Monday, July 27, 2009

Venkman v. Torrance

I've been rereading The Shining by Stephen King, and I haven't finished it yet, so there may have to be a Pt. II to this post—but for some reason I started thinking about all the things The Shining and Ghostbusters have in common.*


1. I make it a rule never to get involved with possessed people.
Shining: "Danny's not here, Mrs. Torrance."
Ghostbusters: "There is no Dana, only Zuul!"

2. Tell him about the Twinkie.
Relatively benign set-up: Danny has a sixth sense; the Ghostbusters can catch ghosts.
Thrown into a terrible situation: Danny goes to a place overflowing with evil psychic energy; the Ghostbusters go up against a god.

3. Call it fate, call it luck, call it karma...
Shining: Jack gets his job at the Overlook after being fired from his job as a schoolteacher.
Ghostbusters: Egon, Ray, and Venkman start the Ghostbusters after being fired from their jobs as university professors.

4. The architect's name was Evo Shandor...
Shining: The Overlook Hotel turns out to have a secret evil core and transforms Jack Torrance into a monster who does the hotel's bidding.
Ghostbusters: Dana's Central Park West apartment building turns out to have a secret evil purpose and transforms Dana and her neighbor into its Gatekeeper and Keymaster.

5. OK, who brought the dog?
Shining: The hedge animals come to life and chase Danny Torrance.
Ghostbusters: The gargoyles come to life and chase Louis Tully.

6. I have seen shit that would turn you white!
Shining: Danny sees a blood stain on the wall of the Presidential Suite.
Ghostbusters: The walls in the 53rd Precinct were bleeding.

7. Nice thinkin', Ray.
Shining: Hallorann tells Danny, "I don't think those things can hurt anybody"; later, Danny is chased and throttled by a dead woman.
Ghostbusters: Ray tells Venkman, "Don't move! It won't hurt you!"; almost immediately afterwards, the Class 5 Full-Roaming Vapor attacks Venkman and slimes him.

8. The owners don't like us to even talk about it!
Shining: Overlook, Room 217
Ghostbusters: Sedgewick, 12th floor

9. No kiss...?
Shining (film): "Here's Johnny!"
Ghostbusters: "You don't act like a scientist... You're more like a game-show host."

10. I saw it, I saw it, I saw it!

* As in the case of my popular discussion of Fight Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off (most-read Alt85 post, by far, last I checked), I must emphasize that I do not think there's any meaning to these connections—i.e./e.g., I'm not suggesting that the makers of Ghostbusters were trying to say anything about The Shining or that Stanley Kubrick or Stephen King had access to a time machine or anything—I just think the shit is funny.

Inherent Vice: a preview

I don't know what "the great American novel" actually is, but in a funny kind of back-door way, Thomas Pynchon may have written it during the Nixon administration—even though Gravity's Rainbow touched down in the United States only occasionally and briefly.

The difficulty of Pynchon's work has been emphasized again and again (comparisons to Ulysses and angry cries of "Unreadable!" abound), and yet equally prominent in his writing is the wildly readable: prose that is accessible to the point of what might even smell like frivolity. Harold Bloom has remarked that, upon first reading The Crying of Lot 49, he wondered why the writer of the magnificent V. had chosen to write "a cartoon" (a second reading changed Bloom's tune). Indeed the cartoonishness that shows up continually in Pynchon's prose (often sitting comfortably alongside the very densest, most abstruse, hyper-theoretical sections—or scrambled into them, as when his discussion of "Pirate" Prentice's famous Banana Breakfast dips briefly into "the politics of bacteria, the soil's stringing of rings and chains in nets only God can tell the meshes of") may help to explain why at least one French publisher identified its edition of L'arc-en-ciel de la gravité as having been translated from the American, not the English.

America is junk food and popular culture (in Vineland Pynchon mentions, among other things, Ghostbusters and "the deuteragonist of Donkey Kong," whom most of us now know as Mario, in his pre-super days), but it is also Whitman, Dickinson, Emerson, Melville, Faulkner, the besieged, existential Catholicism of Flannery O'Connor—and perhaps the very most by-the-book postmodern quality of Pynchon's fiction is his apparent unwillingness to treat these as figures out of discrete and irreconcilable parallel dimensions. But one thing Pynchon's novel are not is merely experimental, busy with a somehow philosophically obligatory blending of brows, high and low. Nor is his fiction, like some postmodernists', concerned primarily with debunking—annihilating assumptions and institutions out of little more than a hatred for baloney (or, in some cases, as they say of the Joker, just to watch the world burn). On the contrary, Pynchon has been a passionately, achingly, sometimes even discomfitingly philosophical novelist: reading him one often feels that the stakes could be no higher, that what he is trying to do with his writing is revolutionary beyond the arguably sterile revolutions of form and style—bordering, even, on the messianic—but with the hollowing sense that the outcome can be nothing but failure.

When Pynchon writes "a cartoon"; when like a postcolonial author he chooses to write in his native tongue, American; when he puts in the same novel the Black Hole of Calcutta and a robotic flying duck—what is his agenda? Lyotard defined the postmodern outlook as an incredulity toward metanarratives, which we might summarize very roughly as a skepticism toward order, or a belief in chaos. Conversely, the heart of Pynchon's work is an essentially religious belief in a secret, redemptive order to the universe, hidden and obstructed by the false and dehumanizing order imposed by power (although Pynchon's faith is the faith of a man who wishes to believe, or cannot bear to doubt, rather than one who truly expects to be saved).

Anthony Lane once wrote that Pynchon is, "in the fullest sense, an old hippie," and this assessment, while terribly reductive, is one of the great overlooked truths about his work. Gravity's Rainbow is about nothing if not the all-important struggle of the individual against the system, rebellion against power and conformity, the desperate, noble, and probably futile quest to be human in an inhuman world—and sometimes he seems to hover over the conclusion that all you need is love...or, if not love, a sense of humor. Or a kazoo. If for some reason compelled to summarize Pynchon in a single image (the way Zak Smith did so excellently in Pictures Showing What Happens on Each Page of Thomas Pynchon's Novel Gravity's Rainbow, although he of course could take it a page at a time), I believe the image would have to include a single man, very small on the page, thumbing his nose and sticking out his tongue at something enormous and overwhelming, something impossible to look at straight without suffering immediate mental breakdown and possibly head explosion (which might make it a little difficult to draw)—as an atomic bomb hangs, perfectly suspended, in a single Zenoic instant, on its way to knock our clownish prophet precisely on the top of his doomed, useless, lovely skull. (Terry Gilliam's foot, in the role of God's, also suggests itself.)

