Thursday, December 31, 2009

What does New Year's mean?

"All the ridiculousness about the false millennium* distracts the informed from the fact that 2000 is nonetheless exciting, in that the 1900s have come to a close. Nothing seems to have blown up. If Christ is coming, he’s late. My computer continues to function, as do my electric lights. No longer shall we have to hear or think about the Y2K bug. MCMXCIX has collapsed into the simplistically palindromic MM."
–Short Round, a senior in college
Jan. 1, 2000, 4:25 a.m.


That there are 24 hours in the day is more or less aribitrary. That we use base ten is not: count your fingers.† Seven days in the week? Arbitrary. Twelve months? Arbitrary. But a day is the amount of time the earth takes to spin all the way around, and a year is the amount of time it takes to circle the sun.‡

So what, though? Who cares whether we've circled the sun? And why Dec. 31, particularly? A circle has no beginning or end; therefore any day could just as easily be the beginning of the new year.

Dec. 31 is arbitrary. But I was thinking about it last night and realized that the real reason Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 matter—the reason a new year matters no matter where you start and end it—is basically the opportunity it affords us. I'm sure I'm not saying anything new: after all, what's the tradition of New Year's resolutions if not an acknowledgement of all this? But maybe the reason New Year's matters to us, maybe the reason it makes us feel like celebrating or anyway making some kind of deal about it, is that life is just a series of todays and todays and todays that can feel endless in a way that traps and oppresses, and we're always excited to get a chance for a new beginning.

Should we need a special event to have a new beginning? No. Shouldn't we live every day as if it's a new beginning? Sure. Maybe. Probably. However, realistically, it's helpful to have something like this handed to you. Of course that's also why New Year's can be so depressing: we expect everything to be big, to be exciting, to change, and in the end Jan. 1 is just another day, 12:01 a.m. just another minute.


But who cares what it "really" is? If it works, it works. And maybe (going pretty much exactly against what I just said two sentences ago) knowing why it works will make it work better, calibrate our expectations, make us realize that what's going on is that we have a chance to assert to ourselves that we've come upon a chapter break, a new start—which means, of course, that it's up to us to make it good. It's not magic, folks.

So let's be excited, and let's not be disappointed, and let's kick the shit out of twenty ten. California?

* There was no year zero; therefore the second millennium ended on Dec. 31, 2000. You know this.
† Apologies to the fingerless.
‡ A thought: the fact that we need a leap year every four years means that the year and the day are not in fact in sync—there are 365¼ days in the year, innit? (365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes, and 12 seconds, says Wikipedia)—which wouldn't that mean not only that we have a leap year every four years, but also that New Year's falls on midnight only once every four years??

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

my Catcher theory



Lauren Leto* wrote a pretty amusing blog post about "Stereotyping People by Their Favorite Author," and for Thomas Pynchon she wrote, "People who used to be fans of J.D. Salinger."

Smart! She surprised me with that, not because it's such a strange claim or even a particularly counterintuitive one, but because it's not a connection I'm used to hearing anybody make, and when people say things that are not often said but are totally accurate, it brings a smile to the inside of my face.† I don't in fact have anything to say about the claim or why I think it's smart [it's not the recluse thing—and in fact I became a fan of Salinger well after being a fan of Pynchon, but that's beside the point]; I'm writing now because it got me thinking again about The Catcher in the Rye, which I think is an excellent and very misunderstood book—misunderstood mainly because most of us read this novel when we were 14 or 15 years old, which is very possibly the worst age at which anyone could conceivably read it.

I've already laid out a version of my Star Wars theory; maybe now it's time for me to lay out a version of my Catcher in the Rye theory. Probably I should save this and try to publish a more serious version of it somewhere—there are people who publish and even read critical essays about literature, aren't there?—but fuck it.‡

[a stripped-down, unsupported version of the theory]

The reason why I think Catcher's ideal audience is not (as many people in my opinion unthinkingly assume) kids Holden Caulfield's age§ is that kids Holden Caulfield's age tend to come away with one of two impressions of the novel: (1) Holden Caulfield is awesome! and (2) Holden Caulfield is annoying! Both of these impressions are useless. Holden Caulfield is neither awesome nor annoying (or I guess you could say he's both): he is an incredibly smart, sensitive, perceptive, and thoughtful kid bordering almost on a kind of visionary genius, but he is also immature, confused, totally fucked up, and full of shit. He may wind up being great; he also may wind up just a total disaster.** Most people I know read the book as kids. I did, too, which is why I was so surprised by how good it was when I reread it a few years ago. Folks, Catcher is a novel for grown-ups. That it has become some kind of young-adult novel is nothing short of a shame—a crying one, even.

And what is it about? Rereading it—and I've reread it a number of times since rediscovering it—I was struck by a couple of things. First, suicide looms very large in this book: you might even say it's a novel about whether we should all kill ourselves. Second, and this was the major discovery for me, it's all about religion.

Religion is an explicit focus of the Glass stories; I've come to see that it is at least as much an issue in Catcher, just not as much on the surface. The novel lays out a question, and that question could be phrased in a number of ways, one of them basically being, "Is life meaningless and awful?" How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable seem to Holden all the uses of this world. One answer that floats around throughout, sometimes coming very much to the fore, is suicide. Suicide is on Holden's mind. The book pretty clearly does not think suicide is the answer, but no fully formed alternative is ever voiced. However, an alternative is there, lurking in the background, particularly evident if you have Salinger's other works in mind but present one way or the other, and that answer is God. What God and in what way are difficult to answer—Salinger seems to have had a highly personalized, Zen–mystical kind of view of the subject—but that the answer is God, or at least that "God" is a reasonable approximation of the answer, seems to me indisputable.

To be honest, and this will come as no surprise to any regular reader of this blog, this answer strikes me as rather uncomfortable and unsatisfactory if we're to take it too seriously. But that doesn't sink the book for me anymore that Dostoevsky's Christianity sinks The Brothers Karamazov††—and for the same reason: the answer is never forced on us, it can be taken as part of the story, part of the characters' world, rather than a necessary philosophical step we as readers are required to take, and after all in the end it's the question that compels us.

If you haven't read it as a grown-up and don't remember it as particularly serious or interesting, give it another try. Think suicide and meaning of life. See if it grabs you.

[This blog post was paid for by Enemies of J.D. Salinger Who Wish to Make People More Interested in Him When All He Wants Now Is to Play His Piano in the Goddamned Closet and Be Left Alone.]


* NOTE: I do not in fact know who this person is.
† ?
‡ Yes! That's your answer! That's your answer to everything! Tattoo it on your forehead!

The bums lost!

§ ...although I loved teaching the book to ninth-graders. My point is not that kids that age cannot appreciate it, just that they're unlikely to appreciate it automatically without some teacherly guidance.
** This is why I was so pleased by the judge's decision a while back when that Catcher sequel got smacked down. Reportedly the lawyers for the writer argued that the book "amounted to a critical parody that had the effect of transforming the original work"; the judge replies, "To the extent Colting claims to augment the purported portrait of Caulfield as a 'free-thinking, authentic and untainted youth,' and 'impeccable judge of the people around him' 'show[ing] the effects of Holden's uncompromising world view, those effects were already thoroughly depicted and apparent in Salinger's own narrative about Caulfield... In fact, it can be argued that the contrast between Holden's authentic but critical and rebellious nature and his tendency toward depressive alienation is one of the key themes of Catcher. That many readers and critics have apparently idolized Caulfield for the former, despite—or perhaps because of—the latter, does not change the fact that those elements were already apparent in Catcher." YEAH! Go Judge Batts!
†† Cf. Tolstoy [see footnote here].

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

great job, everyone!

I filed a heat complaint with the City—the Department of Housing Preservation & Development—because my landlord hasn't been providing enough heat,* and I just checked up on it online; this is what I found:

So...OK. Landlords, all you have to do is not let the inspector in, and the procedure, at that point, is apparently for the City to close the complaint. It's like if the standard police response to a fleeing suspect were to drop all charges.

Good system!

Do you understand the connection here? Good for you.

* Except on Christmas, proving (a) that the landlord has excellent Christmas spirit!—and (b) that the landlord is perfectly capable of turning on the heat and is a fucking dirtbag.

major life events: a quick look back

Let's get a little auto-biograph-y for a minute, here, as discussed:

In 2008...
  • I quit teaching
  • Alt85 was born
  • my grandfather died
  • my long-term girlfriend moved out
  • I started dating for really the first time in my life

In 2009...


Twenty ten is make-it-or-break-it time.

thoughts about stuff

Avatar has surprisingly little Google presence. Aggressive copyright protection, maybe? The first few pages of Google Image's results are all this other Avatar. What's her special power, toothpaste generation?

I thought I was going to hate Avatar because the only thing I had heard about it was that it was so high tech and that the effects were so groundbreaking. Having soured on F/X since the early '90s, this was not a good set-up for me. But when I went to go see it (mainly because I was depressed and wanted to distract myself from how weary, stale, flat, and profitable seemed to me all the uses of this world), I was startled by how much I enjoyed it. The best part about the incredible technology is that I didn't think about the incredible technology, and even though as far as I can recall there was not a single original idea in the entire story, the way it was all recombined and retold was perfectly entertaining. Bravo, Mr. Cameron.

[SIDE NOTE: In classic New Yorker film review fashion, Denby writes, "[Neytiri] protects [Jake] from the other Na'vi, who discover that he's a spy." This is basically just plain wrong, as plot summary goes, by which I mean factually inaccurate. The Na'vi know from the beginning that he's a spy insofar as he is one of the "dream walkers," or whatever they call them—i.e., they have a pretty good understanding of who and what this guy is—and when they discover he's a spy in that they find out exactly what he was up to, Na'vi rejects and renounces him. Will fact checkers never decide to bother with film reviews? (See also.)]

Solves Rubik's Cubes, drinks blood.

Let the Right One In was criminally undermarketed. One blurb goes, "Best. Vampire. Movie. Ever." Maybe so. It was, at the very least, well worth watching. The beauty/tragedy of the ending [SPOILER ALERT, SPOILER ALERT] is that unless she turns him into a vampire, in 40 years or so he's going to be Bizarro Renfield like the guy who was living with her in the beginning, n'est-ce pas?

Robert Downey Jr. is thoroughly enjoyable as always in Sherlock Holmes, and indeed the movie was good fun overall.* This was particularly pleasing to me as I was expecting the thing to be pretty bad ("The one thing missing from the Sherlock Holmes story was always shirtlessness and punching"). My only complaint, in fact, is that it could have been even better. Specifically, the movie sets Holmes up as a fascinating character with a lot of potential for depth—the beginning of the movie is particularly excellent—but then it never really does anything with that set-up: the idea that his almost superhuman perception and reasoning skills are a curse as much as a blessing and could easily drive him nuts if he doesn't focus them—intensely—on a suitable challenge...well, it's not as if the movie does nothing with that, but really his personality ends up just being not too much more than biographical data about the protagonist in an otherwise fairly standard story. Not that there's anything wrong with that—and it's not even entirely true. Still, it's just that a movie with a character like that could be better than good: it could be truly great. And it isn't.†

"The Like of It Now Happens"? Huh?

Finally finished The Man Without Qualities—or Vol. 1 (Pts. 1 & 2), anyway, which the friend who recommended it said was all I ought to bother with. Man, it's good. My friend put it very well: "If a smart collected essays collection with a narrative throughline is your thing, then buckle up and dig in." In fact it's a little bit like Alt85 if Alt85 were much, much smarter and better. Another thing I'll say about it is that either America in our time is rather a lot like Austria in Musil's‡ (which is a little scary) or I'm just retarded. [Or both. –ed.]

* On the way out of the theater, I had an experience I've had several times but not lately. I overheard a couple of older folks talking, and this one guy said, "Well, it was very well done and very entertaining but so hard to follow!" Huh? Hard to follow? What part?
† One of the most interesting things in the movie was the idea that crazy Blackwell or Blackwood, or whatever his name was, actually had some intellectual power over Holmes, not because he was on the same intellectual plane or because Holmes believed in the mumbo-jumbo, but because he (Blackwell/wood) was able to present just the right/wrong kind of puzzle, whose psychotic ins and outs appealed intensely to the guy on levels both intellectual and self-destructive, is the beauty of it. But that doesn't really go anywhere.
‡ In terms of the intellectual/philosophical state of the people, our sense of our place in the world, that sort of thing. Really I'm just talking about some of the concerns and problems Ulrich lays out, which of course effectively no one else in the book's Austria even particularly perceives. Whatever.

Monday, December 28, 2009

What is Alt85?

With the arrival of Headfoot—which effectively drains Alternate 1985 like a weird little vampire of its random videos and images* (because something like this doesn't really require any Alt85ish commentary or analysis, so putting it on Headfoot spares me the effort and embarrassment of forcing some kind of exploration or at least introduction), leaving behind only (or mainly—or more, proportionally) text and whatever cognition, intellection, and ratiocination might be articulated verbally—I wonder what will become of this old ugly blog.

This would be less of an issue if the old ranting and opinionating weren't beginning to feel much less satisfactory to me: as I get older (I'll be thirty-two in twenty ten) I am less and less confident that I know anything at all and more and more able to see (a) that there is another side to just about any argument and (b) that it might not be particularly useful to trace out all the ins and outs, if only because there's no end to that and the sense that one might be exhaustive about it is surely illusory—to quote (or possibly misquote) Stevens, "It can never be satisfied, the mind, never," and what does one do with a bottomless stomach? Keep throwing food into it, or find another solution?†

Of course Alt85 used to be a little more heady (not to be confused with headfooty§); it wasn't really until a fateful run-in with the highly functional wino that the shit got as visual as it is today. Maybe a kind of conceptual homecoming is in order? But there are some problems with that. Let's discuss.

First of all, as I become less argumentative (see above), my intellectual energies seem to have turned inward, which would be fine except that I have a reflexive aversion to the super-introspective, autobiographical blog. This is for a couple of reasons:
  • a possibly increasingly outdated sense of personal privacy—after all, when I started this thing only one person, my then girlfriend, knew it was mine, and it was a little while before I started associating myself with it at all: one thing I miss about the early days is that now I know that if I say anything personal, at least some of the people reading it will be able to associate that personal thing with me, which restricts (whether or not it ought to restrict, an interesting question) my freedom of expression insofar as it affects my comfort in expressing such things;
  • a sense of embarrassment at a kind of self-indulgence, although (a) if you don't like self-indulgence you probably don't like this blog anyway, (b) one might question whether it is indeed more self indulgent to write about oneself than it is to broadcast one's opinions about movies and politics and whatnot, when oneself is really the only subject one has singular authority to go off about, and (c) doesn't this bring us back to the old original problem of George McFly syndrome, in which case to back off now is to lose the original battle, which arguably is still being fought whether I've forgotten it or not?—and, finally,
  • a belief that such subject matter is inherently likelier to result in triteness: a friend was recently talking about a blog, composed by a high-school girl, that comprises (in equal parts, it seemed) (1) incredibly awesome images, and (2) maddening verbal/intellectual content like, "Homework is hard!" and "I hate my mom!" He was baffled by the seeming disconnect, but (I suggested) maybe it's easy for us older folks to forget that from a high-schooler's perspective, these observations, in context, might actually be rather insightful and interesting. "Don't you hate it when you have like three tests in two days and this other teacher still gives you homework?" Don't care, but I guess some readers would respond with excited recognition. I've sort of lost track of my point, here.
So, yeah, am I going to write long, dense, text-heavy posts full of windy, hard-to-follow sentences? No. Yes. Probably sometimes. Is Alt85 going to change significantly? Eh, probably not too much. But normally the way I generate content for this thing is either I have some thought or idea, something I want to say, and I sit down and pound it out (I type fast) or I want to share some funny picture or video or something; lately the pictures or images are tending to go to Headfoot and the biggest or most interesting thoughts are just too damned personal.

None of this matters. What am I even talking about? I'll resolve the entirely imaginary autobiography–privacy tension (existing only within my own head) by putting up an actual recent photograph of myself, and then we can all get on with our lives.

Short Round

More inanity to come.

* Here's a nice picture of Harold Bloom scowling in headphones. (My imaginary friend "Gottlieb" said, "No, that is Bloom pleased.")
† That's a terrible analogy (or an inadvertently excellent one) because all our stomachs are bottomless: our hunger, of course, is finally stanched only in the grave. To paraphrase Sophocles (or whoever the fuck), count no man sated until he's dead.
§ Although of course it was always that.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

the friendly skies [UPDATED]

So reportedly, after this last terrorist failure, we've thrown together some new security measures to make air travel less bearable: the only thing everyone can agree is going to happen is that people flying into the U.S. from other countries will not be allowed to have anything in their laps—like, you know, computers, MP3 players, handheld video games, books—for the last hour of the flight. That's right: the last hour. Apparently people also will not be allowed to get up and go to the bathroom.

That's fuckin' interesting, man. That's fuckin' interesting.

Asking people, or at least contemporary Americans, just to sit there for an hour doing nothing* is, as Fromm knew, sort of a big deal. Asking us to do that for two minutes is sort of a big deal. Now, if it's necessary—I mean, if it's really going to prevent planes from getting blown up—then sure: I guess we can probably bear the psychological discomfort.†

But I'm inclined to agree with the sentiment articulated by Bruce Schneier‡: "Only two things have made flying safer [since 9/11]: the reinforcement of cockpit doors, and the fact that passengers know now to resist hijackers."

I don't know much about airline security, but I do know from what I've read over the past eight years that experts seem to agree that all the heightened security is more a show than it is practical. I can see the other side: I mean, probably the reason they're enforcing quiet reflection during the last hour of a flight and making us take our shoes off for the metal detector and travel only with travel-sized toiletries and all that shit is actually pretty much the same deal as the random backpack screenings on the New York City subways: not to ensure that nothing slips through, but to make would-be terrorists less confident that they'll be able to slip through: to deter rather than to preclude.§ The most damning reply to that is also Bruce Schneier's: what, so the dude couldn't blow up the plane during the first hour of flight? or the second-to-last?

But either way, I have two major problems with these new security measures:

  1. They ask too much. At a certain point, why not require that every passenger be given general anesthesia and kept unconscious for the entire flight?—or that each passenger simply be restrained like Hannibal Lecter? An hour of enforced reflection may not seem like much to ask, but you try sitting in silence for even fifteen minutes: unless you're a meditator, you're going to have a tough time of it. We should be able to do it (and maybe the best defense of these new measures might even be that there's some chance that they'll accidentally teach us something), but generally speaking we can't. To demand this of people when it does not in fact guarantee safety and not doing it in no way guarantees danger is unjustifiable.
  2. They're bullshit. What I mean by this is that they were clearly whipped up quickly by people called upon to tighten security. When there's some sort of problem or crisis, you've got not only the call to solve the problem but also the call to look like you're addressing the problem. This is the ass-covering checklist mentality, with a focus on "doing all you can" (so you can't be accused later of having cut corners) rather than actually assessing the problem and responding to it in a reasonable way. I saw this fairly frequently when working at a school, where administrators are inclined to "solve" a problem by hiring an expert to address the faculty for hours and hours, with role-playing exercises and other such nonsense—and it was increasingly clear to me that what this really was about was the administration's ability to list these workshops when answering the question of what had been done to address the problem.
In other words, we're all suffering because the TSA can't afford to look like they don't know what to do. [12/28/09—See also: math.]

And what is to be done about exploding masks?

* Not everybody has a traveling companion
† Although you could of course make the argument—now one of the Big Questions of the 21st century—that at a certain point in the Security–Liberty balance we'd be better off just living with the risk...
‡ Which I found at Boing Boing via Clayton Cubitt.
§ Ah, hell, why not pack a sentence full of colons?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Season's Greetings from Needles!

oh, the humanity

I drove past an amazing Daffy's billboard the other day while driving my grandmother in from Pennsylvania. So sad that I had no way of snapping a picture of it. Anyway, it was basically this—

—same picture, maybe, even, but what it said (not that "BREATHE OXYGEN" isn't amazing enough) was, "BE A HUMAN AND BUY THIS COAT."

Wha—?? Be a human?

I guess maybe the idea is, maybe it's a way of saying that there aren't any special conditions required for the cheaper price? I don't fucking know. All I know is that the ad says, "BE A HUMAN AND BUY THIS COAT," and there is no way that I can say "fuck you" to that ad. No, I sort of want to get down on one knee and offer that ad a ring with a diamond on it.

fuck you, you fucking fuck

So I don't have enough heat in my apartment—this happens every winter, that the landlord drags his feet about turning the boiler on (first at all, then enough): fifth time, now—and when I called to say they needed to pump up the temperature, the dude I spoke to said (as they always do) that they needed to send someone to check out my apartment.

ME: It's definitely not my apartment. The whole building is cold.
DUDE: Well, we have to send someone to your apartment to check it out first.
ME: OK, but this happens every winter: it's not a problem with my radiators.
DUDE: We have to send someone to your apartment to check it out.
ME: All right, but it's a waste of time and a pain in the ass.
DUDE [sharply]: No profanity.


ME: Ass is a profanity?
DUDE: Yes it is. I don't use it, and I don't tolerate other people using it.

Now here's where I'm a little ashamed of myself. I said something like, "OK, well, I apologize. It's a waste of time, and it's a pain in the butt."

I'm ashamed of myself for apologizing.

This guy has every right not to like certain language. He can like or dislike whatever he wants. But where the fuck does he get off effectively ordering me to speak in a way that he likes? Why am I obliged to tiptoe around his idiotic sensitivities? If he can't handle something as tame as "pain in the ass," he shouldn't have a job where he has to talk on the phone with people. He should live in a monastery, or in a bubble. He obviously isn't suited for the 21st century and needs either to grow up or to shove his head even further up his own ass so as not to hear what other people say.

In the long tradition of thinking of perfect comebacks way too late, here are a few possible things I could have had instead of "I apologize" (and yes, they are all perfect comebacks):

  • Oh, fuck, I'm sorry about that. Me and my fucking mouth.
  • What are you, a kindergarten teacher? Are we in kindergarten right now? Where are we?
  • I'm sorry—did you mean to say, "I would prefer it if you didn't say that word"? Because it sort of sounded like you think you have the right to tell me what I can and cannot say.
  • Just so I don't make that mistake again, do you mind if we just go down a list to make sure what you do and do not tolerate? (1) Motherfucker. (2) Cocksucker. (3) Christ-shitter. [etc.]
  • Oh, shit, I wish I had known that you didn't tolerate other people using "ass" before I used your mom's ass last night, heyo!
  • Well, I don't tolerate idiocy, so maybe we'd both better find other people to talk to. (Like maybe I'll go talk to the Department of Housing and you can go talk to Jiminy fucking Cricket.)
So many things I could have said. Man, I really blew it.

Fuck you, asshole.

Monday, December 21, 2009

We just blasted past 500!

Hard to believe! [image via Headfoot]

Folks, this is Alternate 1985's 501st post. No, no, please hold the applause till the end. I have nothing much to say—I am not a hero or a saint, just a human being like the rest of you—and for the transformative effect this blog has had upon our nation and our world I am as grateful as anyone else. I can take no responsibility, or very little. I can take some of the responsibility, sure.

Without further ado,* your stats:

NEW ALL-TIME SMASH-HIT FAVORITE POST: Indecipherable street slang, blowing the last clear winner right out of the water like an underwater nuke (2⅔ times more popular!†). [Actually it was pretty funny: soon after I put the shit up, there was just this enormous spike in readership (thanks, Gothamist)—but it was done almost as suddenly as it began.]

Ah, therer my I HOP.


NEW FAVORITES (since 400)
OK, that's enough. That's enough "blogging." Goodbye, cruel Internet.

See you in the future.

* Cliché.
† OK, maybe the underwater-nuke comparison's a little extreme. But still! (NOTE: I also have only watched the linked video with the volume off. Here's hoping there's not something embarrassing on the soundtrack.)

Break Down the Breakdown (or, What Does This Entity Comprise?)

This reminds me of something I came up with—a joke I wrote, let's call it—a couple years ago, which [the joke, not the years] nobody thought was funny but me. And with a track record like that, how can I not put it on the Internet?

The Robocop tag line was, of course, "Half man. Half robot. All cop."* At some point I misremembered this (I forget how deliberately, at first) as, "Half robot. Half cop. All cop."

I still think that's funny.

As for this new Jackie Chan movie, let me just say that I am baffled by the way the unconvincingly menacing black-suited children are positioned or arranged. I assume that compositionally it's either brilliantly sophisticated and way beyond me or absolutely arbitrary and thrown together by a moody and distracted child. Or possibly a monkey.

* Wrong. "Part machine. Part robot. All cop" [emphasis mine]. Now some might wonder why, if I figured this out before I finished writing this post, I didn't just—I don't know—correct it instead of leaving it in and "fixing" it with a footnote. As the man once sang, if you have to ask, you'll never know: funky motherfuckers will not be told to go.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

♫ She's got legs ♫ ...and that's all.

I have ≥2 problems with this ad:

First, it reminds me a little too much of this:

Back in the '80s and maybe the early '90s there was a lady who protested pornography by standing on New York City street corners holding up a huge black-and-white reproduction of this rather disturbing magazine cover (and shouting). But in a way the Hustler cover is better than this new ad if only because it's making some kind of satirical point about treating women "like meat," whereas this new show is just like, "This show is hot"—and that's a little disturbing. So although the one thing is more violent and upsetting, it at least is intentionally so, whereas the football thing is—well, actually objectifying, not just a comment on objectification. No? (I'm actually not at all sure what the hell Larry Flynt was thinking* and am not in the business of defending the man; I just want to point out that here he might actually be one feminist step ahead of this new TV ad, and when Larry Flynt's a feminist step ahead of you, you're in feminist trouble, is all I'm saying.)

Second, doesn't it sort of defeat the purpose of fetishizing legs? What is the point of showing, or rather where is the titillation in showing—the sexual logic of showing, you might say—sexy legs emerging from something that no sexy body could fit inside of? Think of the cliché joke/pick-up line/harassment staple "Do those legs go all the way up?" (or, in this case, down): probably at least part of the reason why straight men and gay women find women's legs sexually exciting is that they (the legs) lead, of course, straight to—and meet at, and terminate in—a woman's sexual, uh, call it epicenter. [Crux? –ed.] Legs that lead literally nowhere are, at the very least, a frustrating sexual concept. "Do those legs go all the way up?" No: no, they do not.

This thing could maybe fit.

Side note: Does it objectify women to take or display sexy pictures of them, naked or otherwise? Honest: I don't know. I go back and forth. I'm inclined to say that it sort of depends on the picture, or maybe even on the photographer's intent, or the way the picture is consumed (in which case a single picture could be both objectifying and not objectifying, which is problematic: maybe what it really amounts to is that no picture is inherently objectifying?). I'm quite sure there's at least as much objectification going on in certain perfectly "family-friendly" advertisements as there is in certain nudie pics.† But one thing's for certain: photographing only one body part—particularly to the exclusion of the face, and (I would actually, maybe counterintuitively argue) especially when the point is not mere pornographic titillation but rather the promise of pornographic titillation—is a hell of a lot likelier to qualify as objectification.

To sum up, this ad is not only more objectifying than Hustler magazine in the late '70s, but also less connected to reality and one might even argue more insulting to the female body because it suggests total and absolute indifference to the presence of anything beyond the legs. And when your ad is more objectifying and insulting to the female body than a picture of a woman going through a meat grinder...

[Important note: All of this is totally wrong if what we're looking at is actually this kind of situation, which is totally within the realm of possibility.]

