I suppose it’s natural to feel like an outsider. We’ve all been there at some point or another. I just hate it when people try to spin that as a positive. “It’s our differences that make us unique!” True, but it’s also our differences that make us get passed over for jobs and promotions and shit just because there’s something about us that rubs people the wrong way. There is an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called “The Outcast”, and while it’s a little heavy-handed, it’s powerful stuff. Intended as an allegory about prejudice against LGBT people, it features the Enterprise visiting a planet inhabited by a race known as the J’naii–people who have no concept of sexuality or gender (all played by vaguely androgynous women.) When Ryker falls in love with one of them, she decides that she is female, only to be shipped off to some medical facility that will “cure” her of her “ailment”. Ryker sneaks down to the planet to rescue her, but she has already undergone therapy and decided that she no longer is female, and since the Prime Directive forbids interfering with alien cultures (one of the few times that the characters abide by it rather than finding a way around it), the Enterprise leaves with Ryker’s heart broken and a “Sometimes, life just sucks” message. Apparently, Ryker insisted that the J’naii he falls in love be male, but producers shot that down–fairly, as Ryker was, by all indications, straight rather than bisexual. It would have been earth-shattering to show two men kissing on prime time TV in the early 90s. It’s still not very common.
“The Outcast” is, as I have said, a ballsy hour of TV. It’s also on-the-nose, especially in a speech in which the female J’naii says, “What we do is no different from what you do.” (Gee, that sounds familiar…) I’m here to talk about Daniel Day-Lewis. Has he ever been in a comedy? Honestly, I think he’s a great actor, but something about the way that everyone else can’t stop slobbering all over his dick drives me up the wall. Maybe he could do something lightweight, but doesn’t want to. When you think about it, that’s actually worse than sucking at comedy, as it means that he simply has no interest in lightening up. I didn’t much care for Gangs of New York or There Will Be Blood because both were poorly-structured, jagged, messy enterprises that mistook “intense” for “good”. I’ve made that point before, but something about Day-Lewis’ Method style seems to cause everyone to raise him head and shoulders above every other actor on the planet. And don’t get me wrong–when I finally get around to seeing Lincoln, I suspect I’ll like it. But what he does is no different from what everyone else does.
Speaking of a lack of variation, I’m getting bored with Quentin Tarantino. I disliked Kill Bill, didn’t see Grindhouse, and had very mixed feelings about Inglourious Basterds. I liked almost everything he did in the 90s, but apparently, he was frustrated that Jackie Brown didn’t do as well as he’d hoped (I think it’s an underrated gem), and so retreated into doing what, for him, is safe: hyper-violent revenge fantasies. And like revenge itself, Basterds is entertaining on a very shallow level but left me curiously unsatisfied. I don’t think the long, drawn-out dialogue scenes (especially the one in the underground bar) are anywhere near as tense as the film’s fans would have me believe, and ultimately, so much of the film feels like Tarantino is being cool just for the sake of being cool. He’s not an auteur so much as a brand.
The tricky part about being an artist is that you have to develop your own style without becoming trapped within it. Most great writers are ones whose work can be immediately distinguished from any other’s. Read me one line of Joyce, Hemingway, or McCarthy, and I’ll recognize it as theirs. Some might argue that those guys occasionally disappeared up their own assholes. I read the first page of Finnegans Wake once and had to put it down so that my head would stop hurting. As some random Internet commenter said, it’s like the final boss in the video game of literature, a work so dense and multilayered that you could quite literally write a whole book breaking down the meanings within each carefully crafted sentence. A well-read friend of mine tried it and had to put it down. There is only so much wordplay and obscure humor that one can pack into one’s writing before it starts to feel like showing off. Joyce was a genius. I hope he didn’t let that get him down.
I’m listening to Adele as I write this. Her kind of music isn’t really my cup of tea, but I’ll concede that she has a good voice and a refreshingly brusque attitude when it comes to shit like breaking up. Too many female artists sing almost exclusively about men, whereas she sounds like she’s trying really hard to think about something else, but the raw emotions are making it just a little bit difficult. I know the feeling. Artists have to challenge themselves. The irony is that sometimes they do that by embracing something that feels comfortable at first, but gets pricklier and pricklier the deeper they go.