with the war on the postal service, and pivoting into fear mongering about the mail-in ballots he is now claiming were lopsided against him, saw it coming.

In preparation for the long drawn out election process of 2020, which appears to be shorter than I anticipated, I did two things, I started reading Too Close To Call  by Jeffrey Toobin, an appropriately named title after the inane repeating of the phrase on every news station, and I watched Recount. Both dive into the controversy and litigation in the wake of the 2000 presidential election between Bush and Gore. I figured that to prepare for what was going to feel like a never before seen moment, I should reflect on the last time we saw it. And in doing so, what we are currently going through feels much tamer. Not that a president who refuses to concede when it is obvious he lost is not unprecedented, but an election decided by a mere 527 votes and concluding unsatisfactorily in the US Supreme Court when a man who probably did not win was declared President, at the very least, feels more chaotic.

There are also similarities in the elections, events that echoed through the intervening 20 years, plays called because they worked the first time, decisions made because of the successes and failures of what happened in 2000. Here are the main points I learned.

We are impatient

I know the circumstances were different, but all things considered, we were super impatient this year. We bemoaned how long it took for a winner to be declared, we made gifs making fun of Nevada and how slow they counted, and it definitely felt like a really long time. Election day feels like it was a month ago. But as I listened to Toobin’s book, I was blown away as each day in 2000 ticked by with more events and developments. I intellectually understood that the 2000 election wasn’t decided until December, but as the days of this year’s election dragged by with deliberate slowness, I couldn’t fathom the restlessness of the 2000 election (I was too young at the time to fully appreciate it) as they awaited a decision. 

Cubans throw a wrench in everything

It was interesting to hear of the unique role Cubans played in the 2000 election and Miami-Dade County as they also threw pundits for a loop this year. The complexity of their values and voting are refreshing in some ways, unable to fit into some pollster’s demographic (I heard a pundit say “Latinos are not a monolith”), they feel above party politics if not a bit reactive to triggers that candidates can use to their advantage (Elian Gonzalez and the cry of socialism for example). They have a strong voice and they use it well and they played a major role in both these elections.

Brooks Brothers Riot

As Trump supporters mobbed Pennsylvania counting facilities and counters covered the windows with pizza boxes, I thought about how crazy and unhinged it all seemed. Not so fast… this wasn’t unique, in fact, it feels a little bit like a play call.

In the 2000 election, Republicans tried to win the presidential battle in the streets (through the political exploits of the nefarious Roger Stone no less) by bussing in masses of volunteers, equipping them with signs and slogans, and then putting them in places that would have maximum impact on decision-makers and ballot-counters. The protesting was not only desired by the campaigns, they were orchestrated by them. One particular version of this happened in Miami-Dade County and was dubbed the Brooks Brothers Riot. It is now being compared to what happened last week, and it trended on Twitter for a while, twenty years later.

Claims of Stealing an Election

This is the thing, right? This is the comparison. In 2000 Bush was declared and Democrats claimed they stole the election and in 2020 Democrats won and Republicans claimed they stole the election. But we need to push back against making politics a game of tit-for-tat. Not all words and actions are equal, and we are living in an era where our political actions are akin to an arms race, and we claim it’s a tennis volley. One side will tell a lie, and the other side will tell a much more harmful lie and justify its fairness on the basis of the previous, smaller lie. It is hard not to believe that the hurt feelings and bad blood of 2000 came roiling back up in this modern era of pseudo-equal and opposite.

But the comparison doesn’t work, at least not as nicely as politicians might like it to, especially as the White House seeks a ‘James Baker-like’ figure to lead their litigation against the Democratic victory, hoping they can redo what they did in 2000. The only problem is that in 2000 we had a race so astronomically close that we had entered into the realm of human error factoring into election results. The Democrats were not claiming election rigging, they were claiming election errors that could make up a miniscule percentage  of millions of votes being counted. And even so, they failed to adequately convince the nation that the human error in voting was obvious enough to actually follow through on a full recount (which, in hindsight, it was). 

Now we sit in a race that was nowhere near as close. Republicans would need to argue a swing of thousands of votes in multiple states in order to change the outcome. This is nowhere near the realm of human error. And asking for a James Baker-like figure, and using the same playbook they used in 2000 (which almost definitely suppressed legal American votes) is a dangerous example of the type of tit-for-tat we have allowed in politics and has created an escalation of harmful rhetoric and polarization.

A Lack of Consistency

Unsurprising, when comparing the 2000 election to the 2020 election, there is a definite lack of consistency in the attitudes and behaviors of the parties. I am most definitely not providing a hot take here… But those inconsistencies are, if not expected, interesting.