As he has gotten older, Pynchon's novels have sprawled and have quieted: for all its bombs and airship battles with Tetris cannons, Against the Day was as restrained and as somber as Pynchon's work has ever been. Vineland, of course, bucked the trend, and importantly: by focusing on the Sixties (by way of the Reagan Eighties), Pynchon came as close as he has ever come to clear self-contextualization...but the larger message did not come through so clearly. What is Inherent Vice? At 384 pages, with a neon title and cover art seemingly more suited for an Elmore Leonard or a Jimmy Buffet, Pynchon's newest novel advertises itself as a change in course, a lightening of the load. How will it fit into and complicate our understanding of his work so far—the cartoonish channeling the sublime, the slangy American vernacular as a machine (like Woody Guthrie's guitar) for killing fascists? When the novel is released next week, Pynchon will be 72 years old. What is the state of his struggle against the Man, his search for truth in a world confounded by falsehood? And does it have something to do with surfing?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Transcript useful? (or, Skorts of Time) [UPDATED]

(click to enlarge)

Google Voice is great. A free forwarding number can't be beat, and if you have access to a "land line," then all calls within the U.S., all day, every day, are free. H-E-N, free-R-Y. Another bonus is the free text messaging (particularly when SMS costs 61 million times more than good old-fashioned e-mail; in fact the only thing I like about text messages is that when I complain about them I get to use the cents symbol,* like, "It costs me 10¢ when you send me a text message? And I can't decline it? Foul, foul, I call foul!").

Also nice is the voicemail-transcription service, although of course part of what's nice about it is that it's almost always at least a little funny. The text above is Google's attempt to transcribe Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy: "strings and arrows" is good; that "goodbye" in there tickles me; "to speak to cancer" is amazing; "skorts of time," amazing...lots of good stuff here, but the best I think has got to be "the estimate if you would resolution at 68 or with the paled pass to solve and enterprises a break H and moment with this regard to your current turner right and lose the name of action."† Starts to feel a little like Joyce, Beckett, Barthelme—you know, those jokers.

God bless accidentally gratifying gibberish.

* My favorite misuse of this symbol is when, usually in supermarkets or bodegas, you'll see something like this: "$5.99¢." No, wait: even better is when you see something like "0.99¢"; you sort of feel like if you went up to the cash register and tried to pay with a penny, they might actually legally be obliged to give you $0.0001 back. Not sure whether there's anything legally binding in a price tag...

† And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

directed elision

Not sure elision is actually the right word—but so this sign obviously used to say "WET PAINT," and some helpful citizen did the old wipe-out-a-few-key-letters-on-the-school-cafeteria-menu-blackboard trick, with satisfying results.

[T-Pain as Frylock and H. Jon Benjamin as Master Shake in the bizarre live-action finale to the latest (and otherwise lackluster) season of Adult Swim's Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Highlights include the brilliant use of Auto-Tune.]

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

get rich quick

apologies for the crappiness of this photo

As discussed before, it's quite normal for lottery ads to be unethical and to border on false advertisement (and, yeah, maybe I take that, like so many other things, more personally than I ought: to be discussed). But I think this ad crosses a line. The message of "inches on your wallet, not your waistline" is clear and dishonest enough on its own (quite apart from its being a threadbare cliché*), but what struck me was that that'll: "A dollar menu that'll put inches on your wallet, not your waistline." As is often the case, I think it's assumed (probably correctly) that making a joke absolves you from having to tell the truth: if I wink while making an insincere promise, the insincerity is forgotten. But facts is facts (as I believe somebody used to say—maybe the cook from The Muppets Take Manhattan†): this ad says that the "dollar menu" that is the New York Lottery's scratch-and-win selection will "put inches on your wallet."

Will. The -'ll is short for will.

If an ad suggests that the lottery might be a reasonable way to make money (which these ads so often do, the "you never know" slogan being extremely clever and insidiously exploitative of what is, remember, a kind of addiction), then that's slimy, but it's not quite a lie because risk is relative: the less $1 means to me, the more sense it might actually make for me to want to gamble it on an incredible long shot. But if an ad says that the lottery will make you money, then there's no left or right about it: it's a promise, and it is false.

Jail 'em!

In a way I'm much more sympathetic to this vaguely similar piece of spam that I recently received. (Those kindergartner's ovals are where my e-mail address used to be.)

(click to enlarge)

As far as I can tell, the whole idea here is to convince me that I've gotten ahold of a foolproof system, so that I'll then go waste money at an online casino. If that works, no "phishing" or fixing of the games is even necessary, as of course the house always wins.

[Whether the casino in question would cut you off if you were using William's strategy I don't know, but it doesn't much matter because his strategy, a variation on the "martingale," is not a great one either way: The idea of the martingale is that you double your bet (2.5 is arbitrary) every time you lose, so if you lose your first $1 bet, you bet $2 the next time, and if you lose that (down $3 now), you bet $4 the next time, and if you lose that (down $7 now), you bet $8 the next time, and if you lose that (down $15 now), you bet $16 the next time, and if you win that (making another $16), then you're up $1. I don't know whether they have $1 bets at these online casinos, but particularly at the real-world casinos where you're unlikely to find anything lower than a $10 minimum, you'll run out money faster than you think. Let's say you lose six times in a row, which isn't particularly unlikely: starting from a $10 bet, you're out $630. Ouch. And remember that if you had won on that sixth bet, you'd be up only $10. Ten losses in a row and you're down $10,230...and still if you'd won that last bet you'd have been up only $10! Losing ten times in a row with 50–50 odds (47–53ish, really, with roulette) may seem unlikely, but if you think it's unlikely enough that it's worth risking ten thousand dollars, then...well, then I'd ask you to reconsider.]

But that's neither here nor there. What I love about this spam is that it presents itself as a response to an e-mail that I sent, for some reason under the nom de plume "nobijed" (which I hardly ever use!). One of my favorite parts is what "I" said to this guy (among other things, I used a frowny-face emoticon). And then of course he says, charmingly, that if I share his secret he'll fuckin kill me, smiley face. Like, "I'll stab you in the heart, wink!" "I'll beat your face with a crowbar, tongue stuck out!" Oh, emoticons, you make everything better. Also, he calls me "bud" and "mate." William is my friend! Thank you, William, for the system. And don't worry: I won't talling about it anyone else.

Anyway, why does this annoy me less than the that'll above? Maybe it's because William, fictional and deceitful though he may be, is just some dude sharing a hot tip, whereas the voice of an ad presents itself as some kind of regulated authority: we know, for example, that false advertising is illegal, whereas lying is not illegal. Maybe it's because while William's strategy isn't actually the foolproof winner he presents it as being, the Lottery's promise of winnings is outright false...?

I think what it really is, for me, is just that in the end both advertisements are actually doing something rather similar, with rather similar ends and a rather similar level of honesty and sincerity. And while probably you shouldn't, you expect more from an ad on the subway than you do from an e-mail in your spam folder.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to Lucky June Casino to try my luck.

c ya

* Like "threadbare cliché." (Autological?)
† No, he said, "Peoples is peoples."

