Tuesday, January 27, 2009

super gay

(click to enlarge...sorry it's blurry)

When I was a teacher, an administrator asked me to run a seventh- and eighth-grade "elective" about humor, and I declined because I felt there would be a conflict of interest: if the elective were to have any value at all—that is, if I were to do it seriously, academically, rather than treating it as a kind of organized waste of time—then some of the positions that I, as a teacher, was required to take (values I was required to uphold, standards I was required to enforce) would become untenable.  For example, if one student put another student down in a hilariously witty way, I would be entirely comfortable telling him that it was unacceptable, and in an English class I'd be prepared to pretend that I was not amused, but could I, in the role of humor teacher, say in good faith that it was not witty?  Wit is amoral: sometimes things that are ethically questionable are unquestionably funny.  Arguably this isn't even merely an occasional unfortunate coincidence but rather inevitable given the nature of humor.  The nature of humor deserves more focused attention separately elsewhere, but I bring it up because the use of the word gay where it is roughly synonymous with the word lame* (as above) is, at the very best, juvenile and irresponsible**—and it would be hard to argue that it isn't at least somewhat disrespectful, and it's very possibly hateful, oppressive, and even menacing—but can I really go so far as to say that it simply isn't funny?  Like, in any context?  Not the least bit amusing, ever?

No, I cannot.

* Of course a problem in itself.  Do we even have a word for this concept that isn't somehow offensive?  I suppose you could say embarrassing?  Or—oh, I've got it: retarded.
** When I would discuss this problem with students, someone would inevitably say, "But I'm not talking about gay people when I say that something is 'so gay'; I just mean that thing is stupid," and I would sometimes reply, "OK, well, how would you feel if I said, 'I'm not talking about black people when I say that something is "so African–American"; I just mean that thing is stupid'?"

Monday, January 26, 2009

captioning dissonance

Another problem with The New Yorker's cartoon-caption contest:
Gordon Baumbacher's caption is actually pretty funny, BUT...it just plum doesn't work.  For it to make any sense, you have to ignore the smiles on the mobsters' faces.  Why are they all smiling?  Sure, you could say they're being ironic or sardonic or something like that, but if that's true, then it complicates and undermines the joke, mucks it up—and besides, that's obviously not really the idea.  The idea is, "Let's pretend they're not smiling: then it works great!"

That's really all I had to say, but let's just note that the second and third entries are classic caption-contest fare: lame "topical" humor.  Wilcox's at least resembles humor, but it, like Baumbacher's (but more so), doesn't actually make sense.

[I feel a little bad trashing random citizens' attempts at humor.  Let me just state here plainly that I hate the game, not the player.  And let me say, too, unrelatedly, that this week's New Yorker has a George Saunders story in it—and I haven't read it, yet, but yay George Saunders!]

comedy and tragedy

(click to enlarge)

I'm not exactly sure what's going on here.  The MTA seems to have set up a spotlight to illuminate the bottom of a manhole cover in a subway station.  Is this just so everyone can see if somebody hilariously falls through?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

a sort of faulty parallelism

I know, I know they're just supposed to be "cute," but this whole line of thought—yes, it's a line of thought—always drives me just a little crazy.  The starting point is the classic "I [heart] NY" T-shirt, and at some point in the last few years it became popular for T-shirts to "riff" on that with different places and different symbols...the problem of course being that the heart is not just some random symbol: it happens to mean love in our society, so if we allow the use of a kind of ideogram, then it's actually a totally coherent message.  But so then we wind up with shit like the above: "I cupcake NY"?  My personal favorite is "J' Eiffel Tower Paris."  These are not symbols that communicate love—they don't even communicate verbs.  I just found this one online:

I Red Hot Chili Peppers the Red Hot Chili Peppers?  Hard to argue.  Reminds me of what someone pointed out (I think in an e-mail forward): that since "La Brea" means "the tar," "The La Brea Tar Pits" are the the tar tar pits...

Part of me disagrees with myself on this, figures there's some kind of creative, almost poetic thinking in it (you know, non-1:1)...but that doesn't mean it isn't funny.  A couple more:

I record-player vinyl?

