The Bat Segundo Show: Carl Wilson

Carl Wilson appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #279.

Carl Wilson is the author of Let’s Talk About Love and reports indicate that he is loved, in turn, by the actor James Franco.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Evading the pomp and circumstance of cultural taxonomies.

Author: Carl Wilson

Subjects Discussed: Celine Dion and incompatible tastes, Elliott Smith, the questioning of canonical knowledge, Paul Valery’s concept of taste composed of a thousand distastes, TV on the Radio, choosing sides when dismissing trash, defying the stereotypes of Celine Dion fans, snobbish record store clerks and zealous fans, anti-snobbery, false dichotomies and cultural advantage, culture and existing power structures, Fiona Apple’s Extraordinary Machine, the Internet and the music industry, fans and cultural capital, Immanuel Kant and “common sense,” cultural consensus, the Beatles, questioning Wilson’s party criteria, middlebrow aesthetes in newspapers, separating the person from the artist, the relationship between vituperative feelings and meeting people, the celebrity-industrial complex, Dion’s 2005 appearance on Larry King, whether or not Larry King mocks his guests, judging a person on a handful of eccentricities, whether it’s possible to see the “real” Celine Dion, reinforcing celebrity image, whether or not personal information about an artist can affect your opinion about the art, Michael Jackson, “classic” vs. contemporary pop culture, the expiration date of scorn, that damn song from Titanic, Celine Dion in Vegas, music and emotional frames of reference, the problems with the word “social” being applied to art, Pierre Bourdieu’s Distinction, the problems with “hip,” coolness and judgment, the Mountain Goats, the perceived “hipness” of alt-music boosters, authenticity, “keeping it real,” and civil disagreement.

(Note: Video excerpt forthcoming.)


wilson2Correspondent: But look at the Beatles and Elvis. I mean, this would seem to me to confirm the ideal conditions. It would be very difficult to find someone who is a music lover who hates the Beatles or the Rolling Stones or Elvis. I mean, there’s a fairly common consensus. Even if you don’t love them, you can at least appreciate the achievement of these bands that just went in and likewise captured the popular consensus. And this is a little bit different from Celine Dion.

Wilson: It is.

Correspondent: In which there’s an artistic criteria likewise being applied. So how do you separate this?

Wilson: I mean, it’s different than Celine Dion. And it’s different than Stockhausen. Right? So look at them as poles of a spectrum and the Beatles and Elvis as being somewhere in the center of that spectrum. By the end of the book, there’s a whole essay at the end of the book about taste and different ways of thinking about it and criticism. And the thing, that at the end of this whole process of immersing myself into a different taste world than my own, was that where those big aesthetic disagreements arise, my tendency at this point is to suspect that really it’s a problem of terms. That people are arguing on a different set of assumptions than one another, but that their conclusions are perhaps equally valid. But that doesn’t mean that I think now that Celine Dion and the Beatles are equals. And it would be a whole other sort of chapter of this exploration to figure out where to find some kind of more objective set of measurements for greatness. But if you’re using populism and anti-populism hand in hand, what you do find with people like Elvis and the Beatles, and Louis Armstrong and Ray Charles — you know, they kind of win all of those contests. I’m not saying everything’s the same.

Correspondent: Then what accounts for the aberrative impulse for Celine Dion then?

Wilson: I think that there are things that are confirmed both by elite opinion and populist opinion. And in those cases, it’s kind of good to think, “Oh, well, whichever direction you come from, this gets through the gates.” What explains what doesn’t get through one set of gates and what doesn’t get through another set of gates. And so the book is more concerned with aesthetic disagreement than aesthetic agreement. And it’s a question of when we have these fights. When you’re at a party and somebody’s saying, “This is great,” and you’re saying, “This is terrible,” what are you really talking about? And my suspicion is that you’re talking about something that has more of a deeply autobiographical root than it has any connection to some objective set of markers. But that’s not to say that there might not be works of art that are more profound and universal than others.

Correspondent: But see, Carl, this is where I’m going to have to disagree with you. Because you’re applying a criteria here where if I go to a party to express a particular opinion about music, I’m immediately going to focus in on Celine Dion and absolutely damn her to the skies. When, in fact, in my case, I have not actually thought about Celine Dion in any serious capacity until I read your book. I mean, I largely ignored her. So this is why I’m a little suspicious. I mean, I hear where you’re coming from. But I’m a little suspicious of how you’re applying such a broad brush to how we have tastes and how we express those tastes at parties.

Wilson: Well, it might just be that Celine’s not the best example for you. But maybe Whitney Houston is a good example for you. I think there’s a whole category…

Correspondent: I ignore her too!

Wilson: But that just, to me, speaks to the aesthetic world that you live in — it’s well cordoned off enough from places where you might have to deal with that. But, I mean, the places where I use as examples in setting this up is, in the media, the people who are representatives of our tribe. You know, the aesthetes. Which are middlebrow aesthetes in terms of who’s writing a column in the newspaper. Celine is a very favorite whipping boy.

Correspondent: Whipping boy. Have you looked at her lately?

(Photo credit: David Waldman)

BSS #279: Carl Wilson (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Andrea Peyser

Andrea Peyser appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #272.

Andrea Peyser is most recently the author of Celebutards.


[PROGRAM NOTE: At the 22 minute mark, while the conversation concerned itself with the dangers of generalization, a woman, who was sitting at a table located a good seventy-five feet away from them, gave Ms. Peyser and Our Young, Roving Correspondent a note. The note read: CAN YOU PLEASE TALK QUIETER? Now it should be observed that, while the conversation was animated, the two talkers did keep their volume level to a reasonable decibel level. Indeed, many folks sitting adjacently to these two appeared to be interested in the conversation. (This has been known to happen from time to time, since these conversations are recorded in public places. Indeed, there are a few amicable people working at one Midtown cafe who have urged Our Correspondent to come back because these conversations are apparently quite odd and intriguing to them. It also helps that we tip well.) It should also be noted that the woman with the note had congregated with a group of peers for a discussion that deployed such strange terms as “synergy,” “collaboration,” and “market forces,” and that this group talked at a level far exceeded all other conversations occurring in the cafe. We note all this for several reasons: (a) to explain to the listener yet another odd and unusual moment in the history of this program, (b) to point to the problematic lack of distinction between workplace and social gathering point in our present epoch, and (c) to demonstrate that strange forms of passive-aggressive behavior remain troublesomely alive and well.]

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Pursuing the unexpected qualities.

Author: Andrea Peyser

Subjects Discussed: Why celebrities cannot be ignored, “anti-American” sentiment, Sean Penn’s trips to other countries, whether or not Alec Baldwin is entitled to privacy, photographers and paparazzi, the limits of the media, whether hypocrisy is a valid description of celebrity, First Amendment rights, Martin Sheen’s 9/11 remarks, being invited to be honorary mayor, rudimentary viewpoints and free thinking, Nancy Pelosi’s importance, whether it’s possible for Peyser to agree with Al Sharpton, Munich and Black September, the problems of holding an artist’s statement on the same level as the art, Steven Spielberg’s remarks about Israel, the problems with generalizing about Mumia Abu-Jamal’s followers, being friends with Rosie O’Donnell and O’Donnell’s betrayal, on not taking the high road, celebrities of virtue, Bruce Springsteen, old Hollywood vs. the present publicity machine, on being vituperative in the New York Post column, quibbling with the infamous Heath Ledger column, “knowing” the celebrity from a snippet view, whether or not Peyser is happy, giving into the readership, and a few positive things that Peyser can say about the entertainment industry.


peyserCorrespondent: You deem Alec Baldwin a celebutard partly because of the infamous voicemail to his daughter. But I’m wondering if it really is fair, given what you’ve just discussed in relation with Sean Penn and his political sentiments, to take something that was never intended for the public and put it up there with something that is actually in the public record. I mean, is it really fair to deem someone a celebutard for their private actions like this?

Peyser: Well, private actions. He left a voicemail. Any idiot knows that anything you say on a cell phone, anything you email and voicemail, it’s out there. He was in the middle of a custody battle. He was threatening his daughter. To come over to California and straighten you out. It got into the public eye and he got furious because of that too. He blamed others for his own actions. That’s also a common thread in celebutardism. When Barbra Streisand, for example, is caught being really, really stupid, she blames other people for her own stupidity. So in the case of Alec Baldwin, he did something really stupid — actually dangerous — and he blamed someone else.

Correspondent: But if it were not Alec Baldwin, someone could leave that voicemail and it may not have been disseminated out into the media like this. Just as, for example, you mention George Clooney and his anger and fury towards a photographer shooting a picture of him above the men’s stall. You’re saying to me that if a photographer came up to you while you were doing your business that you wouldn’t have any particular problem with that?

