Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Best Actor To Play God In A Movie Or TV Show.


There are many things about me that separate me from the pack -- 'the pack' being the rest of the entire world. Some of those things are good. Some are better. Some of them are so blindingly good that it's amazing to me that the world doesn't see them as the good things they are.

Here's an example of that last category, an example of something that sets me apart from the rest of humanity: I always intend the pun.

Ever hear someone say "no pun intended?" Why? Why don't they intend the pun? Or do they actually intend the pun but want you to think that they don't, want you to think they look down on puns when they don't actually look down on them at all -- they like the pun so much that they want to draw your attention to it and make sure that you notice it while pretending that they not only don't want you to notice it but they don't want to make the pun at all.

I think people who say "no pun intended" are the same kind of people who pretend not to watch TV and who make a point of buying only those lettuces that you wouldn't actually recognize as "lettuce" when it shows up in your salad. You just know that they're craving "BBQ Fritos" and an hour or so with "I Love the 80s." They should just give in and join the rest of us. Well, the rest of you; I'm set apart from humanity because I always intend my puns.

That's all a completely irrelevant intro to today's nomination, which is The Best Actor To Play God In A Movie Or TV Show. And in this nomination, I'm not set apart from humanity at all. For once, me and humanity and even Hollywood, which is almost kind of like a subset of humanity, are all in perfect synch: It's Morgan Freeman.

If you are writing a movie or TV show, and you're putting God in there as a character, you've got one of two ways to go:

1. Morgan Freeman.

2. A "shocking" "avant-garde" "radical" "way-out-there" "whoa, are we ever taking a risk with this religious imagery which is shocking, avant-garde, radical, and way-out-there so please watch and maybe drum up some controversy" version of God.

Let's talk about the latter, a perfect example of which, I assume, is found in that one Holly Hunter show in which she' s a cop or a drunk or both, and she meets God and he's a cop or drunk or both, too. I've never watched the show, and I've never watched the show because in the commercials, they showed God and God was a cop or drunk, or both, and that was so off-putting because it's been done to death, it's so dumb and trite by now that it's like having a professor, in the beginning of a horror movie, give a lecture in which the professor first explains exactly what's going to happen in the movie, then explains why what's going to happen in the movie is not going to happen at all because it's physically impossible. Then we watch for 91 minutes as what the professor said is not going to happen happens and he maybe dies. (See: M. Night Shymalan's "The Crappening.")

The only way to make that Holly Hunter tv show less appealing to me would be to have it written by Tina Fey. Or have Robin Williams play God as a drunk cop/gay rapper.

So let me just put this out there: There's nothing shocking about God being a bum or drunk or nerd or whatever it is you're trying to make God be. It's been done before, a hundred zillion times. There's just no need to make God be a skid-row loser to make whatever point it is that you think you're making.

Just what point is that, anyway? What artistic statement is actually being made? That you don't subscribe to everyday conventional notions? Okay, great. But if you're doing something in your 'art' that is being done for the sole purpose of being not like what other people are doing, maybe you need to rethink just what it is you're doing. Great art is created by inspiration, by having a message to communicate, by having an image or a melody or a story to pass on. I can't recall a single time in the history of, well, time, that the message "This is different from that" was communicated in a "great" way.

Plus, there are some things that are just right. If you're going to draw a tree, well, then, you have to draw a tree. It has to have something that can be recognizable as branches and roots and leaves and a trunk. I hate to break this to you, modern artists, but scribbling some shapes onto paper, cutting words out of a magazine, and spitting on it, then calling it "Tree No. 1" does not make that a tree. Whatever the merits of that work -- if there are merits to it -- it's not a tree. It's just wrong.

Just like putting some guy in a trenchcoat and having him drink Mad Dog 20/20 and calling him "God" in your TV show is, likewise, "wrong." Because if you're going to have a God character, at this point, it has to be Morgan Freeman.

The first time I recall Morgan Freeman playing God was Bruce Almighty, an okay movie in its own right, but one which really hit the nail on the head vis a vis what Morgan Freeman should be doing in films. I'm sure he was great on The Electric Company and all, but when you find your niche, run with it. Sam Waterston is a DA. Ben Stiller is an angry guy. And Morgan Freeman is God.

He was headed that way already, you know. From earlier movies, Morgan Freeman was clearly moving up the corporate ladder towards God; he was fast-tracked towards running the universe. He'd been playing smarter and kindlier and all-knowing-er people with each movie, climbing the rungs of "God, Inc." and it was only a matter of time until he became the CEO himself, as he did with "Bruce Almighty," and when he appeared as God, it just felt right, didn't it? He came out and told Jim Carrey what was going on and lectured him and consoled him and gave him advice, and it was all just exactly the way that God was supposed to be.

We don't, after all, want God to be an angry, Old Testament, Charlton-Heston-esque God (yes, I know that Heston played Moses, but if God was in that movie, Heston would have been God.) We don't want fire and brimstone and punishment.

I don't want, either, a George Burns-y smart-aleck God. I don't want God winking at me and making it rain in my car and making me feel like I'm never quite in on the joke, while at the same time kind of boring me like that weird uncle that shows up at Christmas, the one Mom and Dad always say "I guess we've got to invite Thomas, too," and they sigh. Then they look at you and say "And don't ask him for money, either," and it occurs to you that you could just ask relatives for money.

And, like I said, nobody wants drunk-I'm-a-hip-writer-God. Nobody. It's not cool.

So that leaves the Morgan Freeman God: A kindly guy who will give you advice but isn't going to make it easy for you. He's not just rolling over and saying Oh, all right, I'll fix the world. He's teaching a lesson to you, but not in a bad way, really, and he's doing it in a way that makes you like him a little more.

You can see just how right I am about what a great fit Morgan Freeman was in the role of God by looking at what he's done since then: Every role he's played, really, has been God. He was in Feast of Love, and he played God. I know his role wasn't named "God" but what would you call a character who mostly observes people's lives around him, knows everything before they do, and occasionally intervenes to push life in the direction it's supposed to go?

Or take March of the Penguins. Who did the voice over? Who let us in on the secret lives of penguins and explained how nature worked, expressing just the right amount of sadness when [SPOILER ALERT! FOR A DOCUMENTARY! CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?] a baby penguin dies? Only Morgan Freeman, as the voice of God.

He even combined those two roles in The Shawshank Redemption: He was the character who knew everything and had all the information and advice -- and he was the voiceover! (Plus, that movie was about redemption. That's what God does.)

See what I mean? It's a natural. Having Morgan Freeman play God is as natural, as right, as necessary, as having a tree have branches.

The Bible says that God made us in His image. That might have been true 2000 years ago, but at this point I like to think maybe God looked down and said, Wow, he's good, and maybe re-made Himself to look a little more like Morgan Freeman, The Best Actor To Play God In a Movie Or TV Show.


