Thursday, December 30, 2010

Whodathunkit!? 2010: The Year In Bests (Celebrities)

There's a lot of different ways I could go with this post. I could say who was The Best Celebrity in 2010 -- setting that up entirely by my own criteria. Or I could go with The Best Celebrity News Stories in 2010, or I could even use the end of the year as an excuse to publish photos of celebrity butts, a la The Superficial (which site wins the prize for best repurposing of old Star Wars quotes).

But I didn't. Instead, I asked Sweetie, last night, a question. Sweetie is very knowledgeable about celebrities; she's the kind of person who knows which Real Housewife is related to which actual actor or president. (But not the kind of person who, at my office party, could recall that Al Pacino was in a movie that had something to do with crooked cops, and also recall that the movie in question was Serpico. I did that. Me.)

So I asked Sweetie: "What do you think was the best celebrity story in 2010?"

And she didn't answer right away because she was brushing her teeth.

Then she said "Why?" And I told her that I wanted it for this post, but she still had no answer. Ultimately, she shrugged and said "I don't know."

So I had nothing to go on until about 10:30 last night, midway through one of those baffling articles in The New Yorker in which a food lover convinces the magazine to send him to Barcelona where he'll have earnest conversations about desserts using words that sound like they're talking about way more important things -- is there anything more pretentious and awful sounding than a chef talking about food as though it was significant? You're heating up meat. Get over yourself.-- midway through that article, I thought to myself, that's it.

As for what's it, you'll have to wait, because, as is the way with
WHODATHUNKIT!? 2010: The Year In Bests; The First-Ever TBOE What You Were Told, And What You Should've Been Told Instead Best Of The Year List.

I first tell you

What Everyone Else Said: As I said, Celebrity is kind of a vague, broad category that overlaps all the other categories, even, judging by The New Yorker, the food category. So I narrowed down the chatter and googled two phrases, The Best Celebrity 2010 and The Best Celebrity Stories 2010.

Even then, I got fragmented answers -- links to best-dressed celebrities (Someone named "Florence Welch," which sounds like a hipster play on Lawrence Welk), best celebrity baby names (Marky Mark's daughter Grace Margaret, because people love royal throwback names) best celebrity photos (Justin Bieber singing Jingle Bells to a fan)(here's a riddle for you: I've resolved to try to go my entire life without hearing a Justin Bieber song, but if he sang Jingle Bells and I know that song, even if I didn't hear his version, have I broken that resolution?) and even "best celebrity Tweets," at the top of which list was, of course, Kanye:

That was the best celebrity Tweet of 2010? I have to differ: I think Donnie Wahlberg's belief that the Waffle House was under attack was clearly tops:

PLEASE tell me Waffle House Armageddon starring Donnie Wahlberg is going to be a movie this year. Because I need that.

There was also a listing of The Biggest Celebrity Stories of 2010 on PopSugar, and I kind of assumed that biggest equals best, so I was disappointed when [SPOILER ALERT! BUT NOT REALLY!] the biggest celebrity story of 2010 turned out to be "the growing evidence of love between Twilight stars Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart," about which didn't they break up already? Or never date? I can't remember which but I'm sure it's one or the other.

All of that was somewhat surprising, other than the Kanye tweet, and I gave it some thought to decide Why I Assume They All Said That, and especially why they couldn't all agree on what was the biggest or best celebrity story -- or even what category of celebritization we're going to talk about. Unfortunately, I can't reveal this yet, so I'm going to skip to

What I Thought They'd All Say, because that at least seemed easy: I assumed that any year-end retrospective of celebrity in 2010 would have to include, at the top of any list about anything, Kanye West and/or Kim Kardashian, two people who achieved ever greater heights of fame in 2010 by doing, essentially, nothing.

Yes, I know, Kanye West "dropped" an album that was supposedly brilliant and beloved by critics, but I don't know anyone who's actually planning on buying it, and I don't know anyone who's actually heard anything off of it, but I do know that Kanye's album was more controversial/noted for supposedly being banned by Wal-Mart or something -- and for having racy covers, as though racy means anything anymore, so what I mostly know (and you and all of us, be honest) about Kanye West has nothing to do with the music he (supposedly) made in 2010; it has to do with him tweeting and getting drunk at various places and picking a fight with Wal-Mart, and that's stuff we all do, while at the same time Kim Kardashian further distanced herself from her sex-tape background and Reggie Bush and became ubiquitous, literally appearing at a bathroom opening, having a (briefly-available, probably predatory) debit card and constantly being photographed on celebrity blogs -- photographed in the act of living: shopping, coming from workouts, going to dinner... all of which brings up

What They All Should Have Said, and a continuation of Why I Assume They All Said That, which is this:

2010 Was The Year Celebrity Died.

Not celebrities, although many did. Celebrity, as a concept: the idea that there are those out there who are famous, celebrated, for doing something the rest of us have not. Those people no longer exist, at least not in the form that celebrity has taken since the 16th century, when the concept of celebrity was invented. (Along with the glockenspiel.) For the past 5 centuries, celebrities have stood apart from the human race: they were vaulted to fame and perched up there more or less comfortably, towering over us with their grace and beauty and money and inscrutable behavior, leading us to speculate about them and gossip about them and hound them for autographs when they appeared amongst us...

... but now they're always amongst us and we don't have to speculate about them because they tell us everything. They tweet everything the moment they think it. They show us how they did the stunts on their film. They rant into a tape-recording -- knowingly?-- and talk about their underwear and publish biographies that are more scandalous than the old unauthorized books we got about them, and they are filmed and photographed and Youtubed doing everything -- and mostly what they do is what we do.

The door is wider open than ever: People become celebrities by accident, by creating Youtube videos, by crashing White House parties for the sole purpose of being filmed crashing White House parties -- and the drive to become a celebrity is dangerous, or would-be dangerous, as Balloon Dad showed us -- and as more and more people get let into the celebrity compound, the people already there have to try harder to get noticed: Brett Michaels can't just keep singing Every Rose Has Its Thorn on the State Fair circuit; he has to date skanks on Rock of Love and then be a businessman on The Apprentice, working for a man who claims he might run for president because hosting The Apprentice isn't enough to keep him famous anymore. Actors become singers, singers become writers, writers become... well, they don't become anything, because they have talent... everyone's doing something else and frantically trying so hard to become, or stay, famous, that they will do anything to stay in the spotlight.

And the end result is that we know more than ever about what celebrities do and we care less than ever: we talk about their hair, for Pete's sake, and put Bristol Palin on Dancing With The Stars just so we can claim it's rigged in Bristol's favor. There are magazines with features devoted to topics like Celebrities: They're Just Like Us, and it's true, they are: We never knew that before, but we do now, and it means that we care less. It's the corollary to Warhol's famous comment: When everyone is famous, nobody is famous.

And we'll continue to care less; I can tweet just like Kanye. Maybe I don't have 7,235,654 followers and a gold tooth -- but when I see what his followers read, I don't care as much. In fact, we care so little that we've started to do things to make celebrities more interesting - -matching Kanye's Tweets with New Yorker cartoons, for example. If Kanye alone were interesting, would we have to do that? I think not.

The only way celebs get noticed now is to not exist: (Which, I note, I predicted would be the trend, all the way back in June.) They have to drop out of the limelight, "killing" themselves on Twitter to raise money or retiring from movies a la Amanda Bynes (who shortly therafter unretired) or refusing to do interviews. When Joaquin Phoenix tried to pull off the worst-disguised hoax ever, he wasn't just making a crummy home movie; he was presaging the 2010 death of celebrity and what havoc it would wreak on the popular culture as, Hunger Games like, our celebrities in the future will increasingly be pitted against each other in a deathmatch for the fragmented public attention.

Celebrity's body, like a headless chicken, is still moving around, but make no mistake: Celebrity is dead. And 2010 was the year that it died.

Previous Entries From The Year In Bests:

The Best Book I Read In 2010

The Best Short Stories Of 2010

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Whodathunkit!? 2010: The Year In Bests (Books, And Other Smarty-Pants Things)

The other day, in the first installment of the lengthily-named

WHODATHUNKIT!? 2010: The Year In Bests;
The First-Ever TBOE
What You Were Told, And What You Should've Been Told Instead
Best Of The Year List.

I gave you the Best Book I Read in 2010. But that category on TBOE isn't just books, it's books and other smarty-pants things, so here's a second installment of The Year In Bests. etc. etc. from the Books (And Other Smarty-Pants Things) Category; this one is Short Stories.

The New Yorker, from whence I get 90% of my information about the culture these days (the other 10% coming from watching reruns of the Crash Nebula episode of Fairly Oddparents on the Nicktoons website with Mr Bunches), had a "fiction issue" this year featuring what it called "20 Under 40," twenty writers that blah blah blah whatever it was they said about the state of fiction or why they chose writers under 40 or something. I don't know; I don't recall what they said and don't want to go re-read it.

The point is, though, that they featured short stories or short snippets of longer stories, and have continued doing so in their magazine, making The New Yorker the only magazine I read that publishes short stories on a routine basis. (Of course, I only read four magazines on a regular basis.)(Which still puts me four magazines ahead of Sarah Palin. Take that, Mama Grizzly!)

Short stories tend to be a neglected writerly form -- even by me, and I've written a collection of them. (Two collections of them, actually -- and the fact that I originally didn't recall that shows you how lowly the short story is.) Even with that, I tend to walk right past the collections of short stories at the book store... when I go to the book store, which isn't very often, because I have a Kindle, which makes it kind of difficult to just browse for books because while I can look around on the Kindle it's not the same as just walking around a Barnes & Noble and seeing the book covers and happening on a book that looks interesting because I stopped to look at another book that looks interesting.

While I love my Kindle and can't imagine going back to reading books, publishers should come up with a way to still browse and recreate the bookstore experience because that's important. At least to me. And I'm who counts.

So neglected is the short story as an art form, in fact, that a Google search of "Best Short Stories 2010" produces no top-10 lists of the Best Short Stories from this year -- an amazing thing, when you consider that we as a society are so crazy about naming Bests of The Year that we have Best Of lists featuring Jennifer Lopez's cellulite.

The closest I could find to a "Best Short Story 2010" list came from "Story," a site that says it's

the campaign to celebrate the short story. We believe that the short story is one of the most exciting and important literary forms, that can and should reach the widest possible readership. We believe that the short story matters.

I believe that, too -- and I believe it because I came across a series of amazing short stories... that I'll get to in a moment, after I tell you, vis a vis The Best Short Story of 2010,

What Everyone Else Said, and by "everyone else" I guess I mean "Story" the site, which awarded a couple of Bests this year, giving the BBC National Short Story Award to a story called "Tea At The Midland" by David Constantine, and allowing you to read the story for free on that site (or download it, same thing.) Story also gave the "National Short Story Prize" for 2010 to a story called "It's Beginning To Hurt" by James Lasdun.

I haven't read either of those... yet... but I probably will, and I'll also bookmark and read "Insatiable," by Hilary Davidson, the story that won the "Spinetingler 2010 Best Short Story On The Web" prize. Here's the opening lines of that story:

My wife is hunting for another man.

I watch her as she circles the ballroom, her black hair pinned up with a diamond clip I gave her three years ago. She's flaunting her body in a black silk dress that caresses every tanned curve.

And I'd start reading it now but it seems to me that it's probably NSFW.

Why I Assume They All Said That: I'm not sure, actually, why people picked those stories, as I haven't read them yet and don't have a feel for them. In the BBC award case, the author's bio begins as follows:

David Constantine, an award-winning poet, translator and master craftsman of short fiction, saw off strong competition, including the prize’s youngest ever shortlisted author, to take the plaudits and a cheque worth £15,000.

The winning story, entitled ‘Tea at the Midland’ is a moving and bittersweet story about the end of a relationship set against the backdrop of the sea. It was praised by the judges for its rich interweaving of dialogue and poetic imagery.

So it seems that there's a highbrow background -- and that short stories continue to intermingle with poems (which increasingly are simply free verse portraits, if not actual short stories themselves) and that having a touch of poetry in a short story (or a touch of story in a poem) is what hoi polloi are looking for.

What I Thought They'd All Say:
Did you know that James Franco didn't just get his grandma to insult fans this year in support of what sounds to be the most boring movie ever, but he also appeared in a soap opera, had a solo art exhibition, and wrote a short story collection and had a story appear in Esquire, which I assume is a magazine?

James Franco is the kind of actor critics adore and the rest of us ignore, and no matter how frantically he tries to get us to look at him, we all keep looking away and wishing that Freaks and Geeks hadn't gotten canceled because that was the last role we liked him in.

But fame being fame, once you hit the big time you're allowed to do anything, and writing a book is anything -- so James Franco, critical darling and host of the next Academy Awards (when we'll get to not pay attention to him at the same time as we get to continue ignoring Anne Hathaway), got to write a book of short stories, and I assumed that someone somewhere would put that on a Best Of list because, well, he's James Franco.

What They All Should Have Said: This is the part where I tell you about the amazing short stories I got to read recently, after listening to a podcast of This American Life's Comedians of Christmas episode. That episode featured two short stories read by Edith Zimmerman, who writes very short stories and features many of them on her website.

Zimmerman's stories are wondrously crafted miniature tours de force, tiny anecdotes that hint at a larger story, or stories, behind the barest glimpse we get of the world opened up in the story; it's like Zimmerman has quickly opened the shutters on someone's house, let us see a vignette of that house, and then slammed them shut again to let us speculate about what it all means.

But she does it with a quirky, almost-mean sense of humor mixed with the slightly-macabre, making it all reflective of what it might be like if Shel Silverstein was the chief writer for Charles Addams' series of cartoons.

Here's Zimmerman's story The Clean House, which appears in full on her blog, too:


I wish I could invent a house that I only had to clean once and it would stay clean forever. Every so often I’d test it by sprinkling little bits of dirt on the floor, but it’d always just disappear instantly. And even if I dumped out an entire bag of soil, it would all just magically vanish. But then eventually I’d think, “Where’s it all going?” and I’d keep thinking about it until it really started to bug me. Then I’d just be thinking about it all the time, feeling really uncomfortable, until one day I wondered what would happen if I covered myself in dirt and threw myself on the floor. So I would, and I’d stand at the top of the stairs, and I’d take a deep breath, and I’d jump off, head first.


If short stories are turning into poetry and poetry into short stories, then Edith Zimmerman is leading the revolutionary metamorphosis. In the stories I've read so far -- I pick a couple a day and read them, savoring them and spreading them out the way Charlie treated his chocolate bar, because I want them to last -- that same sense of wondrous mystery and mischievous larking appear, whether it's the ongoing adventures of "Chopped-Off Head Girl" or the teacher (in the story read on This American Life) who bakes cookies for her class, only to get some unwelcome information about social mores.

And best of all, you can read them quick - -before the boss gets back.

Prior Installments:

Best Book I Read In 2010.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Whodathunkit!?: The 2010 Year In Bests: Books (And Other Smarty-Pants Things)

The end of the year is a time for reflection back on the year that's just gone by... although why is that? The "end of the year" isn't really that at all; it's an arbitrary day on which we've decided to restart the calendar -- and it hasn't always been (as everyone thinks they know) the 1st of January. As recently as 1752, which is pretty recent, I suppose, the British and Americans still celebrated New Year's Day on March 1.

I say everyone thinks they know because if you stop someone on the street today and ask them about New Year's Day, and they don't immediately pepper spray you and start running away, you're pretty lucky; after all, why are you going around just stopping random strangers? We don't live in that kind of society anymore. We live in the kind of society where everybody and everything is subject to a permanent suspicion of harboring dangerous motives, and also we live in a society where hopefully we won't have to hear the words "Tea Parties" anymore. A man can dream...

... but we also live in a society where people firmly believe that April 1 used to be New Year's Day and that the change from April 1 to January 1 led to the creation of "April's Fools," people who still celebrated the New Year on April 1 even though the rest of the world had decided the new year started on January 1 and even though, really, you could decided that the "new year" begins on any day and reflect back on the previous 364 days, if you'd like. But despite all that, people still believe that April 1 used to be New Year's Day, even though, as I pointed out in the first paragraph here, March 1 was New Year's Day in England and in what passed for America back then, all they way until 1752, when January 1 became The Day, and people still believe that stuff about April 1 being New Year's Day even though April Fool's Day was an established day in England before the calendar switch.

But that's all besides the point; the point is that we start the calendar over every twelve months, and for now we've agreed to do that on January 1 every year, and that makes the last week of December the time we all look back on the year with a bleary-eyed gaze that carries with it the message "It's the New Year, but I've still got two more months of supercold weather and shoveling snow."

And for the first time ever, I've decided to do a "Best Of" list -- a list that seems like it'd be a natural for The Best Of Everything, unless maybe it would be more natural to do a Best Of Best Of Lists, which I contemplated doing but decided that was too ironic; having once nearly brought about the end of the world by ignoring Paris Hilton, I didn't want to risk creating a wormhole in space with my first End Of Year Best Ever List.

This being TBOE, I'm not just going with a Best Of list, but giving you the usual twist on pop culture you've come to expect from me, as I present to you the multi-titled, single-semicoloned

WHODATHUNKIT!? 2010: The Year In Bests;
The First-Ever TBOE
What You Were Told, And What You Should've Been Told Instead
Best Of The Year List.

Which is, as it sounds like, a list of the things that others uniformly agreed were The Best, and a list of the things that actually were The Best, in each of this blog's categories.

I'll begin with Books (And Other Smarty-Pants Things).

What Everyone Else Said: Can I make a request of other sites? If you post a top-10 list, or top-20 list, or top-anything list, don't make each entry appear on a different page so that I have to keep clicking to see the next blurb-and-photo. It's annoying. I'm sure it's designed to raise your page-count or click-count or whatever it is you hope to increase so that someday you can quit your day job and focus on blogging instead of going into work every day and secretly posting stuff while your boss thinks you're working...

... not that I know anyone like that...

... but whatever your reasons, clicking and clicking and clicking a list to get to the end of that list and see what's number one is annoying and I won't do it, so I can't tell you what Stephen King thinks is the Best Book of 2010 because I got tired by number 6.

Going through a few other lists finds a surprise at the top: most people I bothered checking into picked A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan at the top or near the top of their year-end top-1o lists. (Some, like Publisher's Weekly, put it at the top of a list but then chickened out and didn't number the list, leaving people to guess whether their list was in order.)

