“And have you a pale blue dress on?” “Jane Eyre” illustration by F.H. Townsend. Via Wikipedia

So, it seems Jane Eyre is being re-written as a trashy romance novel.  Or should I say, a trashy romance novel for our time; as I believe the original Jane Eyre was a trashy romance novel by Victorian standards, as indeed are all books that are any good.  But times change, and audiences seem to go less and less for subtlety.

The author of the new version, Eve Sinclair, said:

I think that readers through the ages have appreciated the smouldering sexual chemistry between Jane and Rochester and I have changed very little of Bronte’s original to retell the timeless story of a young girl falling for an unattainable older man and getting out of her depth in a sensual world she cannot control.

Well… it seems like she would have had to change rather a lot of the story, since the plot hinges on Jane not wanting to, ah, “live as Rochester’s wife” without actually being Rochester’s wife.  And that only happens at the end of the book.  And if she didn’t change it much, then… what was the point of this again?

You know, I think this is the same problem I complain about in the horror genre: nothing gets left to the reader’s imagination anymore.

I was watching The Dick Van Dyke Show on TV last night.  The episode I saw was called “The Bad Old Days“.  In a nutshell, it went like this: one of Rob’s colleagues tells him about an article on “the decline of the American male”, and how men are becoming more subservient to their wives.  This worries Rob, who starts to fear that Laura too often tells him what to do.  The episode culminates in a hilarious dream sequence, in which Rob imagines himself as an overbearing, bullying 19th-century-style husband, who makes his wife do all the housework and forces his son to work in a factory.  Of course, Rob wakes up and realizes that this wasn’t such a great way to live, after all.

It’s kind of funny to me, because you often hear this complaint of “feminized” men being subordinated to their wives these days, especially in conservative and “alt-right” circles.  Often, the 1950s and early ’60s are considered the archetype of a more restrictive and socially conservative era, and to some extent the setup of The Dick Van Dyke Show is emblematic of that.  I remember my blogger-friend Thingy contrasting Mary Tyler Moore’s accommodating housewife character on Dick Van Dyke with her independent, single, career-woman character on The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the ’70s.

But then, here we have an episode of Dick Van Dyke from 1962 that addresses this same “men are too subservient to their wives” idea.  So, it seems like that idea must have been in the air even back then.  Which, in turn, suggests the possibility that perhaps there is an ever-recurring nostalgia among authoritarian men of every era, that they had it better in, as Rob says, “the bad old days”.

Well, that’s enough sociological musing!  The point is, it was a very funny show.  It does amaze me that the best thing on TV some nights is a show from 50 years ago, but there you have it.

Heh.  So, without realizing it, I kind of predicted the big new feature in Madden 13 when I said sports games should:

Let people choose backstories for their teams, much as they choose them for their characters in certain RPGs. You could have “reigning champs”, “fading band of superstars”, “up-and-coming”, “rebuilding” or “plucky underdogs”,  just for a few examples.

There’s something rather similar for the “Connected Careers” mode in MaddenAccording to Pastapadre:

One new element is the addition of storylines which are present for both coaches and players. For example, when choosing to be a “player”, you’ll also select from options like whether they were a first round draft choice or went undrafted. This not only affects initial ratings and play time but also expectations. Those who start as “undrafted” will have lower expectations and easier goals to achieve but understandably less playing time to do so.

Cool.  However, I’m still done with the whole Madden thing.  I feel like I’ve pretty much mastered it, and the news that there’s not going to be any player editing allowed in the new version really sealed the deal for me. (For crying out loud EA, has Peyton Manning–or indeed, any quarterback–ever worn this facemask?) So, I won’t be getting it this year.  The new physics engine does look cool, though.

Image via Wikipedia

“Gentlemen, this is a football.”  Thus did the famous coach Vince Lombardi supposedly begin every first team meeting of the season, while holding up same.   The point being, you always start off with the basics. However, I don’t know about the AIFA; some of their players might be seeing a football for the first time.

The other day, somebody got to this blog by searching for the terms “how would max weber view american football”. I don’t know if he was even thinking of the same Max Weber I’m so fond of, but regardless, I thought to myself: “Heck, I would like to read that article.”  So, here is a cursory attempt at writing it.

Of course, it’s hard to figure out the answer without a Ouija board and some arcane black magic.  And even then, it would probably only be something simplistic like “the competitiveness reflects the Protestant ethic” or “the Browns are 6 and 10 this year, best case.”

I’m not too familiar with his most famous writings about religion; I’ve mostly studied Weber’s contributions to political thought. Long-time readers probably remember his three types of authority:

  1. Charismatic authority
  2. Traditional authority
  3. Legal authority

Well, I suppose he’d think that coaches like Rex Ryan and players like Tim Tebow have charismatic authority, whereas coaches like Belichick and players like Ray Lewis rely on a sort of traditional authority–they have enjoyed a lot of success, so people are supposed to automatically respect them.  The equivalent to Legal authority is, well, the referees and the commissioner. (As the Saints are discovering.)