Monday, July 20, 2009

now you're just guessing

First of all, talk about "sex sells"! The whole idea of this ad, the whole joke or message, is to associate the viewer's presumed sexual attraction to Jennifer Anustown and then to link it, without the flimsiest justification or the weakest gesture toward rationale, to bottled water. To the ad's credit, they're making a joke about that, like, "Just kidding, obviously the comparison is silly." But, no, what am I saying? They don't get any credit for that because it's disingenuous and manipulative: they're counting on the connection's standing even as they disavow it. The whole balancing act is about not getting laughed at for making such a ridiculous connection, but making the connection all the same. Insidious.

Second of all, if there's anything at all that it's just too silly to sell with sex, I think that bottled water might be it. But God bless 'em: in a way, the more ridiculous they get, the more sympathetic I become.

Third of all, I'm not so attracted to Jennifer Anustown that this ad would be effective anyway (in order to make what passes for sense, the ad requires that whoever's pictured be very attractive), but I guess some people think she's like the height of physical perfection, so that's neither here nor there: not a complaint so much as a for-the-record comment, more about me than about the ad. Different strokes for different folks. Take that as a masturbation joke if you must.

Finally—and this is what I really wanted to talk about—the way this is written goes beyond regular bad ad-grammar and starts to look just plain arbitrary. Why is there no period in the parenthetical? Why no comma? Often bad ad-grammar is motivated by a desire to have it "look the way it sounds," but leaving out the comma and the period makes it look as if it should be pronounced all in one breath and in a monotone:


I mean, if there's ever a place where an appropriate comma not only is but also looks appropriate, I think this might be it. ("Our vapor-distilled purity, that is": that looks fine! What in the world is wrong with that?) Another problem is that the way it's written isn't just wrong but actually looks like it's saying something different: "our vapor distilled purity that is" is grammatically parallel to "the little engine that could." Is it possible, is there even the slightest possibility, that someone is trying to plant a kind of pseudo-Zen association in there?—that they're advertising something by emphasizing that it "is"? That's another one of those things that's funny to imagine but would be hateful if they were actually doing it. "Our vapor-distilled purity that is." Reminds me of that funny moment in Kill Bill Vol. 2 when the strip-club owner (manager) offers a stripper some coke and says (I think the line is), "Go ahead, baby: be somebody."

[Fuck This Ad blog still to come if you can believe it. I'm thinking maybe "AdSmash"?]

even more casual dinosaur sex

In 1995 Sen. Bob Dole gave a speech condemning mass media's "destructive messages of casual violence and even more casual sex"; I just looked that up, but part of it I knew already, verbatim, because I remember taking pre-sophomoric pleasure in quoting the senator (to myself only, as far as I can recall) thus:

...even more casual sex.
–Bob Dole

I think there's some actual half-baked truth and satire buried in that seemingly one-note [half-note?] joke, but that's hardly the point: really I'm just introducing another, more recent example of what happens when you take a few words out of context (and if this contains sensible truth or satire at any level of baking, I am not aware of it). The following sentence—actually not a sentence in its original context because what seems like a subject is in fact the object of a preposition (and what seems like a direct object is in fact one half of a compound adjective)—leapt out at me as I walked by a plaque on Lexington Avenue the other day. Here it is, as it presented itself to me:

Something about it I love. I can't put my finger on it exactly,* but I almost want to say that it's a short-short story, trouvé. Belongs, maybe, in the same category as this piece of infinitesimal lit...or, more to the point, this one (which I heard about when I was a sophomore):

Cuando despertó, el dinosaurio todavia estaba allí.†
–Augusto Monterroso

* The Dickinsonian dash doesn't hurt.
† When he awoke, the dinosaur was still there.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

an old classic

My favorite part is when Washington throws the knife into Heaven: God's reaction somehow transcends the joke.

this week's New Yorker [UPDATED]

"Fun with Nuns," by Paul Rudnick
Awesome. Writer porn. This is the story of how Rudnick created, struggled with, lost hold of, and finally renounced the major motion picture Sister Act, and while I know this wasn't the point, it made me really want to write another screenplay—something inside me sure started salivating. Highlights include Disney executives talking about how "hot and doable" The Little Mermaid's Ariel was and trying to determine "which nuns should be 'fuckable.'" Ah, Disney.

"Rat Beach," by the late Willliam Styron
The only thing of his I'd ever read before was Darkness Visible, a memoir about his struggles with incapacitating depression—and one thing that makes this war story not just good but something closer to great is the way in which it ends up being (it seemed to me) more on that same subject that it would initially appear. (I don't want to give anything away, and as a result I'm saying next to nothing. Suffice to say I'm talking about the very end of the story.)

Anthony Lane on Brüno
I often disagree with The New Yorker's movie reviews: they often seem more concerned with coming up with witty jabs (some of which test your most generous definition of wit) than with paying attention to what's actually going on in the movie. In my opinion, Lane misreads Brüno, assuming that it must intend to be a particular kind of satire and then faulting it for failing; my own take on the movie, which I thought was surprisingly good (the movie, not my take on it), is here.

Renaissance art?*

"XXXL: Why are we so fat?" by Elizabeth Kolbert
Highlights include the interesting stuff about "fat studies" (which, like women's studies and queer studies, is essentially about empowerment: "fat liberation," "fat power," that sort of thing); the conclusion that consuming "the maximum number of calories with the least amount of effort is, after all, the dream of every creature, including those too primitive to dream"† and that we're finally "close to realizing this ambition";‡ and the never-too-frequently-reported-upon theory that we eat the way we eat because in prehistoric times it used to be a good strategy, here refreshed with a nice quotation ("We evolved on the savannahs of Africa...We now live in Candyland") and a fascinating additional piece of information (slightly closer to actual new news): that our (human beings') unusually large and high-powered brains "are calorically demanding organs" and that this led indirectly to our needing to eat a whole lot more—in other words, that "we can blame the obesity epidemic on our brains."

The caption contest

An interesting problem: only the third caption has anything to do with what it pretty clearly seems the cartoonist intended (they left the dude on the roof of the car the way people in the movies and TV are always leaving cups of coffee or babies, right?). My question: does that matter? I mean, is Tim Wibert the only one doing it right, or are Bleyleben and Wilkner making what in improv I believe is sometimes referred to as the more inventive "other choice"—which of course to some extent must be going on in a cartoon's caption in order for it to be funny at all and in fact is arguably at the very core of the mechanics of humor: that which is obvious and predictable not, almost by definition, being funny?§

I have my opinion, as you can imagine.

* [11/27] This is from this, the 210-lb. six-year-old (couldn't find the rest of it originally):

"Dzhambik is so big that there isn't room for much else in his life."

† I wouldn't have phrased it that way myself—sacrificing sense in the cause of cuteness—but whatever.

