Friday, April 30, 2010

juicy gossip

I recently remembered and rediscovered my first aborted attempt at a blog. It's like when the heroes of It realize that they've totally forgotten the whole locked-in-mortal-combat-with-an-unspeakable-evil element of their childhoods.

Important note: Page Five is silly and never in its brief history quite worked out what it was.* It is, however, the Internet's finest moment. How sad, to have peaked in '06. Anyway, I may pick the thing back up again at some point, so check back regularly and be annoyed and disappointed (because I probably won't actually do that).

In other news, here's The Great Gatsby,† summarized by Kate Beaton:


Fuck off, April.

* Translation: it's retarded.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

disregard this post

I've said this before and last time I suppose I was full of shit—and this time I'm probably full of shit, too. But maybe Alt85's about to get more autobiographical. What do you think? I'll let you vote on it.

( ) YES! I would be interested in a more autobiographical Alt85!
( ) NO! Fuck autobiographical!

Check the appropriate box—please write directly on your computer screen or handheld device. Permanent markers (e.g., Sharpies) would be best. Then mail me your computer. You may have to smash it to make it fit in an envelope; I recommend that you use a heavy book like a dictionary or the Riverside Shakespeare.* All results will be ignored if received.


I ask because interesting things are afoot! Or may soon be afoot! Depending on your definition of "interesting"! And of "afoot"! Words like "afoot" are great! All sentences should end with exclamation points! The "Sharpie" joke above is more or less a failure! I realized earlier this evening that the definition of "boring" is much more up for debate than I sort of unthinkingly assumed! Here's a picture of an Imperial stormtrooper just singin' in the rain!


What does "autobiographical" look like? Maybe like this? Maybe like this:

Cooked three strips of bacon and scrambled three eggs for breakfast; consumed w/ espresso and water. Showered. At [place where I write], ready to write the living fuck out of the next draft of this goddamned script my buddy and I have been writing. When my half-a-mil rolls in, I will buy, in no order: (1) a new bag, (2) noise-canceling headphones, (3) possibly a video-game system, just for Beatles Rock Band and streaming Netflix. Got my license plates, finally; screwed 'em the fuck right onto my cocksucking car. Been listening to new music including the music of Robbie Fulks (at the recommendation of the same feller who recommended Randy Newman).

Shit, man, that is exciting. Get out your Sharpies and smash your computers into postable powder—as if you weren't already on that already!

It's a brand-new era, fuckers! Twenty ten!!!

Maybe we're just fucking stuck with Him. (via)†

* The Riverside Milton would be all right in a pinch, too.
† This is going up on Headfoot before long. Headfoot previews: yet another reason to write on your computer screen and then destroy it.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

review sliders


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
If you like rape, you'll love The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo!*

The Bedwetter
I haven't finished this book yet.†

Mike Viola and Bleu at the Hotel Café
Just some really high-quality songwriting: highly enjoyable stuff.‡

Shit deserved its Best Screenplay Oscar.

Good Old Boys by Randy Newman
My buddy said, "Listen until you like it"; didn't take long.§

Hysteria by Def Leppard
"The Pet Sounds of hair metal," said another friend.**

Step Brothers
A pretty funny sketch stretched into a feature-length film: OK.

Equivalent, interchangeable.

* I disliked this movie. It's been a while since I've disliked a movie as much as I disliked The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The first half in particular was guilty of the single greatest sin of which any art or entertainment is capable: it is fucking boring. That, it is impossible to forgive—even when it doesn't set things up so that [SPOILER ALERT] the brutal and unpleasant rape scenes (and then the brutal and unpleasant rape-vengeance scenes) are like refreshing oases in a vast desert of boredom.

† I don't read nearly as much anymore! It's sort of distressing. This may be the one bad thing about living in L.A. so far: I used to get half my reading done on the subway, but now I drive everywhere. (Do not say "audiobooks." Just don't even say it.) I also got out of the habit of reading in bed when the worst thing that ever happened to me happened to me.

‡ For the record, Bleu looks like a cross between Judah Friedlander and John Lennon.

§ "Marie" is just plain genius.

** Same guy who said that, in Appetite for Destruction, GN'R "breathed punk-rock fire through hairspray rock": brilliant. Do I like Hysteria? Let's just say that I enjoy it, and leave it at that. No: I'll add that listening to it makes me feel like I'm a "really, really cool" party in an '80s movie.

Alt85 is 600


Boy oh boy. Here are your fucking stats, you goddamned jackals.


STILL SECOND PLACE: Tyler Durden vs. Cameron Frye



Much more not-especially-easily-categorizable logorrhœa to come (of course).

SafenSmut™ (see above)

I am a particular kind of nerd.

Have I mentioned that I love the ¢ symbol? Has it become rarer or am I imagining things? It would make sense that it would become rarer as prices go up, as it becomes rarer to find anything for sale for less than a dollar. (I bought gum the other day and I swear to God it was like $2 or something. Maybe not. I don't chew gum very often, so I'm an easy mark.)

But so $0.02 is OK (particularly as a funny way of writing it in the context "my two cents"), but I like 2¢ so much better. It tickles me. I'm serious.

I also much prefer ½, ⅔, and ¾ to 0.5, 0.66667,* and 0.75. (Maybe this is just about some weird hatred I have for decimals?) But moving away from numbers, it always seems a shame to me when words that can be spelled with accents or special letters are not: e.g., naïve, fœtus, Fæcebook.

