Peter Thiel

I’ve been following the whole reveal of Peter Thiel as the anonymous backer of Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker with fascination. I don’t read Gawker, I don’t particularly care about Hulk Hogan, nor do I care that they published his sex tape. Didn’t even know he had one until he won $140 million in a settlement against Gawker. But, the whole Peter Thiel, Silicon Valley big shot waiting a decade, roughly, to take down Gawker for (supposedly) outing him as gay is Game of Thrones Littlefinger level of grudge holding. (Jason and I are getting caught up on watching GOT/I read about halfway through Feast of Crows and then got stuck.) On the one hand, I’m impressed with Thiel’s grudge holding tenacity. I don’t have the energy for it. On the other, it really does scare me about freedom of speech if a wealthy millionaire can back lawsuits like this against media concerns. Two, additional contradictory thoughts here:

  1. Not say that Thiel doesn’t have a beef to pick with Gawker. It’s not clear from the various narratives that Gawker via the now defunct Valleywag did in fact “out him” in the way that most of us understand that phrase, but I will say they did publish an article that was decidedly couched as if they were outing him even if he was out to most of the people in his circle. (You can go look it up. I’m not comfortable linking to the article because of its tone.) I’d say even if his circle of people knew he was gay, and that seems to be the case, that personal knowledge of sexual orientation is vastly different than his sexuality being part of his public personae. So, in that regard, they did “out him.” It would be like Gawker publishing an article on Anderson Cooper before he came out publicly–everyone in his circle knew he was gay, apparently, but Cooper gets to choose if and when the public at large knows that information not Gawker. It’s not newsworthy, in my opinion, unless Cooper or the person in questions tells us. Otherwise, it’s gossip, and not worthy of journalistic merit. Just because the public at large is curious, doesn’t give us a right to know or journalists a right to go ask. See the way Lilly Wachowski was outed as transgender by a Daily Mail reporter. Not newsworthy, not any of our damn business. I’m just glad she was able to tell her story how she wanted if not when.
  2. Also, the information coming out about Thiel’s brand of libertarianism–(the country became worse after women got the vote, multiculturalism at Stanford is bad, college is bad–despite the fact that he has an Ivy League education–presumably because of multiculturalism, he’s a Trump delegate) doesn’t necessarily lend credibility. I will also say that Jason was at one point reading his book from Zero to One.  I happened to read part of it to better understand something Jason was explaining, and um, I wondered how it started as a university lecture and how Thiel could be so intellectually sloppy when quote mining Marx and Engles for representations of Victorian economics. Indeed, his need to seem like he had a grasp of the long sweep of economic history when he most certainly did not I found deeply problematic. I felt like he was trying to tell me he was smart or like he was somehow blowing on some dog whistle about Marx and Engles that I was missing. Admittedly, I didn’t read the whole book. I’m not starting a tech company, after all. I also have an understanding of Marx and Engles born of the context of the 1840s when they were writing about the condition of England and the wide swings of the unregulated boom bust cycles of early capitalism and the fragility of working class lives as a result. Reading murder cases for the Manchester Courier in this period will make you understand that fragility in a whole new way. One mother accidentally killed her baby by overdosing it with laudanum, which she did so she could go to work to feed her family. He seems to have quote mined in order to prove he had Googled the book. Thiel irritated to me to put it mildly. His foray into my field of study also left me critiquing his writing like I do first year writing. (You can’t drop in a block quote and then mic drop. You can only mic drop with your own words; otherwise, please tell your audience what the quote is doing in your work.) Let’s just say, if I’m looking at your writing in this way and you’re a published writer, something has gone awry.

Online Reviews, Gender Bias, and TV

FiveThiryEight‘s Walter Hickey has an interesting analysis of the data of TV reviews on and the gender bias of men rating shows aimed at a female audience. Hickey doesn’t delve into the rationale of why men would rate TV shows like Sex and the City so low, mostly because he’s just looking at the numbers. I’m, however, interested in something the numbers can’t reveal–whether or not the men who reviewed the shows poorly actually watched them. I know many people love The Walking Dead. Jason is one of them, and so I read episode recaps just to keep up with the conversation. But I don’t watch it because I don’t like zombie narratives. (Long explanation: I read Robert Hughes’s The Fatal Shore right when the zombie craze got big, and since Hughes’s book details a lot of cannibalism as part of the found of Australia, I equate zombies with cannibalism and that’s apparently a big phobia of mine. It’s also the reason I never recommend the otherwise interesting object novel The Collector, Collector because it features a scene with a self-cannibal–that’s what you think it is–that’s too disturbing for words.) I would never rate The Walking Dead because I haven’t seen it. I can’t speak to the quality of the show. I just wonder if these IMDB raters have watched everything they rate or if these male raters just dismiss a show aimed at women out of hand as being lesser?

