Thai or pizza?

September 25, 2008

Just read this in a New York Times article about the Bailout Plan stalling:

“After the address, the drafting effort continued through the night on both sides of Capitol Hill — with pizza on the House side, and Thai food in the Senate. (Negotiations between the House and the Senate can be nearly as complicated as negotiations between Democrats and Republicans.)”


No comment.


(Pump Up the) Volume

September 22, 2008

When I turn the volume on my MacBook up or down,  I see an icon appear in a small box on my screen. It seems to be a speaker with three closing parentheses side by side to the right of it, increasing in size. The parentheses come out of the speaker, as if spreading out the sound. 

“Um, uh, hello, Internet”

September 13, 2008

Here is an ad for ooVoo, an online video chat application.

It’s called “Emoticon Suicide.” It features three emoticons–Elaine, Hans, and Don–doing a three-way video chat. 

Emoticon Hans, in the middle, laments having tried to “represent” us when we “needed” them. “There was even a time when you seemed to like us. When things were simpler, and we were just open parentheses and semicolons. Now, you all use video chat devices like this one. It’s just another nail in our coffin.” While Hans says this stuff, Elaine, in a chat box to his left, sobs uncontrollably, an emoticon in a puddle of her tears. Meanwhile Don tries holding back his anger. 

They each proceed to commit suicide, one by one, in varying styles that reflect their emoticon-state. 

Hans talks about “open parentheses” with nostalgia, recalling a simpler day, before humans could represent their own faces in communicating with each other, a feature of ooVoo that the application’s designers wish to advertise here. Parentheses-generated emoticons are dead with this new technology, standing in for a past phase in an evolution of communication technologies.

(No rating, 1:50, in French)

September 7, 2008

If you search databases of New York Times articles for the word “parentheses,” a bunch of the hits you’ll retrieve are movie listings, because they open the listings with the sentence, “Ratings and running times are in parentheses; foreign films have English subtitles. Full reviews of all current releases, movie trailers, showtimes and tickets:”

For example, this week, a New Yorker might go check out ‘A GIRL CUT IN TWO’ (No rating, 1:50, in French). It could be interesting to compile some sort of list of these parentheses and isolate what’s inside them. And then to study something like whether or not certain ratings correspond with certain running lengths.


September 2, 2008

One seed of an idea I’m thinking about is what a parenthetical archive might be. 

Parentheses often contain and store information. In what ways does a parenthetical perform an archive-function, especially in relation to media studies and academic scholarship more generally? In academic writing, when we introduce a film into a discussion, we follow it with parentheses listing its director, country of origin, and year of production. I usually acquire this information from IMDb, along with names of actors, which are also written in parentheses following a character’s name. 

Could IMDb be considered a parenthetical archive, a website gleaned to fill in empty parentheses?

Each track on Radiohead’s 2003 release Hail to the Thief lists a title followed by a parenthetical alternate title.

Here is the list of tracks:

2+2=5 (The Lukewarm)

Sit Down, Stand Up (Snakes & Ladders)

Sail To The Moon (Brush The Cobwebs Out Of The Sky)

Backdrifts (Honeymoon Is Over)

Go To Sleep (Little Man Being Erased)

Where I End And You Begin (The Sky Is Falling In)

We Suck Young Blood (Your Time Is Up)

The Gloaming (Softly Open Our Mouths In The Cold)

There There (The Boney King Of Nowhere)

I Will (No Man’s Land)

A Punch Up At A Wedding (No No No No No No No No)

Myxomatosis (Judge, Jury & Executioner)

Scatterbrain (As Dead As Leaves)

A Wolf At The Door (It Girl. Rag Doll)

“The Gloaming,” too, which was the original title for the album, ended up becoming the subtitle to “Hail To The Thief,” clearly a political reference to Bush “stealing” the presidential election. 

The Age‘s preview of the album writes of its parenthetical double-titles, “That should provide nice ammunition for all those who find this band too intellectual by half. Greenwood explains the idea for the subtitles came from ‘old Victorian playbills which chronicled the kind of moralistic songs which were played in music halls. That whole theatre culture was wiped out by the development of cinema.'”

I understand what Greenwood’s getting at, of course, but saying that that culture was “wiped out” by cinema is a stretch–early cinema and vaudeville programming interacted with and borrowed from that theater culture, too. Here’s a cinema/theater playbill advertising a “special flying matinee” of MAN AND SUPERMAN in what seems to be a rather crowded program at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh!

