Episode 09 – 2014 Music Special


Come listen to a solid, rambling conversation on the year in music.

Andrew gets drunk!

Originally posted on On Your Mark, Get Set... Review!:

episode 09

This week, the first in a series of 2014 in review episodes. Host Erik and guests Andrew, Caroline and Glen count down their top tens in music.

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Ice Bucket Challenge: When Narcissism and Philanthropy Collide

If you’re friends with white people from the USA on Facebook, you’re probably privy to the Ice Bucket Challenge, a social-media form of celebrated charity-donation avoidance. The cause here is ALS(Lou Gehrig’s Disease), notably, drumming up awareness and money to combat it. According to the ALS narrative, this thing kicked off when Peter Frates(who has lived with ALS for 2 years) volunteered some friends to be doused with cold water. (It actually began when a bunch of pro-athletes started daring their pro-athlete friends to film themselves doing things for no reason. Then Matt Lauer and Martha Stewart got involved, for charities of their choice. But if the ALS wants to co-opt it, that’s fine.)

So this thing went viral in the way that things typically go viral. Celebrity involvement, media attention, and critical mass via social media certainly helped. And it doesn’t hurt that the “challenge” is easy and user friendly in a way that anyone can join in.

Now, you’re probably asking “How does dumping water on your head generate money?”. Well,if you fail to respond to the challenge, you have to…DONATE MONEY.

Let me rephrase that: If you lose the challenge, you have to donate money.

Let me say that another way: All of the people you see on Facebook having a grand, ol’ time dumping water on their heads are doing so to avoid donating to charity. This is a social media sensation now.

So here’s the good: according to Barbara Newhouse, the ALS National President, donations have reached around $2 million since the Challenge began(compared with around $14 grand this time last year). That’s a rock-solid monetary statistic that suggests a correlation between the Ice Bucket Challenge and donations. And a quick look on Facebook and Twitter will confirm that, at the very least, the Challenge is gaining traction in the Twittersphere. All fine and good, right? Well…

1. This is a “Challenge” in the loosest sense

In terms of difficulty, the Ice Bucket Challenge has gotta be the most pampered shit ever. Like, a stuffy rich white lady in the 1920’s who speaks in a fake British accent MIGHT be like, “Ooooohoooh!!! The water is so cool! How delightfully wicked!!! I can’t wait to get the colored messenger boy to deliver my challenge to Belinda!!!”

Lady who thinks The Challenge is “just brilliant and naughty”.

It’s the middle of the fucking summer. There’s nothing challenging about being doused with cold water when it’s above 90 degrees outside.  Oh, what’s that? It’s slightly TOO REFRESHING for a half a second!  The horror!  Fuck off.  That’s not a challenge. That’s a bootleg water park. That’s something you did anyway if you grew up without a pool.

Suggested alternatives: Use pigs blood. For the mess-conscious, do this during a time of year when, to achieve comfort, you have to do more than simply STAND STILL AND WAIT FOR YOUR BLOOD FLOW TO WARM YOU!!!

2. Vanity-Forward Marketing

I realize this craze was more lightning in a bottle and social-media facilitated wildfire than it was anything that was planned by a marketing firm. And I can totally get behind that. As far as people who participate, on an individual level, I don’t really have any beef with them per se. But taking in the complete picture of this thing has some things that just don’t jive with me.

For starters, the visibility of people completing the challenge seems to be as ubiquitous, if not moreso than, the cause itself. In other words, the people that you’re likely to see through a casual scroll on your newsfeed are people dumping water on their heads.  No one’s really providing any information about the disease or any sources where one so inclined might inform themselves in these videos. Maybe a viewer takes the initiative to inform themselves, maybe they don’t. But say they do, the people who donate are entirely eliminated from the “fun”. What it amounts to is a social media circle jerk occurring amongst friends, which is fine. I’m guilty of as much social-media fuckery as anyone. Except the Ice Bucket Challenge seems to be done with this self-satisfied pretense of doing good work. The priorities seem weirdly skewed. The people getting the most social media visibility seem to be doing the least of substance for the charity(but I’m sure the people who sell bagged ice are grateful for the boon in business, however). I have to wonder how much of the motivation here comes from an honest and philanthropical place and how much of it is just to get “likes” on Facebook. And if it was honest and philanthropical, why not just donate? There’s currently no viral video sensation that celebrates the quietly noble, altruistic act of donating money.