[Disclaimer: I don't like sports.‡]

* I think I remember from The People vs. Larry Flynt that this came out during some weird small window of time during which Larry Flynt was converted to hardcore Christianity by like Jimmy Carter's sister and was going to change the direction of the magazine? In which case the whole point of the magazine cover really was to decry the objectification of women and therefore was making exactly the point you'd be likely to make if the cover made you angry?
† E.g., any number of movie posters—or ads for TV series, even more so, it seems for some reason—feature an attractive woman standing there dramatically—never cropped above her breasts, of course—when she clearly is not the star and nothing about the image communicates anything about her role (e.g., who she is, how she'll be relevant to the story line); in effect, then, her entire function in the poster is to tell people, "Look, there's hot chicks in this, too!" Therefore, she is being treated as an object. Therefore, the image is objectifying. (Right?)

Saturday, December 19, 2009


OK, so I saw this poster, for a movie that I believe is about a world where there are no humans left, only vampires, causing a blood-shortage problem that a team of vampire scientists assembles to solve (seriously)—

—and for whatever reason I looked closer, I'm not sure why (maybe because it always surprises me that Lionsgate seems to like to tell you on their posters that you can buy Lionsgate stock), and saw this:

Now, I'm no classicist, and Roman numerals are way hard,* but I'm counting I's† after that V, and there are three of 'em, and I'm pretty sure that means eight. MMVIII = 2008. And it's, what, December 2009 or something? Yes. Yes, it's December 2009. And this movie comes out, when, now? Let's see: January 6. So now unless they're alerting us to the fact that the movie came out almost two years ago ("People! Why did you not see our movie?"), we'd have to assume that (carry the two...hmmm), yes, that this movie will be coming out in 2010 (pronounced "twenty ten," praise Jesus). So...?

I don't know. I'm confused, I guess.‡

What day is it? The date! ... What YEAR?

* False.
† I hate having to do that [q.v.].
Wiki-wiki-pedia says the movie was filmed in 2007, so there was probably some big delay between finishing it and releasing it. But how is that funny?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A little wooden boy. Now, who—? [double take] A wooden boy!!!

a dead-ass wooden donkey-boy

I watched Pinocchio last night, probably for the first time since I was a very small boy. The great thing about watching a movie you knew when you were young practically to the point of insentience* is that you remember it (if you remember it) in a way that's almost like a kind of sense memory: it's not so much that you actually remember the thing itself as it is that you remember the feel of the thing itself. I guess it's like—or rather, it is—the experience of returning to something that you didn't quite understand at the time. A few random, disconnected thoughts:
  1. "Let your conscience be your guide! By the way, your conscience is an insect in a top hat and tails." In the book by Collodi, Pinocchio smashes Jiminy Cricket with a mallet in like chapter two. Understandable.
  2. There's an amazing scene in which Jiminy Cricket sees Pinocchio going off with the fox and the cat and, panicked, says something like, "What do I do? Go home and tell his father," and then, thinking better of it, says, maybe even to the audience, "No—that'd be snitchy. I'll go after him myself!" Awesome. Teaches kids the best way to handle kidnappings. If you see your little friend dancing away with suspicious adults and you have reason to think he's being tricked and in danger, don't snitch: this is something you can handle on your own. Follow that sex offender!
  3. When you're watching something to which were exposed at a very early point in your life when you were super suggestible, it's hard (I submit) to tell the difference between what in that thing is remarkably evocative of reality and what in that thing actually in some way shaped your understanding of reality. For example, the whole bit about Pleasure Island (which in the adult version would also include drugs and prostitution—it's Vegas and Amsterdam, basically), where the boys are having loads of unsupervised fun but then we cut to Jiminy Cricket climbing through what is basically the wreckage of the place, all dark and dirty and depressing, with everybody cleared out (and of course actually transformed into animals who are now being loaded into crates to be used for hard labor†)—does this capture something very true about that kind of debaucherous excess, a very real dark side to it, or did it just do a great job of indoctrinating me with what is essentially Puritanical spin? I definitely do see that kind of bachelor-party mentality as covering up something very dreary and unpleasant, and maybe I even do have a kind of built-in sense that there are going to be dire, transformative consequences. Either that or Shredder's involved.
  4. The wages of sin.
  5. Speaking of which, the blend of different kinds of animation is sort of amazing, most surprisingly when we see the carriage full of Pleasure Island–bound boys from a distance and they all look like round-faced, minimal-featured Chris Ware children! Wish I'd gotten a screenshot before mailing the shit back to Netflix.
  6. That first "I got no strings" before he falls down the stairs is AMAZING. Memory overload. I think I had one of those goddamned records with the little picture book and probably heard that a few too many times. Oh, man. Perfection. I don't even know what I'm talking about, but I'm sure I'm right.

BONUS: The marionette bit in the video below is really very nicely done, and memorable. John Krasinski, you do make it hard for me to regard you with envious dislike and resentment.

* Wrong word...but nice, though, if only because you could take it as a kind of sideways Pinocchio joke. Wooden boy? Oh, I don't fuckin' know.
† And are never rescued, note!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

locating art


John Lanchester, Nabokov superfan, in the Dec. 17 NYRB, identifies and then comments rather excellently upon "one of Nabokov's most famous flashes of brilliance, Humbert Humbert's memory of his mother in Lolita: 'My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lightning) when I was three.' It's hard not to be dazzled by the parenthesis...but the heart of the sentence, its moment of style, is in the quieter and much less prominent word 'photogenic.' You realize that Humbert knows his mother only from photographs. The sentence's quiet poetry is the poetry of loss."


Jump now, as one usually does from Nabokov, to Mr. Lou Reed, who sings in the amazing (and subtly, counterintuitively karaoke-ideal*) "Perfect Day," "Just a perfect day. You made me forget myself: I thought I was someone else, someone good."

Sometimes I want to try to nail down what makes literature literature, what makes art art.† A while back I took this wild stab at it:

"...what makes poetry poetry, or literature literature, is a tension between the explicit, surface-level sense of things and some kind of meaning beneath or beyond it, the idea being that anything you can "reduce" like a mathematical equation to a simple statement (x = 3; war is bad) is bad poetry if it's poetry at all. 'Real' literature must include some degree of tension, even if it's beautiful and highly bearable tension..."

The examples above, from Nabokov and Reed, both do what I was saying art and literature are supposed to do. What's sadder: to say, "I never did see my mother except in pictures," or to say in passing that she was "photogenic," such that then you realize both that HH never saw his mother except in pictures and that he's not going to make a big deal out of it? What's more affecting: to say, "I don't believe that I'm a very good person," or to say, "For a minute there, I forgot who I was and believed I was a good person"? In the end, maybe this all comes down to the old cliché–maxim: show, don't tell.

I've got an unfinished/abandoned draft of a blog post from way back, back when I was reading Chuck Klosterman [see here and here], and here's a relevant excerpt [although I abandoned it for a reason, and at this point this blog post does indeed sort of go off the rails, so you might be best off stopping here]:


"Klosterman says Garth Brooks and Shania Twain have a leg up on Bob Dylan and Liz Phair (even though he himself prefers the latter) because the former are better at talking to 'normal' people—'they understand more people,' is the best way Klosterman puts this, but there's also a worst way he puts it, and it's 'Garth and Shania are simply better at expressing the human condition.' Now hold it there. What is the human condition? K. says, 'I have at least one thing in common with Bob Dylan: Neither one of us understands how the world works.' (1) Does majority rule, really, when it comes to the value of expression, identification, resonance, etc.? [REPHRASE‡] (2) Do the people who do 'know how the world works' in fact know how the world works? Is certainty related to clarity of perception? Or is it in fact the case that a total lack of doubt about the nature of the world, a simple world view into which everything fits in a clear way, instead is indicative of having your head very, very far up your own ass?"

Debating what the human condition "really" is (or who counts as a "real" American) will be fruitless. The thing that's most interesting to me (now) is the rather the expression part. Assume for a moment that the human condition is universal: do Garth and Shania express it better? Actually, trying to answer that question will be fruitless, too, because I don't really know their music.§

In the end, frustratingly enough, it still all probably comes down to taste. I'm inclined to phrase it like, "Do you prefer fact or truth?"—but that might not be entirely fair. Fairer would be to say, "Do you like being led to experience something that would be difficult to put into words, or do you prefer a straightforward literal articulation of the closest possible approximation of such an experience?" [Yeah, that's much fairer. –ed.]


I mean, Liz Phair's not exactly the subtlest of lyricists (I know only Exile in Guyville and understand she sort of lost her magic—and would spit in my face for saying so—but that album is top notch), but take something even from one of her least subtle songs: "I woke up alarmed / I didn't know where I was at first / Just that I woke up in your arms /And almost immediately I felt sorry..." It's straightforward, narrative, no mystery really, and yet there's a kind of counterintuitive logic at work: "I felt sorry" gets explained, makes perfect sense, and yet it's never made quite explicit. You know, she says, "I didn't think this would happen again," but she doesn't say, "I had decided to cut out casual sex." Even "I want a boyfriend," about as explicit as can be, has (in part because of the way she sings it**) the tiniest, subtlest surprise in it...maybe just because of its rawness? I'm not putting enough effort into explaining myself here because, for Christ's sake, it's an illustration of a side point to a side point on a fucking blog. But then you've also got: "I can feel it in my bones / I'm gonna spend another year alone," echoed later by, "I can feel it in my bones / I'm gonna spend my whole life alone." I maintain that there's some kind of emotional disconnect in there, almost like this super-raw emotion that's separated out a little by a kind of fuck-all fatalistic despair...? And the change, going from "another year" to "my whole life" without comment...

Or Zimmerman, take Klosterman's other example, Zimmerman: one of my favorite songs is "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," in which, like Liz Phair, Zimmerman sings, "I ain't sayin' you treated me unkind, / You coulda done better, but I don't mind / You just kinda wasted my precious time / But don't think twice, it's all right." Straight, straight, straight...and yet not? I mean, this is qualitatively different from something like, "You broke my heart, you hurt me, but I forgive you." Maybe it's just that so much is left out. Or another great one, "She Belongs to Me": "She's got everything she needs, / She's an artist, she don't look back"? I don't even know what he's saying, and yet I also do, is part of it. Or, "She never stumbles, / She's got no place to fall"?


Well, Shania Twain wins the hotness competition, anyway. Either she or Nabokov.

(Yeah, that's my conclusion. So what?)

* Strung-out '70s Lower East Side punk entangled so messily with as to be indistinguishable from drunken rock-filled-tumbler-holding 60-something Japanese businessman-crooner ur-karaoke cliché.
† Reminds me of "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo"—see here, where you'll also find "James while John had had had had had had had had had had had a better effect on the teacher," which, while more amazing, is less legit on account of its total disregard for punctuation (really ought to be "James, while John had had had [probably with that third had either italicized or in quotes because the idea is that John had the word had], had had had had [the second had had also probably needing quotes or italics for the same reason]; had had [quotes, ital] had had a better effect on the teacher"; even if you're a comma minimalist, there's just no getting around that semicolon): "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo", by contrast, is A-OK punctuationwise and, while it might annoy some for its that omissions, in the end really does pretty much work fine (if you wouldn't raise your eyebrows too emphatically at a phrase like "men women like," you should have no problem with "Men women like don't always like women women like" or, in the end, with "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo")—but how about this sentence, though, huh? Grammatically sound, I'ma maintain.
‡ I don't take orders from past selves. Fuck off.
§ ...although a quick Google search comes up with these lyrics from Shania, which do indeed provide a nice counterexample: "Two hearts one love beating together / I am yours you are mine / Two hearts one love always forever / Standing the test of time." I submit that there is not even a lingering trace of truth left over in these lyrics and that they say nothing real about love.
** Ever since someone pointed this out to me, I can't unhear that Liz Phair sounds a little like Caroline Kennedy. I'm not sure this is actually even true, but now Liz Phair has taken on a little of that Kennedy aura and Caroline Kennedy seems ever so slightly punk rock to me.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

AM, PM, anything goes to-ni-yight

Interesting that this laundromat is open only 5½ hours a day. Even more interesting that the last wash is 10½ hours after they close. I guess if you get in by noon you're allowed to hang out all afternoon and evening? That's only fair.

