Thursday, May 29, 2014

Let us play

At the risk of accusations of heresy, I’m going to shoot my mouth off.
Sorry. OK. Here goes …
Mid-century modernist architecture gets a little high church at times.
The Bauhaus, for example. That hairshirt, Socialist notion of the building as functional machine for noble workers. The roof is flat, ja. Where’s the fun in that?
Even Frank Lloyd Wright. Yes, I bow before FLW. But there’s a high seriousness about his work. A churchy-ness to it. Falling Water. Kneel, heathen. The Johnson Wax Building. Avert your eyes, sinner! His mile high skyscraper? Cringe, miscreant! For you have touched the throne of God.
Corbusier? Fuhgetaboutit. Yes, some of his buildings are ugly. Not to mention nonfunctional. But they’re sacred, goddamnit!
And Mies van der Rohe. Christ. Can’t you hear the choir singing?
Which brings me to the so-called Sarasota School of Architecture.
Listen, please, for the sound of the organ playing.
Don’t hear it? No, you don’t.
I love the playfulness of these cats. The madness of Lundy’s swooping bird-wing “new wing” at Alta Vista school.
The concrete funk of the Siesta Key pavilion. Double Ts up on pylons? Yeah, baby!
Houses shaped like cocoons. Houses shaped like umbrellas.
Architecture can be fun.
Architecture can be play.
If that be heresy, let's make the most of it. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The zen of boredom

The limiting factor of the mind is boredom. If you focus on anything long enough you will detect relationships and patterns, draw inferences, correlate experience X to experience Y and sense a feeling of delight and possibility that draws you in, in and ever in, like a child to an endless playground of possibility. Ah, but the dull surface of unknowingness of that first glimpse. That blankness, that irrelevance, that impenetrability. The mind revolts, rears back like an angry horse led onto an unstable, stony path. The path ahead? You don’t know it, yet, but you know you don’t like it. It’s dull, stupid, useless, dumb, a waste of time, boring. Your mind refuses to think about it. And you never go down that path.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Don Draper Shrugged

"What happened to Gary Cooper? The strong, silent type. That was an American. He wasn't in touch with his feelings. He just did what he had to do."
— Tony Soprano

If you believe Mad Men, Gary Cooper went to work with the usual gang of advertising idiots on Madison Avenue. Specifically, Gary Cooper's character from The Fountainhead. After that, he took up drinking and changed his name to Don Draper.

Don Draper is basically an Ayn Rand character. He's smart, fearless and ridiculously good at his job; has an uncompromising set of standards; faces reality for what it is and deals with it; is indifferent to the opinions of others; always speaks his mind; and appeals to the ladies. But here things get complicated ...

Don drinks and compromises his standards all the time. He's an Ayn Rand character -- but instead of building skyscrapers or motors that pull free electricity from the earth's magnetic field, he works in advertising. Slinging bullshit is his job. (My apologies to admen everywhere. I understand that BS is an important fertilizer in our thriving economy.) But my point remains ...

Don is a character of absolute integrity who excels at his job because of his ruthless high standards and self-honesty -- and that job happens to be slinging bullshit. On top of that, he's a fictional character. Don Draper is really Dick Whitman -- a working class zero raised in a whorehouse. Due to a mix-up of name tags in Korea, Dick became Don. He assumed a rich, successful, dead officer's identity. More accurately, he stole the officer's name and invented a new identity.

Which makes Don more like a Kurt Vonnegut hero. "Be careful what you pretend to be, you might turn into it," as Kurt was fond of saying. The hero of Mother Night pretended to be a Nazi fink with a demoralizing radio show -- helping the OSS send coded messages, natch -- but he ultimately couldn't shake the guilt of his false self. Contrariwise, the hero of David Brin's The Postman pretended to be a hero and ultimately became that hero. So it works both ways. 

If America is the land of reinvention, we can all rewrite our stories, and turn into whatever fictional character we want to be. That seemed to be the immoral moral of Mad Men, until Don fessed up to acquiring his love of chocolates in a whorehouse at a high level meeting with Hershey executives. After that, he revealed his dirty past to his kids. Don came clean. But he didn't stay that way.

In this season, Don promptly jumped right back into the muck. He's a sell-out. He's decadent. He takes shit from peers, friends and family. An Ayn Rand hero he ain't.  Or Kurt Vonnegut hero, David Brin, hero, or any hero you'd care to name. So what gives?

I want Don's story to be a redemption story, I well and truly do. The opening seems to imply the opposite. Don falling from the heights. Many critics see an implication of suicide. But, look closely, and you'll see he never jumps. Don's world dissolves around him. Then he falls. Which leads me to ...

Elmer Gantry. The Sinclair Lewis character from the book of the same name -- or the Burt Lancaster character from the movie, take your pick. 

Elmer Gantry is a religious con artist -- a televangelist in the days when they didn't have TV. At the end, Elmer  walks away from the game. Quoting the Bible as he does  ...

"When I was a child, I understood as a child and spake as a child. When I became a man, I put away childish things." 

That's the ending I want. Not the exact quote, but the feeling.

I want Don to turn away from childish things.

I want a !@#$ redemption story.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

God said it, I believe it, I'm an idiot

If every religion took its "laws" seriously, the result would look like a Rob Zombie movie. Common sense is the key. Yeah, the passage reads, "Burn witches" or "Stone people to death for mixing flax and wheat" or "Share all possessions equally" or "Pluck out your eyes if what you see tempts you." Yeah. We're not gonna take those seriously. We're going to pack 'em in some theological Styrofoam so they don't hurt anybody. Thus, religion responds in a feedback loop to evolving rationality and mutating cultures. Fundamentalists of all stripes hate that feedback loop.