Sunday, January 30, 2011

WHODATHUNKIT?! The 3 Best Things You Want To Know About Super Bowl XLV:

Whodathunkit!?, a shared enterprise between The Best Of Everything and Nonsportsmanlike Conduct!, celebrates the momentous occasions in life by telling you not what everyone else is talking about, but what you really want to know. Let other people talk about the same old things, year after year -- the commercials, the on-field action, the hype, the crowds, the score... ho, hum... sigh, snore.

If you really want to be the life of the party -- or at least that person who's there but nobody's sure who invited them -- then you need Whodathunkit!?, the only blog post with the guts to look at those areas of major events that nobody else has thought to look at. And thanks to me, you don't have to do the legwork. Just read this post, then memorize it, and be prepared to recite it during the various breaks in the action during the big game. And don't worry: with only 11 actual minutes of football action in any televised football game, there'll be plenty of time to share such bon mots as:

1. Love is in the air at championships:
All those stories about how Dallas needs another 10,000 strippers to meet the demand for the Super Bowl? Not only is that story nothing new -- strippers flocked to Tampa before the Super Bowl there, and generally head to any city where the game is held -- but it's just a minor aspect of the overall atmosphere of romance that hovers over football championships. From college players proposing after bowl games to reporters trying to hook up with Tom Brady* during Super Bowl week:

There's just something about a bunch of sweaty men grabbing each other and throwing each other to the ground that screams romance. Right, Ben Roethlisberger?

Right! People in the past have tried to raise money to propose via Super Bowl commercial -- because what better way is there to let your fiancee know exactly where she'll rank in your life in the future? "Honey, I'm glad you said yes. Now shut up, because the second half is starting."

(That guy couldn't get people interested enough to buy time during the game, and had to settle for proposing via a commercial that aired during Veronica Mars. Let's hope the marriage lasted longer than the show.)

Sometimes people's romantic hopes don't pan out though -- like when Kim Kardashian breathlessly revealed to the world that if Reggie Bush's Saints got a Super Bowl ring for him, he'd get a wedding ring for her. 2011 rolls around with Reggie Bush having the ring (but not his Heisman Trophy) and Kim trying desperately to stay in the public eye by dating an NBA player.

There've been worse endings to Super Bowl romances. Take Albert Haynesworth, the erstwhile Redskin player. Back in May, Haynesworth was sued for $10 million by a stripper who said he'd gotten her pregnant and left her in the lurch:
Silvia Mena [described in the article as a "Salma Hayek lookalike"], 25, alleges Haynesworth, 28, met her in Miami, romanced her during Super Bowl week, and invited her to his Tennessee home. She claims in the documents that after learning about the pregnancy, Haynesworth promised to "emotionally and financially support Silvia." But, "after making such promises . . . Haynesworth has abandoned the pregnant Sylvia Mena . . . He has refused to provide any emotional or financial support of Silvia Mena or his unborn child."
(The two are shown in the picture alongside the heading for this section.)

Whatever your situation, just remember that Super Bowl parties are public events, and nobody likes PDAs:

Especially when they get in the way of the chips.

2. "A strange game. The only winning move is not to play."
Joshua/WOPR said that about tic-tac-toe/global thermonuclear war, and his primitive, straight-forward, not-yet-capable-of-winning-at-Jeopardy! computer brain was clearly wrong: You win in tic-tac-toe by taking a corner move first, and you win at global thermonuclear war by letting that one city way over on the left go and focusing on the two cities closest to you. (This lesson brought to you by the arcade version of Missile Command.)

But WOPR could have been talking about Super Bowl ads. With airtime going for upwards of whatever figure the media wants to make up today, it can be increasingly hard to justify blowing the annual ad budget on a 30-second commercial that, by now, must include each of the required elements of a Super Bowl ad:

(a) Cats
(b) Women in tight t-shirts.
(c) Betty White, at least until she dies.
(d) A twist ending
(e) More women in tight t-shirts.
(f) A cameo appearance from some reality show star you won't recognize.
(g) A Master Lock.

Seriously. Take a drink each time you see an ad featuring at least one of those things. If it features more than one, down your whole drink. If it features all of them, take Chad up on his dare to send a friend request to that hot girl you both knew in 11th grade, but do it while your wife is out of the room.

You know what's cheaper than airing an ad during the Super Bowl? Not airing one at all, and having the entire world run it for you in the week leading up to the game. That's the tactic taken by PETA and other groups in the past few years: Create an ad that's so provocative that the networks don't dare show it... during the Super Bowl. Instead, they'll show it on their news programs and talk shows, and it'll get front page treatment on HuffPo, Slate, and everywhere else people surf.

The strategy has become so common that there are articles about how common it is, and people are actively trying to come up with ads that'll be banned:

The banned Super Bowl strategy dates back to 2005, when Internet registry firm had its commercial yanked after running in only one of the two spots the advertiser had bought. That ad ended up generating some 2,700 news articles and blog posts, according to GoDaddy. It is, in many ways, the “1984” of the banned Super Bowl ad genre.
The following year's commercial was rejected 11 times. In 2008, it actually advertised during the game, promoting its previously rejected ad starring Danica Patrick. "It worked like a charm," reflects Bob Parsons, chief executive officer of GoDaddy.
The approach has spawned imitators, most notably infidelity dating site AshleyMadison. Unsurprisingly, this year Fox nixed AshleyMadison's ad, which features a porn actress and centers on workplace affairs. But the $120,000, in-house-produced video is a hit on YouTube, where it has 450,000 views and directs viewers to the AshleyMadison site for the “X-rated version.” There’s little doubt that a banned Super Bowl spot can lead to a short-term pop in attention and consideration. AshleyMadison two years ago had a Super Bowl spot rejected by NBC.
The spot, which cost $200,000, garnered over 1 million views on YouTube and attention from Larry King and others. Noel Biderman, CEO of AshleyMadison parent company Avid Life Media, said the buzz surrounding the rejected ad resulted in 100,000 new members—a $2 cost per acquisition, far below the $100 maximum it sets.

(Source.) This year's hot banned ad? Jesus Hates Obama:

An ad that, according to the article, was designed to be banned during the Super Bowl.

Most ads that get banned are knocked off the list for being too sexy. One, though, was rejected apparently for being in incredibly poor taste:

Sometimes I don't know why the rest of the world doesn't just come and punch us all in the throat.

3. Whether you'll have any money to buy the stuff in the ads depends on who wins the game... and not just because you bet February's mortgage payment on Green Bay. Stupid! They'll never cover the spread!

The "Super Bowl Indicator" is a longtime superstition that holds that if an "Old NFL" team wins the game, the market will go up the following year, while if an "Old AFL" team wins, the market is going to drop faster than Charlie Sheen's pants around porn stars.

[I made that joke hoping that this blog entry will be banned by the Super Bowl, and that it will then make me rich.]

Or, that's what one site says. That site -- -- claims that the predictor is 80% accurate (give or take a couple of percentages) but muddies up the water by noting that some "Old AFL" teams aren't exactly "Old AFL" teams; the Steelers, for example, were in the NFL before there was an AFL, and the Packers have always been an NFL team.

Which poses problems because the predictor would work only if you phrased it the right way -- kind of like a Magic 8-Ball, or the Congressional Budget Office. If, for example, you say The market will go up provided that an old-NFL team wins, then this year you're guaranteed to get the market going up, as both the Steelers and Packers are NFL teams through and through. But if you were to say the market goes down when an old-NFL team loses, then we're in for another 12 months, at least, of financial troubles, and probably looking at President Palin.

And neither of those formulations can work when the game pits a team that wasn't part of the old NFL or AFL, period. When Carolina or Tampa Bay make the Super Bowl, the Super Bowl Indicator has troubles working. And what can the Powers That Be make of the Baltimore Ravens? This article claims that Baltimore counts as an "old NFL" team because they used to be Cleveland -- but the NFL, remember, awarded NEW Cleveland all the old Cleveland records. So is Baltimore really Old NFL?

Discuss that amongst yourselves. I'm going to go watch all those banned super bowl ads. I've got a hankering for some shirtless Mickey Rooney.

More eerie than the idea that the Super Bowl might affect the market is the idea that television show writers might affect the Super Bowl -- or have the ability to almost predict the future.

Certain TV shows and movies have at times hinted at a future we can only (at the time) imagine -- such as Smart Guy predicting a Saints-Colts Super Bowl:

54-3? Smart Guy wasn't really good on how football games work, was he? That wasn't the only time pop culture accurately predicted the participants of a Super Bowl. I Am Legend forecast the Giants-Patriots* matchup by predicting (in a news crawl early in the movie) that the Giants would lose to the Patriots* for the second time in a season; since the teams are in different conferences, the only way they could play twice in one season is to meet in the Super Bowl.

Super Bowl predictions by pop culture tend to be close but no cigar -- no matter how far back they go or what the pedigree. Consider this prediction, by Nostradamus:

Four dawns past the inverted name of the beast shall arise a four eyed heir to the throne, name unpronounced, in favor of the god, the child. Twin brothers in celestial dispute, Mars at its zenith, shall defend the stronghold. The great son of apostle Peter lie in tandem with the 22nd man of the serpent, reign upon the battlefields as the Taylor waits patiently for his cloth. The Bear, Lion, Eagle, shall no longer be welcome, victory blood green to purple, the spoils of war earned.
That was interpreted to mean that the Vikings would win the Super Bowl. But it's all in the interpretation, I guess -- as this clip was promoted as having foreseen, back in 2005, Tiger Woods' affairs:

Did they know something we, and Elin Woods, didn't? And would that have been bigger news if that show hadn't sucked so badly?

All signs point to yes.

Click here to read more posts like this one.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

UPDATE: Seriously, how much more right-er can I be?

After tooting my own horn this morning about how right I was that all we do, as a society, is make references to Star Wars, I then saw this promo for Justified, which not only did the trick (it made me tell Sweetie "We should watch that show") but also again proved that I'm absolutely, 100% right: We need to expand our referencing beyond Star Wars because we are coming dangerously close to a time when we will have no choice but to reference references to Star Wars, and that, I'm pretty sure, is what the Mayans knew would happen in December 2012.

Read the original post, The Four Best Cultural References You Should Slip Into Conversation Today, here.

UPDATE: The controversy over The Best Olsen Twin Rages On.

Almost four years ago, I posted The Best Olsen Twin, in which I discussed why (a) Ashley is The Best Olsen Twin, and (b) why I can prove scientifically that they are identical twins. That post was removed -- it'll appear in my upcoming book Up Was Macaroni -- but it remains controversial, as noted by this comment left this week:

Honestly, I think that MK is an amazing actress and she is beautiful. I think they are both amazing girls and she shouldn't get judged for her "style" or her role in movies. These two amazing beautiful lady's have accomplished a lot in their life and I think they are both just as amazing and talented as the other. They are different so what that doesn't mean that you have to the right to judge them and say the other is better.
I get upset because you don't know either of them personally, you only know what the media tells you or what you see in a magazine half of that isn't even true. So, never judge someone you don't know. You really have no right too.

I did respond to one commenter on the post, here.

UPDATES: I was right, and then I was even righter. Of course.

A long time ago, I did an in-depth investigative piece in which I determined who was The Best Worst Villain Ever, doing so through a series of posts (5, total) that narrowed down villains until only one was left standing. In doing so, I commented (in part five, in which I reviewed the goals of villains) on how some goals are not actually ones that should be pursued, saying this:

That's Mangog, and his goal, as the living embodiment of the hatred contained in a billion billion people, was to draw the sword of Odin from its scabbard -- which would have resulted in the end of the universe.

The whole universe. All of it. Even platypusses. Platypi. Whatever.

Do you see a problem with that goal? Because I sure do: what's going to happen to Mangog? Isn't he going to die, too? If the whole universe goes?
Of course he is.

As noted philosopher Louis C.K. said, "Things that are not can't be, because
then nothing wouldn't be. You can't have ... nothing isn't and everything is."

(The whole post is here.)(And if you go read it you'll both be entertained AND understand that platypi reference.)

I bring that up because last week's Wonderella echoed that philosophy:

And if the best superhero comic around agrees with me, then you know I was right.

, on to me being right-er than that. Not very long ago I pointed out that every single reference people made in our culture -- and our culture consists solely of referencing things now, as this post proves -- was a reference to Star Wars.

Not long after posting that seemingly-random thought, I was alerted to the existence of this:

That was the cover of a New York Post special section on the Jets-Patriots* playoff game two weeks ago. Star Wars was released in 1977. I don't know how many movies are released in the US each year, so I'll just guess and say a lot. Using some math, that's a lot x 33 years, which gives you a rough estimate of how many movies there were for the New York Post to choose from for its parody. But they went with Star Wars, because when it comes to being right, nobody is right-er than me.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

UPDATE on The Best Choral Versions of Pop Songs: The world just keeps realizing how right I always am.

A while back -- well, almost three years ago -- I posted "The Best Choral Version of A Pop Song," in which I posited two ideas:

1. Nirvana was the (so-far culturally overrated) equivalent of the Bee Gees, and

2. Choral version of pop songs are great.

A while after that -- about a year ago -- a reader nominated "PS 22" as "the greatest kids choir in the world," and now today I've learned that P.S. 22 is all set to upstage James Franco and what's-her-name, the girl nobody cares about, at the Academy Awards, according to HuffPo.

Here's the kids doing "Lisztomania," by Phoenix; I picked this song to show you what a hipster I am:

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Whodathunkit!?: The 2010 Year in Bests: Music

I am really making an effort to finish the 2010 Year In Bests before 2011 is finished, so I appreciate your patience on this. So, for the next installment of

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'll just dive right in without the usual lengthy preliminaries, and look at

What Everybody Else Said: When a category is as broad as I make them -- music, as opposed to songs or groups or things that people call music but aren't really, like anything Taylor Swift sang, it's hard to then say what everybody else said, because it's like saying "what did everybody else say about everything that could vaguely be music related," which, if you're being all-inclusive, would have to include what everybody else said about Dick Van Dyke's singing group, the "Vantastix," a name that's kind of awkward because it reads like it should be pronounced Vanta - Sticks, but it's supposed to rhyme with fantastics.

Dick Van Dyke has a singing group, and they performed for Obama and everything, but I bet tat you wouldn't find the Vantastix on any "Best Of" list from 2010. I'm not sure why that is. It may be that the critics confused "Vantastix" with the Fanta Girls. Or it may be that the critics, like me, thought that Dick Van Dyke was dead, and so they never thought to put him on their lists,

If that latter one is the reason, then maybe those critics should do what I do, which is to download the weekly podcast of Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me from NPR radio, because if they'd done that they'd have heard Dick Van Dyke on there as a guest, singing the words to the old Dick Van Dyke show theme:

And then they'd know he's not dead, and might have put him on their Best Of lists, instead of who they DID put on their best of lists. Which is... um... I don't know, because the only Best Of list I read for music prior to posting this was Stephen King's column for Entertainment Weekly, and he did that back in November. Plus, he had an annoying habit of referring to himself as Uncle Stevie, and I never got that, at all. Did anyone else ever call him Uncle Stevie?

Nicknames don't work... ever... if you give them to yourself. Self-given nicknames always... always... sound like child molester titles.

So to find out what everyone else actually is saying was The Best In Music, 2010, I googled the phrase "The Best In Music 2010" and got three sites that seemed to answer my query. (I actually got 1.3 million sites, but I'm not going to read all of them. So I picked three.)

A site called "AOL Radio Blog" posted the top 10 songs of 2010, and I think it's kind of charming that AOL is still out there pretending to be a thing and all -- like MySpace, only with fewer cleavage photos posted by goth 15-year-olds. Was anyone ever on AOL? Excluding Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, of course?

Anyway, you'd expect anything with "AOL" in the title to feature the best of 1998, but that's not the case, as this "AOL" features the best of 2010, and picked as its best of 2010 the song "California Gurls" by Katy Perry:

In doing so, AOL bravely ignored the fact that by spelling the word "Gurls" the song began its existence on the other side of the shark. And should I point out that fully 2/3 of the songs Katy Perry has released rip off the ideas and titles of other, better songs? No, I should not, because the kids don't care.

Talk about jumping the gun -- if I thought most "Best Of" lists were posted early (and I do), then it's because I hadn't yet seen NPR's "2010's Best Music (So Far)", posted way back in June. I guess doing it that way ensures that you won't overlook songs released back in January or February of 2010 when compiling your list.

That's why studios that want their movies to be considered for Academy Awards try to release them at the end of the year, right? Because it's hard to think back over a whole year.

Before I reviewed the NPR list I was pretty sure that the top songs would be something like Chilean Harp Mash-Ups or somesuch.

But instead, I saw that the NPR listeners had picked "Plastic Beach," by Gorillaz:

Which I then realized was the second song in this post to feature Snoop Dogg.

Then I found a site called "Metacritic," which had compiled all the critics' lists and had put up a list of what the critics thought was The Best Album of 2010, devising a complicated scoring system for no reason whatsoever. The list itself notes how many critics picked the album as number one, and number 2, and number 3-10, and so on, and since the only thing that counts is number one votes -- this isn't the AP college poll, after all, and people should not continue to insist that not winning somehow counts as winning -- a phenomenon I've railed against before -- and by the only standard that counts (how many people thought you were The Best), the clear winner according to critics was Kanye West's "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy."

Here's a track from that album.

Whew! How long until New South Books gets around to Bowdlerizing that?

Why I Assume They All Said That:
I've got a theory. As you'd expect. And the theory is that, having elevated Katy Perry and Kanye West to great heights of fame when both of them attracted the public's attention for things other than music -- Katy Perry for latching onto lesbianism the way Anne Heche did before her as a career boost, and Kanye for making Taylor Swift a star -- the critics are now embarrassed and have to pretend that the music these two are making is somehow better than the rest of the music that surrounds them.

Which it's not. It's not that those are terrible songs. They're not. They're just not great songs, either. If they were the best of 2010, then 2010 was a really mediocre year for music. But I don't think that it was. I think that the reason people might think that 2010's music was mediocre is because they were stuck listening to derivative songs that add nothing new or interesting to the world.

What I Assumed They'd All Say:
I guess that. I remember when Kanye West's album came out, and all the critics went nuts about it, raving about everything from the cover art to the passion behind the music, so it was kind of a foregone conclusion that it would make a lot of Best Of lists at the end of the year.

As for Katy Perry, it was just her boobs.

What They All Should Have Said, Instead: I started writing this yesterday and originally when I began this post I was going to say Slow Club:

But then, yesterday, I had to stop writing the post and instead go do other stuff, so now, 24 hours later, I'm sitting and thinking about the music again and I realized that I'm not much better than the other people who write Best Of lists. (Note: I said "not much better than." I'm still better than them.)

I was going to pick Slow Club because they were the first thing that popped into my head when I thought to myself What was the best music I heard in 2010, and the first thing that pops into my head is usually the right answer, unless the question is Who's portrait is on the dime?

True story: The other day, I was talking to two people at work, and a third guy came up and asked us that question. He said "Who's on the dime?" and all three of the people he asked said, simultaneously, "Eisenhower."

Which is not true. It's Roosevelt, which we all didn't realize until the guy who'd asked the questioning told us we were wrong, and we insisted we were right, and then somebody looked it up on the Internet, after which we all agreed that the dime sure looked like Eisenhower.

Only it doesn't, really.

Which is all a long-winded, dime-related way of saying that I, too, can fail to remember things and might not think back over a whole year, accurately, especially since I have trouble remembering to pick up my car keys when I'm heading to the car, so that sometimes I end up standing outside my car without my keys, which are back on the kitchen counter, and so it's not always the case that the first thing that pops into my head is correct, because maybe I'd misremembered something or forgotten something.

Something like Titus Andronicus, who released an album called The Monitor this past year -- an album that's described as "sort of" a concept album about the Civil War, and which featured this song, which I love:

I didn't even remember that album until I saw it on that Metacritic list -- it came in at 11, getting no first place votes -- but once I remembered it I remembered how much I liked it, and so I changed my mind and decided that I'd give Titus Andronicus the title of Best Music of 2010...

... only now I've changed it again, because here's the thing: If I didn't remember that album, but I did remember Slow Club, and if the very first thing I thought about when I thought of the best music of last year was Slow Club, and if I have a station on Pandora called Slow Club and not one called Titus Andronicus, then shouldn't that be the best of 2010 -- the music that stuck in my head so firmly that it was the first thing I thought of when I thought of this category.

You bet it should. Slow Club made The Best Music Of 2010.

Previous Entries From The Year In Bests:

The Best Movie of 2010.

The Best Celebrity Story of 2010.

The Best Book I Read In 2010

The Best Short Stories Of 2010

The Best Food of 2010.

The Best Kids' Stuff of 2010.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Star Wars References: Table Of Contents

Page down for a list of all the posts here on TBOE that make a reference to Star Wars, as well as everything in the real world that does, too. And don't forget to look at "Darthmatic Chipmunk."

Because that exists:

"Looking like a badass bounty hunter is pretty cool."

Stephen Colbert gives a THREEFER of a reference.

The single most obscure Star Wars Reference EVER.

The "Dark Vador" Burger and its giant balloon counterpart.

Herman Cain is SOOOOO Not a Jedi!

I'm going to build a Han out of SOLO Cups.

How else are you going to sell a movie?

Jon Stewart knows that Western Civilization stands on Star Wars ground.

This would be the God Particle Of The Star Wars Universe

This post is totally Lando.

Why do Padres' pitchers wear a Yoda backpack?

What did Lando Calrissian smell like?

Of Anthony Weiner's "light saber."

Neither cats nor photographers are 'artists', but they still have to make references to Star Wars.

Stieg Larsson probably put a Star Wars reference into his books, only I'm too bored to read them.

"I swear on my future children..." Guess what names come next?

You'll have to take my word for it on this one, because photographs don't come with sound.

Star Wars Day(s): Because we needed a holiday that didn't celebrate "presidents" or other "people who accomplished things."

At least he was wearing a good v-neck. Still, Tosh could use to expand his movie reference horizons.

Han Solo took a shortcut? (And update on that.)

Nothing good can come of this: A parody of a parody?

Maybe Lady GaGa is planning on turning herself into a Tusken Raider?

Star Wars Uncut: This was the ONLY movie you could have done this with?

Stephen Colbert's almost-subliminal choice of a running mate?

Friends don't let friends make "Star Wars" references. The more you know...

Jungian Slip: The New Yorker appeals to us commoners with a Star Wars reference.

That WAS the droid you were looking for: A double-dose of referencin'.

30 Rock would really like your attention, please.

Star Wars Playground.

Toaster doesn't require Force powers to operate.

Of all the scores that have won an Oscar, guess which one led the medley?

The Force is with them, but that doesn't count for much in legislation.'s Tonight I'm Frakkin' You.

XKCD finds XKCD's lack of originality disturbing?

Volkswagen Super Bowl commercial: The Force.

Batman X Star Wars; Steelers' fans.

The Best Stupid Questions About Star Wars (and the Internet Sites They Lead To)

Justified: Season 2 Trailer.

The Four Best Cultural References You Should Slip Into Conversation Today (Instead of Star Wars)

WHODATHUNKIT!? The 2010 Year In Bests: Celebrities.

The future has arrived, and it has a stupid name (The Best Underrated Instruments, 7)

The Best Song That Are Catchy and Impossible To Get Out Of Your Head.

The Best Worst Villain, Ever.

The Six Best Superheroes (Reader Nomination!)

The Ten Best Movie Villains, According To The Boy (And Some Man Walks Into A Bar Jokes!)

The Best Star Wars Movie.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Four Best Cultural References You Should Slip Into Conversation Today.

It's a SemiDaily List!

Over on Thinking The Lions, I managed to take XKCD's reference to the nearly-forgotten boardgame Risk and transfer it to my own reference to the nearly-forgotten poster "Building A Rainbow", and doing that got me thinking.

Specifically, what it got me thinking is "Why can't I do stuff like that for a living, make cultural references and dumb jokes rather than what I actually do for a living, which is sit down and draft up pages and pages of "Findings of Fact."? (Oh, and I also do these things, but those are rare interludes of ridiculousness that almost never overtake the tedium.)

Cultural references are all the rage, after all: They're quick ways to establish how hip you are (or how hip you were desperately trying to be in the few moments of fame you'd have before becoming an afterthought) and they can establish a connection with your fans almost instantly, along the lines of Hey, [that famous person] likes that thing that I, too, like!

Which is why guys like Tracy Morgan try to use cultural references: mired in a show that nobody watches -- I defy you to find me a single person who routinely watches 30 Rock and who isn't related to somebody on that show -- and generally remembered as "that one guy who's never funny," Morgan (and people like him) will latch on to cultural references to try to establish a link between them and the public.

The problem is that over the years, our cultural references have become narrower and narrower; our society is increasingly forgetting about all the things we've done in the past, and therefore forgetting that we can make references to all those things we've done in the past as a lazy/ironic way of commenting on those things we're doing now (or, in the alternative, as a lazy/ironic way of getting out of writing a script for this week's Family Guy episode.)

In fact, as our society has continued to evolve (assuming we're evolving, which is not a given, if you've looked at our society and/or Congress lately), we've become more and more narrow and regressive in how we express ourself and our view on culture and the references we use. For most of human history, our society was content to create new things: We came up with Magna Carta (whatever that is) and the French Revolution and pretended that manatees were mermaids and invented Beowulf and had Christopher Marlowe write all those plays under the nom de plume "Shakespeare" and things generally moved forward, culture-wise, for humanity (with a brief regression when we invented opera, but, luckily, most people immediately started to ignore opera with a ferocity that wouldn't be equaled until people ignored 30 Rock.)

After that burst of creativity, which I'll label, for convenience's sake "The entire course of human history prior to 1994," humanity then settled down and apparently decided not to make anything new, ever again, and to simply start remaking everything we'd ever made, only this time we'd put Owen Wilson in there.

That era, the Remake Era, lasted about 10 years, until the Internet really took off, and we entered the current era, which for convenience's sake I'll call The Current Era, and which is marked by humanity not bothering to remake all the old stuff anymore, but simply to mention it... or reference it, if you will.

So instead of having Drew Barrymore in Charlie's Angels, we nowadays simply make a reference to Charlie's Angels and call it a day (and, in the case of Seth MacFarlane, go cash our $10,000,000 weekly paycheck.)

Which would be fine, except that (a) it's not fine, because people who generally try to be creative keep getting shot down by people who point out to them that society doesn't want creativity anymore, we just want Snooki to rewrite one of those H Is For Hot detective novels that for a brief time were available at the grocery store checkouts back when people pretended that members of society read books, and (b) as we've gone on, our cultural references have gotten narrower and narrower until we reached the point we've reached now, which I will, for the sake of convenience, call Now, and that point is this:

Every cultural reference we make is, essentially, about Star Wars.

That Tracy Morgan link above highlights and demonstrates the problem, and the problem is that everything we say or do or think really seems to just be about Star Wars nowadays. That's become the one thing people relate everything else to, it seems, the one thing that we can mention and be sure that everyone will get the joke on -- and it's so ubiquitous nowadays that if you Google the phrase "talks about Star Wars" you'll get 56,100 results featuring people from Kevin Smith to Chris Lee to Seth Green talking about Star Wars. And if you investigate those links further, you'll see how bad it gets: There's a site, for example, called "Who Celebs Tweet" and that site has a skewed view of who a "celebrity" is, because it mentions a guy named "Chris Carrabba," a person I've never heard of but who apparently talks about Star Wars at least three times a week... so that site both proves the point I'm making here and the point I made here about celebrity being dead, and also made me wonder who Chris Carrabba was, or is. So I googled him, and found out that...

...he's the lead singer of something called Dashboard Confessional. And he's up to something, as shown by this cryptic tweet from December 14, 2010:
Mark it 8, dude.

No doubt that means something to Dashboard Confessional's fan.

The problem runs both deep and wide: for every Tracy Morgan clinging to relevance by making Star Wars jokes, there's a group of college kids trying to make Admiral Ackbar their school mascot. So how can we get out of the rut that modern day-discourse, as exemplified by Chris Carrabba, is stuck in?

Simple: As usual, I've risen to the task and come up with some new cultural references -- new in the sense that you haven't used them before, not new in the sense of, you know, being new -- for you to sprinkle into conversation, use as Tweets, headline the front page of the New York Times with, etc. and so on. And here they are, in no particular order. Even though I numbered them. The numbers simply show the order in which I typed them. So they're in numerical order, but that doesn't really signify anything. Don't get hung up on it.

Remember, the goal of these is to spice up conversation and mark common ground you have with those people around you -- while not requiring you to actually think creatively and/or konw anything about the subject. So you should sprinkle these into conversation and/or base a mash-up book on them, but under no circumstances should you use these to be creative. If you wanted to be creative, you should've lived before 1994.

1. "Thank you Jim, says Captain Me." This quote ends the poem Pirate Captain Jim, by Shel Silverstein, from the only book of poetry any American ever read all the way through, Where The Sidewalk Ends.

Use In Society: It's got multiple uses. You could use it to thank someone -- so when you go get your half-cup of soup with baguette at the local Panera, and they thank you, you could say, "No, thank you Jim, says Captain Me," which serves both to emphasize that you and the cashier have both read that book, and that you're secretly feeling superior to the cashier because he's just a cashier, while you have a Bachelor's in English and maybe you're between jobs but at least you're not punching buttons all day for $7.50 an hour.

You could also use it to end conversations with people at work -- making it especially useful for people who are bosses or who are just bossy and want to emphasize that they're in charge.

Special Hidden Meaning: Many of our cultural references to Star Wars are meant not just to convey the only common ground that we have with each other anymore -- that common ground being we've all seen the Star Wars movies -- but also to emphasize that we're kind of snarkily smart, too -- so we make inside jokes about it or claim that Darth Maul didn't really have to die or otherwise show that we not only know the material we're referencing, but we know it so well that we actually understand it a little better than the other person does. So references with a special hidden meaning are the best because we get to enjoy that meaning even if the other person doesn't get it.

And Captain Me has a special hidden meaning. If you remember the poem:

You'll remember that Captain Jim keeps trying to get the poet to do stuff, and the poet can't do anything he's asked, so he ends up being the captain, which seems smart because now he's in charge, but it's also a hidden insult to those in charge -- that they can't do anything, which is why they must be the leader.

So if you use Captain Me properly, you'll use it ironically and as a backhanded insult: When your boss tells you to do something, and you agree to do it because you have to -- that being the nature of a job -- and he/she says Thanks because he/she is trying to make it seem like he doesn't have you in his/her total control because you need that job, even if it is only working at Panera, then you can mutter, under your breath to your coworker, "Thank you Jim, Says Captain Me" as a way of demonstrating that you all know your boss is only Captain because he/she couldn't actually do anything productive.

2. Sluggo. Is Nancy still around? Ever since my call for a Black-Friday Themed Holiday Cartoon starring Nancy, I've been waiting for a wave of Nancy fever to sweep over the U.S., if not the world (and also for my royalty checks, as I'm sure that just coming up with an idea entitles me to some money, doesn't it?)

Assuming Nancy is still around, then it's high time that we started referencing that strip, and doing so in the best possible way: by referencing a supporting character in that strip, to show that we're really in the know about the strip. After all, all the best references to Star Wars don't talk about Luke and Han; they talk about IG-88. Because it's cool to know too much about an obscure topic.

Use In Society: The problem is, I don't really know anything about Sluggo. So I'd start with Just call people Sluggo. When someone at work makes a suggestion, like "Let's all order pizza today," you can say "Good idea, Sluggo," and everyone will laugh and shake their heads like they get it, because they'll be too afraid to say "Why'd you call Jim 'Sluggo?'" in case you give them a withering look and say "Get back to the cash register, that guy wants a half-cup of soup and a baguette."

Secret Hidden Meaning: Again, I'm hampered by the fact that I remember nothing about Sluggo. Which I guess makes him the perfect empty vessel for us to use in referencing. If I know nothing about him, then it's a safe bet that nobody knows anything about him. So you can call anyone Sluggo and have it work -- so those of us in the know will have this second level of meaning, in which we'll use Sluggo to actually mean an empty vessel which can serve almost any purpose.

Example: Those tea partiers are putting all their faith in John Boehner to actually do what they hope to do, but he's really just a Sluggo.

3. The stories and poems of Geoffrey Chaucer. This might seem like an odd choice for me to promote, given my well-known stance that The Canterbury Tales are dreck and should not be taught, so let me say this: I still think The Canterbury Tales are dreck and should not be taught. I'm not actually advocating reading anything by Chaucer. I'm advocating making references to Chaucer. And here's why: Among a certain subset of Star-Wars-references are those refernces which claim that Star Wars was actually based on, or related to, or otherwise had a connection to, the films of Akira Kurosawa.

Now, I don't know who Akira Kurosawa was or whether he was even a real person, and I doubt anyone else does, either. What I do know is that if you're going to have cultural references, a certain amount of those references must allow people to be elitist, and that's what the whole "Akira Kurosawa" thing does for Star Wars: it lets people pretend to be smart even though they're talking about pop culture. By making reference to a Japanese film maker (if that's who Kurosawa was, and if he existed), people get to feel as though they are smarter than you -- because you just liked the movies for Princess Leia's metal bikini, whereas they liked it because blah blah blah cinematography.

Use In Society: Whatever someone talks about, simply say "You know, that story/song/powerpoint presentation had its origins in the poetry of Geoffrey Chaucer." Let them prove you wrong. Nobody's ever read any of the stuff Chaucer wrote, and nobody ever will.

Secret Hidden Meaning: The secret hidden meaning is the use in society, as well -- the whole point is to pretend that you're smarter than someone else by bluffing them, and avoiding the fact that you've clicked on Leia's Metal Bikini picture 173 times that day alone.

4. Big Jim vs. The 6 Million Dollar Man:
Any good cultural reference will not just serve as a reminder that we all once saw that one thing, but will also spark what passes for intellectual debate in our current "society." Why spend our time actually discussing whether a country that can pay $44 million to a 22-year-old football player should be able to provide basic health care for children, when we can debate which was more of an affront to our sensibilities, Ewoks or Jar Jar?

The problem is, that debate's long since been settled: the whole thing doesn't matter, now get back to work. Which clearly isn't going to happen: We're not going to get back to work, or actually have debates about any issue beyond this:

Candidate 1: "I'm for creating jobs!"

Candidate 2: "But I'm more for creating jobs!"

Which doesn't get us any further than people laughing about Misa Sorry Mr Jedi. So if we're going to just keep going round and round about dumb topics, let's sub in a different dumb topic -- that of which 1970s' doll was actually a lamer toy to play with, the Big Jim dolls or the Six Million Dollar Man dolls?

Use In Society: Use it to distract people from ever, ever thinking. It's way more effective than Jobs or Blood Libel or Obama's War In Afghanistan, because it diverts people away from scary topics like "My god, who did we actually vote for and what's that bill they're trying to pass now" and onto things that are fun and meaningless. Whenever things get tense - -whenever your boss says "Where's that brief you were supposed to file by noon today only you spent your morning blogging?" or a reporter says "Do you think that by putting gunsights on pictures and using the word to reload you bear some responsibility for people then shooting the targets you told them to shoot?" you can just say:

"I bet you thought that magnifying eye was cooler than Big Jim's action jeep."

To which the person will likely say: "No way! The eye was dumb -- you had to stop what you were doing and hold the doll up to your head and even then it just made things look farther away, plus the Karate Chop action was lame," and you're off-topic and home free.

Secret Hidden Meaning: Both Big Jim and Steve Austin were dolls -- they were released before "action figures" became a common phrase. So if you get people to admit they played with them, you're subverting the standard gender roles, or something or other. Whatever. You get to feel superior.

Now get out there and start referencin', you bunch of Sluggos!

Update: The New York Post proves me right.

Update, 2: Justified commercial proves me right-er.

Update, 3: Bat-Wars, and Steeler Stormtroopers.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Whodathunkit!? Whodathunkit!?: The 2010 Year In Bests: Kid's Stuff.

I'm a little behind on these, on account of my laptop at home (where I try to do most of this) is subject to some horrible virus that interferes with using the Internet, probably because it's emailing my passwords and financial information to everyone in the world, or at least everyone in Nigeria, but the jokes on them because anyone who steals
my identity not only needs to deal with the roughly $2 billion I owe in student loans, but is also going to have to shovel my driveway. That's how it works.

Anyway, we're only just 12 days into the new year, so it's not too late to keep looking back poignantly at the
old year, and I'm doing so via the series of posts I call


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.

Dramatic, right? We're up to Kids' Stuff, and as usual, I begin with what everyone else was saying was the Best of Kids' Stuff last year, and I'm doing that because even though I have a couple of 4-year-olds, I don't really know what was hot for kids last year, as in our house, what was hot for kids were toy trains and the Crash Nebula episode of Fairly Oddparents where they told Crash Nebula's origin.

What Everyone Else Said was the hot kids' stuff for 2010 ought to be instructive to me, only it's not. It's depressing, because it points out just how underserved the younger generation is.

This is
not one of those posts that complains that kids these days are all about videogames and how when I was a kid we used to get outside and do stuff, like play guns or go inner tubing down the Bark River in Hartland. True, I did those things, but only because my mom wouldn't let us sit inside and play video games, and when she did let us sit inside and play video games, they looked like this:

Which was an
actual game that I loved, but, let's face it, it was no Plants vs. Zombies.

No, I'm depressed because when I look at what other people thought was the Best Kids' Stuff of 2010, I realize just how
lame or stupid other parents are, and thus how lame or stupid their kids will turn out to be -- or are already. And those kids will be playing with my kids, which means you're making my job harder.

I mean, seriously: The Justin Bieber Singing Doll (with apparently melting face?) was one of the hot toys for 2010? A remote-control Bigfoot that can throw a ball? Those are
fun? I think not -- and I'm an expert on fun, with a degree in funology.

Books were no better. While they're a little advanced for my kids, I did keep track of the
Young Adult books that came out. Not because I want to, but because pretty much every single book released in 2010 was described as Young Adult -- in at least some cases, erroneously described that way simply to increase sales. Because of that, and because Entertainment Weekly, my primary source of pop culture news (after The Soup!) was enthralled with young adult books last year, I am up to speed on an area of literature that I don't want to be up to speed on, and because I am involuntarily familiar with that area of bookery, I also know that 100% of all young adult books dealt with teenagers in postapocalyptic futures dominated by overbearing governments -- teenagers who had to fall in love and/or shoot someone just to get through their day, but had to do so while wandering through the irradiated/poisonous/possibly made of crystal forests that dominate all postapocalyptic teenage landscapes.

Which I suppose is okay, because
everything is an apocalypse to teenagers, so everything they do is post-apocalypse, and also, reading about a future in which their government tortures people and starves them for fun and entertainment will prepare them for the Boeher/Palin era their idiotic parents voted them into, so in a way those books are training manuals, making it okay that Hunger Games and other books that ought, in fairness, to be called "Also Hunger Games But With Even Trendier Names For The Characters" were tops on the "YA" book lists for 2010, and, also, anything -- anything-- that gets rid of zombies and vampires is okay by me.

Movies are no better. While
Toy Story 3 rightly topped the list of kids' movies last year, everything below that movie was a piece of dreck designed simply to let parents park their kids in a theater for two hours while they (the parents) played Angry Birds in the lobby.

Well, not
everything. Despicable Me was underrated by critics, I thought. But The Karate Kid? Really? It's not enough that the Baby Boomers won't let go of their past, now Gen-Xers have to cling to the 80s like grim death, too, and bring their kids into it?

Let me make this clear, parents:
Your kids don't like your stuff. They just don't. You liked your stuff, and that was fine. But your kids don't. They like their stuff, and their stuff is not The Karate Kid because they don't remember Ralph Macchio and the Cobra Kai and they weren't 11 back in the 80s when it came out. Their stuff is postapocalyptic crystal forests stalked by girls armed with crossbows falling in love with boys named "Kellan." Just deal with it.

So we had two good kids' movies -- and maybe a third, because I haven't seen
How To Train Your Dragon yet because Mr Bunches is hooked on Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch has a glitch and won't let anyone else watch anything else, and also because I've been playing Angry Birds a bit, so I haven't been pushing Dragon much.

And that's what it boils down to: Last year, the best the world -- which we parents create -- had to offer our kids was Justin Bieber dolls, postapocalyptic wastelands, and some toys nearly dying. Also, we taught them that some bad guys are not
really bad guys, they're just good guys waiting to learn that they're good, and that kids can teach the not-really-bad-guys how to be good, which, if you think about it, is a really dangerous lesson to be teaching our kids now, because the real bad guys are not secretly loveable; the real bad guys are just waiting for their minions to blow the head off a 9-year-old so they can go on collecting insurance company money.

Why I Assume They All Said That: Everyone thinks that junk and crappy movies are great for kids because everyone but me doesn't actually pay attention to their kids.

That's what
I assume. When you give your kids toys, or take them to a movie, or buy them a book, are you really looking at what it is they're getting/seeing/doing? Or are you just buying yourself some time to play Angry Birds or practice Guitar Hero, a game that no adult should be playing anyway because it's a ridiculous game and also if you're that into music, just take up an instrument.

If you
are looking at the stuff you're giving your kids, then I'm alarmed -- moreso than usual-- for our future because it means you're voluntarily and knowingly giving kids this junk. So I opt to assume that you're just getting whatever it is that EW and the Sunday newspaper said to get your kids and continuing to not pay attention to them.

Kids don't deserve better than "
yet another knockoff story that's more or less the same as the knockoff story they just read," right? Kids aren't interested in seeing a movie with an original plot line and well-developed themes and characters -- not when they can see Shrek fart, right? Kids aren't interested in playing with toys that don't mimic the pop stars they see on MTV (do they see them on MTV? Does anyone see anything on MTV.) Right?

That's what you parents believe -- or that's what I have to believe about you, anyway, because I don't want to think anyone's picking this stuff up on purpose.

What I Assumed They'd All Say: Pretty much what they did say.

What They All Should Have Said: Only a few people got it right: Toy Story 3. What could have been a cynical exercise in marketing to teens and younger kids (or their parents) all along turned out not to be.

A movie based on toys should naturally be a marketing tie-in, and Toy Story 3 (along with its predecessors) didn't disappoint in that regard: this year, for the first time, kids had a variety of different Woodys and Buzzes to choose from, along with pretty much every other toy that appeared in the movies, in any kind of setting you can imagine. (We got Mr Bunches a Lego set that let him recreate the magic of the Pizza Planet truck stopping at the gas station in the first movie.)

But along the way, someone forgot to tell Pixar to pander. I watched Toy Story 3 -- three times, as it turned out -- and didn't see a single fart joke, or too-hip/too-modern reference to something that would immediately feel dated. I didn't see any inside jokes aimed at Hollywood big shots or knowing parents. I didn't see weird accents or unnecessary musical montages set to Smash Mouth or anything that would create an obvious sound track or spinoff or anything like that.

Instead, I saw a movie that actually drew me in and made me forget I was watching a movie -- let alone a cartoon about toys -- and made me care about what happened next while also making me think about how my life mirrored, or did not, the events in the movie. I saw a movie that made me think, and it wasn't Inception (which I liked, too, but that's not the point) or any other adult movie. It was a kids movie that, in 2010, had the most emotion packed into it and some of the largest themes -- moving on, growing up, friendship, the ties that keep people in touch (or not), how we interact with our world, and more.

Toy Story 3 didn't need all that heady stuff; it would have worked just fine if it had kept on the same fun-but-frivolous level of the first movie. But the makers of Toy Story 3 didn't want to just occupy kids, or take their parents money. They wanted to entertain kids, and their parents, and give them something to remember.

They achieved their goal.

Previous Entries From The Year In Bests:

The Best Celebrity Story of 2010.

The Best Book I Read In 2010

The Best Short Stories Of 2010

The Best Food of 2010.