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Turkey Week

Friday, November 23, 2012

When turkeys take flight

Posted By on 11.23.12 at 11:40 AM

Herman Melville, infamous in his lifetime as the author of turkeys
  • Herman Melville, infamous in his lifetime as the author of turkeys
Broadly speaking, failed creative efforts that get labeled turkeys fall into one of two categories. There are the purely insipid movies, books, songs, et cetera, that convey incompetence more than anything else; they're generally unambitious, but their sheer lack of craftsmanship or good taste situates them outside the familiarly bad. Then there are the overreaching failures, which feel particularly embarrassing because they fall so short of their obvious aspirations. These turkeys have the distinction of being the more interesting to think about; in considering what went wrong, you end up better aware of why other artworks succeed—or, at the very least, don't offend.

Yet history has shown that popular ideas about artistic success and failure don't always stick. For instance, Herman Melville's last three major novels—Moby-Dick; Pierre, or the Ambiguities; and The Confidence-Man—were such critical and commercial flops that Melville abandoned his literary career just two years after the publication of Confidence and took a job as a customs inspector on Wall Street, which he held until retirement age. When he died in 1891, most of his novels had been forgotten; nearly 30 years would pass before a new generation of writers proclaimed him one of the great American authors. Vincent van Gogh's artistic reputation experienced an even greater turnaround in the half century after his death.

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Alexandria Quartet: inedible

Posted By on 11.22.12 at 06:49 AM

Like a sinus being ground to powder
  • Reuters
  • Durrell's muses: Pomposity, Meretricia, and Sibyl
"Like a sinus being ground to powder" writes Lawrence Durrell in a typically overreaching description taken from Justine, the first volume of his "Alexandria Quartet." And his late-50s tetralogy is indeed as painful as a sinus infection. The Guardian's John Crace might have summed it up best in his parody of the work:

The child and I are alone. I have not named it yet, though it will, of course, be Justine. I am neither happy nor unhappy: just poetically distrait. . . . And what of Justine? Was she trapped in a projection of a will too powerful which Alexandria threw down? And ought I to get out more?

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

White House turkey begs your pardon

Posted By on 11.21.12 at 02:44 PM

President Barack Obama lays hands on a turkey, 2009
  • Lawrence Jackson/Wikimedia Commons
  • President Barack Obama reads auras, 2009
Last night, trying to take the temperature of America, I watched the first two episodes of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo on YouTube while I sewed, for the second time, holes that had appeared more or less simultaneously in each front pocket of a pair of pants. (The leading indicator of this problem is the cold metallic feel of coins hitting your thighs on their way down your pant legs, a 100 percent metaphorical experience.) I was left nonplussed on two counts. First, sewing—Jesus H. Christ has some famous bon mot about getting a camel through the eye of the needle, but you've got to imagine the guy never tried straight-up thread, which is nigh impossible. Second, Honey Boo Boo—was this good? Was this exploitation? If I were writing an exegesis for n+1, could I use the word abjection?

Happily, an easier cultural analogy became available in the sentient forms of Cobbler and Gobbler, two turkeys, though that ended up a wasted opportunity. The White House put its special spin on the annual tradition of pardoning a Thanksgiving turkey by choosing two birds and then asking the country to vote (on Facebook, natch) on which would receive the official pardon—a grisly, fucked-up, almost unbelievably hilarious publicity ploy. I loved it for all its reality-TV-era possibilities. The two turkeys' differences were delineated as follows:

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Joe Budden is a turkey

Posted By on 11.21.12 at 06:47 AM

Joe Budden is the worst. That's a variation of the phrase my friend Alex and I kept repeating while fleeing a "performance" by the New Jersey rapper back in 2008; that saying and the moment that inspired it springs to mind often enough for me to consider Budden's concert a total flop, and thus a perfect fit for this week's Variations on a Theme.

I wasn't a Budden fan prior to seeing him onstage—I actually ended up at the show for a school assignment. I'd been taking a sociology class on youth subcultures in my final semester at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, and part of the coursework for one particular project required my peers and me to attend a few hip-hop shows, much to my delight. But due to my overly packed schedule and the difficulty that comes with trying to see live music in a Boston suburb with few public transportation options, I wound up snapping up a ticket to see Joe Budden at Cambridge's Middle East Downstairs out of academic obligation rather than interest. Fortunately I had a comrade-in-arms in Alex, who shared my lack of interest in Budden.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A decade under the influence of terrible movies

Posted By on 11.20.12 at 06:43 AM

I started reviewing movies for the Reader a little over ten years ago, and in that time I've published 3,664 capsules. So when our digital editor announced this would be "Turkey Week" on the Bleader, I decided to compile my old reviews for the ten biggest turkeys I've seen during that time. Brace yourself; as George Carlin once observed of his Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television, "They must be reeeeeeally bad to be separated from a group that large!"

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Monday, November 19, 2012

Talking about turkeys (duds) all week long

Posted By on 11.19.12 at 09:13 AM

Is that Guy Fieri? No, just a turkey.
  • Nordelch
  • Is that Guy Fieri? No, just a turkey.
Perhaps you've read Pete Wells's New York Times restaurant review of Guy's American Kitchen & Bar, the gargantuan new Times Square food circus presented by noted celebrity chef Guy Fieri? Isn't it neat how the entire review was written in a series of direct and rhetorical questions? Can you believe that those questions were all virulent takedowns of the restaurant? Did anyone anticipate it would generate responses from so many people, both positive and negative? Who would have thought that even Guy Fieri would respond on national television? What about you? Do you think the review is ground zero for a discussion about the value and purpose of criticism? Do you think it says something about class and taste? And don't you think these sentences phrased as questions get kind of annoying after a while?

Did you know that we have this weekly blog series called Variations on a Theme, in which Reader writers explore a subject each week on the Bleader? Like last week's The Next Four Years Week—did you read that? Isn't it coincidental that Thanksgiving falls this week—a holiday wherein eating a turkey is a trademark—and that everyone's talking about Pete Wells reviewing a turkey, e.g., a total failure or flop? What if Reader writers spend this week writing about various instances in which they have had to deal with reviewing or encountering a turkey?

Well, they will be. Check back on the Bleader all this week for Turkey Week, this week's Variations on a Theme.

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