In praise of BoJack Horseman

In a recent post I wrote about Nostalgia television. I recently discovered a bit of advertising about a Netflix-only tv show called BoJack Horseman, which rings quite poignantly to what I wrote. Bojack Horseman is a show about a fictional television show in the 1990s which had the status of a long running and popular show, yet its stars had careers of differing success afterwards, and the director (spoiler ahead) suffered a career death after his sexuality was discovered and professional associations with him became toxic.

 

The protagonist, BoJack Horseman (whom I have a passing physical resemblance to), is a character who relives his life through continuously watching his show. There’s a certain amount of social commentary in the show, which interestingly reflects the  marketing of the show.

 

The show explores life in Hollywood as well as the very trend-setting nature of trying to find the next best thing. At one point in the season, the ‘D’ letter in the Hollywood sign is stolen and henceforth is referred to as Hollywoo. Likewise we see certain ridiculous trends mentioned and discussed and eventually become part of the furniture of life in LA.

 

The show was advertised heavily on Netflix (which I’m using to watch a lot of Highlander, much like Bojack watches his own ‘Horsin around’), and I am very impressed at how the whole season was released at once. I watched it in about 4-5 days and I quite like the model of releasing television (is it called television if I saw it mostly on my computer and tablet?) shows. It is kind of like the zeitgeist that Bojack Horseman captures as a show.

 

In one episode the ghostwriter character’s biography project is compared to a ‘journalist’ writing an article for Buzzfeed, and Buzzfeed is thoroughly trashed. There was much comparison between the 1990s and 2010s implicit in the show, and I love how television shows try to have their finger on the button of what it is to be in the 2010s.

 

When I was watching BoJack in between episodes of Highlander, I thought to myself, Bojack Horseman is a character reminiscent of his past career, the common phrase of the show is an onlooker saying ‘weren’t you on that show Horsin’ around??’, which often leads to a one night stand or confrontation, or both! In an age obsessed with both disposable trends and celebrities we are bound to leave characters as scarred as Bojack around.

 

Although perhaps unfair to say he is anything like BoJack. When I watch those 1990s episodes of Highlander I think of how some of the zeitgeist is captured of that time. In one episode an author is looking for an actor for an 18th century highland Scotsman, to which, Duncan Mcleod replies: why don’t you try Mel Gibson? It took me a moment to realise why that was funny as it was around 1995 when the film Braveheart came out.

 

I do sometimes wonder, as I love the Highlander show so much, what has happened to the actors. I know that Adrian Paul has had a lot of love from fans since the show ended and has continued to be known as Duncan McLeod from Highlander, even when the Highlander Francise did not have such a positive enduring reputation. One of the consequences of having nostalgia TV is that actors can be so heavily defined by their past work that their appearance has a certain kind of aura (in the Benjamin sense) as we cherish more of our memnories of that past show. A similar example of such fame comes from Matt LeBlanc’s character in Episodes, who plays a version of himself after his success as ‘Joey from Friends’.

 

Bojack is a character haunted by his success and as the show progresses, displays a sense of depth and redemption that the celebrity culture that made and destroyed him would not allow him to have on their terms. I loved the honesty of the show as well as the confrontation of his own demons. Here’s to you Bojack, you fictional anthropomorphic horse.

 

Reading: Peter Adamson’s ‘History of Philosophy (without any gaps)’

From time to time I have separate interests which converge. I remember when I was studying ancient history one of the key texts was Aristotle (although textually speaking, it probably wasn’t actually him but a student), and at the same time I was learning in another context about Aristotle’s Hylemorphism. Although from the same character it wasn’t so easy to put them together except they were attributable to the same person.

 

I’m having a similar moment recently. I’m going through Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and I’m on the andalusian period. I’ve also been listening to Peter Adamson’s podcast on the History of Philosophy (without any gaps). Both narratives give a similar story: the western story that the ‘Greeks and Romans were great, but then we went backwards until the Renaissance’ is simply false at best and cultural erasure at its worst.

