October 14, 2012

Creating a sense of ambivalence within a show is generally a quality of a good show, with good writing, good acting, etc.

But what about meta-ambivalence? In “The Walking Dead,” I feel a growing sense of contempt for Rick’s wife and son, Lori and Carl. She is constantly making terrible decisions and reacting poorly to every new challenge, and Carl is a whiny little idiot. Seriously, if they weren’t Rick’s family, they would have already been killed several times over.

But I don’t want them to die solely because that would necessitate several episodes of Rick pining for his lost family while the current zombie-fighting frat struggles (again) with its identity. And that would get pretty dull…

So the only course of action I see is to kill every living person in the show and start over with a fresh, new group of humans. What’s the chance of that happening in Season 3?

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If you had a President Romney…

September 16, 2012

A spokesperson for the Romney campaign recently said, regarding the protests and violence in the Middle East, “…if you had a President Romney, you’d be in a different situation…”

Romney hasn’t mastered policy, but he has mastered the subjunctive. He wouldn’t have to do anything as president because if he were president, bad things would simply cease to be. He is a panacea to all things.

If you had a President Romney, there would be no violence in the Middle East.

If you had a President Romney, every fetus would have a job.

If you had a President Romney, no one would get cancer, except Walter White.

If you had a President Romney, coal emissions would smell like French vanilla.

If you had a President Romney, polar bears would attend the Burning Man festival.

If you had a President Romney, we wouldn’t have to wait a year for the Breaking Bad finale. [Seriously? Two Breaking Bad references?!?]

If you had a President Romney, my cattle dog would know how to whistle.

If you had a President Romney, my wife would not have baked a fork into the lasagna.

The Fork in the Lasagna

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Has Brad Bird read Superfolks?

August 12, 2012

I would guess so, since The Incredibles shares much thematically with this 1977 novel by Robert Mayer. I discovered Superfolks recently myself, and I find the concepts familiar – but only because we have been immersed in the postmodern phase of the superhero for multiple decades now.

Mayer should get credit for being a trailblazer in this genre, if it could be classified as such. He created a world with a fading pantheon of superheroes, dead, dismembered, retired, with his main figure, his “Superman,” stuck in a schlubby middle-class existence, doing the dull, enervating stuff you and I do every day. Sound familiar?

My first experience with superhero deconstruction was in the short-story collection Alien Sex. In the short story “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex,” which predates Superfolks by six years, Larry Niven speculated on the biological realities of the Man of Steel when trying to have sex and reproduce. Superman’s sperm, as with all other cells in his body, would be infused with super abilities and thus would shoot through Lois Lane at super speed, a notion familiar to all who have seen Mallrats. But Niven added the image of thousands of super-sperm, flying the skies over Metropolis, looking for eggs to inseminate. Niven’s speculative essay is definitely worth enduring the worst book cover ever.

Then came Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing, which has yet to be bettered. Seriously – it is better than Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, and Sin City combined. But I digress.

The Incredibles is firmly ensconced in this modern superhero tradition, but the thing is, Brad Bird, whether intended or not, takes it one step further and deconstructs all of humanity. You see, the Big Bad in the story, Syndrome, voiced by Jason Lee of “kryptonite condom” fame (from the aforementioned Mallrats), is a mythic character himself. What was his ultimate goal? It was to make everyone a superhero so that, in the end, there would be nothing “special” about his former idol Mr. Incredible. He is our modern-day Prometheus, bringing fire to us mere mortals, and like Prometheus, he was punished for his attempt to challenge the gods.

Syndrome never accepted the ultimate truth of The Incredibles universe: There are only a few special people in the world, and you are not one of them.

That’s why it is acceptable for the speedster Dash to compete in track and field with the “ordinaries,” despite the fact that there is no doubt he will win every single race with barely an effort. He crushes his fellow classmates, reminding them that, no matter how hard they try, they are just ordinary humans – and that will never be good enough.

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The Iowa Legislature – Big Government Job Killers

March 13, 2012

The activist Iowa state legislature – aka job killers – has created a new level of bureaucracy by inventing “agricultural production facility fraud,” which essentially deprives us of our God-given right to lie on job applications.

In the immortal words of Lisa Simpson, “They expect you to lie a little.” But now we have Big Brother hanging over our shoulders while we fudge our resumes, and doing so could put you in prison for up to a year. No longer can you claim fluency in Swahili to gain that little extra advantage when applying for a job poking crippled cows with a forklift.

So, if elitist vegan activists can no longer get jobs in Midwest “agricultural facilities,” who can we rely on to abuse our food? “Illegals” perhaps? Normally I would say yes – but since these agricultural companies expect total honesty among their employees and are so stringent over trespassing violations, I can’t imagine they would ever hire anyone who misrepresents their immigration status or does anything to break the country’s sacrosanct borders and immigration laws. Right?

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The Challenge of the Cheese Sandwich

March 11, 2012

It takes a good writer to make a good paragraph about a cheese sandwich. And George V. Higgins does just that in The Friends of Eddie Coyle. The following awesome excerpt is from page 167 in my Picador 2010 edition:

“What the hell, you go in there and order a cheese sandwich, they got a whole stack of them, already made up, probably since last Wednesday, and they take out one of them goddamned things, big fat piece of orange cheese in it, and throw on some grease, they pretend it’s butter but I sure don’t believe that, and then they go and they fuse it all together with a hot press there. My stomach’s still trying to break that thing down into something I can live on, just like a big piece, two big pieces, of bathroom tile with some mastic in between. …”

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Douse your Pizza with Pepper Spray

November 24, 2011

Fox’s Megyn Kelly classifies pepper spray as a food product. So how long before we start putting it in school lunches?

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The Living Structure Meme

September 3, 2011

If you want to prepare for a new and illustrious career for future, I would recommend bioengineering, since future ships and buildings will be living things.

Paolo Bacigalupi’s “A Pocketful for Dharma,” despite its flaws, strikes an interesting balance between a landscape of living building and a computer disk that can carry a copy of a human soul. Farscape put the concept of bioengineered ships upfront with the whole “I am on a living ship” line in the intro – a ship that later gave birth to a baby gunship. And, of course, the classic aliens, the xenomorphs,  have a penchant for organic architecture when they set up shop in a ship, on a new planet, or among a group of ill-fated human colonists. Welcome to a future where, as Marge Simpson would say, “Everything is something.” At least until the nanobots take over… then everything will be very, very tiny.

Bovary and the Beatles

July 23, 2011

Near the end of Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert, in the translation by Geoffrey Wall, there is a line, describing Charles’s inability to cope with the loss of his wife: “If his eye chanced upon the work-basket, a stray ribbon or even a pin left in a crack in the table, he fell into a dream…” (on page 321, Part Three, Chapter 11).

I wonder if Wall is a Beatles fan. The translation by Francis Steegmuller reads these items merely “would send [Charles] brooding…”

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Rage against the Teacher

June 23, 2011

Wisconsin’s Supreme Court cleared the way for Scott Walker’s anti-union law to go into effect. At the same time, legislation against unions – namely teachers and firefighters – is spreading out among many states. As this trend continues to grow exponentially, one image from those heady days of the Wisconsin legislative standoff that still sticks in my head is a pic of Tom Morello (guitarist of the once and future band Rage against the Machine) among the protesters, in support of the teachers and the unions. His presence and stance were memorable not so much for his celebrity (he had no effect on the outcome anyway) but because he is a key cog in a band that spouted these lyrics in “Know Your Enemy”:

Yes I know my enemies
They’re the teachers who taught me to fight me
Compromise, conformity, assimilation, submission
Ignorance, hypocrisy, brutality, the elite

I wonder, how many awesome dudes from the early 90s poked their heads out of a pulsating mosh pit long enough to hear those lyrics and think that maybe, just maybe, teachers are getting paid too much? Maybe they don’t deserve those “Cadillac benefits” since they’re part of the great lame-ass conformist factory?

As the great Kurt Vonnegut said, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.”

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A Worthy Quote from Borges

May 29, 2011

From “The Immortal,” by Jorge Luis Borges, translated by Andrew Hurley:

“I have noticed that in spite of religion, the conviction as to one’s own immortality is extraordinarily rare. Jews, Christians, and Muslims all profess belief in immortality, but the veneration paid to the first century of life is proof that they truly believe only in those hundred years, for they destine all the rest, throughout eternity, to rewarding or punishing what one did when alive.” (pgs. 13-14)

What a great line.

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