Peyser: No.

Correspondent: It’s out there to be disseminated?

Peyser: I wish George Clooney would make up his mind. One day, he’s fighting against the stalerkazzi, as he’s called them. As other celebrities have called them. People who stalked Princess Diana. Of course, the courts found that she was killed not because of the paparazzi, but because of her drunk driver. But anyway, he made a very big deal about that. People could be seeing it as censorship. Whatever. But then he turned around and he decided that I am going to back off. And that is censorship. And it’s okay. Say whatever you want about me. So I wish he’d make up his mind really.

Correspondent: Well, he is expressing understandable anger at a photographer shooting a picture of him above the stall. If someone did that to me, I would probably also be quite upset. I’m sure you would too.

Peyser: Yeah.

Correspondent: I’m wondering if it’s fair to hold him accountable for that particular understandable reaction and use this in the broader painting of who he is in relation to all of his other actions.

Peyser: Well, that was in Australia, first of all. He’s giving a picture of the media. The media. I love that word. I’m not shooting George Clooney naked. I really don’t care. But that was in Australia. He got the thing suppressed. He threatened a lawsuit. And I wish he’d now be quiet. And now he’s decided that the media has to be left alone. Which one is it? Are they killing Princess Diana? Or are they okay? Which one is it?

Correspondent: But do you believe that a celebrity is entitled to some level of privacy? Is it really fair to constantly — I mean, you’re living a life as a celebrity. You’re having all these photographers, reporters, paparazzi, you name it, invade your particular personal space. So understandably, your particular lines in interviews and the like are going to be subject to more scrutiny. And so this makes me wonder whether it’s actually fair to attack them.

Peyser: What I really love is how somebody — like, take Madonna, for example. Way back when, she was creating things that would attract media attention. She was desperate for media attention. And now that she’s a huge star, she’s the most controlling person who exists as far as interviews go. So why can they run to me and say, “Please, pay attention. Pay attention.” They do everything including taking their clothes off in public to get us to write about them. To take their pictures. And then when they reach a point of fame and fortune, it no longer exists. I don’t know. Actually, I would say that the media is dreadfully controlled by celebrities. I don’t think it’s as much of a free-for-all as you’re suggesting. I think there are armies of publicists out there who really control the image.

Correspondent: I certainly agree with you about that. You make many interesting points about Tom Cruise and Michael Moore certainly.

Peyser: Yes, that’s very…

Correspondent: I would never interview them because of these particular controls. But nonetheless, look at what happened with the Christian Bale outburst. This was remixed in a very fun way on YouTube. And suddenly things did get out. But the question is whether it’s entirely fair. I mean, I understand what you’re saying. Which is that the media — one needs it to advance in one’s career. But simultaneously, is there a particular point when the media should back off? Should they be probing and taking pictures of children and the like? And that sort of thing?

Peyser: Well, you know, personally, I have never done that. I don’t go after somebody’s children. Not without permission. But you know, I don’t know. Michael Jackson goes out in public with his children in veils. I would say that he’s attracting more attention to them then if he had just gone out in public with children with their faces showing. But I don’t personally condone using children. But I think that a lot of celebrities put them out there. Put them out there to attract attention.

Correspondent: Even if they’re doing their shopping, for example. And the children happen to be along. And then the paparazzi come. I mean, see, this is where we get into — I’m trying to just clarify where you’re coming from here.

Peyser: See, once again, this is a very small thing. I make the point. And I do this in the cases where the celebrity is obnoxious in the control. Of pointing out that at one point in their career, when they were very young, they would do anything for attention. Now I have never stalked anyone. Everything I get is from above-board sources. So I’m not speaking for myself. I’m talking about the hypocrites. The celebrities who use the media and then have no use for it once they’re famous and rich.

BSS #272: Andrea Peyser (Download MP3)

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MTV Doesn’t Care About Black People (Black People Jumping Across Canyons, That Is)

CBS: “West apparently was so disappointed at not winning for Best Video that he crashed the stage Thursday in Copenhagen when the award was being presented to Justice and Simian for ‘We Are Your Friends.’ In a tirade riddled with expletives, West said he should have won the prize for his video ‘Touch The Sky,’ because it ‘cost a million dollars, Pamela Anderson was in it. I was jumping across canyons.'”

