WASHINGTON, DC – The NSA announced today that, working in cooperation with several other branches of the Department of Homeland Security, they have managed to identify a massive underground homegrown terrorist organization here in America. This organization has been active for decades, secretly working to recruit and train operatives in survival skills, weapons training, and small unit tactics to some unknown purpose. Speculation has it that high-ranking and long term members of this elite organization have even managed to infiltrate our very government, even to the highest levels. They go by the code name “The Boy Scouts”.
These individuals can be identified by the highly stylized “uniforms” they wear, as well as their ritualistic chants and secret signals. They reward members with recognition for completing missions and earning “merit badges”, as well as attempting to ingratiate themselves into the wider community. Sleeper cells have been found across the United States and even in other countries. Radio and internet chatter has been picked up about some sort of mass gathering code named “Jamboree”.
They support themselves through private high-pressure collections in local areas, taking “donations” and “selling” door to door, an obvious front (because really, who even buys popcorn kernels anymore?) Their primary targets for recruitment are boys between the ages of 13-18, although they are believed to have an affiliate group that targets younger boys, as well as a sister organization that targets females and has a much more successful fundraising operation dealing in highly addictive narcotics.
If approached by one of these “Boy Scouts”, citizens are advised to remain calm and move away slowly. Their primary goal at this time seems to be focused on recruitment of young men, except for homosexuals.
Today is the day after Halloween, and we all know what that means.
(“The start of Diabetes Awareness Month?”)
Close, but no. It means that we’ll all be eating lots and lots of candy. Whether you’re a parent sneaking the best bits out of your kids’ hauls or, like me, you’ve got the dregs of what you couldn’t give away on The Big Night, there’s plenty to go around. Temptation will be everywhere for weeks to come, as everyone brings the sweet treats everywhere they go in a desperate attempt to pawn them off on others rather than suffer through the sugar shock of being stuck with it themselves.
Personally I’m in a different boat than I’ve been in before. First I had to miss out on the trick-or-treaters because I had class, which I deeply regret since that’s my favorite part of the holiday. Even more than Christmas I believe Halloween is for children, and seeing them come to my door and beg me for sugar so that I can send them laughing maniacally into the night and leave their parents to suffer with their sugar-crazed fiends for the next several weeks warms my cold, cold heart. Apparently we had quite the bounty of them last night as well, which is why we have so little left over candy, which is both a good thing and a bad thing.
It’s a good thing, because lord knows I don’t need any more candy lying around the house, and as I already mentioned there’ll be plenty around work and elsewhere for me to get my fill. It’s a bad thing because this is the first year I had almost complete control of the candy buying in my household, and My Not So Humble Wife and I agree on candy in general anyway, so it wasn’t an issue. You know what I’m talking about: that one guy who insists on buying The Shitty Candy.
I hate that guy so much. There’s so many things wrong with that. First and foremost is that I’m forced to give out The Shitty Candy to the kids who come to my door. Setting aside the very real possibility of an unsanctioned home delivery of eggs and toilet paper, there’s the simple fact that I have a reputation to protect. I want to be the guy who gives out The Good Candy, nay, The Great Candy, and in great heaping handfuls. So I have to do my best to avoid having The Shitty Candy dumped in the bowl, but inevitably we either run low or (worse) when I’m not looking Shitty Candy Guy starts pouring it in, and he ALWAYS mixes it up. SO then I have to rummage around and try not to give it out, but the kids see me rummaging around, so if I accidentally give them a piece of The Shitty Candy, it looks like I did it on purpose, and I become That Guy.
The next worst thing is the day after, when we have to start eating the leftover candy. (Throw it out? I know each of those words, but your sentence is meaningless.) Despite having insisted on buying The Shitty Candy and handing out The Shitty Candy, I notice he never bothers to eat The Shitty Candy, at least not at first. He always goes straight for the leftovers of the stuff that I bought – you know, The Great Candy. This offends me, not because The Great Candy tends to be more expensive (c’mon, this stuff is like five bucks a bag), but because the whole point of Halloween candy is what it says about you as a person. Are you a Milky Way guy? Are you a Junior Mints kind of gal? Or are you one of those Mary Jane weirdoes? (If you give away Werther’s at Halloween, you deserve what you get.) Eating the leftovers is the reward or punishment for the choices you made, and going straight for someone else’s Great Candy is Halloween identity theft.
This year, I might have missed out on the trick-or-treaters, and I might not have much in the way of leftover candy, but what I do have left is nothing but Great Candy. And that’s worth 100 Grand.
10. Russet potatoes feel left out
9. “Wounded Knee” should refer to historic battle, not Robert Griffin III
8. “Pox Ridden Blanket” Theme Night not a big success
7. Other minorities don’t have major league sports teams named after their favorite ethnic slurs
6. Can’t be called the home team because “we were here first”
5. Team owner Dan Snyder insists on referring to season tickets as “reservations”
4. Stadium concessions stands refuse to accept beads and animal skins as currency
3. Tribes can’t scalp… tickets
2. D.C. allows casinos, but won’t put one in the stadium
1. Polls show Native Americans don’t want to be associated with the Federal government
Recently I was listening to the radio (okay, I was in the car and I happened to have the radio on) and I heard an interview with director Randy Moore about his new satire Escape from Tomorrow. It was the first I had heard of the film, which is not terribly surprising since I’ve never really been a film festival kind of guy, but I think I may end up seeing this one. It’s not that I have anything personal against the Big Mouse, it’s just that I think he made an important point in this article:
“Branding is so much a part of our culture, and it’s everywhere. And (Disney) is everywhere. They’re so ubiquitous, you can’t get away from them even if you tried… To not be able to comment or critique or parody that (ubiquity), I just think it’s morally unacceptable.”
However, in the interview I heard he also made another point that, while I think it’s important, makes me feel he missed the mark somewhat by targeting Disney specifically. He said (and I can’t seem to find the interview online, so forgive me for paraphrasing) that the theme of the film is that you can’t be happy all the time. I think that’s an excellent point, especially in an age and culture where we have lost sight of the idea of contentment and we are constantly being sold happiness in its stead. I believe Dennis Leary put it best in his stand-up routine No Cure for Cancer:
“Happiness comes in small doses folks. It’s a cigarette butt, or a chocolate chip cookie or a five second orgasm. You come, you smoke the butt, you eat the cookie, you go to sleep, wake up and go back to fucking work the next morning, THAT’S IT! End of fucking list!”
So yeah. While there’s something to be said for taking a few shots at (as Moore describes them) a “ubiquitous” company that specializes in selling happiness, I think there’s something he loses sight of: Disney is only selling what we’re buying. Yes, Disney Theme Parks™ are the Happiest Place On Earth™ (made so, I have been told by a former employee, by sucking all the happiness out of their employees, powdering it, and then sprinkling it over the park; that’s your “fairy dust”), but they don’t force anyone to go there and then whistle Zippy-Doo-Da out of their assholes a-la Clark Griswald. I think there may be more to be found in making a movie that critically examines a culture fixated on perpetual bliss, rather than the companies that strive to provide it.
Which is not to say those companies deserve to be completely let off the hook; they are a part of the culture, they help make and drive that culture, and they deserve a certain amount of grilling in the space of exploring that culture. But to single out one company for catering to the desires of people to have happiness is akin to blaming one company for Americans being obese.
Here’s a fun little something to do the next time you’re bored. I seem to recall at least one version of this coming from a fantasy novel (and extra happy points to the person who reminds me which one it was), but I’ve also run into people who have played some variation of it who never read any fantasy novels, so obviously the idea has spread, assuming it didn’t originate elsewhere.
The first version I like to call “Bring Me Three Nouns”. Here’s the setup: pretend you’re in a war camp of some kind, and you’re interrogating a prisoner. He’s a tough one and he refuses to talk, but for some reason (political, moral, legal, whatever) you can’t just beat the information out of him. Suddenly you have an inspiration. In the hearing of the prisoner, you say to a subordinate “Bring me… He’ll talk.” Replace the ellipsis with three nouns, any three nouns of your choice. That’s all you get to say. What three items would you choose? Something silly, like “a bunch of grapes, a turkey baster, and a pair of headphones”? Something ominous, like “a chainsaw, a smock, and a gravy ladle”? Or just something bizarre, like “a two dollar bill, a pair of tights, and a statue of Carmen Miranda”?