Army of smiling people avoiding charity.

Here’s a guy who donated to ALS.

Maybe that’s been intended from the inception here. Maybe someone figured out that you can’t really rely on altruism anymore. Since people are giving less of a shit, you need to tie your charitable motivations to something less charitable and more self-serving. Relying on our need to be seen and “liked” is something that big corporations have already begun exploiting and the Ice Bucket Challenge is kind of a brilliant example of it taking root with philanthropy. Money and attention driven by narcissism is better than no money or attention at all, I guess. But about the water…

3. Looking at it globally…

Not to pretentiously make those of you who participated feel like huge, cankerous, globally clueless dicks or anything, but here are some statistics about people without access to safe drinking water around the world:

Latin America: 32 million

Central Asia: 196 million

East Asia: 200 million

Africa: 345 million

Is it a moral and rhetorical cheap shot on my part to bring up the lack of safe water in lesser developed regions as a counter to an innocuous social-media trend? I don’t know. Maybe. But after all of this self-satisfied back-patting going on as a result of this thing, I feel it warrants reminding: that water that you’re pouring on the ground to get “Likes” on Facebook was clean and safe(Yes, even if you’re from New Jersey).  You’re kind of coming across like a clueless wanker of privilege at best and a flippant asshole at worst.

4. The State That Produces 80% of Our Food is Experiencing a Historic Drought

Not just a “Oh, well it’s probably common for the region! Who cares? I’m gonna go jack off in the mirror now brb…” drought, but a serious fucking three-year drought. California has been in an official State of Emergency since January. Last year, was the driest the state has been since record keeping began in 1895. On July 29th, just when this Ice Bucket Challenge was getting started, a mandatory water regulation measure was put into effect. Even a strong El Nino for an entire season would likely be inconsequential to reversing the damage. We’re talking Dust-Bowl type shit.

“Why should I care?” you’re probably saying, as you belch and play with your distended, hair-speckled belly button. Well, like 80% of our food(veggies, fruits, nuts, meat, fish, and dairy) comes from California. That’s an average. Some crops from California account for a greater percentage(99% of almonds, for example), some account for less(70% of lettuce). We may not have our livelihoods as intimately tied to the weather as Californian farmers do, but their struggles have already begun to affect food prices nationwide. It’s only going to get worse and it’s going to result in a true cost-of-living/comfort-of-life change for the country as a whole.

Here are some pictures of affected parts of California:

Coyote Hills Regional Park

Lexington Reservoir

Some gorgeous photography there, especially if you’re a fan of films about post-apocalyptic wastelands, if you can get past the part where those landscapes are supposed to be filled with rivers, reservoirs, cropfields, or green national parks.

While it’s unlikely that the water you’re wasting would influence the drought very much anyway, it doesn’t change the fact that you guys are acting like greedy, gluttonous medieval kings celebrating in slow motion before their kingdom falls. Only instead of greasy turkey legs and flagons of wine, you’re doing it with water that would be better used by other people.

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Mea Culpa of a Sellout

In the mid 1990s, the student body at the middle school I attended abided by a set of rigid faction politics that seemed completely normal at the time. Superficially, an outsider might perceive your standard clique dynamics at play, but the truth was that the whole thing was pretty fluid. Athletes hung out with the hackey sack kids. Hackey sack kids smoked weed with the “thugs”. Our weird, lower middle class version of “preppy” was not very removed, socioeconomically speaking, from everyone else, so rich kid pomposity was almost nonexistent. Still, we were young and there were lines in the sand to be drawn.

We did so according to the type of music we listened to. Those of us that listened to rock went under the moniker of “headbangers” and those that listened to rap were labeled “rappers”. If by chance you liked both, you were kind of this weird anomaly. You weren’t really ostracized, but any time we had “Headbangers vs. Rappers” football games, eyebrows were raised and foreheads were scratched. I firmly and proudly placed myself in the Headbanger camp at the time. And even if a good rap artist happened to cross my path(Tupac’s aggression somehow tapped into the angsty suburban discontent, but I held it at a distance), I wouldn’t know, because I was too firmly entrenched, hands clasped over my ears, content with my limited world of Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Pantera albums. Years later, I find myself a sincere appreciator of hip-hop music and that rigid binary stands out as a tentpole of my closed-minded youth.

Brave headbanger fighting admirably against a kid who said DMX was better than Candlebox.

Now, that anecdote is just a longwinded way of beginning to admit this:

I purchased my first Apple computer this week.

Those of you that know me or have a passing familiarity with this blog know that I probably hate myself right now. And, don’t worry, I do.

Paradoxically I happen to be an iPod user(I’ve owned 4 Classics and 2 Touches), despite an ongoing battle with iTunes that rivals Luke vs. Darth, Jacob vs. The Smoke Monster, and Harry Potter vs. Whoever The Bad Guy In That Turned Out To Be. While the iPod hardware has generally done just fine by me, I probably would have went elsewhere if it weren’t for the lack of other heavy-storage options in the portable digital music market(the dubiously reviewed Archos-tablet being the only other 120GB+ game in town). That aside, I’ve never contemplated buying an iPhone. They seem so bland and limiting after owning several Droids. They’re like the vanilla ice cream of technology. I’m beyond convinced that with a little research(the number of different Droid varietals is admittedly overwhelming) and a week or two of acclimation, most iPhone users would find a deeply more satisfying phone experience elsewhere. I’ve dedicated several blog posts to trashing Apple products and the obsessive flock that is hardwired into following the brand into whatever depths that their ad people would ask of them; that buy fully into a brilliantly smug and self-congratulatory PR campaign that postulates Apple users as some sort of badass outsider. In my first completed sitcom pilot, I wrote a scene where our Panasonic ToughBook-sporting protagonists destroy the MacBook of a pompous “hipster” cliché(macbook excerpt). Every time a PC of mine received a blue screen or just failed to turn on, I would consider Apple for a second, then become completely turned off by their cost and their rigidity and their strange, 1980’s approach to storage pricing(“What? $1 per megabyte of space isn’t fair?!” says some Apple Marketing Guy Who Still Has a Job).

So why did I buy one now? At the beginning of September, I found myself in need of a portable laptop that I could use for work. My Toshiba Satellite, approaching five years of age, runs like a fucking champ(after a HD swap, that is). But it’s entirely too bulky. To suit my needs, I grabbed a tiny 11-inch Acer Aspire. It had an AMD processor, which I’m not into but I only needed it for lesson planning, mobile grading, and lightweight browsing. The hard drive space was virtually untouched(save for some very small but valuable school documents that I lost). The most demanding program I used on it was probably Spotify(which came pre-installed). I hadn’t visited PornHub, DwarFuck, FastJizz, FapOn, FuckHorse, or FuckGoat a single time in my six weeks of owning the machine, which only underscores my pure and modest intentions with it. And still, the Acer received a blue screen error by the first week of November.

Confession: My “Acer” computer was actually this.

None of the Dells appealed to me and I’ve always heard scattershot things about them. I’d be willing to give Acer another shot down the road, but not for awhile. I liked the HP I owned, but its poorly designed fans which lead to a fried motherboard left a bad taste in my mouth. Lenovo and Gateway, admittedly, I haven’t researched very much since my previous big purchase(when I bought the aforementioned Toshiba). I’d have gladly went for a smaller model Toshiba. However, their Satellite series are an impractical-for-my-purposes 15-17 inches. And their Ultrabooks (11-13 inches), which are definitely appealing to me, are priced higher than the MacBook I ended up buying. I’m sure some of my decision making was influenced by kneejerk recoiling from a terrible Acer experience(seriously, six fucking weeks?). Stability and reliability is the one thing that even naysayers can admit Apple does well(sorta). I simply lack the patience and nerve at this particular point in my life to risk shelling out another few hundred bucks on something that is going to fail me. It’s one thing to lose the Warren Zevon bootlegs that I pirated. It’s another thing to play cowboy with documents that relate to my academic or professional well-being. At some point, I let out a resounding “fuck it” and decided to take the begrudging plunge. I marched down to an Apple store and while everyone was very courteous, it took around 3.5 hours, knowing exactly what I wanted, before I left the store with a product. I realize that’s just first-world bitching on my part, but I couldn’t help drawing comparisons that an Apple Store feels kind of like a DMV that plays slightly better music.

“We pipe in some Sufjan and voila!”

I’m typing this on that selfsame machine(A 13 inch MacBook Pro, non-retinal display). How’s it been going so far? Well, it appears that the Gradebook application my school uses doesn’t jive with the newest Mac OS. That’s kind of the most pressing I had to do this weekend, so fuck me on that, right? Toshiba to the rescue once again. Otherwise, it’s nice enough, sturdy, slick, responsive. I really do like the magnetized power cord thingy. I don’t hate it but I hate that it’s come to this.

Me, since I’ve bought a MacBook Pro.

The bigger issue here is what the machine is doing to me. I’m currently on antibiotics for an ailment that the doctor’s haven’t quite pegged yet. They say maybe a sinus infection or really deep ear infection. An alarmist would note that I do have several symptoms of Hodgkin’s Disease, but that’s neither here nor there. I’m inclined to believe that the swollen lymph glands, night sweats, chills, and ear aches are my body rejecting the Apple machine. My body knows that this is wrong, that this should have never happened. That the fiber of who I am, for so long, has been tied to my opposition to Apple. If there’s any consolation for me here, it’s that that loathing, that fire is still in tact. I close with a quote from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road:

“You have to carry the fire.

I don’t know how to.

Yes you do.

Is it real? The fire?

Yes it is.

Where is it? I don’t know where it is.

Yes you do. It’s inside you. It was always inside you.”  

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Like Moths To Tragedy

A few years ago, an out of breath friend called me with a story about how he was “just involved in a car accident”. The story, told mostly through forward-inching narration peppered with dramatic huffs of anxious relief, featured my friend riding steadily in the slow lane as his exit — whose location he wasn’t quite sure of but was certain — was coming up soon. In front of him was a pickup truck with a cargo attachment hooked to its ass and a  driver who operated the vehicle in a way that would understandably infuriate anyone driving behind it: riding of the breaks, jagged start/stops, an uneasy wobble of the cargo attachment. My friend, having had about enough, shifted into the center lane, at which point the car previously behind him rammed into the aforementioned cargo attachment.

“I don’t understand. Did you miss your exit?” I asked.

But no. My friend simply saw this unfold and freaked out. You could imagine my own personal disappointment with this story since its billing promised a car accident involving my friend instead of the turn of good fortune that I perceived it to be. Not that I’m callous and want tragedy to befall people I care about, but since he was in front of me, clearly unharmed, relating this story, it was only natural that I begin to quietly anticipate and demand the discharge that the Chekhov’s gun of his “I was involved in a car accident” had promised. As it was, the proximity to which he was involved in a car accident was tenuous at best, yet my friend still carried on as if he had undergone some Phaedran tragedy.

car helicopter

How the story should have ended.

Enter this week’s Boston Marathon bombing. The usual sentimental suspects that accompany such a violent, terror-tinged tragedy accompanied the unfolding of this story. There were sincere shows of support and camaraderie, vengeful bloodlusting, vengeful racist bloodlusting(this being a bombing particularly brought that sort of reactionary-bigot flavor that we’ve been missing with all of our school and movie theater shootings of late), and attempts by people tenuously affected by the whole thing to place themselves in closer proximity to it.

I recall this sort of thing taking place around 9/11, though Facebook barely existed at the time, so my examples of it are relegated mostly to my cerebrum. Pissing contests centered around who was affected more by the attacks came hard and fast: whose father worked in which adjacent building; who had lunch across the street hours earlier; whose dog was named “World Trade Center”, and so on. We seem to have this weird tendency to co-opt other people’s pain(Hip-hop group Naughty By Nature is considered by some to be an early pop-cultural progenitor of this mentality) and insinuate ourselves into it.

Coming back to my friend, sure, in its most existential sense he was mere seconds and feet from having a car accident on the highway(Which is pretty much the case any time you drive on a highway, but moving on). His reaction is not unfathomable in a “survivor’s guilt” sort of way. A big ingredient in human empathy is recognizing something shitty and being gracious that it didn’t befall us. And so it’s understandable for us to have similar reactions when tragedies that we have avoided occur around us. But why do we have to broadcast these reactions to friends and family? What are we contributing by taking to Facebook and Twitter and announcing our own, however tenuous, proximity to this Thing? Is it really necessary to try to imply our closeness to the situation by claiming that we ran the marathon a year ago or went to school in Boston or plan on visiting Boston next month or drove through Boston with our family once or blew the drummer from Negative FX at The Pit in the 80s? How could that information possibly hold any weight in the context of lost limbs, friends, and sons?

My buddy Chad who "totally gets it" because he used to mix his date-rape potion in Harvard Square.

My buddy Chad who “totally gets it” because he used to mix his date-rape serum in Harvard Square.

You can play fatalistic “what-if?” in your head and apply it to just about anything. If my dad were born a few years earlier, maybe he gets drafted, goes to Saigon, comes back lacking certain hardware below the waist and I never exist. If I were a child from Sierra Leone, my parents would probably be slaughtered by warlords, who’d then force me to look for diamonds so they can sell them to Liberians who can then sell them to white people and if I did a good job, I’d be given a gun and ordered to kill the child who did a shitty job, thus entering into a tenure track Warlord Program. With a little imagination and a loose adherence to the rules of time and space, we can concoct infinite scenarios which place us at the heart of each and every tragedy. It reminds me of trying to get a 14 year old to connect to a piece of literature that doesn’t have immediate advice on how to finger their girlfriend or call their dad a “fuckface” without getting grounded. But the brain of a teenager is still developing so it’s excusable for them to be completely solipsistic and self-absorbed most of the time. It’s disconcerting that adults are exhibiting the same sort of behavior.

The Mai Lai massacre was terrible, and I'd know, I had Vietnamese food once.

Having lost my virginity at 13 to a Vietnamese prostitute, I’m basically a victim of the Mai Lai Massacre.

Or is this just something that I/we need to get used to? Given our culture’s omnipresent relationship to reality television and social media that — keeps us connected, sure — but also provides us with staggeringly efficient and socially accepted ways to inseminate the ether with our own narcissism, can I really be surprised that people manage to view things, almost exclusively, as how they pertain to themselves? Like teenagers, some of us still view the totality of life as if it were a movie in which we’re the main character and the endless combinations of events, individuals and contexts are A.) Things that we haven’t quite figured out how they relate to us; fit in our movie. or B.) Not important. And so when Something big and terrible and quite obviously important in every grander sense happens, we can’t help but snap into this “Hey, me too!” autopilot in which we grasp for every and any connection to this Thing, no matter how slight. Why? Because it’s so obviously big and important and we need in on that communal experience, even if it’s painful? Are we greedy attention whores heeding the example set by a culture that rewards greedy attention whoring? Do we not know how to empathize in any other way? Is it because we spend so much time staring at ourselves in mirrors of our own words and wit that we’ve been conditioned into viewing everything through that lens of self-absorbtion?

I don’t mean to suggest reality television and social media invented this phenomena. People have been co-opting pain and misery since guilt and sympathy were recognized as effective emotional manipulators, but our modern context provides a new canvas for it to flourish truer and deeper, not to mention record it for posterity. Nor is it my intention here to pronounce who’s really affected by whatever such tragedy. There are certainly real and valid ways for one to be proximately and indirectly affected by a tragedy. And sometimes you shift lanes at just the right moment and avoid becoming the person who is about to have a seriously shitty day. This is that guy’s shitty day now, not yours. Let him have it.

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Why that Ted/Magic Mike meme makes no sense.

On June 29th, the world of summer cinema saw the release of Ted and Magic MikeTed is a Seth MacFarlane(vintage Family Guy, American Dad, newer and considerably less funny Family Guy) raunch-comedy about a CGI teddy bear(voiced by MacFarlane) and his bromantic relationship with his developmentally-stunted owner/friend(Mark Wahlberg).  Magic Mike is a Steven Soderbergh dramedy about the financial and romantic travails of a male stripper and his abs.

Both films were incredibly successful at the box-office(and still are at the time of this writing) and moderately successful with critics.  At first glance – which I suppose is what matters most with the Average Joe moviegoing public – these films would appear to have two distinctly different target audiences.  Ted, with its foul-mouthed raunch and bromantic underpinnings would seem to appeal to men.  While Magic Mike with its cadre of shirtless heart-throbs would appeal primarily to women.  One could argue that the bromantic raunch of Ted is nothing new or unprecedented; that female audiences enjoyed films in the similar comedic vein with the likes of The Hangover, Superbad, Knocked Up, Role Models, I Love You Man, Wedding Crashers, and so on, depending on how far back you really want to trace the bromantic comedy movement.  Similarly, one could also argue that Magic Mike would appeal to men who have a serious interest in cinema being that Soderbergh is a consistently interesting filmmaker whose work bounces between slick, mainstream entertainment(The Ocean’s flicks, Erin Brockovich, Out of Sight), avant-garde indie fare(The Girlfriend Experience, Bubble) and stuff somewhere between the two(The Informant!, Che, Traffic).

