Friday, September 30, 2011


Why do millions of people watch TV talk shows? Most of the conversations are trivial, banal, and mundane.

The guests talk about what other shows they are on or movies they are in (show biz feeding itself), where they were born and to whom they are married or whom they are dating (gossip), when they started doing whatever they are famous for, and other topics that are trivial to the rest of us.

It's all very narcissistic. They are promoting themselves and the shows they are in, or on, or directing.

These topics are not in themselves compelling or fascinating or even remotely interesting. Yet people watch. By the millions. Why?

Where do these people on TV get all that power, to command all that attention?

My theory is that the power comes from the attention itself. It's like being at a dinner party. Notice the way the center of attention moves around the room, one person telling a story, another complaining about politics, another chatting about their husband or wife or child.

We all watch and listen, and we are not just being polite. We are genuinely interested. At the moment. Why? Just because we are all paying attention. It's some kind of basic human need, to pay attention and be paid attention to.

And of course TV concentrates that power and gives the people onscreen the added aura of celebrity, even if we have never heard of them before and will probably never see them again. Just being on TV is a big deal. All those eyes on me, or you, or them. A sense of heightened awareness. A feeding frenzy of attention. We do love it, don't we, as a culture?

These TV talk shows take the place of real conversations, I think. No matter how mundane and banal they are.  

I sat for more than two hours Thursday night in a TV studio audience and watched four people have a boring, trivial, inane conversation. I laughed and applauded when I was told to, like a trained seal. I didn't eat or drink or talk when I was not supposed to.

I made nice, like everyone else. All for a TV show.

My new friend Cathy B, who likes this kind of thing, and I went to CBS Television City in LA for the taping of "Rove LA." The host is an Aussie, Rove McManus, apparently a TV star and comedian in Australia.

About a hundred people sat in the studio from about 6:30 till almost 9:00 p.m. and applauded and laughed on command (belly laugh, chuckles, louder, softer, longer) and watched a trivial conversation that was to last about an hour on the air.

There must've been a dozen staff members there, working the four or five cameras, directing the audience and the camera people, doing makeup and tending to the needs of the host and his guests.

Rove's guests were Kevin Smith, (director of "Clerks" and "Red State"), Anna Faris, cute young actress (three Scary Movies, among many, many others), and Daniel McPhereson ("Wild Boys" and several others).

We learned that Kevin Smith does a podcast every morning with his wife. Anna Faris has worn see-through panties on the sets of movies. Daniel McPhereson has worn a "cock-sock" for sex scenes, and one time the sock came off.

Oh boy, fascinating stuff. 

Frankly, my friends are more interesting. Maybe the people who watch these shows don't have any friends. Or maybe their friends are very, very dull.

I don't have the answer. But it is a strange world we live in. Attention itself confers a certain power and fulfills a certain need. Maybe we all need it, and maybe that is what this is all about.

I must admit I had a good time, like going to the zoo, to see what strange things people do.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


I hate to admit it, but I've been watching "Hawaii Five-0," an action-adventure cop show on CBS.

In a lot of ways it's typical network stuff. Formulaic but attractive. Pretty girls and handsome guys who can kick ass and think, too.

One thing I like about the show, and what sticks with me, is the underlying attitude of the characters. I don't know what this is called. Theme? Meta-communication? Psychological underpinnings? Symbolic action? Whatever. It's definitely part of the audience appeal.

No matter what horrendous problem the 5-0 team faces--and some of them are extreme--the team girds up its loins and tackles the problem with all biceps flexing, pretty girls narrowing their eyes and frowning, everyone kicking ass, and all technology blazing.

The story problems--essential to any show like this--include one of our heroes in prison on wrong charges, a mysterious and deadly villain named Wo Fat, plus typical cop-show cases like kidnappings and witness protection.  

I love Wo Fat as a villain. You want to say, Whoa, Fat! Reminds me of Chow Yun Fat, the famous Hong Kong action star.

