Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

Why I Detest Greenberg (For Now)

There’s a moment in the new indie film Greenberg when Ben Stiller is drunk and coked out and leaving voicemails for a young girl he’s pseudo-dating. I imagine that the writer/director, Noah Baumbach, wanted the moment to feel like a sort of epiphany, a moment when we, as the audience members, finally see the narrator in all of his flaws and vulnerability and love him the more for it.

Funny thing is, it was the exact moment when I accepted the fact that I absolutely detested this character.

Self-absorbed? Check. Pompous? Most definitely. Seeking connection, yet unable to open himself to others? This character is all of the above.

In a rare display of affection, Stiller’s character escorts his girlfriend to the hospital to receive an abortion. “You’re valued,” he quips to her as she’s being wheeled away for the difficult procedure. Her response?

“I know that.”

Her annoyance with Stillberg is perfect (I just caught this typo when I was editing, but the hybridity of actor and character pleases me). The actress, Greta Gerwig, nails the exasperation of her character with Greenberg; his psycho-babbling validation falls on deaf ears. And it’s Gerwig, the actress, who steals the scene: she has a sad, lost face throughout this film that is impossible not to watch. The simple act of falling into a papasan chair captures her understanding of this young person trying to establish a relationship with Stiller’s undeserving character.

Though I saw the film last night, I’m still meditating on my simple annoyance with Greenberg. Sure, the screenwriter wanted the character of Greenberg to be salty, but I lack empathy. I’m still impatient with him. Who wants to spend two hours with a self-absorbed, self-pitying, unlikable nit? It’s like having dinner with someone who really, really likes to talk about themselves and never pauses to ask you a question about your life. This happens in the film, in fact, as Stiller’s character prattles on about his brother’s dog’s health problems while Jennifer Jason Leigh’s mother is actually dying. He is so self-absorbed he railroads her concern for his own.

Is there anything wrong with this type of behavior? Maybe I’m being too critical, and Noah Baumbach has captured a zeitgeist. We do live in a “me” culture: it’s everywhere, from our blogs (yes, I’ll readily admit my guilt) to the Twittering updates when we have a bowel movement.

Maybe Baumbach’s just reflecting what he sees–a culture in America of self-absorption at the expense of deep connection.

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Filed under: film, , , , , , ,

Maddow to Scott Brown: Stop Lying. Stop It. Stop Lying.

By now, we’ve all read the full-page ad by Rachel Maddow in The Boston Globe this past week. We know that Senator Scott Brown created the rumor that Maddow was planning to run against him. We know that Brown has stirred the pot, repeating the fictional story to conservative talk shows, campaign stops, newspapers like The Boston Herald, and his most important audience: potential donors.

He’s lying. He continues to lie.

“You dragged me into this,” Maddow reports. “You made up something that’s not true. You have such a lack of respect for your conservative donor base around the country that you don’t care if what you say is true or not.”

It’s troubling to witness this news story (can it even be called news? perhaps just a rumor turned into publicity–and sensationalist publicity at that?). Even more troubling is the perpetuation by Senator Brown and his staff of the rumor, after Maddow has told the truth over and over (and over) again.

For seven minutes, Maddow adeptly calls out Brown’s falsehood:

  • “You shouldn’t get to flat out lie in the conduct of your business as U.S. Senator and get away with it.”
  • “Politics is more than just about politicians. Politics is about our country.”
  • “I don’t concede that the only thing we can expect from politics is for them to lie to us, and for us to not care, because we don’t expect anything better.”

What’s admirable in Maddow’s report is her rhetorical skills. Her words may fall on the deaf ears of the Brown campaign, but the acute journalist repeats the words “lie,” “lying,” “liar,” dozens of time in this clip to hit home her critique of the senator. Calls to mind the great speeches of MLK and President Obama, persuasive orators who utilize carefully-chosen rhetoric to convey meaning.

Filed under: media, politics, , , , , , ,

Change Your Password Now

Here’s a fun graphic detailing the worst passwords ever. The illustration is from a great design book called Obsessive Consumption by Kate Bingaman-Burt. Who woulda thunk “Bubba”, “Dolphin,” or “Butthead” would have made the top 500 (and these are the tame ones)?

Browse the list to see if you’re making it too easy for thieves to help themselves to your identity/money/belongings.

Filed under: technology, , , , , ,

McCain: Republican AND Gay Rights Activist?

Not that McCain.

Meghan McCain, daughter of the embattled GOP Senator, spoke to audiences at George Washington University last week. She has never shied away from expressing her opinion, even if it counters her famous father (and coincides with the accepting LGBT position of her equally famous mother, Cindy). She is a proud Republican, and a proud ally to gays and lesbians. The young McCain embodies a synergistic political philosophy that seems to work. Where other gay GOP groups like the Log Cabin Republicans falter when combining conservative ideals with a progressive social agenda, McCain states plainly.

“I am not Ann Coulter. I am not Glenn Beck. I am not trying to be a pundit. I am not trying to have a show on FOX,” McCain said. “My intention is to promote dialogue in this country.”

Perhaps it’s because she speaks to a young, twenty-something audience that McCain’s views seem so progressive. Fundamentalist-type pundits like Coulter and Beck must energize and enable their core audience: an  older, often Christian-identified, group. McCain often speaks to college students, arguing that fiscal conservatism does not necessarily equate with social conservatism.

It’s nice to see that a progressive Republican is not an oxymoron.

Filed under: gay rights, politics, republican, , , , , , ,

Save Boston’s Public Libraries

How many of us have relished the peace and community afforded by our libraries? I know that I’m not alone in my love for libraries: the quantifiable value of literature on shelves; the shared desire for knowledge acquisition; the simple pleasure of reading in a space in which you are seated at the same table as your fellow bookworm.

Sure, it’s great to access the Internet. But it’s even better to give yourself time to open the pages of a book and allow the ethereal process of reading to engulf your senses.

In Boston, the city has threatened to close 8-10 branch libraries. This is not a small number–10 out of 26 libraries is nearly half of the city’s public libraries. Mayor Menino and members of the City Council have decided that shuttering small libraries will help make up for the city’s $3.6 million budget shortfall.

It’s a shameful tactic to attack public libraries. What does the mayor have to do with the potential closings? According to the grassroots organization People of Boston:

The mayor appoints all of the trustees. The trustees are not vetted and are not confirmed by anyone. The trustees vote on the budget that goes to the city. Thus, it could be said that the mayor controls the budget that is sent to him. The mayor has also made his opinion clear, calling for the closure of branches (as well as community centers — schools are also at risk due to a budget gap). This is a choice that he has made despite the fact that he has the power (through city reserves) to fill the budget gap and he has a choice to push for cuts to state services instead.

My hunch is that the branches to be closed will not be chosen with the local community’s interest in mind, but because they are the least economically viable. Let’s hope that if it comes down to it (which I hope it doesn’t) that the closed branches will not be in the poorest neighborhoods of Boston: Dorchester, Roxbury, Mattapan. Join me and write an email to your city councilor to protest this wrong-headed move.

Filed under: boston, libraries, literature, , , , , ,

Publications

BIOGRAPHY

RECENT PUBLICATIONS
» "Pinays," AGNI, Spring 2016
» "Dandy," Post Road, Spring 2015
» "Wrestlers," Fifth Wednesday, Spring 2014
» "Babies," Joyland, August 2011
» "Nicolette and Maribel," BostonNow, May 2007
» "The Rice Bowl," Memorious, March 2005
» "The Rules of the Game," Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, June 2003)
» "Deaf Mute," Growing Up Filipino (Philippine American Literary House, April 2003)
» "Good Men ," Genre, April 2003
» "The Foley Artist," Drunken Boat, April 2002
» "Squatters," Take Out: Queer Writing from Asian Pacific America (Asian Am. Writers' Workshop, 2001)
» "Deaf Mute," The North American Review, Jan 2001
» "The First Lady of Our Filipino Nation," The Boston Phoenix, 1999
» "Paper Route," Flyway Literary Review, 1996
» "Brainy Smurf and the Council Bluffs Pride Parade," Generation Q (Alyson, 1996)
March 2010
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Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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