Thoughts on Starz’s “The Girlfriend Experience”

* No one in the show evinces any enthusiasm. If I pitched clients with anything like the affect of the lawyers at the firm where Christine / Chelsea works, we’d have no clients. I don’t have any direct experience with the The Girlfriend Experience world, but I gather that escorts or hookers or whatever you want to call them are fundamentally selling people skills. In the show everyone is unbelievably uncomfortable with each other. Chelsea does say, “I don’t have any friends.” That’s believable. Distressingly believable. For her, there seems to be no there, there.

Girlfriend_Experience* There is almost no humor in the show, yet to my mind the situation is more humorous than dramatic. One sees a little humor in the episode when Chelsea / Christine says to her boss that she has a few clients, “including you.” The implications of that moment are rich, but there are too few such moments. Christine says that their relationship has “always been business.” Where does business end and personal begin? Does it ever?

* The spatial arrangements of The Girlfriend Experience are consistently interesting and revealing. But a show that starts out realistic-seeming and somewhat plausible becomes more and more baroque, ridiculous, soap-operatic, and ludicrous.

* I know it’s annoying when cops say cop shows are bogus and doctors say doctor shows are bogus, but in The Girlfriend Experience none of the lawyers seem to have specialties or areas of expertise (early in the series the firm consists of patent attorneys; later on, they do law far removed from that field). The scenes detailing law are weirdly generic and surface-feeling. The characters speak in word salad. There is no content to go with the form. I work in a field that is not law but is sufficiently adjacent to it to recognize total bullshit. The law discussions are unconvincing. In the real world real issues get discussed in depth by real people. Cryptonomicon depicts this convincingly in fiction. The Girlfriend Experience has a sprinkling of law talk.

* Maybe in the above bullets I’m small-minded and missing the point. The point is not about a realistic lawyer show. The point is about the acts. I will say that some of the foreplay or roleplay talk between lawyer / intern is plausible. Very plausible.

* It’s refreshing to see a woman shown as aggressive in a non-stupid way. Being hardcore is also underrated, and very few TV shows or movie depict being hardcore. Unreal does, which is one of the refreshing and admirable parts of it.

* For someone who is attempting to be a lawyer, Christine / Chelsea does not think very many moves ahead. I’ll avoid real spoilers and just say that episode 11 has to have any actual lawyer rolling their eyes. Her liking sex isn’t what should preclude her from being a lawyer; her being a terrible strategist for herself should.

* The TV show is oddly congruent with the movie Her.

* The protagonist sounds perpetually unconvincing. Maybe that’s intentional. Actually, it almost has to be intentional.

* Being fond of risk in erotic situations makes sense, but the level of risk Christine / Chelsea seeks is probably incompatible with a law firm internship. She’d be more believable as a hacker, in Paul Graham’s sense of the word, since that field is unusually open, unusually unencumbered by unfair occupational licensing, and unusually merit-driven. Law is none of those things. By now, six months in a coding school like the Flatiron School makes more sense than three years in law school. Maybe coding is less attractive because hackers rarely directly fuck with people’s lives the way lawyers sometimes do, but it is a more intelligent occupation for someone with Christine / Chelsea’s appetite for risk.

Hackers, though, are involved in a positive-sum world, rather than the lawyer’s zero-sum world. If you want ennui and anomie, law and management consulting are hard fields to beat. The hacker’s fundamental ethos is to make something new and make something people want. The lawyer’s fundamental ethos is to fight like hell and beat the other guy. The resonances are very different (and they are yet another reason not to go to law school).

* In the bullet above, I’m not knocking risk-seeking or risk-taking or being into stuff that other people don’t understand. I’m also not knocking Christine / Chelsea’s occupation or bifurcated life. Her occupation probably produces more value than many lawyers produce, and that value is more easily measurable in money than law is.

* Victimhood culture is out of control in the United States. We we already know that, but it’s unusual to see it confirmed on TV.

* In contemporary relationships there is a game-theory dynamic in which the person who cares less has control, or power, or “hand.” But following that dynamic to its logical conclusion seems like a crappy way to live, even if superficially rational actors might pursue it. Given the University of Chicago’s role in economics, law, and economics in law, it may not be a coincidence that the show is set there, instead of somewhere cooler like New York, Austin, or Seattle.

Then again, sometimes renting is better than buying.

* How often are people who accuse others of selfishness selfish themselves?

* The show gets better as it goes on. But: The ending? Of the first season? I’m reminded of the debates around the final, series-ending episode of The Sopranos.

* The Girlfriend Experience is also about technology. The Technology and Law Marketing Blog hits the same intersection between law and technology.

* Despite the critical tenor of the above points I’m glad I watched the show. This is one ecstatic review; others may be found.  The Girlfriend Experience isn’t stupid, and “not stupid” is distressingly uncommon characteristic. It also doesn’t feel like it’s a following a Save the Cat-style formula. It’s more willing to be weird and awkward than many TV shows or movies, which is a great, rare virtue. It’s not for everyone. That makes it more likely to be for someone.

Thoughts on the TV show “UnREAL”

* UnREAL is shockingly good until the end of the sixth episode, at which point it devolves, and it’s shockingly good despite the network on which it airs. How’d I find it? I can’t remember. One could read Arts & Entertainments in conjunction with the show.

* In highbrow literary culture “creative nonfiction” and “memoir” are terms that map to “I can make shit up if it works for the story, while being loosely true.” By now readers don’t expect “creative nonfiction” and “memoir” to actually be true, so making some shit up is okay because of the wink-wink situation between reader and writer. “Reality” TV does the same thing, with producers and people on the show acting like joint authors. The stories are about truthiness, not fact. Joseph Heath describes the pervasiveness of truthiness and why that’s bad in Enlightenment 2.0: Restoring sanity to our politics, our economy, and our lives. In reality TV truthiness at least doesn’t have real consequences. In politics it does. Maybe that’s why I prefer art to politics.

unreal_poster* The term “selection bias” is important when thinking about reality TV: What kind of person aspires to get on reality TV? Probably not a person representative of all people in all places and probably one who makes for good TV rather than good-for-other-things.

* Like The Americans, the show has a small group of passionate fans, but I’ve seen very little about it in the larger media.

* Until the end of the sixth episode UnREAL was willing to go to the distance in terms of watching bad or amoral people do bad or amoral things. The seventh episode was unwatchably bad. Shows and books can recover from such missteps. EDIT: The eighth episode was a return to form.

* There is a greater family resemblance between UnREAL and the HBO show Entourage than may be obvious at first glance, or from the status markers around each show.

Thoughts on “Mozart in the Jungle”

* Mozart in the Jungle is charming if sadly devoid of the sexposition that HBO and Showtime have become famous for. Most writers take a too-holy-for-nudes attitude. Bullshit. The show also provides many, many opportunities for double entendres and obvious metaphors.

Related perhaps to the above, charm is hard to define but easy to feel.

*mozart-in-the-jungle-poster Why aren’t there any classical venues that let listeners stand up and drink beer and buy t-shirts with clever slogans on them? Or do such venues exist and I’m unaware of them? I’m interested in listening—see this, from 2008, for example—but the symphonic experience I find stultifying.

* The show admittedly chose many clichéd pieces. Hardcore classical music people—all nine of you—may dislike it for that reason, or may dislike it for the same reason cops dislike cop shows and doctors dislike hospital shows.

* The unions are reasonably vilified. So are police over-responses. Though this hasn’t arisen much yet in the show, “You can’t protect yourself from the market” could be one Cowenian economic takeaway.

* Arts and artists are inevitably more glamorous in TV shows and in movies than in real life.

* Here is the New York Times on Mozart. I haven’t seen many intelligent pieces on it. Like Entourage before it, Mozart may be too light and charming to attract essayists. Why write an essay when the first asterisk in this post encapsulates the show?

Thought on the HBO show “True Detective”

* It’s actually a comedy that just hasn’t been appreciated as such. It’s also about friendship more than it’s about whodunit; in this respect it is like many buddy detective shows. Finally, and related to the first two sentences, how many male friendships have involved Eskimo brotherhood?

Links: Sex at Yale, bikes, writing, TV, margins, urban life, editing, and more

* Where are the Bicycles in Post-Apocalyptic Fiction?

* Sex in the Meritocracy: Performance anxiety, not hedonism, motivates Yale’s sexual culture.

_MG_8659* In Writing, First Do No Harm.

* A model of TV viewership:

For TV I do not think upfront bingeing can become the norm. The model of “I don’t really care about this, but I have nothing much to talk to you about, so let’s sit together and drop commentary on some semi-randomly chosen TV show” seems to work less well when the natural unit of the show is thirteen episodes and you are expected to show dedication.

I hadn’t conceptualized TV this way, but the description is accurate and may explain the confusion, verging on horror, that people express when they register the absence of a TV in our apartment. I hesitate to include the previous sentence because I don’t want to become this guy and do use an iMac to watch TV sometimes. Nonetheless it is striking that so many people have so little to talk about.

* Joseph Gordon-Levitt turns the camera on paparazzi; they don’t like it.

* “Margins:”

If you have bigger lungs than your competitor, all things being equal, force them to compete in a contest where oxygen is the crucial limiter. If your opponent can’t swim, you make them compete in water. If they dislike the cold, set the contest in the winter, on a tundra. You can romanticize all of this by quoting Sun Tzu, but it’s just common sense.

* Cool news watch: the bulb discussed here: Switch LED bulb: The long-awaited light bulb is finally here. Is it worth $50? is now available.

* “The emergence of “YIMBY” [Yes In My Backyard] organizations in American cities would be a welcome counterpoint to the prevailing tides of NIMBYism that often dominate local government. But it is worth saying that broader institutional reforms are what’s really needed.”

* “Editing, Silvers advises me, is an instinct. You must choose writers carefully, having read all of their work, rather than being swayed by ‘reputations that are, shall we say, overpromoted’, and then anticipate their needs, sending them books and news articles.” Editing is also an act of sympathy: an editor needs to be sympathetic to the writer’s work. I would be a terrible editor of genre romance novels, and some of my friends have not cared much for my own writing out of taste.

* For writers, along with the above: “The Business Rusch: Hiring Editors,” which is a problem I’ve been thinking about and don’t know how to solve. She confirms, however, that it’s probably impossible for self-published writers to hire effective content editors. Line editors and copyeditors, yes, but not content editors. I can see writers’ groups becoming more important in an era of self-publishing.

Thoughts on the TV show “Revolution”

I watched the first two episodes and like the premise. But it’s too poorly acted and plotted / silly, though the best line definitely goes to the nerdy, bearded guy who says that the blackout “totally cornholed the laws of nature.” The world itself doesn’t make enough sense; they should read Tolkien’s “On Fairy Stories,” Umberto Eco, and SF / fantasy writers on the subject of creating a world.

Everyone in the show is too well-coiffed and scrubbed; people underestimate just how dirty life was before consistent running water and good plumbing. In agrarian and hunter-gatherer societies, virtually all healthy post-pubescent women are / would be continuously pregnant or breastfeeding. It’s also unlikely that enough food could be grown to support large, standing armies, like the one led by the villain with the silver pistol. Very few women would be effective in hand-to-hand or sword combat against men because of the size/strength differential. Notice how in a show and book like Game of Thrones, very few women engage in direct fighting (with the exception of Brienne of Tarth, who is uncommonly strong). Men are larger, heavier, and generally more muscular than women; the average male has about twice the overall strength of the average female. None of these issues on their own are fatal, but taken together they destroy the show’s realism.

On a technical level, a lot of the music is schlocky and sounds like TV music; good TV music shouldn’t sound that way. The actress who plays Charlie is extraordinarily bad, or she’s been thrust into a situation where she’s doing the best she can with the material she’s got.

The 99% are watching four to five hours of TV a day, and other tales from the present

I’m reading “Streaming Dreams: YouTube turns pro” and noticed this:

But there is one category in which YouTube has made little progress. The average ’Tuber spends only fifteen minutes a day on the site—a paltry showing when compared with the four or five hours the average American spends in front of the TV each day.

Emphasis added; the quote is from The New Yorker; Nielsen, who does the most TV tracking, agrees with the four hours number. In all of the contemporary reports and newspaper accounts and blog posts about income equality, I’ve never seen TV consumption mentioned. To me TV consumption is astonishing and might also be linked to Americans’ larger economic problems—I can’t imagine that most successful, people who earn a lot of money watch anything like four hours of TV a day, because where would they get the time? I also doubt TV probably isn’t imparting the skills and knowledge that future high earners need to be high earners. It could be that I’m succumbing to the availability bias and assuming that the high earners I know are representative, but the fact itself still amazes.

This also reminded me of Bryan Caplan’s post “Kahneman, Greed and Success,” in which Caplan says: “Kahneman highlights an important, neglected reason why some people are rich and others are poor: some people care about money more than the rest of us. People who want to be rich make the choices and sacrifices conducive to that end – and on average they succeed.” The key words there are “on average,” but that’s probably true of most things people want: the ones who really strive to achieve something are on average more likely to get it, though no one foresees the future and even those who strive to do everything right may still fail. Those of us who spend four hours a day watching TV, however, are probably not trying—which means it shouldn’t surprise us when we fail to earn as much as we otherwise could. And, to me, skipping TV doesn’t even look like much of a “sacrifice,” because so much of it is boring.

I’m reminded too of friends and acquaintances who mention their artistic aspirations in writing, movies, or music. When they say they want to make movies, write, or record music, I ask to read, see, or hear their work. Very few of them have any to show, or blogs, YouTube shorts, or albums online, and when I express surprise, they seem disconnected from the art they claim they want to make. Which makes me think their ambitions aren’t real ambitions: they’re conversational pieces, or status poses. Or the holders of false artistic ambitions are stuck in antiquity, waiting for someone to give them permission or degrees or deadlines. Whatever the case, I’ve learned to be very skeptical of the people who claim they want to be artists but aren’t actively being artists. Given the proliferation and low cost of the tools necessary to make art, the only thing standing between people and being artists is themselves.

Income doesn’t work quite that way, but the people who really want to make money are taking proactive steps to make money. The people who say they want to earn more but instead watch four or five hours of TV a day are posing, or complaining without taking action, like my would-be artist friends and acquaintances. The obsessives are the ones who succeed as artists. They also appear to be the ones who succeed as startup founders. It looks increasingly like the complaints about income inequality are really based on resentment—not just of those with wealth, but resentment of the complainer’s earlier consumption and time choices, and it comes from people who haven’t chosen professions based on income—like journalism, teaching, or professing. It comes from people who made trade-offs away from earning more and toward consuming more (like TV), but who eventually find that they don’t like the trade-offs they made.

Some might also not realize they’re making choices; I’m reminded of John Scalzi in “Being Poor,” where he says “Being poor is having to live with choices you didn’t know you made when you were 14 years old.” But that probably applies to a minority of people, not a majority, and it would be stupid and misleading to compare the median to the genuinely poor.*

A lot of us probably aren’t, as Caplan points out, “racing for the same finish line: material success” (and, as we’ve been exhorted numerous times, maybe we shouldn’t be). If you race for that materialistic or monetary line and not some other, it’s hard to imagine “normal” behavior more detrimental to getting there than watching four hours of TV a day. The people who are making the money are the ones building YouTube, not watching YouTube and TV. I suppose four hours of TV is an improvement on, say, four hours staring at a wall. But very few people are really building what economists call “human capital” when they watch TV. They’re instead regressing to the mean, in income and in so many other fields.


Read too Scalzi’s later essay, “Why Not Feeling Rich is Not Being Poor, and Other Things Financial,” where he cautions people again the mistake of using “Being Poor” as a stick to beat the wealthy—even those wealthy whose comparison groups make them think they’re not wealthy. One thing that might make us all feel wealthier is simple: not comparing ourselves to our wealthiest neighbors or the people on TV, especially since the extravagance depicted on many TV shows is so astonishing compared to what normal people have. Such a principle doesn’t apply solely to wealth, either: subconsciously assuming that the people you date or marry should be as hot and witty as TV stars is as unwise as using such people for financial comparisons.

EDIT: William Gibson in Distrust That Particular Flavor: “I suspect I have spent just about exactly as much time actually writing as the average person my age has spent watching television, and that, as much as anything, may be the real secret here.”

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