Dear Quentin, you are a genius.

Spike Lee is criticizing Quentin Tarantino because of a movie he refuses to see. Another boring non-controversy so typical of American hypocrisy! Oooh…there’s slavery… Ooooh…. there’s the “n word” repeated ad infinitum… Oooh….. you poor tainted soul!  QT rubs it in nicely, striking a chord where this self-indulgent nation is still so embarrassed. Slavery is as shameful as the holocaust, but “life is beautiful”; and like Benigni’s opus, Quentin creates a spaghetti western/buddy comedy around the horrors of slavery but where the black guy is the hero. It’s a tale of courage, love and decency.
Everything is clever in this movie. From the unlikely partnership of a slave set free (Django) and a German (Dr. King) as they go about bounty hunting together, to the unlikely loyalty of a despicable plantation owner (Calvin Candie) to his slave Stephen. And the (black) damsel in distress named Broomhilde. Calvin Candie is the dragon, comforts himself with the help, cites “Mandingo” (the black exploitation film from the 70′), worships his white sister and names a slave Dartagnan, like Dumas’, the (black) grandson of a Haitian slave. There’s cruelty, violence and blood galore. But it would not be Tarantino if it hadn’t. If Americans didn’t feel so entitled, it wouldn’t be a slap in their face.  But it is. And QT does it with guts, vibrantly, reciting and recycling every movie he has ever seen, and with a kick ass soundtrack. It’s so clever, that he even frees Germans from their embarrassment of being.

Buddies Django and King play out like our childhood heroes Terence Hill and Bud Spencer.


The Socially Deficient

Digital connections are at a point of mental-emotional exhaustion… Has it reached the ceiling? I find it hard to believe it will grow more; or evolve into a way that makes us connect in a  more productive or fulfilling way. Maybe this is the Mayan prophecy after all.  The global village is full. Here’s a story by David Carr, published today at the NYT, with the title of “My Dinner with Clay Shirky….”

Last week, I had dinner at Clay Shirky’s house along with a group of journalists and academics, all of whom are very active on the Web. Mr. Shirky is the oft-quoted thinker who wrote “Here Comes Everybody” and “Cognitive Surplus.” I have no idea why he was having the dinner or why I was invited, only that it sounded like a fun, smart bunch. We all “know” each other, either through a direct online connection or by digital reputation, but I am more familiar with them as digital avatars than as people.

As a group, we have some things in common, like an obsession with the future of journalism, and I’ve engaged in vigorous digital debate with people at the dinner over the willingness of people to pay for journalism.

But, funny enough, we didn’t talk about that much in person. We talked about Twitter, the Facebook I.P.O. and the limits and glories of Storify. But we also talked about “Homeland,” school politics, New York provincialism and, as it turned out, bread.

Before dinner, Mr. Shirky set out some bread. It was warm on the inside, crusty on the outside, little French loaves of goodness. I went into the kitchen to ask where Mr. Shirky had found such treasure and he pointed to the oven and the loaf pans on top.

As it turns out, Mr. Shirky became very good at bread eating at a young age, so his mother decided that he should also be good at bread making. We all chewed on the bread as Mr. Shirky told the story of learning how to make bread as a 10-year-old.

Now, he could have told that story in a blog post or in an e-mail chain, but it became a very different story because we were tasting what he talked about. The connection in an online conversation may seem real and intimate, but you never get to taste the bread. To people who lead a less-than-wired existence, that may seem like a bit of a “duh,” but I spend so much interacting with people on the Web that I have become a little socially deficient.

In her book “Alone Together,” Sherry Turkle has written about the lack of nutrition in what seem like significant online relationships.

After an evening of avatar-to-avatar talk in a networked game, we feel, at one moment, in possession of a full social life and, in the next, curiously isolated, in tenuous complicity with strangers. We build a following on Facebook or MySpace and wonder to what degree our followers are friends. We recreate ourselves as online personae and give ourselves new bodies, homes, jobs and romances. Yet, suddenly, in the half-light of virtual community, we may feel utterly alone. As we distribute ourselves, we may abandon ourselves. Sometimes people experience no sense of having communicated after hours of connection.

