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Entries in hamlet (2)

Thursday
Mar032011

In Which I Wanna Live In Los Angeles But Not The One In Los Angeles

Hamlet Extreme

by MOLLY LAMBERT

Los Angeles is a city of extremes. I will not argue with you that Beverly Hills is one of the worst places on earth (see also: Fifth Avenue, Dubai) and that conspicuous displays of the worst extremes of capitalism make me want to go back to college and curl up in a ball on a common room couch (I kind of want to do this anyway). And I am definitely not arguing that the extremity of poverty and crime in some other parts of LA is part of its charm, because certainly I don't think it's very charming to those residents. Just that Los Angeles is very extreme, in a number of ways. And it tends towards entropy. 

And so when articles turn up online claiming that LA has the rudest people in the country I shrug, because I know that it's not really true. I mean it's definitely kind of true. All the clichés about agents and producers are true. All the Beverly Hills housewives are just as vain and tucked and terrifying as they seem on TV. But that is a tiny portion of Los Angeles, and one of the greatest things about Los Angeles is that no one part represents any other part. Every house is a different architectural style.

There is nothing worse than bad art but there is nothing better than good art. Bad art is the most embarrassing thing to witness, good art among the most sublime. It is only because art has this ability to arouse embarrassment in you that it can also arouse admiration. A mediocre artwork inspires no true feeling in its audience.

I often become obsessed with a bad song on the radio and then spend a lot of time trying to discern what makes me consider it bad; why it is capable of creating such strong feeling in me, why I have such a clear feeling about the direction of its quality.  

Sometimes really terrible songs that get played a lot in the public sphere eventually gain meaning because you associate them so strongly with certain places or time periods. So your feelings about the song are really about a personal experience of a song, which can elevate a bad song to sentimental or a good song to indelible. 

One of those OK Cupid internal metric blog posts demonstrated that people whose appearance was divisive inspired more fervent messaging than people who were merely attractive or unattractive. One person's dream is another's worst nightmare. This makes sense in terms of a larger argument about extremes. If you are predisposed to liking something, you will be drawn to the most extreme version of it. 

Extremity is dangerous, and danger is linked closely to excitement. Anything some people feel strongly negative about is going to be a fetish for someone else, often a fetish for the person who feels strongly negative about it. Fantasy is not real life.

One set of preferences is never better than another. People answer Fuck Marry Kills very differently, and all answers are equally valid. Eugenics and appearance fascism depend on the conceptual lie that there is one ideal kind of beauty, but there is no one universal ideal, just endless ideals and anti-ideals. The ideal kind of beauty is variety. 

There is literally nothing worse than bad theater (maybe bad stand-up or improv comedy) but when theater accomplishes its goals it is one of the most transcendent experiences life permits (West Side Story). Films allow audiences to have theatrical experiences without the embarrassment of watching the actors potentially fail onstage.

But it is the potential embarrassment, the possibility that something will go wrong, the "liveness" itself, that makes theater more charged than film. Watching an entertaining film, the audience will gasp or cheer together and individually find satisfaction in the collective expression of a crowd. It is especially pronounced during horror movies. 

In a live setting, a show with a live audience and a live performer, collective expression turns into cathartic group release. Any kind of coordinated simultaneous experience is theatrical; sports, concerts, church, class. You are channelling something bigger.

Shakespeare remains eternally popular because of the quality of the work, and Hamlet remains the sort of platonic ideal of an artistic expression. It is a perfect standalone text, but when it is staged correctly it conducts automatic feeling in the audience.

Reading Hamlet is conducting this feeling in yourself, but to see Hamlet staged well is to have this feeling conducted in you, to feel yourself played the way an instrument is played. If you believe in the performance, you will feel the emotions rise up in you on command and it is remarkably easy to feel like they are coming directly from God. 

There Will Be Blood is an extended meditation on this idea, and it sounds like PTA's now dead Scientology movie would have been further exploration. Paul Thomas Anderson is obsessed with charismatic performance. It turns up constantly in his work; Dirk Diggler, Tom Cruise's Frank T.J. Mackey, the phone sex in Punch-Drunk Love.

Punch-Drunk Love is about learning to channel your own internal charismatic performance, and Adam Sandler is so effective because his basic screen persona is the id attempting to escape its repression by the self. Boogie Nights is about the filming of sex, a process that transforms a real experience into a fantasy, an impossible ideal.

Christopher Nolan also gets into this in The Prestige and somewhat in Inception (*nc*p*i*n). Where does this desire come from, to orchestrate feeling in others, in strangers? How real can it be when the trick is so obviously out on the table?

If a lapdance makes you have an orgasm, does it matter that the stripper doesn't really like you at all, she just wants your money? If an illusion creates the correct reaction, does it matter how much artifice and fakery went into creating it? Does any artifice and fakery automatically become genuine the moment it provokes a genuine reaction? 

Can't artifice be genuine to begin with? The alternative assumes there is such a thing as an authentic pure object, but there is no such thing. Isn't acknowledging the importance and value of artifice a way of demonstrating that there is no such thing as true authenticity? That the only true authenticity is authenticity of feeling, and if you perform authentically it does not make it inauthentic that you are performing?

Like any magic trick, you have to buy into the illusion for it to work. If you no longer believe the preacher they will have no effect on you. If you come in predisposed to hate something, you might still hate it. But I have noticed lately a sort of public enjoyment in stoking early backlash to its furthest possible extreme and then conquering it.

That James Cameron relished detraction of Avatar, and David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin took enjoyment from getting hazed by the internet generation about making a Facebook movie with Justin Timberlake because it made it all the more impressive and satisfying when they pulled it off. There is well-earned smugness in the execution of the best sequences in both. Because they were right and we were fools to doubt them.

Because they took skeptics and converted them into believers. Because everyone loves a good trick. Because we all anticipated in advance an artwork's potential to be embarrassing and then it laughed at us with art. "I told you, I know what I'm doing."

Molly Lambert is the managing editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Los Angeles. You can find How To Be A Woman In Any Boys Club here, Speak Now here, and East End Boys and West End Girls here. She tumbls here and twitters here.

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Wednesday
Mar022011

In Which We Got A Pocket Full Of Rainbows Got A Heart Full Of Love

Telephone Wires

by MOLLY LAMBERT

Why is a sunset with telephone lines blocking it sometimes more beautiful than a straight sunset? The natural overlapping with the manmade is more beautiful than just the manmade or the natural on its own. The intrusion of the manmade on nature amplifies both as long as one doesn't overwhelm the other. Is it like androgyny?

Is it the darkness of the telephone lines in silhouette against the sky? Because it transforms something that is there all day and night into something else different and specifically beautiful, but only for a very brief and emphatic time? How much of its beauty is bound up in its briefness? Isn't that what is so beautiful about flowers?

What is it about contrast that is greater than sameness? It's not just beauty versus ugliness, because I don't believe the telephone wires to be ugly, and the sunset can be so beautiful as to become ugly in its maudlinism. They are beautiful in completely different ways, ways that necessarily exclude. Each thing cannot be the other. 

Writing is spending that creates more money in your wallet. The wallet has the illusion of only ever having five dollars in it, so you are always afraid to spend your last five dollars, but then when you do another five dollars magically appears the next day.

Sometimes a ten or twenty appears. Occasionally you spend it unwisely and feel stupid afterwards. But when the next bill appears it is a brand new opportunity to decide what to do with it and no decision that you made before the current one matters at all.  

If you don't spend the five dollars, it disappears at the end of the night. The five dollars you get the next day is an entirely different five dollars but it looks identical to the one from the day before. There is no accumulated interest, but the more often you spend the five dollars the more likely it is that a twenty might show up sometime.

We think of artistic processes as male sexual processes. You ejaculate on the canvas (Jackson Pollack to Dash Snow). You write a book and then you bind and print it, the end. And then if you want to write another book the whole process starts over again from the beginning. But what if art is a female sexual process? If there is no refractory period? What if orgasm just leads to more orgasm? More spending? More paintings, more poems, more posts on a website? Every day there is five dollars and a sunset. 

Hamlet is about a very common twentysomething desire: the desire to not make any permanent decisions. It is an extension of the desire to not get any older, which kicks in right around 25 and manifests as a darkened train tunnel projecting to the grave. There will be a lot of times at which you have to decide something and there will be no way to avoid making a choice. If you kill your stepdad, you can't un-kill him. 

The decision to not make a decision is ironically enough, totally still a decision. It just means your choice will be made for you, which is even more stressful and worse than choosing. If you live in one place, you don't live in another place. If you're a doctor, you can't be a lawyer. If you marry one guy you can't be married to some other guy. Self-absorbed young men such as Hamlet tend to think this tendency against wanting to make serious decisions is specific to them but it is how everyone feels.

That was the real moment of clarity in Knocked Up: when Leslie Mann asked her husband Paul Rudd why it hadn't occurred to him that she might also want to see Spiderman, might also want a night alone away from their kids to play fantasy baseball with her group of friends, might also want to drive to Vegas without telling anybody and do mushrooms with Seth Rogen and see Cirque Du Soleil. Why hadn't it though? 

Hamlet is really about how hard it is to make any decision, important decisions but also unimportant decisions (what to eat?) There are plenty of smaller decisions which then add up in momentum or especially lack thereof to being important decisions. How hard it is to close doors behind you and how hard it can be to keep them closed. How passivity is very much a kind of choice that creates consequences for your life. 

That there is no way to be so passive as to never make a serious decision about your life, because not making decisions or blinding yourself to the ongoing existence of this decision making process in your life still adds up to a kind of choice, often the most miserable. We do not always want to try, because to try is to open up the possibility that we will fail. But not trying makes failure guaranteed in advance.

We remember times that we took action but we also remember times we restrained ourselves or were restrained by forces greater than ourselves. We especially remember things we wanted to do but didn't, because restraining yourself from doing things you want to do but shouldn't hardly kills the desire to do them. We remember the point of decision, whatever decision we made or was made for us. We picture alternate worlds. 

The black swan cousin of "remember when" is "what if?" What if it had gone differently? What if I hadn't? What if I had? We never think of how we could have lost at times we won, only how we could have won at times we lost. We are frustrated by circumstances outside our control, but we hate to think that we control our own circumstances. 

As life keeps going on and on you are forced to acknowledge that each individual decision is not made in a vacuum. That they add up to something; your character, the way others think of you, which are not the same thing. They seem to diverge further as you get older, even as you become more firm about declaring and owning your persona, your affects and effects, whatever little island you have built for yourself. 

When you take stock of your life there are plot holes galore. You find it hard to believe that you acted as if the future was endless, as if bullets only go up in the air. But that is the illusory image of youth; nihilism, just as the illusion of adulthood is stability.

Molly Lambert is the managing editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Los Angeles. You can find How To Be A Woman In Any Boys Club here, Speak Now here, and East End Boys and West End Girls here. She tumbls here and twitters here.

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