Why I Assume They All Said That: As I said, it's kind of a surprise, because ordinarily when you ask people about what book they're reading or what book they loved, you get answers that appear coldly calculated (like politicians claiming to be reading important political works) and probably a lie; almost everyone will say "The Autobiography of Mark Twain" when asked what they're reading or want to read, while almost everyone will be reading "the back of a cereal box." Year-end best-of book lists tend to be populated with literary snobbery (witness the inclusion of Jonathan Franzen's mediocre Freedom on almost every list, because they're supposed to include it), so to see A Visit From The Goon Squad topping the list was somewhat surprising... but only because I at first confused Jennifer Egan with Jodi Picoult. Then I read a review of Goon Squad and realized why it was on critics' lists: it sounds like it's a post-modern mess. The review made me think -- fairly or unfairly -- of the pile of garbage that was David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, a gimmicky morass of story marked by a gimmicky-sounding 78-page PowerPoint presentation that was described by Egan as follows:

I’m not an early adopter — I write by hand, for God’s sakes. But I became obsessed with PowerPoint when I realized that it had become a true narrative genre. It allowed me to represent gaps — pauses — in a tangible way that I couldn’t accomplish with a more traditional narrative. And "Goon Squad" is a story that happens in fits and starts, with a lot of the action transpiring offstage. You might say that discontinuity is the book’s organizing principle.

You might say that. I wouldn't, because I don't like books whose sole purpose for existing seems to be to demonstrate that the author was able to sell a book to the publisher against all odds: "I've written a book that features power-point slides and in which no actual action takes place. Also, it doesn't have vampires. Where do I collect my money?"

I do have to point out that Goon Squad exhibits, in that PowerPoint segment, one of the four necessary elements of a best-seller. If it'd been set in Ireland or the American South, it would have outsold Harry Potter.

What I Thought They'd All Say: I assumed that everyone would be picking all those Stieg Larsson books, because while ordinarily detective novels are sold by the millions but ignored by the critics, the fact that these were detective novels written by a guy from one of those Scandinavian countries, and were novels published in America after he died, and that there was a fight going on about the half-finished fourth novel all allowed critics to rave about them despite their abundantly boring mediocrity. Seriously; I read 60 pages of the first book, twice, and couldn't force myself to go on.

What They All Should Have Said: While everyone else was raving about the Goon Squad or The Help (set in the American South! As required by the laws of best-sellers) they should have been talking about The Actual Best Book I Read In 2010, that book being Room, by Emma Donoghue. I don't know anything about Donoghue, and I don't care to because knowing about the author doesn't help me enjoy a book any better. I just know that Room, told from the perspective of a five-year-old boy who's spent his entire life in an 11x11 room where his mom gave birth to him while held captive by an abductor, and who believes the entire outside world to simply be other "planets" existing only on the TV he's allowed to watch a half-hour per day, is phenomenal. Not "phenomenal because it's hard to read and has gimmicky powerpoints" and not "phenomenal because the author is dead and/or from Sweden" but simply phenomenal.

More to come!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Song SEVEN Of The 8 Best Traditional Christmas Songs That Seem To Have Nothing To Do With Christmas.

Hey, I might actually finish one of these MiniBests!

Okay, so I've got some kind of scary news for you: You've been being tricked, and tricked by Germans, to boot.

That news -- of Holiday German Trickery -- is something I suspected for a long time. Well, okay, I suspected it for about 2 hours, since I was driving into work this morning and thought of the song O Christmas Tree and then wondered whether O Christmas Tree was really a faithful translation of O Tannenbaum.

In the olden days (2002) I would have had no way to confirm or deny that suspicion -- making me the moral equivalent of George Costanza's ginger ale (Or, if you'd like a modern comparison with someone whose suspicions are entirely unconfirmable hypotheses mixed with paranoia, consider me a Tea Partier) but this is not the olden days (2002), this is the modern era (2010, almost 2011) and that meant that I could go to the Internet to check things out.

Because the Internet is the best possible way to debunk rumors, right? Of course it is. Even scientists say so. And everyone knows that scientists are absolutely trustworthy and would never ever make something up.

Anyway, enough about science, as the Republican party said in their political platform. This is about Christmas, and how science can prove that Germans are using mediocre songs as some sort of propaganda, probably all related to the impending 2012 end of the world, now that I think about it.

Here's what I'm talking about. The song O Christmas Tree seems to be very much about Christmas, what with being about Christmas trees and all. But I began to wonder if the translation we sing was an accurate translation, and I began wondering that because as far as I know, judging from hearing people sing the song, the lyrics to O Christmas Tree go as follows:

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, your branches something mumble lightly
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, your evergreen something else
Not only green, in summer time, I mean your branches, ...
let's sing something else.

Which made me think that maybe we're not exactly sure what the lyrics are to O Christmas Tree, let alone whether they were accurately translated from the original text -- and we know that sometimes songs do not get accurately translated from German because for years we've been told that 99 Red Balloons was titled 99 Luftballons in Germany, and yet Luft is not German for "red," it's German for...

... for something else. So you can see why I was suspicious. And I did what I always do when I get suspicious of something: I cursed at the drivers in front of me who were making left turns and holding up traffic. (How many times do I have to say that only I should be allowed to make left turns? Why can't you people be more considerate of me?)

Then, I got to work and I immediately looked up the lyrics to O Tannenbaum, which the International Monetary Fund and other coconspirators including but not limited to Glenn Beck would have you believe is the German version of O Christmas Tree, and I immediately became even more suspicious (if that were possible) because in the German version of the song:

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
Wie treu[N 1] sind deine Blätter!
Du grünst nicht nur zur Sommerzeit,
Nein, auch im Winter, wenn es schneit.
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
Wie treu sind deine Blätter!

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
Du kannst mir sehr gefallen!
Wie oft hat schon zur Winterzeit[N 2]
Ein Baum von dir mich hoch erfreut!
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
Du kannst mir sehr gefallen!

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
Dein Kleid will mich was lehren:
Die Hoffnung und Beständigkeit
Gibt Mut und Kraft zu jeder Zeit!
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
Dein Kleid will mich was lehren!

