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Caesar's Bath

Kriston passes the baton my way, on an exciting blog game that I wish would catch on but sort of isn't:

Behold, the Caesar’s Bath meme! List five things that people in your circle of friends or peer group are wild about, but you can’t really understand the fuss over. To use the words of Caesar (from History of the World Part I), “Nice. Nice. Not thrilling . . . but nice.”
Sanchez already nabbed Interpol and Wonderland, while Kriston got "graphic novel triumphalism," so here five new ones:
  1. The Atlantic Monthly: This is probably one of these things that it's not good for one's career to say, but David Bradley seems like a man of integrity, so I'll say it -- this is a bad magazine. Now don't get me wrong, some of my best friends work for The Atlantic. Ross, Matt, Nathan, etc., you're all wonderful and "the world in numbers" is the bomb. And there's some great writers here -- Josh Green, James Fallows -- doing some great pieces. And yet. If you're publishing 5,237 pages a month and you can't generate six must-read articles a year there's something seriously wrong with you. The rest, meanwhile, contains some real stinkers. Remember Howell Raines' novella "Why I Am Awesome And The Best Newspaper In The World Sucks Because It Fired Me?" I think you do. And don't get me started on Bernard Henri-Levy eleventy-million part opus in the current issue. The magazine is so invested in signaling to you that this is a Great Magazine that a Smart Person Such As Yourself Will Read that it fails to actually be a great magazine that a smart person needs to read.
  2. The Royal Tenenbaums: Rushmore -- quirky, cool, and awesome. The Life Aquatic was, in its nutball way, rather charming. This film, however, is dull, pretentious crap. Again, it's a work so committed to sending its audience the appropriate meta-message (this is Great) that it doesn't actually do anything. It's all atmospherics, dressing up something that's fundamentally loose, baggy, and pointless.
  3. College Basketball: It's like basketball, but the players are bad! When it comes to sports, tastes differ. Folks who prefer baseball are, I think, insane. Admirers of the run-and-gun game (those who'd prefer a Suns-Sonics match to a Spurs-Pistons game) are bad people, both morally and aesthetically. But the fans of the college game surely don't even believe what they're saying. Do they really want to see puny, second-rate athletes going at it? Then where are the crowds at the WNBA? How come they're not ditching their local NBA squad for a CBA team? Because that would be dumb. Leave aside the silly rules (four hour shot clock, girlie three point line, "one and one" free throws) -- good games are played by good players. Nobody wants to see the Wizards play the Hawks, the people want to see the Cavs. Why? Because they want LeBron. And where won't you see King James playing? The Final Four, that's where. I've been known to watch an NFL Europe game when real football's out of season, but in head-to-head competition, there's no contest.
  4. The Red Room: Obviously, if you're going to a show upstairs, this is a logical place for a pre-music drink. But otherwise the appeal is . . . what? The uncomfortable chairs? The grimey floors? The posturing, "I wish I lived in New York" hipster clientel? No, no, and no. It's a fine place to go if you happen to be there, but to walk past a whole row of bars en route just to experience its indie rock goodness is absurd.
  5. Lost: Don't get me wrong, unlike most things on television this is definitely tolerable. But it's just that, tolerable. Being weird isn't the same as being deep, or being good. It's certainly not the same when the weirdness is purchased not through stylistic or thematic innovation, but simply through having plot development and character behavior make no sense.
I pass to Phoebe, Ross, and Tim.

April 13, 2005 | Permalink


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With you on college basketball, the ultimate whooo caaares? sport. Is the Red Room some kind of DC copy of the bar in San Francisco? 'Cause that place was pretty cool last time I was there, 10 years ago or so.

What you fail to mention about the Atlantic is, in fact, its raison d'etre: The Atlantic Puzzler. Hours of entertainment in every issue. Plus, Fallows and Langeweische are both always worth reading...but the articles are really lagniappe.

Posted by: Tom Hilton | Apr 13, 2005 1:23:16 PM

Hmm, I'll have five of these soon...

But you are so right about the Royal Tenenbaums--that totally would have been one of my five. This has been bothering me for years. Seeing Rushmore was the formative experience of my early teens (or something--had a huge crush on the main character) so I was really excited to see the Royal Tenenbaums and then... A pretentious movie, pretending to be profound and tragic but really appealing to people's base desire to see Gwyneth Paltrow walking in slow motion, sitting around in her underwear, and so forth. Eh.

Posted by: Phoebe | Apr 13, 2005 1:24:35 PM

College football is even worse than college basketball. Each big play is just some second rate athlete making a mistake. And, the games aren't even close like college basketball games.

Posted by: joe o | Apr 13, 2005 1:25:51 PM

"[College basketball is] like basketball, but the players are bad!" Ludicrousness! Hate to break it to you Matt, but the NBA sucks. The tickets are ridiculously expensive and the players go through the motions for 3/4 of the game. I'd rather watch Cardozo high school team practice than dignify the Wizards with an ounce of my time. My 2 cents. You, of course, are entitled to your own opinions...

Posted by: fnook | Apr 13, 2005 1:26:25 PM

But the fans of the college game surely don't even believe what they're saying. Do they really want to see puny, second-rate athletes going at it?


I feel the same way about football, too. Sure, the college versions aren't played at the same level of play, but the intensity of feeling at the college level makes a huge difference.

It's fun, see; not everything is about some search for athletic perfection. Even if it were, I could respond, "Hey, now that Jordan's retired, what's the point? Do you really want to see a bunch of overpaid athletes who--on their best days--are 'almost Jordanesque'?"

Posted by: bobo brooks | Apr 13, 2005 1:27:28 PM

The secret about the Red Room: If you get to know the bartenders, they'll give you mixed drinks in full pint glasses. That's why people keep going back.

Posted by: rj dcsob | Apr 13, 2005 1:28:47 PM

‘the bomb’…has 90’s retro ironic-chic started already?

And why all the hating on Interpol? As I think Kriston wrote, they’re inexcusable, yet still great.

RT wasn’t so bad either, I was even moved a little by it. Angelica Houston was quite good. Although perhaps my view was colored by the fact that I went in with very low expectations. On the other hand I thought Wes Anderson’s first film, Bottle Rocket, sucked. Maybe because I saw it after RT and Rushmore.

One movie that’s WAY overrated: Three Kings. A bunch of indie film cliches, recycled on a big budget.

Posted by: RC | Apr 13, 2005 1:29:44 PM

The atmosphere of a college game is 100X better than the NBA. Plus the players seem to care more and usually will actually listen to the coach. Those facts make up for the fact that the players are objectively worse players.

Also the NCAA tourney's format causes a lot of excitement that the NBA playoff format just doesn't.

Posted by: aL | Apr 13, 2005 1:31:15 PM

Also the NCAA tourney's format causes a lot of excitement that the NBA playoff format just doesn't.

True. And you've pointed out that Matt's comparing College Basketball to Pro Basketball, completely ignoring that The Tournament is its own phenomenon.

Posted by: bobo brooks | Apr 13, 2005 1:33:37 PM

Ah, but the real secret to the Red Room is that cute girls get FREE drinks. But, isn't that the secret to every bar?

Posted by: Roxanne | Apr 13, 2005 1:33:55 PM

I disagree with the contention that every sport becomes better to watch the more talented the players become. I'd argue that there's a sweet spot in each. The obvious example is tennis--men's tennis is dull because the players are no so good they almost never have rallies. Women's players are nowhere near as good as the men, but women's tennis is much more enjoyable.

Soccer, on the other hand, is not especially fun to watch because even at the highest levels, the players aren't good enough. Teams have difficulty making multiple routine passes up the field to go on the attack, and there are 10 times more turnovers than shots on goal.

Anyway, NBA players are too big and too athletic. That, along with the 24 second shot, skews the game too much towards defense and 1-on-1 play, with very little actual teamwork going on. The officiating is also brutal, encouraging boring play rather than the sort of appealing motion and passing you see in college and in the olympics.

Posted by: DT | Apr 13, 2005 1:36:02 PM

Also, on magazines that everyone else thinks are great but really actually suck: The New Yorker.

Posted by: Al | Apr 13, 2005 1:36:04 PM

Here are two for me...

1. Home ownership in and around DC -- "Owning" a dingy, remote hovel for a mortgage payment of $3500, when you could rent in a decent area for around half the money.

2. Fiery Furnaces -- Am I the only one who things that listening Blueberry Boat is like watching a train wreck in slow motion?

Posted by: jw | Apr 13, 2005 1:37:37 PM

Are you serious about college basketball? In college basketball the players are trying their best to win. In pro basketball they are not, unless they are in the playoffs and think they have a shot to win. I think that outweighs the difference in talent. Also, even though the great players leave college as soon as possible, that's barely any of the total # of players in college; I think college teammates are likely to have known each other longer and be closer to each other than pro teammates in our era of constant NBA trades and coaches being fired every 18 months. Plus you get to see some future stars at the point where we're not sure who is going to be a star, and everyone can see himself as having a bright future. (e.g. Nate Robinson...???)

I think the Red Room pales by comparison to the Ethiopian restaurant next door to it. You are talking about Pittsburgh, right?

And I agree about "The Royal Tenenbaums". It's a bunch of people who in no way resemble anyone who has ever lived, interacting in extremely nonspontaneous and dreary ways. In the past 10 years the only two movies I've walked out of are "The Royal Tenenbaums" and "Powder". And, like you, I love all Wes Anderson's other movies (including "The Life Aquatic"), but after "The Royal Tenenbaums" I was deathly afraid that he would follow the Todd Solondz path into hating everyone and everything and consequently being ignored by the baffled masses.

Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Apr 13, 2005 1:42:19 PM

One movie that’s WAY overrated: Three Kings. A bunch of indie film cliches, recycled on a big budget.

Not so! Three Kings had a story, interesting characters, and an interesting setting. Perhaps you are thinking of "I Heart Huckabees".

Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Apr 13, 2005 1:44:01 PM

As it turns out that the case against Interpol is more popular than I realized, let me go out on a counterintuitive limb here and state for the record that Turn on the Bright Lights is an awesome album. The band's too cute by half, sure, but that record—it's so, so great.

I figured that proper New Yorkers such as Sanchez and yourself would appreciate the challenge of an writing an earnest love note to New York City. That they don't fall on their faces is an achievement in itself.

Posted by: Kriston | Apr 13, 2005 1:50:54 PM

I would think that anybody who grew up with a dysfunctional family (even mildly so) would love Royal Tennenbaums. I did, and I loved it. It's all about redemption. If you've never intimately known anyone who missed opportunities to redeem himself, you might not get it.

Posted by: Sam Heldman | Apr 13, 2005 1:57:35 PM

Agreed on The Royal Tenenbaums. I think the word you're all grasping for here is "contrived." But it also seems like some people are really into that kind of thing. It's more important to push the right buttons than present an intrinsically engaging story.

There were actually some decent performances in the film (Gene Hackman had his moments), and I liked the use of "Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard" in the soundtrack.

The appeal may be to people who wish they were part of a rich eccentric family. Salinger did the same kind of thing much, much better with his stories about the Glass family, and those also strike me as contrived.

Posted by: Paul Callahan | Apr 13, 2005 2:00:13 PM

Not only the Royal Tanenbaums, but Napoleon Dynamite. I'd also add Garden State, a perfectly serviceable, but ultimately rather cliched father/son melodrama by a first time director with something of an eye, but little sense of pacing. The indie cred it has? I don't get it.

I actually don't know why going to lounges is so in, but then the allure of sitting around while friends and acquaintances get sloshed faded for me years ago.

I'd also add I don't get the current vogue among young men for short sleeve shirts over long T's. You look silly.

And Three Kings is genius, even if David O. Russell is annoying.

Posted by: weboy | Apr 13, 2005 2:02:43 PM

Right, Royal Ts is hardly sui generis. All these films—Garden State, Napolean Dynamite—are cut from the same fey cloth. There's a proportional relationship between strength of soundtrack and feyness of film.

Posted by: Kriston | Apr 13, 2005 2:08:06 PM

Poker. I can't tell if people are being at all ironic in their enthusiasm for it or not, but regardless, it completely sucks.

Posted by: Alex | Apr 13, 2005 2:10:37 PM

Re College BasketBall: Amen Matt!
Ever since the '96 draft college basketball has gone WAY down hill. Now half the teams are like Wisconson: defensive minded simply because they lack a single player talented enough to execute a turn-around jump shot.
What infuriates me the most is the holier-than-thou attitude some of my friends have when they inform you that, "I don't watch the NBA anymore. It's all about college". It's equal parts resentiment (who cares how much the players make) and the natural attraction of simple-minded would-be sophisticates to anything with the slightest whif of "alternative". The latter would probably explain most fans of the Royal Tenenbaums as well.

Posted by: WillieStyle | Apr 13, 2005 2:11:17 PM

All the characters in Three Kings seemed rather stock to me…

‘Rushmore’ and ‘Life Aquatic’ are about characters who try to turn their lives into their own version of a childhood fairy tale. RT is kind of the opposite -- the characters are all plopped down into this artificial fairy tale version of Manhattan and made to wear ridiculous costumes, and yet have to deal with very real-life sorts of problems. I thought this made for an interesting sort of tension, but one can see how it might come across as pretentious.

This brings to mind something else I don’t understand all the fuss about: The Charlie Rose Show. He talks to much, he sucks up way too much, and instead of actually being interested in the work of the people he’s interviewing, his questions are always some variation of , ‘What is it about you that makes you so, so great?’. Terri Gross is infinitely better.

Posted by: RC | Apr 13, 2005 2:11:29 PM

Also, on magazines that everyone else thinks are great but really actually suck: The New Yorker.

Damn it Zizka! Enough with this fake Al shit already!

Posted by: WillieStyle | Apr 13, 2005 2:14:30 PM

Hey! Don't dis JJ Abrams. "Lost" has had one or two dud episodes
(notably Kate's backstory and her obsession with the little
airplane toy, which makes no sense so far), but it's fascinating
to watch a show which has unusual characters (Locke, Charlie,
Saeed, Hurley) and has the patience to build up a really complex
pattern, while having thrills along the way. So it isn't
"The Sopranos", but, like "24", it's trying a new way of using
the many hours of a TV drama series. The experiment isn't 100%
successful, but it's early days yet.

Posted by: Richard Cownie | Apr 13, 2005 2:18:09 PM

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