But sure, the promotional focus on male pelvic grinding makes it pretty clear who this movie is being aimed at:  people who want to see male pelvic grinding.  And Ted, like the other mass-appeal bromantic comedies before it, contains a male protagonist and deal primarily with masculine concerns(male camaraderie, farting, and leaving your cool child stuff behind so girls won’t be ashamed to sleep with you) makes it pretty clear who the film is ultimately geared towards.

So all of this is just a long-winded way of me saying “Fair enough” on that end.  Let us assume that Magic Mike is for women and Ted is for men.  Let us also assume that the respective demographic for each of these film’s box office success is consistent with that target intention(men flocked to Ted and women to Magic Mike – for the sake of set-up since I don’t know how actually true it is).  All of this has given way to the following meme:

This thing has been all over Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit.  Friends are passing it on to one another, which means they find it to be funny or true or smart or some combination of these(unless it’s some sort of ironic statement about really bad memes).  It seems to be about as popular as any other short lifespanned meme in that you’ll see it pretty constantly until Magic Mike and Ted are out of theaters and it ceases to have relevance.

I love me a good meme.  At best, I’ve audibly laughed at a meme and at worst, I just sort of say “meh” and go on with my life.  And that’s what I did the first time I saw this meme, but its persistent intrusion into my digital social life has proven unavoidable.  People are still forwarding this and quoting it and seemingly finding it clever or funny or containing enough truth to warrant showing it to more and more people.  Not only is it not funny which is a darkly subjective water that I won’t bother to dip my toes into here, the meme makes virtually no sense.  Here’s why:

I get that strippers are a terrain that’s been traditionally monopolized by men.  In the United States, there are between 2500 and 3000 strip clubs and most of those are geared towards heterosexual men.  Even in the biggest cities, strip clubs directed at heterosexual women are in scant supply compared to their counterparts.  Whatever texture your explanation for this takes(“There are more female strip clubs because men are gross!” – Socially unconscious woman,  “There are more female strip clubs because the male-dominated power structure has been allowed to easily subjugate women for centuries!” – Socially conscious woman,  “There are few male strip clubs because it’s still socially taboo for women to express sexual interest or enjoyment in a public setting!” – Socially conscious guy who’s trying to sleep with one of the other two women, etc.) it’s pretty clear that strip clubs are firmly by and for heterosexual men.

So, no argument on that.  But when did teddy bears become a bastion of women?  That’s so bizarre and unsupported to me that I got slightly dizzy when I read this meme for the first time.  Like I somehow missed this obvious, cultural thing that everyone takes for granted:  “Teddy bears are for girls, duh!  Next you’ll tell me that you didn’t know that all homeless people are actually rich!”.  I wouldn’t know where to begin research into the respective sexes’ relationship to teddy bears outside of personal anecdotes.  For my own younger relatives, for children that my friends have blorted out, in mass-cultural media depictions of childhood(in commercials, TV shows, movies, etc) teddy bears seem pretty firmly unisex.  And that’s without considering my own feelings on the matter.  Me?  I fucking love teddy bears.

Teddy from A.I.  Baddest motherfucker alive.

Not only is there no existing cultural precedent that aligns teddy bears to women, but the meme itself makes the mistake of grounding itself in the world of cinema(“This may be the first time that men want to see a movie about a teddy bear and women want to see a movie about strippers”).

Quick, name the last movie about a teddy bear that women flocked to see.  Okay, that might be a little unreasonable.  How about you name any movie about a teddy bear aside from Ted?  Don’t try too hard because there fucking aren’t any.  Even consulting Google and weeding through dozens of links related to Ted, there aren’t many movies about teddy bears to be found.  I found a few direct to video children’s animated movies and a cult Polish film whose cover is this:

So not only is this the first time men want to see a movie about a teddy bear but it seems to be the first time that a movie about a teddy bear has appeared in an American multiplex in my life time.

The field is a little more crowded for stripper flicks but not much.  Sure, stripper/dancer characters have been in plenty of films but how many of them are squarely about strippers?  Natalie Portman’s character in Closer(2004) becomes a stripper for about five [glorious] minutes of screentime but it is a reach to centrally define her character as “a stripper”.  Marisa Tomei’s character in The Wrestler(2008) is a stripper but the movie is about The Wrestler.  Rose McGowan plays a one-legged stripper in Planet Terror(2007) but again, this is not a focal point.

I invite readers to correct me on this but the last flick I can think of that was squarely about strippers was The Full Monty(1997) a British comedy about – wait for it –  the financial and romantic travails of a male stripper!  Before that was Striptease(1996) and Showgirls(1995).  Not only were these movies not very good but whatever fleeting interest heterosexual men might have had in them is less relevant in our post-Broadband culture where you can easily pull up pictures of tits before you finish reading this sentence.

Pulled up in another tab while I typed the last sentence.

I’ve clearly spent too much time here but that’s sort of the point.  In our post-Twitter culture where no one has time to read, much less compose something that makes us laugh, memes can be a nice little snack of comedy or satire or truth when done well.   This one is not done well.  And the fact that it gained such traction reveals that we’re not really paying attention to the things we consider funny, clever, true, or worthy of sharing with others.  Our culture allows anyone to create whatever the hell they want and that’s great.  But the onus is on us, the people, the consumers of this culture of impulsive creativity to pay a little more attention.  We can allow someone to string a couple statements together, neither of which qualify as legitimate observations and allow them to call it “funny” or “witty” or “true” but we don’t have to mindlessly pass it on in complicit agreement of its own shittiness.

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Why did the pedestrian cross the road?

If you’ve ever driven a car around a modestly populated area, you’ve probably encountered this:  you’re driving, you happen upon a crosswalk, you see a couple of pedestrians eager to cross, you let them. Then, in a turn of events that has no logic outside of itself, they cross at a pace that does an injustice to the word.  This person has responded to your courtesy of not killing him or her by flaunting their air of “Fuck you, I always deserved this” right in your angry face.  These are some of the longest, angriest seconds of your life.  You’re forced to sit through the entire thing because to gun the gas now would be far too difficult to prove as an accident in court.  The associated feelings push through your head like antsy commuters on a Friday: confusion, impotent rage, hate.  Then, a flurry of questions that never rise passed an angry mutter: “Are you fucking serious?”, “Wait, did you really just SLOW DOWN???”, “Do you know what hell looks like?”. 

Let’s back up.  It’s easy to let emotion win here, especially when you happen to one of the parties involved.  Say you were driving the car and stopped and allowed this person to cross, you have implicitly invested yourself into what happens next.  If you’re in a rush and allow them to cross, only to get pissy when they don’t move fast enough, doesn’t that make you kind of a dick?  Maybe, but going the other way with it, let’s say you’re the pedestrian.  If someone gives you the high-beams or the “move” fingers, you do have the option of responding with the “No, YOU move” fingers. If you accept the driver’s concession to let you cross, the texture of your role here changes. 

How does it change?  I think that depends on traffic context.  If the first car off of a red-light is holding up traffic by 1.) letting you cross and 2.) not killing you and whoever you’re with, I’d say you should haul ass across that street.  Sprint like Tom Cruise in every-Tom-Cruise-movie.  Even if you’re on a date, you should grab your date’s hand and run her ass across the street. 

                              “How To Cross The Street With A Woman” starring Matt Damon.

Of course, that’s not always possible.  I understand that not everyone is capable of hauling ass.  Some pedestrians may have gout, arthritis, shin splints, or boners that haven’t been properly positioned or drained.  Here’s where speed matters less than appearance.  As long as you make it look like you give a shit about crossing in a reasonable amount of time, you’ll look like less of an entitled prick and you’ll also spare the psychological health of the driver who would otherwise use your slow, almost spiteful walking as emotional ammunition for a future meltdown, probably directed at somebody who isn’t you.

The psychology of a pedestrian who takes their sweet ass time to cross doesn’t even make a whole lot of sense.  If you take away physical ailments, what other reasons might one have for not at least attempting to cross the street in a reasonable amount of time? 

“I have right of way”.  Yes, you do.  That’s why you’ve been allowed to cross the street in the first place.  Why would you want to take advantage of that?  And don’t get it twisted, you have the right of way LEGALLY.  However, in the simple relationship of strength/weakness, have/have-not that governs the world, you have been granted a brief courtesy by the driver.  Yes, a courtesy.  You aren’t owed this.  You aren’t entitled to this.  You, with your sweating and breathing mass of soft pink flesh has been granted permission to cross the street by the man or woman wielding the two-ton machine of steel and gas and death. 

“Because fuck you, that’s why”.  I normally attribute this one to the people that seem to slow down.  I can begin to appreciate this one socially or racially.  Like if a group of black guys slow down while crossing in front of me, I’ll be pissed at the time.  But I can use my liberal white-guilt after the fact to rationalize that maybe this was their little way of saying “fuck you” to The Man.  But am I projecting grander social significance on something when they’re just being self-absorbed, entitled pricks like the white people that do it?  Either way, the implicit message when someone does this is “My time is more important than yours” and if you don’t at least pretend to give a shit about crossing the street so they can go about their day, you’re only part of the problem. 

[Not available].  Meaning this question hasn’t even occurred to the pedestrian.  They enjoy such a disconnect from thoughts and worlds that aren’t their own that the idea of articulating a reason for not moving across the street a little faster is a mathematical impossibility.  They see a car flash headlights and if you asked them if a human being was in that car, they’d obviously say yes.  If you pulled over and said respectfully, “You know, I let you cross and you literally paused in the middle of the street to finish your text message and then continued”, they’d probably become extremely humble and apologetic. But in that moment, your car with you inside of it is just another disembodied prop in the movie of their life.

Next time a car lets you cross the street, remember that vehicle can kill you.  Respect that.  Remember that there’s a human being in the car.  Maybe the person in the car is a piece of shit but for these few seconds, they’ve elected to put your time ahead of their own.  Appreciate that.  Also, that vehicle can kill you.

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Sad that Whitney Houston Died? Yeah??? WHY DO YOU HATE OUR SOLDIERS???

Inevitably when a famous person dies, there’s always the counter-reaction after the initial wave of sympathy.  After the sincere mourners have gotten all of their “pain” out of the way, there’s always the folks right behind them who somehow need to invoke dead U.S. soldiers as a means of trivializing the pain of people who are mourning said celebrity.  Not only is this intellectually lazy and kind of dim, but it’s also intellectually lazy and kind of dim.  So, as a response, I’m going to offer my own brief ejaculate on heroism:

I’d be hard pressed to define what a hero is. It doesn’t take any crazy sort of history digging to discover that most if not all of our armed conflicts are designed, not to protect freedom – though that sounds really nice and sweet – but to protect American commercial interests. So under that premise, while there’s something incredibly tragic and sad about a kid dying under such circumstances, especially if he’s doing so under the belief that it’s in the name of “freedom”, where does that leave us? Is that sacrifice still heroic even if you fundamentally disagree with that particular conflict? Even if you don’t believe that our “way of life” or our “freedom” is in any significant danger with or without this particular conflict? More often than not, I find the power of art and music to be more important and affecting to me personally than I do the tragic sacrifice of a kid who was protecting something that he maybe didn’t fully understand. Not that I’m a huge fan of Whitney Houston, but I do understand the feeling of mourning a public figure who I’ve found important.  I don’t think anyone should have to apologize or make concessions for doing so, even if you’re not as cynical as I am about our foreign relationships and armed conflicts.

This gets into really sticky territory because any time you want to unpack what some of these conflicts mean and you begin to insinuate that American kids died for anything less than a 100% noble and morally sound cause, people flip their shit and don’t want to hear about it.  Or they call you a witch and try to burn you. Instead of getting rightfully pissed off at the system that sent them to war in the first place, they turn their scorn to the people unsatisfied with the excuse that “it was for our freedom and way of life”.  Disagreement with that premise and unexamined assumption is suddenly perceived as a personal attack that is hostile, ungracious, and anti-American.   This type of thinking — and I hesitate to even call it “thinking”, it’s basically just id-driven emotional fanaticism — is ugly and dangerous.  It’s thoughtless and closed-minded.  But more than that, it commits the unforgivable wrong of letting those in power off the hook for sending our kids to die for unacceptable reasons in the first place.

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