There is not a single reference to Christmas. And I can say that because while I don't speak German, I do know that all other languages besides English tend to simply co-opt English words and then modify them only slightly, so that in France, for example, bicycle is simply bicyclette, so "Christmas" in German would likely be "Der Christmashoffer," or something, unless, of course, they went the other way with it, which would be to make the word superGerman, the way they sometimes do, so that Christmas would end up being Gotterflugenhofsterubermenschendangenspreitzel or some such, but I didn't see any words like that in there, either.

So, now fully suspicionized, I went to Phase Two, and translated the German lyrics through Babel Fish, to discover that O Tannenbaum is actually saying this:

O fir tree, o fir tree, your sheets are how faithful!
You do not only become green to the summer time, no, also in the winter, if it snows. O fir tree, o fir tree, Your sheets are how faithful!
O fir tree, o fir tree, You can please me much!
How often already during the winter time a tree of you pleased me highly!
O fir tree, o fir tree, You can please me much!
O fir tree, o fir tree, Your dress wants me which to teach:
Hope and stability Courage gives and Kraft at each time!
O fir tree, o fir tree, Your dress wants me which to teach!

And, as you can see, there's not a single word about Christmas in there.

But there is the rather cryptic phrase Your dress wants me which to teach, which is now my favorite saying ever, and which phrase I'm going to use to answer every single question that is asked of me today.


Sweetie: Hi, honey, how was your day?

Me: Your dress wants me which to teach.

This is gonna be awesome.

Previous songs:

1. I Saw Three Ships.

2. Winter Wonderland.

3. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

4. Jingle Bells.

5. Good King Wenceslas.

6. We Wish You A Merry Christmas

Monday, December 20, 2010

The 20 Best Human Movie Villains (Guest List!)

As a break from all the Christmas-y stuff I've been posting, here's a guest list from The Boy, who in the true spirit of the holiday season, has spent his time not studying for exams at college but instead coming up with his list of The 20 Best (Human) Movie Villains.

As usual, with The Boy, there's no explanation -- so feel free to critique the list and / or provide your own. As I understand it, the primary criteria were (a) the person had to be a bad guy and (b) the person had to be a human being -- so Darth Vader, etc., were out.

Here you go! Happy Holidays!

20. Patrick Bateman (American Psycho.)

19. Kaiser Soze (The Usual Suspects.)

18. Apollo Creed (Rocky). [BLOGGER NOTE: Really? Was he a bad guy? What made him a bad guy? Because he wanted to win? Because he wasn't the underdog? Note to America: We haven't been the underdog for something like 110 years, so it's time we maybe start embracing the champions.]

17. Mr. Blonde/Vic Vega (Reservoir Dogs.)[BLOGGER NOTE: This movie was really overrated.]

16. Det. Alonzo Harris (Training Days.) [BLOGGER NOTE: As with all Denzel Washington characters, I just always thought of him as "Denzel Washington." So there was Denzel the Bad Detective, Denzel the Train Guy, Denzel The Reporter With Julia Roberts, Paralyzed Denzel, and so on.]

15. Elle Driver, (Kill Bill)[NOTE: The Boy had to explain to me that this was not "Legally Blonde."]

14. Owen Davian (Mission Impossible: 3)[NOTE: MI:3 was subtitled "Look What A Great Husband Tom Cruise Is")

13. Annie Wilkes (Misery).

12. Norman Bates (Psycho.)

11. Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Apocalypse Now)

10. Elijah Price (Unbreakable.)

9. Longshanks- King Edward I (Braveheart.)

8. Commodus (Gladiator)

7. Amon Goeth (Schindler's List)

6. Jack Torrence. (The Shining)

5. John Doe (Seven)

4. Anton Chigurh (No Country For Old Men)

3. The Joker (The Dark Knight)

2. Bill "The Butcher" Cutting (Gangs Of New York)

And the number one Best Human Movie Villain?

1. Hans Landa
(Inglorious Basterds)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Reader Comment/Update On "The Best Web Comic."

Geek For Hire and Blogger Corgi wrote this in response to my selection of The Best Web Comic:

I just found your post by random Googling (looking for something else) and as a fellow fan I'm delighted at your reaction to "Girl Genius". The comic was actually published up to issue 13 in "dead tree" format, starting in early 2001. They went to web in 2005 and backfilled the dates of the already-published pages as they loaded them on the website in order to conform with their server format.

It's actually a collaborative work between Phil and his wife Kaja. They spent about a decade plotting and planning before they started drawing and writing the actual issues (and now pages). This partnership was enriched by the series's current colorist, who has been with them roughly as long as the series has been web-publishes, Cheyenne Wright. The three of them have won the very first two Hugo Awards for Best Graphic Novel, 2008 and 2009.

It's still being published three times a week - they've never missed a day, although sometimes they're a little late for good reasons - and is at the very beginning of Volume 11 by now! All sorts of complications since you started reading it. I'd love to know if you've caught completely up by now.

I have to say: I'm still pretty far behind, but I do read it 1-2 times per week during my lunch break.The problem, and I say this without any coimpensation whatsoever, is that it's too addictive and when I start reading it at work, I might blow off a half-hour. So hearing it went to print is great.

Read Corgi's Blog, "Inside Of A Dog, It's Too Dark To Read," here.

Read the original post, The Best Web Comic, here

The 13... Make That 8... Best World Records (You Wouldn't Think Would Be A World Record)

As usual, I'm cutting the list short. But that's pretty much de rigeur for these lists by now, right? Here's the final list:

1. Largest Sushi Mosaic.

2. Fastest Time To Eat a 12" Pizza.

3.World's Largest T-Shirt.

4. Most Entries In A Two-Horse Pantomime Race

5 & 6. Most Balloons Blown Up By Nose (in 3 minutes, and in 1 hour).

7. Largest Wing Chun Display.

8. Largest Israeli Flag Draped On A Trash Dump.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Whodathunkit?!: The Three Best Things You Want To Know About Thanksgiving THIS Year.

Whodathunkit!? appears on both Nonsportsmanlike Conduct! and The Best Of Everything.

Every year, as Thanksgiving rolls around, I begin to wonder anew: Is this the last time we'll celebrate Thanksgiving? Is this the year it finally dies?

My views on the future of Thanksgiving are well-known, of course, and are always becoming weller-known as people who are obviously readers of my blog reconvey my thoughts (without giving me any credit) and the latest of those People Who Obviously Read My Blog is Robin Meade, who hosts her news show on CNNHLNAFLCIOROFLMAO every morning.

The other day, Robin proved to people who love to watch news shows identified only by letters that she reads The Best Of Everything when, following a story by that one economic reporter who always looks a little angry, Robin said "Pretty soon we won't celebrate Thanksgiving at all anymore."

Which is what I've been saying all along. So while I'm glad to see that everyone continues to agree with me, thereby proving how right I always am, I'm also a little sad that when I'm eventually proven right on this one, we'll no longer celebrate Thanksgiving and I'll have to find a different holiday to serve as my excuse to make 12 pounds of homemade Chex mix.

And, the fact that Thanksgiving is as doomed as a person who relies on Arizona's government-run medical program makes me sad, too, each year when I do the Thanksgiving Whodathunkit?!, which has become sort of a deathwatch that itself is not unlike Arizona's government-run medical program.

But let's put aside those grim thoughts! Now is not the time for sadness, after all. Now is the time for celebration! For family togetherness! For the comforts of home and hearth and good food! football, I guess, featuring... um... the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys, fortunately not playing each other this year (although, it might be interesting to see who would be worse in that game), and for... getting ready for holiday sales that, technically, started two-and-a-half months ago.

In short, now is the time for you to get your annual dose of the Thanksgiving Whodathunkit?!: The Three Best Things You Want To Know About Thanksgiving THIS Year. Here's a dose of stuff to talk about or do at the family gathering this year, filling the silence that falls on the group as you all collectively realize why you don't visit each other more than once a year:

1. You can take part in some trademarked "Thankssharing(TM)," thanks to "The Thanksgiving Game."

Why not, this year, combine two dying American traditions: Thanksgiving and board games? Thanks to the wonder of a company known as The Thanksgiving GameTM (seriously) you can play The Thanksgiving Game, in which, according to this actual quote from the game's Amazon page,

Players experience ThanksGiving, ThanksGuessing, and ThanksSharingTM
Note that apparently only ThanksSharingTM is trademarked, so you are free (apparently) to use ThanksGiving and ThanksGuessing in everyday conversation without fear of a lawsuit from anyone except J.K. Rowling, who by royal grant has the power to sue anyone anywhere for anything.

The actual game play was a little mysterious to me. While I was pretty sure it involved a good amount of ThanksPlaying (TM me, so take that, game-makers), I wasn't clear on what actually had to be done in this no doubt superpopular game. The Product Description didn't help much:

Liven up your Thanksgiving celebration - your family will love it. For players ages 7 to adult. 3 or more players. Message from the Game Creator: For many years, the Thanksgiving GameTM has been played by our family each year on Thanksgiving Day. Traditionally it is played around the table, between dinner and dessert. The game gives everyone an opportunity to express their gratitude to God and to each other. When friends and family gather to show their love and appreciation, everyone is a winner! However, we suggest that a prize be offered to the official winner, such as candy, a plant, or a new Christmas decoration. If you don't have a prize, you can offer something else, like the largest piece of pumpkin pie! Or add your own family tradition. The Thanksgiving GameTM is great for ANY time of the year, and we hope that it will bring you years of enjoyment and meaningful memories with family and friends!

So I've got to bring my own prize, on top of being with friends and family? And it's going to delay dessert? Not a good sell, ThanksPeople (TM). And I'm still not sure how it's played. But if you do play it, make sure at some point to say "Pretty sneaky, sis!" in admiration. Even if you don't have a sister.

You know what this made me wonder? Why isn't there a Thanksgivingopoly, in which players buy sets of meals and put plates on them instead of houses? You could have, instead of Boardwalk and Park Place, Turkey and Mashed Potatoes, and the cheap properties (Baltic and Mediterranean) could be "Green Bean Casserole" and "That mincemeat pie Aunt Suzanne brought."

It would be a perfect companion, after all, to Macy's Thanksgiving Parade-opoly which is, sadly, a real thing:

2. You can push your family members out a plane, and have it have something to do with otters.

Tired of hosting Thanksgiving and thinking maybe you'll make a crummy dinner to show why you shouldn't have to do all the work? Here's a better way to get out of next year's hosting duties, and by "better" I mean both "dangerous" and "for some reason making a reference to otters:" The $15 SuperOtter Jump skydive available all Thanksgiving Weekend in Orange, Virginia. For less money than I'll spend on boxes of Chex and Worcestershire sauce, you can hurl yourself out of a perfectly good plane and hope to land safely in Orange, VA, or at least close by. The company says that

Once you give thanks with your family & friends, come on out to Orange and jump your turkey feathers off!

But why wait until after dinner? If you really want to spice up that talk at the dinner table, imagine when every single person at your party says "This year, I'm thankful that at least my relief 'chute opened." And best of all, you don't just get to see what the holiday looks like from more than two miles up in the air: You also get to take part in what's billed as a:
Which sounds to me like throwing a bunch of gloppy white stuff onto people from 13,500 feet, which in turn sounds to me like totally awesome.

3. When all else fails, wrap your turkey in a blanket and throw it into a fire! Yum!

You'd think that since people only eat turkey once a year (not counting leftovers) that simply having a turkey would be novelty enough -- but you'd think wrong, because this is The Land Of Constant Novelty, where television shots last no more than 3 seconds and a story longer than 1 paragraph is deemed epic or too long. (Which is why 90% of you stopped reading this back at the part about Robin Meade.)

That need for constant innovation doesn't just lead to Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches in a can

Take a swig! As for me,
I'm waiting for a tube of potato-chip-paste.

Maybe by next year, when we all have to stand in line all day Thanksgiving for the Door Buster Sales that'll be beginning at 6 a.m. that day, we'll have Thanksgiving Dinner In A Can!

Our need for innovation also leads to newer ways to cook a turkey/nearly kill yourself. For a couple of years there, the cooking method du jour (French for "which to light your veranda on fire") was deep-frying the turkey, but deep-frying is so yesterday that it might as well be a Paul McCartney song.

