Archive for the ‘television’ Category

Blacks according to American film and television seems to go something like this:

  1. There are not many of them – maybe just 6% of America.
  2. Unlike whites, they do not represent the full range of humanity but just a narrow, screwed-up part of it.
  3. Blacks are so limited in their behaviour and interests that a dozen Hollywood stereotypes are enough to cover nearly all of them. The rest can be covered by the phrase, “You are not like other blacks”. Hip hop videos and BET prove that the stereotypes are true to life!
  4. Blacks are mostly poor, live in big cities, listen to hip hop, are disrespectful, have loose morals and speak bad English full of slang.
  5. Most black people are poor and most poor people are black.
  6. Most black men commit crimes and most crimes are committed by black men. Most therefore wind up in prison at some point. They account for most of the country’s gun violence. They will kill a complete stranger for no good reason.
  7. Most black women are “ghetto”. They are poor, ill-mannered, loud-mouthed, loose and are baby mamas, having children by different men they never marry.
  8. Blacks, both male and female, have a hard time controlling their anger.
  9. Few black women have any true beauty or grace. Most are either fat and ugly or, at best, sexy in a trashy way.
  10. Black-on-black love is rare.
  11. Black men prefer white and Latina women over black women.
  12. It is not uncommon for a black person to have a white parent or be mostly white by blood.
  13. Black success comes mainly through sports, entertainment and crime, not through education and hard work.
  14. There are not many middle-class blacks. Most of them are noble but boring – and have little or no love life.
  15. Missing black women are rare compared to missing white women.
  16. Racism is rare – just a matter of some skinheads. Most of the ills that blacks suffer from come from their own pathologies.
  17. Black political opinion is divided between those who are pretty much happy with the way things are (“black conservatives”) and those who always seem to find something to complain about for no good reason (the “race industry”). There are no independent black views of America that are seriously worth considering.
  18. The lives of black people are good for a few laughs, but not something that would be serious or interesting in its own right.
  19. Most Jamaicans are Rastafarians who speak with a fake Jamaican accent.
  20. Africa is a country full of unending tribal violence and cruel, unsmiling rulers who wear sunglasses. It is incapable of peace and civilization without the help of whites – who always seem to be well-meaning and have nothing to do with how screwed up things are.
  21. Black ghettos are full of unending gang violence and cruel, unsmiling drug lords who wear sunglasses. It is incapable of peace and civilization without the help of whites – who always seem to be well-meaning and have nothing to do with how screwed up things are.

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Chimamanda Adichie

The single story is where the same story gets told over and over again about a people or a place we do not know first-hand. The danger is that it leads to stereotypes, to half-truths not the full truth. So, for example, many Americans think of Africa as being full of wild animals and hungry, unwashed children, not a place where there are libraries, bus drivers and true love. Or they think of Australia as the land of kangaroos, the outback and Crocodile Dundee, not a place of boring suburbs and proper English.

The single story is the opposite of what Chinua Achebe calls “the balance of stories”, where all people tell their own stories in their own words. Something that has only begun with the rise of postcolonial literature – “the Empire writes back”, as Salman Rushdie puts it.

But for the most part our stories are still stuck in colonial times where mainly just white men tell their own stories – or their stories about others – over and over again. Not just in books written, but in news stories told and films directed. The only difference is that now a few tokens, like Achebe himself, are thrown in for good measure.

But tokenism is not enough. Imagine if everything you knew about America and white people came only from the films of Alfred Hitchcock or Quentin Tarantino. There is no way that any token – any single story, author or film director – can present the human fullness of his own people, his own time and place. It will necessarily be limited, making his own people seem limited, strange and exotic to those who know nothing else about them.

Even within America white people think of black men as drug dealers with 13 children by six different baby mamas. I know someone like that, so it is not made up, but most black men I know are hard-working, middle-class family men. And it is not just me: half of blacks in America are middle-class. But you would never know that from watching American television – because there is no balance of stories.

Chimamanda Adichie (pictured above) gave a beautiful, beautiful speech about the danger of the single story (see below for the link). You might remember her as the author of “Half of a Yellow Sun” (2006). She grew up in middle-class Nigeria, the daughter of a professor. When she came to America to study her American roommate was shocked that her English was so good and that her tape of “tribal music” was, in fact, Mariah Carey.

But then came Adichie’s turn to be shocked: from the American press she thought of Mexico as this place where poor, helpless people came from. But when she got to Mexico she saw people laughing and smoking and going to work. It should not have shocked her, but it did.

It was not that the American press had lied to her. Instead it was the power of the single story to paint a false picture of the world.

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TV Tropes

lampshade_logo_blueTV Tropes (2003- ) is a website (tvtropes.org) that talks about tropes on television shows and in other works of fiction. A trope is a story element that you see over and over again – like Black Best Friends, Impossibly Cool Clothes, Conveyor Belts O Doom, Lampshades and Mary Sues. It started out as a website about the American television show “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (1997-2003) but then grew to take in all works of fiction. After all, many of the cheap plot tricks and sorts of characters you see in “Buffy” are as old as dirt.

Like YouTube, it is a form of Internet crack: it is hard to let go – just one more! – but then the next thing you know your clock is saying two in the morning.

It makes you laugh but it also opens your eyes. It talks about all the things you have seen on television over and over again but never had a name for. Like how evil geniuses never just shoot the hero dead but have some overly long way of killing him that is not properly watched over or guarded (Death Trap). Or how showdowns always seem to take place inside dangerous buildings with bad railing (No OSHA Compliance).

It is a wiki, which means anyone can add to it. But unlike the Wikipedia, it is run by some people who do not take themselves too seriously and still have a sense of humour. Nor do they judge what is “notable” and what is not. And it is cool enough to quote the Uncyclopedia.

Most entries name a trope, give a description followed by a list of examples – from television, film, video games, anime, books, etc. Or it can be the other way round: a work of fiction with a list of tropes that it uses.

It covers not just American and British media but Japanese media too. You can find out why the Japanese draw characters with big round eyes and blue hair, for example. And what the Japanese word is for the part of a schoolgirl’s thigh that shows just below her skirt. It is also surprisingly good (but not great) on racism in American media.

I first saw the website two years ago but then got a new computer and lost the bookmark. I found it again the other night when I was trying to find out the word for the trope where the hero is white even though everyone else in the story is not (Mighty Whitey).

Some of the stuff you already knew, like Black Dude Dies First or Not Too Black, but other stuff you did not – like how television stations in the American South used to cut out scenes with black characters (unless the characters played to stereotype, of course).

Because you will know too much about the cheap tricks that writers use to make a story good, they say you will not be able to enjoy television quite the same way again.

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The Bechdel Test (1985) says that a film is not worth watching unless it fulfils three conditions:

  1. It has to have at least two women who
  2. talk to each other about
  3. something besides a man

It comes from Allison Bechdel’s comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For”. She in turn got it from Liz Wallace at her karate class.

It can apply to any story but Hollywood fails the test at a surprising rate, even now more than 20 years later.

NPR did a piece on the Bechdel Test a year ago. In it Eric Deggans, who writes about television for the St Petersburg Times, gave his own form of the Bechdel Test for race:

  1. At least two non-white characters in the main cast …
  2. in a show that’s not about race.

I did not know about the Bechdel Test till I read about it in Alaya Dawn Johnson’s post yesterday at the Angry Black Woman, but even I had something like it in my head:

  1. At least two black characters
  2. who are not stereotypes
  3. whose love lives we know about and
  4. who have their own storyline

“The Secret Life of Bees” would pass (the storylines of Alicia Keys and Sophie Okonedo), while the “Imitation of Life” would not (black characters are stereotypes).

Johnson gives the strict form of the Bechdel Test for race:

  1. It has to have two people of colour in it.
  2. Who talk to each other.
  3. About something other than a white person.

