Monday, November 30, 2015

A Love-Hate Relationship: Homeland vs. The Affair, Part 2

The Affair has become the show I love to hate: I’m just hate-watching it now.
This show should have just lasted one season and called it quits. I think what happened was that the show was surprisingly renewed after its even-more-surprising (and undeserved) Golden Globe win for Best Drama and the producers suddenly had to scramble to find writers, so they hired every playwright in New York. (How many writer/producers does this show have?)
To be fair, Ruth Wilson, who won a Golden Globe for her performance as Alison, does do a good job (considering the material she’s been handed), and I was loving Joanna Gleason when she appeared as Noah’s publisher. But most of the time I’m embarrassed for the actors (especially Dominic West as Noah), given the cringe-worthy lines they have to say.
One of my pet peeves (and one of the signs of the writers’ desperation) is the number of times they use the word “fucking” on the show (as an adjective, not a verb). Now, I like the word “fucking” as much as the next guy, but we’re not talking about a life-and-death situation with ISIS here, we’re talking about whether or not you get the summer house in the divorce settlement.
I think the low point for me came when Maura Tierney was dancing around her bedroom in her lingerie, drunkenly singing along to some music. What indignities Ms. Tierney has had to go through this season (the actress, not just her character)! Ms. Tierney is an attractive woman, but I think her character’s a little too old to be behaving like her bratty teenage daughter. She’s a divorced woman with four kids, for God’s sake!
And, speaking of immature behavior, how about Noah’s night of cocaine and attempted illicit sex with his publicist while his wife is in the hospital having his baby? These plot twists would strain the credulity of even the most rabid soap opera fan!
Last night’s episode (the first to forego the gimmicky “he said/she said” format, which just made most episodes twice as long as they should have been) ended with Cole burning his house down while Alison was in the hospital.
Homeland, on the other hand, has gotten better and better. Granted I only started watching last season, but I didn’t see how they’d be able to top that (and I had a lot of company).
We just had another one of those episodes where the suspense was so high, you could barely watch: Carrie Mathison’s CIA supervisor, Alison (another Alison!) is revealed as a spy for the Soviets while her former colleague Quinn is being used as a guinea pig by Islamic terrorists to test sarin nerve gas.
Then, when Alison and her Soviet co-conspirator are finally captured by the CIA (after hiding out in a Soviet safe house), she spins the story around to make it look like she was just bringing in the Soviet agent herself.
There are only three episodes left of both shows, but I don’t see how Homeland can get any better or The Affair can get any worse.

Friday, November 20, 2015

While You Were Sleeping

While everyone has been preoccupied with the possibility of a terrorist attack in New York (although the government says there’s no evidence to indicate such an attack is imminent), there was another headline in the New York Times that I found even more disturbing:
“Half of New Yorkers Say They Are Barely or Not Getting By, Poll Says”1
Let that sink in for a minute.
That means that four million people are struggling to survive in New York City, the richest city in America.
I’m one of those people.
Once again I find myself “between jobs,” and it’s not for lack of trying to find one.
In the last three months, I’ve answered over 400 want ads. (I have to keep track of them in order to continue receiving unemployment benefits, so I didn’t just pick a number out of the air.)
Why, you may ask, are you having so much difficulty? Isn’t the economy doing great?
Well, let’s examine the reasons.
Since 2006, when I was laid off from my last long-term position (which was still a contract position, but at least back then my company was able to commit to a yearly contract), my industry—educational publishing—has been decimated by two factors: technology and outsourcing. The company that employed me in 2006 is one-quarter its former size. Most educational publishing companies are now skeleton operations with most of the “heavy lifting” (i.e., real work) being “outsourced” (i.e., done in India by people making a fraction of American wages).
In this new reality, most of the jobs that are available are either temp, contract or freelance. And since unions are now practically non-existent, workers have no leverage to ask for better.
Simultaneously, the process of getting a job has itself become more complicated. Whereas previously, a job interview would have been sufficient to assess a candidate’s skills, it’s now common practice to have to undergo one or more phone interviews, and perhaps even a video interview, before getting an in-person interview.
A lot of the most common methods that used to be able to land you a job (by which I mean answering want ads and going to employment agencies) simply no longer work. Any want ad—for even the most undesirable job—is guaranteed to elicit at least a few hundred responses in a city the size of New York. (Again, if you think I’m making up numbers, just go to LinkedIn, which will tell you how many people have applied for a job. And that’s just on LinkedIn!)
Human resource departments either don’t have the time or don’t have the ability to do the actual work of finding out whether or not someone is qualified for a position, so anyone who isn’t an exact match for the job description is simply eliminated. (Of course, sometimes that position has already been filled internally or the position itself has been eliminated. They never tell you why you didn’t get a job.)
So-called “temp agencies” have become nothing more than payroll companies. The only function they serve is to provide companies with a steady stream of “non-employees” for which they don’t have to offer health insurance.
Like temp agencies (a misnomer, since no one can really “choose” when they want to work), “permanent” employment agencies and recruiters have also become useless, since any company (or individual, for that matter) can simply go to LinkedIn and find anyone they want. The only “service” these companies provide is sending you even more want ads, which, of course, anyone can find himself.
Oh, and one more thing:
There is rampant age discrimination which is difficult to prove and almost impossible to prosecute. With the exception of upper management positions, most companies are simply looking for the cheapest person they can find, and that tends to be a recent college graduate, not someone (like myself) with years of experience.
So that leads me back to terrorism.
I think these attacks in Paris—as horrible and tragic as they are--have thrown a real monkey wrench into this presidential campaign. Of course, we've been through this before, but the Republicans are predictably amping up their war rhetoric, and even Hillary Clinton was on TV yesterday hyping her plan to deal with ISIS.
What this means is that the economic situation of New Yorkers—and all Americans—will continue to deteriorate, corporations will continue their complete domination of this country, and we will very likely find ourselves in yet another war. 