I John McCain McCain?*

* This one is particularly amusing because the web site where I found it identified it as not even an "I love McCain" T-shirt but—wait for it—an "I heart McCain" T-shirt.  Work that one out.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Januaries 23

(or, The Ghost of Jan. 23 Past)

     A week or so ago, I realized that part of the reason I slouch is that I'm taller than most mirrors.  Recently I've been in a state of nihilistic despair which I just now, sitting on my toilet with diarrhea, attributed to the confusion of a new life.  Having discarded my nonchalance as E— discarded me, I am left confused as to how to conduct myself.  K— visited for the weekend, and love her though I do, I spent the whole time in a sort of a quiet neurotic frenzy.  I have reread Pale Fire for my senior essay.  Perhaps in sympathy with Gradus my stomach has engendered within itself a liquid hell.
     Hopefully the articulation of a sorry state will falsify it just as all truths of life fade to fiction under the Gorgon's gaze of biography.

     I find myself addicted to Microsoft Minesweeper.  My God, what a waste.

     I decided that the irrational attention I'll sometimes pay to my Friendster profile must have something to do with identity issues.  The Friendster profile is supposed to be a little sketch of you or a part of you, the picture you want to present.  And I think that my inability just to sit back and say, "Sure, that'll do," has everything to do with an inability to decide what I am or to decide that "what I am" isn't a problem that needs solving...  I'm like, "Should I have just one favorite each?  Should I list every band or musician that I like?  Should I select the ones I think are my three or five or seven favorites, or maybe three or five or seven that just illustrate the range of my taste or the focus of my taste or just what makes my taste different from your average person's taste?"  And this ties in with what I was thinking lately...about music that you really like...  Dylan Ebdus in The Fortress of Solitude says something about realizing when he allowed himself to realize it that his favorite music was x, y, and z.  And this (along, now that I think of it, with an article in Vice that was supposed to be a list of the top 10 bands that everybody claims to like but actually doesn't) made me see that so much of our "favorite" stuff is more a stance than a preference—or I guess really the point is that it's more an effort to define yourself than it is taste.  (Or is that what taste is?)  So I found myself wondering what music I most enjoy listening to, separate from context, style, irony, post-ironic posing, and so on.
     But before I get sidetracked by my desire to answer that question, let me make the point I wanted to make by raising that question: much of what motivates me in filling in a "Favorite Music" blank is less an effort to let people know what my favorite music is (who cares, after all?) than it is a belief that writing down the right bands will (a) convey something essential to my identity and (b) demonstrate that I'm incredibly awesome...  All my recent Friendster futzing is evidence, in other words, of a basic insecurity about my identity...
     The real story here is less the lame whodunnit of what my favorite music actually is than it is the story of my for some reason spending mental energy trying to figure that out.  Why do I care?  (Answer above.)
     The scary part of it is that I wonder whether I long for absolutes in an authoritarian way: I want to glom on to some group in order to define myself.  "I like this band!"  Is it really so different (in its motivation, I mean, not its effect) from "I support the National Socialist movement"?
     ...[That paragraph] works nicely as a segue into the other topic I wanted to address: politics.
     Wait—am I done with identity?  Well, when are we ever done with identity?
     Fuck politics.  I don't want to write about politics right now.  Except to say that I was reading something—New York Review of Books, I think—and reflecting on the fact that Bush seems to have won not so much in spite of the weight of the facts as because of the irrelevance of the facts, and the Tom Lehrer lyric came to mind: "They may have won all the battles, but we had all the good songs!"

Jan. 27, 2000 [a kind of epilogue]
     I spent thirtysix-odd hours in the DUHa infirmary, with an IV hydrating me through my arm.  Today I was able to eat a banana, some toast, and a bowl of milkless Rice Krispies.  Illness, as I believe I noted after my last vacation at DUH, has the positive characteristic of simulating rebirth.  When I went to bed last night in Pierson 1486, I felt as though the semester were just beginning, which is good, given how unpleasant things lately had seemed.  I'd lost something, and here's my chance to get it back.  It's not backtracking, it's Nabokov's spiral—"We can call 'thetic' the small curve or arc that initiates the convolution centrally, 'antithetic' the larger arc that faces the first in the process of continuing it, and 'synthetic' the still ampler arc that continues the second while following the first along the outer side."
     So the return of DUH brought along with it a younger Y—, stepping out from a group of Pierson freshmen to hand me a tape of Blue (side A) and Ani DiFranco (side B), and me at 18 with a Walkman and pneumonia, hearing, "I hate you some, I hate you some, I love you some," and knowing she did...

a I believe that (a) this stood for Department of Undergraduate Health and (b) this was no longer actually the name of the thing, but everyone called it that anyway.  Ah, college.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

what gives*

I don't think I'm imagining this: as I have gotten better at getting myself to write, I have gotten worse at getting myself to go to the gym, or to stop eating cookies once I've started, or to do the laundry.  What is this, some law of conservation of self-control that I've accidentally discovered?  Push one thing down and another pops up.  This is not news.