‡ Again, doesn't quite make sense: realizing this ambition, which is defined based on a ratio, ought to mean either consuming limitless calories with no effort or consuming the very highest possible number of calories with the very lowest possible effort, and we're still obviously far from that; I could hook you up to a machine if you want that.

§ Not saying that Wibert's caption is predictable or obvious, just that he's actually responding to the cartoon's content whereas the other caption-writers are taking what you might be able to view as a more...creative tack?

Tea & Toast


I've been a big fan of this video ever since Tom made it about 8½ years ago, and I'm delighted to have gotten his permission to share it with you here. I believe this may even be some kind of public world premiere—an honor for me.

Apart from being funny, weird, and quite good (if I'm not mistaken, this video was pivotal—or at least not entirely irrelevant—to Tom's acceptance to NYU Film School, and he has since gone on to become a real, live film producer), "Tea & Toast" has personal meaning for me for two simple reasons:

  1. that's the horrible apartment he and I shared with a number of mice right after we had graduated from college (Tom and I, not the mice)—on West 63rd Street, behind Lincoln Center, lodged uncomfortably in the projects like a popcorn kernel in somebody's gum or tonsil—and
  2. the alarm clock you hear (doing alarm-over work, with a clock double) is mine—in fact the same clock I use today—which may contribute to the fact that the waking-up part always hits me somewhere surprisingly raw for something so seemingly lighthearted; what I mean to say is that it simulates amazingly well, discomfortingly well, the experience of being lifted suddenly, heart-stoppingly, out of a particularly vivid dream; and even now, even when I'm ready and waiting for it, that part can give me goosebumps: it's the transition, I think, the way the alarm rises out of, cuts through, and ultimately kills the music, meanwhile driving the already crazy images into a kind of frenzy... Like special effects so subtle and well employed that you hardly even notice them, this is art, this is art right here, quiet and tiny and brilliant, capturing something real that I've never seen captured before and do not expect to see captured again so well—because here it's captured perfectly.

Woodrow himself I don't care for.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

race for the cure

(or, How I Have Been Fighty)

Shit ain't funny, motherfucker.

DIAGNOSIS: For whatever reason and with whatever significance, I am addicted to the Internet.

SYMPTOMS: Compulsive and aggressive behavior online, maddening difficulty in giving myself completely to my current writing projects.

Internet addiction in its advanced stages.

PROGNOSIS: Zombification, the steady draining of meaning from life, ethical–aesthetic–metaphysical atrophy, desiccation, disintegration, ruin.

PRESCRIPTION: Fæcebook no more than twice daily and never during business hours; e-mail to be checked, as an activity or occasion, rather than interacted with continually; Internet, indeed, to be turned off altogether while at work, except for very specific, targeted, and necessary research or contact with business associates...and—sorry—no more than 1 post/workday here on Alternate 1985, and preferably more like maybe say an average of about ⅔.*

Dragon liver can cure a cold;
dragon powder grows hair;
with dragon blood you'll never grow old;
make an appointment to see me again in two weeks.

* Which I hope comes out as a two-thirds symbol and not as Wing Ding bullshit.


I have not seen Hellraiser, which probably makes this even funnier for me:

Last night in a video store I picked up a copy of Clive Barker's 1987 motion picture on DVD—a bootleg copy, I'm guessing, given the following—and decided to take a look at the description on the back. Sometimes what's written on the backs of these cases is pretty bad, giving shit away or even getting shit flat-out wrong.* But what was written on the back of Hellraiser was just so great that I had to take a crappy cell-phone photograph of it and share it with the world.

SPOILER ALERT (possibly—who even knows?):

(click to enlarge)

Because the text is blurry, I'ma type the shit back up for you, sic. Remember, this is the little blurb that's supposed to give you an idea of what the movie's about so you'll want to buy or rent it. Yes? OK, here goes—be sure to read carefully for all the brilliant little touches (such as the comma in the first sentence); in fact you may want to read it aloud:

"Frank Cotton, possesses a mysterious puzzle box. Legend has it that the spirits inside offers the ultimate in sensual ecstasy. Frank opens it and is torn violently from limb to limb. After some time, Frank's brother Larry and his wife Julia, a former lover of Frank's, take up residence at Frank's old house. A horrifying, living-dead version of Frank appears and coerces Julia to seduce and kill men so that he can feed on their blood to regain his flesh. Together, they murder Larry. When Larry's daughter, Kristy strikes a desperate deal with the demons their prisoner Frank in exchange for his life. As she takes off with the evil puzzle box from hell, Frank is torn apart once again, from limb to limb."

I don't think I even have to comment on it. It's just so excellent. Copywriter, consider this film sold!

* Here I am eight years ago on July 1, complaining about the Big Lebowski DVD: "The liner notes to the DVD, if 'liner notes' is what you'd call them, are yet another excruciating illustration of how low the bar apparently has sunk in these matters. Begin at the beginning: 'The Dude. One cool guy.' This is the stylistic equivalent of a drenched bathmat crumpled in the corner of a bathroom floor, not to mention that the imitation of the character's affect is shoddy and sounds much closer to what the big Lebowski would perceive as the Dude's speech patterning than to the Dude's speech patterning itself. It goes on: 'Who one day...' Beginning a sentence with 'Who' and ending it with anything but a question mark takes the popular movie-poster and billboard trend of pretentious and pointless sentence fragments and inflates it to new girths of awkwardness. 'Who one day comes home to find two thugs have broken in and ruined his favorite carpet,' which is simply inaccurate. The Dude in fact comes home to find that two thugs have broken in and are lying in wait; only minutes later, with the Dude as a witness, does one of the thugs ruin the Dude's favorite carpet. Why 'comes home to find' that they have done this? The writer then adds, 'the one that made the room "hang together".' I tire of this exercise, so I won't attempt to explain what makes that lame, but I will point out that if the writer felt compelled to put 'hang together' in quotation marks, which God knows why he did, then he should have followed the rules of American punctuation and put the period inside the quotes. Then we have, 'Thing is,' which might be OK if it actually had anything to do with the style of dialogue in the film, and 'they did it because he's got the same name as one of the richest men in town. Lebowski.' No, I'm tired of it. It makes me sad to think about it. Here's the rest: 'But, hey, no problem. He'll get even. At least he'll get someone to pay for the carpet.'
"It is not hard to get someone to write something decent. My theory is that the people packaging the DVD didn't give half a shit about the movie. Either that or they hated it."