Natalie Buzzed

nataliebuzz.jpgSo I’ve made my email rounds. And I thought I was alone in this. But apparently I’m not. The conclusion? Natalie Portman is MUCH sexier with a buzz cut. And at least five of my fellow geek buddies agree. It’s not the fact that she played a seminal role in an Alan Moore film adaptation. Irrespective of this pop cultural association, facts being what they are, Natalie has a pretty sexy head. So I post this message to the public, telling you that if you lust in any way for Natalie Portman sans follicles, you are perfectly normal. But if there are any experts here who might comment upon this contretemps or who may have a dissenting opinion, the thread, of course, is yours.

Regardless, I’m happy to pop that cherry, if you aren’t.

Mariah Carey: The Terri Schiavo of Our Time?

mariah_carey_straw1.jpgWhat to you, dear readers, is the apotheosis of laziness? Is it letting the dirty dishes pile up over the course of a week? Is it being too indolent to go to the gym?

Well, Mariah Carey just might have you beat. From The Sun:

The singer — famous for her outrageous demands — stunned fans by being too lazy to lift the cup herself. A brunette assistant had to perform the task at regular intervals while the singer signed copies of her album The Emancipation of Mimi.

Yippie Kayee, Mother Oprah

In an utterly baffling development, James Frey has found an unexpected supporter in Bruce Willis: “Look at what happened to James Frey in the last two weeks,” says Willis. “That’s a great book and so is the follow up book. And just because his publisher chose to say that these were memoirs, it took it out of being a work of fiction, a great work of fiction and very well written to this guy having to go be sucker punched on OPRAH by one of the most powerful women in television just to grind her own axe about it. ‘Hey, Oprah. You had President Clinton on your show and if this prick didn’t lie about a couple of things I’m going to set myself on fire right now.'” (via Defamer)

Indiana Jones and the AARP Membership

On Indiana Jones 4: “I’d like to get it over with so I don’t have to answer the god-damned questions [about it] anymore.”

On doing stunts: “”I don’t do stunts! I do physical acting! That’s a big f—ing difference.”

Perhaps he’s just bitter because The Pink Panther beat out Firewall, proving that audiences are, despite previous predictions, getting tired of seeing Harrison Ford kick ass and bark, “I want my family back!”

Cultural Boredom = Codeword for Vanilla?

I only post this because Elizabeth Crane is a bad influence.

A few years from now, when the midcareer profile writers sum up the artistic achievements of Drew Barrymore and Strokes drummer Fabrizio Moretti, there is little doubt in my mind that this incident will sum up in one fell swoop the collected insignificance of their respective cultural contributions. I don’t object to having sex in public restrooms (and, truth be told, I’ve had sex in far more dangerous places). I actually approve of this part of the tale. But when an individual is presented La Boheme and reduced to boredom in a world of limitless possibilities, call it a hunch, but I’m guessing that person probably isn’t going to be a lot of fun in the sack.

It’s Good to Know the Experts Are Pooling Their Resources Together for the Hard Issues

Press Telegram: “The online ‘Onion’ once reported that Brad Pitt was bored with Jennifer Aniston’s naked body, a claim that virtually every male of any age and almost any species recognized to be insane or an underhanded insult directed at Pitt. The notion now has been debunked by Peter Castro, executive editor of People magazine the publication that broke the story of the Pitt-Anistan separation.”

Anthropology Awaits

Thankfully, circumstances have made us unexpectedly busy for the next four days. So our recently misinterpreted fury (not directed at James in general, who for the most part is a competent critic, save for the piece in question) has been siphoned into more productive conduits. Please visit the fine folks on the left in our absence. We’ve got work to do.

In the meantime, we leave you with the following personality test. Between these two actresses, who do you prefer?


I’ll keep the lips sealed on my choice until the ballots are in. But from a sociological standpoint, I’m decidedly curious.

Well, Since It Seems So Important.

They gathered on the shifting sands, away from the bright lights and the big stars. Kith and kin caught on the question of kaput, the winds cutting across their chiseled jaws, freezing limber pecs and refrigerating halter tops housing surgical implants. It was an ineluctable assault on the California senses. Fifty degrees was just too damn cold. They were concerned. Perplexed. Unable to offer answers. Ensnared by the greatest enigma to face humanity since Poe whipped up his “Gold Bug” code or those planes disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle. But who really cared about these trivialities? There were more pressing concerns than the mysteries and achivements of the human race.

Their friend was behaving strangely.

No longer the virginal vixen they had worshipped. No longer the adorable fuck-me starlet coveted by Bob Dole. No longer the gal who might have slept with Justin Timberlake. Or not. But possibly a John Wayne Gacy in the making. A troubled soul.

Their friend had been spotted slamming shots. More than a few times. Oh, she was of drinking age. Of that, there could be no doubt. But because she was accustomed to staggering demands, because she was rich beyond the dreams of that amateurish carapace she had thrown off long ago when she crossed those Ts on a contract signed in blood, her employees were afraid to tell her that she had a sizable problem. But was it the steady lucrative paychecks or genuine commiseration? Was their friend naive enough to believe that she could buy the sympathies of an entourage or was it a classic case of amoritizing pathos to ensure popularity? Had she been told that all along?

Whatever the case, they kept the hard line. No problems. Nothing to report. Shot while trying to escape. But then their friend had been whisked out of the Palm Casino, vaguely cognizant, succored by white man’s burden. But, no, their friend had not imbibed beyond the pale.

Thoreau would have marveled over this denial of excess. If anything, the deceitful impressions slung by well-paid publicists would have sent him into a sudden apoplexy. Their friend could no longer be characterized as modest, as virtuous, as inherently good. Now she was a victim of her own restless problems. Of course, unlike most of the public, there was an image to perpetuate and a deep-seeded unhappiness to conceal. And if she had behaved like that without the platinum records, the limos and the Braques on the wall she never looked at, she would have been 86ed from any self-respecting dive, declared a high maintenance case among an inconsequential neighborhood, possibly left alone to inflict herself with a harder narcotic she couldn’t afford. A daily habit in the hundreds.

So when their friend sauntered down a Vegas “30 Minutes or Less” nave with all the sanctity of a microwaved Swanson TV dinner, tying the knot with a childhood friend, acknowledging the true ceremonial import with a garter over blue jeans, and when their friend cancelled the deal 55 hours later, it reflected something else that the newspapers hadn’t considered. She could marry on a whim and then throw it away. She could drink to excess and emerge with a momentarily crippling hangover. She could do almost anything and then forget it ever happened. Except one thing. A pivotal facet not long ago.

A recording contract. A Faustian deal she had to fulfill. The only commitment she had. Don’t point to the men who had perfected the art of harvesting profit over litigious decades. The star, as always, was the culpable one. Even a star young, dumb, and full of come who didn’t know any better.

And they concluded that if their friend fell asunder, or was trampled by her own coping mechanisms (harmful behavior which they encouraged), there would be another friend to grope and laud, to salivate for a time until this friend too became forgotten or the paychecks dried up. Fame was an airtight science, a neverending cycle. And the public would never stop making rash conclusions based on the few things they could espy through the tiny observational sliver.

[1/23/06 UPDATE: The original link above does not look, but it linked to a frivolous FOX News article with the headline, “Loved Ones Worry About Britney.” The article is no longer available. It is as if FOX News’s coveted resources were devoted to other things in January 2004.]

On the Run

Move over, Ali (Muhammad, not Monica). MIT scientist Michael Hawley has created the largest book. And he has the Guinness credentials (the record, not the beer) to prove it. Bhutan: A Visual Odyssey Across the Kingdom is 5′ X 7′, 112 pages and costs $2,000 to produce. Hawley’s charging $10,000, with the balance going to charity.

Madonna’s interested in a Ph.D. I don’t know what’s more frightening: the idea that Madonna has intellectual pursuits or this photo. (via Bookslut) [UPDATE: Well, goddam. Maud reports it’s a hoax! That’s what I get for racing through the newswires in a hurry.]

Richard Kopley has tracked down an unexpected Hawthorne inspiration source: an anonymous novel entitled The Salem Belle.

Hilary Clinton: “‘I love independent bookstores. I tried to go to as many of them as I could on this book tour. I had promised to try to go to the top markets and I’m slowly but surely checking them off.” Funny. The Simon Says site seems to be down, but she sure seems to be hitting a lot of Barnes & Nobles.

[Insert your obligatory Moses/Rasputin/Unabomber/Nostradamus-Hussein comparison here. Ha ha.]