I left Mr. Shirky’s apartment with a full belly, but even more filled up by what happened around the perimeter of the bread. No one tweeted, no one texted, everyone talked. I’ve noticed more and more that when I go to gatherings, people are walking around in their own customized world defined by what is on their smartphone, not by who is sitting next to them at dinner. The serendipity of the offline world has been increasingly replaced by the nice, orderly online world where people only follow whom they want to and opt in to conversations that seem interesting.

The funny thing is, the user is not always the one who is doing the deciding. As the author Eli Pariser has written in “The Filter Bubble,” Facebook, Google and Yahoo are deciding what we want to know, even though we are the ones doing the searching.

We end up in what seems like a self-selected informational ghetto, finding out about what is most “relevant” to us, but not finding out much of anything new. Google would never know that I wanted to bake because I didn’t know it either. If someone had Google Plus-ed Mr. Shirky’s recipe for bread or provided a link on Twitter, I would have never clicked on it.

But because I had tasted the actual bread out in the actual world, I wanted to try to make it myself. I got online — yes, I stipulate to the irony — and goaded Mr. Shirky back into sharing the recipe. It might as well been a formula for cold fusion, what with its two separate pauses to let the dough rise and daunting list of tips, but the memory of the smell, of the taste, compelled me to try to make the bread.

(The writer and educator Zeynep Tufekci would point out that I never would have gotten around to eating that bread with those people unless I had had a digital connection to them. She has observed that so-called weak ties often lead to strong ones, )

I circulated a picture of my lumpy but fundamentally sound loaves to the ad hoc group that was formed around that dinner and we had some laughs. Yes, we did that online, but it was reprising something that had actually happened when we were together.

In addition to asking Clay for the bread recipe, I asked him about the ingredients of communication in a wired era. “When people talk to one another long enough, they want to meet, and when they’ve been in one another’s presence, they want to keep in touch.” In other words, we will probably break bread together as a group again.

All of which is a way of saying something that is probably obvious to others who are less digitally obsessed: you can follow someone on Twitter, friend them on Facebook, quote or be quoted by them in a newspaper article, but until you taste their bread, you don’t really know them.

I don’t like Twitter. What is wrong with me?

I like watching TV. I read books. I buy the newspaper. I eat at home and I cook (AND I live in NYC). I’m on Facebook. I have a Linkedin page. However, sin of all sins, I  dislike twitter, I don’t tweet, and I don’t read any tweet by Demi, or Ashton, or Oprah, or Obama. I’m just not interested in spending hours of my day reading the 140-character babbling from celebrities and average people alike. As a matter of fact my aversion to it borders abhorrence. Is there something wrong with me?

I’m not what one would consider an old-fashioned person, quite the contrary. I’m definitely trying to keep up with the new media, the social graph and the evolution of digital space. I actually can embrace digital modernities quite fast. Life is so much easier now than it was 20 years ago. But this middle-class 30″ seconds of fame (fame?) tweet has not been appealing enough for me to jump on the bandwagon. Who should I blame this on? Nietzsche and the disdain for people?

Maybe it’s my rich imagination, or my snobbish avoidance to follow trends; but I still prefer to be the trend-setter and the most interesting person in the room. Now…really… should I tweet about this?

As I publicly say this, coincidently this woman, Virginia Hefferman, wrote in yesterday’s NYTimes Magazine that Twitter is a trap and “connectivity is poverty”. Ha. Twitter is already old and it really doesn’t matter in the big picture. If my generation wanted to change the world, this one has made it even smaller than what was already small, and instead of chasing utopias and following the dream, it merely narrates the events of the past 5 minutes contemplating its own navel. Hum….not for me.