Hey, guys! Let's read David Foster Wallace...TOGETHER! [UPDATED]

[NOTE: I know for a fact that I upset at least two people with this post—and I only wrote it a few hours ago. My deliberate choice was not to censor myself at all, to placate neither an imagined audience nor even my own doubts, because the subject was not just the book club in question but also very much my own attitudes toward it, which I still don't feel I completely understand. In retrospect, I wish I had focused on articulating my feelings as carefully as possible instead of simply expressing my strong, unfiltered emotions on the subject—because I think there is something about this that is worth saying, and arguably the way I've presented it undermines that cause instead of helping it—but I wrote what I wrote and I'm going to let it stand, or sleep in the bed I've made, or whatever cliché you like. Let me just emphasize very clearly three things: (1) I am not confident that I am right about this, (2) I am sure that my feelings about it are at least somewhat about my own shit as opposed to anyone else's, and (3) I very specifically do not believe—nor did I say that I believed—that everyone participating in this exercise is doing anything the least bit questionable or contemptible, by any standard: what makes me uncomfortable is what I see or imagine I see in some of its participants. That's all I have to say. Now read and be enraged!]

Have you heard about this online Infinite Jest–reading club?

I hate it. I hate it so much.

I can't quite figure out why I hate it, though. Shouldn't I be glad that the book is finally getting some positive attention—or I guess again getting some positive attention, after about a decade of snide and inexplicably angry, dismissive rejection and shitting-upon? Shouldn't I be glad, too, that the woman David Foster Wallace presumably loved enough to marry is now presumably going to reap the financial benefits of an upswing in book sales?

Yeah, probably. But I'm not glad.

1. Part of it—I'm sure that at least part of it—is a sulky–snobby thing, like, "Oh, now you guys all want to read it? I read it like a million years ago!" I read it the year it came out, in the summer of 1996, and then again last summer, coincidentally finishing it for the second time just a month before David Foster Wallace demapped himself. I even wrote my own little list of questions and thoughts on the subject, not unlike the shit that's on the Internet now—and while one might reasonably suggest that another reason for me to be glad instead of mad is that now more people will be able to discuss these things with me, instead I object to the fad-ness of it...and, sure, let's take the gloves off with our self-criticism: probably I feel a little left out...sort of the way I did when Obama won after about five months of my feeling quite confident that he was going to win and being told by everyone around me that I was crazy (or, even more to the point, when I went home after Obama had won, a little disappointed by the lack of dancing in the streets but otherwise feeling good, and then, almost two hours later, everyone erupted into riotous celebration). It's not my most flattering trait—I'm not proud of it, that's for sure—but I guess when I feel I've been right about something for a while and then all of a sudden everyone else arrives at it like a new idea, well, then, yes: I get a little annoyed about it. I'm a big baby. Fine.

2. Another part of it (and this still sounds snobby but is edging more toward something pretty valid) is that some of people—not all, but surely a not-insignificant some—who would choose to read Infinite Jest now—more than a decade after it came out and coming up on a year after the suicide, even—probably didn't read it originally because it was too "hard," and I have trouble understanding why anyone would want to read the analytical insights of some motherfucker whose main qualification for commenting on this thing is that he has reason to believe he isn't going to get it. When I go to the book club's web site (which I will not include here because I hate it), I immediately find brilliantly insightful commentary like this:

"Vexation: Despite seeing the word 'map' used at least a score of times, and in a variety of different contexts, I still cannot figure out exactly what Wallace means by it. Head, face, brain, personality?"*

And this:

"What do you think? Do you like the treasure hunt aspect of the novel, or do you occasionally find yourself wishing Wallace would quit with the coy and give us the straight dope?"

What function does this serve? "Hey, everyone: Don't you wish Faulkner had just written The Sound and the Fury with a normal-sounding narrator straight through?" "Hey, guys, isn't it annoying that Hamlet doesn't just go right ahead and kill Claudius? Wouldn't that make it such a better play?" "Listen, folks, I like the Star Wars saga just fine, but wouldn't it be better if Anakin Skywalker had never fell to the Dark Side?" Idiotic. Useless.

3. But here's the meat of it, I think, and you can see it in that last example immediately above: this whole thing feels like a stunt, often smug, often contemptuous, and flip and careless straight through. Reading a novel as a kind of challenge is a moronic insult. First of all, Infinite Jest is NOT that hard to read. Maybe if you never rise above the Dan Brown level of literature it would be hard to understand, but anyone who reads real fiction can handle the prose because David Foster Wallace was not a James Joyce or a Thomas Pynchon: in fact I've read very few novels whose prose is as clear as this one's. No, the prose isn't hard to read: the book is just long and not particularly plot-heavy. The assumption behind this whole project is that Infinite Jest is incredibly non–user-friendly, which is based on the backlash against it in the later 1990s, itself part of an intense anti-intellectual wave, all about this idea that books that require the slightest bit of thought are somehow elitist and oppressive. For the last time, people, if you don't like a book, stop reading it: it's not its fault you're reading it, and the next time you feel threatened by abstruse literature, take comfort in the fact that the book-publishing industry is (I've heard) roughly the same size, in this country, as the sausage industry. Nobody reads. If you hate books, have no fear: you're bigger than they are.

But I'm getting off topic because this shit gets me so mad. The main thing I want to get at, here, which I was reminded of when I reread this book last year, is that after a brief explosion of praise from the critical world—"Genius!" cry all—America seemed collectively to decide that Infinite Jest was the worst kind of masturbatory, meaningless, soulless literature, designed only to make readers think they were smart, and that anyone who liked it was probably a big pretentious jerk...all this when in fact Infinite Jest is one of the most passionate, pained, soul-searching, and above all honest books I've come across. That Kenyon speech (reprinted in a ridiculous, cloying edition that I can't imagine DFW would have been able to stomach: I mean, a sentence per page, seriously?) thankfully introduced some people to this revolutionary notion, that DFW had a soul and cared about shit, but I just can't help but feel that this whole let's-read–Infinite Jest craze is just more of the same condescending assholery as before, just the other side of the coin—this sense that, sure, let's all read this thing so we can say we did, and then we can judge it more confidently without ever really engaging with it.

Am I being unfair? Sure. Somewhat. I'll bet lots of people are going to read Infinite Jest and really pay attention and really give it a chance. But as long as someone like Joe Coscarelli writes, as if it were fact, that the book is "known for...its near impenetrability," and as long as the book club's web site refers to participants as "endurance bibliophiles," I'll be suspicious. And, with apologies to DFW's widow, upon whom I really do wish all comfort and financial security, I for one would rather have this book read only by people who actually want to read it, not by people who want to demonstrate that they can read something that they think is more or less "unreadable." Fuck those idiots. Leave them to their supermarket novels.

Man, this makes me angry—clearly. I'm opinionating again like crazy; it's like a relapse. I'm sure it has a lot to do with being part of what is effectively (literally, in fact) a minority, and then having a bunch of loud smelly tourists tromp through. Apologies for the mixed metaphor. A friend saw his little daughter perform in a Thanksgiving pageant at his school—a Thanksgiving pageant that was, of course, focused largely on celebrating Native American culture—and he told me afterwards that he couldn't stop comparing it in his mind to an imaginary, analogous event in an alternate future, a couple hundred years after Hitler won the war, in which the little Aryan children were adorably celebrating the long-extinguished Jewish culture: shtetls and whatnot. Something in the point he was making echoes here, for me, and I know that this is at least part crazy (probably mostly crazy), but it really does feel as if all this attention is attention from the enemy.

Yeah, that does sound crazy. And maybe most importantly, I think David Foster Wallace himself probably would have disagreed with me. But then he was probably a much nicer guy than I am: full of agonizing concern for what's right (and thus even less deserving of careless misuse at the hands of self-satisfied dimwits who treat his pain and passion like some kind of drinking game).

* I believe this is actually even explained explicitly in a footnote. Either way, the idea that it's some sort of mystery to be discussed online is maddening to me. It's not fair, but a feeling's a feeling and a fact's a fact, and the fact is, this shit makes me mad.

death :(

[from Fæcebook]

Paul Fussell claims, in his amazing and frequently very funny book Class (1983), that the euphemism passed away is very middle class. According to him, members of the upper class* would say, "Grandfather died," members of the middle class would say, "Grandma passed away," and members of the lower class would say, "Uncle was taken to Jesus." (Funny.)

Class isn't my point: I don't care about it per se. (Or I'm of several minds on the subject and therefore have no clear opinion to share at the moment.) But one of Fussell's main points about the middle class is that they (we?) are always trying to sound upper class and failing miserably: in other words, middle-class diction is essentially pretentious, according to Fussell. And when I saw him dismiss passed away (more or less) as pretentiousness, I was glad—because I've never liked that expression. Honestly, what's wrong with died? The idea, I guess, is that it's somehow too harsh to say—but come on. I can't imagine having reacting negatively if someone had said to me a year ago, "I was so sorry to hear that your grandfather died"—like, "You asshole, how dare you use the English verb for what he did!" Death is what it is, dying is what people do, die is not a "bad" word. Passed away has always struck me as so...what's the word? Cloying? No, that's not it. Smug, somehow? I acknowledge that this is just how I feel and that others may (in fact definitely do) feel differently, but when someone I care about dies, I don't want it talked about in Hallmarky metaphors. It feels a little like somebody telling me me that my pet dog has gone away to a very special place: I'm not three years old. Are you?

death's first Google Image result

That said, passed away is very much standard usage at this point, and I guess it's not really fair to fault anyone for using it.

Pass is another story.

"Wilco had a member pass this year." Really? I mean, I'm sorry, I'm being very judgmental here, but is this person a funeral director? Who talks that way? My problem with it isn't that it's not classy enough, or that it's too Hallmarky, or even that the effort to be "respectful" is totally undermined by the fucking emoticon: my problem with it is that it makes me think of kidney stones, gas, and stool.

When your misguided efforts to tiptoe around a perfectly usable word result in images of defecation, then you know you're pointing in the wrong direction.

respecting your loss with an elephant's ass

("RIP though" is also pretty amazing, on a number of levels.)

* Or "upperclassmen," as my former students sometimes referred to them—which was cute.

Monday, July 13, 2009

lightning glove(?)

In a world where graffiti is often simulated by corporations in an attempt to "reach" (read manipulate) a particular demographic, it's particularly pleasant to see what really makes sense only as human (as opposed to corporate—an important division) expression...really in a sense the opposite of advertising, even though in some ways of course they're similar: think of it as advertising's photo-negative "evil" twin. Or something.

I also like that it's all layered over itself: I think that weird face with the text above it is its own thing, separate from the painting—and that the "ALIENS" speech bubble is yet another "voice."

So what is that: a pink thundercloud arcing out lightning? Or is it some kind of hand or glove? One thing, at least, is clear: Christie loves Andre.

I like to see young people get together.

* * *

NON-UPDATE: "Fuck This Ad" blog still to come. Of all things, it's the name that's holding me up: essentially a marketing issue. It's as if the gods of bullshit advertising are using their powers to stop me. Do your worst, gods! I'm coming to get you!

on Brüno

done with fashion

1. In which it is revealed, or rather rerevealed, that Short Round is a snob.

I loved Da Ali G Show when it was on HBO in, what, 2002? 2003? I watched the first episode and was won over completely. And Borat was the best: Ali G was pretty consistently excellent, and Brüno had his moments (but only really picked up in Season Two), but it was Borat who blew the whole world right out of the water, funnywise. And I used to do a good Borat impression, too.

Doing a Borat impression pretty much stopped being cool acceptable on Nov. 3, 2006...or maybe even before that, whenever the first trailers for the movie aired. Why? Because as soon as everyone in America "discovered" Borat, like Borat was this brand-new thing, Borat was no longer a cool thing to like. To be fair (to myself), this is only half snobbery. The other half is the problem that what made Borat brilliant wasn't the accent but the things he said—and, more specifically, the things he said to real-life people, and the things he got them to say in response. In other words, simply doing a Borat impression—saying "I like" in that voice, for example—is the equivalent of saying "YEAH, BABY!" in an Austin Powers voice, contributing nothing to the general happiness of the human race and in fact all at once lowering Sacha Baron Cohen to a Mike Myers level* and lowering the general happiness of the human race to an Idiocracy level. By which I mean not the movie Idiocarcy, really, but rather the world of the movie Idiocracy. Whatever. There was something depressing about suddenly hearing Borat impressions all over the place, the lowest point coming when "he" showed up in the preview for one of those imbecile Friedberg–Seltzer catastrophes.

Anyway, the Borat movie was fine and had some very high points, but (like the Simpsons movie) was basically like a mediocre-to-fine episode of the show: whereas you'd want it to up the ante and to end up being the definitive Borat, instead I'd advise anyone to watch the show first and only check out the movie if you just can't get enough. On the show Borat gets an A+; in the movie, maybe a B+.

better on TV

2. In which we once again discuss irony.

Those lovable clowns at the ADL tried to give Sacha Baron Cohen a slap on the wrist about five years ago when Borat did the now-nearly-legendary "Throw the Jew Down the Well" number on the HBO show. While they acknowledged that SBC (a religious Jew so observant that, in the text of the not-Jewish character Ali G's commencement speech at Harvard, although it was otherwise entirely in character, he still felt he had to leave out the O when writing god) was in fact working to uncover and expose anti-Semitism, they still felt that he had done wrong because "the irony may have been lost on some of [his] audience."† Essentially what they are doing, there, is banning satire altogether on the theory that it is just too dangerous: because irony can be misunderstood, it must never be employed.