This Wo Fat bad dude is handsome and seems to have his finger in every possible evil pie you can think of and some you can't.

The thing I like best about the show is the attitude of the characters. Reminds me of that kid's story "The Little Engine That Could."

No matter how big and hairy the barriers, these people think they can overcome them. You can almost hear them chanting "I think I can, I think I can" as they get shot at and knifed in the belly and misunderstood and lose their badges and girlfriends and wives and get them back.

I guess the reason this idea is so popular in pop-lit is that it makes us feel that we can overcome our problems, too. Not a bad thing in life.

Cartoonish? Maybe. But well done. The show could be called Well-Done Fun, a new Chinese name.

Should I be ashamed? Maybe, but we all have our guilty pleasures. I sure do.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


I was just reading a story by Jorge Luis Borges, "A Survey Of The Works Of Herbert Quain."

The writer Herbert Quain is totally fictional, as far I can determine. I love it when Borges messes with your mind. In another story, he claims that a writer named Pierre Menard wrote the story of Don Quixote. Line by line, word for word. Yet original. How funny. Hilarious.

Borges reminds me of John Cage, the late avant garde composer and performer. Years ago, at UC Irvine, I saw Cage with his collaborator, the dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham.

When the show started, we wandered into a small theater on the campus, a theater-in-the-round, with steps leading up to a low stage. Music playing, very low, as I recall. As if in the background.

As we were sitting there, one by one apparent members of the audience got up from their seats, strolled casually up onto the stage, and began to dance.

It was wonderful. It messed with your mind, violating your expectations. Who was next? Was I expected to get up and dance? Is that woman next to me a secret dancer? Were we all secret dancers?

I loved it.

At one point, Cage was writing things down as he was playing the piano. He invited questions from the audience. Someone said, "What are you doing?"

Cage said, "I'm giving myself instructions and following them."

People laughed. He was making fun of the whole set-up, the audience, the third-wall convention, the act of performing, the status of being either a performer or audience member, the very act of creation.

I told my friend Tim about this, and he said, "I hate that kind of thing." Of course, as he told me one time, he was missing the point.

Watching was part of the art. The audience was part of the piece, as it always is, I believe.

Borges does the same kind of thing, making fun of the whole transaction, the whole creative process of writing, imagining, reading, recreating what is imagined.

By doing that, he sets us all above it somehow, so we can laugh at it and enjoy it and admire it, all at once.

Borges makes geniuses of us all.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Monday, September 26, 2011


What do we want from fiction? Do you read novels and short stories? I do. If so, why? What do you get from that? What do you want?

I myself want several things:
  1. I want first of all to be transported out of my own body and away from my own surroundings. I want to live in a fictional world for awhile. I want to escape the bounds of boring reality and live in a more interesting, more exciting and more meaningful world. I want to go somewhere I have never been and experience something I have never experienced. The word novel after all means something new.
  2. I want to learn something about human nature, to gain some insight or series of insights into the human condition, to learn something about myself that I didn't know. To come away feeling like I know myself better. This is what it is like to be me. Now I know. This is what happens to people like me if we do that.
  3. I want to learn something about the world at large, to gain some insight into a place and a people that are new to me. A new vision that is meaningful. Not mere escape.
  4. I want to have an aesthetic experience while I'm doing all this. To revel in the use of language, to read exciting and perhaps deathless prose.
  5. I want to feel comfortable in the hands of this creator, this writer, this author, who knows his world and perhaps loves it.
  6. Last but not least, I want to come away feeling like a better person, uplifted, full of knowledge and insight and purpose. I want to feel good about being human.
Is that too much to ask? It may seem like a lot, but I don't think it is.

The great writers do this: Shakespeare, Faulkner, Melville, Tolstoi, Joseph Conrad, Cormac McCarthy, James Joyce, Jorge Luis Borges.

But alas, the vast majority of modern American writers seem to have no clue. Someone, I think it was a NY Times drama critic, said most of the plays you see on the stage today are junk.

The same thing is probably true of most art, most cinema, most novels, most poetry, almost any art form. It is certainly true of most published fiction, at least the stuff I see reviewed and recommended.

This long rant was prompted by a little one-paragraph blurb in Parade Magazine (9-25-11, Pg 7) recommending "A Trick of the Light" (nice title) by Louise Penny.

I went to Amazon and read the first few pages.

My God. It's not even clear. I was not transported, I was appalled. What a mess. This is a bestseller? Lord save us.

As Flannery O'Connor said, “There's many a bestseller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.”

Do we live in age where junk is praised? Is that the best we can do? If so, that is very sad.

As Ezra Pound said, “In the end, the age was handed / the sort of shit that it demanded.”

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Saturday, September 24, 2011


It's Saturday night in Los Angeles, and when I moved here in 1999 I wanted to become an old man about town. Most of the time I've just been an old man at home.

So I got dressed up tonight and went out to two gallery openings. I used to go to these things all the time to meet women. And to enjoy and art and to mingle and sometimes they have free food and drinks.

Tonight, first I went to Gallery 3209 in Culver City, CA, and saw some very sincere but to me unrealized paintings by a nice looking woman named CK Lyons. I didn't talk to her, but I liked looking at her more than I liked looking at her paintings.

There were only five or six people when I got there, so it was easy to see the show.

One painting did work for me: a dead matador apparently lying on a beach, with huge flowers in the background. Fairly strong work. The rest seemed somehow uncommitted, as if the artist was groping her way toward something. The show seemed to climax in the one painting I liked.

Here is a link:

Around the corner, I went to another reception at Corey Helford Gallery. I thought this work was appalling, although the show drew a big crowd.

About a hundred people milled around, hip looking, young. Free hot dogs from a catering truck outside. Two uniformed security guards, and two plain-clothes and very serious looking young men in black suits with those little curly wires going into their ears.

I don't know what they expected. Maybe they thought someone would try to steal this razzle-dazzle crap art. Take a look at this stuff for yourself:

These paintings are like going to the dentist. They make my teeth hurt.

People make the mistake of thinking that because something is slick and popular and has emotive images that it is good.

My god. I couldn't wait to get the hell out of there.

Anyway, that was enough art for me. I boogied on home to have a cerveza Negro Modelo and relax.

It's hard to find good art, like it's hard to find good fiction or poetry. But sometimes the effort is better than sitting at home.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Friday, September 23, 2011


I just tried to read "STANLEY ELKIN'S GREATEST HITS."

Many years ago, I had a friend named Cunningham who was a big admirer of Elkin. I had the book in my "sell" pile for years. But I was looking for something to read, so I picked it up.

I thought the first long story, "The Making Of Ashenden," was wonderful until Page 39, when it turns to crap. Before that, it was bright, funny, clever, erudite, witty, wry, a rare form of humor. It makes fun of upper-class pretensions.

But then the main guy meets this legendary woman, with whom everyone "in Europe" is in love, and the story turns stunningly stupid. What is all this talk about picturing the coastlines? Who friggin’ cares?

Then she has some rare, fatal disease, and they carry on this unbelievably stupid conversation. God, the dialog is inane. And it is NOT funny.

Then he asks her to marry him. Huh? Say what? You have got to be kidding.

How stupid. I tried to read on, but it gets dumber and dumber. I waded on 5 or 6 more pages and finally gave up.

Now I know why I put this book in the “sell” pile.

I don't think I have ever seen such a pointless change in tone and style and direction and effect in a well-written story.


-- Roger
Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


I just finished reading THE MONKEY WRENCH GANG, by Edward Abbey, a great, wild, hairy, rebellious novel.

The hero, George Hayduke, is all that, and more. He is also a tough guy, an ex-Green Beret, a Vietnam vet, and a great lover. A little crazy, in a good way.

But he is not a cliche. Don't expect one of those schlocky bestseller Jack Reacher types. The story is much better than that.