The first inconsistency is minor. Toobin spends time addressing the Republicans desire for more people to vote by mail. In fact, by the year 2000 they had been working for several elections to raise the number of mail-in ballots, because they valued getting people to vote. And one of their strongest attacks against the Democrats in 2000 was that in the Democrats efforts to ‘count every vote’ (another parallel for ya’) they got in the weeds about potentially illegal absentee votes cast (no date, postmark, or witness signature). A lot of these ballots were from the military, not a good look to discard military votes when you are trying to become Commander in Chief. Now we see Republican elected officials decrying the use of the very mail-in ballots they tried to normalize, while Democrats make sure every last one is counted. 

The second inconsistency was one I remember from when I was a child and was brought to the forefront of my mind by my reading and watching. I remember how angry Republicans were at the delay in the election results. How ridiculous they thought it was for the Democrats to tie up the certification of the new President of the United States in litigation and re-counts. Whether or not they should have been upset about it is moot, what I am more interested in, is the lack of care in some of those same people today, when their President is not conceding a much more obvious loss and instead, is choosing to tie up the certification in litigation and recounts.

The last one is maybe a consistency if you are incredibly cynical, but I will count it as an inconsistency. In 2000 it was argued that those who tried to vote, could have voted, but technically did not because they did not follow the rules. And now they are arguing, that those who did vote, could not because… well I guess that is still to be determined. Either way, it’s a bad look and a bad argument for top Republicans who 20 years ago tried to suppress votes, and are trying to do so again today.

It is Easy to Forget People

In 2000, as every lawyer, politician, and their mothers argued how to count ballots in regards to the dimpling and positioning of chad (or is it chads?) it was hard not to understand, that regardless of the liberality of the standards of judging those chads, American people’s votes would not be counted. And the more that people argued for more stringent regulations of judging each chad, the worse it felt. ‘Chads don’t dimple themselves’ right? Someone hit it with a stylus. Did they do it correctly? Obviously not. Should that discredit their vote? I would be careful to answer that question with a ‘yes’. 

Votes matter, people vote, and we want every person to vote. Until, apparently, it suits us to not count their vote. Al Gore was especially conscientious of trying not to fall into this inconsistent mindset, and he was never president of the United States because of it. But I am not upset about his failed election as much as how the conversation surrounding the 2000 election rose above the human beings who got into their cars, waited in absurdly long lines, cast their votes, anxiously awaited results, only to have the results not include their votes. That’s the conversation.

I see a parallel track of dismissing the human in this year’s election, not just as claims of illegality might attack legal votes made by actual humans, but in a more subtle way that has already occurred, and episode 719 of This American Life,  ‘Trust Me I’m a Doctor’ made me think about it.

Before the election began, the producers of the show did an outlandish thing (I’m being sarcastic but only a little bit). In the wake of all the claims of mail-in ballots being rife with potential fraud, they asked the people who count mail-in ballots what they thought. How simple, how elegant, how unfamiliar to us to go to the people who are doing the thing we are condemning and get their take. And as these civil servants talked about their job, I was reminded that these are people who volunteered for a job on the side, without malicious intent or a desire to rig an election, and they worked really hard to count votes because it is something they truly value.

 And even if this small sample size of people and opinions does not persuade someone that massive election fraud is not a possibility, it is still an important lesson in how we should think about such claims. We need to remove those claims from the abstract realm, and root them in people and places and actions. 

The election was rigged? By who?

Illegal votes were cast? How?

Illegal votes were counted? Where? By who? How? When?

The answers are tricky. Maybe there are answers. But if a person claims election fraud on a massive scale in the abstract, it is time we started talking about the concrete, the human beings who were doing their jobs, who make the election happen, that are now being accused of election rigging. It makes me just about as uncomfortable as votes not being counted.

Did you like this post? Click here for Did You blank It? homepage.

For more posts like this, like, comment, or follow, or check us out on Twitter @BlankDid.

If you liked this, you may also like:
Noteworthy Book-Movie Adaptations
If Rabbit Was Alive Today [The Rabbit Angstrom Series by John Updike]
A Very American Reading List
Empathy Through Reading: Recommendations During Racial Unrest
Can We Talk About [Vice]?

How can you not be romantic about baseball? [Moneyball]

I once saw a high school baseball coach setting up a baseball field for a game. He walked back and forth from the pitcher’s mound to the dugout as he removed one weighted block from the tarp which protected the mound and walked it to the fence by the dugout. With each block, he carefully stepped over the freshly painted lines from the third base line to Homeplate. He wore his uniform, shirt freshly laundered after the previous usage, socks pulled tight, hat waiting to be jiggled and rubbed and removed to signal expectant players to homeplate. I saw, or maybe I imagined his lips mouthing a silent prayer for the upcoming game, asking the baseball gods to bless this field, bless these players, bless this sport.

