Saturday, August 19, 2006

Thank You, Mr. Karr

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Boy, those 24-hour news networks couldn't wait for a John Mark Karr to throw himself into the news landscape and divert attention away from all the violence going on overseas (and, if not violence, at least the threat of one, as has descended over Lebanon after a cease-fire was agreed upon a little less than a week ago in that war-torn Middle East region).

Karr, of course, is the man who recently stepped into the limelight confessing to the murder of JonBenet Ramsey. You might remember that that murder took the country by storm ten years ago, especially when both people and the press started speculating that her parents might somehow be involved. Well, now this English teacher with a shady past living in Thailand has stepped forward, and CNN and its ilk seem to be eating it up, even though there hasn't been much physical evidence to actually support Karr's claims.

The online magazine Slate had a fairly interesting article a couple days ago discussing why someone might lie about committing a murder; in Karr's case, it brings up the possibility that maybe he somehow got so obssessed with the case that he subconsciously deluded himself into thinking that he actually did it. How true that is, I obviously can't say for sure. I would think, however, that maybe the news media might be a little more circumspect about how much attention they give this guy before they implicitly indict him, the way some people accuse them of doing to the Ramseys years ago.

And yes, it's sad to see any young girl killed---especially one as angelic-looking as JonBenet---but seriously, there are things going on in the world arguably so much more important than this case that it seems like yet another instance of excessive sensationalism in the media.

Someone tell me I'm way off base here.


How in the world did Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats become such a Broadway phenomenon?

I saw this show for the first time Thursday evening at a Plays in the Park production of it---their final show this summer---and while it had its moments---few and far between, but they were there---for the most part I found myself pretty bored. Maybe I was just in a less than receptive mood...?

Look, I won't say anything against Lord Lloyd Webber's gift for melody and orchestration: he has a knack for catchy tunes and an imaginative way of orchestrating them to maximum, memorable effect, especially in a surrealistic (nightmarish?) show like Cats. But he never seems to develop any of his melodies in any interesting way; in a song, Lloyd Webber seems content to simply repeat them over and over again (an attempt at theme and variations structure?). He doesn't even really develop them interestingly throughout an entire show: his repetition of "Memory" throughout the show seems less a Wagner-style motif than simply a way of bludgeoning the tune into your skull. I suppose I should give him points for experimenting with different musical styles, though: the tunes range from torch songs to swing numbers, which gives a kind of variety to the show.

There's a larger problem, though. It's probably deeply ironic to complain about soullessness in a show about singing and dancing felines, but the main point of this show---if there is any point to it at all---is that cats are basically just like us. And the many cats in Cats seem like a fairly unengaging bunch, mostly vehicles for the composer's quiltwork musical pastiche. It's all meant to be playful, but somehow it has too heavy a touch---too much of an attempt to dazzle, I guess---to be the kind of whimsical light fun that T.S. Eliot---whose poems Cats is based---might have intended. The only character I had any feeling for was poor old Grizabella, the former "glamor" cat fallen on hard times (and the one who's eventually chosen to ascend to some higher plane at the end). "Memory" is arguably the only truly great tune in the entire show, and---surprise---it belongs to Grizabella (and the actress who played her on Thursday night burned with it, as I'm sure Betty Buckley did when she originated the role on Broadway). But she is only one of many, and her moments are sparse---but moving they are.

Maybe the immense popularity of this show---it was the longest-running show in Broadway history before Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera eclipsed it last year, I think---simply comes out of the fact that it transports you to a total fantasy world, one with barely much of a connection to real-world people and emotions. Nothing much wrong with that, I guess, although, with the exception of Grizabella's few appearances, I found little to care about except as sense-tinging spectacle. But spectacle seems to be Lord Lloyd Webber's stock in trade.

At least no cat started wiggling their butts in my face or anything when some of them ran off the stage at the end and danced around in the audience.

By the way, there is probably another subconscious reason for my fond memory of "Memory": in fifth grade, when I actually still had a passionate interest in piano playing, I played the tune at a talent show, and seemed to get an enthusiastic response to it. (My piano glory days, I guess, before I got demoralized by frustration and immaturity, and by a lack of parental support. Same with violin too.)


Anonymous said...

In reference to the first part of your post, no, you are not off base. The media always looks for sensational cases and the JonBenet case has been one for 10 years now. So now this guy comes along and of course he is big news for CNN and the others. Most likely he is just a mentally unstable screwball who craves attention; but the media is eating it up at this point. Its a slow time for news: the Middle East is settling down, the terrorist plot is past news, Castro did not die and there are no sensational trials or murders to report on. If JonBenet had been a 6 year old Black girl in a Newark Ghetto, no one would have heard of her. Blond white girls make news (Eliz Smart, Natalie Holloway, JonBenet). Celebrities make news (Mel Gibson, Brad Pitt, etc). White men who kill their wives make news (Scott Peterson) or Celebrites who do the same thing (OJ). So thats the way the media works, build it up, sensationalize it, and work it from every angle to hook the viewers on the story. It works so they keep doing the same thing. But, you are right--in the big picture, there are more important things to be talking about than this story.

kenjfuj said...

Anonymous: Well I'm glad someone else sees the absurd predictability of this new-minted barrage of JonBenet news coverage. I didn't want to be accused of knee-jerk cynicism toward the press or anything. I'm so critical that I wonder if there isn't some other ulterior motive for revving up attention for John Mark Karr's confession: simply as a diversion, to distract us from the important yet "too depressing" stuff going on elsewhere. Hmm, a conspiracy theory brewing...?