Friday, December 31, 2010

ABC's United Kingdom

'United Kingdom' was the final track on ABC's fascinating but commercially catastrophic second album, Beauty Stab (1983). It's a fantastic song, full of love of country but also of incredible anger and sadness about the state of the industrial north of England that had come to a head under Thatcher. ABC were from Sheffield where Threads would be principally set a year later, and that sense of the late height of the ruinously expensive Cold War raging on while people are pauperized on the home front hangs over Beauty Stab and 'United Kingdom' in particular.

Sadly, the return of hard times now (with the probable incompatibility of our basic, post-hunter-gatherer economic model with a livable planet standing in for the Cold War!) makes this song very relevant again, and it really needs to be much more widely known and heard than it is. My little vid. tries to help with that.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Toy Story 3's slight surprise: no tragedy of the common toys

What's the problem with toddler daycare room in Toy Story 3? The toddlers play too roughly with the toys.[1] Why's that? We're told that it's just because they're too young and don't know how to play with toys properly yet. I was slightly surprised not to hear another explanation explored: that the problem is that the toddlers don't own the toys. Rather, the toys are effectively every kid's property, so nobody's property in particular, and people/toddlers tend to trash (or use up as fast as possible) what they don't have the incentive to look after that private/personal control and ownership affords (or what they can't exclude anyone else from using).

TS3 does make it clear that the best outcome for a toy is to be with a specific (non-creepy kid) owner, but it doesn't push in the direction that (when watching for the first time) I thought that it was going to. Everyone's a jerk/creepy kid when it comes to public/non-excludable goods: the tragedy of the commons, and so on. I'd been primed to expect the appearance of such vaguely skeptical and 'right wing-y' notes in Pixar films by things such as The Incredibles,[2] and was surprised (I currently can't decide whether pleasantly or not) to see that dark note go untouched in TS3.

I know that Pixar tend to spend years refining, rewriting, and polishing their wonderful scripts (whereas many big Hollywood films barely seem to have a script!). It would be interesting to know whether they ever seriously entertained the 'tragedy of common toys' idea, whether it was around in some early drafts of TS3's script, and if so when exactly it got chopped. Anyone (a Pixar insider perhaps?) know anything about this?

Anyhow, TS3 is a great film, but I do wonder whether it might have been a little better still, and also a little more troubling (as The Incredibles definitely is for example) if they'd found some way to squeeze in the common toys problem.

Update: A reader has suggested that daycare-aged toddlers are in fact quite destructive of their own toys (hence that my point doesn't work). Maybe that's right, but the 2-3 years olds I actually know are pretty zealous about their toys. They occasionally break one, but they get upset when they do, try not to have that happen, and go absolutely ballistic if someone else accidentally breaks one of their precious items. So, while my reader has helped me a complexity that might indeed have given Pixar pause, I think my basic point survives.

[1] That basic point is slightly contradicted by the end of the movie where the toddlers' play area's problems are somehow alleviated by the toys cooperating with/treating each other better, or something. But it's not clear how that's supposed to work: Ken and Monkey getting the party started doesn't obviate being painted with, having heads and tails ripped off, having springs irreversibly deformed, and so on. We therefore set aside this final piece of Pixar, make 'em laugh prestidigitation for the sake of the argument here.

[2]The Incredibles was roasted by acidly bonkers feminists, and feted by completely mad conservatives. For some relatively sane and temperate dialogue about Pixar's alleged conservativeness, with The Incredibles as Exhibit A, go here and here.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

top 20 songs for 2010

I've probably listened to or even heard of only about 1% of the music that was released this year, and my in fact ears this year have been largely turned to various, fascinating thematic podcast mixtapes (e.g. from here) as well as to lots of early '70s music that was either almost completely new to me (Labelle, Judee Sill, Jobriath) or that I'd heard before but not really appreciated (Neil Young, Modern Lovers). So, I don't pretend that my selections for 2010 have any special, objective merit!

At any rate here are 20 tracks released this year that rocked my world for at least a few days each, and that I still like come the end of the year. For me, overall, 2010 is the year of Robyn. She gets 4 tracks in my top 20 and it was actually painful for me to not be able to squeeze in further great tracks from her such as Get Myself Together. Arcade Fire are the only other repeaters on my list, but their 2 excellent tracks seem to me to be head and shoulders above the rest of their 2010 output.

Update 1: I haven't been able to confirm that Nest's track is a true 2010 release. It was definitely a download link on an up-to-date music site such as stereogum some time this year... but, if I've been misled, delete it from the list and consider the remainder my 'Top 19'.
Update 2: In the light of the Guardian picking Janelle Monae’s album as the best of the year I finally got around to checking out some tracks from her on youtube for the first time. Oh. My. God is she good. Too late for my list, she’ll have to be my Ms 2011.
Update 3: Yikes, I forgot about Wild Nothing's ('Is this The Chills?') treat, Chinatown. That should definitely be on my list.
Update 4: Just got a wonderful xmas present email from Tracey Thorn w/ a download link for a great new song, a nice photo, and a live-at-home performance of 'Singles Bar'. Terrific stuff. Thanks. Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt have devoted fans for excellent reasons. It's insane that Tracey's album hasn't received more end o' year love than it has (Alex Petridis was the only one of the Guardian's many music critics to list 'Oh, the divorces!' at year's end that I noticed. Grrrr.)

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Kraftwerk Live on late night US TV in 1975

Staggeringly great. Has to be seen to be believed. Autobahn live in '75! On mainstream network TV!