Also, if a show doesn’t “speak” to you based on identity, does that in fact make it of lesser quality? It’s a question my students struggle with when they write review essays. Just because you don’t identify with a show or like it doesn’t make it bad, per se. I, for instance, don’t particularly like Rick and Morty. I find Dan Harmon’s view of the world twisted and self-centered. Yet, I can’t deny that it’s a quality show with creative ideas that I’m just not going to seek out.

Too much TV?

After putting together my upfronts post, I felt the same as Josef Adalian and Maria Elean Fernandez, authors of “The Business of Too Much Television” in NYMag. How does so much TV get made? According to Adalian and Fernandez, “Between 2009 and 2015, the number of scripted shows nearly doubled, from just over 200 to an estimated 409 last year.” 409 shows. How can anyone watch even a largish fraction of that amount of content. We now have the traditional big 4/5 (NBC, ABC, CBS, and FOX..and the CW), Cable TV (HBO, STARZ, Showtime), minor Cable TV (USA, TBS, SyFy, and TNT, etc), and the big streaming 3 (Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu) producing original content at such an overwhelming pace. The closest equivalent must be Paternoster Row in the nineteenth century, constantly churning out print to meet the demands of an insatiable audience. And this pace is just for scripted shows, not unscripted or so-called reality TV.

What Adalian and Fernandez do is break down the business side of this boom or “Peak TV”–i.e. follow the money from the actors to studios, crews, writers, and production spaces. It’s a long read, but worth it for the in and outs of how what we watch gets paid for. They don’t discuss where the money comes from, but I imagine that’s a different, longer article.

Upfronts 2016-2017

As it’s been wrap up week for school, I haven’t been posting about Upfronts as much as a usually do. Upfronts are the week in May when the big 4 networks and others unveil their new slate of shows and the returning ones for the next TV season. Perhaps in an age of streaming and binge watching, traditional TV networks seem quaint, but they still control much of what we watch, even if they can’t control our consumption habits they way they used to, which causes them revenue issues–i.e. we all avoid ads like the plague.

So far, ABC has the most shows I’m interested in. Actually, almost all the shows I’m interested in except for a lonely NBC show. I’m still bummed about the non pick up of Marvel’s Most Wanted, but that’s because I miss Bobbie and Hunter. They replaced a snarky part of the show lost when Grant Ward revealed himself as a psychopath, and Melinda needs more people to back her up.

  • Designated Survivor

I like a good political thriller, and Kiefer Sutherland looks like the perfect, dedicated, opinionated civil servant who never expected to be more than one of those guys working behind the scenes. It seems like a nice counterpoint to Madam Secretary, which I also adore.

  • Conviction 

Okay, admittedly the premise of this one steers a little too close to Scandal for my tastes, which I stopped watching because it got to over the top/I checked out when Quinn began to like torturing people. But, if Agent Carter had to get canceled, at least I have Hayley Atwell back on my TV and Merrin Dungey too! (I’ve missed you). I also like a good redemption narrative, and does Atwell ever look bad in anything she wears from any time period?

  • Notorious

I loved Covert Affairs, and while this one yet again smacks too much of Shondaland, Piper Perabo strangely has the ability to bring gravitas to roles that seem less worthy. I’m hoping she can do that here. Mostly, she needs light and levity. Covert Affairs went down the darkness rabbit hole too much in those last two seasons.

  • Speechless

Minnie Driver usually annoys me, but this one made me laugh and, I hope, has a disability plot that seems to be merely the set up for a quirky family comedy instead of being handled horribly.

  • Time After Time

I love a good time travel show, and while I don’t trust ABC with them (they cancel them after a season), maybe this one won’t fare quite so badly. The Neo-Victorian nature of it seems to be muted, which is good. I don’t trust American network TV to do Victorian or Neo-Victorian one little bit after the abysmal NBC Dracula.

  • Timeless

Time travel series number two, this time on NBC, which doesn’t have the best track record. Yet, this one holds more promise in some ways, and the fact that it deals with race head on is refreshing. As the pilot says, “there is no place in US history that’s awesome for black people.” I also liked it when he told the cop that he was on the losing side of history.

We can say “halifax” to the boxes.

I’ve most definitely posted this one before, but given the Justice Department’s letter this morning, I think it’s an apt reminder of the spectrum of gender, sex, and sexuality that exists in the world. We don’t have to follow binaries if we don’t want to, and like most things in life, the little boxes culture at large presents to us aren’t the boxes we have to inhabit. We can say “halifax” to the boxes. (I’m about to re-read Anne of Green Gables folks, and I totally said it yesterday in response to a student asking if I’d take her Brit lit exam for her.)