For the past several years, the NFL has invited famous musicians to perform during half-time at the Super Bowl. Some of the shows have been wonderful (though there was some censoring of song lyrics when The Rolling Stones appeared), but many have been disappointing. This year, I got super-excited to hear that Katy Perry, nominated for best video for her song “Dark Horse,” would be the guest artist.
She will be the “Perfect Storm” for the NFL’s Super Bowl half-time show.
But the broken heart it kens, nae second spring again Tho’ the waeful may cease frae their weeping.
(But the broken heart cannot know second spring again
Though the woeful may cease from their weeping.)
Loch Lomond Traditional Scottish Folksong
Considering its 8.7/10-star rating on IMDb, I may be one of the very few viewers who’s not deleriously happy with Starz’s new series Outlander, based on the best-selling books by Diana Gabaldon, but I’m throwing my metaphorical hat into the reviewing ring anyway. I’ve never read the books, but the premise of the show is fascinating: a World War II nurse, Claire, goes on a post-War “second honeymoon” to the Scottish Highlands with her husband, Frank, where she touches the tallest rock in a Henge, and is inexplicably transported to the same place 200+ years in the past, in the midst of the wars between the Scottish clans and the British Empire. I’ve watched all 5 episodes of the series so far, waiting for something else to happen beyond the initial premise, and I find that the show has as many weaknesses as it does strengths.
Warning: Spoilers throughout
Instead of the intriguing philosophical Voice-Over that began the series (and which may not have been in the book since the “prologue” where it appears is only in the Starz tie-in version) — “People disappear all the time” — the voice-over has begun narrating what we’re seeing on the screen — “15 paces to the sentry tower” (as Claire is walking there) — or justifying Claire’s behavior — “I was jealous” (which the viewer already knew) — or explaining what the viewer could figure out for himself — “the hunting game was more than a game” (as Claire is continually looking up at the sentry on the watchtower while she’s playing with the children). That makes the Voice-Over a repetition of what we’re seeing onscreen, a redundancy, or simply an insult to the viewer’s intelligence. Whatever it’s meant to be, the Voice-Over isn’t working any longer and is getting tedious.
I’ve watched the entire five episodes which open the series — several times — and after Claire (Caitriona Balfe) inexplicably disappears, not once do we get a glimpse of what her poor husband Frank (Tobias Menzies) must be going through in 1945 without his wife, who’s been gone for months. (In an earlier show, while at the castle in the 1740s, Claire mentions that she’s been here for weeks; in last night’s episode, when she accompanies the clan members on a rent-collecting trip, she mentions that the group has been on the road “for weeks.” That now equals months, yet no indication of what Frank is doing or experiencing, and I, for one, am worried about him, although Claire does not seem to be: she’s only been sad, for a few seconds, and specifically mentioned Frank once, though she often, at the end of a show, says she has to get “back to the stones.” )
Lots of atmosphere in the setting but no Urgency or forward plot momentum. In short, nothing of note has happened since she ended up in the past.
The 1940s music over the 1740s setting is more than a bit disconcerting.
The long, untranslated, un-subtitled dialogue and monologues in Scots Gaelic, which I assume are authentic since Starz boasts its Scots Gaelic dialogue coach/expert, are dull in the extreme since I don’t know what’s going on. In episode 5, Claire complains that the group is intentionally speaking in Gaelic to “exclude her” and make her feel like an outsider. Claire, honey, you’re not the only one. At least you didn’t mention being bored during the long Gaelic passages, as I am.
The supposed clan conflict with Claire’s supposed love-interest in the past — Jamie — makes no sense to me, though I watched episode 4, where it was convolutedly explained and temporarily solved, three times. Nope. I still don’t get the problem with Jamie and the clan. Maybe you have to read the books to understand it. But that makes it a weakness for the series.
I don’t see any chemistry between the actors who play Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie (Sam Heughan). I keep looking for it, but beyond the fact that he has a nice body, which, in itself, does not guarantee sexual chemistry except between shallow individuals, I don’t see or feel any sparks. I don’t know if it’s the acting, the actors, or the script.