 

When you read about the history of early Christianity, one finds the presence of vibrant African Christian communities in Christendom taking part in church-dividing disputes over theology. The so-called Dark Ages had a great cultural presence of Jewish and Arab thinkers, as well as a cross-fertilisation of Hellenic culture into what became modern Europe.

 

There’s a certain convenience to preserving the ‘dark age’ narrative: European history seems more…European. Early Christianity has the North African Augustine; Late Antiquity had the emergence of Islam which had a definite impact on European countries, especially Iberia (modern Portugal and Spain).

 

I am so utterly refreshed when I read Gibbon. I know that there has been a lot of scrutiny to the accuracy and sources of his work since the 18th Century but I am impressed of how worldly he was during the time. So worldly in fact, that we today have much to rediscover about the history of what we now call Europe, North Africa, Central and East Asia.

 

Similarly, having a good understanding of the history of philosophy will invariably affect the breadth of topics of contemporary philosophy and the histories we teach, and teach badly. I hate for example how mistaken it is to consider the Vienna Circle as Logical Positivists, and then when asked to define Logical Positivism, we turn to AJ Ayer. I also find it deeply uninformative to think of a history of philosophy so plotted that it starts with Plato’s Apology, then goes to Aristotle’s Eudaimonian Ethics and then jumps to Descartes on Epistemology.

 

It is true that historically, the philosophers of history have had a poor education in the history of philosophy they knew of. There’s a certain resonance of how Kant was so obsessively interested in the philosophy of his immediate geographical and historical contemporaries (ignoring for not the influence of Hume) that it reads as dry, technical and almost irrelevant…sort of like contemporary journals in philosophy?

 

Of course, there were historical philosophers who eventually became better and more worldly not only about their philosophical history, but also their cultural world. Schopenhauer and Nietzsche are arch examples of this!

 

Adamson’s narrative of philosophy shows me how important the impact of Christianity was, and is on philosophy today. Discussions on topics like mereology or haecceity and universals exist mostly because of religious oriented discussions on Christian theology. Adamson’s podcast also shows the inextricably close cousins of Arab, Islamic and Jewish philosophy and how they fed into the Medieval period and how they are part of the heritage of what became the European and Anglo-American tradition of philosophy. Re-viewing our history also allows us to re-view our self perceptions culturally and intellectually speaking.

 

On making a Zine, or ‘My use of collage’

About 10-12 years ago a friend of mine (who for now shall remain nameless, but lets call him Zane) used to make zines. Sometimes he made a single copy which had a few duplicates (by photocopy) and it was exceptionally low quality. They were folded pages cut in a certain way to allow for multiple pages of a smaller size and were taped together. Many of these zines were for a quick laugh and at first I ridiculed him very harshly about what I saw as the asinine nature of these zines.

 

Skip forward about 10 years and a friend of mine (not the same zine guy) told me that he was clearing through the house and saw one of the zines. Not just any of the zines, but the final one ever made Zane ever made. It was a swan song of zines in the sense that it was the best one he ever made but also consciously knowing it would be his last. It compiled many of the techniques and jokes and idioms of the previous zines but distilled into bottled lightning.

 

Zane used to do zines about the comedian Harry Hill, perhaps the real humour about it was that it evoked the low budget and DIY ethic that Harry Hill’s early comedy used to have. It was not an artistic statement to make this zine as he was just a teenager at the time and we would pass it around during French class and trying not to giggle and get caught with it. As it happens we did get caught with it a few times and the teacher was either impressed at the ingenuity of it or found it exceptionally funny that he simply gave it back to us.

 

When the ‘final issue’ of ‘Harry Hill Magazine’ was rediscovered, I felt as if it was a part of a collective memory among my friends. The zine was just scraps of paper taped together but the last edition contained newspaper cut outs. Cue to 2014.

 

Sometimes after I’ve done my ‘fundamentals’/pedagogical exercises in my piano practice or with the clarinet, I just play freely, I just think and play, or sometimes not think at all and follow a certain idea or feeling and see where it takes me. I kind of see it as a creativity, where I draw from things and make decisions about what allusions I’m making or which allusions I use too much (I focus too much on the mixolydian mode, for example).

