Monday, March 19, 2007

The (lack) of Wonder of It All

My wife says that the primary source of most tension in relationships is unmet expectations.

Well, I had a bad relationship with the last two things I've read.

First was Bambi vs. Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose, and Practice of the Movie Business by David Mamet.

I mean, this is Mamet. One of the better movie and stage writers of our age. How could it not be good on some level?

It veered between opaque and tedious, once in a while taking a side trip into annoying. Mamet, here, seems to be more impressed with his command of five-dollar words and not so much with his ability to actually convey anything with them.

I'll recuse myself in that some forms of academic prose are as jumbled to me as a recently vomited bowl of Alphabits; my brain just isn't wired to read that kind of Möbius strip, jargon-ridden verbosity. So there may be those of you out there who Mamet's prose style connects with. 'T'weren't me.

I didn't really get one piece of take-away knowledge, either, other than "follow the money," which means if a big star is cast, give him or her most of, or all of, the best lines. Well, how often is a script-writer involved in casting?

He even has a section on "writing for women." Gotta tell ya, if there's one cat out there who, in my opinion, has not a single clue about the fair sex, it's Mamet.

Oh well. I thought it was turgid. I'm keeping the set of steak knives and sticking to his movies.

Next on the plate was The Gospel of Food: Everything You Think You Know About Food Is Wrong by Barry Glassner.

There's a lot of good info in here, but it's an effort to push forward through all the ephemera to get to the wisdom. If I were a wealthy executive, this is one of those I'd have an underling bash out an executive summary of.

The short version is the vilification of specific types of foods is largely misguided. The point is that if you eat enough variety in appropriate proportions, no food is really off-limits to you, barring allergies. There are some man-made things that are bad for you, like Quorn and foods made from genetically altered crops and animals - which the FDA has allowed to be used without any indication on the label (in the USA, anyway, in Europe it has to be labeled). But the things you would assume are bad, like fatty pork, artificial strawberry flavor (as opposed to actual strawberry parts), whole milk, butter, (real cane or beet) sugar, and potatoes, are actually benign or truly beneficial when eaten in conjunction with a balanced diet. Irradiated food is vastly safer than most organic foods, too.

Since all this stuff about food and dieting (which, as we understand "dieting" you really should NOT do) is really the satellite that orbits the true (supposed) issue - obesity - the book has some interesting stuff about that.

Seems that your genes and your stress level have way more to do with obesity and lifespan than diet (barring, again, common sense things like not eating sticks of butter or having a daily sugared tub-o-soda from 7-11). On top of that, being slightly chunky is often more about aesthetics than it is about health. There is not much of a correlation between carrying a few extra pounds and lifespan. There is a small subset of people who can control heart disease with diet, but nearly everyone else who eventually drops from a clogged ticker can really blame stress, particularly job-related stress, as the culprit.

And what's the cause of most job-related stress?
Another large body [har har] of evidence points in a different direction, to changes in the American Economy. During the decades when Americans' weight shot up, so did levels of economic hardship and insecurity. In the 1980s and 1990s, more Americans lost their jobs than at any time since the Great Depression, and those who did have jobs worked longer hours. About a third of the population became poorer during this period, and millions more had difficulties maintaining their lifestyles because the raises they received did not keep up with inflation.

A key link between the obesity epidemic and economic hardship is chronic stress. Stress provokes the body to produce less growth hormone, a substance that reduces fat deposits and speeds up metabolism, and more of what are called stress hormones, which provoke cravings for soothing substances like glazed donuts and chocolate fudge ice cream.

Y'know, when anyone I know talks about jobs anymore, along with the pay and desirability of the job, they talk about how layoff-proof the job might be. It's one of the top considerations anymore. Methinks a new labor movement is afoot.

The final, larger theme is that you're better off eating things that you like in reasonable portions, because you're most likely to be sated, not cheat or overeat, and you'll absorb the food better. Basically, if momma's meals didn't make you fat as a child (and assuming you like your mom's cooking), you'd probably benefit from that diet as an adult. (Though I think I'll make sure I don't repeat my passion for the retina-melting hot pink sugar coated Pink Panther Flakes with extra carcinogens. They're not made anymore for that reason, but I've seen a couple recent new cereals that certainly look as toxic.)

And, of course, find a job that doesn't kill you and pays you enough. We'll all see how easy that is when the predicted economic depression that's been predicted in the near future hits.

So, I liked the information in the book, but reading it was a chore. Kinda like eating tofu stir-fry when you really wanted chicken stir-fry.


Sya said...

At the library, I was really tempted to pick up Bambi vs. Godzilla from the title alone. But if his writing is in any way remotely resembling your description, I'll make sure to stay far away.

Yahmdallah said...

Sya, you may just be the kind of person who can read it, though, given your academic bent. I'd be interested if you agree with my assessment.

Next time, pick it up and spot-read a page (in your copious free time, of course).

Epictetus1947 said...

You are utterly wrong about Mamet's new book and if you've read his other work, you'll know that his style has always been slightly aloof. You didn't pick anything up from it? I learned so much, I'm reading it again. His words on Preston Sturges' work inspired me to see that work and see its brilliance, his explanation of how to write screenplays is simple and direct, his words on writing for women are necessary. Finally, you comment on his section on writing for women, his new characters in the Unit are fabulously drawn. I also worry about you calling them 'the fair sex', which shows a kind of ancient regime view of women.

Well, I'm a professional writer and an academic in a UK university, I read the book back in October, long before it came out everwhere. So that's my input.

Sya said...

Ha! After a put down and a wholesale endorsement (although I am always suspicious of glowing reviews), now I'm intrigued--the book must be somewhere in between...

yahmdallah said...

Epictetus1947: First, thanks for commenting.

I think you prove my point, though. You are an academic (by your own admission), and I think that Mamet envisions or intends you as his audience. When he goes for humor, I get those parts. But the prose is impenetrable in most places for me.

I'll agree that the classic films he dissects gave me the urge to experience them, and I will. (But a movie must-see list hardly counts as a substantial take-away.)

My understanding (such as it is) of women differs from what Mamet offers. Though I agree with some of the similarities he proposes, I think he misses the differences by a mile. Most of his female characters in his films (though I have to admit I still have yet to see "The Spanish Prisoner") are very male-like, particularly in their motivations.

As for "the fair sex" being an "ancient regime view" - I have come to loathe all the vilification brought upon by gender feminism of male and female gender euphemisms that aren't explicitly offensive unto themselves. If you can explain to me how "the fair sex" is somehow derogatory, I'm interested in seeing it.

Sya, if you read it, chime in on the "writing for women" part if you are so moved. I'd love to hear a women's opinion on it.