Wednesday, June 29, 2011

YO! Adrian! (Off The Top Of My Head)

This week, one of the people I follow on Twitter -- This American Life-featured Dad Joshua Karpati (@jkarpati) -- sent me a link to watch a portion of Goodfellas that played off my telling him he was funny.

And I watched it, because I'll watch almost any video link you send me.

(Almost any.)

Then I got to thinking about how I never saw Goodfellas, which is a movie everyone else seems to have seen, which led me to the

Off The Top Of My Head List of The Best (?) Movies Everyone But Me Seems To Have Seen:

1. Goodfellas.
2. Citizen Kane.
3. Godfather Part II
4. The original Halloween.
5. The original Friday the 13th.
6. The Outlaw Josey Wales.
7. The Magnificent Seven.
8. Gone With The Wind.
9. The Hustler.
10. Casablanca
11. It's a Wonderful Life
12. Raging Bull
13. Apocalypse Now
14. Any Rocky movie.
15. Any Rambo movie.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Best Songs In Which The Solution To Your Problems Is To DANCE! (SemiDaily List.)

Apropos of nothing, I'm feeling dance-y. Not that I'm actually dancing right now; it's 6:52 a.m. and I'm sitting at my desk drinking Mountain Dew because I forgot to tell Sweetie to get coffee when she went grocery shopping, and I feel guilty if I actually take a whole can of coffee from the office, so my home is currently sans coffee right now, which isn't the reason I'm not dancing.

I'm not dancing because I'm typing. But maybe if I danced, it would alleviate the effects of not having any coffee?

As an aside, people make a lot of jokes about pilfering from the office -- King Missile made a whole song about it, a song that really has nothing to do with dancing but which I'll post here anyway, 'cause what are you going to do about it? Report me to Blog Command?

Please don't report me to Blog Command. I can't take another Instruction.

So taking stuff from work is wrong? Or is it? I can drink all the coffee I want to at work; I can refill my cup for free millions of times if I want, drinking all their coffee in a single day if I'm capable of it... but I can't take it home?

What if I took one of the cans of coffee home, but never drank coffee at work again? Would that be fair?

In other taking stuff from work news, you'd think the movie studio Pixar would be a fun place to work, but you'd be wrong because, as pointed out in this New Yorker story,

1. Buzz Lightyear and Nemo do not actually work there.

2. Although they don't come right out and say it, Pixar kind of expects that you will never go home, and they have all kinds of things right there at work to ensure that you pretty much live at your job. Which is a nightmare, notwithstanding that they have a free cereal bar for workers.

3. That's right: Pixar, as revealed in The New Yorker, offers a free cereal bar to employees, but don't get all uppity because that story also reveals that Pixar head John Lasseter (who's got kind of an old West-y sort of name) once fired a worker for complaining that the free bowls for the free cereal are too small.

4. Which, I mean, sure, the guy shouldn't have been complaining about it, but firing him? Seems kind of harsh.

Also, the article didn't actually point out that Buzz and Nemo don't work there. I inferred that from the fact that they are fictional characters.

So back to the list, which is, as I said, a list of

The Best Songs In Which The Solution To Your Problems Is To DANCE!

This list occurred to me while listening to one of the songs on this list, a song that urged me to dance for some reason or other, and then I started thinking about all the other songs that had told me I should dance, too, after which I compiled this list.

Which, it now occurs to me, didn't really require that explanation. Sorry for wasting your time. But I previously enlightened you about Pixar, so you're breaking even so far on this post. Let's push that into the black with the list:

1. Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen):

Dance-related advice:
"Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but in your own living room."

Problem dancing solves: It's actually unclear, as the song is a list of advice, but the suggestion to dance follows immediately after "Enjoy your body, use it every way you can... it is the greatest instrument you will ever own." So it seems like dancing is the cure for poor body image.

2. Let's Dance (David Bowie)

Dance-related advice: "Put on your red shoes and dance the blues."

Problem Dancing Solves: Fear: Dancing the blues is the best way to avoid the sticky topic of whether or not your loved one is all she/he claims to be, and also whether or not this relationship will last:

Let's dance for fear
your grace should fall
Let's dance for fear tonight is all

3. Let's Dance (Miley Cyrus)

Note: I was not actually aware this songs existed until I went to Youtube to search for Bowie's Let's Dance. The only Miley song I like is "Seven Things I Hate About You", which I like because it's catchy and it's 70% of The Taming Of The Shrew.

Dance-related advice:
"Let's dance/Grab your girlfriends/Grab your boyfriends/Sweat it out/ Let's dance."

Problem Dancing Solves: One similar to Bowie's problem: relationship troubles. You're dancing "To the number one girl to make her go crazy/I need you to dance with me baby." So when things are getting dull, or your girl might be thinking of leaving, make her go crazy with some sweatin' it out dancing.

4. Flight 180 (Bishop Allen)

What, you thought all the songs had to have dance in the title?

Dance-Related Advice:
"if you feel like dancing/dance with me."

Problem Dancing Solves: Loneliness, and disconnection from the world. The singer is on a flight and imagines that the waitress, and the captain, and the man next to him reciting times tables audibly, are all in fact saying If you feel like dancing, dance with me, as he watches the country pass below him, lights shining on people he knows, etc.

It's really kind of sad. Or beautiful. Or both.

Let's pick up the mood a bit, shall we?

5. Dance, Dance (Fall Out Boy)

Remember when Pete Wentz was a budding emo rock star, instead of an ex-Husband to Ms. Looks Like Kate Hudson and comic book creator? That was cool.

Dance-Related Advice: "
Dance, dance."

Problem Dancing Solves: Being awkward; the singer can't tell a joke, isn't much with the ladies, and in fact appears to be getting female attention only out of pity. Pity he doesn't want, unless it's the horizontal kind:

Why don't you show me the little bit of spine
You've been saving for his mattress
I only want sympathy in the form of you crawling into bed with me

Which is not to say there's not some self-pity going on amidst the rug-cutting:

Dance this is the way they'd love
If they knew how misery loved me

Which suggests that dancing is not just a way to get around being awkward, but also to emphasize just how awkward you are.

Which, in turn, is exactly how dancing works for me.

6. Our Most Brilliant Friends (Slow Club)

Dance-Related advice:
"So just dance with me/Move your body round this time machine/Start it again."

Problem Dancing Solves: At first, I was going to say "Time Machine breakdown," but then I listened again to the lyrics -- which go into the slower part of the song; it's a long one. And that closer look showed it's again fear:

And we're scared about the world
The atmosphere, our bodies, and our health

The dancing takes care of that and celebrates that our bodies can recreate, urging people not to think so much (our most brilliant friends are doubting themselves) and just lose themselves in the dance!

There's a cautionary message, though. The slower part of the song at the end drives home the point that too much dancing can be harmful to your health:

I just wanted to see that new Tim Burton movie
Or hang around with Laura, Jane, and Suzie
And I definitely want to be a rapper
But I'm just a northern girl from where nothing really happens
And the bones inside my shins are crumbling
It's from all the crunking I've been doing

But a song about how all our most brilliant friends doubted themselves, did a moderate amount of dancing, and then saw that new Tim Burton movie would have been not quite as compelling.

7. The Twist/Let's Twist Again (Chubby Checker)

Dance-related advice: The Twist: "Do the Twist/Take me by the little hand, and go like this." Let's Twist Again: "TWIST! YO!"

Problem Dancing Solves:

The Twist: Problems? What problems? This is the 50s! Or maybe the 60s! I'm not sure when it was released! The only problem that existed in this song is what to do when my daddy is sleepin' and mama ain't around and my girl's here... but don't get to thinkin' smutty, because this was the 1950s. Or the 1960s. Whatever.

Let's Twist Again: Possibly crime. Consider these lyrics:

Who`s that flyin' up there? Is it a bird? Noooooo! Is it a plane? Noooooooo! Is it the twister? YEAAAAAAAHH!

That suggests that, instead of being an innocent activity to pass the time when Mom and Dad are out doing whatever parents did in the 1950s/1960s (voting for Ike, probably), Twistin' is morphing into a way to fight the rising social problems that the 1960s would see: Twistin' is clearly a stand-in for Superman. What Chubby is saying is that we're all supermen, and through Twistin', we can help society.

Heeee, and round and round and up and down we go again! Oh, baby, make me know, you love me sooooo! And then:

Or not. Whatever.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

This post starts off with baseball but finishes with underwear, so stick it out. (Star Wars References)

This is a joint story between Nonsportsmanlike Conduct! and The Best Of Everything.

You'd think the job of sports reporting would be easy enough: watch sports, talk to the athletes, and then say what just happened.

And you'd be right. And then you'd think that the job would get even easier when a story is just handed to you, the way "Evan Scribner wears a Yoda backpack" was handed to Deadspin, and you'd be right about that, too, except that when sports reporting, the easiest "job" in the world, crosses light sabers with Star Wars, the source of all Western culture, people get overwhelmed with implications and screwed up reporting even the simplest things.

That's what happened to Deadspin, my source for the latest Star Wars Reference, which is that San Diego Padres' pitcher Evan Scribner wears a Yoda backpack:

Deadspin, getting all hopped up on midichlorians, reported that story in Yoda-speak; the headline is "Something Of A Geek, Evan Scribner Is," and focused on the meaning of it all:

Evan Scribner, pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays Padres, has a Yoda backpack that makes it look as if he is giving Yoda a piggy-back ride. At some point in the last few years, we reached a cultural juncture at which this could either make Scribner a nerd or a hipster. I'm not sure that he's either, but he is a major league baseball pitcher who favors a Yoda backpack that makes it look as if he is giving Yoda a piggy-back ride. That noise you just heard is Americana folding in on itself.

And also the sound of Deadspin not realizing two things:

1. Americana isn't folding in on itself. Americana is Star Wars now, as this series of posts keeps proving.

2. Evan Scribner isn't a geek or a hipster. This is a hipster:

and this is a geek:

And if Deadspin realized that what Dan Savage says (G.F.E.) is true, they'd have done what I did, which is Google why does Evan Scribner wear a Yoda backpack, and they'd have found this Hartford Courant story, which explains that Scribner doesn't wear the Yoda out of any geekery, but out of major league-ery:

"Have to wear it out to the bullpen every day...If nobody else gets called up, I guess I'll have to wear it all year."

That is, Evan is the newest member of the staff, and he's being hazed.

But still, for my purposes, he's being hazed by being forced to wear a Yoda backpack; there are probably 20,000 other silly backpacks he could be forced to wear, and the Padres went with Yoda. They've been doing it for a while. Here's a 2010 picture of pitcher Ryan Webb wearing the Yoda:

It all began, in fact, about August 2010, when the Padres began putting Yoda into team pictures and made the Yoda Pack a hazing ritual; website Topless Robot speculated that it was because then-second baseman (he may be still, I don't know) David Eckstein, is married to Ashley Eckstein:

And Ashley is the voice of "Ahsoka" in Clone Wars:

(Topless Robot spelled her name wrong, by the way.) (Ahsoka was supposed to be trained by Anakin Skywalker, a bit of trivia that never made it into the movies.)

And Ashley Eckstein also makes the "Her Universe" line of clothing, a line of clothing that is said to be "more than Star Wars shirts," a point that is true, as the site also sells Boba Fett-ish underwear:

And that is why you should read this blog and not Deadspin.

That, and because I not only find you the whole story, but also find you sexy lightsaber fights:

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Best Thing That Pretty Much Is An Earlier Thing, Only Better.

If you read this post yesterday on my blog Thinking The Lions, then you know that I am really, really irritated by the fact that pop culture sucks.

And pop culture is you people, so to be more pointed, you suck, was kind of my thesis, although it was filtered more through the lens of "RachelInTheOC" and "Kevin Smith" and people like them suck.

I haven't calmed down any; I still think pop culture sucks, but I no longer solely blame you because I heard this morning about 1/5 of this week's This American Life and it began with Ira Glass interviewing a deaf guy who got cochlear implants and could hear for the first time -- and he was disappointed.

That's neither here nor there, although, funny story, when I first typed "neither here nor there" I accidentally misspelled here as hear, so I was ready to say that a story about a deaf guy being disappointed with the world of sound was neither hear nor there, which is kind of funny, right?

The point of the deaf guy story, as it pertains to this post, is that the deaf guy, as he was waiting for his implants, was wondering what it would be like to hear, and he couldn't imagine what that would be like, which is kind of a hard thing to even describe. I've always been able to hear, and so I can't really imagine what it would be like not to know what hearing feels like. I had to rely on this guy's description of what it was like to anticipate what hearing would be like, and then compare what hearing would be like to what hearing was actually like.

And then, when he could hear, this deaf guy didn't really like it -- because, it turns out, his brain wasn't prepared to hear. He'd never learned to hear the way we learn to hear, which included not learning how to tune out unimportant sounds. He found he could not focus if he was in a room with an air conditioner, because all those little sounds we hear around us -- people talking, the radio in the background, traffic in the distance -- are so familiar to us that our brain can sort among the important and unimportant ones and essentially ignore the unimportant ones.

This guy couldn't do that. Every sound was equally important to him, and it made it hard on him to live his life, so eventually he took out the implants and went back to not hearing.

What, you might ask, does that have to do with the fact that the world is filled with crappy writers like RachelInTheOC who nonetheless get lots of acclaim?


We-- well, you, but I'm not blaming you, remember -- are not trained to filter out the noise of pop culture, especially now, especially when pop culture isn't so much just a small stream of input coming through little by little, but is this overwhelming explosion of information and experiences that surrounds us and is available at our fingertips constantly. Our brains have never been trained to make out what is really good and what is simply crap, and so we have no ability to do that and continue simply doing what we've always done.

In terms of the metaphor that I started this with, pop culture is sound, and we were born deaf and slowly grew to hear things, but before we learned how to manage those sounds, we jumped into the middle of New York City.

Okay, let me explain better.

In the olden days (before 2002), people relied on a limited stream of information to get their pop culture. Television started with only a few hours of programming a week, on only a few channels. Radio stations were limited and not on the air all the time.

Then, as options expanded, pop culture seemingly expanded, but it was still all being fed to us through conduits: We got cable television and videotapes, but those things were still released by gatekeepers, studios and production companies that decided, more or less, what we got to experience. Radio stations maintained tight formats and it was virtually impossible to hear music that didn't get the imprimatur of a major label.

So over time, we got used to having someone else decide what was good and what was bad, and the entire range of human endeavor was pared down to a manageable stream. Books were published by a few publishers and available at Waldenbooks at the mall and that was it. Newspapers and Dan Rather told us what was important in the world. If you were at the beach, you didn't know what people were talking about until you got home that night and watched the 10:00 news and learned what important things happened that day.

Then, instead of this little trickle of information, the world of pop culture went supernova, all of a sudden, and it really was sudden.

Consider: The first television broadcast ever was in 1928. It took 20 years before there were four networks broadcasting programs at some point during the week. Cable TV first became available in 1948 -- but it wasn't until the late 1970s and early 1980s that it became more widespread and common, and 60+ years after cable TV was invented, less than 60% of the households in America have it.

The Internet as a thing started in the 1960s. But personal computers weren't invented until the late 1970s and early 1980s, and the word "Internet" itself wasn't common until the late 1990s. The first popular web browser (Mosaic) was released in 1993.

Remember TV standards are 60 years to get to 60% saturation. The Internet took 18 years to go from "Hey, what's that thing?" to 1,970,000,000 global users. It grew at a rate of 109,444,444 users per year. If Cable TV grew at that rate, by now, 6, 894,999,972 people in the world would have access to cable, and all of them would complain that there was nothing on.

For the sake of accuracy, I will note that there are only 6,926,000,000 people in the world as of this moment.

How does this all factor in? Simple: The growth of the Internet is the equivalent of putting a cochlear implant into a previously deaf ear. For most of our lives, people had a trickle of entertainment that was predefined for them. Then, one day, we woke up and suddenly EVERYTHING WAS HAPPENING ALL RIGHT NOW AT THIS MOMENT AND IT'S AMAZING.

Instead of four or forty or even 400 channels, there were suddenly 400,000,000,000,000 things.

I may be exaggerating, but not by much: There were 182,000,000 websites in 2008, with the number having grown by nearly 3,000,000 per month. But some 6% of those websites were things like blogs, which are not made up of just one thing; they're made up sometimes of hundreds of things over time.

And confronted with that multiplicity of things, the vast majority of people just shut down.

The Internet made it possible for everyone who has a viewpoint to express it. Anyone who wants to publish a book can publish a book. Musicians were free to make their music without having a label or a radio station, and make lots of money. The Internet and computers made it possible for budding filmmakers to create films on a shoestring and have them viewed 6,485,000 times:

And also, unfortunately, made it possible for people to use the phrase "face raped" in conjunction with a discussion about whether or not it made sense for Jim Gordon to fake his death in The Dark Knight. But that's beside the point, too.

With all the possibility out there, then, why the #(#$&# do we still have to read tripe like "my kids don't like my music" and "Guess what!? Men hate doing housework?!"

I think it's because people took out their ears. Being unfamiliar with all the varying things that could constitute entertainment, and being unable to sort out the good from the bad, the familiar from the unfamiliar, the new from the old, most people just didn't bother trying.

I haven't finished that episode of This American Life yet, so I don't know why the deaf guy took out his ears. But I think it's sad that he felt so overwhelmed by a new sensation that he couldn't cope and deprived himself of 20% of his senses.

And I think it's sad that with great writers out there and great filmmakers out there and great musicians out there and great everyone out there, we are still spending all our time reading and hyping substandard crap like "RachelintheOC."

Why do we do it?

Because we never learned to hear and we don't want to now. Instead of learning how to sort out new from old, bad from good, up from macaroni, we -- you-- just decided to retreat into two basic types: things we're told to like, and things that look like things we've seen before.

That is, if enough people say to like something, we'll like it. And if something looks enough like something else, we'll like it. Which is why According to Jim and Two and a Half Men and RachelintheOC survive: because they don't just look like things we've seen. They're the very things we've seen. They don't even try to mask it: they just take the same idea, over and over, and show it to you again.

This is not a rant against familiarity. Remember, I'm the guy who said people actually like sequels a lot, and should. I'm the guy who said that the McDonald's cheeseburger is truly great, and invented the formula for proving it.

Familiarity breeds contempt only if familiarity is worthy of contempt, and that... THAT... is why RachelintheOC and Kevin Smith's Sweating To The Oldies and 99.9% of pop culture in general just makes me, when I think about it, lose my sh*t and spend an hour on Father's Day typing up a rant.

Because we're better than that. We shouldn't be reading and re-reading old Erma Bombeck columns ad nauseam simply because doing otherwise is too hard and too overwhelming, and because we shouldn't be doing that, we should either not read "RachelintheOC" and her ilk, or we should at the least demand that they put some effort into it.

I mean, seriously, if you're going to spend 10 minutes reading a blog post, shouldn't it be more than a recap of a mediocre episode of Modern Family with "Rachel" cut-and-pasted in place of "Claire?"

Okay, so not everyone likes stuff to be new and different the way I do; not everyone wants to be challenged all the time by great entertainment. Sometimes people just want familiarity. And, let's be fair: there are universal experiences that we all share and that are fun to talk about.

So what about those, you defenders of tripe might ask me. What about comedians who make jokes about early dating experiences, like Mike Birbiglia did on that same episode of This American Life, and you thought he was funny even though, like, a zillion people have joked about their first date with someone including Ira Glass on that very episode? Are you insisting that Mike and Ira never ever tell another joke about a first date?


That's not what I'm insisting.

I'm insisting that if you revisit the well, you do it better.

If you can't find it in you to make something new or creative or inventive, if you must tell the same old joke again, at least for God's sake do it better.

David Sedaris is ludicrously funny -- but not everyone wants, all the time, to hear a story about how his efforts to upstage his boyfriend by pointing out that his boss had a rubber hand were thwarted by his inability to speak French. And not everyone can tell stories like that.

Another person who's ludicrously funny is Jim Gaffigan, who talks about the same old things everyone talks about: eating, church, holidays. But when Jim Gaffigan does it, he does it funnier and in a new way. When Jim Gaffigan jokes about how boring church is -- something many people have said over many eons -- he makes it seem fresh because he does it so well and in a new way.

There are, it's been said, only seven basic stories. Or maybe only two. I don't know. I do know that whoever said that did not include the basic story of how hard it is to be an assistant manager at an aquarium, so they were wrong in their count because really, that's an untouched-upon theme in literature that I'm just throwing out there for the universe, but I digress.

There are only a few basic stories. There are only 8 notes in the scale. There are only two food groups people should eat from (The two groups are "Deep-fried," and "Somehow related to Cap'n Crunch.") But from those basic building blocks, we create a wealth of songs and stories and movies and there are also at least four different kinds of Cap'n Crunch, so it's possible to keep on making things new.

I myself did that when one day I decided to make Rice Krispie bars, only to substitute Peanut Butter Cap'n Crunch for the Rice Krispies in the recipe, and several sugar-induced comas later, society is the better for it.

So what I'm saying is, if you just want to do the same old thing, if you're going to make a blog (and call it, wrongly, edgy and snarky) that's just a mommy blog and write about how men really aren't very good at housework, at least do it with a bit of flair and make it seem new.

RachelintheOC, and Kevin Smith, did not do that. I was three words into their posts and I thought I know exactly where this is going and I don't have time to waste, and I quit.

And you people -- you who have shut your ears back off -- you should insist that if you're going to watch the same old thing, hear the same old thing, read the same old thing, that it at least for God's sake fix its hair up and put on a nice dress before you take it out to dinner. Marriages fail because people stop trying to impress their spouse, and civilizations fail because people stop insisting that its creative types actually give a sh*t about what they're creating and we end up with Justin Bieber and RachelintheOC dominating pop culture until we all die alone and friendless and, worse yet, bored.

Which brings me to Happy Endings.

Happy Endings
is, as you may have just realized, The Best Thing That Pretty Much Is An Earlier Thing, Only Better.

Happy Endings is about a group of friends, two of whom were romantically connected and may be again, two of whom are in a relationship, and one of whom is a kind of weird guy that has strange adventures. Which is to say, Happy Endings is Friends.

I'm not the first to remark on that and I'm not the only one who constantly thinks it. The moment I saw an ad for Happy Endings, I thought "hey, they remade Friends with someone more attractive than Ross in his part."

(Jennifer Aniston in her prime

and Casey Wilson in hers

are about a wash.)

But I watched Happy Endings anyway because here's the thing: I liked Friends. I liked it enough that from time to time I'd DVR a couple of episodes and watch them, laughing again at jokes I knew so well I could tell them by heart. "Take off your shirt and tell us!" I still use that in conversation, which is why there are so many restraining orders I have to keep track of.

So when I saw that Friends was essentially airing new episodes with younger people, I tuned in to see if I still liked Friends With New People.

Had Happy Endings simply been Friends, I'd have watched an episode and never gone back. But it wasn't just Friends. It was Friends only newer and funnier and hipper; it was the Friends who might exist (who do exist) now, as opposed to the 1990s Friends. These Friends, like the old ones, still drive food trucks (Monica and Phoebe had their catering van, Dave (?) has his food truck.) They still try to be hip when they're not. (Joey wanted to play young, Casey Wilson dated a hipster.) There are weddings about every third episode, as sitcom rules demand. They never seem to work, as sitcom rules demand.

But it's not just Friends all over again; it's Friends dressed up and with a new hairdo, trying to keep that spark going and impress me all over again. Maybe trying too hard sometimes, but still trying. Even when they recycle gags, they do so with a freshness that I appreciate.

Take the Apartment Across The Street gag. On Friends, the Apartment Across The Street was for a long time occupied by Ugly Naked Guy, and in one episode I remember, the Friends pieced together a bunch of chopsticks to try to poke Ugly Naked Guy and see if he was alive. For some reason I can't embed them, but you can watch a series of clips about Ugly Naked Guy here.

Happy Endings takes that same concept -- weird guy across the street -- but makes it seem fresh and new by having the weird guy be ugly, but somehow able to score with women at will, and also by having the New Friends shoot at him with Nerf guns or something:

... aaaaaaaaannnd I don't have a video for that.

Anyway, you get the point of that: it's the same idea, really: Young cool people live across the street from someone who is not as cool and is also nakeder, and make fun of him.

But it works in both contexts, which needs some working out, maybe, to understand how that can happen.

How is it that the same story line can be funny just by tweaking it? Is it just that chopsticks were replaced by Nerf guns and that's all I need?

Or is it more? Would it have been funny if RachelintheOC, instead of having her husband be difficult about doing her chores when she was sick, had her husband be difficult about filling in for her as a speaker at an indie book conference?

Well, yes.

I think had RachelintheOC begun her bland, tepid oatmeal of a post with "I was sick and so my husband had to go speak at an Indie Book Conference on my behalf but here's the thing -- he's no writer, he's a heart surgeon and so he ended up speaking about how it felt to actually hold a person's beating heart in his hand to all these bloggers," that WOULD have been funny and I'd have read it, even if the basic post boiled down to "Surgeon Hubby complains about having to do wife's work."

(I don't know if RachelintheOC's husband is a surgeon. I'm sure, though, that whatever he is, he's stereotypically and blandly that thing.)

Taking a familiar premise and tweaking it is what good writers do. Taking Ugly Person Across The Way and tweaking it is what good sitcoms do. Taking a good guitar riff and tweaking it is what good songs do -- not everything has to be purely original. It just has to be yours and seem fresh.

It's kind of the difference between leftovers and LEFTOVERS! The other day, I had LEFTOVERS!, by which I mean, I took the leftover Italian casserole that we had in the fridge, and I put it into a tomato-basil tortilla, with some cheddar cheese, and microwaved that, and then ate it, and instead of oh, here's some casserole I had something that was a little more interesting.

Happy Endings wraps Friends in a tortilla and nukes it: The episode playing in the background at my office right now is The Shershow Redemption, in which a woman who ran out on a wedding runs into a guy who is going to run out on his wedding -- which is how the whole Friends show began, right? Jennifer Aniston ran out on her wedding. So Happy Endings takes that concept and doubles down, throwing in some other tropes, too, to make that basic story (which was also done as The Runaway Bride and, in real life, by The Runaway Bride:

) seem fresh. And it did that even though Happy Endings also used the "friend as a minister" trope in that same episode.

But I still laughed -- just like I laugh when the same old story is given a new gloss in The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family, with good acting and a fresh coat of jokes, but I don't laugh when the same old story is run as a by the book, let's go through the motions sitcom on Two and a Half Men or According to Jim or That One Show With David Spade That's About Marriage But Which In Commercials Looks Like Every Other Show About Marriage.

Which after all, maybe doesn't need so much working out, because as I look back on this, I think the difference is effort.

If you're trying, it shows. If you're trying to do something well, it shows. Whether you're trying to do it in a new, unique, unusual, fresh way (like, say David Sedaris) or whether you're trying to do something that's very familiar but simply better, it shows. The gang on Happy Endings isn't doing anything particularly new or fresh; each episode probably tracks one or more earlier episode of Friends, but they're working really hard at it. They're not just re-reading old Friends scripts; they're putting two or three of them together and somehow fitting that into 20 minutes. They're upping the ante by updating premises and mixing old familiar tropes with new familiar tropes.

But they're working at it.

People like According to Jim, and RachelintheOC aren't even bothering to try. People like Jonathan Franzen aren't bothering to try. After a while, it began to seem like John Grisham wasn't bothering to try.

And they don't bother because you don't make them. I just clicked over, out of curiosity about how many hits she had, to RachelintheOC's blog, and was not at all stunned to be confronted with jokes about mancode and this turn of phrase:

Writing about men is fun. I adore men. They make me laugh. Why?

Well, for one thing they’re hairy. That alone is just funny.

And before I could put my hand through my monitor in frustration, I clicked away, but not before I saw the phrase dirty martini.

That blog might be the laziest f**cking thing I have ever read.*

*Is that enough, Rogue Mutt, or should there be more.

It's not even trying, and she'll probably get more hits today than I will in a lifetime




Because you've taken out your ears and you're content to just read the same old sh*t and not even insist that it be dressed up with something new or fresh seeming. I could spit out crap like that simply by throwing a magnetic poetry kit at my wall, and I would, except that I'm not interested in being popular for popularity's sake. I'm not interested in being what is essentially a random cliche generator just to make money. I have a day job; I make a fine enough living at that and so I can do this for fun and not worry too much about whether or not you like it or you even read it.

But every so often, like this week, I get frustrated, because every so often I think For God's sake, people, why do you settle for junk? And I get frustrated that critics rag on Happy Endings and that great writers like Rogue Mutt can't find a publisher while A Walk In The Snark can republish Henny Youngman's routine under a female name and get onto bestseller lists, and I have to blow off steam.

And also I have to explain it, which I think I've done here. I thought about this yesterday while I walked around eating my orange chocolate chip ice cream and looking through castles with Mr F and Mr Bunches and Sweetie, and I thought about it while I ate burgers with Middle and Oldest, and I let it percolate through my brain as I drove into work listening to This American Life, and I think I've hit on it.

Things can be new and exciting. Or they can be old and familiar. Either of those are okay; like I said, I sometimes just watch old TV shows I've seen before, and I rewatched The Dark Knight Friday.

The problem is when someone takes something that's old and familiar and makes money off of it. If you're going to try to sell me me old and familiar, you ought to at least try to make it better. If you're going to sell me an old house, paint it first. If you're going to ask your wife on a date this Friday night (as I have), put on a nice shirt and shower before you go out, the way you used to when you were dating.

If you're going to have a bunch of young attractive people do weird funny stuff, work really hard at making it funny. The way Happy Endings does.

Because it's possible to make a living acting in According to Jim, and it's apparently possible to make a living recycling "snarky" cliches and calling them a blog, as Rachel does. But the fact that it's possible doesn't make it desirable. And maybe, if more writers and musicians and actors and directors stop taking the easy/RachelintheOC/Kevin Smith way out, then people -- you -- would stop letting them.

Or vice versa.

Either way, I'm going to continue watching Happy Endings, and I'm going to continue to write things that I find new and exciting and unique. And I'm pretty sure that you will continue to gravitate towards Rachel's latest "edgy" post -- probably something about how funny it is when moms try to work and raise kids (!) -- and let her, and the rest of society, off the hook of "trying."

You'll keep reading that crap, but I won't. And I'm the better for it. And as long as there's a few people out there who think like I do, I'll be able (with my like-minded people who insist that, if you can't come up with something new or original, the creative types at least try to make something feel new and original) to find something I like.

I'll have to sift through a lot of drivel and white noise and junk that you like, junk that Rachel and Kevin produce, but I'll find it.

I hope you, too, eventually start to think like me. Because no matter what that deaf guy said in This American Life, hearing is better than being deaf.

And no matter how much you think you like re-reading crappy cliches on RachelintheOC's blog, you only think it's great because you don't know any better. But that's your fault. You're the one who took your ears out and let them pass you a pile of mush and pass it off as something worth your while.

I won't waste my time with it anymore.

I'll be watching Happy Endings, and writing my stuff, and generally doing the best I can to ignore the steaming pile of garbage that is 99.9% of pop culture.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Ring-A-Ding-Ding (Off The Top Of My Head)

Green Lantern opened this week to dismal reviews, which I find really annoying because once bad reviews come out, I can't justify going to see a movie in a theater (because I am not like people who are able to believe that something is so bad, it's good.)

So I won't be seeing Green Lantern until next year on some weekend when I can't sleep and it's available for free on TV. But I will be thinking about Rings of Power, and hence this Off The Top Of My Head list of Famous Rings In Pop Culture.

1. Green Lantern's power ring.
2. Sinestro's power ring.
3. The One Ring from Lord of the Rings.
4. All the lesser rings from Lord of the Rings.
5. The ring that shoulda been put on it in Single Ladies.
6. Ring My Bell by Anita Ward.
7. Ring Around The Rosy.
8. Ring Lardner.

Off The Top Of My Head is lists created without any research or time to think; read more of them here.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Best Happy Endings That [SPOILER ALERT!] Aren't Happy At All.

It's a SemiDaily List!

Americans love a happy ending -- so much so that we just assume that an ending is happy if it kind of seems happy. We walk out of the movie theater, laughing and talking and wondering if maybe tonight she'll invite us in, and never stop to think about the ending of the movie we just saw, and specifically never stop to think "Wait, was that really a happy ending, or should I be kind of bummed out right about now?"

This, I think, is an offshoot of a more common problem with movies, but one I've touched on before: The Happy-Ending-That-Isn't-Really is part of the overall way that Hollywood (most likely at the behest of the Trilateral Commission*)

*I've only just realized that all my life I've heard that the Trilateral Commission is a bad thing and/or that it's feared by people who used to be mocked for being insane but who now appear to have the ability to actually elect Michele Bachmann president... and yet I have no idea what the Trilateral Commission is.**

**Maybe someday I'll do a post about The Best Threats You Thought Were Fictional But Maybe Aren't.***

***I kind of feel like doing that one right now. But I won't.

The Trilateral Commission, along with Steven Spielberg and maybe that one guy right... over... there. (The one in the hat. Do you see him?)*4

*4: Don't look directly at him! Are you nuts?!
The Trilateral Commission, et al, are intent on making Americans settle for less: They want us not to reach for the brass ring anymore, but to settle for looking up at the brass ring while we eat our cotton candy and go around and around. They want us not to strive for riches and prosperity and happiness, but be content with what we've got and not try to ever get more. If we, as a middle- and lower-class group decide "Eh, we're fine with the house we've got and that 10 year old car and maybe now and then a trip to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee" then we'll sit idly by while they get richer and richer and richer.

That's my theory, at least, and while everyone focuses on politics and government and things like that, groups that seem to be actively transferring wealth and the finer things in life from us to them (them being Rich Folk, and John Boehner), they've lost focus on the myriad ways that life is teaching us to just settle and accept what we've got and not rock the boat.

One obvious way -- the way I've discussed before because I took the blue pill*5

*5 Or was it the red one? I haven't watched that movie in, like, 12 years.

and so I see the reality that you do not see-- one obvious way that The Powers That Be (as Roger Waters would call them 20 years ago) are indoctrinating us to just take what we've got and never want more is through "Christmas Movies." I've talked about this before, in a post I can't find right now, but the basic point is this: In all Christmas movies, the protagonist has a pretty good life but doesn't realize it and is unhappy. Then something bad happens and his life gets way worse, and then he works his way back up to the life he started out with, through the help of Christmas Magic or something, and at the end he's happy -- even though he's exactly the same as he was at the outset.

So why is he happy? Ever stop to question that? No, you didn't, because The Hollywood Conspiracy To Keep You From Wanting A Better Life has indoctrinated you to just accept it.

So, too, with Happy-Endings-That-Aren't: We've been told over and over that we love Happy Endings, and so movies come along and give us what appears to be a Happy Ending, and because it seems to finish with an upbeat style and people laugh or parade across the screen or whatever, so we assume it's happy even though it's not really.

Why would someone want us to think something is a Happy Ending when it's not? Because they want us to settle for less-than-happiness. And you've been falling for it - -but no more, because I'm not afraid of them*6
*6 I am, a little

and so I'm going to help you see the truth, to be the truth, Danny, by giving you this SemiDaily List of The Best Happy Endings That [SPOILER ALERT!] Aren't Happy At All, and for each I'll point out just what it is that Our Secretive Overlords Get Out Of Tricking Us This Way.

1. The Lincoln Lawyer:

This was the movie that set me off thinking about this -- because I am a lawyer who frequently engages in law-ing or whatever it is lawyers who don't spend their days photographing Twinkies do all day.

The Plot: Matthew However-you-spell-his-last-name is a lawyer who drives around in a Lincoln all day. He gets hired by the son of a rich realtor to defend the son against charges of beating up a prostitute and nearly killing her. Soon, though, Matthew Etc. realizes that the son, played by the guy Reese Witherspoon was too famous to be married to, actually committed an earlier murder -- a murder that a different client of Matthew's is in prison for, because Matthew pressured the earlier client into taking a plea to avoid the death penalty.

The So-Called Happy Ending: Matthew gets a different client of his to trick a con man into lying on the stand, framing Not Mr. Reese for the earlier murder, so that after charges of nearly killing the prostitute are dropped against Not Mr. Reese, he's arrested for the earlier murder, with those charges supported not just by a falsified confession from a con man, but... a parking ticket issued to Not Mr. Reese years ago.

Also, for good measure, Matthew has Not Mr. Reese beaten up by some biker friends of his.

Why It's Not A Happy Ending At All: Let's leave aside some obvious factors, such as Matthew's best friend was shot during the course of the movie and is dead, and also that Not Mr. Reese was acquitted of a crime he actually committed. Let's also ignore the fact that Matthew's earlier client was pressured into serving time in prison for a crime he didn't commit, leaving quite a track record for The Lincoln Lawyer, and instead focus on the presumed Happy Ending: Justice will be served! Not Mr. Reese will get the chair for killing that person years ago!

Except... except that there's a confession from another guy that'll muck up the works in trying Not Mr. Reese, and except that all the evidence is old and stale, and the only real link between that murder and Not Mr. Reese is a parking ticket showing he was around the area at the time. And what will Not Mr. Reese's new lawyers do when they get around to questioning the witness Matthew got to commit perjury -- with the help of another client who broke the rules at the rehab facility she was in?

I'd say it's pretty likely Not Mr. Reese goes free, the Lincoln Lawyer is disbarred, one client might be freed but has lost most of his life to an undeserved sentence, another client will be kicked out of her rehab, and the perjurer goes back to jail. Plus, now there's nobody to protect Marisa Tomei, Matthew's ex-wife, or support Matthew's daughter!

What Our Secret Overlords Get Out of Convincing You This Ending Is Happy: The message is: The justice system is broken. Only by resorting to private measures can we ever achieve safety and security. The government is letting killers go, but if you can arm yourself and align yourself with the right private groups, you'll be safe.

2. There's Something About Mary:

The second-funniest movie I ever saw -- and yet, it ends on a sad note.

The Plot: Ben Stiller loves Mary, but things keep going awry, not least because everyone who meets Mary loves her and is constantly plotting to keep other would-be suitors away from her. Ben tracks her down in Miami and tries one last time to form a relationship with her.

The So-Called Happy Ending: After an epic showdown involving Woogie, Brett Favre, and a bunch of other people whose names I didn't catch, Ben Stiller cedes his claim to all the others, and leaves Mary's house, thinking that she will go off with Brett Favre -- only to have Mary come running after him and decide that she loves him!

Why It's Not A Happy Ending At All: Mary has been being stalked by guys all her life -- including pro football players and a guy so dangerous he created a fake identity to follow her, and a guy who crippled himself just to be able to visit Mary at her medical practice. And those guys are still out there, leaving Mary to live a life of constant fear. Along the way, they have abandoned families and hurt charitable causes and otherwise wreaked havoc.

Also, a hitchhiking serial killer is still on the loose.

What Our Secret Overlords Get Out of Convincing You This Ending Is Happy: The message is: If there's a hot chick nearby, you don't need to worry about what's going on around you. When you let that sink in, this happens:

I'm not kidding: The same week that the Patriot Act was renewed, a porn company offered to buy Charlie Sheen's house. Which of those stories did you read?

3. Fatal Attraction:

The movie that first really brought to light how The People Who Populate Every Conspiracy Theory are changing things to appease us with PseudoHappy Endings: The original movie ending involved Glenn Close committing suicide, framing Michael Douglas, with a sop to the audience thrown in by having Michael's wife find a tape that might free him. Sort of the opposite of Shaq's life at this moment.

The Plot: Michael Douglas has an affair with Glenn Close, who in movies is somehow deemed to be hotter than Ann Archer. Glenn Close goes nuts with love for Michael, which seemed slightly less implausible than "Catherine Zeta Jones marries Michael Douglas," so there you go.

The So-Called Happy Ending: Instead, Glenn Close arrives at the country house Michael's family owns, tries to kill him, and is shot dead by Ann Archer. Yay! Hugs all around.

Why It's Not A Happy Ending At All: Okay, Michael Douglas' marriage is such a sham that when his wife is gone for a few hours, he starts an affair. Or, he's so self-involved that Ann Archer's not having sex with him the night before is justification for cheating on her; either way, it's divorce city for this couple -- with that cute little girl getting hit by a double whammy of my rabbit's dead/why do I have to have two Thanksgivings?

Assuming that Ann Archer is cleared of murder charges -- with the expense of lawyers and an investigation, it's still not an easy thing to have your marriage break down and kill someone, and even cops sometimes need therapy for years after stuff like that.

Then, too, there's the fact that this would certainly make headlines, meaning that the family will be hounded by media and Michael might just lose his job, making it even harder for the family to afford that nice Manhattan lifestyle. At the very least, that little girl can look forward to years of her friends googling her parents until she becomes a terrorist.

What Our Secret Overlords Get Out of Convincing You This Ending Is Happy: It's actually about the same message as The Lincoln Lawyer: don't trust authorities; taking matters into your own hands is never a bad idea. Michael is told that lawyers and the courts can't help him, and there is (in the movie, at least) absolutely no penalty for shooting a woman in a bathtub when you could simply have locked her in the room and called 911.

Added bonus measure: Aren't guns a necessary thing to have in the house? We should all have as many guns around as possible, even if we have cute little daughters who might pick them up and accidentally shoot themselves. That's a necessary risk for all this freedom/guns.

And that message comes courtesy of a hot chick:

4. Tangled.

This Disney movie resulted in a lengthy discussion between Sweetie and me about whether the ending was happy, or not. I say it's not, but she claimed victory anyway because that's what wives do, and I had to buy her a t-shirt.

The Plot: Rapunzel's mom is about to die during childbirth, until a magic flower is found that heals her, but only after the flower is made into soup. Mom lives, Rapunzel lives, and the flower's magic is transferred to Rapunzel's hair, where it will reside until Rapunzel cuts her hair. A witch who wants to live forever and was using the flower kidnaps Rapunzel and raises her in a tower as her own daughter -- but a handsome would-be thief springs Rapunzel just shy of her 18th birthday and ultimately reunites her with her parents.

The So-Called Happy Ending: Midway through the rescue, the thief (Eugene) is stabbed and dying. Rapunzel vows that if the witch lets her use her hair to cure Eugene, she will never leave the tower and let the witch use her hair to stay alive forever, and Rapunzel never breaks a promise. Before she can heal Eugene, though, Eugene cuts her hair, depriving it of her magic, and thereby making her useless to the witch, who falls out a window and dies -- and then, Rapunzel, crying, lets loose a tiny tear that cures Eugene anyway.

Why It's Not A Happy Ending At All: Where Sweetie and I diverged was in my belief that Rapunzel could no longer cure people after her hair was cut. I think the teardrop was a one-time deal. Sweetie says that Rapunzel could cure people via her tears even if she didn't have her hair anymore, which is only a moderately less-happy ending: Now-Queen Rapunzel would have to cry to cure people, but she could cure people. I'm not convinced that's the case but there's another reason this ending isn't happy: The plant is gone.

That magic plant that could cure people? Soldiers dug it up and made it into soup for the former queen. So instead of cultivating the one plant that can cure any disease, or at least replanting it near the town, they killed it and let the Queen get the only benefit from it. And then, if... if ...Rapunzel can still cure people, she's the one who gets to make the decisions on who lives and who dies.

What Our Secret Overlords Get Out of Convincing You This Ending Is Happy: That ought to be obvious: The government is the only group that should decide who lives and who dies. Socialized medicine? Freely available cures? Posh! Bah! Give the healing power to an unelected head of state and let her decide how to use it. Who could possibly object to that?

It should not be forgotten, either, that the message is delivered by a hot chick:

Starting to see my point, here?

5. Return of The Jedi:

It's your Mandatory Star Wars Reference!

The Plot: In what turns out to be the sixth movie in a series, a war that started because the people of Naboo had something they wanted to sell and the Trade Federation didn't want them to sell, drags on, with the Rebel Alliance (who actually aren't so much rebels as they were pretty much the government just 20 years before, but let's not dwell on that) mounting a last attack on the Empire's newest weapon -- with a brief sidetrip to a desert planet to rescue a loved one, in a parallel that's too obvious to miss: Anakin's trip back to Tatooine to rescue his mom set him further down the path to the Dark Side, while Luke's trip to the same planet to rescue Han poses no moral dilemmas at all (Then again, it's not surprising that a guy who made out with his sister doesn't have many ethical qualms.)

The So-Called Happy Ending:
Longtime pirate Han Solo joins the rebels officially, Luke rescues his father and converts him to good mid-battle, the Death Star is blown up, and fireworks light up the Endor skies. Party on, Ewoks!

Why It's Not A Happy Ending At All: Remember how Star Wars ended? George Lucas didn't: In Star Wars, Han joined the rebels, Luke blew up the Death Star, and everyone got medals. Not long after that, things went all to hell because here's the thing about Empires:

They have more than one weapon.

The Empire wasn't called "the Empire" because it was small: It was the entire galaxy. So when the rebels blew up the Death Star, that was a setback but not much of one because not long after that, the Empire tracked down what apparently was the Rebels' only base, and nearly beat them all.

The Battle of Endor didn't destroy all those other clones on all those other planets, and the Rebels are an almost embarrassingly small force that now has to try to govern a galaxy -- a galaxy they were pretty much terrible at governing before.

Also: There is only one Jedi left in the Universe, a Jedi who didn't begin his training until he was almost 20, and what happens to Jedis who aren't trained from birth? (See: Vader, Darth.)

Also: Is it really that easy to bring someone back from the Dark Side? Luke conquered Darth Vader not with midichlorians, and not with lightning bolts, but with the same exact thing that Marty McFly used to make out with his mom, and then get his parents to fall in love with each other:

If it is that easy, kind of makes it seem silly that the Jedis from the first three movies kept on fighting the Sith instead of just loving them, doesn't it? Maybe we could've avoided this whole little mess if someone had given Darth Sidious a Father's Day card?

What Our Secret Overlords Get Out of Convincing You This Ending Is Happy: Wars are quick and easy, and it's important to focus on how we just keep winning. Look at how many times we've won in Iraq! Two or three, at least, and sometimes we win the same war more than once!


This feels strangely familiar...

Let's not forget that even in the middle of a terrible galaxy-wide war (that was quickly and easily won with no messy decades-long clean-up to worry about), we still had something to distract us, namely this:

I imagine that's exactly the image we'll be seeing on every flat surface, oh, about 5 years from now.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

"and I'm like, now you're talking." (IS THIS ART?)

Another day, another new feature here on The Best Of Everything, where the future hasn't arrived yet but promises to get here as soon as it can.

The newest new feature -- joining classics like "The Best..." and newcomers like MiniBests and SemiDaily Lists and of course POP!Best! and Star Wars References and THIS is a THING!? -- is called


And it's pretty self-explanatory. I will present you something, and ask you: Is this Art?

The first-ever thing that might be art is:

Losers Bowling in Video Games.

The above is actually called "Various Self-playing bowling games (aka beat the champ)" and the concept behind this piece is (according to the New York Times)
a large-scale video work that asserts a virtual storm of light, noise and flashing images via six cheek-to-jowl projections of video bowling games, from the late 1970s to the 2000s, all altered so that the bowlers throw nothing but gutter balls.

The Times does not think this is art:
But Mr. Arcangel’s Whitney solo turn does not quite live up to its advance attention. For one thing, it too seems a trifle scrubbed clean, sanitized and austere. Containing work almost entirely from 2011, it tells us little of his funkier early digital efforts, or artistic development. A few pieces reflect his longstanding interest in television and video games; in others he tries too hard to establish his formalist bona fides wryly with riffs on abstract painting and sculpture.

Cory Arcangel, for his part, seems to have forgotten to talk about this piece in this New York magazine story about ... this piece. Instead, he talks about Old Navy. It seems that Cory Arcangel has a table where he has future art-projects-in-waiting laid out, and one of these ghosts-of-art-projects-yet-to-be is an "Old Navy Techno Hoodie." Take it away, New York Magazine:

The Techno Hoodie is a blue zip-up sweatshirt with headphones wired into the drawstrings; the wearer plugs an iPod into the kangaroo pocket, and jams. Arcangel heard about the sweatshirt through a friend, discovered that Old Navy had discontinued it, and became hell-bent on finding one. (Inevitably, the search ended on eBay.) “I’d known that techno hoodies, with crap for your iPods and phones and stuff, have existed,” he says. “So then somebody tells me that Old Navy has one. And all of a sudden I’m very interested because it’s Old Navy—a store that had a little bit of a moment, but it’s culturally ambiguous right now. So we have an object loaded with two different interests of mine, combined. And I’m like, now we’re talking!”

"Inevitably, the search ended on eBay?" I just googled Old Navy Techno Hoodie and found 147,000 results in 0.24 seconds. Three of the top five results were eBay listings.

Also, I don't know what it means to be culturally ambiguous. But that's because I'm not an artist.

So... take another look at Various Self-playing bowling games (aka beat the champ):

And tell me:
Is it Art?