Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The End of Roy's Weekly Wingnut Roundups

Alas, after six years, the Village Voice has canceled Roy Edroso's brilliant weekly column looking at conservative bloggers. The columns were anthropologically fascinating, historically valuable, politically insightful, and damn entertaining to read. Roy would cover the sincere, rabid and crazy conservative base as well as the professional conservative hacks (and the former auditioning to join the latter). Dissecting insanity and bullshit is always valuable (and a good work in too short supply), but to also make the whole endeavor not only funny but genuinely witty is quite the feat. It's also a difficult act to sustain, but Roy did it, and made it look easy. Although he's continuing to post great stuff at his site, alicublog, the Village Voice columns were a concentrated and thorough examination of "rightbloggers" and their manufactured scandals of the moment. It's the kind of feature that some other outlet should pick up and fund.

"In "#EmployRoy: The ‘Employ Roy Edroso Because He Is A National Treasure And Not The Girl In This Picture’ Project," TBogg makes the case for just this (and supplies a hatchtag). Quoth the Bogg:

Needless to say this is a national disgrace because Roy is a Fucking National Treasure, who should have a regular paying gig writing commentary somewhere, slipping his rhetorical shiv in between the 7th and 8th rib of a conservative and giving it a delicate twist and wiggle.

While the secret leftwing email listserv, DestroyAmerika!!!AbortBabiesList, will no doubt get the word out, please see your way to maybe possibly sorta kinda dropping a hint here and there at one of those websites you visit when you’re at work and you’re supposed to be working on next years budget or awaiting for the launch codes in order to destroy mankind as we know it.

Some good political bloggers have managed to acquire decent-paying gigs, but that number remains relatively small. There's not a robust liberal counterpart to conservative wingnut welfare or the conservative Wurlizter. It's also far more common for conservative hacks to be given lucrative gigs over genuinely insightful analysts, even at supposedly legitimate media outlets. The commentators at alicublog ("the alicurati") are trying to pressure Roy to install a donation button at least, but it'd be great if some other outlet picked up his canceled feature. (I can think of several other writers on my blogroll who deserve steady gigs as well, but any progress would be welcome.)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Robin Williams (1951–2014)

I wanted to post something, however belatedly, for Robin Williams. His death is a tremendous loss, and I know several people who were more affected by his passing than by any other celebrity death. If it felt like we knew him, it was because, as several of Williams' real-life friends put it, we kind of did – Williams put a tremendous amount of himself into both his comedic and dramatic performances. He was astonishingly, breathtakingly funny, but also possessed considerable depth. His mind simply worked at a faster pace than those of mere mortals, and his intelligence was stunning – some of the tossed-off jokes he would improvise – witty, slightly esoteric, biting – were jaw-dropping. If ever there was a living embodiment of Albert Einstein's observation that "creativity is intelligence having fun," it was Robin Williams.

Other performers such as George Carlin stuck to standup comedy more than Williams, but Williams definitely makes the short list of best standup comics ever, and he'd periodically come back to the medium even after making it big as a TV and movie star. The only comedian comparable to Williams in style was his idol, Jonathan Winters, but while Winters would do goofy humor, and was similarly playful, Williams' toolkit added some scathing political comedy. In terms of a comedian earning mainstream praise as a serious artist, the closest analogy would probably be Charlie Chaplin, who was wildly successful but also became respected as a filmmaker. Williams did some dumb movies, of course, but his comedic chops were never in doubt, and he earned several Oscar nominations for roles that were primarily serious (finally winning Best Supporting Actor for Good Will Hunting).

There's a saying that clowns make the best tragedians, and there's some truth to that. I've long been fascinated by the intersection between tragedy and comedy, where they mix, where they switch, where one can transcend the other. Robin Williams really understood those dynamics, far better than most people. His best performances all display that understanding – in The Fisher King, Dead Poets Society, Good Will Hunting and Good Morning, Vietnam (among others). It was that depth that I found so captivating and admirable – coupled with his lightning-fast wit. (I inadvertently had entire sections of some routines memorized from watching them so much.)

I would have liked to have thought that Robin Williams had conquered his demons, that he had an adequate support network in place, that he had some way to handle his depression and avoid suicide. After his death, countless stories emerged about his generosity, and many of his acts of kindness were done in private. To paraphrase his friends, it's tragic that he wasn't able to give himself (or otherwise receive) what he so selflessly gave to others.

Salon has a great set of 13 memorable moments.

Slate collected some Hollywood reactions.

Here are obituaries from the Los Angeles Times The New York Times and The Washington Post.

His friend David Letterman gave a lovely tribute.

Conan O'Brien remembered Robin Williams, " The Best Talk Show Guest In The World."

His daughter Zelda wrote a moving, public goodbye. (A story from Williams about Zelda is also pertinent.)

"Michael J. Fox Reacts to Robin Williams's Parkinson's Diagnosis."

Jerry Leichtling, GottaLaff, Lizz Winstead and Joel Silberman have remembrances.

"Terry Gilliam Breaks Down a Particularly Hard Night With Robin Williams on The Fisher King."

NPR: "What Robin Williams Taught Us About Teaching."

PBS: "Robin Williams Hones his Craft."

"Broadway's Cast of Aladdin Pays Tribute to Robin Williams."

Questlove on Robin Williams: “Ain’t no way this old white dude knows my entire history and discography!”

"Norm MacDonald May Have Just Written the Best Tribute To Robin Williams Yet."

"Lewis Black Responds Perfectly To Rush Limbaugh" (Limbaugh, being an asshole, used Williams' death as an opportunity to attack liberalism).

"Ethan Hawke on Robin Williams: It Was Obvious He Was in Pain."

Williams was an avid fan of video games, and World of Warcraft is heeding fan requests for an in-game tribute.

Colin McEnroe: "Robin Williams burning brightly: There was just one human being who could do this thing."

Balloon Juice had an open thread remembrances.

Robin Williams on addiction and comedy back in 2009 or so.

Finally, there's some hilarious footage of Robin Williams outtakes from some promotional spots in the early 80s (about 14 minutes long).