Archives for the month of: October, 2012

A proposed book chapter (forthcoming on Palgrave-Macmillan, I guess) just got the thumbs up. At some point I promised this:

“The Pick-Up Artist and the politics of virtuosity, or, “Has anyone ever told you that you have the rhetoric of an Erasmus and the delivery of a Reagan?””

James Toback’s The Pick-Up Artist (1987) references the director’s previous film Fingers (1978) through its doo-wop soundtrack, its focus on a nice boy in conflict with the mafia, its inclusion of Fingers stars Harvey Keitel and Danny Aiello, and most powerfully through its investigation and querying of virtuosity. Whereas Jimmy Fingers’ failure as a musical virtuoso and turn to violence reflects the reduced economic circumstances of late-1970s New York, The Pick-Up Artist’s protagonist Jack Jericho, played by Robert Downey, Junior, finds that his verbal virtuosity can create abundance – a discovery very much in tune with the “Morning in America” narrative provided by the Reagan administration. Fingers and The Pick-Up Artist both end with a showdown between a potential virtuoso and a mobster. Instead of Fingers’ desperation in the form of the failure of a man who “works with his hands”, The Pick-Up Artist presents the 1980’s triumph of rhetoric and financialization in the mouth of a virtuoso, Robert Downey, Junior.

We should thus read The Pick-Up Artist as a sequel to Fingers – one that reflects a belief in virtuosity very much informed by the former film’s historical moment and the particular skills of its lead actor. Jack Jericho believes – and Downey proves, through the force of his charisma – that the virtuoso deployment of rhetoric can and does create what he desires. In this way, The Pick-Up Artist not only represents the difference between the Carter years and the Reagan era in terms of virtuosity, but deploys that change as a solution to the major problems people face, and the means to provide unlikely but satisfying happy endings.

What the abstract doesn’t mention is that much of my argument is based on the ways in which the rhetoric of pick-up artists does exactly the same thing as Reaganite conservative. That is, pick-up artists use a version of neuro-linguistic programming which not only prefers to think about how to change how you think about material conditions rather than how to change the actual material conditions, but also uses what in political discourse gets called dog whistles.

Mucking about in ESRI’s online version of ArcGIS, I’ve whacked together a bunch of maps full of points to start looking for patterns in the narrative settings of the yearly box office top twenty. One thing that jumps out about 1991, even in comparison to the years before and after it, is the way in which film settings move to less-frequently chosen spots like Alabama and southern Georgia (Fried Green Tomatoes) Memphis, Baltimore, and eastern Ohio (Silence of the Lambs), western PA near Pittsburgh (My Girl), Cedar Rapids IA (Sleeping With the Enemy), North Carolina (Cape Fear),  and, to a lesser extent, vacation-spot New Hampshire (What About Bob?) and western Mass. (Prince of Tides).

(click to enlarge)

The next year shows some continued work from keen location scouts – parts of upstate New York (Last of the Mohicans) and a touch of rural Oregon (A League of Their Own) plus some Oklahoma land theft rush (Far and Away). And in spite of Unforgiven returning to some of the Wyoming and Plains settings familiar to westerns, there’s a lot more of a big city orbit for 1992 – plenty of Chicago, New York, Boston, and Los Angeles:

The map that the locations rest on top of represents median household income for the decade. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the films are set in the darker (higher median income) counties. The purple dot in the yellow county is a bit of an outlier, because that’s for the Louisiana prison in JFK.  So even when a 1991 escapes the usual shooting locations, it retains a solidly middle-class grounding. I would also note that the darkest, that is to say most affluent, counties are also quite sparsely represented. Housesitter looks at well-to-do architects and their mentally unbalanced guests, and so takes place in an affluent Boston suburb; but Silence of the Lambs takes place in a rich county only because training center is at Quantico, not because Clarice is loaded (although Biltmore will make an appearance in a sequel, not that Clarice lives there).

A message from a journal editor showed up in my inbox this morning.

Apologies for the delay over your suburbia piece. I’m having severe problems locating willing reviewers for your article. I have now approached 7 academics, and all have rejected the offer to review the piece. Have you any suggestions over who to approach?

I have immense sympathy for the editor, who seems to deserve a medal for sticktoitiveness if nothing else. S/he has been very understanding when it comes to my habit of submitting decent but not publication-ready maps in an article about zoning (exciting, trust me) and Breakfast Club and Slums of Beverly Hills.

I’m sympathetic to their cause, since I abhor internships and pretty much any form of profit-maximization built on unpaid labour (see, for one slice of the peer review shit, this subscription-required piece in the Chronicle). That said, the screwheads who can’t be bothered to do their bit can go get fucked.

In the end it’s just going to lead to 1) my friends peer reviewing me and saying “publish as-is” and 2) me making an offer to peer review for a journal that will turn me down because I’m not a permanent member of academic staff. Glorious.

[edited post title]