On the other hand, in the other direction, part of me has a sympathy for extreme minimalism—maybe in a Faulknery way (regarding punctuation) or a Joycey way (regarding hyphenation)—such that I sort of dig the idea of ditching all apostrophes, like just going for it, all the way with it, like, "The dogs bowl—its just overflowing with the cats food! The petsitters crazy!"

No. Never mind. I hate that.

Back to "rich-text." I think the reason I started to think I might like unpunctuated possessives is that I thought I noticed that in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Movie Film for Theaters. And here we go with the segue: Watching The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on Friday—about which I intend to comment further soon—I found myself experiencing slight twinges of jealousy on account of all the crazy letters we don't get to use. Produced by Søren Stæremose?? I'm pretty sure I'm alone in this, but doesn't anybody else here in the English-speaking world wish that øs and æs were part of our daily written lives?

Anybody? No?

I also like to put honey-roasted peanuts in my underwear.

* I mean, come on.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Do you remember the time...

We can "know" things retroactively, retrospectively...things that might not actually have technically been so "the first time around," i.e., when they actually happened. In Psych 101 they teach you that 10 witnesses to an event will tell 10 incompatible stories of that event—and it's not like they're lying or being fanciful. Memory is not a video camera. Knowledge is not lobster trap.* I'm not a relativist (at least not when it comes to the mind's relationship to the universe it inhabits†), but nor do I believe that it's a clear lens, an unobstructed pathway...especially when memory enters into the picture. Memory's fucking fascinating: I indirectly know a scientist whose whole career is based on memory and (if I remember/understand correctly), specifically how memories are formed on a cellular level, which is a clue to how this isn't at least strictly arbitrary shit going on—and I loved reading somewhere (forget where, sorry) that the sense we sometimes have that our memories might become "full" is based on a misconception of the nature of memory, that memory is not like a container or receptacle that runs out of space if used too much, but rather—the more accurate analogy—like a muscle that becomes stronger the more you use it...

Funny because it's wrong.

But so I read somewhere, in some interview, that John Lennon always knew he was a genius. Questions pop up: Did he, maybe? Or does everyone "know" that and for most people it just doesn't turn out to be so? (Subquestion: Is the difference between those people and John Lennon that he "really is" a genius or that things just worked out better for him than for them?) Was John Lennon's conviction that he was a genius what made things turn out well for him? (Subquestion: Would that work because confidence per se leads to success, or because confidence makes other people likelier to give you what you want, or because you're unlikely to give up, or...) A History teacher of mine in high school made (friendly) fun of another History teacher that we all knew by saying that he (the other teacher) claimed to have correctly predicted the outcome of every mayoral election for the past several decades, but that this was because (according to the first History teacher) he (the second History teacher) conveniently forgot every time he was wrong and only remembered the times he was right. (This, I'm told, is how some gamblers develop the illusion that they are "lucky," by the way, even if they're playing games of chance where the odds are against them.)

If I'm ever in a serious car accident, I will probably think, "I knew it: I knew this was going to happen on this car ride." But that's because every time I get in a car, something in my mind says, "Cars: dangerous. This could be the time [INSERT NEGATIVE GAMBLING METAPHOR]"—so if I do finally get in an accident, my irrational brain will say, "See? See??" I think Don DeLillo said something similar in that fat book Underworld, something about watching planes in the sky and thinking about them blowing up‡ and how if one did blow up you'd almost feel guilty, like you had caused it—even though you thought that of innumerable planes before that did not blow up.

This is magical thinking, as opposed to the scientific method. Right? I don't know.

But so memory. The invention, retroactively, of knowledge. If John Lennon had not become John Lennon, would that have meant that he was wrong that he was a genius when he had felt that way as a kid? Or would it mean something had just gone wrong, that he just hadn't realized his potential? Are there hundreds, thousands, millions of unrealized geniuses in the world? Or do all geniuses find their way? Or is that the definition of genius? I remember telling a friend—the friend with the boogers—about another friend who was super smart but just never really translated that into good work in school and so hadn't gotten into a college as good as what he on some level deserved, and my friend (the booger friend) sort of raised an eyebrow and said, "Then he wasn't super smart. What does super smart mean if you don't use it?"—or something like that. And I disagreed...I think I still at least partly disagree...but it registered and registers as a valid claim. The idea that someone is super smart and just doesn't use those does maybe strain the definition of smart. Potential energy is not the same energy? What do you call the... Kinetic energy? Whatever.

All of which is to say, really—insofar as it "all" "is to say" anything in particular, other than itself—that if you suddenly "make it," by which I mean if you suddenly get where you've been trying forever to get to, you will feel not only glad but validated, like, "Yes: I knew it, I always knew it." Whereas if you never do get there, on some level you'll think, "Well, I was wrong: it wasn't going to work." (If you call heads and flip a coin and it's tails, were you wrong, exactly? Any more than you're "lying" if you say, "My buddy's in San Francisco right now," and but little do you know, he's visiting New York when you say that?)

Is all this just a meditation on "fate" and "destiny"?

Yeah. Maybe.

I see that now.

Annie Hall screenshot via diseasedgecko.

* [?]
† By which I mean I do believe that we connect to things, that people can share experiences—in short, that the things we see do have some real connection to reality, are not just "a matter of opinion" (as a kid in my sixth-grade class once asserted was the case when it came to whether or not Antarctica was a continent: his opinion was, no, it's a country).
‡ This in a pre-9/11 novel with the World Trade Center on the cover and Fresh Kills featured at one point in the book (if I remember correctly).

Thursday, April 22, 2010

another thing about 2010

[unrelated image via Headfoot]

Has anybody noted that, in addition to the more obvious ways in which new technology has altered the way we interact with each other and with the world, new technology has altered the way we interact with it? I mean, I did note (see link above) that cell phones have actually sort of committed a kind of suicide: originally we used them to have phone conversations on the go, but now long phone conversations seem to be on the way out, on the go or otherwise, and people are annoyed when their phones ring. But what about e-mail? It just hit me that back in 1996 I used to write these long e-mails, basically letters over the Internet, but who does that anymore? If I write an e-mail of longer than a paragraph, it feels like a big deal. This, I'm assuming, is at least partially the fault of text messages. Whatever the cause, e-mail has not only replaced the letter; it has replaced itself.

But maybe all this is a good thing. As I discussed earlier, on some level—I want to say a deeper, realer level, but that's debatable: let's just call it a level—the kind of "touch" we're "in" when we "keep in touch" at great distances isn't really any kind of touch at all.

(And you can get into questions of whether we're ever really in touch at all—questions of solipsism, existentialism, perception, connection, the reality or illusion of love itself—but from that I temporarily recuse myself.)

Sometimes I think that if "the system" went down, we'd all be better off. Then I remember that, no, obviously not, it would be like that nightmarish apocalypse story in the New Yorker about that pregnant woman getting raped in the treehouse.

To the author of that story, I apologize for not knowing who you are. Good story.


Friday, April 16, 2010


Nineteen eighty-four may not have actually ended up being the poster year* for a totalitarian dystopia†—but what a year for movies! For some reason‡ I clicked on "1984" on the IMDb's Temple of Doom page and wound up on their "Most Popular Feature Films Released In 1984" page [capitalization sic]; here, in the IMDb's popularity order, is a partial list of first-rate movies that were released in that most Orwellian year,§ 1984, with my favorite favorites in bold:

  • The Terminator
  • The Karate Kid
  • Ghostbusters
  • Sixteen Candles**
  • Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
  • Repo Man††
  • The Neverending Story
  • Revenge of the Nerds
  • This Is Spinal Tap‡‡
  • Gremlins
  • Police Academy
  • Romancing the Stone
  • Beverly Hills Cop
  • The Last Starfighter
  • Splash [q.v.]
  • Top Secret!
  • Starman
  • Stranger than Paradise
  • Supergirl [terrible movie, just awful]
  • The Muppets Take Manhattan
  • Broadway Danny Rose

(via Headfoot)

* "Poster year"?
† Debatable.
‡ Actually because I started to get a sense of this and wanted to confirm it.
§ Deliberately hokey bullshit, for the record.
** To be honest, I don't have much of an opinion about this one. Have to see it again?
†† Another one I think I have to see again.
‡‡ This one actually I know I don't like as much as everyone else.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

New Yorker, I love you because you're you.

For some reason this comes up when you Google "diaresis."*

I'm a little backed up on New Yorkers—"backed up" makes me think of constipation; that's OK—but so in the April 5 issue (which, based on their dating system, is really from February of 2009), I came upon the following amazing sentence:

Still, with fourteen state attorneys general already suing to stop parts of the reform, some states may refuse to coöperate, forcing a showdown.

I mean...well, coöperate is an old New Yorker standard; you've got to love coöperate. This sentence has got that covered. But I also love—and I believe that this is correct, I totally accept that this is correct, but still—"attorneys general." It reminds me of the time my doctor friend said he'd give me $2 U.S. if I ordered not two Stella Artois[s]† but rather two "Stellas Artois" (somehow he weaseled out of it, I forget how: in the immortal words of John Cusack, I WANT MY TWO BUCKS!‡).

"I demand compensation!"

* Could be because it's diæresis or dieresis. –ed.

† How do you pronounce that, anyway? I don't pronounce the S, generally, but if it's plural, I guess I unthinkingly do pronounce the S—but as a Z?

‡ For some reason I couldn't resist doing that wrong in at least three ways. (One of them I discussed here. The rest you can find yourself like it was Highlights magazine.)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Grammar Sluts: unsolved mysteries! [UPDATED/CENSORED]

2006 [from an e-mail] does everyone feel about punctuating a sentence beginning with a "My feeling is" or "The problem is"? It's ungrammatical and slangy to begin with, which throws things off. Here are the options that seem the most defensible to me:

– The problem is, commas are totally Republican.*
– The problem is commas are totally Republican.
– The problem is—commas are totally Republican.
– The problem is: commas are totally Republican.
– The problem is...commas are totally Republican.
– The problem is ( o ) o ) commas are totally Republican.

That last one was BOOBIES.

also 2006 [also an e-mail]

How would you dash up "the mid-to-late-'60s" or someone's "mid-to-late-60s"?

1a. I feel pretty confident that it's "the mid-'60s" or "his mid-60s."†
1b. I also think you'd say "the late '60s" or "his late 60s," without a hyphen.

2. Therefore, you'd probably say something like "the mid- to late '60s" if not for the rule that says you should be hyphenating compound adjectives before the modified noun.

3. The problem seems, then, to come down to the problem of connecting a lopped-off hyphenated prefix to another word with a hyphen, like "mid-" + [hyphen] + "to-late-'60s."

I.e., maybe it's just basically ungrammatical. But people say that, "the mid-to-late-'60s," which means there must be some kind of convention. [HFW], you work at [respected magazine]. How would you punctuate that bullhonky?

2009 (more e-mail)

From: ["Gottlieb"]
To: [REDACTED], [Short Round]
Date: Mon, Jun 8, 2009 at 8:05 AM‡
Subject: Is this correct?

"state-commission-approved rates"

From: [Short Round]
To: ["Gottlieb"]
Date: Mon, Jun 8, 2009 at 8:11 AM
Subject: Re: Is this correct?

This is one of very few grammatical questions that I'm basically totally unsure about. If "state commission" were capitalized it would be easier because then you'd use an en-dash: "State Commission–approved rates." But if it's not...yeah, I mean, I guess that's the only way you can do it. It's possible that you should use an en-dash second, like "state-commission–approved," but I'm shaky on that.

From: [Short Round]
To: ["Gottlieb"]
Date: Mon, Jun 8, 2009 at 8:14 AM
Subject: Re: Is this correct?

[ADDENDUM] Yeah...I mean, "Use an en dash instead of a hyphen in a compound when one of the components contains a hyphen." Then the examples they give aren't exactly analogous—"English–Scotch-Irish," "Cambrai–St.-Quentin"—but I should think the principle would apply, no? In which case: "state-commission–approved"?

* [EXPLANATION REDACTED. Involved, tangentially, the question of the casual, ironic usage of words like gay and retarded.]

† Important note: it is NOT—nor is it EVER—"the late 60's" or "in his 60's."

‡ This is when I lived in New York, and Google/Gmail knows I moved, so it's possible that these were at 11.

Monday, April 12, 2010

knock v. lock

Two things:

  1. Knock before entering and lock after entering? Seems like really only one or the other is necessary, at least as a policy. The reason for urging people to knock is that people might not lock; the reason for urging people to lock is that people might not knock. I'm not saying it's crazy or nonsensical to suggest both; I'm just saying it's maybe overkill. Like, "Before having sex with someone, get tested for STDs* after both of you have had no sexual contact with anyone else for the appropriate amount of time, ensure that you're both comfortable either having a baby or having an abortion, and then, for God's sake, use a condom!"
  2. And let's be clear: the one to drop is "knock before entering." Fuck "knock before entering"! "Knock before entering" should be a rule if and only if the door does not lock. Who can't be bothered to lock the door? And, frankly, when I'm using a public bathroom and have locked the door, it is annoying when somebody knocks. I have to have a conversation with a stranger through the door while I'm using the toilet, seriously? Here's how I say, "Somebody's in here": by locking the goddamned door.
Stupid coffee-drinking pig. You knock!†

* I think they're called STIs now. Before STDs, they were VDs. Do we really have to change the name every two seconds? A while ago I saw them referred to as "sex infections," but, come on, that's totally the name of some noisy post-punk dance-rock song from 2003, gimme a break.

† Does not make sense. Fell apart, there, at the end.

Apple vs. Microsoft: compare & contrast

Here's a nice example of what I've been talking about in terms of Apple's relatively straightforward and therefore atypically tolerable ads, as specifically opposed to Microsoft's.

Take a look at the two similar but importantly different images below:

Here's Steve Jobs standing in front of a screen listing new features of the new iPhone software. I picked this picture more or less at random: all the pictures I found on Google were of Jobs or some other Apple representative standing in front of a screen showing either facts about the products or pictures of the products (or both).

And here's Robert J. Bach, president of Microsoft's entertainment and devices division, standing in front of a picture of—well, young people. Specifically, freakishly attractive models. Note that not only is this focusing away from the actual product—not only is it automatically false on some level, just by virtue of its being a picture of something that they composed and faked (in a way that a picture of the actual product running its actual programming could never be accused of doing)—but also, the models in the picture aren't even holding or using the product!

Showing beautiful people using your product is a time-tested way of tricking idiots into thinking that they should use your product, too;* just showing beautiful people and leaving the product out altogether goes an extra step—like the move to total abstraction in art in the 20th century(?)—and gives up the last pitiful scrap or shred of truth in advertising. There should be a caption contest for this picture: what would Bach be saying, here, like, "Look: young people"?†

The typical Apple-hater's catechism hinges upon the fantasy that Apple is nothing but style and flash and that Microsoft is all down-and-dirty computing reality.‡ I switched to Apple in 2003 because Apple's computers and operating systems were overwhelmingly, thrillingly superior. Having not used Windows 7, I suppose I'm unqualified to comment on the difference today (although please just note that Apple-haters were hating on Apple even in the glory days of Vista); what I can say is that at least in terms of the advertising, meaningless style and flash is Microsoft's domain—Apple's the one talking about the products.§

[POSTSCRIPT: Also—what the hell is Microsoft even talking about? Because, what, young people are bored by iPhones? Gee whiz.]

* Note that Apple often shows its product being used by people whose attractiveness we cannot ascertain (q.v.).

† Actually, we know what he's saying: he's saying, "This generation, let's call it the social generation, really does have a point of view"—seriously: direct quote. So all right! Sold! I want to buy your phone!

‡ Although "catechism hinges" is a mixed metaphor at best, at best.

