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Jacob R. Taylor

Jacob R. Taylor has written 4 posts for ThisIsWater.org

Confronting the Downtime Between Downtons

As the television landscape stands today, there is little time between traditional seasons with original programming . Since the inception of the summer schedule and the mish-mash of structured scheduling ushered in by cable networks (premium and basic) such as AMC, FX, and the quality/quantity juggernaut that is the Home Box Office (HBO), there really is no downtime in a casual television watcher’s yearly schedule.

The British, on the other hand have a system that for the most part follows as such: Schedule a show on a limited run and then release a Christmas Special at the end of the year. This is a practice that American programmers could take note of and follow accordingly. Nonetheless, our common language brethren from across the pond have given us some wonderful television that not only satisfies their (higher) taste, but in turn, our own.

Since 2001, when American television critics really started to take notice with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s office dramedy cleverly entitled, The Office, British television has been on the radar of everyone that has a passion for the medium. Some shows get more praise than they are worth (Life Is Short) and others not as much as they deserve (Spaced). But overall, I’m glad that we are taking notice of a country that gave us classics such as Flying Circus and Faulty Towers.

Last year, the BBC, paired with the always-solid Masterpiece Theater, produced a cinematic, upstairs/downstairs series entitled Downton Abbey. It was the British counterpart to the Mad Men’s and Boardwalk Empires‘s of American television.  Downton is a beautiful, high-production quality, lush period piece with an incredible cast that depicts everyday life for a range of different social classes. Initially, the series started out incredibly strong, almost making this cold heart of stone tear up in its opening hour. However, since then, it has taken an incredibly melodramatic turn.

Showrunner Julian Fellows quickly squandered the captivating story of downstairs footman Mr. Bates, whose challenging status as “the new guy with a disability” that made me do a “who the fuck is this incredible actor imdb.com search” within the first twenty minutes of hour one, and his transformation to an ongoing “really, another fucking scene with Bates and that slag tooth boring fucking whore that he is in love with…can I blow my fucking brains out now?”, was the show’s heart in its initial run. I could watch Bates for an hour holding the throat of secondary footman Thomas while simultaneously finger fucking a random housemaid (Don Draper style) for hours. Why does a love story have to be at the forefront of every conflict of this show?

The show really jumped the proverbial shark in series two when they did what I thought they should never do: marry off an uppy (upstairs person) with a downy (the “help” for Christ’s sake). No goddamn restraint people. Let me say what we all think as consumers of “low art.” Drama can be really boring at times. Especially manufactured drama. There is no reason to combine the two worlds. Watching a show with a somewhat realistic view of life in the 1910’s was a breath of fresh air at first. Somewhere along the line the writers lost touch with what we really loved about the program. They had to create tension where there was no need for it. There is no reason to show every aspect of British life within in a six-hour block of television that is focused on a very specific part of society in a very specific time period. I don’t need for a writer to inform me that yes, people do, in fact, have miscarriages and suffer gunshots that paralyze them then miraculously walk six months later, die from the Spanish Flu, get put on trial for murder, get fingers shot off, have affairs with Turkish princes that die mysteriously in guest rooms, and other incredibly stupid shit that will inevitably happen during series three.

Will I watch that? Yes. Am I anxious for that time to come some time next year? Not really. I will encounter the new episodes of the drama that draw the life and times of the inhabitants of Downton as I do a new episode of the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-In’s and Dives: with a “huh” rather than a “Hey!”

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Self-deluded Poli-Sci major predicts outcome of 2012 Presidential Election…With Odds!!!

I really do not have much desire to talk about politics with anyone outside my small circle of college friends that have (or are working on) a degree in political science.  It is not that I don’t think they have valid points or are knowledgeable about the subject.  I feel that I become just too damn judgmental when discussing anything within that field.  I find that most everyone I talk to about the upcoming election, the “Arab spring” or state and local government see things in blacks and whites.  It is probably not what they are actually saying…it is just what I hear.  I cannot help that and I am sorry.  I am a bit of an elitist when it comes to my field.  I myself struggle when talking to a Literature major or a Economics major about those fields.  I can hold quasi-intellectual conversations about almost everything but I feel only confident in political science.

However, one very specific topic within the realm of politics I find I can casually discuss with another individual is the upcoming Republican candidates chances of becoming President of the United States.  The reason I think I can do this has nothing to do with my degree.  I have confidence in my ability (however self-deluded that may be), to predict with some level of certainty, who stands a chance in actually getting elected.  It probably is because I listen to the radio, read the newspaper, watch television very casually and voyeuristically follow social media outlets.  I do not really dig deep into the issues.  I simply listen to the mood of people that do dig deep.  What the news stories of a given day, month, year are can give you a very good feel of the pulse of a nation at any given time.  What details are inside those news stories (a.k.a. the specifics) I believe, are kind of dispensable.  That is my non-scientific approach to politics and life in general.

This brings me to today’s announcement by the Sarah Palin camp that she will not seek the Republican nomination for President of the United States.  I believe that this is horrible news.  She was my great female hope.  Meaning…she is self-destructive, arrogant, and frankly, didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning in the general election next fall.  In other words…my perfect Republican candidate (fingers crossed for my #2 Michelle Bachmann).  So anyone wanting to discuss any of the other candidates chances with me please feel free.  I might not be able to tell you who will win next November, or why he or she might or might not, but I can tell you my own little personal Vegas line.