America, in some ways, has moved on from baseball compared to the prevalence of football and basketball or even soccer. But it will forever be America’s pastime, and it will always make these modern sports seem barbaric, with their raw displays of athleticism and strength. There’s no mysticism in football, there is no higher power in basketball. 

But baseball is a game of ritual and desecration, prayers and superstitions, hopes and curses, unwritten rules and unspoken edicts. It’s hard not to be romantic about baseball. I realized that as I watched that coach walk back and forth on that hallowed ground, the baseball field.

And it helped me understand the point of Moneyball, a story about big data, disrupting the system, about the dawning of a new age of thinking and overthrowing the dinosaurs in favor of a new era of efficiency and intelligence. But it is also about barbarism and the loss of belief in something greater, the death of insight and hunches and the superstition that surrounds the religion of baseball. It’s a story that makes you peak behind the curtain, and once you do, you can never go back to believing in the great and powerful Oz. 

There are two sides to the story of the overhaul of baseball at the hands of analytics. There is the hero, Billy Beane, on his quest for validation and acceptance and his journey to overthrow the ‘haves’ as a lowly ‘have not,’ reaching from under the fifty feet of crap that separates his team from every other. And we root for him and laugh at him and we feel his pain and disappointment, and ultimately, we cheer at his successes. 

But there are also those old dinosaurs in the meetings- the Gradys of the world- who have done it a certain way for a long long time. Who have figured out ‘what works’ and who just want the Billy Beanes of the world to let them do what they do best. Let them put a team together based on their years of intuition and expertise and get out of here with the stats and numbers and computer bull shit.

Their cause is noble too. The way they go about it, by stifling new thought, suppressing all  newcomers, and their arrogance and anger, are all worth criticism. But at the core of their sins is a desire to preserve an ideal, to preserve baseball, and thus, to preserve a part of American identity. They are holding onto the mysticism, the religion and the romance of the sport. They don’t want to see the game lose the ‘human.’ They want to preserve the right to play the sport with their hearts and minds, and in so doing bring the audience into the game with their hearts and minds as well.

So in the closing scene where Pete calls Billy into the film room to watch their 300 lb catcher trip while rounding first, and remain inert on the ground embarrassed and heartbroken, only to be brought to his feet after being told he hit a home run, Pete was not only showing Billy that in his failed efforts to win the last game of the year he may have done something even greater, he was also showing Billy, and us, that there was still, in the data-driven league they were creating, room for the human, room for life lessons, room for prayers and hopes and dreams.

As Billy, who has never held any superstitions about this game, put it, “How can you not be romantic about baseball?”

Did you like this post? Click here for Did You blank It? homepage.

For more posts like this, like, comment, or follow, or check us out on Twitter @BlankDid.

If you liked this, you may also like:
The Scout Scene [Moneyball]
This Is How I Win [Uncut Gems]
The Glare Of The [Friday Night Lights]
Noteworthy Book-Movie Adaptations
A Very American Reading List

The Scout Scene [Moneyball]

Few movies are able to communicate their main idea, using only one scene, better than Moneyball does when Billy Beane first meets with his scouts and talent developers. The scene is perfect. The film had established the depths to which the Oakland A’s had fallen in the wake of their team’s pilfering at the hands of richer organization, as well as the unwavering tiny budget Beane had to work with. 

At that point, it is impossible to imagine how Beane would dig them out of this hole, but there was one thing they certainly could not do…. pretend like nothing happened, resume business as usual, bury their heads in the sand and hope everything would be okay. Pick your cliché, apply as necessary.

And what I love about the scout scene, is that Pitt doesn’t need to speak a word, doesn’t need to deliver a single line, to make all of this infinitely clear. As he sits and listens to clichés, intuition, and ‘I can feel it in my gut’ bullshit from old men with hearing aids and spit cups, who haven’t thought about how to do their job since Murderer’s Row batted in New York, the viewers, for just a moment, become mind readers. 

His perceived thoughts (and subsequent lines) strike to the core of what Moneyball is about- adopting a new mindset amidst old ideology, disrupting the system, getting out from under ‘the way it has always been done.’ Because in this story, doing it the way it has always been done, even in a sport rich with superstition and belief, is lunacy. The routine had to change in the one area of American life that is most steeped in tradition and immobility- baseball. And as good as Billy’s lines are… 

“You guys are just talking…” 

“You’re not even looking at the problem…” 

“You guys are talking the same ole’ good body nonsense, like we’re selling jeans…”

…the true gold in this scene, are the scouts’ diagnoses of why a player is worth drafting/developing. 

In those lines, we can hear a world that needs disrupting. Their words embody the old men who speak them, who have power and hold on to that power and abuse that power through a lack of intellectual integrity and honest thinking. These old men represent the parts of the world that want to play by the prescribed rules when those rules no longer apply. And they blame someone or something else when they don’t get the result they want. Or worse, maybe they don’t actually care what happens. Their role is to fill a seat and do a job, and any thinking outside of those parameters is beyond them. 

They are dinosaurs. And this scene portrays them this way and helps us understand the motivations of the wave of disruptors in the economy over the last two decades. No story encompasses these men and women better than Moneyball, and no single person embodies it better than Billy Beane. So I thought I’d look at some of the best cliched lines the scouts use to explain why they like a player, because they are incredible…

“I like guys like that got a little hair on their ass.”

This opener is a doozy. In the previous scene, Billy just threw his phone in disgust after getting played by Damon’s agent, and we, and he, walk into this bullshit. The logic of a line like this is ridiculous, hairy ass=good ball player. However, the info-gathering implications are frightening. These old men have been places, and we aren’t talking about Cleveland.

“Clean-cut, good face.
Yeah, good jaw.”

You wonder where an idea like this originates. I get that looks have always played an interesting role in who gets to play and who does not, starting with little kids. I have even heard the logic of this slippery slope- good looking kids have more confidence, they demand the ball more, they get more opportunities, then they become self-fulfilling prophecies. But at the point where talent scouts are using it as criteria to judge who should play in the Show, we are beyond some pee wee coaching bias. These old men think this is a reason someone will be good, and it makes me wonder why. Is it a weird inferiority complex gone awry, are they trying to amend for their own deficits by acknowledging it as a strength in others… who knows?

“Got an ugly girlfriend… means no confidence.”

I’d like a look at one of these scouting reports. What column does this go under? Actually, much more likely, this is just a kernel the old man put in the ole’ steel trap, because he is prone to ogling player’s girlfriends, and while doing so, the stray ugly girl catches his attention, with a twinge of disappointment. ‘Must be something wrong with this guy dating a girl like that…’

The layer of misogyny on this one is too hard not to notice. This is a group of men who miss the 50s when the woman was just an additive to the man, where she could be described in what she adds to the man. They’ve convinced themselves they are using their intuition, when it’s all just worldview and bias. And gross ones at that.

“The guy’s got an attitude… This the kind of guy, he walks in the room his dick’s already been there for two minutes.”

I actually kind of like this one. Not as a way to judge baseball players, but we are well past that. This just seems like a great way to describe a dude. Like I have no fucking clue what it means, but I feel like I understand what kind of guy we are talking about, for good or for bad.

This scene works because baseball is a world where this is the actual logic used. It is steeped in intuition and the ‘eye test,’ and Moneyball uses these men and this world as a stand-in for all those areas of life that think they know better, and fight like hell to avoid new ideas or new modes of operation.

These guys are begging to be disrupted.

And these quotes serve as a hilarious, and truthful look into the way some are comfortable maintaining the status quo, even to the point of absurdity, and it creates a hero out of Billy Beane and the entire generation of men and women trying to punch up and through a layer of intuition and ‘the way it’s always done.’

But I can’t say it any better than John Henry did to Billy Beane towards the end of the movie. So hear he is…

“I know you’ve taken it in the teeth out there, but the first guy through the wall — he always gets bloody. Always. It’s the threat of not just the way of doing business, but in their minds, it’s threatening the game. But really what it’s threatening is their livelihoods. It’s threatening their jobs. It’s threatening the way that they do things. And every time that happens, whether it’s the government or a way of doing business or whatever it is, the people who are holding the reins — have their hands on the switch — they go batshit crazy. Anyone who is not tearing their team right now and rebuilding it, using your model, they’re dinosaurs”

Did you like this post? Click here for Did You blank It? homepage.

For more posts like this, like, comment, or follow, or check us out on Twitter @BlankDid.

If you liked this, you may also like:
The Scout Scene [Moneyball]
The Glare Of The [Friday Night Lights]
This Is How I Win [Uncut Gems]
Deleted Bugs Bunny Interview [The Last Dance, Space Jam]
Is Ivan Drago Overhyped? [Rocky IV]
The Dance Scene [Pulp Fiction]