Cricket: Huh?

Today marked day four of the first Ashes Test between England and Australia.

If you understand those words but do not understand the context in which I wrote them  . . . well, join the club.  As near as I can figure, my first sentence means that there is an annual international tournament called the Ashes that takes place between the Australian English cricket teams.  The tournament is made of several days-long matches called tests.  Australia and England are currently playing their first test.  Please don’t believe my translation is necessarily correct; I have no idea what I am talking about.

Cricket may very well be the most confusing sport I have ever encountered in my life.  Like football (soccer) and rugby, it originated in England.*  It is played with a bat and a ball.  Some matches can go one for days, and some are limited to ensure that they do not.  I have absolutely no idea how to read a cricket score.  When I hear Sky Sports News or read an article reporting on cricket, the language seems completely foreign.  I can usually pick up the rules of a sport when I see it on television or on the Internet, at least enough to understand what is going on–not with cricket.  Cricket is what you get if James Joyce watched a baseball game once, wrote the rules as he saw them three years afterwards, and gave his rules to non-athletes in another country with no knowledge of baseball to recreate the game.  (Yes, I know cricket is older.)

Years ago, an obnoxious diplomat (I think he worked at the UN) wrote an op-ed in the New York Times trashing Americans for preferring baseball, and implicitly stating that we were not intelligent enough to understand the subtlety of cricket.  Obnoxious diplomats aside, there is nothing wrong with the bat and ball sport that Americans perfected, although I admit to not liking baseball (Go Phillies!).  Although I have very little interest in cricket, I am fascinated by foreign sports with large international tournaments.  I now have some familiarity with Rugby Union and Rugby League, and I even know a little about Gaelic sports, Australian Rules Football, and Netball.  Cricket, however, continues to elude me.  It is not because, as our diplomatic snoot implied, Americans are too stupid to get it, but because the sport is too complex to learn about from a Wikipedia entry and YouTube clips.  The truth is, cricket needs to be taught because of how needlessly complex the sport inherently is.  Usually one is taught the sport at a young age.  Since very few people in this country understand cricket, there is practically no one to teach it.  I think in the United States, cricket will be slightly more popular than polo and slightly less popular than professional lacrosse.  I may be giving a short shrift to polo.

Although football is the most popular sport in Britain, there is no sport more stereotypically English than cricket.  England presents a certain image of itself to the world: (1) the country is full of stodgy, snobby highbrows, and (2) it once ruled the world’s most expansive empire.  Cricket is the purest representation of this image.  If you have ever seen a test match, the uniform is, for both sides, an all white getup: trousers, shirt, and sweater.  (That the shirts are now filled with advertisements is a tragic reminder of the power of money over tradition.)  Even though football began its life in the British public schools (which are the equivalent of American private schools), it easily spread to the working class and poor in Britain and around the world because of how simple and inexpensive the game is.  Cricket is harder to play outside of the confines of the country club–or public school–because of all the required equipment.  The rules of football are, for the most part, simple to grasp; the rules of cricket are not nearly as intuitive.  Furthermore the top cricket nations are almost entirely nations that were a part of the former British empire: England, South Africa, Zimbabwe, the West Indies, Australia, New Zealand, and the entire South Asian subcontinent.  There are more countries, but I believe these are the main ones.

Even though I have very little interest in cricket as a sport, there is Cricket World Cup.  Therefore, as with all World Cup sports, men’s and women’s, it is inherently interesting to me on a sociological level.  With the exception of football, I think care less about international sport, than I do about the results of the sport’s World Cup (football excluded).  I think basketball is missing out on a golden opportunity to ditch the Olympics and World Championships and have a quadrennial international tournament of its own.**

Because there is a World Cup, I wanted to know how to play cricket.  What attracts so many people to such a nonsensical sport, at least to an outsider?  Cricket is especially popular in India, one of the few nations (perhaps most notably the United States) that football has been unable to conquer.  To add even more intrigue, cricket has been producing scandal after scandal which throws the integrity of the sport into question (take that, snooty diplomat!).  Given that the epicenter of these controversies is generally Pakistan, international political relationships are touched upon if not directly affected.

So I still don’t understand cricket.  I am not sure if I ever will, although I am going to keep trying, at least for the immediate future.   Meanwhile if anyone knows how to read a cricket score…

Footnotes:

*  The fact that these sports originated in England has led to a double standard of sorts.  Whereas in the Olympics (and the United Nations) England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are all a part of the United Kingdom.  In football are four all individual countries with their own teams, the so called “Home Nations”–a sore point to some other countries who see this as one nation getting four bites at the apple.  However, this works against the Home Nations.  Rather than one strong side, there are four sides of varying strength.  As a result three of the four Home Nations will never again be competitive in international competition; the remaining country, England, has seen its standard of play slowly declining.  Rugby also maintains that double standard, but to a lesser extent.  Northern Ireland is part of Ireland in international test matches, and the British and Irish Lions tour the world.  Rugby is also far less popular around the world.  Cricket turns the double standard on its head:  in international tests, Wales is part of England, Northern Ireland is part of Ireland, and the tiny English-speaking countries of the Caribbean compete internationally as “The West Indies.”

**  Or perhaps not.  FIBA would expect to control an international competition, and FIBA, despite being the ruling body of international basketball, could never do anything of that scale without the NBA’s approval.  If FIBA tried to stand up to the NBA, the NBA could simply pull out all its players, thereby making a sham of the tournament (and a poorly watched one at that.)  So long as there is only one important basketball league in the world, the NBA will rule the roost.  This will not change any time soon.

Music I listened to while writing this: No music today.  Just podcasts.

So Bad But So Good

Burlesque, the new Cher/Christina Aguilera movie came out this week.  I am almost certain that I am not going to see it.  The reviews are split between okay, bad, and so bad that it is good.  In Salon one writer talks about why Burlesque is will not be a camp classic  (Spoiler: It’s bad but not bad enough, and the new generation of gay men doesn’t appreciate trashy diva movies the way previous generations do.  Damn kids!)

No description of divine trash is complete without referencing Susan Sontag’s famous and brilliant break-out essay “Notes On ‘Camp'”.  There, it has been referenced.  Sontag also describes the connection between camp and gay culture.  (I would love to describe my own take on camp and gay culture although it is not germane to this post, and I am trying to cut down on long drawn-out essays.  So another time.)

The quintessential so-bad-it’s-good movie is Showgirls, which nearly (and unfairly) killed poor Elizabeth Berkley’s career–if an actress can get work after Saved By The Bell, then awesomely awful movies should only make her stronger.  Showgirls is atrocious if you love movies; it is legendary if you love camp.  Joe Eszterhas, who wrote the screenplay also wrote Basic Instinct.  Basic Instinct is a far worse movie on every level, yet, for all the controversy that surrounded it, it created a star, at least temporarily, in Sharon Stone.  Yet, while Basic Instinct did not get the critical panning, it does not inspire the same kind of latter adoration as Showgirls.  Basic Instinct also lacks a gay following (probably because the lesbians in the movie are crazed serial killers.)

What I want to know is what defines a campy movie.  What criteria make a Douglas Sirk melodrama a classic, but calls a movie like Mommie Dearest, with the same kind of complete over-the-top emoting, a camp classic?  Why are Fred and Ginger movies with incoherent and ridiculous plots not camp even though they are a lot of fun to watch?  Why is All About My Mother, one of the finest movies ever made and one of my all-time favorites, considered a “legitimate” movie that wins awards when the film (and director) is steeped in gay culture and camp.  All About My Mother owes its existence to All About Eve, another one of the greatest films of all time and one with a huge gay following (It should be a law that every young gay boy be able to recite Margo Channing’s famous line “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!” on demand.)   And that isn’t even the most over-the-top of Bette Davis’s great movies–we exclude her bad ones; they’re not camp, just bad.  Davis’s campiest movie is Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (“But y’are, Blanche!  Y’are in that chair!”), a movie in which Davis and Joan Crawford, two of Hollywood’s most legendary divas, try not to let their hatred for one another outshine the hatred their characters feel for one another (not always successfully).

So why are All About Eve and All About My Mother classics but Showgirls, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, and Mommie Dearest camp classics?  What is the difference between a great movie and great awful movie?  Is there one?  I feel like there is, but I am not yet able to define it.

Maybe I need to reread my Sontag.

Who Are You?

At the current time, I have 61 hits.  I have told only one person about this blog, so it seems like other people are randomly wandering over.  I am curious as to how you discovered this blog.  Was it through Google or something else?  And if it was through a search engine, what were you looking for?

In any case–Welcome, Friend!  I hope you enjoy.

Dancing With The Stars As Political Metaphor

You probably heard something about North Korea bombing a South Korean island, killing two people and bringing the countries closer to war than at any time since the end of the Korean War.  But the American media doesn’t care about that.  So, since you probably won’t hear much about it in the coming days, let me tell you how this will play out.  South Korea will make idle threats.  The United States and Japan will condemn North Korea.  China will protect North Korea from any real retribution.  The United States, Japan, and South Korea will look weak and impotent.  New six-nation talks will be called for (Russia will be the sixth nation.)  Money will be secretly exchanged in the North Korean direction.  The talks will be held but called off by the North Koreans early in the process.  The insane, suicidal North Korean regime will continue, and the North Korean people will suffer.  Then the North Korean government will run out of money and bomb South Korea again.  Rinse, wash, repeat.

Now to get back to something the American media cares about…

On Tuesday night Jennifer Grey won Dancing with the Stars.  Bristol Palin did not win on Dancing with the Stars.  The latter statement is far more significant.  For the past three months, Dancing with the Stars has become a stand-in for the political fractures in American society.

I have a confession to make.  I do not like Dancing with the Stars.  The title is deliberately misleading.  There are no “stars” on that show.  There are musicians, actors, entertainers, athletes, models, and random famous people who dance with professional ballroom dancers.  None of these non-dancers are in the public eye anymore, and some never were.  If the title were accurate the show would be called “Dancing with People Who Wish to Recapture the Spotlight”.  Any actual stars who appear on the show are the musical guest stars (some famous, some flavor of the week) that ABC gets to perform on elimination nights.

I have a second confession to make.  I like watching people dance.  When talented people are able to express themselves with their bodies in a graceful way the effect is heart stopping.  I love watching the old Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movies, and it isn’t for the ridiculous, paper-thin plots.  For that reason, even though I hate the show, I watch clips on YouTube of the performers who are actually good.  This season I watched Jennifer Grey, she of Dirty Dancing and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off fame.  There were honestly times I could not tell whether she or her partner was the professional.  I am sure part of that was the choreography, but it was also her talent.  (It’s probably inherited.  Her father is Joel Grey of Cabaret fame and her grandfather was the bandleader Mickey Katz.)

In the past I have watched clips of some other excellent celebrities, especially Kristi Yamaguchi.  The celebrity who moved me the most was Marlee Matlin. Her technique was far from pristine, but she is a very talented actress; she could convey emotion with her body in a way that most cannot.  When she danced the Viennese Waltz to Billy Joel’s “She’s Always a Woman,” I felt a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.  I was not the only one; one of the judges broke down and cried.  It was a stunning performance.  What makes Jennifer Grey great is that she is both actress and dancer.  She has the technique, and she can convey the emotion.  I have watched each of her dances.  Multiple times.

I always thought Dancing with the Stars got their whole premise wrong.  Some fans complain about the show using “ringers,” but I would prefer seeing more stars who are trained dancers.  I think it would have been great if the show existed decades ago.  Can you imagine a show where the stars were Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Ginger Rogers, Judy Garland, Ann Miller, Eleanor Powell, Donald O’Connor, Debby Reynolds, and so on and so forth?  I am not sure who would today’s Astaire or Kelly, but there are certainly celebrities with dancing backgrounds.  Bebe Neuwirth and Kristin Chenoweth?  Madonna?  Perhaps Chita Rivera would come out of retirement.  (Maybe after a Broadway performer is a guest on the horror that is Glee, he or she can sign up for Dancing with the Stars.)  The joy would come from seeing great performers make great art rather than seeing mediocrities dance tepid tangos.  Judging and choosing a winner would be much harder when everyone is spectacular.

Which brings me to Bristol Palin.  I cannot think of a more cynical move on ABC’s part than asking Bristol Palin to be on the show.  The network was trying to capitalize on Sarah Palin’s fame, and they succeeded.  At the outset, I confess that I don’t like Sarah Palin (Like most of America, I have no opinion of Bristol whatsoever.)  Her battle against the “elites” smacks of anti-intellectualism.  She is a toxic, ignorant, shallow, vicious Know-Nothing who is even more cynical than ABC.  She preys on people’s fears and personal demons for money and her own fame.  Woe to this country if she becomes President.

Bristol was nothing more than her political prop, as all politicians’ families are merely props for political campaigns (I include Sasha and Malia Obama, Chelsea Clinton, and Jenna and Barbara Bush in this statement.)  Knowing this, ABC gambled that any Palin would come with a built-in audience/fan base.   Bristol Palin is a star in the same way that Paris Hilton is a star–in other words, not at all.  The people who voted for her do not know anything about her other than the whole Levi Johnson love child debacle.  To her fans (if that is the right word), Bristol was a stand-in for her mother, and they were voting for Sarah Palin.  It was a proxy vote: Bristol Palin for the trophy = Sarah Palin for President.  People suspected this weeks ago, but it was not confirmed until last week when Bristol beat out former television/singing performer Brandy (Norwood), who was far superior in every possible way.  So of course the political left got involved and voted against Bristol because voting against Bristol was a vote against her mother.  Jennifer Grey won; Bristol came in third.

Jennifer Grey deserved to win, which was the popular assessment since Week 1.  No dancer on that show has been as good as her.  Nevertheless, the whole experience leaves a nasty taste.  ABC was the real winner because people watched its tacky show.  But in the process, it brought to family television (not journalism or opinion television) the already raging political and cultural war that is being waged across this country.

The media, across the board, continues to exacerbate these tensions solely for ratings.  Bristol Palin is not a star; she’s a prop.  Her mother, possibly the most divisive figure in the country, is the star.  Every time Bristol Palin appeared on stage, she was a stand-in for her mother.  Every vote for Bristol or against her was a vote for or against her mother.  I have no idea what Bristol got out of this, but I know what ABC and her mother did.  ABC got television money.  Sarah Palin got even more exposure.  One television show was not enough; Dancing with the Stars gave her a second one.  She is also a contributor to Fox News.  She has a new book out.  The rest of the media covers everything she does.  And I feel dirty because I wrote about her.

In the meantime, North and South Korea are on the verge of war, and the European Union is facing serious financial issues…

Music I listened to: Robert Schumann “Fantasy Pieces, Op. 12” No. 3, No. 5, No.7; Billy Joel “She’s Always a Woman”.

Harry Potter

Yesterday I saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I for the first time.  I plan to see it again.  It was good.  I was also a little sad about seeing this movie.  For a little over a decade, Harry Potter has been a part of my life.  When Part II is released, it will be the end of the journey.

I got into Harry Potter as a sort of protest.  It was my senior year of college.  The first three books had already been published, and the fourth was almost ready to be released.  The evangelical Christian fringe decided that Harry Potter promoted witchcraft and began a campaign full of ignorance and deceit to get the books out of the classroom.  The real reason for the hatred was because the books were popular and protesting brought those people attention.  I had already decided to read the books because I didn’t want to be completely excluded from a clear cultural phenomenon.  However, I wanted to wait until all seven books came out first.

The Christian right made me realize that I could not afford to wait, and I found an opportunity to start reading.  I was friendly with a graduate student at the time, and I babysat her two children from when she needed help.  Both children read the books, but the younger one wanted me to read it to him. (I recently discovered his profile on a certain social networking site, and it depresses me how much older he is.  He was such a cute kid.  I’m depressed.)  As I read the first book to him, I became hooked.  I borrowed the first two books (they did not have the third) and read them in a couple hours.  I then went out and bought the first three books for myself and read them over and over.

Every time a new book was released, I barely slept the night before.  When the book arrived, I would lock myself into an empty room and read.  No matter how long the new book was, I finished it within 24 hours of its arrival.  Then I would reread the entire series up to that point.  What struck me as I got into the later books was how much more mature the tone got.  The character grew, and so did the author.

The movies have almost always been disappointments.  Unlike the Lord of the Rings movies, the Harry Potter movies do not stand up to repeat viewings, even the best ones.  (Also unlike the Lord of the Rings movies, the Harry Potter movies are not as good as the source material.  Part of the fun in Harry Potter is the clever writing.  Tolkien’s writing is something of a drag even though the story has no peer.)  None of the Harry Potter scripts have done a good enough job of translating the novels.  To truly understand the movies, one has to have read the books. Otherwise the movies make no sense.

Nevertheless, I saw each one in the theater dutifully, always within a week of the opening.  The only films I have seen in the theater over the past few years are from the Harry Potter series (I have lost faith in the movies, but that is for another post.)  Often I have seen them twice in the theater.  I even saw the last movie twice, and I thought it was terrible

I love Harry Potter, but he is coming to the end of his journey.  Christopher Robin went to school, Wendy Moira Angela Darling got married and had children of her own, Jackie Paper came no more to Honalee, and the children that I once adored are growing up into adulthood.  Now Harry must wait for the next generation to find him.

And I have to grow a little older again.

Music I listened to while writing this post: Stevie Nicks “Rooms on Fire”; Five for Fighting “The Riddle”; The Seekers “Georgy Girl”; Elton John “The Bitch is Back”; The Beatles “Girl”; Arabesque “Midnight Dancer”;  Patricia Klaas “Faites Entrer Les Clowns”; Henryk Górecki “Symphony #3, Op. 36, ‘Symphony Of Sorrowful Songs'” Lento E Largo, Tranquillissimo; John Denver “Dreamland Express”;

In Treatment

I said before that I am not good with therapy.  I actually have a background in a therapy-related profession, so I know that I don’t like being in therapy or being a therapist.  As much as I don’t want to talk about my problems, I don’t want to hear about a stranger’s even more.

It is therefore somewhat odd how intrigued I am by In Treatment, the HBO show which is really just four (abridged) therapy sessions every week.  Good acting and good writing have something to do with that.

I am intrigued by In Treatment, but the truth is that I am really only interested in one of the story lines and that is Jesse, the gay adopted teenager.  Jesse absolutely fascinates me for so many reasons–not the least of which is that while I was a therapist-in-training, I worked with gays, teenagers, and gay teenagers.   Jesse is a gaping pit of unending need, which brings out something paternal in me.  He’s extremely bratty, but also incredibly lovable.  Despite everything, he’s just a kid.  (Dane DeHaan, the actor who plays Jesse, is amazing.)

Jesse has created a fantasy for himself that everyone wants to leave him, so he acts out to drive them away first.  He’s like walking raw nerve, and everything sets him off with the slightest provocation.  His therapist Paul has made a lot of mistakes with Jesse.  Paul and Jesse have a combative relationship fed by Jesse’s desire to be Paul’s surrogate son.  Paul has not really explored the roots of Jesse’s abandonment fantasies or why Jesse pushes people away.  No doubt this stems from Jesse being an adopted child and from being a gay son in a working-class Catholic family that does not completely accept him, but is trying.  Jesse has two session left this season, and I am curious where the show will go from here.

Music I listened to while writing this: Elis Regina & Tom Jobim “Triste”; Belle and Sebastian “Waiting for the Moon to Rise”; Miriam Makeba “The Click Song”;