Obama v. Perry  (Obama +10)

Obama v. Cain  (Obama +2)

Obama v. every other GOP candidate (Obama + 100)

* I will try to update this somewhat regularly because as everyone but political scientists say, “anything can happen.”

“Make Haste Sweet McRib! Return to our Loving Embrace: A sloppily written essay about a sloppily made meal”

“In the Garden of Eden, God made Eve out                                                                                             of Adam’s rib. Then he made Grimace out of                                                                                         a McRib” -NPR Food

I have been hearing rumblings around the net that McDonald’s McRib sandwich may return sometime next month.  My love of food and my love for the McRib should not be compatible, but they are, and this is my story.

I consider myself somewhat of a foodie.  I love to cook, watch anything about, discuss and sample any and all kinds of food.  This became an obsession of mine during my final year in the U.S. Navy.  I was living alone in Pennsylvania and had no real friends of mention.  I enjoyed being alone and decided to teach myself to cook.  I made all of the basic first time cook’s mistakes.  I under-baked fish, burned almost anything in a frying pan, and made an array of uneven, dense and tasteless breads.  Over time, I became more aware of my surroundings in the kitchen and made use of my time more wisely when attempting to make soufflés or pan-fried pork chops, apple stuffing or a simple ragout.  I enjoyed not only the cooking process, but the food I was preparing as well.  Practice did not make perfect, but it certainly made me more comfortable in the kitchen.

By the time I had learned how to cook for myself (which took me several years) my time in the Navy had ended and I was living in Missouri.  At that time I felt more and more confident about going to random eating establishments and sampling local fare.  I most frequently sought out local joints that were not going to hurt my pocketbook, but would in time hurt my cholesterol levels and waist line.  I tried to eat less of the national chain restaurants and more of locally owned joints that normally one does not come across every 25 miles on the national interstate system.  Every time I ate somewhere local I felt a sense of civic pride.  Even when the food at an establishment was sub-par I said things to myself like, “well, at least I tried this place out” or “the drink specials were cheap.”  I had to keep luring myself back to smaller chains or on-off places to keep myself from becoming what most of us already are…chain-eaters.

I rarely go to chain restaurants anymore, but one thing always brings me back.  McDonald’s McRib sandwich.  God almighty that is one sweet piece of heaven.  I remember as a child going to the McDonald’s in my tiny hometown (one of only 5 resturants there) when the McRib was on the menu.  It was like Christmas, Fourth of July and my birthday all rolled up into one beautiful 500 calorie package.  I never tracked the status or knew when or where that little brown beauty would appear.  One day we would walk in and there it would be.  A few weeks later–gone.

Those days are over thanks to the internet and food blogs.  There is a website entirely devoted to the McRib.  McRib Locator tracks “sightings” of McRibs.  It has a feature where other trackers can either “confirm” or “deny” its sale at one of McDonald’s 31,000 stores worldwide.  That is great news for people like myself that are obsessed with that rib-shaped, sponge-like meat that is “enhanced” by a set of limp pickles and a handful of raw, somehow completely tasteless onions on a crappy white “steak roll” that is soaked with a barbecue sauce so sweet that a small child’s lips might curl up after a bite and admit, “Jeeze Pops, that is just too much.”  I am not that child.

As I head out today to the “Taste of St. Louis” food festival to enjoy local offerings from some of the finest establishments in the Midwest, I will have the McRib engrained in the back of my mind with the hope that next month…it might return!!!

Art and Sports, pt. 1: “Tom Brady ain’t no Picasso (nor should he try to be)”

A question was posed to myself and ThisIsWater.org’s editor from this site’s other blogger a couple days ago via email: Should sports be considered art? Or at least, artful?

In response to this I thought about what motivation artists have for creating art as opposed to the motivation athletes have when engaging in competition with other athletes.  Let’s look at football for instance.  A quarterback’s goal is to win.  How that goal is achieved is superfluous.  One might call Tom Brady and Peyton Manning “conductors” behind the line, but what about a Ben Roethlisberger or a Mark Sanchez?  They are wrecks out there, but both win games and are impressively consistent at what they do.   Art is not the opposite of Sport but simply different from it.  Art is about content and not about winning.  What is there to win?  Fame and recognition perhaps, but what is the end goal?  Athletes have clear goals in mind, and at the forefront of those goals is winning.  Is performance meaningless if a win is not produced?  Don’t ask a fan like myself that question–ask an athlete.

Artists have goals in mind, but those goals are more often than not personal and/or varied depending on the individual artist.  The term art is hard to define and is an unarguably subjective field.  It seems today a frequent question asked regarding every aspect of human existence is, “Should we call this art?”  I guess we could switch the subjects of this question and ask, “Is art a sport?”  It has been said that portions of art such as the business side could be considered a “blood sport.”  If one wants to call a sport an art-form or an athlete an artist that is his or her own prerogative.  However, I call sports…sports.

Are there artistic aspects of athletic performance?  Sure–if the athletes themselves are thinking in those terms when performing them.  Another question that we might want to explore is the difference between showmanship and art.  Showmanship adds very little to a team’s chances of winning but is in some cases a crowd pleasing gesture.  I believe both art and sports have so much to offer humanity that is seems demeaning to both forms and those that perform and/or create within them to try to place one into the other and vice versa.  Each of the above-mentioned endeavors are so incredibly unique that they can easily stand on their own without the help of something else trying to define them.