Folks: 12 p.m. is noon and 12 a.m. is midnight.* Memorize it if you have to.

In other news, while I appreciate the confidence and forwardness of the laundromat's simple imperative, no, I will not air condition. Come on, people: just pony up and buy an air conditioner.

* To be fair—this distinction is less clear than you'd like it to be, and much less clear than you'd kind of assume something so universally relevant as timekeeping nomenclature might be. Apparently there are some systems whereby 12 p.m. is midnight and 12 a.m. is noon, and one way or another of course technically neither is either a.m. or p.m.a because the m in both stands for meridiem, meaning noon, and, therefore, (1) noon, being neither before nor after itself, is neither ante- nor post-meridiem, and must most accurately be called, if numbers must be involved, "12 noon," and (2) midnight, as any greminologist worth his salt could expand upon at great length if he were willing to "think outside the box" some, is tough to define in "before" or "after" terms: midnight's being perfectly equidistant from both the last and the next noons, to say that it is either before or after noon would be arbitrary if not flat-out nonsensical.
That said, one thing that pulls the rules of language out of a total relativistic free-float situation is usage, and the dominating convention in the United States is that "12 p.m." means noon and "12 a.m." means midnight. My discomfort with such arguments forbids me from leaving out the fact that, while 12 noon might technically be neither a.m. nor p.m., twelve o'clock and one second is most certainly post-meridiem, as is twelve o'clock and one nanosecond, and one might even argue that since light, although wicked fast,b does in fact have to travel from point A to point B, any time you look at a clock or watch around noon and see that it says 12c—even if you watch it turn or change to 12—the infinitesimal but nevertheless theoretically measurable delay in the time it will take the light to travel from the clock or watch to your eyes, not to mention your brain's processing speed (probably way longer than the light-travel thing), necessarily means that by the time you see that it is 12, it is now some small amount of time after 12 and is, therefore, post-meridiem. Q to the E to the D, motherfuckers.d

a This may be the first time in my life I've ever gotten to write, "neither is either."
b Not sure why I felt I had to phrase it that way, but I did.
c And do please note that if it says 12 on a digital clock, it will also say "PM"—I'm just saying.
d ALT. CONCLUSION: I'm at least partly joking about nailing it down to a clear and final answer. Musil? "The truth is not a crystal that can be slipped into one's pocket, but an endless current into which one falls headlong. Imagine every one of these abbreviations trailing a dozen or hundreds of printed pages, for each page a man with ten fingers writing it, and for each of his ten fingers ten disciples and ten opponents with ten fingers each, and at every fingertip a tenth of a personal idea, and you have a dim notion of what the truth is like."

Friday, December 11, 2009

oh, what a question mark can do

Yes, we know what this person means. But what this person says is, "NEED HOLIDAY HELP."

(click to enlarge)

I love it because the ad reads, therefore, like a job description rather than an offer of services, and every part of it starts to seem super imperious. "CALL ME" becomes an order; "As needed basis / day/night" turns out to be demanding instead of flexible; "OTHER?? ASK" is almost like an "Oh, you'd better believe there's other shit you're going to have to do for me: this list isn't even near all inclusive"; and (my favorite) "HOLIDAY CARDS (ORIGINAL greetings)" is now a warning not to waste this person's time with hackneyed sentiment: he or she will settle for nothing less than cutting-edge copy, tidings of groundbreaking comfort and avant-garde joy!

So, you know...avoid this job?

[Thanks, as always, to the sun duck for her privacy-protecting techo-Samaritanism.]

moving down the list

Something about this ad really bothers me. Why? Because I'm crazy. But why else?

Well, the least of it is the classic thing of meaninglessly and disingenuously pandering to New Yorkers. Also, there's the fact that (look at the perspective, the windows) these clothes are almost big enough to be worn by King Kong.

But what bothers me most is that the idea of stringing clothes between two New York skyscrapers—well, first of all, I think I've seen it before, but second of all, well...

I mean, that's supposed to be the twin towers, right?

I don't mean they mean it to be the twin towers, but isn't it supposed to be? I'm saying that the idea of connecting two skyscrapers (which should be of equal height, really, for these purposes) makes a fuck of a lot more sense if it's the twin towers. And obviously they can't use the twin towers, but what this ad feels like to me is a poor substitute, a second choice, an uncomfortable compromise. "Wouldn't it be great to see a clothesline strung between the twin towers? Hm, guess we can't get away with that. What about, I don't know, the Empire State Building and the fucking Chrysler Building or something?"

Maybe I'm imagining things, but I don't think so. I mean, like, look at this picture from that documentary I didn't see that's supposed to be so good:

This is relevant. I swear this is relevant. Again, I'm not saying Duane Reade is doing this deliberately or that the ad is really offensive—at least not directly—but I think I can see through the expression of the idea to its conceptual origin, and I think its conceptual origin is the twin towers, and I think that that makes the whole thing a little...blecchy.

Maybe I'm oversensitive. I mean, I know I'm oversensitive. But maybe I'm oversensitive about 9/11.