Monday, June 23, 2008

The Best Song Remake That's Better Than The Original

I have hit on the perfect new job for me/entertainment art form. I am going to go into Remaking Great Sports Events.

Think about it: We already remake everything. Movies are being remade at both a prodigious and ever-faster rate; The Hulk came out only about five years ago, and they just remade it now. They're releasing Batman Version 3.0 later this year. They remade Superman. I understand they're remaking The Happening right now for release later this year. (Oh, wait: that's just my dream. That movie should have been called The Crappening.)

TV shows are being remade. Books are being remade. No, I'm not kidding. You would think that there is no reason to remake "words on a page," but you would be wrong. Apparently, the charms of The Babysitters' Club cannot be discovered by a generation unless the Babysitters also text message. I'm worried that they'll remake the Emil books. Leave my classics alone!

But one area has remained unremade. (Try saying that three times fast): sports. Sure, there's ESPN Classic, the least-needed cable channel ever. (If you spend any of your time watching a game between Ohio State and Minnesota that was first played on September 23, 1978, and it's not September 23, 1978, then you need a serious amount of help.)

You need help because you could be watching Football ReDone!, the newest entertainment Instant Classic From The Trouble With Roy Productions! There are hundreds and hundreds of classic sporting events that exist only in the past and on ESPN Classic. But hearing about them from your grandfather is boring, and watching them on ESPN Classic is like hearing about them from your grandfather (that is, boring). Plus, they were played by all those old guys, guys like "Joe Montana" and "Terry Bradshaw." Terry Bradshaw? He's bald! How could he play football?

No, the kids of today deserve the classics of yesterday played by the sports heroes of today! So at The Trouble With Roy Productions, we will re-play the classic sporting events you loved so much using today's stars. You can relive that 49ers-Bengals Superbowl with "The Drive," only this time, it's Brady Quinn leading The Drive, against a star-studded defense featuring Ray Lewis, Jason Taylor, and special guest defensive back Rainn Wilson! (Note: Rainn Wilson will speak in that special cool, hip, trendy in-the-huddle lingo. That's one tackle that can't be untacked, homeslice!)

How about that 1957 World Series? While I'm not 100% sure that it was a great Series, I'm reasonably certain it was because every baseball game played in the 1950s was a classic! So why not replay those seven classic games between those two teams that played those games, but put in Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and Mark McGuire and Pete Rose? They can't play baseball today anyway -- but they can relive their glory years while you relive yours!

You think I'm kidding about this. You watch: This will be on TV in your lifetime. And then I'll sue for royalties. But it will be on TV because we live in a culture that remakes everything. For a society that theoretically prides itself on progress, we sure hate anything 'new.' Even the various 'retro' crazes are simply remakes of old fashions. Kids with their "wide-legged" pants are simply remaking the "bellbottoms" from when I was a kid.

Frankly, I blame Brian Setzer. While he is one of the two greatest forces for social change in the world today, he also kick-started the remaking craze when he formed "The Stray Cats" and began playing remakes of Fifties' music in the 80's. Then, still not satisfied, he remade a bunch of swing songs and brought that back (although Swing music is cool, so I can't be totally mad at him.) I bet next we'll have "The Brian Setzer Trio" and they'll play chamber music and he'll be rocking the pianoforte, and powdered wigs will be sold at Juicy Couture.

If we're going to live in a culture that remakes everything from earlier days, if we're going to have TV shows that simply re-tell the stories we heard on TV shows when we were kids (I'm looking at you, Family Guy), if we're going to have movies that simply gather up all the 'good' jokes from Mike Myers' earlier movies and put moustaches on them (seriously, in a world where we have "Scary Movie" and "Date Movie" and "Superhero Movie," why wasn't "The Love Guru" simply called "Mike Myers Movie?"), then at least do it right. If you're going to take a slice of history -- a movie, a tv show, the Teapot Dome Scandal -- and remake it, then make sure that you remake it better. Remake it Best.

Like Cheap Trick did when they remade Don't Be Cruel. Sit down, Elvis fans. (I'm one, so I'm sitting down. But, then, I was already sitting down because I type sitting down.) I'm sorry to have to say this, but Cheap Trick out-cooled Elvis on their remake of his song.

Elvis did the song "Don't Be Cruel" and did it great, of course. Everything Elvis did, from singing to dancing to peanut-butter & banana sandwiches fried up, was great.

But then along came Cheap Trick, and, skinny ties, weird guitars, and guy named "Bunny" and all, they just out-Elvised Elvis. They took the same basic song and tweaked it up to bring out the beat, bring out the bop, and make it more fun and more catchy. They even kind of had Jordannaires-style singing in there-- but a better kind of Jordannaires-style singing.

"Don't Be Cruel," by Cheap Trick, is a great example of how to remake something. They didn't just take a song, say Rock On, and add a generic drumbeat to it. They didn't steal something from Tommy James and sing it in a mall. They didn't country-fy a rock song or rock-ify a country song. That's all as easy to do as changing "Betty called Sue to come over" to "Betty Texted Sue: Come ovr." Easy to do, and junk.

Cheap Trick didn't make junk. They took the song, took it apart, and rebuilt it with the same basic structure but all new lines, all new underpinnings, and a whole new feel, making it theirs while still leaving it Elvis'. That's a lot harder to do than simply putting Christian Bale in the Batmask.

To remake something the right way, you've either got to have Rainn Wilson as the defensive back, or you've got to have a motive beyond Let's make some money by assuming that kids today won't sit and watch anything if it doesn't have cell phones in it. I've mentioned before that people viewing art always view it through their own perspective, and that's true. So if you're going to remake something, you've got to look at art in your perspective, then remake it to put your own perspective back into it for people to look at and put their own perspective on your perspective of the original artist's perspective.

Put another way: To remake something and have the remake not just be sucky, you have to look at art, say this is what it means to me, and then mold that into something that's both old and new, and give it back to the people, so they can look at it and have it mean something to them, but mean something that the original didn't mean.

Oh, never mind. Just listen to Elvis' version, and then Cheap Trick's, and you'll see I'm right, and that "Don't Be Cruel" by Cheap Trick is The Best Song Remake That's Better Than The Original:





And watch for Sports Remade coming soon to a TV station near you!

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Best Song About Girls Kissing Other Girls.

This is not one of those nominations that is going to end with some high-falutin' thoughts about what it all means or the impact of this or the import of that.
There are probably significant sociological/philosophical/psychological points to make about the rise and fall of girls kissing girls in pop culture; there are probably things that could be said about how we've gone from a time when Anne Heche pretended to be a lesbinem*--

*This is what Sting's son called Ben's mothers on the show "Friends."

-- and it was all very shocking and counterculture to the point where Anne Heche could complain that her being a fake lesbinem was hurting her career (when in fact it was quite the opposite; nobody ever heard of Anne Heche before she began making out with Ellen, and nobody, thank god, has heard from her since) to a time when everyone from Kate Beckinsale to Hayden Panettiere can pretend that they, too, are lesbinems or were or would be.

