Monday, November 24, 2008

SBO Roundup 1: Bond vs. Barack, and more

(above: obama bond, from cotributor sudiptatatha)

This is a new feature I'm trying out. I see a lot of things in my daily life that I want to talk about on this blog but that don't amount to enough content for a full post. Some things just don't get at the heart of the unwavering inertia of our complacent society confronted with the equally unswerving momentum of technology and culture moving inexorably forward.

So, this feature, the "SBO Roundup," will be a chance to briefly hit on the things that wouldn't otherwise get covered on Stars Blink Out. This time, I'm going to be talking about the new James Bond movie (particularly what makes it both a product and victim of some current and dated movie trends), Barack Obama's new approach to the "fireside chat," Michael Chabon's "The Yiddish Policemen's Union," and a quick comment on Kanye West's new record.
  • This weekend, I had a chance to see the newest James Bond movie. It's called "The Quantum of Solace" (arguably the worst Bond title yet). I'm not a huge Bond fan by any means, but to some extent, the Bond formula has permeated our spy movie viewing experience: campy, a little sex, and good old smooth James Bond. But a new paradigm has sort of eclipsed that one. It's the paradigm of the "Bourne" movies: grittier, darker, and with a more conflicted protagonist. Arguably, the first Bond reboot, "Casino Royale," delivers on the Bond premise with touches of grit and realism; "Quantum" seems to have strayed pretty far into "Bourne" territory by its still edifying, but certainly not scoring-a-Bond-girl-edifying, conclusion. It's a strong, interesting action movie, but I recommend caution for Classic Bond fans.
  • Barack Obama, as President Elect in a transition period, has, as previously mentioned, started the conversation with the American people already. A week or so back, that conversation took a new step. Obama posted a video on YouTube that was essentially a fireside radio chat, but instead of a fire there are some law books, and instead of radio it's the Internet. It's an intriguing new approach to getting the executive's core aims and values in front of a national audience. Watch it, and see what you think.
  • The premise of Michael Chabon's "The Yiddish Policemen's Union" is that, after WW2, a not-so-well-known, entirely non-fictional plan to make a portion of Alaska into a Jewish state, instead of being thrown out as ludicrous like it was in reality, has been enacted. The world's Jews all converge on a little portion of Alaskan wilderness and continue their already-tenuous interactions with the world. The novel uses the plan (and the eventual rise and fall of a sort of messiah figure) to discuss what homeland, isolation, guilt, sin, and salvation mean in today's world. I highly recommend this book for any Jew who can feel, somewhere inside of them, buried deep, a disconnect between their identity as a Jew, their expectations of salvation, and their duties and hardships as a human. I also recommend it to anyone who recognizes that conundrum within themselves.
  • Kanye West. What a crazy dude. His last album, "Graduation," was dripping with synthesizers and samples, surprising the listener with unexpected sounds around every corner. His new record, called "808's and Heartbreak" does some sonic surprising, but the premise sort of curtails the possibility for any real shock: every single track features nearly zero sample, but instead vintage 808 drums and synths; every track features not a single rap from Kanye, but melodies sung through an auto-tune device. It's strange to hear a sample-heavy rapper turn into a synth-heavy pop vocalist, but the result is at least new and intriguing. Any unevenness present on "Graduation" is smoothed out on "808's." More importantly, master of mashup and surprise Kanye West has managed to mash together disparate instruments and styles instead of disparate samples. The result is a more subtle, more progressive approach to mashup. The record also serves as a sort of comment on the fact that as Kanye moves farther from hip-hop and closer to straight-forward pop, his fame (or infamy) grows. This might also underscore how rough, angry hip-hop will always be outsold by straight-up pop. Listen to my favorite track, Robocop (until the RIAA finds this YouTube clip).
So that's what's crossed my mind recently. Stay tuned for more full-fledged, traditional Stars Blink Out posts in the near future, featuring our new expanded line-up.

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