Friday, November 13, 2015

Patti Smith’s Memory Train

 Patti Smith’s M Train is a love letter to writers and the romance of writing. It is also a memorial of sorts to lost people, places and things: her husband, her brother, a café in the West Village, a beloved coat.
But for me, the most refreshing thing about this book is the way Smith comes across as a real person. She has a routine: she goes to the aforementioned West Village café every day (the Café ’Ino, no longer there, for you stalkers), orders her black coffee, brown toast and olive oil, and proceeds to read and/or write. 
She’s also a fan of TV detective shows. (The Killing, Law & Order and CSI are just a few that get a name-check.) I love this about her because it makes her tremendous accomplishments seem to be within the grasp of ordinary mortals like myself. Reading about how she pieces together her life—both creative and otherwise—from a combination of concerts, readings, interviews, etc., helps demystify the process for me.
I also enjoyed reading about her travels and the importance she gives to certain cultural icons (Genet, Rimbaud, Mishima, etc.). A lot of her travels consist of bringing certain things—a stone, some beads, etc.—to the graves of these icons and bestowing them upon their gravesites. You have to admire someone who would go to such great lengths for a symbolic gesture!
I think the strongest chapter in the book deals with Hurricane Sandy and its affect upon the Rockaways, where she buys a bungalow just before the hurricane strikes. As someone who had to abandon his own apartment during that hurricane, I can certainly sympathize.
I guess what I’m saying is that I love Patti Smith because she doesn’t come across as some remote, unreachable “rock star,” but as an authentic, living, breathing artist, one that I have actually seen a few times on the streets of New York City.
One of my favorite things that I read about Smith saying (albeit not in this book) is “Just do the work.” And in this book, she does just that, giving us a glimpse of her daily life, her thoughts, and her philosophy.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Slave to NOBODY’S Rhythm, Bitch!

I was wrong about Grace Jones.
When I first heard that she had written her memoirs, I glibly remarked, “I can’t imagine Grace Jones reading a book, much less writing one!”
Now that I’ve finished reading the memoir that she did, indeed, write (with some help from Paul Morley), I not only have more respect for Grace Jones, I have a new interest in and respect for Jamaica (the country in which she was born) and maybe even a new-found spirituality (which should not be too surprising, given that Jones is the daughter—and grand-nieceof a bishop).
Despite her reputation as a diva (which she devotes an entire chapter to debunking), Jones comes across in this book as an intelligent, artistic and strong woman who is always in control of her career.
After a strict religious upbringing by her grandparents in Jamaica, Jones moved to Syracuse, N.Y. at age 12 to join her parents, who had already settled there. She then escaped that marginally better existence, to start her career, first as a model in New York and Paris, and then internationally as a singer and actress.
The book takes us through the many relationships—both personal and artistic—Jones has had in her career, from her long-time collaboration with the artist Jean Paul-Goude, who masterminded her concert film, A One Man Show; to Chris Blackwell, the head of Island Records (Jones’s first record label); to Trevor Horn, who produced “Slave to the Rhythm.” It also shows her many influences, which range from the Japanese clothing designer Issey Miyake to the artist Keith Haring.
The book’s other revelation is how “normal” Jones is: she’s usually in a relationship; after a brief experimentation with LSD and cocaine, she eschews drugs (“try everything once” is her philosophy); and her favorite pastimes are watching tennis and doing jigsaw puzzles!
The news media have focused on one of the later chapters in the book, in which Jones accuses many of today’s female pop stars—Lady Gaga, Madonna, Beyonce, etc.—of riding on her coattails. But who could blame her?
Long before Madonna ever donned a crucifix or Lady Gaga a meat dress, Jones was defying gender roles and creating performance art. As she relates, she never wanted to be famous for the sake of being famous, she was merely being who she was.
And who she was—and is—is a performer who is still more original than any of today’s manufactured “divas.”