Wednesday, 11 January 2012

On Leverage ("The Van Gogh Job") (This be yet another one of them posts.) Before analyzing a sequence from the "Van Gogh Job" episode of Leverage, I need to discuss a little something about color and continuity. First, you may be familiar with Vincent Van Gogh, but if not, all you need to know is the man loved his yellows: If you're thinking those yellows are a little brown, you're not wrong. But that's the fault of history and chemistry, not intent, so imagine those yellows are as vibrant as they were the day he painted them. This is important. So too is another of his paintings with which you're probably familiar: What's significant here is the contrast between the once-vibrant yellows and the rich swirls of blue that these lights fail to illuminate. The stars and moon exist independently of the night sky, which has always struck me as a visualization of a menacing thought: things can hide in the presence of all this light. Light can not only fail to illuminate, it can be swept up and away by raging torrents of darkness. (Which invariably contain monsters, because darkness light can't penetrate always contains monsters.) That I'm going on about Van Gogh in a post about the "Van Gogh Job" should be fairly self-evident, but it's not just that the director of this episode/author-of-the-challenge-to-write-this-post, John Rogers, employs a palette similar to that of his subject. More significant is how he employs it, which is both 1) often to the same end and 2) create continuity between his parallel narratives. In the modern narrative, Charlie Lawson (Danny Glover) sits in a hospital bed recounting the events of the World War II narrative to Parker (Beth Riesgraf): Note the color of her hospital gown. (And her hair, for that matter.) In the flashback, Riesgraf plays Lawson's love interest, Dorothy Ross: That would be her doing her best "Starry Night" impersonation. I'm normally reluctant to put too much stock in the analysis of color—such analyses usually end up sounding like impressionistic pseudo-psychoanalytic shtick—but in the frame above you don't even have to know what the episode's about to realize that this isn't a case in which a bright color's emerging from a deep dark as a visual representation of hope. Instead, Rogers captures an image of a bright color about to be overwhelmed by a pervasive and pernicious darkness. (Which, again, most likely contains monsters.) All of which is a belabored way of making a simple point: the color yellow is doing double-duty in this episode: 1) creating narrative continuity between the two historical periods and 2) suggesting a connection between the earlier narrative and its content (the loneliness and isolation evident in the stolen Van Gogh). One last note about continuity, in particular, the decision to use the Leverage team in both narratives: it may seem like a strange decision, one designed to cause confusion, but it actually makes perfect sense. After all, in the modern narrative, Lawson's narrating his experience to Parker, the result of...
“Not suffering like starving 19th-century Norwegian immigrants” That, according to Victor David Hanson, is the contemporary version of “the good life.” From a man who compulsively reminds anyone in earshot that “for 20 years I taught classics,” defining “the good life” as the absence of suffering is surprising. I always thought it had something to do with one of those Greek words Hanson loves so much—but I only studied classics for a couple semesters as an undergraduate and am probably misremembering. That said, Hanson’s certainly correct about one thing: no one suffers quite as poignantly as white people. It’s no coincidence that his first complaint about people who complain about class is: Meanwhile we see the “poor” near rioting over buying the first few pairs of Michael Jordan $200 sneakers[.] His argument is entirely about class. Consider the impoverished people at one of those near-riots: Not a single one of them looks to be a starving Norwegian. That’s because Hanson is talking about class here: In the car today, I heard the usual con ads on the radio. Got problems with the IRS? No problem, we can renegotiate that away. Too much credit card borrowing? No problem, we can settle it at half what you owe … Lately I heard ads from the Department of Agriculture, reminding me that if I belong to some such minority group, I can sue if I felt I was discriminated against. Class: My point again is not to object to magnanimity, but to object mightily to those who slander a system that is more egalitarian and generous than any in civilization’s history. Race-based quotas help as well. What do they help? They help poor people acquire what Hanson calls “the simulacra of equality.” Here’s the actual example he uses to “prove” that the simulacra of equality is a good thing: I also say simulacra because few in Selma vacation in Tuscany. But sitting in front of a big-screen TV, with some Italian music on, while watching Rick Steves (with TV sound off) touring Florence seems not all that different from the 28-hour hassle of flying to rural Italy. The former is free; the latter “rich” people alone afford. Sitting in front of a television isn’t all that different from going to Italy? The mind reels. Hanson’s new definition of “the good life” entails not starving and not having to deal with the hassle of flying overseas. So if you see someone in expensive sneakers who’s neither starving nor vacationing overseas and you still think that class exists in America, you’re probably one of those people trying to “get tenure by writing obscure, clever little essays that few read on insidious class differences.” And if you’re one of those people, your mother’s most likely a Mexican.

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