But I won't. I won't because the only really significant psychological/sociological/philosophical point to make about girls kissing other girls was best summarized by Jerry Seinfeld on his show:

Elaine: Well, I tried, but he thought it was some sort of cat fight.

Kramer: Cat fight?

Elaine: Ok, why? Why do guys do this? What is so appealing to men about a cat fight?

Kramer: Yeye cat fight!

Jerry: Because men think if women are grabbing and clawing at each other there's a chance they might somehow kiss.

That sums it up. You don't even need to say that it's cool or awesome; you just need to say that it is. Saying "girls kissing other girls is cool" is redundant; it's like saying hot is hot or Christopher Walken is strange.
That's why celebrities still pretend to be lesbinems -- because it's still attention-getting.

The topic of girls kissing girls is on my mind today... well, because it's pretty much never far from the surface, and because I hear there's a new song out by a new singer who's trying desperately to get some traction in the world of pop music, and who has therefore opted for the by-now-as-old-as-the-hills trick of, you guessed it, lesbinemism.

That singer is someone named "Katy Perry," who has released a song titled, quite originally, "I Kissed A Girl." Let's give it a listen -- although I can't show you the original video because Katy Perry wants you to think she's into chicks but does not want you to paste her video on other websites-- so she's into publicity but just not that into it.



So what do you think? I think it's about what I'd expect at this point of the girls-kissing-arc: commonplace and generic. You've got a beat stolen more or less verbatim from "Devil's Gate Drive" by Suzi Quattro, which is a really good song and I'd like you to hear that one now even though it totally does not fit in with this nomination:



But back to Katy Perry: The song feels like what a bunch of ad copywriters would come up with on an offday, doesn't it? It's lazy. There's nothing cool or original or fun about it. It might as well be called "If I Kiss A Girl Will You Give Me A Major Label Deal?" I'll be anxiously awaiting Katy Perry's other forays into unexplored areas of singing and songwriting, as shown by this fictional-but-all-too-likely list of likely song titles from her next album:

Isn't Obama Cool Unless McCain Wins in Which Case He's Cool?
Collaboration with Rapper Who Was Hot A Year Or Two Ago.

Kind of Justin Timberlake-y Song

Kind of country-esque song In Case Country Is Still Big

Song About A Party.

Remix of the Justin Timberlake-y song.


Yes, Katy Perry is going to take the music world by storm. A very bland, overly-marketed storm, but a storm.

But the kids today love Katy Perry's desperate ripoff song, because the kids today think history started yesterday and because the kids today have no taste in music. Here's news for you, kids of today: Music and history both started before yesterday, and songs about girls kissing girls -- better songs about girls kissing girls -- have been around a long time.

Long enough that other people, too, could try to jump on the Lesbinem Bandwagon and vault themselves to fame, other people who appear to be a parody of a rapper and appear to be unaware that they are a parody of a rapper. People like "Pittsburgh Slim."




"Pittsburgh Slim's" (come on, really?) "Girls Kiss Girls" touches on all the hot-button subjects of 2003: webcams, rap, and girls kissing girls. Thank God we got all of those things together in one handy video on Youtube. It's so frustrating when I have to start my rap music playing on my iTunes and then at the same time have a window open to my favorite webcam girl*--

*note to Sweetie: That is a joke. A JOKE!

-- but Pittsburgh Slim has now saved me from that purgatory. And he's got a bandanna!

My point here is that there's a good way and a bad way to write songs about girls kissing girls. Bad ways include "obvious attempts at attention-grabbing" and "anything done by a guy who would be played by Seth Green in a movie."

"Obvious attempts at attention grabbing" includes TATU, or tATu, or T.A.T.U. or whatever the spelling of their name is. Remember TATU? They were Katy Perry before Katy Perry was Katy Perry:



Generic pop, generic girls, generic song. What TATU has above Katy Perry is this: they did it first. But it still was not great, and not even remotely The Best.

No, for The Best you've got to go way back to someone who tapped into this zeitgeist even Firster than TATU, someone who so accurately captured the essence of girls kissing girls that all the later Katy Perrys of the world could do was simply try to copy them while pretending they were not copying them. Someone who is Jill Sobule, who first sang about kissing a girl long long ago -- at the dawn of history and music -- in her song, titled "I Kissed A Girl."



You know what makes that song The Best? Not only was it Firstest of all, but it was good. The music was good; not generic, not rip-offy, not ripe for featuring on "Robot Chicken." The story was good, too. Katy Perry's story about kissing a girl is what you'd expect from a desperate cry for attention -- it's about a desperate cry for attention, a girl who kisses another girl and hopes her boyfriend doesn't mind and blah blah blah... pleh. Jill Sobule's song actually tells a story and doesn't make you feel like you're listening to a two-year-old acting out; there's none of the "look at me, I'm doing something shocking" motif that other songs feature. It's just matter-of-factly told, two girls who were hanging out with nothing to do so they started necking. The good music, the fact that it was done long ago, the way the story is told, Jill Sobule's singing, all make I Kissed A Girl by Jill Sobule The Best Song About Girls Kissing Other Girls.

Oh, and it's about girls kissing.





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Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Best Music To Indicate That Good Times Lie Ahead But Also That Everything Is Fraught With Portents of Evil.

Filmmakers use music to set a mood -- it's no secret, I'm sure, that they carefully choose the music to indicate certain things to people, especially at the outset of a movie or in the previews for a movie or TV show.

The music is fantastically important to setting a mood. Remember the ending to [SPOILER ALERT INVOLVING THE FIRST RICHARD GERE/DIANE LANE MOVIE, WHICH IS WEIRD BECAUSE NOW THEY'RE MAKING A SECOND ONE, ONLY IT'S NOT A SEQUEL TO THE FIRST ONE, WHICH IS JUST LIKE THAT THING THAT GERE DID WITH JULIA ROBERTS WHERE HE MADE 'PRETTY WOMAN' WITH HER AND THEN LIKE 15 YEARS LATER MADE 'THE RUNAWAY BRIDE' WITH HER AND EVEN THOUGH IT WAS THE SAME PEOPLE, IT WASN'T A SEQUEL, AND NOW HE'S DOING THAT WITH DIANE LANE, SO I GUESS IT'S HIS 'THING,' ALTHOUGH COME TO THINK OF IT, DIDN'T TOM HANKS DO THAT WITH MEG RYAN SO MAYBE GERE IS COPYING HANKS. HOW COME GERE AND HANKS HAVE NEVER APPEARED IN A MOVIE TOGETHER? THEY COULD MAKE A ROMANTIC COMEDY WHERE THEY BOTH FALL IN LOVE WITH THE SAME GIRL, WHO DATES THEM BOTH AT THE SAME TIME AND FEELS TERRIBLE ABOUT IT AND WANTS TO END IT WITH ONE BUT LOVES THEM BOTH EQUALLY, SO SHE TRIES TO GET HER TWIN SISTER INVOLVED IN THE RELATIONSHIP, TRICKING THE TWIN INTO GOING OUT WITH TOM HANKS AND THEN RICHARD GERE TO SEE WHICH ONE SHE LIKES AND IF THEY ARE FOOLED AND LIKE HER, SO THAT SHE CAN THEN BE WITH THE OTHER ONE AND NOT FEEL BAD, ONLY THEN THEY BOTH FALL IN LOVE WITH THE TWIN SISTER, AND ULTIMATELY IT ALL WORKS OUT FOR THE BEST. I WOULD TOTALLY GO SEE THAT MOVIE] "Unfaithful" where Richard Gere and Diane Lane, having killed a guy and then gone to their kid's program, sit in the car? As I recall, it was either quiet or there was some soft sad music playing while the car just sat there in the dark and everyone left the theater thinking "Oh, man, that's messed up."

Now, picture that same scene, only playing over the view of the car and the credits is "Yakety Sax." You'd walk out of that movie going "Yeah! Way to go, Gere and Lane! You totally messed up your marriage and killed a guy but now you're probably going to a wacky party.

From that, we can see how music sets the mood and tells you how to feel and what to expect, kind of like a Mom does. There are even specific songs that they use in previews to clue you in to what to expect. They use, for example, that Buffalo Springfield song about something happening here what it is ain't exactly clear, to tell you, the viewer, that this movie will not be straightforward, there's something weird about it. That song was used in Three Kings previews to tell you, the viewer, that this ain't no Private Ryan or ... what's another war movie? Star Wars. Using that Buffalo Springfield song with its minor keys and pings and soft lyrics tells you that Three Kings is not Star Wars.

Which brings me to Irish music, and the way Irish music is used in movies to tell you that although there are some good times ahead, the good times are fraught with portents of evil to come and something bad is pretty much going to happen. Irish music in fact is The Best Music To Indicate That Good Times Lie Ahead But Also That Everything Is Fraught With Portents of Evil.

Here's how I came to realize that fact: Last night, I had to run some errands and so I popped the Babies! into the SUV we have to use to drive them around even with gas more expensive than steak, because the car seats are in the SUV and I'm too lazy to try to move them everytime we need to. As I was driving around on my errands -- dropping Sweetie off, getting an ice cream cone, going to the library to buy discount used books -- I first listened to the song "Istanbul Not Constantinople" by They Might Be Giants. Here's that song:


Nice, huh? Catchy, upbeat, fun. Later, still driving those errands, I listened to "Fire In The Belly," by The Kissers. I can't play that song for you because there's no video for it. But the song "Shipping Off To Boston" by The Dropkick Murphys has a similar feel, so here's that song:




And while I was driving around to Istanbul, life was good and happy and sweet and I was singing and laughing. While I was driving around to Fire in the Belly, I began to feel that something was going to go awry, and soon.

So I tested it out. I picked up Sweetie and put the song in and said to her-- this is the truth -- Pretend that you and I and The Boys are in the opening credits of a movie while this plays and we're just driving around. So she did, and after a minute or two, I asked her "What do you think? If that was the beginning of a movie, would you assume that something bad was going to happen to us?" and she agreed.

So try that. Do something innocuous, something you do everyday, like sit at your desk and blog about Irish music, but first do it while listening to anything else in the world, and then do it while listening to that Dropkick Murphy's song, or this one:



(That's The Pogues, "If I Should Fall From Grace With God") and as you do that, see if you don't keep looking over your shoulder waiting for the tidal wave or gunshot or leg-amputating accident or whatever it was that Frank McCourt was always so sad about to happen.

I'm not the only one who feels this way. They used Irish music in Titanic, for that scene where Leonardio DiCaprio dances, and maybe it was just me knowing that the Titanic was doomed, but that scene was Fraught With Portents of Evil, despite being a very good time. It wasn't long before Leo and Kate Winslet were making out in the car, and it wasn't much longer before Kate was letting him slip into the ocean and drown. [AND THAT WAS NOT A SPOILER BECAUSE ACCORDING TO THE CENSUS BUREAU, EVERYONE WHO HAS EVER LIVED IN HISTORY HAS SEEN 'TITANIC'. TWICE.]

Martin Scorcese used "Shipping Off to Boston" in the beginning of The Departed, which right off the bat tipped you off that things were not going to end happily. Begin a movie with Irish music and you know that at the end you will not see Brett Favre lip-synching to "Build Me Up Buttercup."

I don't really know what it is about Irish music. It's not that I'm anti-Irish or pro-Irish or even Irish-neutral. I guess I'm in the middle -- I'm somewhat pro-Irish because I'm a little bit Irish and I have one of those t-shirts that says Everyboy's Irish On St. Patrick's Day, even though I don't celebrate St. Patrick's day and I'm a little Irish all year round, but on the other hand the Boston Celtics just beat the Lakers in the NBA Finals and that means I lose my bet with The Boy and have to buy him and Sweetie Celtics' t-shirts, and Celtics are Irish, aren't they? But I'm pro-Irish-music because I have a lot of Pogues and Dropkick Murphys and and U2 and Hothouse Flowers and Kissers' CDs, and I like bagpipe music and Scotland is really close to Ireland, so liking bagpipes is kind of like being an in-law in that sense -- bagpipes aren't really part of "Irish" music but they are pretty close to it and would get invited to Irish music's barbecues and people would be polite to them and all.

I say all that to point out that I don't just have some grudge against Ireland, Irish music, or the Irish that I'm going to take out in a passive-aggressive way by pointing out the universal truism that Irish music portends evil after good times. It's just a fact, something that's incontrovertible and that you feel in your gut, the same way you feel that Bruce Springsteen was never really "working class" at all, or that Phoebe never was a real part of the "Friends" or ham doesn't belong on pizza: Irish music as good as it is at times, is also The Best Music To Indicate That Good Times Lie Ahead But Also That Everything Is Fraught With Portents of Evil.







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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Best Sad Part In A Book.


I was actually asked a question about this nomination, a question I got wrong on a quiz in 10th grade. That lesson taught me the limits of my ability to listen in class and then get the answers right on a test, a habit I had followed high school for books that I deemed too boring or dumb to read but which I was required to read anyway; I'd listen in class (sort of) and then fake it on tests and quizzes and hope for the best.

Sometimes it worked great; in British Lit I got a 108, out of 100 (I got even the extra credit right), despite never actually reading any of the The Canterbury Tales, about which I have to say this: Why are students reading "The Canterbury Tales?" Can we possibly let some literature just go? The fact that something was written 1400 years ago or whatever does not in and of itself make that written thing good. Look at how many plays Shakespeare wrote -- 4,712 -- and how many we actually teach or make kids read or ever produce: 3. (I'm not counting those local theater troupes that want to be artsy and so they produce a "modern" version of Richard the 43rd. I'm counting plays someone who is not related to someone in the play sees.)

