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March 09, 2005

The Blogosphere goes MSM

At least in presentation, anyway. Although, I can't imagine any network putting these people behind a news desk. Check it out.

March 08, 2005

The apocalypse won't just be televised, it will be a competition

The NYT has an article on a new Style Network show called [furreal] "Craft Corner Deathmatch." David, please inform Mr. Tivo of this alarming development.

...crafting and grudge-match pro wrestling may end up more closely entwined in the public imagination after tomorrow night, when the Style Network introduces "Craft Corner Deathmatch," an unconventional game show in which two amateur crafters go head to head in timed trials, trying to make the best pillow out of old couch fabric or a brooch using only candy.

It does make some sense. I have always thought that glue guns were just covert expression of violent housewife urges.

March 01, 2005

As if mad cows weren't problem enough

Now we've got to contend with neurotic, cliquish, libertine ones as well.

February 24, 2005

H2G2 game in living color

The Beeb has two full-color updated versions of the old Infocomm text-only game based on The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy on its site. This could be dangerous!

February 16, 2005

the more exalted the society, the greater its culture and refinement

France has its Monets. Italy has its Caravaggios and DaVincis. The Netherlands has all those Vermeers and van Goghs. Spain its Picassos and Goyas.

But we, the mighty US...we the leaders of a free world...we the shining light on the hill for all to admire and emulate...we have Cassius Marcellus Coolidge.

Never heard of him? Oh come on. You've seen his work in some of the finest pool halls and sports bars in the land. Your parents might even have had a print of his classic work. The name might not be all that familiar, but his indelible images are as memorable as Marcel Duchamps urinal or Botticelli's doleful blondes.

Mr. Coolidge was the artistic genius behind the 1903 masterpiece 'Dogs Playing Poker". And we love it. Which is why one of us shelled out over half a million dollars to own this cultural masterpiece.

In the artistic smackdown, I think the US will easily beat out the namby pamby "high art" snobs of Europe.

January 28, 2005

Budget Bling

On the way in to the office today, I saw either (1) an example of over-reaching or (2) marvelous commentary— perhaps both.

By now, you've probably seen wheel spinners (as the term is currently used, though that's also been the name of things like this and that), and they've probably been huge, shiny chrome wheels with a spinning add-on component on a huge SUV. At least, that's the way I've always seen them.

This morning, on a Nissan Quest minivan, I saw spinning wheel covers. No extra large diameter, since they were covering stock wheels, and not particularly shiny. I didn't see any other custom or aftermarket parts on the vehicle. Imagine the last wheel covers on this page with a significant layer of brake dust on the Quest.

January 26, 2005

Turner

I come down pretty hard on the awfulness of Europop but every now and then I stumble across something that transcends the mundanity Kylie Minogue and Westlife. It's particularly bad here in the valley where we don't have much selection on the radio dial.

We do get one sometimes interesting station. Yesterday, I heard an funny little tune called "After Work" by Turner. The lyrics were so odd - there was a bit in there about how "I recycle, separating my trash and the green waste goes in one bin..." It was like a vaguely sarcastic description of how all good mainstream liberals live their lives.

I went hunting for an MP3 (or at least the lyrics so I could confirm what I thought I'd heard) and via the Ladomat label, I found Turner's site.It's moody and pop at the same time. Be sure to click on the My Airplane Mania dropdown. The Sunday Morning Version is the noise that suits my state of mind.

Save some time for the Ladomat MP3 page - there's some other yummy things there - I like the Tocotronic Sailor Man track.

January 04, 2005

we are google, resistance is futile

At first, I wasn't sure if this movie was a brilliant prediction of the direction our culture is moving in as a result of technology and intellectual laziness; a bunch of cassandras who became convinced that the Internet will destroy us all after watching the Matrix on soft-core narcotics one too many times; or, just sour grapes from traditional media types bemoaning the impact of blogging and "grassroots journalism" on news today. But then, after poking around on the website for the Free Network Project, which is the only link from broom.org's main page, they appear to be exactly what Epic is railing against, I"m a little confused.

Either way, it's compelling.

December 14, 2004

Wal-Mart sued for selling the F-word

Walmart is being sued by a Maryland man for selling an Evanescence CD with a song containing the word "fuck" (read the lyrics). Wal-Mart, of course, has a policy of not selling offensive materials; this CD did not have the "Parental Advisory" sticker, and wouldn't have been sold under Wal-Mart's policy if it had. He's claiming $74,500 for every copy sold (apparently under the assumption that everyone is offended as he is, and that's exactly the monetary damage incurred for hearing one word in a 70-minute CD).

Despite the ludicrousness of the damages claimed, I hope this suit succeeds. Wal-Mart can't have it both ways. If you claim to be the moral arbiter of America, then you'd better do it right. Walmart gets all this middle-America kudos for not stocking titty magazines or outré books or CD's with dodgy lyrics, but there's also a cost to performing such censorship. Clearly they skimped on those costs in this case. If they've fucked up the censorship (pardon the language) then they ought to pay the price.

Hat tip: overlawyered.

November 12, 2004

Now THIS is news

Haven't we all gotten a little gloomy lately? Let's ignore (just for a minute) that the sky is falling and dish. Here is big news in the British actors world-- Hugh Grant is retiring. Isn't it fun to think about? Now the Brits are down to two men they can try (and fail) to pass off as hunky-- Colin Firth and Jude Law. (I saw a preview of the new Bridget Jones movie last night and it looked to me like Hugh started his retirement before filming began!)

Wasn't it nice to think about someone vaguely charming?

October 16, 2004

Thunderbirds are GO

I wasn’t a big fan of South Park, though I did get a good laugh out of the very early Santa vs. Jesus “is that Brian Boitano” years. I skipped the South Park movie and while, yeah, I could probably pick Kenny out of a line-up, I don’t really know who those kids are and why they’re funny. If they’re funny. I have been, and remain, however, a HUGE fan of the Thunderbirds. I saw the preview for the live action version of the Thunderbirds and thought it amusing, but kind of a yawn. However,I was a sucker for the Supermarionation of the South Park boys’ new epic, Team America.

I shoulda known better. Okay, okay, I did get a lot of laughs out of it. A lot. The music, of all things, is freakin’ hysterical and there’s some hilarious stuff about what happens when Team America comes to make your world a safer place. Also, I cracked up all over the place over a sequence that's shot with total disregard for scale. But a lot of the humor is pretty vulgar and some of it is just gross. I have a pretty low tolerance for the gross, humor or no.

I’m just letting you know, just in case you, too are a dyed in the wool Thunderbirds fan and know not so much of South Park. The characters are absolutely a nod to the Tracy family, but that kind of language never came out of Alan Tracy’s mouth. Team America could probably kick the Thunderbirds collective marionette asses, but you don’t want to invite them to dinner.

September 23, 2004

CSI: Seattle

It's time, isn't it? A young software engineer is found dead behind the Fremont Troll of a heroin overdose. A Pocket PC lies smashed nearby. The engineer's backpack contains only two empty cans of Talking Rain, a Starbucks card, a half-eaten Essential Sandwich, and the current issue of The Stranger. Was the victim headed home? The cans are not yet recycled. The engineer's drug kit consists only of a tourniquet and a hypodermic needle. Was someone else present? There's nothing to identify who smashed the Pocket PC... but the SmartMedia card is still in it, and decrypting its contents back at the lab reveals some unusual personal contacts, including a former cellular phone executive from the Eastside.

And hey, where is the engineer's cell phone?

This Crime Scene Investigator thing could be franchised to stations all over the country with fill-in-the-blank scripts for place and character names that match the local geography and culture. Affiliates would film scenes in their own cities and put these together with the same computer graphics used everywhere. It's like Mad Libs!

[Name of principal CSI to rest of team]:
"It was [military rank][condiment] in the [room in a home] with the [handheld object that can induce death quickly]."

Eventually, of course, even this level of customization will be replaced when actors can be computer-generated or -altered in real-time by the viewer's television. We'll be able to configure our entertainment preferences on the television, right down to adding our own names to the show!

Hey, wanna get your message out to millions? Write a virus that takes over characters on the viewers' televisions! After the hot young star of the moment turns to the viewers and entreats them by name to some sort of action, the virus can check the television/computer for the viewer's friends and add the viewer's name to the messages delivered to his/her friends. "Hi, Jay. You don't want Gary to be the only one of your friends to get in on the action, do you?"

September 09, 2004

a whole new demographic for the nra?

It's a total cliche, right, to say that dog bites man is not newsworthy, but what about dog shoots man? And especially when it's a man who so richly desserves it.

August 12, 2004

Choose your condiments carefully

Because this time, it's political. As the Web site for W Ketchup reminds us, everytime we buy that more nationally recognized brand of burger lubrication, we're supporting Teresa Heinz's liberal causes and John Kerry's 57 varieties of flip flopping.

At least now I have proof that conservatives are crazy. I mean, even more, irrefutable proof.

As an aside, last night Ali G was talking to an Earth Firster about protesting MacDonald's in England because they started charging for ketchup packets. Maybe that's just another example of those tax and spend liberals gone wild.

August 07, 2004

Down in Fraggle Rock!

Via BoingBoing, some great news: Fraggle Rock is finally on DVD.

Most of y'all know that I am not a big Mary J. fan, but the thought spending a long, stoned evening with the HBO/Henson phantasmagoria that was Fraggle Rock sounds like a great vacation from the rigors of 2004. Yes, back in 1983, in withdrawal from the cancellation of the Muppet Show, it was easy to sink into the persistent weirdness of the Fraggle/Doozer/Gorg ecosystem. I think it would be pretty appealing to escape into that subterranean world once again. Gobo and Wembley, it will be great to see you again.

Anyone else up for it?

May 04, 2004

Pop Vultures

I was lying in bed wallowing in my latest bout of pollen induced misery when the throbbing of my sinuses became subservient to a valley girl voice discussing what makes a pop icon. "If you can dress up as her for Halloween, she's an icon. One year, I went as Courtney Love. I look NOTHING like Courtney, but everyone knew exactly who I was. I wore this big messy blonde wig, and a white strappy evening gown, and I pushed a baby carriage..." (Apologies for the inexact transcription.)

This was preceded by a thorough discussion of Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful" - and the whole broadcast was interspersed with bits of shameless pop hits, including "I'm Justa Girl" - and a discussion of how 14 year old girls now look like total badasses because of the revival of 80s fashion.

Pop music is a guilty pleasure of mine, but now, with the accidental discovery of Pop Vultures, a Minnesota Public Radio show, I no longer need hide my head in shame. Their site says "We obsess over pop music so you don't have to." Well, thank you for helping me out. Plus, the whole NPR thing gives me a little intellectual cred. Though it also makes me more likely to be singing Mary J. Blige in the shower. And, um, on the bus.


April 09, 2004

But it starts at sundown!

Mel Gibson is preparing to antagonize the Jewish community yet again, this time with the "High Noon" version of Hannukah. When I first heard about this, I though that it could not be true, but the venerable BBC seems to think it newsworthy. "They stuck by their guns and they came out winning. It's like a Western." said Mel.

And Slate has picked it up too. "My only comment: Nice try, but that won't really "sing" in a movie trailer. ("In a world dominated by Hellenized Syrians, one clan said, 'Enough'!")"

It's possible that Mel is trying to reconcile with the Jewish community for his portrayal of Jews in history as violent tyrants. And it's interesting that the vehicle he considers for doing so is the portrayal of the Jews as, oh, hey, wait, can we please be the violent tyrants again? People love that.

March 28, 2004

Why "Playing it Straight" is bent

David and I have been, with much derision and more than a little dismay, watching Fox's Playing It Straight (or, at least, digesting Tivo-condensed snippets of it). For those of you who have resisted, the show plops a dumb small-town "beauty" on a dude ranch with 14 guys--some of whom are secretly flamers. Every episode she has to eject two more guys. If she ends up with a hetero, they split a million dollars-- but if she is deceived by an evil homosexual in wolf's clothing, the crafty fag gets a cool million all by himself (presumably to spend on a year-long binge of ecstasy, dance music, and rent boys to make up for all that flannel). Posessors of outdated stereotypes (i.e., those with no real live gay friends) probably think it sounds easy as pie to call out the cake-boys. The problem for Jackie is that the guys have clearly been chosen for displaying much more admiration for their own reflections than any other love object--they really put the "me" in "metrosexual." As if that weren't enough, Jackie apparently was raised in a small town where gaydar is both genetically absent and culturally unobtainable. Complications ensue: one of the guys (a straight one, to boot) gets kicked off the first week for wielding the now-infamous scarlet hairdryer. If the quality of her, um, discriminating palate doesn't improve, it is going to be fun to watch this hootchie miss payday.

My little sister Lyndi was aghast that we would watch it, but if you're gay I think it's a little bit like driving past a car wreck... it's hard not to look on with a mixture of curiosity and loathing. OK, and a little be of glee. And some of the guys are hot. And, finally, there is a fair amount of salutary trashing of stereotypes... poor stooge Jackie deserves to lose her half-million

This Slate article is a little overwrought, but it's hard not to agree with the gist:

Watching Playing It Straight is a gender theorist's day in the sun; perhaps not since the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings have a culture's unspoken anxieties been so starkly projected on the small screen. Let's look at the show's two prospective outcomes. If Jackie guesses "right" and narrows the field down to a straight man, then the two of them will split the $1 million prize and ride off into the sunset in a chauffeured car, glasses of champagne awkwardly balanced on their laps. But if one of the secretly gay men tricks her into choosing him, he will walk off with a cool million all his own. In other words, "Sizzling Saddles Ranch" (an Elko, Nev., resort that was thus mortifyingly renamed by the show's producers) is a microcosm of American society, where gays can best get ahead by remaining alone in the closet while straights openly pair-bond and consolidate their resources.

The author makes the oft-observed point that gay men on television can do hair, decor, and fashion--but never, ever each other. On the one hand, I can pruriently look forward to seeing the gay "Paradise Hotel," but on the other, I'm pretty sure America's not ready to lose its gay-sex cherry. Because let's face it, reality TV isn't going to give us sweet portrayals of high-functioning couples-- it will go immediately to "did you blow the waiter while I went to the restroom?" At least let us get married before you turn gay romance into the the ultimate TV freak show.

March 25, 2004

Welease Bwian

Following the success and furore around The Passion of the Christ, the remaining Monty Python team is behind a rerelease of The Life of Brian. The Guardian has a nice piece on the history of the film and the controversy it provoked when first released in 1979.

Brian is easily my favourite of the Python movies. I just love way that such broad comedy, through respect for the subject, never comes across as more than gentle mocking. I'll go and see it again.

March 21, 2004

La Bicyclette

(Admittedly I'm late to the table on this, but I wanted to post anyway in case others (like myself) have been living under a rock, been out of the country, or just have no idea what's on the big screen.)

Get thee to see The Triplets of Belleville (Belleville Rendezvous, in French). Hurry up. This is a great movie for people that love bicycles, silly French cars, cartoons, or all of those things in combination. The Seattle Weekly review compares it to Finding Nemo, but that's too simplistic, and anyway, it's much more like The City of Lost Children, and not just because it's French. Any movie that features a dog's dream sequence in stunning hand drawn black and white animation is worth more than the matinee price.

Seattle-ites, it's at the Harvard Exit right NOW. Why are you still reading this when you should be at the movies?

March 17, 2004

National Catholic Reporter: "The Passion" un-Christian

In one of the best Christian responses to the Gibson deo-snuff film I've read, Boston College professor Tom Beaudoin writes in the National Catholic Reporter that the film is anti-Christian in both its theology and its specific content. It's a well-reasonsed response.


..."The Passion" cannot be called a Christian film. Moreover, if these depictions of Jesus are taken by viewers to be accurate representations of the meaning and message of Jesus, then the movie is functionally anti-Christian. It is anti-Christian insofar as the overfixation on violence against Jesus provides a dramatic and persuasive escape hatch from the more complicated and demanding witness of the Gospels: that a man whose intimacy with God reverberated through changed relationships that threatened the religious and political powers of his day, and that our own intimacy with God may demand no less.

The article is part of a package including more positive reviews, but it is odd to see that Gibson's paleo-Catholicism aligns better with rabid protestant fundamentalism than modern Catholic theology.

March 13, 2004

Steal this Music

George Michael made headlines this week for his statement that he'd made enough money and was, from this point forward, going to distribute his music for free on the Internet. At the same time, Korn released a video called "Y'all want a single" that shows the band trashing a record store. The video is punctuated with statistics about the music business - "Hit songs on Top 40 are often repeated over 100 times per week" and "Two radio conglomerates control 42% of listeners." Courtney Love seemed to think that file-swapping is okay, as long as she gets her bank from the record company. (Okay, Courtney's rambling powers of deduction are questionable on a good day. Still.)

There are two things going on here. One is the ongoing battle between the record execs and the artists. (Everyone has seen I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, the Wilco movie, right?) The other, and the part that is more interesting to me, the consumer, has to do with distribution and getting music to the people. Word has it that the real money for artists comes from ticket sales, not record sales - and the way to get people to your shows is to let them hear your music. Copy protection, which is supposed to keep me from sending you .wma versions of that excellent GangStarr remix of Lovesick, is inexact and sometimes makes it impossible for me to play the CD in my computer. If said CD is from the wrong side of the Atlantic, I may not be able to play it at all, on my CD player, in my computer, in my car, anywhere.

I'm pretty sure the music industry is still standing on the pier watching the boat get smaller and smaller. If I hear something interesting on the radio, I go online to find it. And more and more often, I can download it directly from the artist's site, without paying a nickel. If I like what I hear, more often than not, I GO BUY THE ALBUM. And if I play it for you and you like it, sure, you might rip a copy, but you could also be with me when I GO SEE THE ARTIST PERFORM.(Services like iTunes are cool, but only when I already know what I want - they're not that effective in exposing us to new music.)

Maybe the record companies have chosen to go after the file sharers because artists are increasingly cutting them out of the loop. After all, it's not Robbie Williams who's dragging teenagers in to court, it's the RIAA.

I don't really have concise conclusion. But I do have a high speed connection, an MP3 player, and a pretty open mind when it comes to music. I also have a little more allowance money than your average teenager.
Musicians, more and more, totally get it. But is anyone in music marketing listening? Hello?

March 12, 2004

"Sleeves": I kinda want one of these

Well, I want one a lot more than I want a real tattoo.

March 05, 2004

Just desserts. and muffins. and brioche. and...

Today, a jury in New York found Martha Stewart guilty on all four remaining charges against her (Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum threw out the most serious charge of securities fraud last week), and she will likely go to jail.

I saw this headline on MSNBC as I was getting my lunch in the dining hall at work, and I was surprised at how stunned I was by the news. First of all, I'd not expected the jury to return a verdict so quickly, and secondly, I had assumed that they would have dismissed all but a token count, and sent Martha home, head hung low, but a free woman, so that the rest of America could moan about the injustice of celebrity trials and how justice is more just for the rich and famous. People could have made much in cocktail party and late-night talk-show conversation about how the bitch didn't get what she deserved. Someone would inevitably have made some fatuous comparison to O.J. Simpson's questionable acquittal, and stories of the disgraced Martha trying to redeem herself by inviting neighbors to Sunday luncheons or showing up at parties rich with the stars of the publishing and television worlds would have kept lips flapping for at least as long as all of the pre-IMClone debacle Martha mini-scandals kept those of us in her anti-fan club entertained.

In fact, I think that would have been the more satisfactory outcome. The bitch did not, in fact, get what she deserved. And I, for one, don't feel a smug satisfaction at her legal comeupance. In fact, I'm kind of sad for her. As much as I've never been inclined to like the woman, and have even had a somewhat dark fascination with collecting stories of her meanness and ill-tempered perfection, and as much as I do think the label of "bitch" probably applies to her, what I can't help but think about is how she must be crumbling inside, thinking "My God. I've completely ruined everything." And as much as I think she might well have been guilty, it would take some pretty hard evidence to convince me that she wasn't convicted more for being a bitch than she was for any attempts to cover up an insider trading misdeed.

Those anti-fans I mentioned earlier, a group I'll gladly align myself with, have been for years, both repelled and drawn to the strange, obsessive pursuit of domestic perfection that even a 1950s housewife couldn't have maintained, and certainly a 2000's single career woman hasn't a prayer of even gaining a toehold on. But she is both, isn't she? And that's what's infuriating. In some ways she's both a professional and domestic bodhisattva, who's achieved success as a media moghul and as a homemaker. And yet, she's a single-woman homemaker. She might keep a superbly ordered home with lovely, inviting spaces, but it's a sad shell of a home when the only family she comes home to at the end of the day are her perfectly groomed chow-chows and her eight pure-breed cats. She might throw an elegant party with an impressive spread of delectables on superb china, and yet, no one wants to come to her party.

No one wants to come to her party because of her reputation as a tyrant and unyielding taskmaster, it's true. She left her beloved Turkey Hill estate in Westport, CT, largely because she felt lonely. The bitch got what she deserved when a new neighbor, upon finding Martha on their doorstep with a housewarming gift of fresh produce from her gardens and freshly laid eggs from her flock of well-manicured heirloom breed chickens, slammed the door in her face. She got what she deserved when the good people of Westport filled the entire "Letters" section of TheNew York Times Magazine one Sunday with "don't let the door hit you on the way out" letters after she moved to her new Manhattan digs. I'm not so convinced, however, that she got what she deserved when a jury of people who we all know never thought Martha viewed as peers, convicted her of four felony charges that could land her in jail until after her 80th birthday.

And the reason I feel so bad for Martha. Really, it's her mother. A stern, kind of controlling woman (at least that's my impression of biographical accounts I've read and from watching the two of them in action on Martha's show), I have this feeling that Martha is driven not a little by a desire to please the woman, a fruitless task I'm sure as well. I might be stretching a little her, but think about it. The stock sale that caused all this hoopla was over a few hundred thousand dollars worth of holdings. Big bank for average Josephines like me, yes, but really, probably a Saturday afternoon shopping trip to Talbots and the Coach store for Ms. Martha. Why risk so much over something that small? I can imagine, a tiny voice in her head, that she might not even have consciously registered, but which had a distinct Nutley accent, riding her for blowing more money than Martha's father earned in a decade while they were starting out.

Of course, now, I'm sure that voice is loud, not in her head, and unrelenting about the mess Martha's made of everything. She might not have had friends, or even friendly acquaintances before, but by any measure that her mother would have understood, Martha had it all. Now, she doesn't even have a shoulder to cry on.

March 03, 2004

Releasing the Friedmans?

David and I watched Capturing the Friedmans last night, and I have to say it is one of the most depressing documentaries I've seen in a long time. While it concerns accusations of mass child molestation against a middle-class father and son in Long Island, it sheds much more light on three other themes. Namely, dysfunctional families, the troubled intersection of truth and the American criminal justice system, and the inherent creepiness of home movies.

I don't think any amount of investigation could untangle the facts--and I'm pretty sure I don't want to watch "hours of previously unreleased footage" on the bonus disc (which we didn't get, having ordered the film on Netflix). The case is a member of a category we could call "nacreous events" where the layers of investigation, reportage, and rumor have covered the truth much as an oyster coats a grain of sand. We just can't see through to the truth anymore.

Of course it doesn't help that the filmmakers chose to tell the story in the best Dateline NBC method--taking the most dramatic path through already highly charged material. Slate has a great article arguing that (particularly given the additional information in the DVD release) the filmmakers' refusal to take more of a stand is morally questionable. (Without giving too much away for those who might like to see the movie, a lot hinges on the credibility of child witnesses who were pretty clearly bullied by police investigators in hours-long interrogations where they may have suggested some of the worst allegations.)

But back to those two other topics. First, the film would make almost anyone feel better about the mental health of their families. The Friedmans--whether or not they are vile criminals--are totally fucking nuts, with the possible exception of the mom, who seems relatively sane (which is to say, still certifiable). Oh, and the middle son Seth, who refused to participate in the film, has that arguing in favor of some level of normal psychic processes.

One of the main things that makes these people (particularly eldest son David) so crazy is their insistence on filming nearly every moment of familial collapse. Few things make me as crazy as hearing families argue (particularly children screaming at their parents), so the majority of the movie completely set my teeth on edge.

One has to wonder what would motivate someone (back in the late '80s, before the explosion of reality television) to film so much of such awful goings-on? David Friedman offers a lame excuse for one bit of filming, along the lines of "I think I thought if I filmed it I wouldn't have to remember it myself." Uh, right. David Friedman comes across as utterly insane--his belief in his father's and brother's innocence is enough to convince one that they must indeed be evil pedophiles.

Anyway, although we own a video camera, I hereby swear not to record any horriffic scenes of family argument or mental collapse. This film is almost enough to make me reconsider the whole wedding documentary thing. (Almost.) I'm just glad to be reminded that however odd or funny my family might occasionally be, we are deeply sane, healthy, and most of all loving.

February 28, 2004

La La La La Lola

For the last few days, Sky One has been running teasers for a show in which six hottie guys compete for the affections of Miriam. It's your typical Temptation Island/Joe Millionaire reality show with clips of Miriam and the guys in the hot tub, Miriam and the gents at dinner, blah blah blah. Whatever. The twist? Miriam is hot, but she's also a pre-op transexual.

"While viewers would know from the start that Miriam is a male-to-female transsexual, the contestants - who include a Royal Marine commando, a ski instructor and an ex-lifeguard - only discover the truth when Miriam picks the winner and then lifts up "her" skirt.

One contestant was so furious he is said to have punched the show's producer when he found out."

The guys filed a lawsuit , claiminig they were "tricked." The suit has been settled and it looks like the show will air as planned.

I'm not sure that the lawsuit restores any dignity to the "humiliated" guys. It's okay to broadcast them swooning over our heroine, as long as they get paid enough. There's a joke to which the punchline goes: "I know what you are, now we're just negotiating the price."

In spite of all the trashiness, there could be some interesting dialog as a result of the show. Possible questions to be asked in the living rooms within broadcast range of Sky One include:

Transexuals: who are they and what has to happen to get them to where they want to be?
What's the deal with Miriam anyway?
Could they really have had NO idea? I mean NONE?
There's ALWAYS a twist. Who signs up for a reality TV dating show and expects to keep their dignity intact?
Would the guys have been equally hacked off if the show was filmed post-op?
Are homosexuals now so mainstream to have lost their shock value?

And so on.

Oddly enough, an the same day I first saw the teaser for "There's Something About Miriam" this story aired about a tranny golfer who's playing in the Australian Women's Open.

Transexuals. They're here. They're- um - near? Dear? Get used to them.

February 25, 2004

The Passion of The Christ

So I can't decide if I will go see it or not. If I do, I'll be buying a ticket to something else (anything else) and slipping into the cathedral to Mel Gibson's ego at the last second.

The NYT's A.O. Scott gives me pause:

"The Passion of the Christ" is so relentlessly focused on the savagery of Jesus' final hours that this film seems to arise less from love than from wrath, and to succeed more in assaulting the spirit than in uplifting it. Mr. Gibson has constructed an unnerving and painful spectacle that is also, in the end, a depressing one. It is disheartening to see a film made with evident and abundant religious conviction that is at the same time so utterly lacking in grace.

The sublime David Edelstein's review in Slate, which is even more negative, ends with a critical question:

What does this protracted exercise in sadomasochism have to do with Christian faith? I'm asking; I don't know. Gibson's revenge movies end with payback--or, in Braveheart, the promise of payback to come. When Jesus is resurrected, his expression is hard, and, as he moves toward the entrance to his tomb, the camera lingers on a round hole in his hand that goes all the way through. Gibson's Jesus reminded me of the Terminator--he could be the Christianator--heading out into the world to spread the bloody news. Next stop: the Crusades.

I'll ask another tough one: Shouldn't a devout Christian thank the Jews for bringing about a horrible event that was entirely necessary to the completion of prophecy, the miracle of resurrection, and the intercession? After the Diaspora, centuries of persecution by Christians, and the Vatican-complicit Holocaust, can't we say, "Wow, we're sorry for all the trouble it caused you but somebody had to do it"? Apparently not, as Mel shows blood-thirsty Jews hissing for crucifixion through rotten teeth.

I cannot say it in any other way: It is hard to be, in the grey spring of 2004, a thinking, caring Christian--let alone a gay one. It is hard to look my Jewish friends in the eye these days (or my Muslim ones, or my atheistic ones). A movie this bloody and hateful resembles a Santeria ritual more than it represents the faith I hold.

If there is anything positive to come from a film that lingers on the most imflammatory and politicized (as in, polticized-when-written, by writers locked in a messy market-share battle against a much better-established multinational organization) and passages of the Gospels, it may be this. The film captures perfectly the dominant strain in current American Christianity. Paranoid, beset by a thousand enemies, triumphally convinced not just of its goodness but of its good-versus-evil-ness. In other words, a Christianity that has for decades been steadily distilling itself down from the worst dregs the religion ever had to offer--bitter as the cup Christ asked be taken from him, but devoid of the promise of grace and forgiveness the crucifixion really stands for. The Christianity that this movie both reflects and panders to is not real Christianity at all. To follow Edelstein's phrase, it is "Christianatorism," a perversion whose slogal should be "Jesus is coming back--and he's pissed." Bravo, Mel Gibson, for serving up the false prophet in such great Hollywood fashion.

Mix in a little crass commercialism, a little transparent demogogery, and it's a spectacle as disgusting as the moneychangers in the Temple. (No, really... follow the link.)

I suppose I should see the movie before damning it, but even the clips turned my stomach. I've used the phrase "theological porn" here before, but nowhere does it seem more apt. In every quivering mortification of the flesh, in every ecstatic moan, in every glistening drop sacred bodily fluid, in every voyeuristic insistence that the faithful wash themselves in the hot, sticky blood of the Lord--the film's incandescent realism leads its lambs not only to slaughter but also to an orgasm of spritual violence. In that empty moment after, there is no embrace or consolation--only incitement to the spirit of vengenace that, in the slander the film seems designed to deliver, Mel wants to pin on the Jews some two millennia later.

February 17, 2004

"My Hero, Janet Jackson"

How about "Frank Rich, My Hero" as a better title for this amazing article in the Sunday NYT (full text copied below).

"You can argue," and Rich does forcefully, "that Ms. Jackson is the only honest figure in this Super Bowl of hypocrisy. She was out to accomplish a naked agenda — the resuscitation of her fading career on the eve of her new album's release — and so she did. She's not faking much remorse, either."

America has long been the land of hypocrisy, especially when sex is involved. But in the W Era, things have gotten even worse. It is refreshing to read the quote of a CBS Sports producer, commenting on the introduction of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleasers back at Super Bowl X, describe the spectacle with an honesty few could muster today, "The audience deserves a little sex with its violence."

Rich is always bitchy and usually brilliant. To wit:

There are plenty of Americans to laugh at, starting with the public itself. If we are to believe the general outcry, the nation's families were utterly blindsided by the Janet-Justin pas de deux while watching an entertainment akin to "Little Women." As Laura Bush put it, "Parents wouldn't know to turn their television off before that happened." They wouldn't? In the two-plus hours "before that happened," parents saw not only the commercials featuring a crotch-biting dog, a flatulent horse and a potty-mouthed child but also the number in which the crotch-grabbing Nelly successfully commanded a gaggle of cheerleaders to rip off their skirts. What signal were these poor, helpless adults waiting for before pulling their children away from the set? Apparently nothing short of a simulated rape would do.

So as I read the public sentiment, this is what America is saying: Bring on the violence, all the carnage from Iraq we can stand (and then some), bring on rah-rah American militarism 24-7 from the cable news jingoes who fail to parse the latest lies from the White House--but God protect us when America sees a few milliseconds of titty.

I mean really, isn't a little bit of boob a healthy, red-blooded counterbalance to the marriage-destroying spectacle of gay weddings, the orientation-endangering prancing of "Queer Eye"? The old saw is "No sex please, we're British" but clearly they have gotten over their hangups (or perhaps exported them to the colonies). How about "no honesty, we're Yanks," or "no sense of proportion, we're Americans."

Anyway, enough with my rant... on to Rich's far more eloquent take on L'Affaire Boobie.

February 15, 2004
FRANK RICH
My Hero, Janet Jackson

t may be a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it. Two weeks after the bustier bust, almost no one has come to the defense of Janet Jackson. I do so with a full heart. By baring a single breast in a slam-dunk publicity stunt of two seconds' duration, this singer also exposed just how many boobs we have in this country. We owe her thanks for a genuine public service.

You can argue that Ms. Jackson is the only honest figure in this Super Bowl of hypocrisy. She was out to accomplish a naked agenda — the resuscitation of her fading career on the eve of her new album's release — and so she did. She's not faking much remorse, either. Last Sunday she refused to appear on the Grammys rather than accede to CBS's demand that she perform a disingenuous, misty-eyed ritual "apology" to the nation for her crime of a week earlier. By contrast, Justin Timberlake, the wimp who gave the English language the lasting gift of "wardrobe malfunction," did as he was told, a would-be pop rebel in a jacket and a tie, looking like a schoolboy reporting to the principal's office. Ms. Jackson, one suspects, is laughing all the way to the bank.

There are plenty of Americans to laugh at, starting with the public itself. If we are to believe the general outcry, the nation's families were utterly blindsided by the Janet-Justin pas de deux while watching an entertainment akin to "Little Women." As Laura Bush put it, "Parents wouldn't know to turn their television off before that happened." They wouldn't? In the two-plus hours "before that happened," parents saw not only the commercials featuring a crotch-biting dog, a flatulent horse and a potty-mouthed child but also the number in which the crotch-grabbing Nelly successfully commanded a gaggle of cheerleaders to rip off their skirts. What signal were these poor, helpless adults waiting for before pulling their children away from the set? Apparently nothing short of a simulated rape would do.

Once the deed was done, the audience couldn't stop watching it. TV viewers with TiVo set an instant-replay record as they slowed down the offending imagery with a clinical alacrity heretofore reserved for the Zapruder film. Lycos, the Internet search engine, reported that the number of searches for Janet Jackson tied the record set by 9/11-related searches on and just after 9/11.

"That a single breast received as much attention as the first attack on United States soil in 60 years is beyond belief," wrote Aaron Schatz, the columnist on the Lycos Top 50 site. (Though not, perhaps, to the fundamentalist zealots who attacked us.)

For those who still couldn't get enough, the cable news channels giddily played the video over and over to remind us of just how deplorable it was. Even though by this point the networks were blurring the breast with electronic pasties, there was still an erotic kick to be milked: the act of a man tearing off a woman's clothes was as thrilling to the audience as whatever flesh was revealed therein, perhaps more so. But to say that aloud is to travel down a road that our moral watchdogs do not want to take. It's the unwritten rule of our culture that the public is always right. The "folks," as Bill O'Reilly is fond of condescending to them, are always the innocent victims of the big, bad cultural villains. They're never complicit in the crime. The idea that the folks might have the free will to tune out tasteless TV programming or do without TV altogether — or that they might eat up the sleaze, with or without young 'uns in the room — is almost never stated on television, for obvious reasons of fiscal self-interest. You don't insult your customers.

Since the public is blameless for its role in creating a market for displays like the Super Bowl's, who should be the scapegoat instead? If you peruse Mr. O'Reilly's admonitions in his first three programs dealing with the topic, or the tirades of The Wall Street Journal editorial page and right-wing direct-mail mills like the Parents Television Council and Concerned Women for America, you'll find a revealing pattern: MTV, CBS and their parent corporation, Viacom, are the exclusive targets of the invective. The National Football League is barely mentioned, if at all. To blame the country's highest-rated sports operation, after all, might risk insulting the football-watching folks to whom these moral watchdogs pander for fun and profit.

But the N.F.L. is in the sex business as assiduously as CBS and MTV, and for the same reason: it wants those prurient eyeballs. It's now been more than a quarter-century since Super Bowl X, when the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders first caught the attention of the nation. "The audience deserves a little sex with its violence," Chuck Milton, a CBS sports producer, said back then.

The N.F.L. has since worked tirelessly to fill that need. This year was not the first MTV halftime show that the league has ordered to try to expand its aging audience beyond the Levitra demographic. The first such collaboration, Super Bowl XXXV three years ago, featured Britney Spears all but falling out of a halter top and numbers in which both Mr. Timberlake (then appearing with 'NSync) and Nelly grabbed their crotches. There was, to my eye, twice as much crotch-grabbing then as there was this year, but that show generated no outrage whatsoever.

It did, however, attract two million more viewers than the game itself. The N.F.L. wanted more of the same for 2004, which is why the league's commissioner, Paul Tagliabue, released a statement saying, "We're pleased to work again with MTV" when announcing the encore. Or pleased up to a point. When MTV proposed that part of the show be devoted to a performance of the song "An American Prayer" by Bono to increase awareness of the horrific AIDS epidemic in Africa, the N.F.L. said no — even though Bono had done the league the favor of giving the 2002 Super Bowl halftime show a dignified musical tribute to the victims of the 9/11 attacks.

The mention of a sexually transmitted disease might dampen the libido of the salacious MTV show that the N.F.L. wanted this year and wanted so badly that the league remained silent even when MTV's pregame publicity promised that the performance would contain "some shocking moments." As one participant in the production told me, the N.F.L. saw "every camera angle" at the show's rehearsals and thus was no less aware of its general tone than CBS and MTV were. You don't hire Ms. Jackson, who's been steadily exposing more of her breasts for over a decade on magazine covers, to sing "Rock Your Body" if you have a G-rated game plan. Nonetheless, Joe Browne, the league's flak, pleaded total innocence after the event, releasing a hilarious statement that the N.F.L., like the public, was the unwitting victim of a show that it had both commissioned and helped supervise: "We applaud the F.C.C.'s investigation into the MTV-produced halftime. We and our fans were embarrassed by the entire show."

That investigation, piggybacked by last week's Congressional hearings, is an election-year stunt as full of hot air as the Bud Light horse flatulence ad. "Like millions of Americans, my family and I gathered around the television for a celebration," declared Michael Powell, the F.C.C. chairman, upon announcing that the entire halftime would be examined. A celebration of what, exactly? Didn't Mr. Powell, the nation's chief television regulator, watch the previous MTV halftime show?

He promises to conduct the investigation himself — a meaningless gesture, though it may gain him an audience and perhaps a photo op with Ms. Jackson. Mr. Powell's real agenda here is to conduct a show trial that might counter his well-earned reputation as a wholly owned subsidiary of our media giants. Viacom has been a particularly happy beneficiary of the deregulatory push of his reign, buying up every slice of the media pie that's not nailed down. Should CBS be found guilty of "indecency" by the feds, the total penalty would amount to some $5 million, roughly the price of two 30-second Super Bowl commercials. Congress's new push to increase those fines tenfold is just as laughable. Viacom took in $26.6 billion last year.

Not for nothing did the company's stock actually go up the day after the Super Bowl. The halftime show was great merchandising for both MTV and CBS, the go-to network for "Victoria's Secret Fashion Show." Not to be left without a piece of the action, even NBC got into the act. Citing the Jackson flap, it decreed that two split-second shots of an 80-year-old woman's breast in an emergency room sequence in "E.R." be excised. But the "E.R." star Noah Wyle then went on NBC's "Today" show the morning of the broadcast to joke about the decision, and the network-owned NBC affiliate in New York used the banned breast as a promo for its post-"E.R." news broadcast: "What you won't see on tonight's episode of `E.R.' — at 11!" Thus did NBC successfully transform its decision not to bare geriatric flesh into a sexual tease to hype ratings. This is true marketing genius, American-style.

What's next? Some are predicting that all the tape delays being injected into TV events to pre-empt future wardrobe malfunctions will be the death of spontaneous, live TV. But the moment an awards show takes a ratings hit, this new electronic prophylactic will be quietly abandoned by the networks even faster than the N.F.L.'s vague threat not to collaborate with MTV next year.

Ms. Jackson, the biggest winner in this whole escapade, is already back on the air. Her official rehabilitation began right after the Super Bowl, when BET started broadcasting a 10-part series of "special Black History Month" spots in which she profiles historical luminaries like Harriet Tubman, Paul Robeson and Sidney Poitier.

"Her tone is serious and focused, with the air and diction of a seasoned lecturer," says the network's news release, which also notes that "the spots feature Ms. Jackson clad in classic black." Wasn't her Super Bowl dominatrix costume classic black as well? Well, never underestimate the power of synergy. BET is another wholly owned subsidiary of Viacom.

February 05, 2004

The boy next door in the hot seat

For a variety of reasons that are more varied than my long-standing morbid fascination with Martha Stewart, I've become a slave to the media coverage of her trial, and more specifically, to the role that her ex-stock broker's assistant, Doug Faneuil, is playing in this soap opera.

The part that has become so enthralling to me, though, is not at all what I would expect, but how the defense (expectedly) and the media are trying to paint a picture of Doug as an unreliable, lying, hate-filled, punk who's testimony can't be trusted. Not that I'm surprised at all considering the parties involved. However, what I do find interesting are the pieces of evidence for making these insinuations--factoids that when looked at together, point to someone I might know and like and want to include in my circle of friends.

1. Doug's dislike of Martha. Uhm, hello? I know for years I've been fascinated by my distaste for the queen of taste. I've kept in readily accessible memory every story of her bitchiness and cruelty--from the published gossip column tales of her poaching her daughter's fiance to stories told by my family members and friends unlucky enough to have lived in Westport and crossed paths with her wrath--and her weird rise to fame--the Polish girl from Nutley, NJ with the overly poofy wedding gown who comes home from her first book-signing tour to find her husband in bed with his secretary and then ousts him from the company he built--to the New York Times letters to the editor from grateful Westport residents bidding Martha not to let the door smack her on the ass when she moved to her New York loft.

So Doug sent emails to his friends describing Martha's unpleasantness, even before the current set of miseries. Per MSNBC today

“Martha yelled at me again today, but I snapped in her face, and she actually backed down! Baby put Ms. Martha in her place!!!”

Uhm. Wouldn't you? I mean really? I know I would have been blaring it from the rooftops if I'd had the chance to give Martha some whatfor after bitching me out. Can you blame the kid? And further, per WNBC

Bacanovic's lawyer, Richard Strassberg, went so far as to describe Faneuil as "fixated" by Martha Stewart, bragging to friends about even the most casual contact he had with her at Merrill Lynch.

Strassberg suggested Faneuil, hoping to impress Stewart, decided on his own to tip Stewart about the Waksal sales -- sales Faneuil knew about from calls earlier in the day.

"He did it because he was trying to be the big man," Strassberg said. "He did it out of inexperience, he did it out of foolishness. But he did it -- not Peter."

Here we have a serious jump in logic. Now, I know I'd be all "dude, I just talked to Martha again and you know what the bitch said" quite a bit in that situation, but trust me, impressing her would not be the foremost thing on my mind. Again, it's just that morbid fsacination thing. I've no doubt Doug did get a kick out of telling his friends about these moments. Young, cynical, New Yorkers who also find Martha both appalling and appealing, not unlike, say, a David Lynch movie. That don't mean he gonna stick his hand in the fire to make her happy.

2. Doug's drug problem. Which amounts to, apparently, having taken ecstasy a few tmes and smoking pot once in a while. Again, I have to point out the obvious--he's a young, hot, (and until this all broke) seriously upwardly mobile professional in New York. Oh my god, you mean he went clubbing? Oh my god, he took club drugs at times? Stop the presses! He's just like everyone else in his demographic!

3. The photo of Doug on the New York Post today. Which Dan Abrams of MSNBC seems to think makes him look bad, untrustworthy, and skanky. Now, granted, it was taken at a costume party last year (damn that kid, going to parties again) and the tattoo was fake (which is a shame, because, well, tattoos are cool), but my first thought was, ooh, la, la. I always thought he was cute, but now I'm really disappointed he's gay. Damn.


Given the way the media tries to breed mass distrust of anyone too intellectual, I'm surpised they haven't tried to use against him his degree from Vassar as a reason not to trust him. Maybe that's next.

Yeah, so basically, we've got a graduate from a top school, who has a good job, enjoys a night out on the town and have a little fun, dresses in character for Halloween parties, and finds the whole cult of Martha a source of entertainment. Yeah. I guess he doesn't sound like anyone I would want to know.

February 03, 2004

I Saw William Gibson Today

I saw William Gibson today. Here's a few quick comments as I remember them—that is, please don't hold him to my memory of his words.

In my picture, he looks the most normal that he looked the whole time. He's developing quite a hunchback and a turtle-ish profile.

He talked about how he's not really a technical guy, but he is evidently quite interested in the æsthetics of technical things. He said when he was younger that he built in his bedroom a very elaborate Doctor-Frankenstein-ish installation of laboratory glassware, and he did it just because it looked cool. He said he used to build stuff from Heathkit—and probably not correctly—because when it was done, it just looked so cool—particuarly when sitting next to the laboratory glassware.

He spoke quite a bit, and more than he led us to believe he would in the beginning. He said that he doesn't really do "talks"... unlike his friend Bruce Sterling, who doesn't really do dialog. He said in a few hours of hanging out with Bruce one-on-one, that Bruce will do a couple of talks with a little Q&A thrown on the end.

Of course, he was asked what he's working on now, and he said that he's been reading a lot of U.S. history, but he's not sure what will come of that. He said he'd been thinking a lot about how one might be elected for proclaiming oneself "conservative" and then go about enacting policies—perhaps quite radical policies—with the reassurance, "It's okay—I'm a conservative. We've always done it this way." While a constituency's ability to judge this is highly dependent on its knowledge of history.

He talked a little about writing. He said that of all his books, including Neuromancer, he got about three-quarters of the way done and proclaimed to his wife that the book was no good—perhaps even the worst ever written. He said he almost threw Neuromancer in the fire. He said he doesn't quite trust authors who are wholly confident and upbeat about books they've just written.

He talked about his writing coming from the unconscious in a painful process that cannot be called up on demand. He said he doesn't know how books will end, and this is why he doesn't like the way that stories are pitched to Hollywood, which won't pay for anything unless they know (and like) how it ends.

January 30, 2004

Right, Said Fred

You might be too sexy for your car, but do you Look Good in Leather?

Politcally incorrect? Uh-huh. The next big disco anthem? Mabye. A huge Europop hit? Oh, absolutely. Try the remix (RMX) version.

January 12, 2004

10 Ads America won't see

Interesting article about international print and TV commercial deemed unsuitable for the American market: 10 Ads America Won't See. It seems that a beer ad which uses the works "ejaculate" and "vagina" is unsuitable for the US market, as is a print ad featuring a modified Brazilian -- who knew? It's also a shame to learn that the fantastic Honda "cog" commercial won't be shown on US TV because a 2-minute spot is too expensive and it has a "lack of product benefits". I dunno -- the ability to disassembe the car and make your own Rube Goldbergian self-propelling machine seems like a cool feature to me. (You can watch this amazing video and see the other top 10 ads on the site.)

It's not surprising that there are lots of ads like this that don't make the US market. I noticed a real difference in TV commercials especially when I moved from Europe to the US. I can recall a lot of TV commercials in the UK that were really innovative and fun to watch, but I can't think of many here that got above the level of "supremely annoying". I suspect it might have something to do with commercial break length -- a 1/2 hour show in the UK typically only has one long commercial break (hence the "end of part one" you see in British TV show DVDs). Because the break is longer you have enough time to get up and make a cup of tea or whatever, so the commercials need to be more engaging and interesting to get you to watch. (I believe some commercial French TV stations don't even show commercials during movies, but have a very long block at the end.) Here in the US though the commercials have to do the "watch me! watch me!" thing to stand out, which usually means they're simply strident and annoying.

January 09, 2004

dances with the karate kid: or, how i learned to stop thinking and love tom cruise

The biggest problem with the movie The Last Samurai is not that Tom Cruise actually has lines like "I believe a man does what he can until he discovers his destiny." No, the biggest problem with the movie is that Tom Cruise is playing a role that was obviously written for Kevin Kostner. Back in 1990, by Michael Blake, when the movie was called Dances with Wolves. It's a role Mr. Kostner knows well, having reprised it in 1995's Dances with Shellfish and 1997's Dances with Mailbags.

Not that every completely unironic epic film about an ex-civil war hero, haunted by the horrors of war, who travels to a strange land and hooks up with the last outpost of an indigenous culture threatened by the relentless steamroller of modernization, only to realize that in their simple, focused, and disciplined ways can he find the peace his army life took from him, and who also happens to have a strong widow in need of a partner, and a mentor with a deep voice to help teach him honor and respect and eventually stand against some of those he fought with in the war is a knock-off of Kevin Kostner's opus. But this one is. Right down the scene where our hero is sitting around the fire learning bits of Japanese. "Watashi no samui." After which he can speak fluent Japanese. Can anyone say "tatanka"?

Here, however, you have a new twist. Yeah, that whole Japanese warrior thing he gets to learn along the way. A zen-like sensei to show this brash young American to respect himself, his enemy, and the power of true warriorness. Right. I figured this bit out when the sensei, seeing Tom Cruise lose several times in some Star Wars reenactments, advises him that his problem is "too much mind." Apparently, he's paying attention to too many things going on around him. Because in battle, when hudreds of people are coming at you with swords, the last thing you want is to be aware of everything going on around you. Mind on. Mind off. That is the true samurai way.

Oh, another miscasting problem, the role of Pat Morita in this film was played by Ken Watanabe, who is apparently what would result if Jean Reno and the Rock had a Japanese lovechild.

To its credit, the movie was quite a bit more than merely a rip off of two of the greatest films of my teenage years. It also ripped off the final, major battlescenes straight of Braveheart, arguable the worst movie of my teenage years.

And like Braveheart, the Last Samurai doesn't mind taking a few liberties with history. In this version of the Japanese past, the emporer rejects modernization and Westernization, realizes the value of the Samurai way, and presumably, proudly leads his people back to heady days of feudal Edo. Right. And that's why everyone in Tokyo has a cell-phone digital video camera with every imaginable tune for a ring and instant wireless internet sevice to power their laptops from anywhere in the country.

Yup, two and half hours of cliches and obvious ripoffs from other, not-so-great movies. At least if they'd given the part to Kostner, you'd be prepared for it.

December 18, 2003

Another time-waster

See how the BBC uses The Office and a fun
Flash game to advertise their training services.

December 12, 2003

Snowball Fight!

If only I could have three mice and pointers! Play Snowcraft (?) and see why.

November 01, 2003

Bill Moyers to America: Wake Up

BuzzFlash has a great interview with Bill Moyers that touches on everything from Jon Stewart's genius to media-political oligarchy. He's one of the deans of American political journalism these days, but don't forget that he was LBJ's press secretary during Viet Nam. So when he talks about the sanitization of war coverage, he has some idea of what he's talking about. Read this, and think about it

October 09, 2003

NYT on Eddie Izzard

A great review of the show we saw in Vancouver, with a great title: A Male Lesbian Whose Appeal Is Mainly Cerebral.

The Times describes Eddie as "the most popular, and exportable, British comedian since the heyday of Monty Python."

Since the Times has that horrible paid archive thing and requires registration, I'm going to break a bunch of laws. Click below for the story.

October 9, 2003
THEATER REVIEW | 'SEXIE'
A Male Lesbian Whose Appeal Is Mainly Cerebral
By BEN BRANTLEY

Eddie Izzard, the exhaustingly funny stand-up comic, certainly looks more at home than most men would in fishnet stockings, stiletto-heeled boots and a thigh-flashing skirt. But even given his ease with femme fatale accouterments, is "Sexie" really an appropriate title for his new touring show, which runs at City Center through Saturday?

Mr. Izzard, you see, is not a come-hither kind of guy. While he is most efficiently identified as that transvestite comedian from Britain who calls himself a male lesbian, his immense appeal has little to do with sex. Mr. Izzard is undoubtedly seductive, but his brand of seduction aims directly at the head, not below the belt. After a couple of hours in his company, your mind is likely to be so crammed with the odds and ends — mostly odds — of what he's been saying, that you have no room left for your own thoughts.

"Circle" was the title of Mr. Izzard's show of three years ago. That comes closer than "Sexie" to suggesting how his sorcery works. Mr. Izzard, whose theme is nothing less than civilization and its multifarious contents, traffics in delirious, dizzying circles of ideas and images. On the surface they have nothing to do with one another. And yet they flow effortlessly into a single, opalescent stream of consciousness.

Pole dancing and libraries; prosthetic breasts and their relation to jelly fish; jelly fish and their relation to soap opera acting; the possibilities of Monterey Jack cheese as a weapon; the crusades; penises and car doors. All right, stop and catch your breath now. These are just a few of the subjects that "Sexie" links in a melting chain of logic in its first five minutes or so.

This connected disconnectedness has made Mr. Izzard the most popular, and exportable, British comedian since the heyday of Monty Python. In a speeding world of increasingly scrambled cultures and images, he is an emperor of incongruity.

His balancing of ostensibly opposed elements starts with his appearance. As anyone can testify who saw his haunting performance as a disaffected father in the recent Broadway revival of "A Day in the Death of Joe Egg," Mr. Izzard is a handsomely mannish man. His beefy, blond good looks do not make you think, "Wouldn't he look nice in a dress?" Yet there is nothing off-putting about Mr. Izzard in full drag, sporting a new pair of breasts. (Implants that haven't been planted is how he describes them.) They are on display in a sculptured black corset top, and Mr. Izzard calls attention to them early.

Synthetic breasts have their disadvantages, he says; they are prone to explode in airplanes at high altitudes. On the other hand, you can wrap them around your ears to block noise. This antierotic notion of breasts as ear muffs recurs sporadically throughout "Sexie"; so does his confessed tendency to finger his bosom when dealing with bureaucratic figures like customs officials.

That's another one of the miracles of Mr. Izzard, by the way. Once he throws a conversational ball into the air, he keeps it in play for the rest of the night, even when you assume he's forgotten all about it. And every one of them is inspected with a magnifying eye that inflates everything to the point of absurdity.

This allows Mr. Izzard to consider superheroes in Greek mythology, contemporary comic books and world religion; the invention of fire and the wheel by a couple of cavemen named Jeff and Steve; dog racing from the point of view of a greyhound; and what would happen if tigers ruled the world. Somewhere along the way he acts out a conversation between the scientists Pavlov and Doppler, who share a car (with two steering wheels), while Doppler throws cats out the window.

Mr. Izzard gives varied voice to these disparate figures and lets them talk among themselves by shifting profiles as he switches characters. Mr. Izzard, as Eddie Izzard, also talks to himself quite a bit, making notes on an invisible pad about which routines still need work. This gives the disarming impression of letting his loudly appreciative audience in on the process of shaping his act.

There are glancing detours into more usual topical fare: President Bush's encounter with a pretzel, American imperialism, British-American culture clashes, and racists, a group he describes as being less polite than smokers. (They never ask, as smokers do of smoking, if it's all right to practice racism in front of you.)

Yet Mr. Izzard never reads as hostile or even aggressive. Unlike most American stand-ups, he attacks neither his audience nor himself, instead creating the illusion that he is courteously letting you eavesdrop on an infinite internal dialogue.

"Let's have an interval," he says casually at the end of the first act, "and we'll come back in a bit, and we'll talk some more." When the show ends, you can't quite accept that the conversation is over. Mr. Izzard has so infiltrated your thoughts that you almost expect him to be waiting in your apartment when you get home, still chatting away about Neanderthals and jelly fish.

SEXIE

With Eddie Izzard; lighting by Josh Monroe; sound by George Glossop; set by Alex Saad; costumes by Charlotte Mann in association with Russell Sage; music by Sarah Guinness. Presented by WestBeth Entertainment. At City Center, 131 West 55th Street, Manhattan.

October 08, 2003

Sonic spanners... and JAM

This news has made my day. According to Tom Baker, Dr. Who #4, the star of the new BBC version launching in 2005 will be... "executive transvestite Eddie Izzard! David and I saw him live in Vancouver last month and he was amazing. If you don't know Eddie, either rent a DVD or check out his site.
The series will be directed by Queer as Folk creator Russell T. Davies, but it is important to note the Eddie is not gay--just Anika's dream man. And he does wear that lipstick like a champ!

October 03, 2003

New web-immersive marketing program

You may recall the brilliant web-based marketing program for the movie AI. It began with a single webpage for a university that does not exist, but which apparently hired some characters related to the movie. The way you got started in the game was to note the "Jeanine Salla" was listed in the trailer as the "Robot Psychologist" (a strange title, to be sure). From the first google search you were led to a series of websites set in the timeline of the movie, with a murder-mystery to solve to boot. In my opinion, the most innovative marketing program ever, and very successful too.

Now, it looks like the Matrix is getting into the act. Remember who Neo worked for? Check out Metacortex (if it's not slashdotted, anyway), especially the products and services section. There's a particularly intriguing link to an undersea hotel. What's it all about? No one's really sure just yet, but finding out is part of the game. The game is afoot, and a guide to the puzzle is already underway.

October 01, 2003

Most Popular Names for Dogs in NYC

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has released the list of most popular names for dogs in NYC. Dozer is spared from this questionable acclaim.

September 24, 2003

Knightsfollie Ladiesman

Bringing to mind both Dumbo and The Flying Nun, is Mr. Jeffries, a basset hound and grandpup of Mr. Biggles of Hush Puppies fame. This fine specimen of dog-eared-ness has 11- or 12-inch ears (depending on your news source) insured for 30,000 pounds.

September 10, 2003

Send pirates, guns, and money

Have I mentioned lately that I love pirate movies? They are just so cool. Growing up I had a huge crush on Errol Flynn, and could go batty over just about any flick with a fair amount of swashbuckling. And by now most of you nonfamous nonstrangers know of my love of cowboys. Oh, cowboys. Let me just daydream about them for a few moments...

So why is this? I mean, sure my ultimate movie hero is Indiana Jones. And that makes sense. Because, for one thing, on 1982, Harrison Ford was HOT. Really hot. And then, Raiders of the Lost Ark was essentially a western. And most definitely a World War II movie, another favorite genre of mine. He was an intellectual, and adventurer, a loner, a risk taker, a man against the world, not too morally upright to be nauseating, but not too much of an opportunist to be repugnant either. And did I mention he was hot?

Well, so, but I wonder, why is that girls like bad boys. By the way, in no way am I thinking this is an original question to pose. It's more a segue into a discussion of the Pirates of the Carribean movie, which I saw tonight, and which, by the way, was really good, considering that it was based on a ride at Disney World. But see, you know, the thing is, that as hot as Johnny Depp is generally, and as entertaining as he was in this movie. He wasn't the love interest. The love interest was, well, the good guy. And not so much. A pirate. But a good guy.

And that's kind of a theme of the movie. That sometimes you can be a pirate and a good guy at the same time. Like Indiana Jones, I guess. Or Han Solo. Who was also hot, but then again, was also Indiana Jones. (Is it obvious yet I haven't been sleeping enough lately?) And while we're at it, why hasn't Harrison Ford played a good cowboy role. Oh, but you know who has? Robert Redford. Talk about hot. And Sundance. Yeah. I need to swoon for a few moments...

So, sure, I'm also not saying that the theme of the good guy pirate is new. Or the hooker with the heart of gold, which was not a theme in the POTC, but seems like a related theme. Or that recognizing that there are guys hotter than Johhny Depp is new. I mean, I figured that out when I saw Gladiator. Duh... But, well, first of all, how the hell did someone make a good movie out of a Disneyworld ride? And second of all, how did I see a pirate movie where I wasn't swooning over the pirates? I mean, I'm the classic chick, thinking Ilsa was a fool to opt for that Victor Lazlo guy over Rick Blaine. I usually like the good guy/bad boys. And I liked them in this movie, but, no, there was no swooning.

Which I kind of think is something that Johnny Depp does intentionally. Have you noticed that for such a hot guy he plays a lot of nonhot characters? I kind of think that's cool. Especially for a guy who got his start on 21 Jump Street as the cutie patooty. He's a good actor. Really he is. And when I first heard about this pirate movie, all I could think about was what a great pirate he would make. And he does, but in a quirky, very nonsexual way that probably shouldn't surprise me based on the roles he's chosen in the last decade or so, but still kind of did. I was expecting him to be channeling Errol Flynn. Somehow, he seemed to be channeling a bit more Mick Jagger than Flynn. Which is weird for a pirate movie. Yet worked. And still, not what I was going for.

So, where am I going with this? Really, I don't know. I'm just kind of intrigued. I liked the movie. I don't see myself buying it on DVD. Mostly because I never swooned. The love interest, by the way, might have been really good looking, but his character lacked depth and bore a really unnerving resemblance to someone I know. And like. But still. That's not what I'm going for in a movie. I want to see a pirate movie where I can be caught up in the plot and dreaming of being the girl who everyone is trying to rescue.

Ramble over. No real point made. You may now resume your regularly scheduled blog reading.

August 14, 2003

Bubb Rubb: "the whistles go WHOOOO!"

Bubb Rubb is the newest Certified Internet Celebrity, and the kind of character you could not invent. And if you did, you would instantly be branded a racist. But truth is the perfect defense against libel, and this site is all about the truth at 24 fps. Really, you can't make this shit up... though in the interest of equal offense, someone has made a "Red Neck Woo Video." Not as funny, but a nice effort.

To make a long story short, Bubb Rubb came to fame after a San Francisco TV newscaster interviewed him (and his little sister, 'Lil Sis) as he was having a "whistle tip" put in the exhaust pipe of his car. For the uninitiated, a whistle tip is just a little punched-metal tab that turns any exhaust pipe into an organ of screeching agony for all those nearby. As this trend reached the Bay Area, the citizens of Oakland were, for the most part, not amused; the tips have since been banned. Which is sad, because they are "just fa' deccarayshun."

The great thing is-- if you watch the full video, not the edited version-- is that the white KRON newscaster speaks at least as strangely as Bubb Rubb. You would swear it's a fake, but no FANSters, it's the real thing.

If you really want to laugh, make sure you also listen to the Woo2 remix.

August 05, 2003

Posh 'n Becks Unplugged

Does Marie Claire have no sense of decency? Using lookalikes to make us thing the UK's real royal couple has opened their home for candid shots of the World's Most Famous Athlete on the can? Nope, no decency at all. Thank god.

August 01, 2003

Just how bad is the Madonna Gap ad?

As bad as the Boston Globe seems to think?

"It's never pretty watching an iconic pop figure fade, especially when it involves (and it usually does) selling somebody else's product."

I was kind of sad too, but the girl can still dance. Pete pointed out that she was stealing back the dance moves Kylie Minogue stole from her.

Check out the ad here.

July 09, 2003

$3 wine and good cheap cheese

Yeah, it's just like Spain. Well sort of. I'd still rather return to the Iberian peninsula, but in the meantime, shopping at Trader Joes certainly does bring me happy little moments of gourmet bargain-laden glee. And apparently so to many of my ilk.

I hate when I fit a stereotype.

A Julie Translator!

Ah, cool. Hopefully now I'll be able to figure out what the hell Julie was saying the other night at dinner. Fa' shizzle. Try translating nonfamous. Or at least read the translation of Jay's post this morning:

It's not even 9 am, 'n I've already been asked by my uber-boss's assistant "What time is yo' flight tomorrow?" This is not a question I particularly wanted hear, know what I'm sayin'?

"10 am, know what I'm sayin'? Why?"

"Then yo' ass could do an 8:30 conference call? The time da client wanted this afternoon won't work n' shit. "

Mind yo' ass, this is wit da clients who are pretty much da bane of my existence right at da moment." They are nice 'nuff muthas, 'n gravy clients, but hella, uh, collaborative, know what I'm sayin'? Ten emails 'n 6 phone calls a day collaborative n' shit. Six drafts when da timeline specifies two, wit each draft having mo' substantive comments than da last n' shit. So basically, as they close da cabin door 'n rip da phone out of my hands, I'll hear a low drone intoning something like "." ..what we really need see mo' of would be an example of customers who are integrating they business processes fo' greater operating productivity through enhanced teaming 'n Six Sigma recruiting 'n retention management n' shit. .." And my eyes will roll back into my heezee, 'n when I wake up we'll be in Maui!

July 01, 2003

So long, Kate

Glancing at the list of more than 50 films in which Katharine Hepburn appeared, I realize that I've seen very few of them--six to be exact. And yet, if you'd ask me who my favorite actresses are, I'd have put her right below Ingrid Bergman and Audrey Hepburn at the top of my list. And I can't even say that of those six films, there were more than a couple that I really enjoyed. Sure Philadelphia Story, Holiday and Bringing Up Baby were great films, but, well I am completely incapable of not loving any movie with Cary Grant, so I'm not sure how much I can attribute my inclinations toward those films on the female lead. On Golden Pond, on the other hand, was just an emotionally manipulative Kleenexfest. And as much as I want to love it, The African Queen never left me more than lukewarm.

So, now that I've established that Katharine Hepburn has never been the instrument of my loving a film, I guess the obvious question was why did my eyes fill with tears yesterday morning as I heard on Morning Edition that she'd died. Actually, it's because she looked so much like my paternal grandmother as a young woman. I've got a picture somewhere, taken on a beach, of this beautiful, graceful woman, all legs and cheekbones, holding a baby version of my father. I've had more than one person ask me why I had a framed picture of Katharine Hepburn on my dresser.

My grandmother was a Catharine as well, and between those two commonalities, my image of Katharine and my image of Catharine have always been closely associated in my head. I also think that something of the delicacy with which each of those great women expressed themselves helped strengthen that association. So, even though I can't remember more than a handful of scenes that Katharine played, I have a really strong reaction to seeing her onscreen. It's funny, too, because I felt like growing up, I saw so little of my Granny, and yet I have powerful and strong memories of talking to her. To me, Catharine and Katharine represented a headstrong, graceful, intelligent femininity that I always wanted to develop in myself (and surely never will).

I said goodbye to Catharine a few years ago. I'd like to imagine, if it's not too hokey, that as we say goodbye to Katharine, she'll be greeted by her soul sister with a good strong bourbon and ginger ale and a toast on behalf of those of us who admired them both.

June 23, 2003

Weird Science

If I had to create the perfect guy, he would undoubtedly be of the metrosexual orientation. Criticize him as the abominable construct of a marketing culture gone horribly, horribly out of control, but if he can order a good wine, appreciate the Reidel stemware into which it is poured, and compliment me on my lovely new Miu Mius, then I say we relax those stem cell laws so the marketers can clone us a good little army of Spice Boys. And then maybe, just maybe, we'll achieve a critical mass of males in downtown wearing leather jackets instead of fleece pullovers.

Oh hell, a girl can dream, can't she?

June 18, 2003

Sopranos season six

I suppose a headline like Producer Says 'Sopranos' Will Have a 6th Season is good news, as long as the show manages not to "jump the shark."

So Season Five will start in March? That's definitely good news-- cooking with Paulette on Sunday has made me hungry for some ziti!

June 11, 2003

Whither Beckham?

Back on the theme of giving good service, I wheedled two tickets to the Manchester United v. Celtic football match here next month, after mentioning David's disappointment at the 20 minute sellout to my uberboss Greg, who snapped up a dozen tickets with which to woo clients. Now it turns out we might not get to see Beckham play if Man U passes him off to Barcelona or some other club.

It's hard to feel too bad for a guy who makes $12-18 million a year playing soccer (uh, sorry Jon, make that, "footie"), but this is pretty harsh:

"Any prominent footballer is just a share traded on the football stock market," Richmond Duff, a lawyer, told a reporter for The New York Times last night in an interview at the Builder's Arms pub in London. "This is pure commerce, and we'll easily find another handsome bloke with a ridiculous hairstyle."

At the Bull's Head pub in Wilmslow, outside Manchester, Gary Turner, the head chef, said by phone that he, too, supported the selling of Beckham. "We've been known as a one-man team," Turner said. "If we got rid of him, we'd see if we were a real team rather than a one-man team."

James Marley of the Bull's Head kitchen staff said he was a rabid Manchester United fan but seemed dismissive of Beckham, saying: "I don't think he's that good. He's more glamour than anything else."

So what, Jesse Watts said in the Builder's Arms pub. She indicated that she would be grievously sorry to see Beckham go, not least of all because of his rugged good looks.

"I think he should stay because a) he's a sex symbol and Britain needs that; and b) he's an amazing footballer," Watts said. "I hate football, but he's an amazing player."


June 10, 2003

"V" is coming back!

It's official. NBC is planning a sequel to the original "V" miniseries. Can it really have been 20 years ago?

June 05, 2003

An invitation for abuse?

Ok, I admit, I make fun of Martha Stewart as much as the next person, and many of you already know about my brother's and my morbid fascination with her. She's a bitch. There's no two ways about it. And she represents some weird patrician lifestyle that seems severely out of place in this day of female CEOs (of which she was until today one), online grocery shopping, and personal chef services for people who don't have enough time to stop at the market to buy the Lean Cuisine and throw it in the microwave themselves.

But then again, she built something of an empire on the whole notion of celebrating women participating in the just those homemaking activities our fair sex has tried to liberate itself from for the last several decades. On the other hand, it's never been an unthinking adherence to old gender roles that she advocated. Sure, she she might get you staying up late into the night assembling paper dahlias for your garden party, but you also get the whole scoop on the history of paper flowers and the historic meanings various cultures have imposed on the dahlia. So it's kind of fascinating.

But really, I've always been most fascinated by her show when she's got her mother on, probably the only woman on earth who can reduce Bitch Supreme Martha to an insecure child. I never quite got why she'd continue putting herself through that. I can't imagine my mom ever assenting to the filming of multiple generations of Sisinni women going at each other in the kitchen. It just so flies in the face of that veneer of housewarm perfection she otherwise seems to be going for.

Anyway, so Martha's been indicted. She resigned her post in her own company. (How do you have Martha Stewart Living without Martha Stewart to live it, I gotta ask?). And she's set up a Web site for the whole world to tell her just what they think of her. Ouch. That could be painful. Especially if her mother knows how to get on the email.

June 02, 2003

"Hail to the Thief" reviews start

This week's Breakfast Table at Slate is all about Hail to the Thief, the new Radiohead that most of the nonfamous posse has been listening to for months, courtesy of Pete. It is clearly going to be an Important Record, and I can feel the beginnings of that slight pain that comes from being an early adopter-- that need in my gut to say things like, "Yeah, I was listening that a while ago." Really, it's not my fault--I'm not trying to sound like the interlocutor is so five minutes ago, but that's indeed what I'll be thinking. It's already the music most associated with April and May, but now into June I feel like I'm just beginning to really get past the surface.

Except for the fact that I think I'll be listening to it for quite some time. Though I don't expect it to be this year's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Radiohead being less aurally cuddly than Wilco), it is already firmly implanted in my consciousness.

One of the Slate reviewers keeps going on about it being a lullabye-- if so, one meant to spawn nightmares. Thom Yorke's creepy voice keeps wheedling in with little refrains like "it's too late now, it's tooooo laaaaaate now." Of course it is, don't go reminding us.

But do, do remind us. HTTT is urgent, but its sound is such that this urgency stays in the background-- subaltern but ever-present, just as urgency should be if it is to be effective. It's in my brain, in an uncomfortable way, just like a good workout sits in your muscles.

Anyway, the Slate thing promises to be good reading this week, with an obvious soundtrack.

April 15, 2003

"illegal art"

I found the illegal-art.org site as I was researching the Puma thing (and it was billable). The site is good, but it's pop-up EULA is freaking brilliant!

"performance sneakers" and the sub-viral revolution

We're all over viral marketing. So now there's "sub-viral marketing." Companies take an ad concept that is on-brand but off-color and leak it out anonymously onto the Web. The rougher the take, the bigger the hit. This practice evolved from the DIY hacks of ubiquitous campaigns like Mastercard's "priceless." Yeah, we've all seen those spoofs of someone's party pic with a rude caption.

Where these two trends collide, there is a lot of room for companies to make a big splash for cheap and still defend the chastity of their brands-- "Why, we'd never do that-- shame on you for thinking we would!" The latest, and possibly greatest Brand That Doth Protest Too Much is Puma.

To wit, Rob Walker's SlateAd Report Card on a naughty JPEG that looks awfully well-produced. You can (at the moment) see the ads here, but Puma's lawyers have been sending cease-and-desist letters to bloggers the world round--and funny enough, that means that everybody knows about it now.

The Guardian had this great piece last year on the "sub-viral" phenom; a UK "viral site" features this much more graphic "Levis" add that gives new meaning to "do-it-yourself"--and much, more more content of suspicious provenance.

This is one of the most interesting areas of mutant marketing, and it just goes to show how right Foucault was: the author is dead. But we've all downloaded his latest Photoshop text.

March 28, 2003

The War or The Core?

It's official. David Edelstein is now my favorite movie reviewer. I can't bring myself to say "film critic" as he just seems miles away from the Cahiers du Cinema crowd. And this is despite the fact that my college friend Michael Agger writes about film for The New Yorker (and apparently also Slate sometimes).

But this is about Mr. Edelstein. After my post yesterday, I now have to follow it up with a link to this hilarious review of The Core. He makes the excellent point that jitters about scary things going on in the world are perhaps best treated with movies about even scarier things going on in the world. (On that note, anyone up for watching Signs on DVD this weekend? Oh, here's a better link-- to Signs on my Amazon Wishlist!)

Anyway, how could you not love a review like this?

Here's the scariest stuff in the world organized according to the age-old rules of melodrama, complete with cartoony special effects. Here's a chance to empathize not just with the guy who has the bad fortune to be on the bridge as it collapses (i.e., the guy that most of us would be), but with the genius scientists and stalwart astronauts who pilot their super vessel (here a giant phallic drill made of something called "unobtainium" and nicknamed "Virgil") into Mother Earth. In the great tradition of Armageddon (1998), The Core spells out the American resolve in the face of disaster: Drill That Bitch.

Anyway, sounds much better than watching GWII on CNN all weekend.

March 27, 2003

Asstobust non disputandum est

While studiously not commenting on the (as it were) underlying issue, I do love the title of David Edelstein's Slate review of Dreamcatcher: Little Brown Men - The aliens of Dreamcatcher have a taste for human rectums. He actually manages to (ahem) top that in his review:

The FX guys have devised some great squiggly thingummies, and the pivotal toilet-bowl scene has a black-comic charge you're not likely to forget. Maybe that's appropriate: I am tempted to say that what King has concocted, consciously or not, is an elaborate allegory for homosexual panic, complete with anal intrusion by toothy phalluses and a resulting (Mr.) Gay Plague. There are practically no women in the picture: It all comes down to four buddies, a frail momma's boy with a terminal disease, and a bunch of "blue boys" devising a sort of catcher's mitt for killer eels and worms—

No, sorry, I can't go on. As Bill Murray put it in Tootsie (1982), "We're getting into a weird area here." Maybe Gus Van Sant could have run with it. But Kasdan is boringly straight, so whatever is really at the core of Dreamcatcher remains well, er, impacted.

January 22, 2003

Finances meet fandom

Well, it happens every day-- Mammon always trumps the Muse. But as Marvel asks for-- and gets-- judicial recognition that the X-Men are not human, the fans are in an uproar. This WSJ article has the details. In sum, Marvel asked for the ruling because "non-human figures" have a cheaper duty rate from China than dolls-- dolls being, ipso facto, "human figures." Almost every time some bean-counter pulls a number out of his ass to justify a "cost-saving move," the cost of pissing off your most loyal fans ends up being much higher.

All that being said, I find it hard to put a price on any action figure styled after Hugh Jackman.

January 16, 2003

Frozen dessert treats from hell

So a few weeks ago, Jay calls and he's all, "Hey, why don't you come over for dinner tonight. David is going to make a shepherd's pie." And I'm all over that because I love me a good home cooked meal and especially one filled with things like lamb and mashed potatoes. So Erik and I head over there with a bottle of wine, and it smells great and I'm all looking forward to dinner and a nice conversation and maybe even some good music because they've got so damn much of it in that house, but what I'm not realizing is that I'm about to have one of those life-altering moments where you suddenly realize where you developed one of your most deep seeded (or is it deep seated?) issues--in this case, my hatred for ice cream.

That's right. Call me crazy. Tell me it's sick and wrong. I hate ice cream. I'm like the narrator in Memoir from Antproof Case, well, except that I hate ice cream and he hates coffee, and I never go around taking out full page ads in The New York Times about how evil ice cream is (or about the evils of coffee for that matter, or really about the evils of anything else because I don't have anything about which I am strongly opinioned that would inspire me to spend a month's salary taking out a full page ad to opine on the topic), and I never go around knocking over ice cream displays, nor can I say that I've ever ended a relationship with anyone because they liked the horrid stuff; on the other hand, I do get a little queasy walking by a Ben and Jerry's and inhaling the sugar-laden air surrounding the shop.

Right, so I don't like ice cream. I don't really know why. I mean, sure it makes me sick to my stomach, but that doesn't stop me from eating a lot of other things, and the after effects of the levels of hot sauce and Thai chiles I regularly use to perk up my lunches are much more excruciating than the physical agony that any frozen treat can induce. I always sort of vaguely assumed that there was some childhood trauma that I had blocked out which led me to disdain the stuff so. Or maybe it was just because my dad never liked it. To be honest, I've never really given it all that much thought.

Well, anyway, so we get there, and I'm all relaxed and then Jay says that while he was in Oklahoma for Christmas he bought this b-movie horror flick from the '80s and we're going to watch it during dinner. It was one I realized I had, in fact, seen as a kid, The Stuff with decent and/or weird actors like Paul Sorvino, Danny Aiello, and Michael Moriarty, and it's all about this frozen dessert treat that is both addictive and kills you.

Right. So the idea is that some guy is outside and he sees gooey white shit coming out of the ground, so he tastes it--seems like a perfectly reasonable course of action, I suppose--and likes it, so he decides to sell it. They get it approved by the FDA by turning everyone on the decision panel into "stuffies" and saturate the market with the stuff (or rather The Stuff), enslaving the American public with this addictive substance, and most likely putting the few remaining family farms out of business because it's all anyone will eat now. (They don't actually explore the economic impact on the agricultural industry, which to me seems like a pretty big plot hole, but I guess there is only so much you can fit into a 93 minute movie when you've also got to fit in plenty of mayhem, exploding heads, vomiting, political intrigue, and industrial espionage.) Then it starts killing people. Basically, it seems that you become hollow inside, your body merely a casing for Stuff, and then it leaves you, either the way it entered your body, or by blowing your head up.

So, they've got this whole mine where they're getting this manna from hell out of the ground and pumping it into happy little containers where it can be shipped all over the country and take over supermarkets the way Wal-Mart is taking over small towns, tearing up families in the process. We know this because one of the heroes of the story is this kid whose family has been enslaved, and they try to force him to eat it, but he won't because he figured out was evil after it moved in the fridge (oh, like just because something in the fridge has evolved to the point where it can get from point A to point B of its own volition, it's bad?), and so he winds up running away and helping that weirdo Moriarty guy and some branding chick who is responsible for convincing everyone that they should pack their freezers with Stuff (ah, branding, that noble profession) to stop the mining operation and expose the dangers of indulgence.

Anyway, I'm figuring this kid is going to grow up with a lot of issues at this point, because, not only did Famous Amos try to kill him and then explode in front of the boy, but who really does get over having your older brother try to force you to put something icky in your mouth.

So that's what I'm figuring happened here. My brother, who admittedly I did most of the torturing to as a child, must have put something icky in my mouth as a kid, and then I saw this movie which reminded me of that event, and of course since the Stuff is basically evil ice cream, it created this whole mental association with that as-yet-unremembered trauma and led me to develop my disdain for everyone's favorite summertime treat.

I love when I can find something to blame on my brother.

December 19, 2002

Trading Spaces auction!

If you haven't yet gotten me a Christmas present, there's still hope. eBay is hosting a Trading Spaces charity auction. Options include an ornament handmade by Frank (no thank you, especially at the current bid of $510.00) and a two-hour consult with Vern (better, but just give me $3,050 instead).

The bad news is all you can get from Ty is a candle holder or a pair of work goggles. I can think of SO many more things of Ty's I'd gladly pay for. Of course eBay has that pesky rule about "freshly laundered clothing only." Buzzkills.

(I need to credit the excellent blog Backup Brain for this one.)

December 10, 2002

Metacritically yours

Metacritic.com has the potential to be my favorite new site on the net. So what is it? The founders speak:

Metacritic.com was founded in 1999 by three movie fans who like to read movie reviews. In fact, we like to read a good cross-section of reviews for each movie to get a better idea of the critical consensus for each release. (You know, it's a hobby.) Although at the time the web offered a wealth of reviews and other movie information, there was no easy way to track down all of the various pages without spending a lot of time and effort searching. Thus, Metacritic was born.

We envisioned Metacritic.com as a place where movie fans like us could easily find the most important reviews for each new movie at a glance. Thus, in addition to quotes from reviews from major critics on each movie page on our site, you will find links to each of the full reviews. We also wanted to design a system for comparing reviews between critics and between movies. To accomplish this goal, we developed our Metascore formula. Each movie is assigned a Metascore, which is a weighted average of each of the individual reviews for that film. This number, on a 0-100 scale, lets you know at a glance how each movie is reviewed.

Of course this is not groundbreaking-- rags like EW have long provided reviewer scoreboards-- but Metacritic seems to bring this approach to perfection online. I particularly appreciate the videogame reviews; I am too much of a newbie to know all the magazines and sites that could steer me towards quality.

Now all that needs to happen is a grafting of the "Just Like You" engine from Amazon onto the site. Then the need for personal opinion can be abrogated entirely.


Analyze this?

Slate has been running for several seasons a Monday-morning dissection of The Sopranos by a team of relatively articulate shrinks. This week's is especially satisfying.

Several of the commentators are "declinists," i.e., "The show used to be so much better." (Pete can be a declinist, and is, whereas I cannot as this is my first season.) Glen Gabbard, one of the participants, has this defense about this episode and the season as a whole:

We expect the characters to follow "arcs" that are programmed in our brains from years of television, film, and theater, and the writers repeatedly defy these expectations. In a New York Times interview, David Chase made the point that he attempted to create an atmosphere that resembled the way people actually interact: They talk past each other; they don't listen to one another; conflicts are not resolved; forces of inertia and entropy triumph over our desire to tie up loose plot ends. The fourth season has been stellar, for the most part, far better than anything else we have seen or probably ever will see on television. The marriage held together, like many marriages, through a concerted effort at self-deception on the part of both spouses. The final episode was about the ultimate fate of that form of self-deception.

This struck me as interesting. David and I recently disagreed about the merits of Alias Betty, the highly regarded recent French film by Claude Miller. I found the no-loose-knots perfection of its redemption/rescue narrative amazingly satisfying, while David found it hopelessly contrived. Juxtaposing this against my appreciation of Chase's approach as described above convinces me that I am actually fairly knot-neutral-- I can take my drama artificially tidy or or every bit as messily entropic as life.

But that neutrality has its limits. While our choir of shrinks seems to fear an untidy ending for the final Sopranos season, I should hope it ends up a mess. I for one don't want to know with any certainty what haphazard arcs our beloved New Jersey mobsters take after the camera cuts off. I don't know what happened to Jupiter after the fall of Rome, either, but that doesn't rob the mythology of any of its power. If I knew that he and Juno had patched things up and were living in Pompano Beach, well, that would be another story.

December 06, 2002

gay judo

I haven't gone to this site, because now with my new office space making my computer even more highly visible than before, I have no idea what will pop up on my screen to the benefit of the entire room, but I definitely thought this might be of interest, and include my friend's entire description (she is a third-degree black belt in seido karate):

www.matbattle.com

This is a site by several gay guys on judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ),
and gay sex. Or rather, how they get off on playing judo with hot guys.

I admit, the blue gi (uniform) is really cool, and wouldn't get as dirty as
our white ones...

They even have fiction pages based on, I assume, fictional accounts of real
judo guys' lives. Takes RPS to a new level. They have personals, advice
column, Cosmo-type quizzes.

Who knew?

(and back to me: RPS stands for Real Person Slash. This is a type of fan writing wherein real people are "characters" in fan stories (fanfic), and in this case, slash fic. Slash, for the uninitiated, is hard to describe because it means many things, but mostly it's same-sex relationship stories based on characters from TV shows or movies or books, wherein fans see the subtext in things like buddy cop shows as overtly romantic, and write them that way. RP slash and RP fiction are, however, frequently violently opposed in many fan communities because of their violation of privacy and just personal issues in general.)

December 04, 2002

As if just being New Jersey wasn't strange enough

By now, pretty much my whole world knows that I am a Jersey Girl and proud of it. If my rabid Bruce Springsteen fanaticism wasn't clue enough, perhaps my fascination with boardwalks, the Sopranos, and all-night diners clued some of you in. Jersey is a great place to be from, if not necessarily to live in, and it provokes in those of us who hail from the great Garden State all kinds of nostalgia for our misspent youths hanging out in the parking lot in front of Wawa's and kicking out of summer jobs early enough to spend a few hours at Great Adventure.

Jersey has always had its own culture, distinct from the metropolitan character of the City to the north, the political nature of DC to the south, or the gateway to the midwest that we viewed Pennsylvania as. Maybe it's because we were a penninsula, so separated geographically from our nearby neighbors, and surrounded by so much water. Maybe it's because we were so much more densely packed in than anyone else in the country. Or it might be because we are a state of people whose ancestors had fled those nearby places looking for something nearby but wholly different.

Whatever the reason, Jersey is not a state of well-known landmarks (other than the Statue of Liberty, which is technically in Jersey waters), but we love our Turnpike, our beaches, our boardwalks, our Atlantic City, our Bruce, and our Pine Barrens, all of whom have developed their own mythology over the years.

We took to the Sopranos with a zeal that Uncle Sam has never been able to drum up among the general population. It seems that everyone back home has some Sopranos-related personal encounter ("Omygod, I saw Edie Falco at Short Hills Mall the other day!" or "They filmed the scene with the dumpster behind my cousin Vince's auto body shop!"), and the local talk radio shows devote a lot of air time to discussing the show. We knowingly wink at each other when scenes in the Badda Bing come on, because we know where it is in Lodi and that there are no topless bars in NJ. And we look at the stack of meatballs Carmela puts on the table for Sunday dinner and nod approvingly. She seems like a legitimate Italian mama.

This morning a friend, also a Garden State expat, mentioned the site Weird N.J., which highlights some of the more traditional myths and landmarks in the state, some of which were familiar, but many of which were new even to this jaded Jersey historian. So, in the spirit of David's primer on Australia, I offer this as an excellent guide to my home state.

Taken, but ever so slowly

In case you missed the advertising blitz, the Sci Fi Channel has taken a massive gamble with its new miniseries Taken, the full title of which is apparently "Steven Spielberg Presents Taken." It is the geek-centric network's bid to be taken more seriously by viewers, critics, and of course advertisers. IBM's sponsorship of the series bodes well for that effort-- though I must say David and I found the newest batch of ebusiness spots to be the highlight of Monday's episode. This is surprising, given my rather rabid personal interest in the subject of alien abduction.

I am led to wonder just how much Spielberg actually has to do with the series, because say what you want about the man he has always been able to move a story along. After watching the first 4 hours of this 20-hour event, I am beginning to wonder if I might not rather wait for the DVD and watch it at 2X.

Slate has a good review of the series, in which author Chris Mooney makes the excellent point that Spielberg is more responsible than anyone for popularlizing the entire visitation/abduction mythos, which is now a huge industry. Certainly several true believers like Budd Hopkins and John Mack have done more to legitimize (at least partially) contactees' stories, it is Spielberg who ushered in the Age of the Alien Visitors with Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

A few of you may know that I actually believed for several years in my early adolescence that I was a "contactee." In retrospect, I'm sure this was just an expression of my understanding that I was different-- and for the good little Reagan Youth I was, the prospect of being abducted a few times a year was certainly less thoroughly terrifying than being gay in perpetuo.

To be fair to the scared little boy I was, I did have a few odd experiences of "missing time" and other markers of abduction. When Whitley Streiber's Communion came out in 1987 (the height of my alien panic) I could not look at the cover of the book-- with its google-eyed "grey"-- without being gripped by an almost paralyzing fear. Reading accounts of abduction (which I did obsessively, with a voracity that shut out the manifold other anxieties I faced within my family and school life at the time), there was no denying that I had many times experienced a set of sensations almost universally described by contactees: waking suddenly, unable to move or speak, with an absolute sense that some malevolent presence was standing over me or even holding me down, and then feeling as though I were floating or being carried away.

As my asthma was still in full bloom at that age, the terror of these night "visitations" often provoked violent bouts wheezing, which of course only compounded my terror. Several times one of my parents would actually hear the wheezing down the hall and rush in to find me pale and sweating. I couldn't ever tell them what provoked the attacks-- they had plenty to worry about back then-- or explain why I didn't wake them up as I was always supposed to do when my asthma kicked in.

What I didn't understand was that I couldn't move or even call for help-- not because of aliens, but because I have what I think of as a faulty clutch between my autonomous and autologous nervous systems. I would not fully realize until my mid-twenties, when living with my ex Brian, that I have sleep paralysis-- the current favorite skeptical debunking of the abduction craze. Sleep paralysis has a fairly high incidence among the general population, and apparently has forever; almost every culture has a different folk explanation for it, my favorite being the popobawa of Zanzibar, a bat-winged spirit reputed to rape men (particularly skeptical men) in their sleep.

Sleep paralysis, which could be described as a "waking dream" did not that phrase so drastically understate the experience, is in many ways just another sleep disorder. But it is one that as opposed to, say, sleep apnea, creates fertile psychological ground for the growth of florid fantasies inspired by stray cultural memes. Who are we, with our greys and our anal probes, to laugh at the Zanzibarians with their bat-winged dwarf rapists?

I eventually taught Brian what to watch for, and he proved to be adept at rousing me from incidents of sleep paralysis-- which interestingly enough were most frequent after I would fall back asleep after a pleasant round of weekend morning sex. Just goes to show that nothing good in life is without its cost.

In the past few years, I've experienced fewer and fewer episodes. They are no less physically uncomfortable, and still often provoke an asthmatic response, but knowing that the cause is just a mundane misfiring synapse makes it a lot more manageable and, I think, a little quicker to move on.

Now if I could only figure out how to make Taken do the same!

November 27, 2002

For True Epicures

I'm feeling like I'm on a roll today. I just had to share this article from the Onion with everyone, mainly because I can just imagine all the guys out there who would read this and think "wait, I thought everything in the Onion was a joke. That's my idea of a romantic evening."

November 22, 2002