No one ever asks Claire who or what “Roosevelt” is in her most frequent curse: “Jesus H Roosevelt Christ.” Now, you may think that’s petty, but in a world where women were severely discriminated against and accused of witchcraft for disobeying their husbands or being different or for looking at someone sideways, I find it odd that no one asks what that means, or, worse, thinks she’s casting a spell on them (especially since one of the characters came and asked Claire for a love potion, so her “supernatural abilities seem to be assumed).
The hints that the show’s other “healer,” Gellis Duncan (Lotte Verbeek), may be a time-traveler as well are very intriguing, especially as she seems to have accepted her fate, and makes many pointed comments to Claire that you can make a good life for yourself even if it’s not one you ever imagined.
Good chemistry between Claire and Gellis (actor Lotte Verbeek). Most of that may come from Verbeek, but whatever the reason, she’s a delightful character, and the scenes she’s in with Claire are some of the show’s most interesting, especially when she asks if Claire, who’s hoarding food for her escape, is pregnant and “eating for more than one.”
Beautiful clothes. Look at the fur Claire’s wearing as she accompanies the group on its rent-collecting chores.
Since Claire had “naught but her shift” and shoes when the clan members found her, someone in the castle is very generous, lending Claire dresses, furs, and very nice jewelry whenever needed.
Absolutely beautiful countryside (the show was filmed in Scotland).
Claire quotes John Donne’s poetry (albeit only once so far), so she’s well-read.
Claire’s managed to heal quite a few people, including a boy everyone assumed was possessed by the devil and who would have died had she not administered the antidote (belladonna, itself a poison) to the poisonous plant (Lily of the Valley) she assumed he’d eaten (he was unconscious).
When she can’t heal them, she is able to at least make them feel better, as when she massages the base of clan Laird Colum MacKenzie’s spine rather than his deformed legs (as his former healer used to do).
When she can’t save them, she’s honest about it, and helps them die as peacefully as she can (the boy mortally wounded in the boar hunt, which earns her the clan’s respect).
Claire’s mostly cool-headed, even if she occasionally does things a 20th century woman would do, like when she teases Jamie — at dinner, in front of others — about his sexual interaction with another woman, and continues to do so despite his warning kick under the table.
Her guards, whom she also refers to as her “shadows,” are amusing. Whether that’s the actors themselves improv-ing or it’s in the script, it works. In episode 5, for example, they and the other members of the rent-collecting group beat up men in another group for calling Claire a “whore” in Gaelic. Afterward, while she’s tending to their minor scrapes and bruises, calling them “big babies” and asking what it was all about, the funniest “shadow,” Angus, tells her, quite matter-of-factly: “They called you a ‘whore’. You’re a guest of The MacKenzie. We can insult you, but God help any other man that does.” That was the first time I laughed aloud at anything in the show.
Dougal’s cool. (On left in photo above. Played by actor Graham McTavish, Dougal’s an uncle to Jaime and brother to clan leader Colum (Gary Lewis), on right in photo.) Dougal’s got just enough bad qualities mixed with good ones to make him a totally awesome character. I like him. Especially in the scene where the young man gored by the boar asks him, “Did ye bed my sister?” and Dougal admits, “Aye. She was a bonnie lass,” leading the dying boy to conclude that Dougal “always could charm the lasses.”
Whatever conflict Jamie has with the MacKenzie clan, who are his kin, it’s intriguing. I admit that I don’t quite understand it, but it’s intriguing nevertheless. That makes Jamie’s nature interesting.
At last, Claire showed a sense of humor. When one of her “shadows” was telling a tall tale about his sexually having two women at the same time, each jealously fighting over him, she responded that she believed his “left hand was jealous of his right,” causing all the men to laugh, and him to say, in astonishment, “I never heard a woman make a joke before.”
And finally, in a show where one of the major conflicts is Claire’s arrival in a time when the Scottish Highlanders were about to stage a major rebellion (the last attempt to put a Stuart on the throne of Scotland, which marked the end of the clans) with the British, at the end of episode 5, the British arrived!
Caitriona Balfe as Claire & Tobias Menzies as husband Frank (L), Sam Heughan as Jamie and Balfe as transported Claire (R)
Do Outlander’s strengths outweigh its weaknesses? I can’t decide yet. But I’m hoping the slow pace of episodes 2-5 will pick up considerably now that the British have arrived and asked Claire, in front of Dougal, whether, as an Englishwoman, she was “voluntarily” with the Scottish clan.
So I’ll keep watching, hoping there’s a good reason for author Gabaldon’s Outlander series to have become a bestseller (besides lots of women just liking to read 800+-page novels), and an even better reason for Starz to have made it into a series, and to have renewed it for a second season before the episode 2 even aired (besides just trying to capitalize on its bestseller status, because I seriously doubt the show’s going to be up for any kind of awards).
So, 17-year-0ld New Zealander Lorde, born Ella Maria Lani Yelick-O-Connor, is hitting the music charts after her Grammy wins this year with “Song of the Year” and “Best Pop Solo Performance” for “Royals”, which she claims shows the feeling her generation has about life, that “our lives are super mundane and we’re basically in this transition period waiting for something to happen to us.” Wow. Super-mundane? Having a mom as a poet? Waiting for something to happen to us? Writing short stories and then songs and then becoming a huge hit in her homeland before conquering the UK and cracking the US?
Lorde says she’s always written, mostly short stories before she began writing songs, and her influences are as literary — T.S. Eliot, Raymond Chandler, Ezra Pound, Allen Ginsberg, Sylvia Plath — as musical — Drake, Kanye West, James Blake, Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac, Etta James, and Otis Redding. “I’ve always been a big reader,” says Lorde. “My mum’s a poet and we’ve always had so many books, and that’s always been a big thing for me, arguably more so than music.” Her short video, Becoming Lorde, is poetic in itself.
Though lots of people like to trash her on YouTube’s Comments, I find her music haunting, with intelligent, sardonic lyrics. Not like some of the music or books coming out these days. You can tell that this artist actually reads good literature, then writes some coolio music.
In some videos, she doesn’t even sing, which is really unusual for generations of MTV viewers who are used to seeing the musicians play or, at the very least, sing, in their videos. The UK version of “Royals,” for which she won awards, apparently doesn’t show her singing, as this US version of “Royals” does. I guess someone thought the US would want less storytelling and more of her face, I don’t know.
I just know that I found her totally accidentally, roaming around the YouTube listening to music, especially to artists I’d never heard before, and I liked her lyrics from this song so much, I listened to more of her album.
I’ve never seen a diamond in the flesh
I cut my teeth on wedding rings in the movies
And I’m not proud of my address,
In a torn-up town, no postcode envy
But every song’s like “gold teeth, Grey Goose, trippin’ in the bathroom
Blood stains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room.”
We don’t care, we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams.
But everybody’s like “Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece.
Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash.”
We don’t care, we aren’t caught up in your love affair.
And we’ll never be royals (royals).
It don’t run in our blood,
That kind of luxe just ain’t for us.
We crave a different kind of buzz.
Let me be your ruler (ruler),
You can call me queen Bee
And baby I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule.
Let me live that fantasy.
My friends and I—we’ve cracked the code.
We count our dollars on the train to the party.
And everyone who knows us knows that we’re fine with this,
We didn’t come from money.
Her video for “Tennis Court” doesn’t show her actually singing, but it doesn’t tell a story either: she lets her lyrics do that.
I liked the samples I heard from her album Pure Heroine, and love the album. It’s ambitious and dangerous, it’s almost a cappella with a serious bass. I like it. “Funky with a totally intellectual attitude” doesn’t begin to describe it.
No, Lorde doesn’t strike me at all as the type that would have been singing into a hairbrush in front of a mirror when she was a young girl.
Lip-syncing. It’s caused quite a few outrages over the years, especially when famous singers lip-sync the National Anthem at some major event, or their own songs during some Super event. I get the problem with lip-syncing if you’ve paid a significant amount of money to see a top artist in concert, and the artist simply gyrates the body while lip-syncing to his top song. If I go to a concert, I want to hear the performance live, even if the singer is playing his own voice in the overdubs. Annie Lennox, with her incomparable voice, does it. So does Lady Gaga. But the main song — those fine artists sing their songs in concert themselves. Lady Gaga even inserts some speaking or some variation in the recorded versions so that her audience know that it is, indeed, Lady Gaga live to whom they are listening.
Jimmy Fallon, of The Tonight Show, has been challenging his guests to lip-syncing contests. Each guest picks his own song, without the knowledge of the others, and then performs a part of the song, each trying to outdo the others. This ain’t no karaoke, and with some of these fine actors, lip-syncing has become a performance to outdo the originals. I’m not going to reveal the songs, since that’s part of the surprise, so they’re not in the tags either.
Apparently, Stephen Merchant “invented” this game with John Krasinski and Emily Blunt. When Jimmy challenged Stephen Merchant and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, they rocked the stage like you would not believe. I’d pay to see these guys lip-sync. No one thought they could be topped. That video had over 20M hits on YouTube before it was taken down.*
And then came Emma.
Sweet, demure, lovely Emma Stone, while promoting her role in The Amazing SpiderMan 2, rocked the socks off the audience. Her video contest has over 83M views since it aired. If you can take your eyes off her, take a look at the expression on Jimmy’s face while she’s performing. Here are Jimmy and Emma, trying to out-lip-sync each other.
Jimmy Fallon’s Lip-Syncing Contests, however, ROCK the total awesome-ness! Jimmy Fallown graciously claims the “winners” are his guest lip-sync-ers. I say the audience is the big winner.
And hats off to all the fine actors who put as much work into their lip-syncing parts as some actors do into their entire movies. Watch out, Meryl Streep and Gary Oldman: your Oscar-nominated competition is on its way.
* The original Fallon video of Stephen Merchant Joseph Gordon-Levitt lip-synching has been removed for some reason, and there are only snippets of it still remaining on the ‘Net.
Two of the most influential philosophers of the mid-twentieth century are French writers Jean-Paul Sartre (No Exit) and Albert Camus (The Stranger). The two started as friends, sharing many interests, and both were considered Existentialists during most of their careers, but when they began to disagree on Free Will, as well as on the responsibility of artists in political situations, their friendship disintegrated. When Sartre attacked Camus in print, their relationship ruptured.
Sartre believed himself the better philosopher, but envied Camus’ superior talent as a novelist & storyteller. Each had a major impact on the advancement of Existentialism as a philosophy, but, to Sartre’s dismay, the Existentialism of Camus — often revealed in his novels rather than in essays or in philosophy books — became the more attractive and enduring version of the philosophy during Sartre’s lifetime (Camus died young in a car accident) and subsequently.
Existentialism had been discussed and modified for quite a while before Sartre and Camus became intellectually engaged with it, and Existentialism was often associated with Nihilism, which purports that life has no meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value whatsoever: therefore, anything man does is pointless. Existentialism sans Nihilism took hold most strongly in Europe during World War II and immediately after. Sartre’s views on Existentialism are best stated in his massive philosophical tome Being and Nothingness, while Camus’ are revealed in his essay “The Myth of Sisyphus.”
Existentialism in One Sentence
Stated most simply, Existentialism is the belief that “to exist is better than to not exist,” and that “life has no meaning except what each individual gives it.”
Existentialism and Angst
Both Sartre and Camus believed, as do other Existentialists, that the human condition begins with angst — German for anguish, despair, anxiety. Virtually all teenagers suffer periods of angst, though they may not label it with that term, and most people experience it at some other times in their life as well. After the death of loved ones, for instance, during wars, after being a victim of a crime, or when faced with serious personal crises, whether financial, health, marital, or legal.
Angst causes one to question the meaning of life, one’s purpose on earth, and the extent of one’s Free Will since, during events which cause periods of angst, it may seem as if an individual does not have Free Will. During these times, an individual becomes acutely aware that he is not in control of events or other persons in his life. This alone can cause despair. In reality, however, everyone always has the ability to choose his actions as well as his interpretation of events. Even a choice between two evils — a greater and a lesser — is still a choice, and thus an exercise of Free Will.
Awareness is the first condition of Existentialism because without awareness, one cannot make choices.
It is also important to note that in Existentialist philosophy, suicide is never an option since it negates the very premise of Existentialism, which is to exist.
Jean-Paul Sartre, 1905-1980
The title of Sartre’s most influential philosophical work, Being and Nothingness, displays, in itself, his view of man’s life. It is either “being” or “nothingness.” Sartre’s Existentialism is bleak. Though he strongly believed in Free Will, he states that man’s freedom to choose is an “awful responsibility.” It is a “burden” to be unable to rely on established organizations, such as religion or socialism, and have to make each choice oneself, independently. This awareness, in Sartre’s view, increases the angst of Existentialism.
Traditionally — though there are people who claim to be “Christian” or “Jewish” Existentialists, insisting that choosing to believe in Jesus or in God gives meaning to man’s life — Existentialists do not believe in God. They postulate that man is alone in the Universe, and so, for Sartre and those who are drawn to his version of Existentialism, Free Will and the choice to make one’s own meaning in life becomes a burden, an awful responsibility, rather than an opportunity for joy or creativity. For Sartre, “everything has been figured out except how to live,” and “freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.”
Camus saw things differently.
Albert Camus, 1913-1960
Existentialism vs Absurdism
Camus’ essay “The Myth of Sisyphus” best explains his view of Existentialism, which Sartre insulted as “Absurd,” meaning it belonged to the philosophy of “Absurdism,” best represented by Samuel Beckett’s tragi-comedy Waiting for Godot, where two characters endlessly await the arrival of a God-like being, Godot, without knowing exactly why they are supposed to meet him, or where, or when, but do nothing with their lives while they are waiting. Of course, Godot never arrives, so the protagonists’ lives are ultimately meaningless and “Absurd” because nothing in the Universe itself makes sense, and there is nothing man can do about it. Though some of Camus’ novels might examine Absurdism (The Stranger) or Determinism (The Plague) or other philosophies, his view of Existentialism is not necessarily “Absurd” in this sense.
Camus vs Sartre on Free Will & Choice
Camus’ vision of Free Will and man’s choice was diametrically opposite to that of Sartre. Whereas Sartre believed Free Will, Choice, and Freedom were an “awful responsibility,” reinforcing his bleak view of life and its meaning by placing a “burden” on each individual to give his own life meaning, Camus celebrated Free Will because each individual, thanks to freedom of Choice, could, in fact, choose to be content. “The Myth of Sisyphus” is where Camus most clearly explains his Existentialist philosophy, though he does not label it as such, and shows the difference between his and Sartre’s views of Free Will.
Sisyphus in Greek Mythology
Briefly, the story of Sisyphus is this: Sisyphus was King of (modern day) Corinth, known for his excessive deceit and hubris — overweening pride — the latter of which caused the downfall of many Greek protagonists. Sisyphus’ hubris involved his belief that he was more clever than Zeus himself — the Father of Gods and men, as well as the Head of the gods on Mount Olympus. Because Sisyphus created “havoc in the world” and committed “crimes against the gods,” he was relegated to the Fields of Punishment in Tartarus.
Tartarus and The Fields of Punishment
The shadowy world of Tartarus was unlike Hades, where the Shades of the dead simply were retained for eternity, without any punishment. Those confined to Tartarus were sentenced to an excruciating, endless, torturous punishments. Atlas, for example, was forced to hold the weight of the celestial spheres (not the world) on his shoulders and back. Tantalus, who betrayed the trust of the gods, suffered perpetual hunger and thirst while tormented with food and drink which were forever just out of his reach. Tityus, who raped Leto — mother of twins by Zeus — was staked to the ground while vultures ate out his liver, which regenerated so it could be plucked out again.
In Tartarus, the treacherous, deceitful, and boastful Sisyphus was forced to push a great bolder up a steep hill. Each time he reached the top, the boulder rolled back down, and Sisyphus had to repeat his dreadful task.
Sisyphus in Tartarus
Camus’ “The Myth of Sisyphus”
Though Camus claims, in his essay, that Sisyphus”personifies the absurdity of human life,” Camus concludes “one must imagine Sisyphus happy” (also translated as “content”) as “the struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart.” These statements are directly contrary to Absurdism, which posits that life has no meaning whatsoever. Existentialism, however, asserts that life has no meaning except what each individual gives it and that individuals have choice and Free Will.
Why then “must one imagine Sisyphus happy” or “content”?
Camus does not say, but I can think of plenty of reasons to imagine Sisyphus “content.”
• Each time he rolls the great boulder up the hill, he has a purpose (though it was originally meant as a punishment), and having a purpose in life gives it meaning.
• By viewing his punishment as giving his “life” purpose, Sisyphus could be seen as “defeating” the gods, and he probably would have liked that, proud king that he was.
• Once Sisyphus reaches the top of the hill, he has accomplished a Herculean task, which could be viewed as satisfying, which is a good thing and which might make him “happy” or, at least, content.
• Most important of all, however, is the fact that, as Sisyphus walks back down the hill to the fallen boulder, he is completely free of his burden. This freedom alone could make Sisyphus content.
There are other Existential choices that Sisyphus could make as he walks back down the hill.
• There is nothing in the Greek stories that indicates he must run down the hill after the boulder, so he could choose to stroll down before resuming his burden. Strolling after a strenuous task would be pleasant.
• Sisyphus could also choose to be aware of the air cooling his sweaty skin, which would also be pleasing.
• He could choose to look at his surroundings — even if it is only the sky and the hill itself — which, after pushing that tremendous boulder up the steep hill, when he would probably see nothing but the boulder itself, could bring him contentment. At the very least, it would bring him a change in scenery, which could be considered desirable and enjoyable.
In short, Sisyphus has the Free Will to choose to find contentment in his punishment, rather than seeing it as a burden, which would further add to his physical and mental suffering.
This is Camus’ most significant contribution to the philosophy of Existentialism. Yes, man has Free Will. Yes, man has choice. And man can choose to be content.
Camus’ Version of Existentialism
There are many reasons given for the disintegration and rupture of the friendship between Sartre and Camus, including their differences of opinion on Communism and Colonialism. I’ve long suspected, however, that it may have been partly due to Camus’ more sophisticated and expansive interpretation of Existentialism, wherein an individual can not only choose to give meaning to his life, but he can also choose to be content. Not so in Sartre’s worldview, where Free Will is an awful responsibility and a burden. I suspect more readers have been influenced by Camus’ works than by Sartre’s.
Camus’ Existentialism in Everyday Life
Every day, each of us does, in fact, use his Free Will to make choices to be “content” or, at least, “more content.” We may drink our coffee or tea from a favorite mug, and that pleases us. We may change from shoes that pinch to a more comfortable pair: being comfortable makes us more content than being uncomfortable does. We could adjust our position in the chair at school or work so that it is less uncomfortable, and that in itself could lead to more contentment. We may garden, take a walk in a park, give and receive affection to pets, clean out the car, put away the laundry, wear a soft sweater that warms us when we’re chilly, straighten the garage, trim the branches of a tree that is blocking the scenic view at the window, eat a piece of our favorite pie for dessert, notice the softness of the pillow when we go to bed at night, become aware of the warmth under the blankets as we settle down to sleep.
Even awareness of the contentment that our choices bring us can make us more content.
Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien
Burden or freedom? Sartre or Camus? In the past, I’ve chosen to go with “freedom” and Camus. I’ve chosen to become aware of contentment, to make choices that give more meaning to my life along with increased contentment, and to make more of those choices during times of distress (such as after the death of a belovèd pet or a personal injury). I think I’ll continue to do that.
It feels so much better than thinking of Free Will and choice as burdens.
That way, when I die, I won’t have any regrets (at least, I hope not). Like Edith Piaf, I’d rather be singing “Non, je ne regrette rien” (No, I regret nothing) on my deathbed.
Note: though marketed for different kinds of pain on Amazon, these are all the identical product, and The Chi Institute (formerly, Sound Vitality) will be sending your device. This is the I-9 sound wave device that I use for the pain of migraine and neuropathic facial pain (formerly called "atypical trigeminal neuralgia")
Copyright 2012-2019 by Alexandria Constantinova Szeman. All rights reserved. No content may be copied, excerpted, or distributed without express written consent of the author and publisher, with full copyright credit to the author. Please, don’t support the piracy of Intellectual Property.
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