But this doesn’t tell us anything about the broader social phenomenon of football. Maybe Weber would note the similarity of the sport to religion.  After all, some fans follow it with the same zeal that people follow religions. They even collect artifacts and relics relating to the heroes of the sport.  And then, of course, there’s the ubiquitous Mr. Tebow. (I know I’m breaking my vow here. I’m sorry. But I promise you one thing: you will never see another blogger try as hard not to mention him as I will try the rest of the off-season.)

I once saw an NFL Films show about the Pittsburgh Steelers championship run in 2005.  It started off with this quasi-hymn or chant-like music that sounded religious and very eerie all at once. Imagine “Duel of the Fates“, only way creepier.  It seemed pretty serious for a bunch of football highlights.  But there are people who definitely see football as nearly as important. (Another Lombardi line, of which there are some variations: “All that matters is your God, your family and the Green Bay Packers”.)

Still, Weber studied religions as a way of highlighting differences in cultures and people’s philosophies.  The superficial resemblance of sports fanatics to religious fanatics is obviously more about the features of fanaticism than religion.  So we’re still at a dead end.

Let’s approach this from a different direction: we know that American football, though wildly popular in the United States, is not the number one sport in any other country. Perhaps the reasons for this are tied to “American exceptionalism”.  But this is more Tocqueville than it is Weber. (Where is that Ouija board?) And unfortunately, I cannot find much that Weber had to say about America.

So once again, I am frustrated.  I leave it to you, blogosphere and distinguished commenters, to sort this problem out.  What would Max Weber think of American football?

For some bizarre reason, and in spite of some confusion, games three and four of the Stanley Cup Final aired on NBC Sports Network. The first two games had been on NBC. Lord only knows where game five will be. They like to keep their fans guessing.

I swear, pro hockey has some of the worst marketing… It’s one thing to air your championship on non-free TV. That’s a mistake, in my opinion, but it can be lucrative, so I get it. But at least be consistent! They can’t even manage that. Why would you put part of the series on one channel and the rest on another? It’s like they are actively trying to make the sport difficult to follow.

Hockey is a great sport, but the way it’s managed is highly questionable. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: If I were in charge, I’d have a 20-game regular season, followed by a single-elimination tournament, televised either on one of the major over-the-air networks or ESPN. The tournament would begin the week after football season ends and be over by mid-March.

It will never happen, though, for obvious financial reasons. But I bet it would increase the popularity of the sport–and hence, the profitability–over the long-run.

I only ever read two things by him: Fahrenheit 451, which I frankly didn’t think was very good, and “The October Game”, which was well-written but way too dark, even for my tastes. He also seemed, at times, like something of a luddite.

But Bradbury liked the atmosphere of the fall and Halloween, apparently, and that’s definitely true of me as well. Someday, I’ll have to give Something Wicked This Way Comes a try.

And another thing I’ll say for the man: he came up with some awesome titles. I may not have liked Fahrenheit, but it’s a good title. Scanning his bibliography on Wikipedia, I see tons of titles that I know nothing about, but which intrigue me quite a bit.

I honestly cannot believe that Hollywood has been reduced to making movies based on board games. I haven’t seen the movie, but from the trailer it’s not clear to me if it has anything to do with the game “Battleship” besides the license and the fact that it has battleships in it. I’d say this is the clearest sign yet that they’re running out of ideas.

So, what other board or pen-and-paper guessing games could get the Hollywood treatment? I’m thinking “Parcheesi” myself. Although they could also do an adaptation of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” and say it’s a “Hangman” movie. The posters almost make themselves:

Last week in Scotland, there was an academic conference on the Harry Potter series. The Guardian reports:

Billed as the world’s first conference to discuss Harry Potter strictly as a literary text [as opposed to what?–MM], almost 50 lectures are lined up, with academics taking on issues including paganism, magic and the influence on Rowling of CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien and Shakespeare. Seminar titles range from “Moral development through Harry Potter in a post-9/11 world”  to “Harry Potter and Lockean civil disobedience”.

The article goes on to quote Prof. John Mullan of University College London as saying: “[The participants] should be reading Milton and Tristram Shandy: that’s what they’re paid to do.”

Well, I’m sure the world will manage to struggle on despite some professors not reading their Milton and Tristram Shandy for a few days. Somehow, I don’t think those works will change much over that time frame, so I don’t think there’s a lot of urgency.

It is not that literary analysis is a useless pursuit–I have often engaged in a bit of it myself, in my amateurish way–it is just the rather odd, almost arbitrary mechanism by which things are deemed worthy of it (or not) that annoys people.

Why shouldn’t our friendly neighborhood professors spend a little time reading the adventures of Harry Potter, in lieu of another go-round with Paradise Lost? Is it because they are not as good as the works of Milton? Perhaps they are not. But how can you claim that, without first having subjected them to the same scrutiny that has been applied to Milton’s work? They could give their profession a much greater reputation for academic rigor if they did that, I think. Prof. Mullan’s idea is somewhat akin to astronomers continually proving to this day that the Earth does in fact orbit the Sun, and smacking down any loose talk about this “Sloan Great Wall“.

Not that Potter is as good as the classic Great Works–it isn’t, in my opinion, but who is to say that they won’t one day come along with something that is better than those old books? It could happen, you know, but academia won’t find out about it unless they analyze them. And even if they never actually do get surpassed, you don’t need to keep reading and writing about them over and over to be sure.

This conference is, nevertheless, a bit ridiculous. I know I sound like a Tea Partier saying this, but there is a vague touch of elitism about the whole thing: “We are academics! We can discuss this book series better than you (dare I say it?) ‘muggles’ can.”

I don’t mean to imply it isn’t worth doing, because they’re professional critics. The ridiculousness of the situation derives less from the fact that they’re discussing Harry Potter and more from the fact that academic literary criticism in general is fairly ridiculous. It is for this reason that so many people think the entire profession is useless and stupid, when in fact it is only that they are using the wrong techniques. And the reason they are using the wrong techniques, I suspect, is that they are mostly analyzing old texts, and consequently have to reach further and further for new topics that haven’t been addressed before. There are only so many ways you can say “Hamlet is really quite interesting.”

Unfortunately, the techniques honed by critics for doing this are the only tools available to those critics who would write about something slightly newer such as Harry Potter. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde’s assessment of the United States: “critical analysis of Harry Potter went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.” (There was, I am sure, a “Golden Age” of Shakespeare analysis. It was probably in the 1700s.)

I don’t really know why it’s such a big deal, all told.  Amateurs on fan sites were analyzing the Harry Potter books well before this and will continue to do so. Academics may join in if they like, or not. It doesn’t much matter.

I watched the season finale of Sherlock 2 last night. I watched the adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles the week before that, and I watched the first installment of the first season when it aired, but I haven’t seen the rest of the series.

My thoughts on what I’ve seen: the acting is all very good, but the characters are often unpredictable. In the finale, for instance, it seems absurd that Lestrade, after trusting Sherlock all that time, would so easily be willing to believe that he committed the crimes. Also, Sherlock shows too much emotion too often.

Moreover, the attempt to update the stories works pretty well for the most part, but every now and again, there are some rough patches. The solution to the “Baskerville” one felt especially bad. In terms of satisfying the audience, it was barely any better than one of the solutions found in Stephen Leacock‘s humorous survey of the mystery genre:  “the murder had been committed by somebody else altogether different.”

They do a pretty good job of updating it to the real world without being too obnoxious with the “Sherlock Holmes has a cell phone” aspect, but it still feels pretty much pointless to me.

As for what Sherlock did at the conclusion of the finale, I assume that his words to Watson “keep your eyes on me” are of significance, but I don’t know all the details. The trouble is, after the “Baskerville” episode, pretty much anything is on the table, so there’s really not much point in speculating. For all we know, Watson is dreaming the whole thing.

All in all, I can’t help bu think they would have been better off writing a new series with new characters–still the same actors, of course–than trying to re-do something that’s been done too many times already. The only “Sherlock Holmes in the modern day” riff that I’ve ever thought was really good was the one with John Cleese, The Strange Case of the End of Civilization as We Know It.

I read this Slate review of the movie Crooked Arrows, which is apparently a fairly predictable movie about lacrosse. I’d never heard of it till I saw the article. But from this review, it seems that it simply reinforces what I’ve said before about sports movies being dull and predictable.

I still like my idea for a movie about a super dominant team that destroys their plucky opposition. I envision a football movie, about a team on a quest for its second undefeated season in a row. I’m thinking it would be a musical, with the big number sung by the half-Lombardi-esque, half-Belichickean head coach. (I’ve thought about this too much.)

Even that would just be a satire of the sports movie genre, though. It couldn’t be a lasting formula for films, just a one-off. The problem is that sports are dramatic affairs themselves. And they’re more dramatic than movies, because they are harder to predict. If Hollywood had written it, the Cardinals would have beaten the Steelers. The Giants and Patriots wouldn’t have even been in it last year in the movies. The unpredictability is what makes it good.

I think the best sports movies are the ones that involve rigging and corruption in the game. That way, the drama of the game is subjugated to serve the larger drama of behind-the-scenes machinations. Political issues and sports might work, too. I’ve never seen all of Invictus, but I’ve watched some scenes from it, and it seems pretty good because of the larger political issues at stake in the movie. The outcome of the big game doesn’t even matter to the real point of the movie, because it’s more about what the South African rugby team means to the country.

Figures I’d have to find a way to work conspiracies and political intrigue into my sports movies, doesn’t it?