This novel has everything: great writing, strong plot, and good values.

Some of it sounds like Cormac McCarthy, the greatest living American novelist, in my humble opinion. The introduction says that Cormac McCarthy was a big fan of Abbey. I believe it.

The book has a driving, toe-tapping, page-turning, heart-pounding plot. Eco rebels burning down the house. Good people doing bad things in a good cause. And risking their lives to do it.

The other members of the Gang are well rounded. A sexy young woman who made my heart beat faster. A middle-aged doc with a heart of gold. A river guide whose heart is in the wilds. A good bunch. I admired them all.

You never know if they are going to triumph over the forces of evil, or if they are going to crash and burn and die. The forces of evil here are big mining companies that rape the earth, ruthless developers that strip the land, and government flunkies who kiss their asses for money.

It's a hell of a ride and a hell of a read. I recommend it highly.

You have to be the kind of person who loves the wilderness, loves to camp and hike and climb, and who wants to protect nature. I am all that, so I loved the book.

BTW, the Sierra Club looks like a bunch of lily-livered sellouts in this book. And I imagine there is truth in that.

Abbey writes well, especially about nature, violence and action. I didn't want to join the gang, but I sure liked reading about them.

Wow, what a book.

(Thanks to my buddy John in Colorado, who sent me a copy and urged me to read it.)

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Thursday, September 15, 2011


The other night, I watched an episode of "The Sopranos" on cable TV.

If you have never seen the series, Tony Soprano, the main character, is a mob boss who lives in New Jersey, has a family with two kids college age, has some inner conflicts, and has been to a shrink, which he keeps secret. Also, he is overbearing, screws around on his wife, and kills people occasionally.

In this episode, it is Tony's 47th birthday and his sister and brother-in-law talk him and Carmela into driving up from New Jersey to a cabin on a lake near Canada.

It is a lovely place. Peaceful, serene. 

The two branches of the family are there: Carmela and Tony, plus Janice and her husband Bobby, and their cute little girl, and her nanny, a black woman.

All kinds of bad things happen. These people are a mess, psychologically. They don't know how to get along with each other. Or with other people. Their answer to any conflict is violence. They don't respect anybody, least of all themselves. Talk about a dysfunctional family.

I guess that is the point.

They drink too much. Tony says something trashy about Janice, and Bobby punches Tony in the face. They fight, trashing the living room. 

Tony and Bobby do business with two French Canadian gangsters, and Tony assigns Bobby to kill a man so they can get the price down on some imported out-of-date pharmaceuticals.

It's just business to these thugs, who have no sense of morality or decency.

Again, I guess that is the point. 

By the end of the show, I felt sick to my stomach. What is the point of all this? These people are worse than animals.

I wonder how real gangsters feel about this show. I hope the real people have more class than the ones on TV.

Now, here is what I've been driving at: In drama or in fiction, do we need to admire the main character? Or any of the characters?

When I was teaching at Orange Coast College, way back in the mid-1970s, there was a woman named Grace Sawicki who taught there.  

Grace gave her students an outline for a good play, or a good story:
  1. A strong character you admire tries to do something admirable and important to him or her.
  2. She meets increasingly difficult barriers.
  3. Things get worse, as the antagonist makes stronger moves.
  4. She has a conflict with her previously held values. (Maybe she would never lie, but she has to lie to save her son, for example.)
  5. She has to risk everything, at some point, and it seems impossible.
  6. She wins or loses, and her life changes forever. She learns something and can't go back.
I think this formula works pretty well. I have followed it myself, and I have taught it to my own students.

But "The Sopranos" does not follow this at all.

Tony Soprano is a strong character. For sure. But there is almost nothing admirable about him. He is not like "The Godfather," who is trying to lead his family into respectability.

Tony is not a total sleaze, but he is violent, venal and without morals.