I listened really hard in British Lit and I can't for the life of me figure out what makes The Canterbury Tales in any way worth keeping around, let alone worth struggling through. Reading Old English (or "Olde Englishe") these days is nearly impossible, and not worth the effort; it's a foreign language. We don't require high school students to read The Iliad in Greek, but we require them to read something whose only purpose is to be referenced in a Sting song, in the original Old English. It doesn't make sense.

Especially because doing that detracts from teaching books that are written in languages people still speak about subjects that matter, books like Slaughterhouse-Five, the book that has The Best Sad Part In A Book.

Boy, that Kurt Vonnegut can write, can't he? He's amazing, in a really depressing but profound way. I went through a period where I read all the Kurt Vonnegut books I could get my hands on; I read them straight through and really fast and I had to stop because as great as they are, the books are also an extremely depressing collection of literature. Somehow, even when they try to be happy, and even when they are funny, they are sad books.

I think Kurt Vonnegut must have been a sad guy.

I don't know anything about him except what I read in his books, but I do know from my own writing that your emotions and personality tend to bleed through into your work; all the best writers (like me, and Kurt Vonnegut - -there, I put us together in a sentence for the first time) have a voice and that voice carries with it the author's personality and demeanor, and from that, I conclude that Kurt Vonnegut had a lot of sadness in him, so much so that it seeped onto the page with every word.

I didn't discover, right away, what a great writer Kurt Vonnegut was, because, like I said, I didn't begin reading Kurt Vonnegut's work right away, even though it was assigned in class. Assigning me to read a book is the surest way to make me not like it. There were lots of books that I was assigned to read in school, and I almost never liked any of them -- and almost never read any of them. I ended up going back and reading them after high school and realizing that they were, in fact, very good books. I can't discount the possibility that I only thought they were good because I read them on my own and did not have to write a paper about them or take a pop quiz about them. Work is work and fun is fun, but if you assign someone to have fun, you make it into work. I love to read, but if you make me read you suck the life out of it and so I tried never to read the books that I was assigned to read in school.

Then I got hamstrung by that pop quiz in Advanced Placement English; the teacher handed out the quiz and I hadn't read any of the book and I got an F on it, and had to then actually read Slaughterhouse-Five because I then needed to actually do good on the test and the paper to keep my grade up in that class.

(I eventually got an A in that class, as a high school senior; my teacher put a note on the report card that I "wasn't working to full potential." That still makes me mad. "A" was the highest grade I could get. How much more "potential" did I have than the best possible grade. Plus, how did he know I was faking my way through most of it? Nothing makes me more mad than someone accidentally being right about me.)

The quiz question which I got wrong was something like "What happens to Billy Pilgrim in the cave to disappoint him?" and if you've never read the book, what follows after this is a HUGE [SPOILER ALERT! THAT WILL BE AS MUCH OF A SPOILER FOR THIS BOOK AS TELLING YOU THAT [SPOILER ALERT WITHIN A SPOILER ALERT!] BRUCE WILLIS WAS DEAD IN 'THE SIXTH SENSE'! SO IF YOU WANT TO READ THE BOOK 'SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE' AND EXPERIENCE THE SADDEST THING YOU WILL EVER READ WITHOUT IT BEING SPOILED FOR YOU, DON'T READ ANY MORE OF THIS UNTIL YOU GO GET THE BOOK AND READ TO THE PART WHERE BILLY GOES TO THE CAVE AND WHEN YOU'VE READ THAT COME BACK AND FINISH THIS NOMINATION!]

What I wrote in response to that question was: He got lost.

That's not what happened; as I told you, I failed the quiz. What happened -- here's the SPOILER-y part that is The Best Sad Part In A Book-- is this:

Billy Pilgrim, the star of the story, as a child, was taken down into a cave by his dad on a tour. The guide tells the tour group that he's going to turn off the lights, and makes a big production out of that by telling them that they are so deep underground that no light seeps through, and that it's hard to get away from light in our world, and then finishes up by telling them that for most of them this will be the only time they are ever, in their entire lives in complete and utter darkness, something they'll never experience again.

The guide then turns out the light.

And little Billy Pilgrim is standing next to his dad, whose watch has glow-in-the-dark hands, which Billy sees.

Oh, man, just thinking about that again absolutely kills me.

There have been, probably in human history, dozens of writers who tried to write something sad. Maybe even more than that. They've written about the fall of civilizations and mothers losing children and children losing mothers and deaths and dismemberments and divorces and psychological problems and all the Pandora's box of ills and woes and trauma that human beings face on a day-in/day-out basis. All these writers over all these centuries, maybe even Chaucer and Shakespeare, trying to evoke sadness, a basic human emotion, trying to choke us up.

And none of them did it better than Kurt Vonnegut did in that part of Slaughterhouse-Five. That one part is sadder, and better written, than any other sad scene ever in literature ever.

It's sad because there was such build-up for little Billy, only for him to realize the hype wasn't real.

It's sad because Billy's dad inadvertently wrecked a once-in-a-lifetime moment for him without realizing it.

It's sad because Billy's once-in-a-lifetime moment was wrecked, not by a lot, but by a little. By so little that he, and we, could almost be tempted to ignore it, almost be tempted to say "You were still in complete dark," almost be tempted to say it was so close, just let it slide, but we can't because Billy did not get to experience that once-in-a-lifetime complete and utter darkness that nobody ever really gets to experience.

It's sad because he realized he wasn't in complete darkness; no matter how little light there was, no matter if he walked away until he couldn't see it anymore, he wasn't in complete darknessa nd it was wrecked.

It's sad because if he tried, the future, to recreate it, it would never be the same. If he came back later, the next day, or just took the watch and covered it up, broke it, buried it, and had the guide turn out the lights again, it would not be the same as the first time, it would be re-doing it.

And it's sad because it was such a minor thing, seemingly, that only seems to loom large the more you try not to make it loom large, the way childhood sadnesses are inexplicably bigger the smaller they seem.

I understand the idea of a small, tiny disappointment that looms larger the more you dwell on it. A few years back, we went tubing on a river and at some point during the day, my wedding ring slipped off and I lost it in the river. I didn't notice until hours later.

I bought a new ring, identical to the first one, and that seemed to fix things. But it didn't. Whenever I look at the new ring, I realize that it's not the one that Sweetie put on my finger on our wedding day. It's such a minor thing, but it bugs me. It looms larger than it should because of what it represents.

Because of that, I understand Billy Pilgrim in the cave perfectly; or, maybe, because I understand Billy Pilgrim's cave experience, I understand why the loss of a ring bothers me so much. A once-in-a-lifetime event cannot be re-created or re-done. Things are "once-in-a-lifetime" for a reason and if you miss them, they're over. Billy's trip to the cave was over. If he came back the next day, that darkness would still be tainted by the memory of the fact that the first time, he wasn't in complete darkness.

It's a moment that he hoped for and could never get back. Every other sad thing in life pales in comparison to that loss. When people die, when disasters occur, when sad things occur, they all boil down to this: something is gone that can never come back. But in all other cases, that something that went away, that something that is lost, was here for a while. When someone dies, we mourn their passing but relish the times they had, even if they were brief.

In Billy's case, the moment never occured. He lost something he never had. That tears me up, to think of it. I understand, at least a little, how that would feel, but I understand it because in a few brief words explaining a seemingly insignificant event in Billy Pilgrim's life, Kurt Vonnegut explained what sadness really is, and what sadness really is, is missing something that we never had in the first place. Billy Pilgrim's cave trip is The Best Sad Part In A Book.





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Monday, June 16, 2008

The Best Comic Strip To Learn From


I'm a little embarrassed, sometimes, to admit where my knowledge comes from. I'm seen, in my family and job and circle of friends -- which these days amounts to the exact same group of people; my family and my job comprise my circle of friends -- in that group, I'm seen, pretty much, as a total genius because I know about things like white dwarf stars and history and baseball players.

The problem is, while I know those things, the source of my knowledge tends to be either comic books or comic strips. Sometimes TV shows, too, but mostly comic books and comic strips.

On the one hand, that might be seen as a good thing: I've managed to learn stuff that's useful in my life. At least, I've managed to learn stuff. I'm not sure how useful it is to me right now to know what a white dwarf star is, but someday I might need that knowledge.

On the other hand, ask yourself this: do you want to trust your life to something a guy learned from Spider-Man? Say you're in a lifeboat and you're low on water and food and the ocean currents are carrying you somewhere and you have to pick a leader and decide how you're going to get to land, and the guy who seems to be the smartest in the boat says Everything I know I learned from "Doonesbury." Are you going to pick him?

Make it any life-threatening or serious situation. Your stock broker tells you his investment strategy is derived from his memories of "Bugs Bunny cartoons." The doctor, just before he puts you under for surgery, says "So I was reading 'Peanuts' this morning." In either case, you'd bolt out of there so fast you'd leave a you-shaped hole in the wall.

From this we can see that knowledge, like people and food and Saturday Night Live skits, comes from better and worse sources, and if your knowledge comes from one of the sources that are down on the list, if your knowledge is based on reading Mad Magazine, like mine is, you would be wise to just know things and not tell people how you know things. It doesn't matter how smart you are if people think you got that smart watching Hee Haw.

That's why I never tell people that my encyclopedic knowledge of history in the second half of the twentieth century comes mostly from reading Doonesbury, which is The Best Comic Strip To Learn From. I have a phenomenal grasp of politics and current events and minor Washington D.C. scandals and pop culture from 1971 on-- I even know what the American Samoa is -- because of Doonesbury.

I had to, after all, get it from somewhere, and that somewhere was not going to be school. Schools did not, when I was a kid (and don't now) focus on recent history; they focus on boring history like The Gilded Age because that's easy to teach and because everyone knows that in the long run, quotes about people being doomed to repeat things notwithstanding, history doesn't have much of an impact on our lives.

It's my sad duty to have to say that. History can be fun to learn (if you learn it from Doonesbury, at least)(just like you can learn science from Calvin & Hobbes), and it can be inspiring and sad to see (if you go to Gettysburg after reading The Killer Angels, as I did), but history isn't really any use to anyone anywhere. Not history in specific, anyway. When whoever said it said that those who don't learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them (or whatever it was whoever said that actually said), he didn't mean that unless kids learn that George Washington Carver invented the peanut, they will never themselves invent the peanut; he meant that in general history can teach us things.

But those things that history in general teaches us don't make history all that important, for two reasons. First, the things that history in general teaches us are available as lessons from other sources, too. History can, for example, teach us that it's hard for a superpower to fight a guerilla war against an insurgent native population. History taught us that in 1776, and it taught us that in the 1960s and early 1970s. (It's teaching us that now, too). But that lesson is not only available from history, it's available from other sources like "common sense" and "Colin Powell," if people care to listen.

Second, the things that history teaches us in general are overpowered by a force of nature that I'll call boringosity. That's the force of nature that takes things that could be cool and interesting and dramatic, like the founding of the United States of America with the missing colonies and tiny boats traveling without much navigation across huge oceans, and armies sneaking around New York City to attack each other, and turns it into the mundane and tedious, with textbooks on churning butter and log cabins.

When we were kids, we studied history by going to a place called "Old World Wisconsin," and "The Octagon House." The key point of the latter was that it was a house that was also an octagon. Wow! History was really coming alive as we watched a blacksmith smelt things.

I was 17 when I found out that people re-created battles from the Civil War. I was 21 when I read The Killer Angels. I was 34 when I found out that Camp Randall stadium, where the Wisconsin Badgers play, was a Civil War training post. Each of those things would have been a far more interesting way to learn about history and to inspire me to learn even more from that -- because if you make something interesting and fun, then people will want more of it. So if you spend a lot of time thinking that "history" means "people telling you how to make candles," you don't want to learn history. If you spent time, instead, looking across a field and picturing what it was like for the southern soldiers to march into battle getting picked off one by one in defense of a cause that was unjust, you're likely to want to know more about that.
I never got to see a Civil War battle or read an interesting book about history in school. But, boy, did I know how to churn butter and count the sides of old houses.

That's boringosity. That's the tendency of everyone in the educational sector to take anything interesting about anything you have to learn and squeeze it to death. It's like teachers have decided that if they have to be in school even though they're adults, they're going to make darn sure that the kids don't enjoy it, either.
The culture of boringosity has not just dampened interest in learning so that people grow up wanting to know about Paris Hilton but not Paris, France; it's also created adults who look down on those who learned things in any kind of fun way, which means that if, like me, you know about history because of Doonesbury, you have to hide where that knowledge came from and pretend that you learned a lot about Watergate by reading books. And not the good books, either; the boring books.

I didn't, in fact, learn about Watergate from reading books. I learned about it from reading Doonesbury, which I read as a kid by checking out of the library those large collections of comic strips that would be published periodically. I eventually bought my own sets, and I own, right now, every collection of Doonesbury strips you can buy, and I've read them all a couple of times in my life. I still read Doonesbury every day, even though my local newspaper won't print it because the dumb people who like Garfield feel it's too controversial and the smart people who like PBS won't read comic strips, so it exists in a netherworld of comic strips and I have to go to the Internet to find it.

Doonesbury was instrumental in my growth from a kid who read comics to an adult who reads comics but also who reads the business section, the main section, and even reads Newsweek sometimes (and not just for the funny quotes section.) I started reading Doonesbury because it was a comic strip; I didn't entirely get it at first. When Duke was going to invest in a farm because he wanted to make laetrile, I had no idea what was going on. But I learned, because I wanted to get the joke, and to do that I had to go find out what "laetrile" was and why it was shameful to Zonker that Duke would want to do that -- and I had to do that back when the "Internet" consisted solely of those little handheld games where you played "football" by making one little red LED run between a bunch of other little red LEDs. I couldn't just google things to get an answer, back then and "Yahoo! Answers" and "Wikistupedia" didn't exist (and it's a good thing they didn't, or I'd think "Laetrile" was a Sinbad skit.)



I did that extra research and reading -- at age 12. At age 12 I was trying to find out what "laetrile" was. (The short version, to save you time: Laetrile was supposed to cure cancer. It didn't.)

I also learned, like I said, what "American Samoa" was and about the Nixon tapes and Cambodian bombings and about cultural forces in the 60s and 70s and on into the 80s and 90s, watching as Gary Trudeau -- who I don't often agree with, I should note-- outlined his world views and commented on American society through a world that was not quite entirely fictional and not quite entirely real, but was entirely well-rounded and kept apace with the real world while also poking fun at it and explaining it.

All that, while remaining fun, too, and making jokes that ranged from subtle to broad, with little side-trips into the bizarre (like inanimate objects talking or Duke becoming a zombie or Zonker scuba diving in "Walden Puddle." )



Doonesbury has remained a relevant, interesting, force in social commentary for probably longer than I've been alive, and more often than not, it's done so by being funny while also being smart. I can't think of any other comic strip that does that and that manages to change with the times and have its characters grow and evolve and still fit into the tiny comic world while at the same time fitting into the real world, also.

But that's not what makes it so great. What makes it great, to me, is that Doonesbury, in three small panels, manages to each day encapsulate a bit of the world and not just make me chuckle or smile or laugh at it, but also manages to explain it to me and make me think about it a little more. Doonesbury makes me want to learn more and experience more and get more out of life, because to really understand it and to keep up with it, I've got to know what's going on around me and understand what's going on around me.

I didn't just learn history from Doonesbury; I learned how important it is to learn. And because of that, I've learned more from Doonesbury, The Best Comic Strip To Learn From, than I learned from any three history classes, or even from most of my schooling.


I can't tell anyone that, but it's true. When we're caught in a lifeboat together and I'm giving you stock tips, don't ask where all my knowledge comes from. We'll both feel a little better about that. But do read Doonesbury.




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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Maybe I should work on those skills a bit more.

Dating and romance math: Championship caliber flirting + great looks =Victory Hair

More dating and romance math: Extreme Style by VO5 + Ultimate Flirting Championship = world's best contest.

Here's what you have to do. At the end of this post is a widget (which you can copy onto your own website, too!) and by clicking that or any of the links here, you'll be magically transported to a world (okay, a website) where you can demonstrate your flirting skills and maybe win the Ultimate Flirting Championship. Then, when you hone those skills in the Internet world, you can transfer them to real life and get yourself not just a victory, but some victory hair.

I've used that term a couple of times now, so maybe I should explain. "Victory Hair" is what you get when your flirting... works. Put just a little more bluntly, you have "perfect hair" when you first go out at night hoping to meet someone. You have "Victory Hair" when you come back home the next morning after meeting someone.

How can you assure yourself of getting "Victory Hair?" I'm probably the wrong guy to ask because I'm both married and getting pretty bald. I don't get "Victory Hair." I get "Victory Scalp." But having successfully tricked Sweetie into... that is, having gotten married, I have a few tips:

1. The best possible lines involve the names of states. You've heard of Are you from Tennessee, 'cause you're the only 10 I see! That's a great line, but branch out and be ready in case she's not from Tennessee. Think up lines for all 50 states and the territories. Like Are you from Guam, 'cause I'm gonna Guam onto you... I'll leave the rest up to you.

2. Don't take chances on one kind of cologne. In the week before you go out, buy one of every cologne and body spray you see and use them all on the night of the big date. That way, you're sure to hit on one that appeals to her.

3. Movies are a great first date because you can spend time together without the pressure of talking, and then they give you something to talk about afterwards. Movies can be even better, though, if you use the movie as a chance to talk to her. Just talk right through that movie and get to know her right then. It'll show her that you value her as a person.

So what do you think? Am I ready for the championship?


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Friday, June 13, 2008

The Best Character To Be The 12th Cylon on Battlestar Galactica.

I'll say this upfront: This is neither a [SPOILER] nor the demonstration of some inside knowledge. I don't know who the 12th Cylon actually is (although I hazarded an extremely-likely-to-be-correct guess about how the new series will end here). I'm writing this to plead with the writers of new Battlestar Galactica to please, please not make it something dumb or twisty or unexpected. Like, for example, DON'T make it Mr. Gada. (I couldn't emphasize that DON'T anymore; I used every emphatic tool on my keyboard.)

Please don't. Please please please please please don't. You will wreck your series far more than the ending to Seinfeld tarnished that great show.

Here's a tip: Sometimes the most obvious thing is the most obvious thing because it's also the right thing. I've seen bits and pieces of interviews with the writers of the show and the characters and I know how Hollywood thinks and I know that the entertainment industry is dumb, and so I am expecting that they will just go ahead and wreck the only show I actually set aside time to watch right now.

Here's how dumb Hollywood thinks: Everyone is expecting that the 12th Cylon will be Admiral Adama or Starbuck or Baltar or President Roslin. So we'll throw them a curveball and we'll make it a very minor character whose high point was an episode where he ran a police force and grappled with moral issues. They'll love it!

No. No, we won't. And by "we" I mean "I." I will hate it. I will hate it every bit as much as I hated the fact that [SPOILER ALERT BUT YOU PROBABLY ONLY CARE IF YOU HAVEN'T YET SEEN THE MOVIE BUT MIGHT GO RENT IT BECAUSE HE'S GOT THAT OTHER NEW MOVIE COMING OUT THAT PEOPLE THINK IS ABOUT GLOBAL WARMING BUT HOW COULD IT BE ABOUT THAT BECAUSE THE COMMERCIALS SHOW PEOPLE LEVITATING AND NO MATTER HOW HOT THE ATMOSPHERE GETS WE WON'T DEFY GRAVITY?] The Village didn't have actual monsters. That would have been a twist. Forget the whole "this old-timey village is an enclave from modern society" twist; having actual monsters in those woods would have been awesome.

But there were no monsters because M. Night Shymalan felt, I bet, that would be too obvious, and he did not want to give people the obvious, he wanted to surprise them. But sometimes the best surprise is giving the people what they want. Like this week when the kids gave me an early Father's Day present, and it was a deep fryer so I can finally experiment and create deep-fried mashed potatoes. That was the obvious present because I like to deep-fry stuff, and because I've been saying for years that I wanted one. But it was also a great present.

In their quest for surprises and thrills and interesting plotlines and the like, writers and directors sometimes forget the most basic of rules: have a good storyline with interesting characters. If you do that, you don't need twisty endings and deus ex machina finales and you don't need to pull something out of your butt like The Bone Collector did.

