The American cynicism awards…

I had an aneurysm about this earlier today on Facebook. And I say this as a huge fan of country music, and even a fan of Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert and Brad Paisley.

This might be the WORST song of all time. It’s insidious garbage, and everything that’s wrong with “mainstream” country music these days. Lyrics, basically: we love beer, god, trucks, don’t like black people, but will gladly steal their musical forms, all to appeal to some imagined white redneck lowest common denominator “country fan” that the marketing department of the record label came up with. Not to mention that this kind of music leads to some kind of horrible echo chamber wherein it creates actual fans who feel that they subscribe to this idiotic world view. Stop insulting the intelligence of your audience, “mainstream” country music, all the way to the bank. I expected more, from Brad Paisley and Sheryl Crow especially.

This kind of music makes a huge amount of money by asking us to our very worst selves, by asking Americans to be their worst selves. We should expect more from this music, because it can and has always been so much more. This is not an anti-commercialism rant, or a rant about the lack of ‘authenticity’ in “mainstream” country music – Mary Chapin Carpenter, Dolly Parton, the Dixie Chicks, and Dwight Yoakam, all of these people are definitely in it to make money – and yet, they resist the kind of craven cynicism that leads to this kind of garbage:

Boys round here they’re keepin it country/ Ain’t a damn one know how to do the Dougie/ “You don’t know how to do the Dougie?”/ No, not in Kentucky.

So, just to recap – they are referencing a hip-hop song, while disparaging and distancing themselves from it, wanting the hip cachet that comes along with a “rap” while completely removing the taint of blackness. GROSS. I need to take 50 showers. I am BEYOND disappointed in Blake Shelton.

RIP Roger Ebert

From Slate:

Roger understood how much movies matter, how a good one can burrow into our souls, and he never let anyone forget it. It’s hard to imagine him no longer out there watching, thinking, and writing about movies. But it’s comforting to know that he changed the way we watch, think, and write about movies forever—and for the better.

From Rolling Stone:

The death of Roger Ebert is a blow to movies, not just movie criticism. He energized the medium by taking it on full force, two-fisted, making it better by not letting the suits get away with anything.

From Dana Stevens, movie critic at Slate:

But he remained relentlessly modern, always alive to the particularity of the current moment he was living and curious about the one that would come next. It was that quality—paired with a seemingly bottomless reserve of intellectual and physical energy—that made him so keenly observant as a critic and such a master of the epigrammatic, fast flowing Twitter form.

And from a letter he wrote her after she wrote him when she was twelve for advice on how to become a film critic:

go to all of the good movies you can and write-write-write for any place that will print your stuff.

I have been thinking about movies a lot lately, and about criticism. Reading about Ebert, and reading about Pauline Kael recently, kind of made me wish I was better at being a critic. I’m not very good at being critical of movies. I love so many of them, even the deeply flawed ones, and I’m not great at articulating why I love them. My near-constant refrain after seeing almost anything: “I liked it.” or “I loved it.” I have never pushed myself to think hard about movies. I’m trying to change this. I’m also trying to “write-write-write” as much as I can, and submit to anywhere that will print my stuff. It’s not going well. Many of the tributes to Ebert have mentioned how since his illness he has endured so much pain and yet he was energized in his writing and commentary. I think it’s absolutely amazing and inspiring.

So I will re-read some Ebert and try to figure out how to think smarter about movies. Ebert more than anyone showed you can love movies and be thoroughly and precisely critical at the same time.