 

As an exercise in improvisation, I sometimes just follow a hunch or instinct and see where it goes, to exercise creativity for its own sake if you will. I have recently taken an interest in notebooks (which I’ve written about recently) and the next progression of that was…Harry Hill Magazine?

 

Well…not Zane’s self-made publication, but the idea of making my own scrapbook from newspaper clippings or magazines or brochures and adverts. In an age where newspapers and magazines are so easily available in metropolitan London (Shortlist, Timeout, Evening Standard, Metro, Sport, Stylist…) and there are endless amounts of fliers and junk mail, I thought I would put them together somehow.

 

I could give the hack intellectualisation of how this is postmodern to cut things apart from modern culture and put it together in my own little way (bricolage, hyper-reality), but maybe I won’t. For me, it feels like the same intellectual practice that I do when I sit in front of my piano and do some improvising, or when I’m jamming with my friends.

 

When I look at newspapers I look to cut out things that say something about who we are as people in 2014. As people we are confused about whether we love celebrities, or whether we hate how much weight they’ve gained or whatever scandal they were recently in. We are confused about how we hate certain kinds of criminals and yet we love to hear stories about them to get riled up and angry. The Metro is only a few steps away from being 4Chan or Spacedicks (if you don’t know what spacedicks is, it’s not for you). We have stories about big scientific discoveries and at the back pages have horoscopes and adverts for culturally appropriate mystics.

 

I often feel like we do not say enough that the emperor has no clothes when it comes to our culture and fixations with the news today. I feel that the application of collage is a powerful way of expressing this, by hitting us on the head with a pillow, we transfix the things that we take for granted in our culture, physically cut them out and place them alongside the things we do not wish to acknowledge about ourselves.

 

There’s also a more mundane way in which I use collage. As well as juxtaposition and contradition, I put together stories and images of the same narratives so that they are emphasised and overblown, put to full volume so that its deafening to see all together. News stories such as House Prices, the disadvantages of women and ethnic minorities, I have a small yet growing selection of cutouts about trans* identity and gender nonconformity.

 

For me it is a bit of a craft hobby, especially because it helps me wind down and use my mind in a way I don’t normally do outside of sitting in front of a piano. I’ve started another scrapbook in honour of my friend Zane, I’ve begun to make my own zine from newspaper collage as both an art project and something for friends only. I’m surprised at myself at how much expression I have had through cutting things out of junk mail and outdated Metro issues.

 

Nostalgia Television

Recently I’ve gotten a Netflix subscription and one of the first things I did was try to finish watching Breaking Bad, as I’ve been trying to finish that series for a year but I find it as uncomfortable as chewing a lightbulb. I keep getting TV show recommendations about edgy and dark dramas which have foreign languages and murder stories or complex psychological profiles (I must admit I recommended Luther to a friend on that very basis). The one kind of show, however that is the complete antithesis of the modern edgy television show is what I call Nostalgia television.

 

Nostalgia television is of a time that is no longer immediately relevant. Nostalgia TV is something we like simply because we happened to grow up with it despite how naff the production values were, or how problematic its gender and racial politics were.This principle also relates to me love of the 1980s and 1990s action film.

 

When I watch X-Men, the animated series, I am taken back to the wonder of being 6-7 years old and getting up at 6am just to get the VHS tape recorder ready to record X-Men on BBC’s Going Live. I see how my nephew is always talking about things like Ben Ten and Ultimate Spiderman (I will never tell him that I actually watch that too). Nostalgia television is a comfort, a sense of familiarity, a nice bit of kitsch that doesn’t challenge you.

 

There’s something about reminiscing the past. The past to some degree is fixed (but not our perception of it), and being fixed there is a permanence to it. Watching old episodes of X-Men I will know how it ends as I’ve seen many of the episodes countless times. I know when the good bits are coming, and sometimes I notice new details that I didn’t notice before, within the context of what is familiar.

 

Another recent bit of nostalgia television that I’m watching is Highlander: the series. There’s a lot about the show that seems to have seeped into my adult psyche and its kind of obvious too. The ponytail on Duncan McLeod, the reverence of japanese bushido customs and sword play and those cape like long jackets.