Years ago, in my own writing career, I had a big disagreement with my then-agent about this same issue. I had written a novel about a character who admires a slick con-man and ends up becoming a criminal. He starts out as a reporter and ends up in prison.

My agent said the reader of commercial fiction has to have a character he can admire and root for.

"The Sopranos" sure isn't like that.

But for me, certain episodes need someone I can hold onto. Someone I can admire and respect.

Otherwise, it feels like we are wallowing in pig slop. 

I don't want to see another episode of "The Sopranos" right away. (I had earlier seen three seasons on DVD and liked them a lot.)

This same question was raised years ago by "Long Day's Journey Into Night," a really depressing play by Eugene O'Neill.

I couldn't take it. My own family was too dysfunctional. The play needs a container, some perspective showing how sick these people are. Without that, we are just wallowing in the slop. It was a horrible experience, I thought.  

So that is the question. I don't mean a happy ending. I mean some ray of hope. Someone with decent values. Someone to admire and respect and root for.

Do we need that? Or do we at least need some form of reward? If the good guys don't win, do we need something we can take away and feel good about?

I sure do.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Friday, September 9, 2011




I found the opening confusing, nonsensical and pointless.

In the prologue, an old guy named Phil is walking along a country lane feeling sorry for himself when he is run over by a car. Just before it hits him, he recognizes the driver, whose face is “white with fear and running with tears.”

Huh? WTF? I don't find this interesting or engaging or intriguing in the least.

In Chapter One, it is confusing who is who and what is what. It is supposed to be a father and daughter, but I couldn’t follow the dialogue, partly because "Mo" didn't seem like a girl's name, and I couldn’t see the point. What is there to care about? Where is the story? Is there a theme here? What is the relationship between these characters? And most of all, why should I give a damn?

I didn’t get far. I quit on Page 4.

Am I expecting too much? All I want is good writing, a character in some kind of difficulty or dilemma, and the sense that a competent writer is going to take me by the hand and lead me into an interesting world. Is that too much to ask?

Apparently it is.

-- Roger
Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle


I am always looking for good fiction to read. And that search seems to get more difficult all the time. The works in literary and popular magazines and the published novels touted on Amazon seem to get worse and worse. I'm not the only one who feels this way.

Anyway, here is a mini-review from a recent attempt:

"THE TURNAROUND" by George Pelecanos

9/8/2011 -- From an e-mail to my friend Adam:

I am trying to read "The Turnaround" by Pelecanos and can't get into it. I just do not care. He has not made me care.

I am on Pg 28, and I think the black guys are going to try to rob the Greek's diner, and he will chase after them and die of a heart attack. After all, he is a tough guy, an ex-Marine, but he smokes. 

I sort of like him, but there is no story so far. No dilemma, no story problem, no central conflict, no dramatic question. I don't care enough about the characters to keep reading. 

How were you feeling early on? What caught your interest? Nothing is catching mine.

Adam wrote back that the pace didn't bother him, and that he was interested in the social situation, which involved race relations, and that he liked the characters.

OK, so we have different taste.

-- Roger
Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


A friend of mine likes what he calls the "slow burn" of certain novels, TV shows and movies. He thinks you should set up a dramatic situation and then let it simmer, giving the audience little information or drama and making them wait, and wait. And wait.

He likes that. Not me. But I suppose that depends on your taste and temperament. It also depends on the story.

A slow pace works for me at times. Some people think "Unforgiven," with Clint Eastwood, is slow. "Blade Runner," too. But I don't see a slow burn in either case.

If a story is too fast, it can lack character development and motivation, so it can seem meaningless, full of mindless action without emotional context, like "The Bourne Stupidity"--er, "The Bourne Supremacy"--and "The Bourne Ultimatum."

My favorite Bourne movie is the first one, "The Bourne Identity." The director, Doug Liman, said they tried to make the movie in such a way that you could take the action out, and the story would still work.

What a great idea. A man after my own heart. Finally, some brains in Hollywood. But of course, the geniuses who run things couldn't leave well enough alone. So, for the next two Bourne movies, they hired a new director, and the series lost its way in mindless action.

The first Bourne movie worked so well because of character development and the stakes each character had in the action. Jason Bourne is trying to save not only his life but also his soul and his values. Marie falls in love with Jason because of his values and is trying to save that love. So the action has an emotional context. 

In Bourne two and three, those emotional stakes are gone. What they needed was not a slow burn, but a deeper reason for the audience to care.
I am not a big fan of a slow burn. But I am a big fan of emotional stakes. Pacing alone, slow or fast, does not by itself make a story work or create suspense.

With all due respect to my friend, he can have the slow burn.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Monday, September 5, 2011


When is a political statement a work of art? And vice versa?

I have been working on my political story, about a Minuteman who thinks he is guarding the border and helping the USA by keeping people out. He meets a lovely Latina and has to deal with his emotions. 

This is my first political story, and I have always believed that if the message overwhelmed the art it wasn't art at all.

I turned for guidance to Goya and his "Disasters of War," possibly the greatest artistic statement against war.

Are these etchings political? I would say so, for they certainly don't glorify war. French soldiers rape women and behead men and cut them into pieces. These sights are horrific.

My favorite etching shows women fighting back. One woman has a small child under her arm while she is killing a soldier with a spear. Good for her, I think as I look at it. Good for her.

Certainly these are great works of art.

So I am hoping that my modest story (38 pages and 7,000 words so far) will be a work of art.

Wish me luck. And wish me art.

-- Roger
Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Sunday, September 4, 2011



I have watched the whole first season now--seven episodes--and I can finally say I truly like it. It is a great show, if you have the patience to sit through some tedious parts. (Link:)

I identify with Walt. Getting old is kind of like having terminal cancer. The future doesn't seem like forever any more. There are some things you can’t do. You feel weak and tired at times for no reason. Your hair gets thin. The larger society doesn’t care what you’re going through.

I read an interview with the show's creator, Vince Gilligan, who says he believes you should give the audience as little information as possible as you go along. (Link:)

I think that is why the show is so tedious and boring at times.
But when you look back on it--when it sits in the mind, as one of my professors used to say--it compresses agreeably. 
Overall, I recommend it. You have to be patient, but the rewards are worth it.

-- Roger

Friday, September 2, 2011



This show is uneven for me, from one episode to another and within episodes. In Episode 4 the teaser is hilarious. Walt is the new drug kingpin? I laughed out loud. Then Hank the nark will take care of Walt’s family? LOL. Good examples of dramatic irony or superior position. Masterfully written.

But EP 4 is painfully slow and tedious at times. I had to grit my teeth and force myself not to fast-forward. I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel about Jesse’s tweaking. Seems pretty stupid, so he seems stupid, which is not appealing.

But later he suffers in a sort of noble cause when he doesn’t rat out his little brother. So he seems like a better guy. I found the stuff with Jesse’s family hard to sit through, in both scenes. When we meet them, they are unbearably dull. That scene would work better for me if I knew who they were. Such square people are J’s folks?

Walt’s revenge on the egotistical jerk is great. Walt knows just what to do. A little highlight.

I know you can’t use dramatic irony all the time. But in EP 4, two other sequences would have worked better for me if they had used it: if we had known ahead of time that the two bikers were actually Jehovah’s Witnesses and if we had known that the joint really belonged to Jesse’s saintly little brother. As it is, we are scared along with Jesse, and then the effect turns. And the family scene is really boring. Then it turns at the end of the scene. So dull-dull-twist, both times.

The family scene is similar with Hank and Walt recounting the dull details of courting their wives. Snore. Again, dull-dull-twist. I almost didn’t last through the dull parts.

These shows don’t have a captive audience. We can bail out any time, and I almost did, several times in EP 4.  

So far, the best episode was EP 2. Overall, I'd give the show a "B." It's not in the same league as "The Wire" or "Deadwood," but it's pretty good. So far.

-- Roger