Tuesday, August 31, 2010

'MY BUTCH PREZ': This Never Gets Old

Because they're libertarians and only people at Newsweek seem to think it's worthwhile listening to them, the staff at Reason magazine usually come off as over-earnest. If they're not taking themselves seriously, there's a very real danger that no one is. True, they publish flippant blog posts and quick observations that make them seem hip and re-tweetable and the sort of thing you might remember, but they do so with that thumb-on-the-scale seriousness that lets you know, we are seriously being unserious here. Like, for instance, being a male author and adopting the pose of a woman who'd kill all men.

It's a strangely paradoxical behavior, but that's par for the course with libertarianism. You know, like free-thinking ideologues, decentralists who love the military, anti-government enablers of the worst excesses of the Bush II administration. The effect is of someone who knows how things work but who can't execute them because of some clumsy refusal to adapt guidebooks to reality. Like, for instance, knowing comic timing and irony and what makes a joke about sports funny, but calling the room's attention to a joke by saying, "Ahem, it is my intention now to tell you a joke about sports." Or like anything else about libertarianism.

But at least insofar as the former is concerned, check out this killer dig about how Barack Obama isn't a man because of [sports thing], while George W. Bush is a man because of [sports thing], in an article literally titled "Who Is More Macho":

Monday, August 30, 2010

White America's Inconvenience Tantrum, Part V: We Start the Pogrom at Ground Zero

Previous Posts: Part IVPart IIIParts I & II

At some point, it's acceptable to give up and shriek, "What the fuck is going on?"

The Daily Show has spent the last few weeks brutally lampooning conservative critics of the Park51 Community Center (the so-called Ground Zero Mosque) simply by playing clips of themselves juxtaposed against earlier clips of themselves. For example: showing conservatives condemning Park51 organizer Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf as a dangerous radical, then noting that he was twice tapped by George W. Bush as a global ambassador for moderate, interfaith-tolerant and pro-American Islam.

In other cases, the show has taken conservative critics seriously by using their own guilt-by-association tactics and examining how those loose standards prove that the same critics are as threatening to national security as any radical imam. In one hilarious instance, Jon Stewart and writers noted that FOX News, whose personalities are obsessed with finding out where the money for the mosque is coming from, had decided that its origins are dangerous and anti-American, linked to a man who funds extremist madrassas worldwide. Of course, the man in question is Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, owner of 7.0% of NewsCorp, FOX News' parent company. This argument is likely to disappear.

This instant disposal of history is hardly a new phenomenon in conservative politics. The famous handshake between Saddam Hussein and Donald Rumsfeld wasn't so much defended as strenuously ignored as an irrelevancy. "Where is the money?" is a vital argument until the moment it isn't. Imam Rauf stops being one of "the good ones" as soon as a non-conservative supports him. In political circles, the ratio of satirical content to real life and the total content of real life fast approaches one. Historicity is only important in the final judgment, which none of us will be around to see. The day-to-day inconsistencies mean nothing. This is global policy written by Damon Lindleof and Carlton Cuse, and you just have to believe that all this backtracking and sidestepping will mean something when the final black screen comes over the American Epoch with history's verdict: W O N.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Criterion Recollection: 8/25/10

Note: We, the good people of Et tu, Mr. Destructo? are proud to present Criterion Recollection, an analysis of the popular Criterion Collection of historic and unique achievements in film. Your guide is Mark Brendle, a former media critic for BarnesandNoble.com and a short-fiction writer. Brendle lives in the Pacific Northwest in a small post-recycled yurt adjacent to America's largest family-owned retail video and book store, Art Trough. When not writing or staring purposefully at culture, Brendle works as a fair-trade coffee beanist. You can follow him on Twitter.

The Subconscious Thought Monster: Spine #92, Fiend Without a Face (1958)

The Criterion Collection is generally known for distributing high-quality transfers of high-art world cinema. Or as a guidebook for pretentious movie nerds everywhere on what to watch in order to be cool (Godard). Or as the masters of the fetishization of cinema, delivering the best physical packages for home media in the business: lavish digipaks, beautiful cover art and thick booklet inserts packed with production stills, essays and insider information on each movie. So, if that’s the case, and Criterion hosts such seminal movies as Seven Samurai, The 400 Blows, The Seventh Seal and Armageddon, why would I start this column with a critique of a 1950s B horror movie? The answer is that I intend to subvert Criterion’s standing as the leading distributor of important cinema. Actually, it’s because like most 1950s horror movies, it contains at least a fragment of social commentary (maybe even criticism?), some of it very subtle, some not so much.

If you listen to the ridiculously banal audio commentary on the DVD by producer Richard Gordon (topped only perhaps by fellow B-movie producer Jack Harris’ commentary on The Blob) you might come away with the knowledge that Fiend Without a Face was one in a long line of cheap monster movies that happened to grab the audience’s attention because of the (then) unique design of the monster. Looking at it now it might remind you of H.R. Giger’s design for the Facegrabber in Alien, sans overt sexual neuroses. But despite Gordon’s insistence that the most interesting thing about the movie is the monster’s design, something deeper stirs underneath the surface of this rather simplistic tale of an experiment gone awry.

First, a quick outline of the plot for those who haven’t seen it: In a small town next to a United States military base on the American-Canadian border, people suddenly start dying. At first the citizens of the town blame the radiation from the military base’s atomic power plant, then a psycho killer, but later all involved, including the supposed-to-be-dashing lead man, a Major from the base played by Marshall Thompson, realize it is the work of invisible monsters generated from the thoughts of a mad scientist. These monsters kill their victims by attaching themselves around the neck with their spinal-cord tail and sucking out the person’s brain through two Dracula fangs on tendrils. (Giger, I’m looking at you here.) When the monsters sabotage the atomic power plant, the plant goes haywire and begins producing more energy. This renders the monsters visible, at which point they are brought down by everyday household bullets. Finally, our hero goes to the power plant and destroys it, cutting off the monsters’ source of atomic energy and killing them.

Monday, August 23, 2010

53 Things to Know, Do or Not Do at a Small Liberal Arts College,
Part I

About a billion years ago, when I was just a week away from moving to college, I received a thick manila envelope in the mail. Inside it, I found a sheaf of xeroxed papers that had been put through a two-hole punch and bound with yarn. Its cover had flowery lettering on it, like it had been drawn by a girl who had a ballpoint pen and a tendency to dot her I's with little leaves. It had a completely sincere name that, despite the airy and feminine script, seemed daunting and terribly important: "The Secrets of the Universe."

The school — New College of Florida — was a culturally unique one, and its very active student body had decided to share an unofficial guide with incoming students, as a kind of complement to the official literature we all received. At the time it was heartening to get, if a bit overwhelming. Here was the skinny on everything the adults wouldn't tell us; these were the things we'd need to know on Day One to get the most out of our expensive educations.

Just weeks into the semester, though, it already seemed goofy and misguided, the classic Bad Idea project that happens when too many hippies form their own committee. Some of the information was obviously years out of date. Despite a table of contents and ostensibly some form of organization, different entries, written by several people, repeated themselves, contradicted each other and namedropped people and things with enough vagueness that the reader would have to experience the things they were being warned about to be able to even understand what the warnings meant.

A few years less than a billion years ago, as I was on my way out of the school, an enterprising person I know named Michael Shannon decided that it was time to scrap "Secrets of the Universe" and begin again. For starters, he had the very wise idea to put himself in charge, commission different pieces from different writers and organize the entire thing with the accountability and centrality of a dictator's perspective. Somehow I got drafted into writing a comprehensive advice column for the piece. I believe there was some flattery involved, but Michael had also noted that my old writing partner and I had, in the past, periodically included these impromptu advice columns, like, "25 Things Your RA's Aren't Telling You," in our terrible 'zines.

I forgot about it after a few months, but I was delighted years later to find out that people were still using it. I think parts of it wound up lacquered onto the wall of a public bathroom on campus — although that might have been something else I wrote. Then I forgot about it again until I found myself playing host to two 18-year-old cousins who stopped by my house on their way to their first year of college in a state they'd never been to before. As I drove them around town and visited their campus, I realized that some of the idle bits of advice I was passing on were almost direct quotes from this thing I'd written while drinking a 12-pack of beer so long ago that they've redesigned the cans three times since then. If anything, this suggested a kind of staying power.

53 Things to Know, Do or Not Do at a Small Liberal Arts College,
Part II

Continued from Part I.

Things to Know, Do or Not Do at a Small Liberal Arts College, #11-53
11. If your high-school friends come to visit you, take care of them. They may run afoul of campus PD, angry drunks, or get wasted themselves and flirt unpleasantly with someone. Small campuses tend to be in a delicate balance, and your fellow students' proximity to you and one another enables you all to fairly well know one another’s sensibilities. Outside friends may not be as comfortable with, say, lesbianism as you (hopefully) will become, and thus they might say something epically stupid.

12. Don't try to sell a "personality" too much. If you get topless or do movie monologues every time you drink, you may wind up spending four years as the "naked girl" or "actor guy." On one hand, people may want to spend time with you because of it. On the other hand, people may find you boring unless you are exclusively "on" or "in-character." Moreover, it may drive people away, as the intimacy of the school can lead people to falsely believe that they fully know one another by outside signs and a few repeated gestures. Your character might then become you, and it's a bitch to get yourself back.

13. Three things about school-sanctioned gatherings with school PA/stereo systems:
a. Put the equipment away. There's nothing more pathetic than the sort of people who organize protests and serious gatherings abandoning communal equipment, only to have it taken care of, at five a.m., by two people who have been drinking since lunch. I lost count of the number of times fellow drunks and I ran across thousand-dollar school speakers in the dead of night, left out by the sort of people who had previously exhibited no shortage of energy for things like suggesting that they were the moral vanguards of the community and that I should be arrested.
b. As a liberal arts student, you have diverse interests. Others do not share all yours. If you're going to have a gathering, stick to music that is danceable or entertaining. So you like goth music: the vast majority of human beings on earth enthusiastically and rightfully do not, and they do not have the time to wait until you're 25 and realize that it's life-draining dirge-like shit. Meanwhile, there are Chinese laborers in the Quinghai province who think that Cyndi Lauper had three great singles. These people probably made everything you're wearing right now. Show them and your fellow students some respect and have fun.
c. You got the thrill of putting on a bash for people, now be a goddamned adult and clean up after yourself. Your backyard belongs to a thousand other people.
14. If you perform anything in public—especially with a musical instrument—change your routine. People admire talents not their own, but offer something more than a steady diet of "Wish You Were Here" and "Blister in the Sun." If you can't mix it up, remember this: there are few things more admirable than students being creative, except, of course, students being creative only occasionally in public and more often somewhere else.
14.a. Corollary: There are very few credible reasons to wear an ethnic badge while publicly performing. The Pogues are awesome, and I'm sure that your great-great grandparents who were the last members of your family to live in Ireland might have loved them. That said, you don't have to sing "Thousands Are Sailing" again, and if you get weepy, someone should punch you. I know it sucks that Castro is still in charge of Cuba, and I'm sure what's happening in your imagination to the country you can only imagine is really terrible, but you don't always have to sing "Guantanamera." I doubt anybody who went to a small American college with a few Englishmen can remember their getting loaded and singing "Heart of Oak" like they were Lucky Jack Aubrey, and I'm pretty sure you're never going to see a couple American kids shout out "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Everybody's glad that you love your culture, but all cultures are special, which perversely means that all of them aren't really that special, which includes yours. Either book a special performance for a night of cultural nationalism or just do a goddamn medley and occasionally skip whatever musical totem people have come to expect from you.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Junkyard Dog Friday

I wound up sitting on these videos for weeks or months in the faint hope that sooner or later some topic would arise that absolutely needed a dog riding a lawnmower or the fattest Englishman in the universe being presented with an animal carcass. This was pretty stupid of me, but I think the point here is that I made at least a token attempt to do something other than dump a bunch of videos into a single post.

I can't take credit for this one. If I remember correctly, a guy named Moving Shadow thought this up. Regardless, Eternal Mobius Dog Is a Cool Dog (click image to play):

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Loyal Opposition at Tropicana Field

I've grown to love Tropicana Field in spite of itself. While I won't be sad to see it go, there's something kind of mistakenly charming about it whenever I get out there for a game. It's almost adorably wrong, not in any terribly profound way, but in the homey way that one gets used to. Like the ballpark equivalent of a front door that makes an uncanny belching sound if you open it too slowly.

Aside from the game itself, easily my favorite part is the people. I always wind up near someone memorably bizarre, often average-guy out-of-towners, the nameless and questionably solvent drifters of sports fandom, the opposite of the high-powered corporate type who flies in for a day's work and gets a great ticket on someone else's dime. These are the sorts of people generally filtered out by sustained team prosperity (and its increased season-ticket purchases) or by local fascination with a swank new ballpark. They still seem like a hearty core of the Tampa fan experience.

You can see the fan-filtering process at work in Fenway Park in Boston, where repeated championships and the exclusivity of available seats, plus their high cost, has made the Red Sox "event baseball" instead of just baseball. Out-of-towners are rich people often unserious about the game. People in the stands use their cell phones constantly, network, don't seem fired up for what's happening, don't cheer as hard as they used to when a Sox pitcher has two strikes on a batter with men on base.

New stadiums seem to have this inattentiveness problem, this "baseball as the secondary concern at the ballpark" thing: people show up for the food and the nicknacks hidden in the concourses. The point isn't the game but being at it. A friend of mine who went to Pac Bell park for the first time couldn't remember the score of the game but told me in detail all the different types of food he'd had there. He wasn't from the area and didn't like baseball, but it seemed like a thing to do. That would never have happened at Candlestick Park, because Candlestick was frigid torture garnished with gray hot dogs. You went to the 'Stick for baseball. Going for the stadium or the food would have been like going to the dentist for the magazines.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Michelle Malkin, It's Time to Get Serious and Play Ball

Useful person and right-wing pundit Michelle Malkin has been getting angry lately about comments made about her balls. On a recent radio show, left-wing comic Aisha Tyler made a crack about kicking Malkin right in them. It was obviously a rhetorical flourish — Tyler had no way of knowing about Malkin's balls — but Malkin overreacted anyway:
Left-wing female comedians are proving that they can be as crude and stupid as their male counterparts. Who knew that striving for gender equality meant pursuing the dream that one day, someday, liberal women would be able to mock their conservative counterparts’ sexuality with the unfettered vulgarity of Andrew Dice Clay?

Recently, Kathy Griffin attacked GOP Sen. Scott Brown’s daughters as “prostitutes” on her Bravo “comedy” show.

Now, via Brian Maloney at the Radio Equalizer, supposed funnywomen Stephanie Miller and Aisha Tyler make genital jokes
She then goes on to quote the joke, ending her commentary with, "In a follow-up, an indignant Miller defends her friend’s gutter 'humor' and castigates unsophisticated conservatives who do not comprehend their nuance. I hope you are proud, feminists."

Now, I've no doubt that this is a stone bummer for feminism. It's been peremptorily killed by an offhand comedic trope from a relatively unknown commentator, just when Sarah Palin finally got the movement back on track again by having fat American women LARP as the Thundercats and wave guns while complaining about minorities. But there's a bigger issue here:

This is really gonna fuck up my avant garde film.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Happy Anniversary!

I wish I could say that I had something planned ahead for today. A few days ago, I remembered that this two-year anniversary was coming up, promised to remember to do something, then completely lost track of it amidst the house work, yard work, fix-it work, work work and discovering that FOX has a specific channel devoted to England, Italy and Germany's premier soccer leagues. The only problem with it is that the subtitles don't indicate what cruel profanities the fans are singing.

I remembered almost at the last minute, luckily just after opening some champagne. Originally it was intended to celebrate tonight being Friday — the week's work done — and having old friends and family drop by to stay for a while. But we can lie and all pretend that something intentional was going on. My personal last-minute celebration is perfectly satisfactory, but I'm sure it's not terribly entertaining for the rest of you.

In the past, my go-to solution would be Twitter: just scrape together a couple recurring gags and post them here. There's Shark Hitler, a shark with the killing power of Hitler, a nightmare worse than even Robert Shaw's drunken narration in Jaws. (Full disclosure: someone mentioned months later that there's a throwaway line in Futurama where Professor Farnsworth says, "Everyone's always in favor of saving Hitler's brain. But when you put it in the body of a great white shark, ooohh! Suddenly you've gone too far!" I completely forgot about this, and in fairness, so did about a dozen other people.) Then there's Dirk Hitler, the world's foremost secret agent, who looks just like Hitler, even though he's a completely open-minded guy without prejudices and with a commitment to dropping humanitarian aid out of his spacecraft to third-world citizens. It's sort of unsettling how much Hitler appears on my Twitter feed, but I'm just a scribe. I merely write down what the universe tells me. If Dirk Hitler wants to make sure that the children of Darfur get sick big-wheels and that amateur Hitlers get punched out on Halloween, so be it.