 

Highlander is not a great show objectively speaking, but to me, it is an amazing show for reasons that I can only communicate through my own personal preferences (namely, how it has shaped mine).

 

Another thing that has become nostalgia television for me is Peep Show. As I am getting to the ages of the protagonist characters in the early seasons, I am starting to the banalities of Mark Corrigan’s mundane life, things such as deciding ‘socks before shirt’ when getting ready in the morning or obsessing over Alpen cereal. Because Peep Show is a series which has gone on from 2003 until recent years (said to have its final season this year) I can see a continuum of how the show has come from 2003 to the present day and in so doing I see the little idiosyncracies of a recent yesteryear as opposed to a distant one.

 

Peep show counts as nostalgia TV to me because as the seasons go on, the premise of the show wears thinner, but also there are aspects in which the show really shows its age, such as referring to politicans who are no longer in their referred offices today. Maybe nostalgia television happens too quickly. In watching recent episodes of Breaking Bad circa 2010-2011, or even episodes of House, MD. I can see things like flip-opening mobile phones and other pre-smartphones.

 

I am reminded of how quickly times change when I have reflected on certain views that I’ve had and blogged about around 2008-2009 and they are out of date. Even as I live in the present I am a dinosaur becoming slowly obsolescent. It’s so hard to capture the zeitgeist that I don’t even try when I enjoy nostalgia television. It is, I suppose, a part of my aesthetic character to enjoy ordinary garden variety things, despite the pretentions I otherwise purport to of more ‘challenging’ things.

 

Actor Robin Williams Dies at 63

NoumenalRealm:

Very sad to hear about this passing.

Originally posted on TIME:

The comedian and actor Robin Williams has died at 63, according to police in Marin County, Calif.

A statement from the assistant chief deputy coroner of Marin County announced on Monday that the Coroner Divisions of the Sheriff’s Office “suspects the death to be a suicide due to asphyxia, but a comprehensive investigation must be completed before a final determination is made.”

His publicist confirmed the news.

“Robin Williams passed away this morning. He has been battling severe depression of late,” read an official statement. “This is a tragic and sudden loss. The family respectfully asks for their privacy as they grieve during this very difficult time.”

His wife, Susan Schneider, released a statement saying she was “utterly heartbroken.”

“This morning I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings,” she said in the statement…

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The Idea of North (1967) and The Latecomers (1969)

Lately I’ve been listening to the work of Glenn Gould (when am I ever not these days?). I was impressed to discover that Spotify has his Radio work. In this post I will reflect upon Gould’s CBC production of ‘The Idea of North’ (1967) and ‘The Latecomers’ (1969).

The Idea of North

I’ve talked about this documentary in the past so I will be more brief. The pianist Glenn Gould was offered to commission some radio work and came up with what has now been referred to as the Solitude Trilogy. Putting things together in a moniker is very fashionable these days, but I must say that there is a distinct sense of continuity to call it a trilogy that is concerned with a single theme (of solitude).

The Idea of North examines and debunks the romantic notions of living in a wilderness, the rosy eyed idea of being away from it all is to be replaced by living in a barren land of scarcity and survival. Being in such strong elements does make one think whether we are in the mid-late 20th Century in this documentary, or if we are still in the age of Captain Scott. Living in a city as I do things move very fast and for many that is also a downside as well as a positive. Being away from it also shows the downsides and upsides.

Racial themes are explored, economic factors and personal stories of isolation and changed perspectives. One of the interesting techniques of the documentary is the fugue like way that different vox pops are interlaced with each other all at once. We hear multiple voices telling their individual stories and it is played at once.

It made me think of the fugue in terms of as a listener. As a listener to contrapunctal music do you focus on one subject and hear how the others resonate with said subject? Or do you focus one one and sound out the others? Or, as a good music listener ideally should: listen to them all, in the same way that a good Organist sight reads their 6-stave music with panache.

The Latecomers

The Latecomers is a piece about inhabitants of Newfoundland. Again the fugal technique is used but not annoyingly over used. Perhaps Gould took his own advice to never be clever for the sake of being clever. I was astounded to hear how political themes were discussed in this documentary. One inhabitant of Newfoundland pointed out how there is not much sight of the police because not many crimes happen when people know one another and when there are so few people. Likewise the politicians and civil servants only appeared to introduce a new lighthouse or during election time and never any other time. There was a distinct individualist
bent to the life of isolation.