§ Back to the old "Obama's a Mac, Hillary's a PC" bon mot. Indeed I kept being reminded of Obama while writing the end of this: I mean, first Hillary Clinton and then the Republicans kept hitting this idea of Obama's being nothing but strong public speaking, when what really won the election was that Obama, specifically and all-importantly not like McCain, was not full of shit. Forget whether I wrote about this back in 2008 [Did. –ed.], but one of the most life-affirming things in that election was the realization during the debates that it's not that bullshit always defeats truth in the eyes of the people, just that attractive bullshit always defeats clunky truth: attractive truth is all but impossible to overcome. John McCain, having to spin (read misrepresent) a Republican platform that was both shoddy and ugly—I believe the expression is "polish a turd"—simply had nowhere to go.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

fakin' it

(click to enlarge the charisma)

"Charisma. You can't buy it. You can't make it. And you sure can't fake it." A reasonably tolerable message (rhyming aside). So why does it fill me with such revulsion?

My first and main guess is the unintentional irony in "you sure can't fake it." Are we to Clearly we're meant to accept (a) that the model in the photograph is charismatic; (b) that the ad itself is charismatic, or embodies charisma, or captures and communicates some essential truth about charisma, or at the very least is on the side of charisma; and, of course, (c) that this has anything at all to do with Heineken (one of the key, basic, fundamental, buck-stops-here crimes of which every ad is guilty*). What, in the end, could we conceivably say that this ad is doing but "faking it"?

And buying it, and making it: Heineken employed an ad agency to employ graphic designers and copywriters and photographers, no? What is all that, all this, if not the artificial creation of charisma?

Or, rather, "charisma"—because what they're faking, itself, is not charisma but instead some strange ad-created notion of what the word might mean. It's a fake of a fake. And that's maybe the key to figuring out why else this ad bothers me: the unintentional irony is key, but there's more to my reaction, and I think it does have to do with the ad's essential meaninglessness. I mean, it's not just insincere, not just hypocritical or artificial or, as I said, unintentionally ironic; it's also just plain devoid of actual content, in any way. It practically stymies the purpose and function of language, of communication itself.

I mean, the ad basically has a topic, a thesis, and an implicit conclusion: (1) Hey, charisma! Charisma's a good thing, right? (2) Charisma is something you cannot manufacture or mimic! (3) Drink Heineken!

There's a step in that argument that I've left out—"This charismatic guy† is drinking Heineken, see?"—but what difference does it really make? It's all baloney. In fact, the only thing that keeps the ad from being wholly‡ trivial and meaningless is that of course, in the end, its real message, its real purpose, is very simply the manipulation of credulous consumers. It has one very simple, clear, and unironic function, and that is to get more people to buy Heineken.

NOTE: I just looked up charisma in a dictionary and got this: "compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others." It may well be that a more appropriate concept for advertising would be difficult to find.

So, you know...fuck this ad.

* Almost every ad: I've argued that Apple actually tends to advertise things that actually have to do with their actual products and how those products might actually be employed by actual consumers.

† Rather, "This charismatic-looking guy," or, "This guy who we're hoping you'll think looks charismatic."

‡ This is a word I've seen only two places: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and my own writing. It's practically a hapax legomenon.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Gremlins '81

The common mogwai.

So I got to read two early drafts—the seventh (1983) and I think the first (1981)—of Gremlins, by Chris Columbus. And check this out (from the 1981 script):


Rand is eating his airline dinner. He's looking out the window. Thinking. An Oriental stewardess walks up.

More coffee?

Rand nods. The stewardess fills his cup. Rand looks at her.

Ever heard of "Mogwai"?

She nods.

What does it mean?

She gives Rand his coffee.


Here's why I love this:

I remember that as a little kid I was fascinated by the mogwai–gremlin metamorphosis and got stuck on one big question, even wrote stories trying to answer it: If Gizmo ate something after midnight (I mean, he wouldn't, he didn't, but if he did somehow, like if you tricked him or forced him to), would the gremlin he turned into be evil like the others?—because all his offspring† are nasty even before they become gremlins. The difference between Gizmo and the gremlins isn't just that he never transforms, but that he's always sweet and nice and they're always mischievous and nasty...always, even before they go into their cocoons.

So is Gizmo just an anomalously gentle mogwai?—or is it somehow always true that the offspring are nastier than the parent? Are you not supposed to get them wet just because wetness leads to more mogwai and mogwai can be dangerous, or are you not supposed to make them wet because the reproductive process, like sound deterioration when copying tapes (remember copying tapes?), results in a kind of moral degradation...?

What's exciting about this (possibly) first draft of Gremlins is that it provides an answer—both an in-story answer and a kind of a meta-answer.

Mogwai most certainly for sale, in that first draft.

The "in-story answer":

Mogwai are just fucking bad news. Whether Gizmo's a freak or is just, like, the unique decent father of all mogwai goes unanswered, but we do know this: mogwai are little devils, and dangerous, and trouble, and the main difference between mogwai and gremlins isn't that mogwai are sweet and gremlins are evil, but that mogwai look cute and gremlins look evil.

That old draft of Gremlins is a much darker script than what wound up being filmed years later.‡ For one thing, the gremlins basically eat everything, people included. For example, instead of tying up Billy's dog with Christmas lights, they eat him—tear him to shreds—and this is when they're still mogwai!

In fact, that original Gremlins is maybe most notable for the fact that there is no Gizmo. Billy gets a mogwai from his dad, Billy hates the mogwai, the mogwai reproduces...and then there is no longer any effort to distinguish one from the others: no Stripe, no Gizmo, just a mess of mogwai who then become a mess of gremlins.

And this leads us to...

The "meta-answer":

Whence Gizmo? Whether this was an order from a studio or just a clever idea that Chris Columbus came up with on his own, the sweet mogwai is clearly a plot device added in later to achieve certain goals, including (presumably) the lightening-up of a super-dark story and the introduction of a sort of...plot...foothold? (Terminology: always a weakness for me.)

I'm reminded of that story about the original Transformers movie: how cynical corporate interests accidentally resulted in a sort of amazing plot choice. Gremlins would not be nearly so good if there weren't the contrast between Gizmo and the others; indeed, as I was just saying, half of my interest in the thing as a kid was speculation about what went wrong, where they went bad, whether Gizmo was corruptible, and so forth.

But so apparently the answer—I mean, the meta-answer—to my boyhood questions is: mogwai are evil, and the reason Gizmo isn't evil is that he got written in that way.

In other words—contrary to the chronology of the plot—gremlins came first; Gizmo came second.

Gizmo would never do such a thing...would he?

Three other things
(possibly interesting only to writers and rewriters):

1. In both drafts, the creatures are called mogwai throughout—before and after their metamorphosis. The script refers to them as gremlins only implicitly, in the title. (Obviously this doesn't stop me from continuing to call the reptilian ones gremlins and the mammalian ones mogwai. I don't give a fuck.)

2. The three rules—so central and iconic—seem to have come only at the very end. The 1981 draft has only one rule, about light, and by the seventh draft we've already got the eating-after-midnight rule (I may have read too carelessly, but I think originally they just plain metamorphosed: no rule-breaking or food connection at all!)—but the bit about water is just something Billy discovers on his own, not a rule!

3. By that seventh draft, Gremlins is pretty much Gremlins as we know and love it—except that at the end (I can barely bear to share this with you, it makes me so uncomfortable) Gizmo sprouts wings and flies off like a beautiful butterfly leaving behind a trail of fairy dust. I'M SERIOUS.§

In conclusion...

I still sort of want to know what Gizmo would be like as a gremlin. And that's one to grow on.

This actually I can sort of see Gizmo doing.

* Forgive the nonstandard formatting; can't be bothered to approximate the right way on Blogger.

† Most of the gremlins in the movie are descended directly from Stripe (and presumably his own offspring) in the pool at the YMCA and start right out as gremlins, but the first batch of them start out as mogwai and pop out of Gizmo's wet back. Billy and his mom—mainly his mom—kill all Gizmo's original offspring except Stripe; when Billy's hunting Stripe, pre–swimming pool, there is another gremlin out there—the one from the school, Gizmo's grandkid—but presumably he winds up in the movie theater with the rest of them; no need to worry. (NOTE: In that 1981 draft, Billy's mom doesn't kill all those gremlins [in that amazing sequence with the blender, the microwave, etc.]. No: they kill her. And the dad. Then they throw their severed heads at Billy. True story!)

Cates Kate's Christmas story makes a lot more sense in this first draft. Interestingly, in both the 1981 script and the 1983 script, the story belongs to someone other than Kate; the 1981 script gives it to Dorry, the owner of the bar, and the 1983 script gives it to Gerald, the Judge Reinhold character. It just kept getting moved around. (To be fair, it is a weirdly amazing story.)

§ You can almost read this as a super-cynical fuck-you gesture, satirizing the very concept of Gizmo: keeping in mind that Gizmo was added later, might Columbus have been saying, "Yeah, this angelic mogwai, mogwai meaning devil, remember...since he's here, he might as well transmogrify into some goddamned magical Disney character." (Interestingly, that 1981 draft describes the mogwai as being cuter than any Disney character...but that one ate dog instestines and laughed.)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Lincoln–Kennedy, Bonaparte–Child

This old chestnut!*

Man, that just popped up on Tumblr—I haven't seen that shit since I was in college!

...which is when I wrote this reply:

Napoleon Bonaparte was born on August 15, 1769.
Julia Child was born on August 15, 1912.

The sum of the digits of 1769 is 23.
The sum of the digits of 1912 is 13.
Julia Child has 10 letters in her name.

Napoleon said, "L'état c'est moi."
Julia Child said, "Next we add just a touch of parsley."

"Napoleon" has seven letters in it.
"Julia" would have seven letters in it if it were "Juliana."

Both liked French food.

Napoleon was short.
Julia Child was fat.

Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo.
So was Julia Child.

–Apr. 30, 1998

* I don't actually really quite know what this expression means.

Sic 'em!

I'm a fan of old Siege's "tweets," but here I think I have to disagree. A bracketed sic when quoting may qualify as a kind of commentary,* but is it really snarky or passive-aggressive? Is it any kind of aggressive? Isn't it a fairly matter-of-fact, set-the-record-straight, clarity-of-communication, accuracy-of-reporting sort of a thing?

To those who don't know, basically you use sic to let readers know that you're quoting something as it was written—letting everyone know that (for example) a misspelling or grammatical error was there in the original text and is not your own typo or error. If someone wrote, say, "I was struck by lightening when I was fourteen years old," you might, when quoting that, write, "lightening [sic]"; in fact, if you did not do it that way, your only options would be to correct the spelling yourself† or to let people think that you don't know how to spell lightning.‡ That little sic isn't passive-aggressive: it (a little like literally, in fact) is your way of saying, "No, really, I'm quoting, here: this is what he actually said."

Although of course, now that I think of that, isn't that even worse than what Clayton Cubitt said? It's the equivalent of taking a friend somewhere as a guest and continually saying shit like, "Yeah, excuse my friend, he doesn't know what he's talking about." It's like forwarding an e-mail (or "retweeting" something) with the intro, "This is stupid, but..." It's like having a conversation with somebody and every once in a while shaking your head and smiling condescendingly at something that he says.

So, OK, Siege is right, totally right. It's even aggressive. Fine. You don't have to fucking glote [sic].

* I'm inclined to disagree even with that, but I think that's just because I cling to the illusion of an unmediated objective reality—in other words, like Marty McFly not thinking fourth-dimensionally, I'm being inadequately postmodern.

† Which itself would mean either putting "lightning" in brackets (which I don't see as any "better" than using sic, snarkwise) or just writing it that way within the unbracketed text of the quotation, which is, in fact, misquotation (q.v.).

‡ Heavens forfend!!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

OK, iPad. OK.

This is a very successful ad. I judge its success based on the fact that, looking at it, I felt for the first time that maybe I'd like an iPad.

I'm a big fan of Apple. Ever since I made the switch in 2003, I've had pretty strong feelings. And I was excited about the iPhone for at least a year and a half before it was even announced, back when it was "the Apple phone." The difference for me, though, between the iPhone and the iPad was that I always knew exactly what was going to be great about the Apple phone and why it would be useful to me; until I saw this billboard, I just wasn't really sure what the iPad was for.

And listen, I've seen the videos and looked at the charts showing how the iPad is the perfect mix of size and functionality, and I even played with an iPad in an Apple Store on Sunday—and a little while back it did hit me, "'s a Kindle killer, isn't it," which is certainly an idea I can get behind*—but I still just couldn't exactly imagine what I would use the thing for myself.

In the spirit of (relatively) matter-of-fact, truth-telling advertising for which Apple is so (relatively) praiseworthy, this billboard† basically communicates the following information: "Look, you can just fuckin' hang out with your iPad and prop it on your knees and have a relaxed little nerd party!"

The iPad is a toy. That's what people said about the iPhone; they were wrong (mostly). The iPad is a fucking toy, and it looks like fun. Will I buy one? No—not unless I get seriously rich all of a sudden (which indeed I intend to do: I'm counting on it, actually). Does it still strike me, though, as a potentially serious misstep for Apple, a pointless product with no place in our society? No, it does not. Not anymore.

Apple has invented a new kind of computer: everybody's been saying so, but I guess I've finally come around to seeing that it's true. They've invented the knee-propper.

What isn't new is that their ads are just the fuckin' tops.

* Because I have a (mostly) irrational hatred for the Kindle [see relevant a/an worrying in the second footnote here].
† And in fact this whole ad campaign, which since taking this picture I've seen just about everywhere.

This ever-changin' world in which we live in...


OK—the Internet does not verify this, but I'm going to go ahead and say that in the song "Live and Let Die," Sir Paul McCartney sings, "this ever-changing world in which we're livin'."* The phrase "this ever-changing world in which we live in" would be one for the Department of Redundancy Department.

HOWEVER, there would be no problem and no redundancy if we sang, "In this ever-changin' world in which we live" (or "which we live in"†), because if someone asked, "In which world," we could comfortably respond, "The world we live in": the two ins are performing two discrete grammatical functions.

And that's why the person who misspelled grammar also got her‡ grammar wrong. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the sentence, "Please only use the bins for what they were intended for."§ The bins were intended for something in particular, and we're asked to use the bins for that intended purpose.

Apple tech support, if you call the 800 number, hits you with this recorded message: "We answer calls in the order they were received." No. No, no, no: calls are not received an order. Calls are received in an order, and you will answer calls in that order: i.e., in the order in which they were received. See? Same problem here. Bins were not intended nonstinky items; they were intended for nonstinky items (just a guess). Put it this way: You are going to use the bins for a purpose. What purpose? The purpose for which they were intended. Two ins, two fors. In, in, for, for, in and for.**

Good thing this doesn't matter this slightest bit THIS IS FUCKING IMPORTANT, PEOPLE.

* I have no such confidence about W. Axl Rose's cover version.
† Or, better yet, that we live in—but the thatwhich distinction is actually chiefly American and this song was written by a lad from Liverpool, so whatever.
‡ Her, right? Isn't that a girl's handwriting?
§ Well, nothing except a misplaced modifier and maybe the passive voice: ain't nothing wrong with that final for, I'm saying.
** I love y'all hos for lettin' Assault join in.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Short Round: Sterling Professor of the Cat in the Window at Night


English 450b – #7-4
March 2, 1999

What does the cat do in the store at night, after the store is closed?

We must clarify before we begin. There is the cat per cat, and there is the cat per cat in the window at night. The cat in the window at night does not exist beyond the passerby's perception of it. The cat per cat may do all manner of mysterious things in the store at night, things about which I am completely uninterested. My knowledge is limited to the cat in the window at night.

What does the cat do in the window at night?

The cat sleeps. The cat sits and looks. The cat darts in and out of vision, i.e., of existence. The cat exists mindlessly and idiotically.

Why mindlessly and idiotically?

The cat does not compose opera. The cat does not empty the cash register. The cat does not solve problems or complicate the oversimplified. The cat does not rig elaborate booby traps for the morning's humans. The cat does not communicate with the gods. The cat gathers string and staples and looks at you with big semitransparent eye-marbles.

Is the cat a male or a female?

The cat is neither.

Have you ever seen the cat inside the store, during the day?

The question is meaningless.

What can we do with the cat?

We can look at the cat. We can dart back and forth and make it dart back and forth with us. We can confuse the cat. We can startle the cat. We can anger the cat. We can bore the cat. We can cause the cat to see double. We can cause the cat to see its projects to their ends. We can reveal to the cat the glory of the Christ (through example). We can pretend to be a cat. We can escape.

What can the cat do with us?

The cat can superimpose its own reflection over us. The cat can sit and look.

Does the cat have a soul?

The cat does not have a soul. The cat has a hunger and a hankering for fish.


Saturday, April 3, 2010

Wet Hot American Summer: a few thoughts

Wet Hot American Summer is a movie that, after I saw it in the theaters, I walked out and as I remember actually said to my friend, "I feel like that's a movie I'm going to like a whole lot more after I've watched it like eight more times." And it's true: while parts of it made me laugh when I first saw it, it wasn't until viewing number two or even three that I really started to think, "Yeah, OK, this is good." And it wasn't until I watched it again last week that I really came around to the viewpoint (the correct viewpoint) that pretty much every second of that movie is pure comedy genius.*

A few thoughts:

(1a) Wet Hot American Summer is not just a zany comedy set at a camp, and it is not just a parody of camp movies—it is a camp movie.

(1b) Most of the funniest stuff, as absurdist as it can be, is actually really essentially just an exaggerated version of an observation about something real.

(1c) Has any movie of any genre so amazingly captured the fascinating ridiculousness and raw, blind, fumbling intensity of teenage sexuality?

(1d) I still, years later, have not seen a gay sex scene so intense—in any movie. I'm including Brokeback Mountain.†

Holy moly.

(2) The scene in which Joe Lo Truglio is on a motorcycle, chasing Ken Marino, who is on foot, is very, very, very The State.

(3a) Elizabeth Banks will always be the girl from this movie.

(3b) So will Marguerite Moreau.

(4) Oh my God, Paul Rudd picking up the tray while Janeane Garofolo is standing there watching him (see 1b above)? Or basically everything Paul Rudd does in that movie?

(5) I didn't know how hard it was going to be to spell Janeane.

*Maybe not the part when Michael Showalter falls down for no reason.

† Even keeping in mind the part when one of the two guys (I forget which) licks his hand or spits or something...which frankly was ground that Brittany Murphy had already pretty much covered in 8 Mile, thank you very much.

Friday, April 2, 2010

more parking douchebaggery

This person couldn't have done a better job of preventing anyone else from parking nearby. And the amazing thing is, I think it's actually the same car from earlier.

ludicrous: not just a rapper anymore

So the Rev. Rainero Cantalamessa's response to growing outrage over his Church's mishandling of the endemic sexual abuse of children is basically to go all Leiber–Stoller* on us and cry, "Why is everybody always picking on us?"—and that's ridiculous and appalling on its own, but it gets worse: I'm not quick to cry anti-Semitism (see second footnote regarding the ADL here), but what do we make of the implication, by comparison, that the Jews were persecuted for things they actually were doing wrong?

I mean, the Rev. Cantabelievethenerveonthisguy can't possibly be suggesting that the sexual abuse has not been going on or that it has been handled perfectly (I mean, the Pope apologized for it: doesn't that make it officially something that required apology, according to the whole concept of the pontiff?). So let's treat this like an old-school S.A.T. analogy:

Alleged persecution of Catholics is to historically established persecution of Jews as established sexual abuse of children is to...what? Alleged use of Christian babies in the making of matzoh? Alleged murder of Jesus? Alleged greed and control of the world? Alleged all-around moral depravity and satanic evil?

Seriously: just how is one to respond to this horseshit? It's not just an unreasonable comparison and not just a comparison that suggests a total failure to accept guilt: it's an unreasonable comparison suggesting both a total failure to accept guilt and a belief that there's actually plenty of reason to persecute Jews, just that it would have been nicer to leave them alone!

I'm reminded of the brilliant exchange in the South Park movie:

CARTMAN: Hey, Kyle, all those times I said you were a dirty Jew, I didn't mean it. You're not a Jew.
KYLE: Yes I am! I am a Jew, Cartman!
CARTMAN: No, no, Kyle, don't be so hard on yourself.

See also:

What's wrong with the blood libel is not that it's nicer not to make a big deal out it. What was wrong with the Holocaust was not that it was an inappropriately disproportionate punishment for real crimes.

Seems to me that the good reverend either thinks that Jews are evil or that touching little boys is OK. No other rational explanation for his assholery comes to mind.

* Or Sarah Palin.

Spam victory!

I just got an excellent piece of spam mail from a literary genius named wcsjimmy. The subject line, "Wild action in bedroom," is nothing to write home about, but the content, "Improvement for night intruder," is something to write home about—and not just a postcard, but a long handwritten letter! Because night intruder is clearly a euphemism for penis, yes?—and that, my friends, is brilliant on a Shakespearean level.

Night Intruder (1955)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

parking douchebaggery

Is it clear in this picture (maybe if you click to enlarge?) that this car is sitting like a third or even half of a car's length in from the left end of this little stretch of parkable curb? And that there is consequently just barely not enough room for another car to park behind it without jutting into that driveway on the right?

Something about the smallness of the picture on my laptop computer screen makes me want to ball my hand into an Iron Giant fist and just smash that car into the ground. So satisfying.

[Or—oh, wait! My bad: this guy's just pulling a hilarious April Fool's prank! Oh, man, I totally fell for it. Well played, sir! Well played indeed!]