Now, irony is a tricky business, and complicated—I don't even mean junk irony; I mean the regular kind. I once had a long conversation with a brilliant schizophrenic on the subject and was given much food for thought, particularly having to do with the question of whether saying something when you mean something else is in fact in an important and very real way still saying the thing you don't mean. I'm not sure about that, and I'm sure that, in some cases and in some ways, irony does indeed serve the very forces it purports to challenge. (I have made an effort to stop using certain words for just that reason.) But that's truest when the irony is vague and imprecise; sometimes its aim is true, so to speak, and in those cases I do not think there's much ambiguity. Yes, some people might not get it, but is there anything in this world that everyone is going to get? Must everything be for everyone?

Anyway, because this is relevant (but not indentical) to the controversies about Brüno, let me just respond quickly on a blanket theoretical level:

First, I do not believe that it is the responsibility of comedians, television producers, filmmakers, writers, or anyone else‡ to make sure that their work and words are not misinterpreted by idiots.

Second, because irony is such an effective tool, banning its use because of possible collateral damage is like cutting off your nose to spite your face. [CLICHÉ]

Third, I do not in fact believe that the risk the ADL (and others) perceive here (and elsewhere) is real. More on this below.

only one of the series I could find online, not the funniest

3. In which we address the question, "Is Brüno a kind of gay minstrelsy?"

Call me a snob if you want to, but I do not believe that the majority of Borat's viewers appreciated the subtlety of the humor: I'd go so far as to say even that most of them liked (a) his quotable speech and (b) the gross-out humor, PERIOD. Americans are not particularly big on [real] irony. That said, the question of what the target of SBC's irony might be is somewhat more up in the air than what you might have gleaned from the critics' glibly argued (or regurgitated) claims.

The friend who first turned me on to the TV show argued that SBC was essentially targeting the kind of pseudo-multicultural junk tolerance that amounts effectively to massive condescension and whereby people of all political persuasions are inclined to treat foreigners as idiots and/or lunatics: in other words, the genius of Borat (and of Ali G, and of Brüno)—and a reason not to feel bad for the people who get duped—is that he gets people to go along with the most outrageous bullshit because they essentially don't have enough respect for him to sit up and say, "Hold on a second: what?" They talk to him the way they'd talk to a small child...or rather the way some adults would talk to a small child. And even when he's not interviewing unsuspecting citizens, the humor of the way he acts is all about making fun (pretty literally) of all sorts of issues, turning certain attitudes into the butts of jokes—eviscerating them, in effect. There's a word for this, and it's satire.

So when Borat says that Jews have horns, essentially he is skewering not anti-Semites, even, but the very notion of anti-Semitism. He is making anti-Semitism ridiculous. He's not making an argument, not making a clear claim, but rather drawing a cartoon character of an anti-Semite, a silly caricature, and the importance of that, while easily missed, is not be underestimated.

I've always defended Sarah Silverman from charges of racism, and one key example, from Jesus Is Magic, is when she's talking about how she was once accused of racism against Chinese people, and she says, "There are only two Asian people that I know that I have any problem with at all. One is, uh, [the person who accused her of racism]. The other is my friend Steve who actually went pee-pee in my Coke. He's all, 'Me Chinese, me play joke!'" As I like to point out, this is not a joke an actual racist would make: this is a joke a preschooler would make. If you're have racist feelings about Chinese people, one thing you probably do not believe is that Chinese people have a tendency to urinate in people's soft drinks. The main thing Silverman is doing here is making racism look ridiculous. Some shock-comedians' racist humor is supposed to generate an "Oh, shit, I can't believe he had the balls to say that" reaction; hers demands something much more like an "Oh, shit, can you imagine if somebody actually said that?" reaction. That is a key and important difference: Sarah Silverman is playing a character and you are supposed to laugh at her. Is there some risk that she'll be misunderstood and that it will feed actual racism? Well, I'm not Chinese myself, so it's somewhat presumptuous for me to comment, but I'm going to go ahead and say that if anyone is stupid enough to be like, "Yeah, fuckin' Chinese people are always goin' pee-pee in people's Cokes," then God bless him: go forth, young racist! (Don't worry, he won't get very far.)

Now, I'm not gay, either, and I can't say how I'd feel about Brüno if I were. But I can say this:

First, I was not excited about this movie and expecting it not to be so great—and that actually may serve to qualify the following—but I ended up thinking it was pretty consistently hilarious.

Second, and more relevantly, I was concerned that people might be right and that it might actually be accidentally a little homophobic, effectively (after all, Borat was making fun of anti-Semites by pretending to be an anti-Semite, whereas Brüno is making fun of homophobia by pretending to be gay, an important distinction), and I ended up feeling that that concern was totally unfounded.


Because I think that the main thing Brüno does is not actually to reveal anything about homophobia, but (as the great David Edelstein points out, as well) rather to make homophobes incredibly uncomfortable. I don't want to give anything away, but there's an extended scene in which something flops and swings and helicopters around (can you guess?), and the thought of homophobic dudes watching that in the theater just warmed my heart. Ultimately I think Brüno is actually more effective, satirically, than Borat—and probably does more for gay rights than Borat did for the Jews. The concern is that homophobes will watch Brüno and will laugh at the "faggot," that SBC will reinforce stereotypes, just as the concern was that anti-Semites would watch Borat and love the anti-Semitism. But just as Coke-tampering is not an actual anti-Chinese stereotype, anti-Semites don't really think Jews transform into cockroaches—and homophobes will take no pleasure in Brüno; nor will they gain any ammunition. I imagine an unprepared homophobe walking out of that film shaken and stunned. Because while Brüno does not explicitly promote any deeper understanding of actual gay people's actual humanity, it also gives the bigot no foothold, nothing to hold onto: the fear on our part is that this is giving the bigot just what he wants, but I came away feeling quite confident (based in part on some audience members' reaction) that this is not what he wants at all.

At first I was a little disappointed that Ron Paul (yes, folks, he really is horrible) and the truly monstrous "God Hates Fags" shit-heads§ don't get a more explicit and obvious comeuppance, but ultimately I decided that the point wasn't to discredit these people or even to confront them so much as to make them irrelevant.

I look forward to a day that a homophobe just won't be able to gain any traction: he'll say something about fags, and he will look like an idiot, and he will know he looks like an idiot. I don't think these folks are ever going to embrace gay marriage, but they might well learn to shut the fuck up about it. And I think that Brüno, for all its ridiculousness, may actually (in a less-direct way than you might guess, but with aim that's true all the same) bring us closer to that bright, shining, and extraordinarily gay day.

SBC in "real life"

* I loved Wayne's World and Austin Powers—don't get me wrong. But SBC's better: not necessarily funnier, but of a much higher quality. Austin Powers is funny comedy; Da Ali G Show is brilliant art.