With Hail To The Thief, Radiohead recalls the contexts of these older texts and performances in the wordiness of their presentation. They also capture this wordiness in the great cover image for the album, with all its words stacked up on top of and alongside one another, falling over, on blocks of solid colors, signs signaling all the (mixed) messages we encounter everyday. Hail To The Thief uses parentheses in all of its titles to say more, to contain messages. This is after all one of the things parentheses let us do best; they accumulate words and expand signification. 

The Age‘s preview also notes that Hail To The Thief‘s primary title not only expresses a seriously sarcastic political (and historically political) sentiment, but it also refers to the state of the music business, where we often gain access to material that has leaked online ahead of time. As a major band, Radiohead has significantly experimented with ways to “hail” the pirate-thief and work with shifting consumer and new media climates, evidenced most recently with their pay-what-you-want release of In Rainbows online. 

badges of honor

May 12, 2008

When a film is officially selected to play in a festival, or when it wins a prize at a festival, it often advertises this information inside two laurel branches, celebrating the honor the same way ancient Romans celebrated victories in their film festivals. 


In this Crossing Arizona poster, the festival-parentheses stamps take up more space than the film’s own title and the character who is presumably crossing Arizona. In this Me and You and Everyone We Know advertisement, the full title isn’t even on the poster. It’s just the parenthetical instant message expression from the film, the two laurels announcing its win at Sundance and its multiple wins at Cannes, and the film’s website. It’s almost as if the film’s parentheses are “forever” open, ready to catch festivals’ esteemed parentheses. 

Like the brackets around (RED) and {intimacy}, these celebratory laurels seem to be hugging the chosen films. But the laurels also have a quietness to them, politely containing the honor. When a film wins an Oscar, by contrast, the announcement is not parenthesized.


The laurels seem to mark certain types of films traveling in a certain type of context. Perhaps they mark artfulness, independence, the homegrown work of the filmmaker attempting to get his or her work exposure on the festival circuit. Perhaps they should also be regarded as parentheses in that they are a little something extra and special, but they are optional, not fundamental, parts of the movie. This might be seen in opposition to the “disproportionate importance that the Academy Awards have taken on, and by the distorting influence they exercise over the way we make, market and see movies in this country,” as A. O. Scott wrote earlier this year. In this system, for example, studios wait until holiday season to release their “good” movies, so that they can be fresh on the minds of Academy voters. In turn, we have to wait through lulls where it’s hard to catch a good movie on a big screen. The awards for these films are not bracketed from what they are, and the many consequences of this can be frustrating.

falling and dropping

May 3, 2008






-e. e. cummings



Derrida Queries de Man, Mark Tansey

“And instead of talking to you about French theory in America over the last twenty years, I would have preferred to spend more than an hour reflecting on the desire and work of Mark Tansey, who has me either dancing dangerously at the edge of a waterfall, or growing like a tree, but still at the edge of somber and menacing water, to the bottom of which, in the autumn, in the fall, I could sink. In the fall, into the falls, falling down into the false. I will not speak of these simulacra any longer.” 

-Derrida, “Deconstuctions: The Im-possible”


III. Bird droppings: “A real fake thing that sells a real product”?


According to this website, this popular viral video is a complete hoax–made to sell “Fromundah,” the fake Nigerian soda the reporter drinks after the bird poops in his mouth. So I guess it was all just made for the sake of being funny. “Falling down into the false.” In a shifted context, perhaps Derrida’s phrase speaks to this video’s fakeness and its production of fakeness. 

And to bring it all back home to parentheses, you might like to check out the fake spin on the fake video, “Dog Poops (Not Bird) In Reporters Mouth.” First “Bird,” then “Dog (Not Bird).” Here the parentheses are in communication with the parenthetical-less first phrase, correcting it, updating it, becoming even more ridiculous. If you’re standing under a tree, a bird dropping his business on you is feasible. But it is much less feasible for a dog (not bird) to





his bus



April 23, 2008

GAP, not Spike Lee\'s movie

I was sitting in a coffeeshop the other day, and a man walked in wearing a red hoody, with the phrase “INSPI(RED)” printed on the front. A friend I was with told me about (RED). 

Watch out, Lennon and Dylan. Bono, our good man of U2, is also affiliated with parentheses. He and Bobby Shriver founded (RED) in 2006. (RED) inserts its parenthetical trademark alongside “the world’s most iconic brands,” indicating that portions of the profit earned from the products purchased will go to the Global Fund, which helps women and children afflicted with AIDS in Africa. 

The brief About section of (RED)’s website asks, “What’s the meaning of the parentheses or brackets? Well, we call them ‘the embrace.’ Each company that becomes (RED) places its logo in this embrace and is then elevated to the power of red. Thus the name — (PRODUCT)RED.” 

(RED)’s idea of the parentheses being an embracing, inviting figure to help sell their product reminded me of a lingerie store my friend told me about in Boston, called {intimacy}. He was too embarrassed to take a picture himself.

I’m not sure if brackets and the idea of intimacy have any history, but it seems that if nothing else, the shape of their form, as curves that protect what’s inside of them from what’s outside of them, invites the association.

RED’s use of the curved punctuation marks does more than what their disappointing explanation claims. Not only are the parentheses an “embrace,” but they are also algebraic. RED is like the PRODUCT’s exponent. Product to the red power. 

The short promo video on YouTube and their website also suggests that African AIDS patients to the RED power equals healthy, happy Africans. They show three before and after images, first of sick patients, with their names in parentheses, which are then followed by images of the same people, presumably after they have received treatments brought to them by the Global Fund.

The black and white “before” images all become colorful in the “after” images, many times with red highlights, though, as with Silvia, not always. This sort of echoes their business model. They explain in their manifesto, “THERE ARE (RED) CREDIT CARDS, (RED) PHONES, (RED) SHOES, (RED) FASHION BRANDS. AND NO, THIS DOES NOT MEAN THEY ARE ALL RED IN COLOR, ALTHOUGH SOME ARE.”

Parentheses allow for SOME-ness, and sometimes-ness. They are often optional. This is another way in which (RED) works its parentheses. 

A VANITY FAIR blog has just taken us “inside Dylan’s brain,” cataloguing themes, references, guests, and quotes from his radio show, Theme Time Radio Hour.

Under a list of Dylan’s “one-liners,” they quote him, “I always liked songs with parentheses in the title.”

According to fellow Philadelphians at The BM Rant, John Lennon liked parentheses in his song titles, too. Their top ten list of songs with parentheses includes such Lennon songs as “Happy Xmas (War is Over),” “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown),” and “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy).”

Lennon said of writing “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown),” “I was trying to write about an affair, so it was very gobbledegooky.” Wikipedia’s entry for the song, faithfully retaining its parentheses in the web address, explains that “Lennon acknowledged being strongly influenced by Bob Dylan during this time period, and the rather opaque lyrics of ‘Norwegian Wood’ seem to reflect this. Dylan responded with ‘4th Time Around,’ a song boasting a similar melody, subject matter and lyrical delivery. Rock journalists and even Lennon himself felt it to be a rather pointed parody of ‘Wood’ [note how the song title gets shorter and shorter, forgetting its parentheses, as the discussion proceeds] [oh, but here come new parentheses:] (some even went as far as to think the song’s closing line – ‘And I, I never took much/I never asked for your crutch/Now don’t ask for mine’ – was directed toward Lennon), though Lennon later told his biographer that he considered Dylan’s effort to be more a playful homage.”

In an outtake from Dylan’s Eat the Document, Lennon and Dylan, drunk or stoned, have a conversation in the back of a cab. The transcription of the outtake opens with Dylan, in parentheses, “(peering out of a rainy window as the great car rumbles down the road).” Six minutes into the scene, Lennon asks Dylan, “Do you know Ralph Donner? He’s another great one.” Dylan replies, “No, I only know the lesser known ones.”

This conversation, like Theme Time Radio Hour, also opens a window into “Dylan’s brain.” His affinity for songs with parentheses in their titles seems similar to his comment here, filmed decades earlier, about knowing the lesser over the greater. Parentheses place the lesser alongside the greater.

The BM Rant’s top ten doesn’t include any Dylan titles. He definitely has some good ones, though. My favorite is “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).” There’s no mention of the title’s parenthetical phrase in the song itself. Maybe he owns up to this trick in the song when he directs us to not “fear if you hear/A foreign sound to your ear/It’s alright, Ma, I’m only sighing.” The “bleeding” in the title is abandoned for “sighing”–a “foreign sound” the title doesn’t lead us to expect. But the deserted phrase’s bitter, sarcastic sentiment bleeds through the disillusionment he sings about, parenthetically.

(The video can now be found here: