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Breaking Good

September 30th, 2013 No comments

I’ve been looking forward to this day for months, if not years. What’s so special about this day? Well, it’s the day after the Breaking Bad finale aired, aka the Day that We Can Begin Shutting the Fuck Up about Breaking Bad. Oh, I’m sure that the next week or two will be full of breathless dialogues about whatever wacky misadventures Walter White got up to in his final hour, but this, baby, is the beginning of the end.

As someone who has spent a quarter century peddling quality television, it’s perhaps ironic that I not only have never watched a single episode of Breaking Bad–anointed by all as the Bestest Show Ever–but that I refuse to do so, not even for the purposes of dumping on it.

Because I do not want to spend a single minute with a narrative that in any way glorifies, justifies or another other kind of -fies a murderous meth cooker. I don’t care if he’s the villain of the piece, he’s still the central figure. He’s the one who knocks, whatever the fuck that means.

It’s not that I mind watching bad people being bad. A good villain can be fascinating and even fun. And the heavens know that I have seen more than my share of vampires and Sith Lords. The difference is that vampires and Sith Lords, besides not being real, don’t sicken me the way that meth dealers do.

I was originally going to post some before-and-after meth photos here to help illustrate the point, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Those images disturb me in a way that a thousand fictional monsters never could, and I don’t want them on my blog.

Instead, I will post a photo of one of the adorable, ironic plush dolls sold by Mezco Toys. It’s part of an array of Breaking Bad merchandise large enough to fill a blood-spattered RV. (Use the coupon code “breakingbadfinale” for 10% off your purchase from the official online store!)

There are lots of ways to hurt people, but the ones that horrify me the most are those that linger, that turn real people into shambling wrecks for the rest of their shortened, miserable lives. All for the sake of cheap thrills and a few bucks.

Meanwhile, miles and miles away, some rich and handsome people turn off the Klieg lights, send away the craft services van, and go home to admire their golden statues.

So, goodbye, Breaking Bad. It’s been great not knowing you.

Wat A Shitee Eydia

February 9th, 2012 No comments

In the latest issue of Wired magazine, Anne Trubek, an associate professor at Oberlin College, makes a modest proposal to “loosen our idea of correct spelling.” Her argument is that “the notion that words can and should be spelled only one way is a fairly recent invention.” Furthermore, language follows technology; she notes that “OK” came into common use because it was quicker to send via telegraph. Ergo, we should all be okay with modern-day text-speak such as “1” for “won” and “l8r” for “later.” The person receiving the message understands it, so what’s the harm? “We need a new set of tools that recognize more variations instead of rigidly enforcing outdated dogma,” she concludes.

No. It’s not mere “snobbery,” as Trubek suggests, to demand proper spelling. It’s about creating a common language, so that we understand what the fuck someone else is trying to tell us. There’s already plenty of room for misinterpretation in written communication. How many intra-office wars have begun over a tone-deaf e-mail?

It’s fine if you and your online buddy comprehend your oh-so-clever l33t-speak. But believe me, when I look at your job application, you damned well better know whether it’s “your” or “you’re.” Because I can guarantee you that I’ve got a stack of resumes to get through and I’m looking for a reason to round-bin a few of them. Correct spelling isn’t just about proving that you are educated, it’s about proving that you give a shit.

Sure, if enough of us agree that “later” should be spelled “l8r,” our shared language will change to accommodate it. (We won’t do that, because “8” is not a fucking letter.) But you don’t get to decide to spell anything however you want and expect strangers to go along with your variant.

Thankfully, Wired‘s own staff provided a rebuttal to Trubek’s foolish essay. I’m going to blockquote this entire paragraph because it’s all worth repeating:

So let’s be clear: Are we saying that professional news sites should spell words in any way that strikes their mood or fancy? What exactly would be the benefit of that? Should government officials feel free to “play with language,” as she exhorts, when drafting safety regulations? How would contracts be enforced if anyone could say that what appeared to be a promise of “delivery” was actually a variant spelling of “devilry?”

Amen, sister.

Informality is fine for bullshitting with friends or giving your creative writing a bit of personality. But the rules of language were created for reasons beyond providing teachers an excuse to be pedantic. We don’t have to be dicks about correcting every mispelled word, but we need not encourage anarchy.

31 Monstrous Failures #11: Sharktopus

October 11th, 2011 No comments

For years, the Sci-Fi Channel (hack, SyFy, hack) has offered up a weekly dose of “original” movies on Saturday nights. While some have been cheapo sequels to existing franchises (Species, Highlander) others have slavishly followed a formula. Pick a monster from mythology (Minotaur, Harpies), prehistory (Pterodactyl, Mammoth) or underwater (Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus). Hire a slumming celebrity (Eric Roberts, Deborah Gibson) for a bit of name recognition. Film in some cheap overseas locale. Don’t worry about the script; all anyone cares about is a highly promotable concept.

Some of the most popular have been those featuring aquatic monsters. After exhausting the list of oversized water beasts (Mega Piranha), producers began turning to hybrids (Dinocroc). From there, it was a short trip to…

Sharktopus!

The problem that I have with the Sci-Fi Originals isn’t that they’re not good. I expect that. It’s that they’re not even that fun. Movies like Sharktopus don’t make any more than a minimal effort. The only wit on display is in the name.

I’ve heard it said that these are the successors to the lurid B-movie thrills of days gone by—the sort of thing that producer Roger Corman foisted on audiences—but, to my mind, there was a difference. Corman was actually a pretty good director. He hired quirky talent (Jack Nicholson, John Sayles) looking to make a mark. These were cheap films shot in a few days for the purpose of putting butts in the seats, yet you don’t make a movie as downright odd as the original Little Shop of Horrors if you’re not trying.

The makers of the Sci-Fi Originals may be trying to emulate Corman—and it’s necessary to point out that Corman’s own production company gave us Sharktopus—but it’d be nice if they gave both their monsters and their audiences something to chew on.

No, Thanks

September 11th, 2011 No comments

Don’t want to remember, but thanks for asking.

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And Another Thing

July 6th, 2011 No comments

Okay, I may be a little bit defensive about my movie choices.

What it comes down to is that I don’t like being made to feel as if the ways in which I choose to squander my precious hours don’t meet the approved standard of time-wastery. The truth is that I’ve watched more of my life tick away trapped in pointless meetings during a given week than I’ve given over to Michael Bay in my entire life. If I want to blow a couple of hours watching the Chicago skyline collapse, what’s it to anyone else?

Recently, my friend Dave pointed out a blog post by Leonard Pierce that decried “the allegedly anti-’snob’ pseudo-populism that acts like it’s scoring some valuable critical point by making fun of straw-man ‘hipsters’ who only like indie movies.” Pierce’s argument was that “it’s a bullying cultural attitude…a triumphalist mainstream movement grabbing for the throats of a tiny minority of dissenters just because they can.” He added, “The kind of people who love blockbuster movies, conversely, have totally and completely won.”

I come away with a completely opposite view. I live in a college town, and I’ve spent enough time around not-at-all-straw-men hipsters, feeling belittled because I deigned to see Batman Forever or Tomb Raider. That tiny minority can seem awfully large when it’s sitting across the table mocking you.

So, yeah, I’m kinda sensitive.

I also disagree–in part–with the assertion that the blockbuster crowd has “won.” Yes, the lion’s share of resources are devoted to summer spectacles, not just because that’s where the money is, but because that’s what it takes to make them. No one would–or should–spend $150 million on My Dinner with Andre. Yet, despite the best efforts of Transformers and Pirates of the Caribbean, indie films and prestige pictures continue to exist. Industry types like making them, and love giving each other awards for them.

I’d argue that the people who love blockbusters have about three months out of the year to enjoy them: May, June and July. August is usually given over to would-be tentpoles that didn’t turn out as well as the studio hoped. September and October are fallow months of minor comedies and medium-budget horrors. You get some big films in late November and December, but it’s mostly Oscar bait season. Then comes the long, cold winter of January to April, the elephant’s graveyard of Hollywood. (Yes, there are exceptions, and blockbuster fodder is starting to creep into early spring.)

After Harry Potter and Captain America open later this month, there’s nothing I’m excited about until December 16 and the Sherlock Holmes sequel. Don’t tell me that I’ve won.

I find it strange to be in the position of defending Michael Bay–especially in light of my searing hatred for Armageddon–but I honestly don’t see a great deal of difference between the likes of Transformers and the Saturday-matinee fodder that a lot of us old-timey sci-fi fans cherish. For every truly great film like The Day the Earth Stood Still or Forbidden Planet, there were a hundred more empty programmers like The Land Unknown or The Deadly Mantis. Did people attend George Pal’s War of the Worlds or When Worlds Collide for the characters, or to see state-of-the-art movie technology employed for the sole purpose of blowing shit up? Did anyone really care about the talky stuff going on between effects sequences in a Ray Harryhausen flick? (The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad excepted.)

I’ve “wasted” an awful lot of my life watching dumb-stupid crap like The Angry Red Planet, Queen of Blood and Crack in the World. Today I spent my afternoon off with my DVD of The Last Dinosaur, featuring Richard Boone, Joan Van Ark and a rubber tyrannosaurus. I’m sure that someone would argue that these low-budget movies of the past are somehow more pure than the modern blockbuster, but I know in my heart that junk food is junk food.

And some days–most days, to be honest–I just want an exploding Twinkie.

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Translation Guide

March 15th, 2011 No comments

“I am not a prude, but…”

Translation: I am a prude, as I’m about to demonstrate.

“Politically, I’m independent.”

Translation: Once about every ten years, my preferred party nominates someone so odious that even I can’t vote for him/her.

“I’ve never thought of you in that way.”

Translation: BOOBS BOOBS BOOBS

“Scientology is in no way a rapacious cult.”

Translation: I’ve received a letter from David Miscavige’s lawyers.

“I am a citizen journalist.”

Translation: I am a partisan hack.

“How about I tell them I’m a high priest Vatican assassin warlock.”

Translation: Even I can’t stand watching “Two and a Half Men.”

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Me Of Little Faith: Cthulhu Fhtagn!

August 19th, 2010 No comments

My friend Mark responded to my recent “Me of Little Faith” post with the following:

Dave! While you were “Facebooking,” you wrote:

“Alternately, we’re all just tiny, briefly-existing specks in an incomprehensible vast and uncaring universe who have created gods in our own image to keep the nightmares away.”

But, you forgot to write the most important part of your comment! Namely:

” . . . and soon, Cthulhu will awake, the seas will boil off, the continents will shake like gelatin, the electrons in the carbon atoms that comprise our bodies will be forcibly torn from their orbits, and our souls will be used as the clay for his obscene and inscrutable purposes.  Have a nice day everyone.”

I’m reposting this not only because I think it’s funny, but because Mark correctly identified the intersect between my personal beliefs and the writings of author H.P. Lovecraft.

I’ve long been fascinated by Lovecraft. At first it was mostly due to the absurd names he gave to his indescribably horrible horrors. (Oh yes, I’m so very terrified of Shub-Niggurath, the Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young.) Later, I came to recognize the massive influence he’s had on horror and fantasy literature, comics and movies.

The central themes of Lovecraft’s body of work describe a universe which is incomprehensible and, at best, uncaring. Mankind is neither the first intelligent life to walk on the Earth, nor will it be the last. Cosmic forces lurk in the gulfs of space and in the most inhospitable parts of our globe, biding their time until “the stars are right” and they reemerge to smite victims and followers alike.

Now, I don’t believe that extradimensional nightmares with far too many consonants in their names are anticipating the day when they can squoosh humanity between their rugose and squamous toes. But the notion of a universe that defies understanding has stuck with me.

When I think of our relationship with the seemingly infinite voids that surround us, I cannot help but be reminded of ants. Ants do some of the things that humans do: form castes, build structures, farm and fight. And their senses allow them to perceive much of the larger world around them.

But does that ant crawling up your pant leg comprehend the surface upon which it treads? Does it recognize you as another living creature? Can it have even the tiniest inkling about how denim is made, or about the Chinese sweatshop in which your garment was assembled?

I think that humans are perhaps a bit better off than ants in our understanding of the universe. We have complex equipment that has allowed us to look deeply in the darkness, and a scientific method that analyzes data and tests hypotheses.

But I believe that the universe is simply too large and too weird for us to ever truly figure it all out. And it strikes me as supreme arrogance for any of us to declare that they understand the nature and purpose (if any exists) of our shared reality.

If someone today arose from the rabble and claimed to be the living embodiment of God, we would (rightly) laugh them out of town. Well, most of us would, anyway. But a great many are all too willing to accept hearsay testimony on behalf of people who once claimed to have first-hand knowledge of God…or even to be God. And these people conveniently lived thousands of years ago, before mass communications or sensitive scientific instruments were invented, in a part of the world that, to be blunt, most modern-day Americans don’t exactly trust.

I hope you’ll pardon me if I say that I don’t believe that any of us understands it all.

Me Of Little Faith: What Doesn’t Kill Us Makes Us Trite

August 16th, 2010 No comments

One downside of reconnecting with old friends on Facebook is finding out just how little in common you currently have with them. Another is that they bring their new friends with them.

Recently, a high school classmate of mine pondered why life had to be so complicated, then declared:

“It’s a test to see if we can handle all of our problems!…before we go to Heaven!!!”

Shortly thereafter, his friend commented:

“What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger…You know what they say, God doesn’t give you anything that you can’t handle.”

A half hour later, another one redundantly followed up:

“Just remember God doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle and what won’t kill us will make us stronger……”

Ah yes, just as Jesus said.

I don’t know if it was the repetitive platitudes or the abuse of Friedrich “God is Dead” Nietzsche, but I was compelled to jump in.

“Alternately, we’re all just tiny, briefly-existing specks in an incomprehensible vast and uncaring universe who have created gods in our own image to keep the nightmares away. There’s nothing about this world that makes me think there’s any higher power taking a personal interest in the day-to-day struggles of its inhabitants.”

“Once you take eternal punishment and eternal reward off the table, what’s left? Do the best you can with what you’ve got, and try to leave the world a slightly better place than when you entered it.”

Of course, I knew perfectly well that wouldn’t be the last word:

“David, Do you think the universe and world, just popped up, one day?… I know in my heart there is a God! and everything happens for a reason!..I guess we’ll all find out one day!”

Okay, sure. Or we won’t. Whatever.

I really wanted to say, “No, you think the world just popped up one day. Specifically, Day Three. I think it took about thirteen billion years.”

And “Everything happens for a reason?” I dearly wish that I could figure out who first came up with that spurious bit of received wisdom and pimp-slap them. “Everything happens for a reason” is the empty philosophy that brought us M. Night Shayamalan’s Signs, in which Mel Gibson’s wife was cut in half by a car just so she could tell him that it was okay to hit an alien with a baseball bat. Because God had no other way to impart that admittedly helpful advice.

It’s our way of reconciling our belief of a kindly old man in the sky with the reality that a whole lot of awful shit happens in the world. No all-powerful, infinitely benevolent überbeing is setting things right in Darfur, North Korea or any of a hundred similar hellholes that dot his favored planet. That bothers us, so we chalk it all up to a divine plan that we simple people cannot possibly comprehend. We needn’t do anything because all the bad folks will be sorted out when the final trumpet blows.

Sure, many things happen for a reason. That Afghan girl with no nose or ears* who was on the cover of Time a few weeks back? The reason that happened was that her fuckhead family and some religious fanatics wanted to set an example for any other uppity women who might complain about the cruelty and virtual slavery under which they live.

Oh sure, if you want to feel better in the middle of the night, you can imagine that the bearded sky-man allowed that atrocity to happen as part of his grand scheme. And hey, losing her facial features didn’t kill that girl, so she must be stronger. If they’d cut off her feet as well, she’d be nigh unstoppable.

It’s all a test. I hope she passes. It’d suck if she couldn’t handle what God gave her.

*Remember when Disney got all those complaints about their animated film Aladdin? Specifically, the lyric “Where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face?” Just sayin’.

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A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ But A Sandwich

August 15th, 2010 No comments

Last week, USA Today opined that flight attendant Steve Slater–who famously quit his job by taking a plane’s emergency slide to the ground–is not, as some would have it, a hero. I agree. While it takes a certain kind of bravery to choose unemployment in this terrible, terrible economy, there’s nothing particularly heroic about what he did.*

But where I take issue with the editorial is the comparison it makes between Slater and Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot who safely landed his damaged aircraft in the Hudson River last year. “Heroism,” it suggests, “is about selflessness and grace under pressure.” Certainly Sullenberger exhibited the latter, in spades.  But selflessness? He was in the plane. It’s not as if there was an option to save himself that didn’t also involve saving the passengers.

Now, I am in no way denigrating Captain Sullenberger’s actions that day. He performed his job in exemplary fashion. We should all be so lucky to find ourselves aboard Sully’s crate. But, here’s the thing: Sullenberger is a commercial airline pilot. Not crashing the plane and killing everyone aboard is pretty much the minimum we expect from them.

Let’s move on from the good captain. I don’t want to sully the name of Sully. I’m just using him as an example of our something that bugs me: our overuse of the word “hero.”

To me, a hero is someone who not only puts others ahead of him or herself, but voluntarily risks personal safety to help the helpless. A soldier facing enemy bullets to pull a wounded squad member into cover is a hero. So is someone who suffers on behalf of someone else’s civil rights. And firefighters? Inherently heroic.

However, we use “hero” to describe all manner of people. Sports figures, of course. Folks who tell their boss that thing we always wanted to tell our boss. And disaster survivors. Especially disaster survivors. In times of catastrophe, we lionize victims and saviors alike.

To paraphrase The Incredibles–a movie in which a troubled boy confuses superpowers with heroism–“When everyone is a hero, no one will be.”

*It was pretty cool, though.

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Redacted

June 8th, 2010 No comments

The latest thing in my craw (though it’s only lunchtime) is the Curious Case of <redacted>. You’ve probably heard about it. A couple of <redacted> ago, someone shoved a <redacted> in <redacted> and asked <redacted> what <redacted> thought about <redacted>. <redacted> was typically outspoken. “<redacted>,” <redacted> said, adding that <redacted>.

Okay, it wasn’t exactly diplomatic. And the references to <redacted> were crass, given <redacted>.

It was barely any time at all before <redacted> made the rounds and the charges of <redacted> began. Even the <redacted> got involved. <redacted>‘s career as a <redacted> came to an end.

Leaving aside the question of whether “<redacted>” is the same as “<redacted>,” there are legitimate controversies about <redacted>. A person who felt strongly about <redacted> might find themselves echoing <redacted>.

However, what has been have made very clear is that one must not express <redacted>. That will not be tolerated.

For a country that loves to shove our blessed rights in the faces of non-Americans, we are quick to deny those self-same rights to those with whom we disagree. You’ll never take away our God-given ability to say whatever damned fool thing crosses our minds, but we will.

And that’s <redacted>.

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