† I wrote them a nice note about this about a year later when they wrote me asking for money. It read, and I quote, "I saw your letter to Sacha Baron Cohen of Da Ali G Show. It was one of the stupidest things I've ever seen. You have become a parody of yourselves, and your work is counterproductive. Why don't you tribalist morons go fuck yourselves? Best regards, a concerned Jewish friend." I also came up with a new motto for them: "The Anti-Defamation League: attacking religious Jews for their anti-anti-Semitic satire." And I wrote a joke: "How many Jews does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Two: one to turn the bulb and one to compare this joke to Krystallnacht."

‡ With the possible exception of politicians—see that preposterous niggardly fiasco in DC some years back.

§ This is the only context in which I'm tempted to use cocksuckers as an insult. The openly gay Perez Hilton said that that was why he called the straight a faggot: not because he believed the word was insulting per se, because he believed that it would be insulting to This brings us back to (or near) irony and is a complicated thing, but let me just say: (a) I do get a kind of sadistic pleasure from imagining calling a homophobe a fag, and (b) note though that I chose to stick all this in a footnote and go with shit-heads after all. (Which is offensive to people with shit-heads.) But you know what I just remembered? SBC pulls this off perfectly, impeccably, brilliantly, unimpeachably when [SPOILER ALERT] he tells that gay-converter idiot that he (the converter) has perfect blowjob lips. Now that was a beautiful moment.


Compare to—

Seriously? No, seriously: seriously?

I mean, I bet somebody out there can find a poster that the True Blood ad was itself ripping off, but the point is that these True Blood ads were ubiquitous last summer, and I can't believe that somebody thought it was a good idea to recreate them so closely, so soon after (less than a year!). The pale skin, the lipstick, the dripping blood, the cropping (the original goes down to the collarbone, but both stop right above the nose)—even the copy seems similar, right down to the "FROM THE CREATOR[S] OF" emphasis. Putting the tongue on the other side of the mouth doesn't make it a whole new ad. (Could it be a misguided homage or parody? But it's too soon, too soon, and the True Blood ads aren't iconic enough, and these Juno 2 ads evince not a trace of wit. Let's hope it's not homage or parody because that might possibly make it even dumber.)

No, somebody ought to be embarrassed, is what I'm thinking.

* * *

[Reminds me: Here's an e-mail conversation I had with the highly functional wino on Aug. 13, 2008, in its entirety:

Subject: Tell me I misread

SHORTY: Does the "real" ad* for that HBO vampire program say, "Thou SHALL not crave thy neighbor" [emphasis mine]? Is there no one at HBO whom this struck as problematic? Or am I wrong, and it's totally kosher as tits to treat "thou" as 100% interchangeable with "you"?†

HFW: It's just bad grammar, like saying, "I done something good." Or, more precisely, like saying, "Tu devez manger!"

SHORTY: Oh, you don't have to explain it to me, [HFW]! I just wasn't sure whether "shalt" was a grammatical necessity or just a biblical convention.‡

HFW: Necessity, I think. The King James Bible merely reflected literary English at the time.

At this point the HFW's message devolved into an insane and incoherent, profanity-ridden rant that seemed to have something to do with the government and ethnic minorities.]

* I was referring to the fact that this was the first ad for the show that wasn't a, what do you call it, like a kind of a faux-guerrilla thing, advertising nonexistent products and nonexistent causes.

† My point here was that "Thou shall" might be grammatically excusable if it were a strangely worded prediction rather than a Biblical prescription...but no wonder the HFW assumed I was confused: even someone who could walk in a straight line would probably have had trouble untangling my logic.

‡ At this point it would appear I had lost track of what had happened in the conversation so far. I'm a moron.

Friday, July 10, 2009

what I'm up to

I feel like I'm driving Alt85 around with a coupla flat tires. Partly this is because I had no Internet for most of the week; mainly, though, I think it's because I'm finally starting work on a new big project for the first time in a couple of months, which means that this baloney—hogwash, bunkum, whatever—is no longer effectively the only thing I'm doing with my life.*

[Remember when Captain Caveman picked up that van and flew it over a traffic jam? I still think of that sometimes. What I didn't remember was that his particular Scooby rip-off crew was all hot women! The Teen Angels? Seriously? Brenda, Dee Dee, and Taffy, according to Wikipedia. I knew there was a reason I liked that show. Of course, I also liked He-Man, which it turns out was incredibly bad, and I remember being pretty excited about the Pac-Man cartoon show, which can't have been good. What else was there? Shirt Tales, that bullshit with the Humphrey Bogart monkey and the panda and whoever else, who all lived in a tree(?) and had shirts that changed color—whaa? I had a Shirt Tails garbage pail: I was an idiot. Then there was Jabberjaw, another preposterous Scooby-Doo rip-off, and that one with the lion who said "Heavens to Murgatroyd." The Snorks and Gummi Bears are almost too obvious to mention (and rewatching the opening credits of those shows I think I remember having the feeling even at age 7 that they were somehow phony, over-produced, sort of a shock-and-awe kind of phenomenon in that they were presented as fancier and better than the rest of what was around but were somehow empty...or maybe all I'm remembering is their never being as cool as I expected them to be). Fraggle Rock was totally trippy and amazing and great, as I recall. Muppet Babies came later and were best consumed with pancakes. But Captain Caveman, who walked around carrying a big phallic symbol, would often store things in his weird hairy vulva-body—very possibly the inspiration for Twentieth Century Eightball's amazing "Furburger"—and wouldn't be out of place at some orgiastic hipster party circa 2006...that was really something. Good? Maybe no. But something, for sure.]

the captain

* That's not really true, that it was the only thing I was doing with my life. (But is it really false, either? [ANSWER: neither true nor false. (I've linked to that shit before. [No one knows what has happened to Dr. Math (it is believed, by some, that he is in the Phantom Zone, with Supergirl and Peter O'Toole; that's got to be one hell of a party.)])])

sniping on the Internet

self portrait, arguably

Thursday, July 9, 2009

quick note

Don't pronounce the T in often.


Here's one of my favorite restrooms: Via Quadronno's. When I'm at my most neurotic, it's like a dream bathroom.

The paper towels are easily grabbable without making contact with any non–paper-towel surface; the doorknob doesn't even need to be turned (only the lock); you open that trash can's lid by stepping on a lever (that is out of frame); and all are arranged so close together that it is blissfully easy to open the door with a paper towel and then drop the paper towel in the garbage.

So then why does this ever happen?

I honestly don't get it—reminds me a little, tangentially, of this. Throwing your paper towel on top of the closed lid of a garbage can makes some sense in some deranged circumstances (e.g., someone terrified of germs wants to throw it away and there's no way of doing so properly without having to touch some surface and thus effectively undoing the handwashing that necessitated the paper towel in the first place), but who in the world can't be bothered to step on a lever? My guess is that people either don't understand how the thing works (morons) or don't care about anyone else and would just as happily—maybe even more happily—have someone else clean up after them (douchebags). The latter group is the sort that calmly drops gum wrappers on the ground when a garbage can is like one foot away.

Ah, well.