(Thanks, folks, I'll be here all week.)

The newest craze-to-come? Campfire Turkey Cooking. It's easy! And fun! And it's actually neither of those! Plus, it requires that you go camping, which might be the only way to make Thanksgiving more uncomfortable than it already is (aside from jumping out of a plane, that is.)

Campfire turkey cooking is recommended by, which helpfully provides steps to follow to safely cook your turkey over an open flame, but which unhelpfully doesn't say what to do when the open flame ignites most of the forest, wrecking the Thanksgivings of the 35,000 firefighters who will battle that blaze for two months. (They won't get to the doorbuster sales on time!)

To give you an idea of how delicious a campfire turkey would be, consider the savory images presented by steps 3 and 4 on the site:
Step 3
Put your turkey into a dutch oven if you have one big enough to accommodate it. The turkey cannot be touching the sidewalls of the oven, and if you have a big turkey, it is unlikely your oven will be large enough. If not using an oven, wrap the turkey in cheese cloth and then wrap the entire turkey in three to four layers of aluminum foil.
Step 4

Rake out half the coals from the campfire and into the pit. The bottom should be completely covered in coals, so consider one to two inches of coals a minimum. Also, make sure the stuff you rake in is mostly coals and not mostly ash. If there is no rake, use your shovel or camp spade. Place your turkey on top of those coals. Then rake the remainder of the coals into the pit and throw dirt on top until the pit is covered

Thereby transforming your turkey into a mockery of The Telltale Heart -- but providing it with that good, wholesome, traditional flavor of "hot soil." didn't then suggest throwing the dirty, fiery turkey out a plane from 13,500 feet, but I think that's understood.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Click here to read Last Year's Thanksgiving Whodathunkit!?

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Five Best Funny Songs That Still Rock Pretty Hard.

Stupid Bono.

I blame Bono for making rock and roll all serious and making sure that no fun would ever come of rock and roll, so that now listening to any real rock bands is almost the musical equivalent of watching C-Span or the History Channel.

Almost literally:

Is it just me, or does Billy Joel tweak that one rhyme a little when he says "Buddy Holly, Ben Hur, Space Monkey, Mafia?" It sounds like he says mafi-ER, doesn't it?

If you look around the music landscape these days, you'll see very few funny bands - -bands that know how to have a good time while still making good music. (If you look around the music landscape, in fact, you'll see very few good bands or musicians, period. They're all crowded out by the continued and inexplicable popularity of Taylor Swift, who really should put Kanye West on her payroll.)

(As should George "Worst President Ever" Bush, who can thank Kanye for making him relevant these days, giving ol' W(PE) a chance to claim that he never wanted to use force in Iraq... a claim that might just be true -- but only if you believe that W(PE) simply turned the government over to others to dismantle our society for 8 years. So he's either a liar or criminally negligent. Take your pick.)

In fact, I bet somewhere Bono is writing a song called Liar Or Criminally Negligent. It'll have a great guitar solo and a cool driving beat but will still make you feel as though you've got to be out protesting, or at least voting, while you listen to it.

So that's our musical landscape -- mostly -- these days: too serious songs about too serious subjects, taking a little fun out of music-for-music's sake, or songs by people that are either famous for something else:

Ouch! I used to like that song.

Or more famous than they (still) ought to be because someone once interrupted them.

Which I bring up today because isn't music supposed to still be a little fun? Do we all have to be superserious all the time? Maybe, if you ask REM:

REM is a band that gets credit for being superserious mostly because nobody can understand what their lyrics are about. (If you're a budding singer-songwriter, you'll want to make lyrics that are deliberately obtuse, and then mumble or otherwise obscure them. Doing that will guarantee you rocker-emeritus status someday, of the sort that REM enjoys and the sort that Elvis Costello gets in lengthy New Yorker articles that spend a great deal of time mulling his lyrics and almost no time mulling his past racist outbursts or the fact that he apparently will trade in some of his seriousness to play at a conference at which W(PE) was a guest, too.

That's not to say that REM isn't superserious -- they probably are, given that at least one of their songs was about the end of the world, which, jellybean booms notwithstanding, is a pretty serious subject:

...while another was about Andy Kaufman, and everyone knows that you're a serious person if you liked Andy Kaufman. Andy Kaufman holds an elite status in the world of entertainment for serious people: Like 30 Rock, Michael Moore documentaries, and those movies about New York fashion magazines, nobody really likes Andy Kaufman at all -- but serious people are required to say they like those things, or to pretend that people like them, at least, because those things have the Serious Person's Seal Of Approval (TM), a mark that is earned by being (a) not funny (b) not entertaining (c) a little too long and (d) inclusive of Tina Fey or somebody like her. If you have all of those things in your show/song/Broadway musical, you'll get the Serious Person's Seal Of Approval, which will guarantee that your little production, whatever it is, will forever be lauded by critics and mentioned favorably in comparison to other entertainment --

-- Sample critic commentary on snooty television show:

"You know, Bob, a lot of people certainly are flocking to the theaters to see "Freddy Krueger Saves Christmas From Predators," with some going two or even three times, and Christian Bale has even been mentioned as warranting an Oscar for the scene in which he yells at Rudolph and threatens to "trash his lights", but I've just got to say, this movie could have used a little more of Tina Fey's trademark self-deprecating Liz Lemon-one-liners. Also, Andy Kaufman."

-- but the Serious Person's Seal Of Approval also means that nobody will ever actually watch or listen to or actually like your little deal.

Rock and Roll wasn't always serious -- it began, remember, with the song Hound Dog, the very first rock-and-roll song that white people were allowed to listen to, ever:

That song stands as not only the very first rock song, ever, but also as the beginning of rock and roll as fun and not serious (even though there are those who say that you can make Hound Dog into an allegory of the great banking crisis in the early 20th century.) How serious can you be when repeating the words Hound Dog over and over, while also freaking out parents who don't realize that the kids watching this stuff will one day give birth to Katy Perry, whose dead eyes will usher in the horrifying next phase of human existence that begins in 2012?

Sorry. I got a little lost there. The point is that music in the 50s was fun and not serious, which was good because everything else in the 50s was very serious, and also in black-and-white, so America needed a little bit of humor in its music to offset the fact that our president was nicknamed "Ike."

That trend of humorous, fun-loving music continued into the 60s with those loveable moppets, The Monkees, and their famous theme song, "God Monkey Robot":

Ha, ha! Just kidding, and looking for an excuse to put that song in here. In reality, the Monkees' theme song was cleverly titled "(Theme From) The Monkees," and featuring the lyrics "We're the young generation, and we've got something to say."

What that generation had to say, of course, was profound and educational and not in any way influenced by drugs:

It wouldn't be long before the Monkees' infectious fun "crossed the pond" as nobody cool ever said and got adopted by a group of guys known as The Quarrymen. With a quick name change and some bowl haircuts, these guys would become the "Fab Four" we know and love on the strength of such feel-good hits showing the trademark sense of humor that would be associated with "The Beatles," on songs like "Eight Days A Week,"

Which is funny because, you see, there's not 8 days in a week!

But the fun didn't go on forever -- mixed in with such hilarity as "Baby You Can Drive My Car" (with the twist ending -- she had a driver, but [SPOILER ALERT!] she didn't have a car!) would come songs that looked at the serious side of a world caught up in social upheaval. Who can forget the stirring lyrics and stunning music that perfectly encapsulated the era's mixture of peace and war, Establishment and Hippy, Lyndon Johnson and his dog with those ears, all of it coming together in the song Octopus' Garden:

See what I did there? That wasn't a serious song at all!

But it didn't last forever. It wouldn't be long before the 70s came and music turned its back on fun and octopi, opting instead to tell stories of doomed spacemen:

and, because every article about music in the 70s has to mention him, something about Peter Frampton, blah blah blah are you happy now, Baby Boomers?

I'm so sick of having to hear about Peter Frampton. He was the Nirvana of the 70s, you know -- and Nirvana was the BeeGees of the 90s, so that's not saying much.

Rock's growing seriousness in the 70s was briefly combatted by Queen, who did their best to keep rock fun:

But even they couldn't hold out once U2 came on the scene. Their first album was titled War, for Pete's sake, and things didn't get any better from there. Orphaned skinny boys on their album covers, an album named for October, which everyone knows is the most serious month, all those shots of Bono squinting into the distance at all the injustice in the world and their songs! Songs about Martin Luther King and a friend who overdosed on drugs on his 21st birthday:

Which, admittedly, is a great song, but it's not fun, that's for sure. And, suddenly, that was it for fun rock and roll. Suddenly, rock had to be about something and try to save the world and know why the caged bird sings and all, which is all well and good, but we can't always be saving the world, can we? Even people who really do spend all their time saving the world -- Ghandi, Obama, Superman -- they must kick back once in a while and relax and want to just, you know, have some fun, don't they?

As an aside, doesn't the idea of Ghandi, Obama and Superman being together sound like either the intro to a mediocre joke or a great new HBO series? I'm thinking something like Deadwood, only with a mix of real and fictional leaders, and instead of the old West, they're, say, in medieval Korea, only medieval Korea somehow existing in the future.

I never actually watched "Deadwood," mind you, but I know that if you say something's like Deadwood critics will go nuts for it.

And my series about Obama and Ghandi and Superman would feature Andy Kaufman as the narrator.

Well, I say enough's enough, and it's time to recognize that rock can not only save the world, but it can be fun. People can save the world and be fun, you know. People can tell jokes while also getting work done, can achieve something while maybe making a pun or something like that. At least a limerick.

And that's why, at long last in this post, I am going to give you the Five Best FUNNY Songs that Still Rock Pretty Hard, to show you that rock and roll doesn't always have to be serious as a heart attack to be good, and in hopes that someone, somewhere, will listen to these and say "Hey, those are good" and that maybe there'll be a little more fun music out there that I can listen to and sing along with and not feel a crushing burden of guilt when I do. So here they are, counting down to number one, the way all rock countdowns go.

5. "Peaches," Presidents of the United States Of America. Maybe people didn't get the name. Maybe people didn't like the fact that they were making fun of a group of people that, frankly, can stand to be made more fun of. Or maybe they just were confused by the imagery in the song "Peaches," but for whatever reason, the Presidents of the United States of America enjoyed only marginal fame despite the fact that if you listen to this song, it's impossible not to want to tap your foot to the music, and impossible not to get caught up the chanting chorus at the end. Millions of peaches, peaches for me... Look out, indeed:

4. "Ana Ng," They Might Be Giants. They Might Be Giants show what happens to bands that are too clever by half; they end up being treated as kid's bands, until ultimately they just shrug and go into making kids' music. If you're not going to be played on the radio but are so clever that you can come up with a song off the top of your head about sweeping your apartment, what else could you do?

But that doesn't change the fact that they could rock when they wanted to, as shown in this song, with its crazy imagery, complete with claims that people are upside down on the other side of the world:

3. "Aliens Exist," Blink 182. Blink 182 gets a bad rap.

Okay, no they don't. There really wasn't much to their music, or their band. They were like The Ramones if The Ramones were those one jerky kids in your high school that you hoped to God would end up living above the dry cleaners they assistant manage when they were 35, eating dinner off an ironing board: all they had were red guitars, three chords, and a snarky attitude that made them impossible to really like -- but they could put a great song together with a good sense of humor, like in this song about a guy getting abducted by aliens:

2. "Sheep Go To Heaven," Cake. It was kind of hard to choose any particular Cake song for this list -- all of Cake's songs seem to embody a strange sense of humor that makes me feel like I never quite get the joke, but I laugh anyway, just to not let people know how out of it I am. (I do that a lot. I also frequently make noncommittal comments in conversations, like "Oh, yeah, I know," because I don't really pay attention so I never know what you're talking about.)

And I don't know what Cake's talking about here, but I do know that this song is perfect for air guitar and makes me laugh.

1. "July 13, 1985," John Wesley Harding: What else could be the number one on this list, if not the only song that had the guts to make fun of the transformative moment in the "Rock As Serious Business" movement -- Live Aid? In a single song John Wesley Harding not only manages to point out the ridiculous parts of Live Aid, from the fact that it was an all-white festival of congratulations to the fact that nobody attending really helped anything to the impending sainthood of Bob Geldof (remember him?)

And it's catchy: