(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘television

“Why should we look to the past in order to prepare for the future? Because there is nowhere else to look.”*…

With a tip of the hat to James Burke

European civilization is built on ham and cheese, which allowed protein to be stored throughout the icy winters.

Without this, urban societies in most of central Europe would simply not have been possible.

This is also why we have hardback books. Here’s why…

Ham, cheese, snails, underwear, Jesus, spectacles– the ingredients in the birth of the book as we know it: a wonderful thread from the wonderful Incunabula (@incunabula) TotH to @inevernu.

* James Burke, Connections

###

As we ponder precedents, we might send inventive birthday greetings to Marvin P. Middlemark; he was born on this date in 1919.

Old Westbury tinkerer Marvin Middlemark invented the “rabbit ears” TV antenna in 1953, helping millions of Americans get the fuzz, or some of it, out of their pre-cable television reception. Though not completely original – the design was based on the dipole antenna invented by Heinrich Hertz in 1886 – the update made Middlemark a wealthy man.

Middlemark was awarded 62 patents in his lifetime, but his other inventions, including a water-powered potato peeler and a technique for resuscitating gone-soft tennis balls, didn’t muster the same commercial appeal. He sold his antenna company, All Channel Products Corp., in the mid-1960s, parked the proceeds in municipal bonds, and retired to his wooded 12-acre estate, where he kept miniature horses, collected stained glass windows and housed a pet chimpanzee named Josie who liked to finish unwary guests’ drinks.

Middlemark died in 1989, leaving behind a $5 million fortune and, inexplicably, 1,000 pairs of woolen gloves. His son, second wife and her son from another marriage fought over the will for years. Highlights: Planted drugs and weapons, death threats and at least one choking attempt. And all that was by the widow. The stepson, a prominent North Hempstead political operative, pleaded guilty to perjury and was sentenced to two years in jail.

“Every lawyer has read ‘Bleak House,’ ” Neal Johnston, an attorney for Middlemark’s son said at the time. “This is as close as I’ve come to living it.”…

Long Island Press

source

“It’s like you watching a home movie of you watching TV”*…

Feeling fractal…

Welcome to Nestflix

The platform for your favorite nested films and shows.

Fictional movies within movies? Got ‘em. Fake shows within shows? You bet. Browse our selection of over 400 stories within stories…

Nestflix!

Homer: Wait a minute. You’re telling Moe’s story in Burns’ story in your story?

Lisa: Yes, dad. It’s like a play inside of a play, like Hamlet. [Homer is puzzled.] Fine, it’s like you watching a home movie of you watching TV.

Homer: [understanding] Oh yeah.

“The Seemingly Never-Ending Story”, The Simpsons

###

As we put the “mmm” in “meta,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1975 that The Rocky Horror Picture Show opened at the Rialto Theatre in London (it premiered in the U.S, at the UA Westwood in Los Angeles, on September 26). Still in limited release forty-six years after its opening, it is the longest-running theatrical release in film history.

source

“English is flexible: you can jam it into a Cuisinart for an hour, remove it, and meaning will still emerge”*…

Plus ça change. The opening pages of The Lytille Childrenes Lytil Boke, an instructional book of table manners dating from around 1480 and written in Middle English. Amongst other directives, children are told Bulle not as a bene were in thi throote (Don’t burp as if you had a bean in your throat) and Pyke notte thyne errys nothyr thy nostrellys’(Don’t pick your ears or nose).

To be honest, it is a mess…

English spelling is ridiculous. Sew and new don’t rhyme. Kernel and colonel do. When you see an ough, you might need to read it out as ‘aw’ (thought), ‘ow’ (drought), ‘uff’ (tough), ‘off’ (cough), ‘oo’ (through), or ‘oh’ (though). The ea vowel is usually pronounced ‘ee’ (weak, please, seal, beam) but can also be ‘eh’ (bread, head, wealth, feather). Those two options cover most of it – except for a handful of cases, where it’s ‘ay’ (break, steak, great). Oh wait, one more… there’s earth. No wait, there’s also heart.

The English spelling system, if you can even call it a system, is full of this kind of thing. Yet not only do most people raised with English learn to read and write it; millions of people who weren’t raised with English learn to use it too, to a very high level of accuracy.

Admittedly, for a non-native speaker, such mastery usually involves a great deal of confusion and frustration. Part of the problem is that English spelling looks deceptively similar to other languages that use the same alphabet but in a much more consistent way. You can spend an afternoon familiarising yourself with the pronunciation rules of Italian, Spanish, German, Swedish, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Polish and many others, and credibly read out a text in that language, even if you don’t understand it. Your pronunciation might be terrible, and the pace, stress and rhythm would be completely off, and no one would mistake you for a native speaker – but you could do it. Even French, notorious for the spelling challenges it presents learners, is consistent enough to meet the bar. There are lots of silent letters, but they’re in predictable places. French has plenty of rules, and exceptions to those rules, but they can all be listed on a reasonable number of pages.

English is in a different league of complexity. The most comprehensive description of its spelling – the Dictionary of the British English Spelling System by Greg Brooks (2015) – runs to more than 450 pages as it enumerates all the ways particular sounds can be represented by letters or combinations of letters, and all the ways particular letters or letter combinations can be read out as sounds.

From the early Middle Ages, various European languages adopted and adapted the Latin alphabet. So why did English end up with a far more inconsistent orthography than any other? The basic outline of the messy history of English is widely known: the Anglo-Saxon tribes bringing Old English in the 5th century, the Viking invasions beginning in the 8th century adding Old Norse to the mix, followed by the Norman Conquest of the 11th century and the French linguistic takeover. The moving and mixing of populations, the growth of London and the merchant class in the 13th and 14th centuries. The contact with the Continent and the balance among Germanic, Romance and Celtic cultural forces. No language Academy was established, no authority for oversight or intervention in the direction of the written form. English travelled and wandered and haphazardly tied pieces together. As the blogger James Nicoll put it in 1990, English ‘pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary’.

But just how does spelling factor into all this? It wasn’t as if the rest of Europe didn’t also contend with a mix of tribes and languages. The remnants of the Roman Empire comprised Germanic, Celtic and Slavic communities spread over a huge area. Various conquests installed a ruling-class language in control of a population that spoke a different language: there was the Nordic conquest of Normandy in the 10th century (where they now write French with a pretty regular system); the Ottoman Turkish rule over Hungary in the 16th and 17th centuries (which now has very consistent spelling rules for Hungarian); Moorish rule in Spain in the 8th to 15th centuries (which also has very consistent spelling). True, other languages did have official academies and other government attempts at standardisation – but those interventions have largely only ever succeeded at implementing minor changes to existing systems in very specific areas. English wasn’t the only language to pick the pockets of others for useful words.

The answer to the weirdness of English has to do with the timing of technology. The rise of printing caught English at a moment when the norms linking spoken and written language were up for grabs, and so could be hijacked by diverse forces and imperatives that didn’t coordinate with each other, or cohere, or even have any distinct goals at all. If the printing press has arrived earlier in the life of English, or later, after some of the upheaval had settled, things might have ended up differently…

Why is English spelling so weird and unpredictable? Don’t blame the mix of languages; look to quirks of timing and technology: “Typos, tricks, and misprints,” from Arika Okrent (@arikaokrent).

* Douglas Coupland

###

As we muse on the mother tongue, we might spare a thought for a man who used it to wonderful effect: Seymour Wilson “Budd” Schulberg. The son of B. P. Schulberg (head production at Paramount Pictures in it’s 1930s-30s heyday) and Adeline Jaffe Schulberg (who founded one of Hollywood’s most successful talent/literary agencies), Budd went into the family business, finding success as a screenwriter, television producer, novelist, and sports writer. He is probably best remembered for his novels What Makes Sammy Run? and The Harder They Fall, his Academy Award-winning screenplay for On the Waterfront, and his (painfully prescient) screenplay for A Face in the Crowd.

source

“The circus comes as close to being the world in microcosm as anything I know; in a way, it puts all the rest of show business in the shade.”*…

Come one, come all!…

While circus acts go back to the midst of time, the circus as commercial entertainment dates to the opening decades of the nineteenth century. In Victorian England, the circus appealed across an otherwise class-divided society, its audiences ranging from poor peddlers to prestigious public figures. The acts that attracted such audiences included reenacted battle scenes, which reinforced patriotic identity; exotic animal displays that demonstrated the reach of Britain’s growing empire; female acrobatics, which disclosed anxieties about women’s changing role in the public sphere; and clowning, which spoke to popular understandings of these poor players’ melancholy lives on the margins of society.

The proprietor and showman George Sanger (from whose collection the following photographs come) was a prime example of how the circus was to evolve from a small fairground-type enterprise to a large-scale exhibition. Sanger’s circuses began in the 1840s and ’50s, but by the 1880s, they had grown to such a scale that they were able to hold their own against the behemoth of P.T. Barnum’s three-ring circus, which arrived in London for the first time in that decade.

Like many circuses in the nineteenth century, Sanger’s was indebted to the technology of modern visual culture to promote his business. Local newspapers displayed photographs alongside advertisements to announce the imminent arrival of a circus troupe. Garish posters, plastered around towns, also featured photographs of their star attractions. And individual artists used photographic portraits, too (in the form of the carte-de-visite or calling card), to draw attention to their attributes and to seek employment. One striking image in this collection [the image above] poses six performing acrobats amid the other acts—a lion tamer, an elephant trainer, a wire walker, and a clown—in one of Sanger’s circuses, all in front of the quintessential big-top tent. Maybe the projection of the collective solidarity of the circus in this image belies personal rivalries and animosities that might have characterized life on the road. Moreover, at the extreme edge of the image, on the right-hand side behind the dog trainer, there appears to be the almost ghostly presence of a Black male figure. By dint of their peripatetic existence, all those employed in the circus were often viewed as marginal and exotic. However, this image is a reminder of how racial and ethnic minorities were a presence within circus culture, even if, as here, they appear to have been banished to the margins of the photograph.

That most democratic of Victorian popular entertainments: photos from the Sanger Circus Collection.

* E. B. White

###

As we head for the big top, we might recall that today is International Yada Yada Yada Day. Lenny Bruce is often credited with the first use of “yadda yadda” on the closing track on his 1961 album “Lenny Bruce – American,” though earlier uses are documented in vaudeville. Employed by comedians and TV shows to convey that something unimportant or irrelevant was being elided, it gained vernacular currency when Jerry Seinfeld’s show featured a variation on this phrase as an inside joke between characters Elaine Benes (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and George Costanza (Jason Alexander).

The Yada Yada,” the series’ 153rd episode, focused on just how badly using the phrase can backfire when the details being omitted are actually extremely important– the fact that George’s new girlfriend is actually a kleptomaniac who steals to kill time, or that Jerry’s new girlfriend is both racist and antisemitic. (That episode also introduced the term”anti-dentite.”) Hilarity ensues when both these unwitting men find out what kind of people they have been dating, and must break off the relationships.

In 2009, the Paley Center for Media named “Yada, Yada, Yada” the No. 1 funniest phrase on “TV’s 50 Funniest Phrases.”

“It isn’t easy, coming up with book titles. A lot of the really good ones are taken. Thin Thighs in 30 Days, for example. Also The Bible.”*…

“What’s in a name?” mused Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet (first published in print in 1597 as An Excellent Conceited Tragedie of Romeo and Juliet). Would he have said the same, one wonders, if he’d been around to hear that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was at one point titled Trimalchio in West Egg; or that for Dracula, Bram Stoker considered The Dead Un-Dead? There is certainly an art to the great title, as demonstrated by the late English humourist Alan Coren, who when choosing a name for a collection of essays in 1975 noticed that the most popular books in Britain at that time were about cats, golf and Nazis. So he called his book Golfing for Cats and slapped a swastika on the front cover.

We also learn that care should be taken to avoid tempting an ironic fate. Bill Hillman, the American author of the 2014 guide Fiesta: How to Survive the Bulls of Pamplona, was gored by the bulls of Pamplona that same year—and again the next year. And in the 2017 British national election, the Conservative politician Gavin Barwell, author of How to Win a Marginal Seat, lost his marginal seat.

The humorous literary award known as the Bookseller/Diagram Prize for Oddest Title of the Year has been running since 1978, with past winners including Oral Sadism and the Vegetarian Personality (1986) by Glenn C. Ellenbogen, The Joy of Waterboiling (2018) by Achse Verlag and The Dirt Hole and its Variations by Charles L. Dobbins (2019). But we can go back centuries earlier to find their ancestors…

For example…

An Essay upon Windwith Curious Anecdotes of Eminent Peteurs (1787) by Charles James Fox

Sun-beams May Be Extracted From Cucumbers, But the Process is Tedious (1799) by David Daggett

How to Cook Husbands (1898) by Elizabeth Strong Worthington

Fishes I Have Known (1905) by Arthur A. Henry Bevan

Does the Earth Rotate? No! (1919) by William Westfield

Thought Transference (Or What?) in Birds (1931) by Edmund Selous

The Boring Sponges Which Attack South Carolina Oysters (1956) by Bears Bluff Laboratories

A Weasel in My Meatsafe (1957) by Phil Drabble

Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice (1977) edited by Tatsuji Nomura et al.

Just a taste of the delights at: “77 Strange, Funny, and Magnificent Book Titles You’ve Probably Never Heard Of.” From @foxtosser.

* Dave Barry

###

As we nominate, we might send bright birthday greetings to Greg Sherwood Cohelan; he was born 70 years ago today. An accomplished marketing consultant, he is best known for his decades on the radio and television (as Greg Sherwood) in the San Francisco Bay area.

The son of Don Sherwood, “The World’s Greatest Disc Jockey” (who ruled the Bay Area airwaves in the 1950s and 60s), Greg began his on-air career while in high school as a correspondent for his father, doing a call-in show as he drove across country, “Young Man on the Road”; he followed that with a stint as a morning traffic reporter, flying around in a helicopter doing traffic reports for his dad.

After college he joined KQED, the local public television and radio organization, first as a volunteer, then as an employee. Over the years, he’s become the face of KQED-TV and the voice of KQED radio, hosting interviews, anchoring award-winning documentaries, and especially during pledge periods.

“Call right now, 1 (800) 937-8850.”

source

Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 1, 2021 at 1:01 am

%d bloggers like this: