August 31, 2016

Coffee & TV: Starbucks, I Love Dick

Welcome to the tenth installment of my newsletter about my two very favorite things in the world!

I've spent a lot of time in airports over the last two weeks.  Airports are the only locations in which I will consume Starbucks, because in addition to  being the sort of awful person who sources their Japanese artisanal coffee filters on Amazon instead of getting the "close-enough" ones at the grocery store like a regular human being, I am the sort of awful person who has Snobby Opinions about Starbucks.  I also hate the way it smells -- it reminds me of the smell of the Barnes and Noble on 66th Street (RIP) that I worked at during a particularly trying period of my life, a Barnes and Noble with a Starbucks on site, of course, where we received an employee discount which I took advantage of 4-5 times a week.  The smell of burnt coffee and dirty paper and feet (did you know people take off their shoes in Barnes and Noble?  Monsters!) and industrial bathroom cleanser stuck to my clothes and even now, almost fifteen years later, only one component of that multi-variable smell will turn my stomach right over.  

However, travel requires one to adapt, and thanks to my coworker Scott, a fellow coffee aficionado, I got the hot tip that Starbucks cold brew is pretty good.  Having consumed about eight of them over the last ten days, I can confirm this to be true.  It is totally OK -- definitely not burnt (by virtue of its preparation), and virtually indistinguishable from cold brew coffee I've had from several establishments with better bona fides. Two thumbs sideways!

More on the challenges of adaptation (Game of Thrones Edition):

I remember seeing this screengrab when I first entered the wonderful world of chrsyreviews and losing my mind with delight.  Nerdlord!   It strikes at the core being of the over-invested, over-involved, over-immersed superfan, conjures the gesture of pushing crooked glasses up one's nose, the phrase "actually" uttered in the whiniest possible tone, followed by "before it was cool," the stacks of dog-eared, broken-spined, Post-It littered books.  

It's hard to please the superfans.  I get it.  A creator finds him/herself in the position of including throwaway (and expensive!) shots of horses in order to forgo 14 months of answering questions about them in every. single. interview.  and AMA hostile takeovers on Reddit.

Brief pause for station identification:  "I Love Dick" is the TV adaptation directed by Jill Soloway for Amazon Studio of the novel of the same name by Chris Kraus.  The novel traces the evolution of the narrator ("Chris")'s feelings for "Dick,"  a minor cultural critic she meets through her husband Sylvere.   Chris feels an immediate connection to Dick, writes him many letters she doesn't send, then she does send them, then she goes to see him, then she writes an entire manifesto on the phenomenology of her attraction to him, tells the story of Jennifer Harbury, Efraín Bámaca Velásquez, and the Guatemalan Coca-Cola strike, gives a runthrough of 80s/90s poetry, art, and critical theory, and tiny detail by detail ("the more particular the information, the more likely it will be a paradigm"), builds an airtight case for the place of female vulnerability and women's personal experience in art, as well as a damning indictment of the inescapable power imbalance of heterosexuality.  So in a sense, I Love Dick is about a crush.  And Moby Dick is about a whale.  

Re:  I Love Dick (TV Edition) -- I am that nerdlord.  It's me, Ruth Curry.  It is known.  I need every favorite line, every voiceover, every David Rattray reference, every throwaway joke; I need perfect casting, wardrobe verismilitude, all of it.  I am here to complain about it.  I am here to nitpick. I am here to over-analyze.  Actually, Dick is a metaphorical cowboy, not a real one.  Actually, though Chris and Sylvere's marriage is sexless by mutual consent, they are very close; "They maintain their intimacy via deconstruction:, i..e., they tell each other everything."  Actually, the "Dear Dick" letters/stories begin as an art project shared by Chris and Sylvere, a 90-page orgy of creative excess crammed into 3 or 4 days, the likes of which neither has experienced in years, not some weird secretive activity Chris embarks on alone. 

All of this to say, I knew there was no way the show could hope to match the significance the book has in my life; no way an adaptation could achieve the same effect the original had on me. My best case scenario was something similar, something interesting, something thought-provoking and feminist and difficult and uncomfortable.  

And I got my best case scenario?  I think?  And yet, I am still that nerdlord.  

It's not quite fair, I realize, to judge a TV show on the strength of its pilot, and doubly unfair to do so when the pilot is an adaptation of a prickly novel of which, when I recommend it, I always say, "The first 100 pages or so are hard to get through, but keep going, it's worth it."  And yet, actually. . . .
  1. Neither Chris, Sylvere, or Dick are American; they are all expatriates, lost, wandering, wrong-footed, not at home . . . discuss!
  2. I Love Dick takes place in 1993/94; the economic and social reality (especially vis a vis feminism) is completely different from today. Setting the show in the present decontextualizes the material conditions in a weird way I can't quite wrap my head around, like a double anachronism.  A female indie filmmaker of any small success visiting Marfa, TX in 2016 wouldn't be immediately written off as a faculty wife the way the grad students (grad students!) dismiss Chris during the reception scene; the same indie filmmaker wouldn't be tongue-tied when a man (ostensibly sophisticated, educated, etc.) challenges her to name some great female directors. She would be Over. It. 
  3. Which leads us to: book!Chris is clearly intelligent, erudite, practical, and perceptive from page 1; yes, she's neurotic, yes, people underestimate her, yes, her film is stuck in production hell, but not because she ignored a cease-and-desist letter!  This will doubtless be the topic of the Reddit thread I start.
  4. Whereas: Dick is just a guy.  Dick is no one special.  Dick is a play on words. Dick is a metonym.  Dick is shorthand for any standard model man anywhere - his only power comes from the imaginative energy Chris has invested in him. 

Dick is not the iconic male body dominating the most georgeously composed shot of the final scene of the pilot





Dick is not amazing. Dick is fine.  He's OK.  He's everywhere, he's standard, he's not bad -- he's just like Starbucks, you know?

I hope there are more episodes on the way (I voted!).  I really want to see how my nerdlord critiques are resolved (or not).  But until then:

"No matter how dispassionate or large a vision of the world a woman formulates, whenever it includes her own experience and emotion, the telescope's turned back on her.  Because emotion's just so terrifying the world refuses to believe that it can be pursued as discipline, as form." 

Pursuing it forever,