March 4, 2023
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Rags and Bones

By Jonathan Wallace

Canceling TV shows

This is a trivial pet peeve of mine, not really an Immense Issue of the Human Future, but television networks and streaming services ignore an essentially contractual reliance factor when they cancel shows. I invest a year of my time (or four) watching your highly heralded new show, paying your monthly fee or absorbing your ads. You deploy a season finale which ends in a cliff-hanger-- then announce you have canceled the show, because only 3 (or 20) million people are watching. I usually have the sense that I have invested that time for nothing, because, the way my brain is wired, I experience your show for the total narrative and for the click I experience if you "stick the landing" in your series finale.

In the 1980's and 1990's, I invested time in many canceled shows, including Space Above and Beyond, Earth II, Dark Angel, Dollhouse and the beat goes on. I made a resolution (which I almost kept, for a while) never to start a show until after it had completed its run. Now, with a full-fledged panic and consolidation among streaming services, numerous shows in which I was invested have just been canceled, including Snowpiercer, Westworld and Pantheon. This is not good business for the companies, because if you disappoint us often enough, we will all carry out my resolution and not watch new shows.

There are solutions. Not everything has to be a series; many stories can be told in a single season or two. American Gods was a case study in stupidity; the original plan was to tell the entire story of Neil Gaiman's novel in three seasons. Enmired in politics, show-runner firings, cast hostilities, and what I am guessing was a childishly egoistic intervention by Gaiman himself, the show told less than half the story in three seasons (during the second of which it was visibly and annoyingly treading water) and was then cancelled. It is a brilliant novel, and that was a huge waste.

With looser narratives, stop ending on cliff-hangers. Deliver a Click at the end of every season, just in case. Also, resist greedy impulses that warp the narrative out of shape. I can think of two great shows that were ruined by economic considerations. Babylon Five had a carefully mapped out five year arc, which its creator and show-runner abandoned in the hope of making movie and series spin-offs that did not materialize. X-Files just kept going long after it should have stopped (and then, another disturbing phenomenon, came back when it shouldn't have). In order to keep teasing out the story, the "Mythology" strand about the gray aliens never ended.

Television dramas are story-telling. It is a basic requirement that the narrator finish the story.

Havana Syndrome

With a report this week that the reported symptoms can not be linked to a Commie "superweapon", Havana Syndrome joins chronic Lyme disease and Fatigue Syndrome in the realm of complex, vague symptomologies from which medical science dissents. On the one hand, I think Science is Everything, but on the other, recognize how cause and effect get elided sometimes by politics and Capitalism-- I was a Red Cross driver taking supplies into Ground Zero while the Pile was still burning, and actually trusted George Bush's announcement I did not need to wear a mask. So I don't really know what to think here, except that we are all allergic to Post-Post-Modern History, some though more than others.


Eric Adams just confirmed he is batshit crazy, with his announcement that church and state should not be separated. Within the week, Lori Lightfoot got primaried and will not have a second term. The connective thread is that Adams, ex-NYPD, blithers dishonorably about fighting crime (on which he will have no actual impact) and wins; Lightfoot, who has all the other qualities needed, is perceived as Not Tough Enough because she didn't tell the right lies. For better cities, we need smarter citizens with begtter Lie Detectors-- the shoal on which our nation appears to be foundering, long before the astonishing and impossible election of the Trumpoid Object in 2016.


This was heartbreaking: About fifteen years ago, Microsoft, without my permission, reached onto a used laptop I had bought, and, without notice, deleted an implementation of Office I believed was legal when I acquired the machine. If, for example, I had been working on an amicus brief to the Supreme Court on which I had a midnight deadline, I would have been completely screwed. I responded by downloading OpenOffice, the open source competitor, which I have used ever since.

However, I had been having problems with the software freezing, and I came to understand that OpenOffice has been unsupported for some years, and that another version, LibreOffice, had a community forum that would answer questions and help troubleshoot. I downloaded the product and discovered that, somehow, it was less stable than the Ghost Ship version. Tracking changes simply did not work (a severe disadvantage for a lawyer) and that wasn't just my problem, but a Thing a lot of people were chattering about. Then I had a cut-and-paste anomaly that I have never experienced before in any product, when pasting into a file deleted or gibberished existing text which was not highlighted. Finally, for the coup de grace, the program froze and I lost two hours of work. I rolled back to OpenOffice immediately, but will probably be forced, after all these years, to return, with ferocious hostility and unwillingness, to Microsft's Monopoly Fold.

Why is this happening? Crowd-sourced and open-sourced software--shareware-- proved itself as early as the 1980's. Wikipedia is a fairly successful example of a crowd-sourced product today (though doesn't involve writing software). OpenOffice and LibreOffice were noble projects which deserved much better. I suspect if I investigated it more, I would confirm some causes, that the failure to maintain noncapitalist projects, aside from obvious causes such as ego and infighting, may also derive from a failure of Narrative. If you have been told often enough you are marginal, your efforts are useless, and your product can't possibly compete with a billionaire's company, you may start believing. Ironically, some of the Late Capitalist enterprises are no more stable today-- Twitter for example.

Candidate Treason

We have a proven case of a Presidential candidate interfering in his country's international affairs to win an election. When it appeared that Lyndon Johnson was likely to finalize a peace agreement with Hanoi ending the Vietnam war, candidate Nixon through a back channel convinced the South Vietnamese to pull out of the talks. About 20,000 more Americans died in Vietnam in 1969-1975-- Nixon killed those people (and civilians and enemy soldiers), and for nothing but pure ambition (he got no better deal than Johnson would have). This is not inference, or conspiracy theory, but well-documented, if under-recognized by historians and the Official Narrative.

The theory that candidate Ronald Reagan ensured that the hostages in Iran were not freed before his inauguration day is closer to a conspiracy theory, though people involved at the time in the negotiations and in the Reagan administration support it. I believe it. The Nixon and possibly the Reagan intervention are proof of people who will do anything for power, including benefiting from the death or suffering of their co-citizens.

Perhaps the most disturbing implication for democracy would be a lack of shock on our part, an assumption that that is just the way politics works.