The Bone Collector, in an attempt to be the twistiest of all twisty thrillers, made me so angry that I can still taste bile. [SPOILER ALERT INVOLVING A MOVIE WHERE DENZEL WAS JUST PHONING IT IN]. The killer, at the end of the movie, turned out to be the guy that was taking care of quadriplegic Denzel Washington, and he was killing people because Denzel had years earlier arrested him or arrested his dad or slept with the guy's wife or something; I don't know because the movie was actually quite boring, too. But the killer was a "twist" ending because you'd never suspect the nurse guy was the killer. You'd never suspect that because he was a minor character who had nothing at all to do with the plotline until the last 2 minutes of the movie when it turns out that he's actually the killer! Oh my god! And he's in Denzel's room! And Denzel is showing off his great acting by lying motionless!

The only clue that this guy was anything more than an extra was a tiny snippet in the opening credit when they were showing headlines of how great Denzel's character was at arresting guys, and one of the headlines apparently said something like Denzel's character arrests a guy who will someday become a nurse and try to kill him in weird ways. I don't know what it said, exactly, because I missed it, because who watches the stupid opening credit sequence?

Denzel Washington, by the way, is another guy who doesn't play characters. He's always just "Denzel." Can you name a single character name Denzel has played? Saying The Hurricane doesn't count. That's not a name.

It's almost as if the writers and directors got around to filming the last scene and suddenly realized that they had no killer. "What can we do?" they asked. "Why not make me the killer?" says the nurse guy. They all shrugged and thought "What the heck. Everyone's just here to see Denzel anyway." I'd have liked the movie a lot better if it turned out that Denzel's bed was an old-timey enclave hidden by fences from the modern world.

Movies and books don't need all those twists and turns. They just need good storylines and characters. One of the greatest books of all time, Slaughterhouse 5, had no twists and turns. It telegraphed the story right out there for you; you knew all along [THIS CAN'T POSSIBLY BE A SPOILER BECAUSE EVERYONE HAS READ THIS BOOK, RIGHT? BUT JUST IN CASE, SPOILER ALERT!] that Billy Pilgrim was going to end up in the Tralfamadorian zoo with a porn star, because Kurt Vonnegut told you that early on. So as he'd unraveling the story of Billy in the POW camp, you weren't really worried because you knew that Billy would survive to get to Tralfamadore.

With the complete absence of good writing in Hollywood nowadays, they've forgotten how to tell a compelling story and everything is just plot twists and clever dialogue. I'm surprised that Carrie didn't turn out to be a guy in the Sex and the City movie. Maybe they're saving that for the sequel: "Same Sex and The City": Carrie reveals that she's a dude, and (s)he and Big decide to stay married and challenge society's view of those relationships-- but Big insists that if he's going to do this, he gets to wear some crazy hats, too.

That's what's got me so worried about the ending to Battlestar Galactica. I've seen other TV shows end on high notes (Arrested Development, Friends) and the lowest possible notes ever (Seinfeld) and on notes that people had long ago stopped caring about (Cheers). But the trend in Hollywood now has me worried, and the [SPOILER ALERT INVOLVING THE CHARACTER WHO SWEETIE LOVES BECAUSE HE ONCE DROPPED HIS TOWEL ACCIDENTALLY] too-convenient temporary promotion of Lee Adama to President does not bode well for where Battlestar is heading with this whole Gada is singing premise, and you'll only understand that if you watch the show. (Quick primer: he's singing because Cylons sing.)(I told you wouldn't understand it.)(Plus, writers, Cylons don't sing; they heard music but I don't recall seeing them sing.)

See what I mean? Clear at the end of the show, they're suddenly making up facts about Cylons and trying to make viewers think that some character who has had less of an impact on this show than Mr. Chekhov did on the original Star Trek, a character every bit as essential to the storylines so far as the PA announcer was on MASH, is the long-awaited 12th Cylon.

Don't do it! DON'T DON'T DON'T. You've been creating one of the greatest TV shows of all time, with excellent storylines and interesting moral issues and parallels to real life that make people think and compelling characters and intersecting plots. Don't wreck it by trying to be too clever. I know that your show is not highly rated and I know that you're tempted to Hollywood it up and draw in viewers, but you'd be far better advised to have Britney guest star than to try to twisty-turn your way to a unique ending.

Remember: Sometimes the most obvious thing is the most obvious thing because it's also the right thing.

Given that, I'm going to now tell you who should be the 12th Cylon, who is The Best Character To Be The 12th Cylon on Battlestar Galactica. It's not Admiral Adama or Lee Adama or President Roslin; you've already done the whole Humanity has a Cylon in charge! thing with Tigh. It's not any minor character; Chief and Starbuck's husband and that girl who sleeps with everyone are already minor characters promoted to major characters by being Cylons.

It can't be Baltar. You couldn't possibly do that. I know that it would make, in your Hollywood-ized minds, a great circular storyline: Baltar betrayed humanity. Baltar is tortured by that. But Baltar is a Cylon! So he's not a bad guy after all; he's a good Cylon! Doing that might be worse than making Gada the 12th Cylon, because it would destroy everything that's interesting about Baltar, who's one of the greatest characters in human history. Not just TV history, but movie/book/newspaper/internet/song/cave drawing human history. He's a guy who has to live every day with the thought that he's in love with an alien who's in his mind and that he betrayed and maybe destroyed the entire human race, and yet still get out of bed each day. When I have an argument with Sweetie, I don't sleep well and feel miserable for days. Imagine if my "argument" was actually "destroying the entire race." Grapple with that. So don't give Baltar a free pass out of purgatory. He's one of the most interesting people on the show, or ever. Keep him that way and let him be tortured all his life.

That leaves only one character, the obvious one: Starbuck/Kara Thrace. It's obvious because she's a major character, it's obvious because she disappeared and came back from the dead, like Cylons do, it's obvious because the 12th Cylon has been to Earth and she says she's been to Earth, it's obvious because that's who everyone thinks it is.

But sometimes the most obvious thing is the most obvious thing because it's also the right thing.

Starbuck is Chekhov's gun. Chekhov wrote in a letter that "One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it." From the very beginning, Starbuck has not fit in anywhere and has struggled with her own nature, and then Starbuck died and came back having visited Earth. She's a harbinger of doom. If Starbuck does not turn out to be the 12th Cylon, the entire storyline involving Starbuck will have been wasted, and episode after episode will turn out to be just one big collection of red herrings.

We've all seen the gun on the stage from the very beginning, Battlestar writers. Shoot it. There's too much drivel coming out of the entertainment world, too much clever dialogue and twisty endings passing for creative thinking these days. Don't buy into it. Don't outthink yourself. Starbuck is The Best Character To Be The 12th Cylon on Battlestar Galactica, and if you want your show to be remembered in any kind way, you'll write it that way.





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