I wonder if the Hobbesian state of nature of a life without a state would more be like Newfoundland than a world of chaos. There was a decidedly political bent to the notion of how big government hardly interferes and has no place in such a community, perhaps because their involvement in such isolated communities are so minimal, that people live as if the state did not exist.

Of particular interest was the view of one woman who spoke of the gendered dimension of living in such an isolated place. Flirting and casual sex almost did not exist in a community where few people were around because they knew each other so well and the sense of familiarity between few people did not allow for much fun interaction, but that was suggested by the woman to change as more men appeared and people became more strangers to each other in a community. It is here that Gould has a Goffman-like edge to his documentary in capturing the micro of social interactions.

One particularly interesting point made in the documentary was on how living on the fringes shows you a perspective of society that is much wider than being in the mainstream. One of the speakers referred to Thoreau’s ‘Walden’ living on the edge of society having the most eloquent overview of 19th Century life. This panders to another sociological insight, from Becker, that sociology should be the study of the underdogs, losers and outsiders of society, for they tell us the most about what our society is about.

On reflection there might be interpreted as a moralistic tale to these Solitude documentaries. The life of solitude has a distinct moralistic dimension, that is to say, of a kind of life that affects our character and perspective on life and other agents or even our environment at large. It seems fairly evident that the world Gould portrays is of his native Canada, and reflecting on other perspectives of the solitude that he valued so much in his life. These documentaries serve not just as an interesting historical insight into the 20th Century at its fringes, but also as a way of interpreting the pianistic work of Glenn Gould.

Gould himself is a character who wished to be on the fringes and outside of the gladiatorial concert stage and the world of music tours. Gould’s playing style is a result of his own solitary practicing and lifestyle and the insular sound-world created by his playing. I am also fascinated at how a pianist could also make their life as a broadcaster as well and by being both it confuses the clear roles people seem to impose upon being in front or or behind the microphone.

Team Predator (going to Reading Mall)

I may or may not have talked about this on the blog. One of the things I rarely do but always think about is airsoft. Airsoft is a game (some consider it a sport) which involves playing in various tactical situations and games akin to paintball, but with BB guns and often replica weapons. I am aware it’s not a thing for everyone especially as it’s very injury invoking (I have a permanent knee injury from airsoft) and it is intensely physical.

 

Among my group of friends we have got a unit. We call ourselves Team Predator. I have lately been organising an airsoft day – guised as a stag party at the Reading Mall this coming sunday. I am very much looking forward to playing on that site. Apparently it was once a shopping centre called ‘Friars Walk’ which closed down and is now used for airsoft and occasionally they have a George Romero style Zombie airsoft simulation game.

 

There are various elements that I love about airsoft. I love coming across all sorts of people. You get the teenaged kids with their dads, who basically used to be us 10 years ago. Then there are the airsofters who are a bit hardened, some are ex military, some are current military and others are extremely into it. I would say that Team Predator is somewhere between those two extremes.

 

I love the role play of airsoft. I get to use leadership and tactical skills that I don’t use in my ordinary life or (that much) at work. I love the opportunity to be seen in a different way, or not be seen at all wearing a mask. In the mask you are genderless yet distinct. I have kitted myself out for airsoft and my team are similarly excited about this.

 

Another aspect of airsoft that I often overlook is…the fear. The prospect of having a gun shot at you and grenades flown about is very scary. Injuries are very real in the game (I am a testament to that) and even though it is role playing and fantasy, the adrenaline and the perception of fear and acting under pressure is most definitely not.

 

I remember the last time I played airsoft that the fear was so intense that I didn’t push as hard as I used to when I played before. The sense of fear brings with it a real authenticity. The people who talk a lot about playing may not be the ones making the crucial plays and doing the crucial actions. The sense of fear and how to act in a fast paced situation is the real judge of a good airsofter and not the size of your gun or how expensive your equipment is.