* Not a question, note—rhetorical or otherwise.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

my favorite part of the inaugural address

"...we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness.  We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus—and nonbelievers.  We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace."
-President Barack Obama

Monday, January 19, 2009

Life imitates Onion

I'm not sure how many people have noticed The Onion's quiet coverage of the Bush administration's final days:

And then there's this excellent article about Cheney (the very very end being the best part):

Is it crazy or cruel to see some kind of echo of all this in the following real-life AP story?

    WASHINGTON (AP)—Vice President Dick Cheney pulled a muscle in his back while moving boxes and will be in a wheelchair for Tuesday's inauguration ceremony...
    [White House press secretary Dana] Perino said that Cheney is OK otherwise.
    "The vice president is looking forward to being there for tomorrow's historic inaugural activities."

I'm sorry: is it...is it OK to laugh?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Obama disappointment watch

  1. Rick Warren.
  2. Passively pardoning Bush.

The man is not a political messiah.  As a culture we have a tendency to swing to extremes (if something is great, it's got to be perfect), and after the first eight years of this century,* we really ought to be pretty thrilled by a president's just not being atrociously horrible.  And what we really need from Barack Obama is for him to do a good job—not for him to be flawless.  I've been saying from the start (and said here in July) that the ways in which Obama is inspirational are more like tools or bonuses than they are the essence of the thing: in a democracy, being inspirational and exciting is a strength, and universally strength is valuable insofar as you can use it to accomplish things—what else is it good for?  And while I agree with Krugman (see link above) in theory, isn't it important in practice to move forward?  If Obama really focused on going after Bush, it would pretty much guarantee that whatever chance he has at the bi- or nonpartisan politics he talked about would go directly out of the window; as a politician (rather than as a superhero), isn't his responsibility to get the most important things done, even if it means sacrificing some other important goals?  I'd love to see Bush & Cheney in jail, but not at all costs.

On the other hand—

Well, you know...at a certain point you begin to feel betrayed.  And at a certain point super practicality (like, we've got to give this up if we want that) translates into a total lack of principle, or rather the principle devolves eventually into something perilously close to a power game—not might-makes-right, what term am I looking for?  Maybe it doesn't exist.  What I'm saying is that at a certain point you wind up with the classic situation, which some would argue is the only situation, wherein a leader's main goal is to ensure that he leads, and survival is the only priority.  No, there's a term for that: amorality.

I'm not saying we're there, or even close...I'm just saying.

* 2000 was the last year of the 20th century because the first year A.D. (or C.E.) was 1, not 0.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

"law & order" is plural

So I'm on a grand jury, and I am not allowed to talk about "anything that occurs in the grand jury room."  Does the following count?  Can I get in trouble for it—be held in contempt of court or something?  Let's find out!

I don't blame the assistant district attorneys for talking in a ridiculous way: obviously it's because they're required to be extremely precise for legal reasons, not because they're pretentious (for the most part, anyway); also, there are certain phrases that they have to repeat again...and again...and again.  However, the dangling modifiers get to be a little much:

ADA (to witness):  Officer Krupke,* directing your attention to Primilis 1, 20—, at approximately 7:00 n.m., were you on patrol at the intersection of 460th Street and Wide?**

While in a sense Officer Krupke surely was directing his attention to that date and time (assuming both that the ADA has the facts right and that Officer Krupke is a reasonably well-actualized and grounded human being who can properly be said to exist "in the now"), what the ADA really means to say is this: "Please direct your attention to Primilis 1, 20—, at approximately 7:00 n.m.  Were you on patrol...?"


ADA (scanning the grand jury for raised hands, then addressing witness)  Seeing no questions, you are dismissed.

Maybe not "you are dismissed," but the ADA definitely switches to addressing the witness.  Now, you could make an excuse for it—maybe in some sense the witness is the one who "sees" questions from the jury—but come on, now.  We both know that's not the idea.  What the ADA really means is this: "Seeing no questions, I dismiss this witness," or, "Because I see no questions, you are dismissed."

Honestly—is anything hotter than correcting a dangling modifier?  Possibly this:

(via New Shelton & W.R.)

[Side note, speaking of which: if I had access to a time machine, one of the things I'd want to do—I'm not saying it's at the top of the list or nothin', but it's on the list—is to go back and see Ween live during this period.]

* This name does not come from the grand-jury room.  It comes from West Side Story, a 1957 musical by Laurents, Bernstein, and Sondheim that in 1961 was adapted into a popular motion picture.
** This date and time and New York County intersection do not come from the grand-jury room.  They are not real.

Friday, January 9, 2009


(click to enlarge)

Back to these damned things. First of all, I'm glad a helpful citizen is directing people's attention to the fine print—an entirely separate catch, additional to the one I pointed out. Basically the offer is meaningless. Is that a surprise?
Second of all, this particular ad always sent my mind going in a comic direction that was just maybe a little too dark/icky (e.g., "Where was this deal ten years ago, when I had to sell my body in Hell's Kitchen to pay for cocaine?")—but the magic eyeball that someone has drawn onto this woman* allows the joke to settle more on the silly/nutjob end of the spectrum,** like, "Where was this deal ten years ago, when I still cared about things like money and the material world (before I grew this fucking third eye and totally outgrew your slipshod 3D reality)?"
Or, "Where was this deal ten years ago? I will peer into the universe's secret core and search all possible alternate dimensions to find the answer."***
Anyway, as before, a better question would be, where will this deal be after Jan. 31, 2009?

* Who, to be fair, does clearly have a serious drug problem, which might indeed have been prevented if Bank of America had come up with this promotion in the 1990s.
** Yes, there is such a spectrum: sketchy to surreal, Gallo to Dalí. Sure.
*** "Oh, there it is: in the alternate timeline where Gavrilo Princip failed to assassinate Archduke Ferdinand."

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

caption this

OK: I hate the New Yorker caption contest.  Hate it.  Makes me want to cancel my subscription, or scrabble off my own face.  I'd like to think it's secretly some kind of super-snobby statement on their part, sorta going undercover to prove that humor is not in fact democratic—but I'm afraid it's instead that kind of snobbier-than-snobby pretentiousness that Woody Allen displayed with the miserable Small Time Crooks and then the even more soul-crushing Curse of the Jade Scorpion: an effort to demonstrate (read: fabricate) populist credentials, from "above"...like, "Look, we're not so fancy, we invite any old person to decide what's funny!"*

The results are disastrous:

(click to enlarge if you can stand it)

First, this week's winner: "Guess who's getting voted off the island."  Ah, yes.  A Survivor joke.  That takes me back.  I guess it's no surprise that The New Yorker's readership would be tickled by junk-cultural references from the year 2000, but does this kid of pre-9/11 dicksmackery really belong on the magazine's last page?  If I'm not mistaken, that's where they used to put their "Shouts & Murmurs."  Now it's more like...Farts and Burbles?  (Hey, I never said I should be writing the captions.)

And the finalists?  Only Sean Delaney's even resembles humor: the reality-show one is just another lame cultural reference (again painfully unfresh), and the third one is...um...well, isn't it basically just, "Hey, this is weird!  This is unlikely!  What a strange situation, a huge bird and a tiny little man up in a tree!"

Which brings us to the correct answer to The New Yorker's caption contest: "Christ, what an asshole."  Whoever figured that one out—Charles Lavoie, I gather—did our country a great service.  It's certainly the right caption for this week's contest.  Has anyone thought to try and anticipate the kind of bullshit people will come up with instead?  OK, let's see...judge, fucked-up courtroom...so what does he say?  Oh, wait wait wait, I've got one: "Order!"  Yeah, that's good!**  Or, or, or, "OK, whose bright idea was it to call the Incredible Hulk to the witness stand?"  Hahahah!  Brilliant!  What else?  I'm sure there's some great joke to be made about prosecuting Hurricane Katrina, yeah!  That happened just a couple years ago, it's about time somebody made a joke about it—and it totally makes sense that a hurricane would have torn through the courtroom, I mean, that's what it looks like!  Ooh, or maybe something about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton at each other's throats?

Oh, man, I can't wait to see next week's entries!

* The irony of course being that the real biting criticism of The New Yorker's cartoons isn't that they're so elitist but that they're just not fucking funny...and the caption contest takes that to incredible new heights.  Er, depths.
** Actually I kind of like that one.

Monday, January 5, 2009


(click to enlarge)

Hadn't seen these ads in a little while, so I guess I'm behind—but is it me, or is the secret purpose of these (not particularly cute) cutesy ads to de-Frenchify the product for a Francophobic audience?  Every single word the ads use belies Perrier's pronunciation; are they trying to get us to pronounce it with an English -er?

Either way, these ads make want to grind my teeth to powder, a little.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Superman II

OK, so a friend and I1 watched the Richard Donner cut of Superman II—all right?—and I've got to say: the non–Richard Donner cut was better (ice-cream cone, toupee, and all).

But that's neither here nor there.

Best things about Superman II:
  1. The part where Superman gets beaten up at a truck stop when he's lost his powers!
  2. The part where Gen. Zod says, "This...'super-man' is nothing of the kind"!
  3. The part where Ursa2 burns up a snake with heat-ray vision and gets all excited and says, "Did you see that?  Did you see what I did?" (HOT)!
  4. The part where Superman "kneel[s] before Zod" and then totally crushes Zod's hand!

Best things about the Richard Donner cut:
  1. The part where Lex Luthor says he can offer Gen. Zod the son of Jor-El, Zod says, "Jor-El, our jailer?" and Luthor says, "No, Jor-El, the baseball player."
  2. The part where a postcoital Lois Lane is wearing Superman's shirt (see shitty homemade "screenshots" below).3

Things my doctor friend1 said while watching the Richard Donner cut:

[As Gen. Zod and his cronies destroy the Daily Planet offices and most of its windows]
Do you think they hate glass?

[As Superman is flying around in outer space at the end for no evident reason]
Dr.  Get out of space!
S.R.  "Get out of space"?
Dr.  Yeah.
S.R.  What's that supposed to mean?
Dr.  It means stop being an asshole!4

And it's true: Superman's a total asshole.  What is he even trying to do when he's hitting on Lois Lane as Clark Kent?  What's his plan?  Does he hope to seduce her as Clark Kent and then never tell her about Superman?  Does he have multiple-personality disorder and actually believe his bullshit, identifying entirely with Kent while he's Kent?  Is it the opposite of what Bill says in Kill Bill [Vol. 2], and this fucking alien weirdo sees Kent as the "real" him and Superman as some unfortunate necessity?  I don't buy that: I think Bill's right that Kent is some kind of ultimately condescending or even outright hateful expression of contempt for humanity, and this time around I couldn't help but wonder whether crazy Kal-El5 was kind of getting off on these fucking games and deception.  Relatedly, what the hell is he doing wearing glasses after he gets rid of his powers?  It's a pretty safe guess that those glasses have non-prescription lenses in 'em6, in which case who's he trying to fool up in the fuckin' Arctic?  Or if they're really prescription glasses, what are the odds that the ones he bought so he could pretend he was nearsighted actually perfectly matched the level of myopia he happened to have when he lost his powers?  I mean...

Whatever.  Whatever.  Fuck Superman.  He's dead to me.

2 I would not have actually known "Ursa"'s name without looking it up.  I'm not saying I haven't watched Superman II eight hundred million times.
3 Side-note / note to straight women generally: wear men's shirts.  For serious.  God damn.
4 Which is additionally amusing because my doctor friend is an anusologist.
5 Come on, Nic Cagereally?
6 Unless one of his seemingly endless list of superpowers (like the kiss of forgetfulness that isn't in the Donner cut) includes seeing perfectly through distortive glass.

dorky punctuation humor

(Is there another kind of punctuation humor?)

Knowing that phrasal adjectives preceding the nouns they modify are supposed to be hyphenated (unless they begin with -ly adverbs), I read "first period class" as referring to one's first class about menstruation—your first period class.  Ha ha, I'm all grown up when it comes to grammar, but otherwise I'm 12 years old!

Is this sign really necessary?  Doesn't everyone know that bestiality is best confined to the privacy of your own home?

Thanks, I'm here all week.