Like Deggans, I would add that talking about race would be, in effect, talking about white people.

deniseJohnson says most shows fail, though “Battlestar Galactica”, “True Blood”, “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Veronica Mars” pass.

A show can pass the Bechdel Test and still be racist – and, likewise, it can fail and yet not be particularly racist at all. But it is a quick way of separating those that probably are racist from those that probably are not. And, more importantly, it gives you a way of thinking about stories and how white male they are in their point of view.

Deggans says that most shows fail the Bechdel Test because most successful television writers are white men. They just do not know what women or blacks talk about when they are not there.

Jennifer Kesler at The Hathor Legacy says it is worse than that: when she was learning to write for Hollywood they told her, in so many words, to fail the Bechdel Test: main characters should be white men and no one cares what women (or presumably blacks or anyone else) talk about unless it is about the main characters – who are white men!

But why? Because the white men who run Hollywood say it is what the “target audience” wants. But just what is this target audience? Kesler says in their minds it turns out to be “a construct based on partial truths and twisted math – to perpetuate their own desires”.

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Is it just me or do most black women on American television look either ugly or loose? While Asian women, on the other hand, are pictured as being better looking than they are?

SingaporeAirlinesGirl_4I have no facts or figures or university studies to prove it, but it has seemed this way to me for a long time.

I am pretty sure I am right about Asians: when I came to New York one of the first things I noticed were the Asian women: they were not nearly as good-looking as I expected. But then it hit me: most of the Asian women I had seen before then were on television or in magazines – nearly all of them model beautiful. Like in those ads for Singapore Airlines (pictured).

claireNot so with black women. There is like the Pine-Sol Lady (“That’s the power of Pine-Sol, baby!”) on the one hand and video vixens on the other, with not all that much in between. Where is the broad middle of Claire Huxtables? You have to pretty much go back to R&B videos from the early 1990s to see black women regularly pictured as having both grace and beauty.

The cover story of the June 29th 2009 issue of TV Guide is “Hot Bods!”  You turn to the story and all the men and women are white. Go through the rest of the issue and there are only five black women (listed here in order of age):

  • 55: Oprah Winfrey
  • 45: Michelle Obama
  • 45: Gloria Reuben
  • 39: Niecy Nash
  • 37: Jada Pinkett-Smith

I do not know anything about Nash, but the rest are admirable women. I think Gloria and Jada are still physically beautiful. But the youngest of them is 37! All the young, beautiful women in that issue are white. They do have young, beautiful women who are black on television, but, apart from old network reruns, most seem to be video vixens in rap videos shaking what they got.

A good example of what I am talking about is “Night Court” from the 1980s. I loved that show. It had both black and white characters, so it was doing good on that count, but look at the top female actresses, black and white, Marsha Warfield and Markie Post:

Marsha WarfiieldMarkie Post

Markie Post is pretty. Meanwhile Marsha Warfield is what? The Pine-Sol Lady.

So why is this? I offer the following reasons:

  1. Television is written and produced mostly by white men who do not take black women seriously as women: they are either undesirable or prostitutes – sexless or oversexed. There is no healthy, ordinary male reaction to them as women.
  2. Blacks mostly play supporting characters. Supporting characters are not supposed to upstage the main characters. So in practice that means blacks on the whole are not allowed to upstage whites.

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American television for the most part is the world according to white men. Because most of the writers and producers are white men. That is why black characters on television are few and are mostly flat or stereotyped.

Some general patterns in American prime time network television:

  • When a network is new it will come out with plenty of black shows, like “Martin” and “Roc” on FOX or “Girlfriends” and “Moesha” on UPN. They do this to get their numbers up quickly in certain key cities. It works because blacks are underserved by the older networks. But they are just using blacks as a stepping stone. Once they get a foothold, white shows drive out black shows.
  • Half of black characters appear on comedies while less than a third of white characters do. That was as true in the 1970s as it was in the early 2000s.
  • Black dramas are rare, particularly middle-class ones. When they do come out they tend to be safe, boring and not given much of a chance to catch on. That means that most dramatic roles for blacks are on white shows where they mostly play safe, boring supporting characters.
  • Many shows have no regular black characters at all, supporting or otherwise. Like “Cheers”, “thirtysomething”, “Seinfeld”, “Friends”, “Sex in the City” and so on. In fact, it seems like most shows are either almost all white or all black.

These are just general patterns. There are, for example, some white shows with good black characters – who get their own storylines, who have love lives, who are more than just cardboard cut-outs. “ER” is a good example.

But most shows are not like that. If they have black characters at all they turn out to be sidekicks, best friends, judges, doctors, secretaries, police officers, etc. They are there only to serve white characters. Like the doctor on “The Simpsons” or Uhura on “Star Trek”.

The great thing about “The Cosby Show” is that it did not show blacks in a flat or  stereotyped way. And it also showed the black middle-class, something you barely ever see on television.

In 1999 the Screen Actors Guild counted the number of black characters on prime time network television. America is 13% black but its prime time characters were 16% black. But half of those were on comedies on UPN and the WB. Those shows are gone.

To get a rough idea what the number is now, I counted all the black people in the latest issue of TV Guide (July 27th 2009). Not counting the ads, it comes to just 6%.

Cable television is worse: blacks are seen mainly in reruns of old network shows and in rap videos and reality shows that push the worst ghetto stereotypes imaginable. In the 1990s BET, the main black cable channel, was kind of good but now it seems to hate black people. That leaves TV One. Is it any good?

And for news how come Michel Martin does not have her own show on MSNBC? Her and Pat Buchanan would be priceless.

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Watching television you would think that black ghettos in the big cities are the poorest and most dangerous parts of America. Well, it is not quite that simple.

In 2007 the four precincts in New York City with the worst rates of major crimes were these:

  • Bed-Stuy
  • East Harlem
  • Midtown South (42nd to 34th Street)
  • Lower East Side

Only Bed-Stuy is mainly black. East Harlem is Hispanic, Midtown South is white and the Lower East Side is Asian and Hispanic.

True, taken as a whole the black and Hispanic parts of the city have a higher crime rate than the white and Asian parts. But each part of the city is different. You cannot just go by race or even poverty or even the two together. For example:

  • The middle of Harlem, which is mainly black, is safer than Midtown Manhattan, which is mainly white – and far richer.
  • In the late 1980s Jamaica, Queens and Harlem were both mainly black, but Jamaica had way more of a black middle-class – and yet it was far more violent.

So you cannot make general rules. Different things are in play in different parts of the city. You have to go case by case.

Likewise, here are the five poorest parts of America:

  • Indian reservations
  • South-west Texas
  • The middle of Alaska
  • The Mississippi Delta
  • Appalachia

Only the Mississippi Delta is mainly black. Appalachia is mainly white, south-west Texas is Hispanic and the Indian reservations and the middle of Alaska are Native American.

Most people do not even think about these places because you hardly ever see them on television or even hear much about them in school.

The reason black ghettos star on television is because they are the main example of poverty – and of Black America too – if you live in the two places where most of American television comes from: Hollywood and New York.

Most poor people are white. Most poor people do not live in cities, but in places where reporters and film-makers hardly ever go.

And, just as you almost never see the poor Indian reservations on television, so you barely ever see black suburbia either – further strengthening the idea that most black people are poor and most poor people are black, neither of which is true.

And even when television does present poverty it rarely explains it. So people think what they want about bootstraps and all that – a comfortable thing to believe if you are middle-class or rich.

Television is not a mirror of American society. It is not even an imperfect mirror. Television is the creation of a very small number of people – most of them white, male, liberal and well-to-do – who have their own ideas about America. Many of those ideas are not true and many come from yet older Hollywood output, so the thing feeds on itself.

But their picture of America becomes our picture of America – even if the little bit of America that we know first-hand is nothing like what we see on television.

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music library

A music library (c. 2001- ) has music for those who make television ads and shows, websites and films. Most are online or can be reached by computer. The libraries have tens of thousands of tracks or music recordings that can be put into shows and ads and so on.

So long as you can find the sort of music you are looking for, it is far cheaper to buy the right to use it than to hire a musician. A good musician can create just the music you want but it will not be cheap.

It is somewhat like iTunes where you get music for your iPod, but iTunes is different in two important ways:

  1. The music is enjoyed by itself – it is not being added to something else, like a film or television show.
  2. It assumes you already know the name of the song or at least the musician you are interested in.

There have been millions of pieces of music that have been made that could be used in a television show. The trouble is finding just the right piece.

You have a rough idea of what the music should sound like, but you will not know you have found it till you hear it. And you will not know the title and musician until after you have found it.

The library sorts the tracks into different kinds and you look for music that way.

Another thing that makes music libraries hard to use is that most of the music you hear is pretty bad.

Pump Audio, for example, has 700,000 tracks. That sounds great, but most of the music is bad. Pump Audio says they have ten musicians who listen to pieces before they are added, but it seems that Pump Audio went for quantity over quality.

In practice many television shows and others keep using the same tracks over and over again since they were so hard to find in the first place.

Here are some of the top music libraries in 2008:

  • Pump Audio (700,000 tracks) is the largest. In 2007 it was bought up by Getty Images, which already has a vast image and video library. It uses music from thousands of musicians. If you are a musician and Pump Audio likes your music, then they will agree to give you half of any money they make from your tracks. You are free to sell the same music on your own. Pump Audio is used by MTV, HBO, VH-1 and the Discovery Channel.
  • FirstCom Music (186,000 tracks). Based in Los Angeles. Used by Fox Sports, the CSI television shows, “The L Word”, “American Idol” and others.
  • 5 Alarm Music (85,000 tracks). You heard their music in the films “27 Dresses” and “Leatherheads”.
  • Zoo Street Music. Used by HBO, A&E, ABC, DreamWorks and others.
  • Fix is a part of Comma Music in Chicago. Used by ESPN, Wrigley, Northwestern Hospital and others.

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TiVo (1999- ) is a computer you hook up to your television that not only records the shows you ask it to, but even shows that you would probably be interested in, based on what it knows you liked in the past.

It does not need a tape like a VCR and you do not need to tell it when a show is on – it knows. Unlike a VCR, it remembers to record your shows better than you do. You watch them when you are ready.

It can look for shows not just by name but also by the names of actors or directors or keywords. It is like Google for your television.

You can watch live television too with TiVo. It lets you go backwards in a show or watch something over again in slow motion (great for ball games). If you start watching an hour show 15 minutes late, you can also jump past all the ads – something that TiVo makes easy.

Also, you do not even have to be at home to tell it to record something: you can do that through the Web.

You can also see part of the Internet with TiVo.

You can download shows from the TiVo box onto your own computer and watch them there or put them on disc.

The best thing about TiVo is that you do not find yourself wanting to watch television but there is nothing good on: TiVo has been busily recording not just the shows you want to see, but even shows you want to see but did not know it.

It does that trick by learning what you like when you tell it whether or not you liked a particular show. Like Amazon, it can compare what you like with millions of others and have a good idea of what else you might like – the stuff you would have recorded if only you knew. Because it can look at what other people with tastes like yours are watching that you are missing.

It changes how you watch television – even how you watch, say, sports. It makes television into something different.

The TiVo box, the computer part, costs $100 (seven crowns) and can save 80 hours of shows. Sometimes it can record up to two channels at once. It only works with cable or satellite television. The box for HDTV costs three times as much and can only record 20 hours of HDTV.

But for the box to work you need to be hooked into their monthly service so that it can know what is coming up on television. The service costs $12.95 a month (a crown).

Those are the American prices in December 2007, but they give you an idea.

You can also get TiVo in Canada, Mexico, Britain and Taiwan. Some have been able to get TiVos to work in Australia, South Africa and elsewhere.

TiVo runs on a Linux computer. You can even get a bash prompt, if you know what that is. This makes it a great machine for hackers who can make it do new things.

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Xuxa (1963- ), which sounds like Shooshah, is the stage name of Maria da Graça Meneghel, a Brazilian Playboy model who became the host of her own television shows for children. She is known throughout Latin America. Anyone who was a child in Brazil in the 1980s and 1990s grew up on her.

She was beautiful and charming with an honest stage presence and a way with children. Globo, the television network she has been on for over 20 years, called her “Rainha dos Baixinhos”: Queen of the Shorties.

She was a hit in Brazil and even in Argentina and other Spanish-speaking countries. She has failed to catch on in North America.

Although she sang for children, she has had 17 number-one hit songs in Brazil. That is more than even Daniela Mercury, who is two years younger and has had “only” 14 number-one hits.

Xuxa has also been in films. Most are short and bad, but some in the early 2000s were box office hits.

Her films are mostly for children, but one was not: “Amor Estranho Amor” (1982), where she does a love scene with a 12-year-old boy. Marlene Mattos, the brains behind Xuxa’s success, bought the rights and has been able to keep it off the shelves, but not off the Internet – something that no one thought of in 1982.

Xuxa broke with Mattos in 2002. Her success since has been mixed. She still has a show, but in the 2000s most of her success has come from her films and from putting her old shows out on disc. She has sold over 18 million, a huge number.

She is rich, more than half as rich as the queen of England. In 1991 no entertainer in Latin America made more money.

Before she was on television she was a model. In 1980 no model in Brazil was in more demand. By 1982 she was in Brazilian Playboy. She was discovered when she was 15 when a man noticed her blue eyes and followed her home. He told her she should be a model and set up a test shoot for her. A year later she was on her first magazine cover.

She has blue eyes, white skin, nearly white hair and great legs. She is Polish by blood, though she is part German and Austrian too.

She was born in Santa Rosa, way to the south, the youngest of five children. “Xuxa” is what they called her even then. When she was seven her family moved to Rio, where she has lived ever since.

She lives in the Casa Rosa (“Pink House”) with her daughter Sasha. When Sasha was born in 1998 the evening news spent ten minutes on it! She has never married, unless you count Globo.

She was once the girlfriend of Pele, the great footballer. He helped her to get started in acting. She gave him six years of her life; he gave her two pages in his book.

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americanidol.jpg Though I have said little about “American Idol” this year, I still watch it. It is the only television show I watch regularly – other than “Big Brother”, which will not be on till the summer here in America.

Six singers remain. Here is how I rank them:

  1. Melinda Doolittle – She is by far the best singer there, but she needs to get more comfortable being on stage. She is stiff.
  2. Jordin Sparks – She was really great last week, better than even Melinda. She has promise, but she is young.
  3. Blake Lewis – On singing ability he is not as good as LaKisha, but he is far more interesting. LaKisha’s songs mostly sound alike.
  4. LaKisha Jones – Phil and Chris are clearly worse than her. But I agree with Simon: she tends to sing too loud.
  5. Phil Stacey – With the right songwriter and the right kind of music, he could be good.
  6. Chris Richardson – I had to look up his name on the Internet. That is what little effect he has on me.

Last week they did not kick anyone off – it was their charity show. So this week they will kick off two singers.

Here is how it turned out (I will update this every week):

  1. Jordin Sparks
  2. Blake Lewis
  3. Melinda Doolittle
  4. LaKisha Jones
  5. Chris Richardson
  6. Phil Stacey
  7. Sanjaya Malakar
  8. Haley Scarnato
  9. Gina Glocksen
  10. Chris Sligh
  11. Stephanie Edwards
  12. Brandon Rogers

I could not stand Sanjaya Malakar. He would forget his words and no one would say anything. Simon grew resigned. I am happy he is gone. But he seems to have an effect on some, like the Crying Girl.

Gina Glocksen got kicked off way too soon. She should have been in the top six.

My prediction: a Southerner, as always, will win. That means either Melinda, Chris or Phil.

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Winnie Holzman

Winnie Holzman (1954- ) is an American writer of stage and television and an award-winning poet. She wrote for the television shows “thirtysomething” (1990-1991), “My So-Called Life” (1994-1995) and “Once and Again” (1998-2002). With Stephen Schwartz she turned Gregory Maguire’s book “Wicked” into a Broadway play. She wrote the story,
Schwartz wrote the songs.

She is good at making her stories seem like real life, especially at the level of emotions. She gives television something of the depth ordinarily seen only in books.

She puts herself in her character’s shoes and asks herself what would happen next – not on television, but in real life. She writes in cafes partly to hear how people really talk to make her characters sound natural and real.

She does not write at set times of the day and often puts off writing. When it gets really bad, she forces herself to write just two lines. That will be enough to get her going again.

When she gets stuck, she reads the old Greek stories or books on story structure, if only not to be consumed by fear.

Her characters lie, cause others pain without being aware of it, do bad things without knowing why. They find themselves in trouble with little idea of what to do next. They have precious little self-knowledge and yet seem to think only of themselves. Doubt and confusion reign. Even characters that seem perfect only seem so.

No one is all good or all bad, no one has all the answers. She does not like heroes or happy endings.

Like Chekhov she hates the false smile that so many paste over life.

Even though things seem to happen by chance in her stories, it is all well thought out.

She likes the plays of Chekhov, William Inge and Tennessee Williams. She was deeply affected by those of John van Druten, especially “The Voice of the Turtle” (1943) and “I am a Camera” (1951). She likes the Roman Polanski film “Chinatown” (1974).

She was born in New York, grew up on Long Island and went to university at Princeton (class of 1976). After Princeton she went to New York to learn writing and theatre under Arthur Laurents at New York University.

Among other things, Laurents taught her to:

  • Believe in herself as a writer.
  • Cut words when possible. The shortest way to say something is best.
  • Write what is interesting, real or surprising, not what makes you look good as a writer (the great temptation).

She has some acting experience, having learned the Stanislavski system. Her acting helps her to write.

Holzman is married to actor Paul Dooley. He played Molly Ringwald’s father in the film “Sixteen Candles”.

While her art imitates life, life has imitated her art: she once wrote a story about a 14-year-old girl falling in love with another girl. After she wrote it, but before it appeared on television, the very same thing happened to her daughter!

Holzman was among the first to write stories on television that put homosexuals in a good light. Before the 1990s they were next to invisible on American television or pictured as strange.

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My So-Called Life

“My So-Called Life” (1994-1995) was an American television show that appeared on ABC from August 1994 to January 1995. It starred Claire Danes as Angela Chase, a 15-year-old  girl growing up in a middle-class suburb of Pittsburgh.

What made it good was that it was much truer to life than most of television, showing what it is like to be 14 or 15. The show still holds up more than ten years later. It has some of the depth of a good book and, like a good book, you come away seeing the world a bit more deeply.

The show only lasted a season: Claire Danes wanted to break into film. The show also had low ratings: there were some 99 shows on television that had more viewers than it did!

“My So-Called Life” was the brainchild of Winnie Holzman (who appears as Mrs Krzyzanowski in the show), Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz. They had worked together on “thirtysomething” (1987-1991) and so ABC hoped they could come up with another show just as good. ABC gave them complete freedom – which, while common for HBO, was rare for ABC.

Holzman and company wanted to show the real life a 15-year-old girl, not the very unreal picture you get elsewhere on television, like on “90210.” But, like Newton Minow who called television a “vast wasteland”, Holzman failed to understand that television is closer to beer than books: most watch television to escape.

As in “thirtysomething”, most characters think only of themselves, living in unending confusion and self-doubt.

Holzman herself is an award-wining poet. This makes Angela much better at expressing herself than most 15-year-olds. Even with, like, her overuse of, like, the word “like”.

For example, when asked about whether Jordan, a boy she was interested in, was a good kisser, Angela said:

They weren’t the kind of kisses you could actually evaluate. They were more like – introductory kisses.

No one talks like that. Still it was perfect.

Jordan made two attempts to kiss her – they were too sudden, he did not work up to it. She had to push him away both times. And yet a few minutes later when the moment was right, he did nothing. She left upset at him.

Man, a page straight out of my marriage. It made me see that this sort of thing happens not so much because I am a bonehead but that it goes much deeper than that, that it is part of the universal mystery of boy meets girl.

The high school in the show is University High School in Los Angeles, where Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor went. Since it is so close to Hollywood, you see it in other films and television shows. The show is partly based on what Holzman found at nearby Fairfax High, where she had taught writing for a time.

All the actors are the age they play. Because of child labour laws, the show had four acts (not three), with Angela appearing in only two. They filled out the stories by using more characters and their parents.

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Mike Boogie won Big Brother All Stars, the seventh season of the show in America.

The last seven people to get kicked out of the house choose which of the final two win. I thought Erika would win, that Janelle, Marcellas, Howie and Chicken George would vote for her. As it turns out only Marcellas voted for her!

What was far more troubling than Mike Boogie winning was how the other players praised him – yes, praised him!! – for lying to them, using them and getting them kicked off!!! Can you believe it?

They said things like “he played a good game” and “it is only a game”. Yet it is hard to believe that Mike Boogie and Dr Will are not like that in their private lives.

God help them.

On the other hand, the five players who were kicked out earlier (Kaysar, Jason, Diane, Nakomis, Allison) and got to see what we saw on television seem to have a better sense of proportion. Allison put it best: that maybe Mike Boogie can use the money he won to get some dignity.

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Big Brother All Stars, the seventh season of the show in America, will end on Tuesday. Only two of the houseguests remain. The last seven to get kicked out have been living together in a house somewhere in Mexico, cut off from the world. They will vote which of the two will win.

The two that are left: Erika and Mike Boogie.

Those who will choose the winner: Howie, Marcellas, Chicken George, James, Dr Will, Danielle and Janelle.

I think that Erika will win.

The vote will go like this:

For Erika: Marcellas, Howie, Chicken George, Janelle.

For Mike Boogie: Dr Will, Danielle, James.

Six of the seven were kicked off by Chill Town (Mike Boogie and Dr Will). But most of it was done behind the scenes, so that may not be clear to all six of them.

How each will think and vote:

  • Danielle: She was kicked off by Erika, who was her friend. She thought. She may not know that Dr Will was behind it. But even if she does, she may still blame Erika more. So she votes for Mike Boogie.
  • Howie: Knows he was screwed by Chill Town. Mike Boogie lied to his face. He votes for Erika.
  • Marcellas: Also knows he was screwed by Chill Town. He votes for Erika.
  • James: Knows Chill Town screwed him, but knows he would have done the same in their position and will only respect them for it. He votes for Mike Boogie.
  • Chicken George: On the show he played the fool, to protect himself. But being the oldest he should see through Chill Town better than anyone. He will vote for Erika.
  • Dr Will: He is a true friend of Mike Boogie and, as the other half of Chill Town, his loyalty to Mike Boogie has been absolute. He will vote for Mike Boogie.

This gives Erika three votes, Mike Boogie three. So it comes down to Janelle:

  • Janelle: She has been led by the nose by Dr Will and now she knows it and sees the damage she has caused, especially to Marcellas and Howie. So, left on her own, she would vote for Erika. But Dr Will, after he makes sure of James, will see her as the most persuadable of the four natural Erika votes and work on her. It may work, one more time. Here is hoping that it does not: She votes for Erika.

What I hope is that being in the house in Mexico away from Dr Will (he was only kicked off last week), they will compare notes and see through Chill Town and all vote for Erika! That would be so great!

I saw what Erika did to Danielle and know she is faithless, but Chill Town is far worse. So I would want Erika to win as the lesser of two evils. In life it often comes down to that, and so it does here.

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