Thoughts on Masha Tupitsyn’s LACONIA, cultural criticism, the excesses of a text, minimalist critique, and living vicariously through film
When I first read Masha Tupitsyn’s hybrid-genre book Beauty Talk and Monsters (Semiotexte), I was completely floored by it. So I was excited to read her new book LACONIA: 1,200 Tweets on Film (Zero Books)—a book of aphoristic film and media commentary written in the spirit of cultural observers like Chris Marker. There is something beautiful about Masha’s way of “reading” culture, how she honors the connections and resonances of the media she encounters, the way it is processed, assimilated and re-invented when it is filtered through her perception; intermingling with specific memories and preoccupations. Masha integrates the subjective and the critical in a way that demonstrates the specificity of our encounters with media. Both Beauty Talk and LACONIA could be described as a literary approach to film criticism, but it’s also fitting to describe the works as a cinematic approach to literary writing. In Beauty Talk, narrative and a criticism are tightly interwoven. As stories, the essays are stunning; as critical analysis, sharp. Masha’s recent book LACONIA reminds me of the ways in which the viewer is also a meaning-maker, a participant critic.
#481. IN AMERICA, WHEN YOU ATTACK THE CULTURE INDUSTRY, YOU ARE CALLED CYNICAL. BUT IT SHOULD BE THE OTHER WAY AROUND. *
“Postmodern irony means never having to say you are sorry. Or that you are serious.”
–Suzanne Moore, Looking for Trouble
Cultural studies is on the rise. The canon is dying, or at least is seriously ill. Critics are now turning their attention to the media that surrounds them—sitcoms, Hollywood films, magazines, pop music, kitsch, reality TV, fashion trends, internet memes. Repulsed by the academic elitism of cultural criticism as well as the notion that there are certain texts that are unworthy of the critic’s attention, the proponents of cultural studies have launched a vitriolic attack on the hierarchical distinction between high culture and low culture. The exclusion of “low” and popular culture and the privileging of refined culture and art that caters to a specialized/trained audience has its problems: it reinforces the idea that art is an “autonomous” institution while implicitly promoting classism, eliminating the perspective of lower class folk and ignoring subaltern cultural production and engagement (Adorno famously denounced jazz music).
Friends, here is the first of what I hope will be many and several “field reports” on the current state of Jeopardy! from my friend Danielle, who is the most incisive Jeopardy! watcher I know. Her socio-critical critique of Alex, the contestants, and everything else about the show is so dead-on and so consistenly furious, the only question you’re really ever left with is “why is she still watching something she hates this much?” The answer is simple: because Jeopardy! is one of the greatest television shows of all time. Danielle’s preferred forum for Jeopardy! studies is a live, collaborative environment resulting in a spontaneous, non-documented performance (that is to say: we sit on her couch, we watch Jeopardy! together and make fun of it, while trying to time our insults such that we can still keep pace with the game). Therefore, we are very lucky to have this record of her work.
“The Jeopardy! I’m Watching…”
…is like this bizarre, Lynchian masterpiece. Someone behind the scenes here was like “Hey how can I create some kind of embedded storyline that involves mining three nauseatingly awkward characters for all the pathos they’ve got” and his coworker was like “Well, we’ve got those contestants…” and the first guy said “Hey what if they had like a REALLY bad therapist?” and the coworker was all “I think I might have just the guy for the part…”and the past week or two have been like this long, dragged-out pilot episode of New Jeopardy! I mean, someone put these people out of their misery! Through some miracle they’ve managed to make it through the saddest life ever long enough to finally be on jeopardy, which is like at the very top of their list of stupendously compromised hopes and dreams, and then as soon as that first commercial break is over…POW! Sayonara LOSER! But the characters are like real weirdos. Not quite like Dennis Hopper wearing a gas mask weirdos, but not quite not like that kind either.