A more restrictive (and in some ways more creative) version of the game is “Object, Animal, Food”. The setup is the same, only in this case you specifically have to name an inanimate object, an animal (living or dead, your choice) and some kind of food (but feel free to stretch the boundaries of any of these categories as far as the other participants will allow). The results can turn out to be as disgusting as “Bring me a box cutter, a weasel, and some raw hamburger. He’ll talk”, or as disturbingly funny as “Bring me a yoyo, an otter, and a lollipop. He’ll talk.” Half the fun is imagining what exactly you would do with this bizarre and motley collection of items (which is, of course, the imaginary purpose of the whole exercise; it’s psychological warfare).
There’s also a deeper level to the game, if you want to explore that far. This game can be a kind of Rorschach test, in that what you suggest can say a lot about you. What do you love? What do you hate? What do you fear? There’s a certain amount of projection that goes into something like this. There’s also a question of boundaries – what’s over the line, what’s too far and too gross to even suggest, if only by implication in an imaginary setting?
On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with treating it as a free version of “Cards Against Humanity” and letting yourself and your friends run wild without reading anything into it. After all, it is just a game. Have fun!
Oh, and be sure to share your favorite responses in the comments below. I look forward to hearing them.
Hello everybody, and welcome to the latest installment of Quarterly Report, where I review the contents of the mystery boxes I receive from Quarterly.co! This time I’ll be reviewing the second installment from Laughing Squid. As some of you may remember, I was quite enamored of the first shipment they sent me, and honestly I didn’t think there was any way they could top it. Fortunately I was so very, very wrong. This shipment is all about the memes, and I couldn’t stop laughing from the moment I started digging in.
When I opened the box, I was greeted by something I simply didn’t expect: Nyan Cat! Yes, someone managed to turn this internet sensation (some might say abomination, but haters gonna hate) into a delightful plushy, and it even sings the song so you can get it stuck in your head (or even better someone else’s head) all over again!
And did someone say “haters gonna hate”? (Well, okay, I did.) Show your disdain for the haterade with this sweet meme-inspired (temporary) ‘tat.
Not everybody is a hater, though. Some people are just grumpy, and the most beloved of the grumpy is Grumpy Cat. Nobody loves Grumpy Cat more than My Not So Humble Sister. She’s going to be sorry when she sees she missed out on this sweet copy of his book, “Grumpy Cat: A Grumpy Book”.
Just to keep things fresh, there’s also a Runaway Monkey Air Freshener included. It’s almost as adorable as Darwin himself.
Finally, what may be my favorite piece of all, the signature Laughing Squid item: the finger tentacles. Yes, you read that right.
I can already think of so many ways to have fun with these, including waking up my Not So Humble Mother the next time she stays over- um, that is, NOT waking up… oh, heck, she’s already read it, no point in going back on it. Well at least I can perfect my Cthulhu impression.
The internet is a strange place, and I’m a strange guy. And Laughing Squid keeps bringing it right to my door.
I’m not really a fan of horror movies. They’re just too creepy, and generally there’s too much focus on gross-out rather than spook factor for my taste. The ones that are genuinely scary usually just give me screaming nightmares, and why would I want to pay good money for that? There’s a fine balance between those, though, a razor’s edge where horror meets humor known as the macabre, or a finely tuned understanding of suspense that relies on shadows and darkness to send a chill up your spine and give you a twist ending that goes beyond simple surprise and into the realm of revelation. That’s where I like to spend my time, and there are a few movies that rarely seem to get mentioned that exemplify the tone for me.
Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight (1995) – Despite my protests about not liking horror flicks, for reasons I can never fully explain I was a HUGE fan of Tales from the Crypt as a kid. The episode I remember most to this day is “Chop Poker”, and I don’t think I’ve even seen it in twenty years or more. It was just that good. The show as a whole was just my brand of scary – not so long that I couldn’t sit all the way through it, and with that wonderfully gruesome Crypt Keeper giving it all a sick black humor to take the edge off (or twist the knife at the end) to make it all the better. When I found out they were making an entire movie out of it, I was onboard immediately, even before I knew what it was about. And wow, what a movie.
The story is of a man who carries the last of seven mystical keys that hold the blood of Christ and is being chased by demons, who ends up being cornered in a boarding house in the middle of nowhere. This could easily devolve into a B-grade slasher flick except for two things. First, the cast is amazing. Billy Zane alone could carry this movie. He is the most charismatic, compelling, likably vicious and evil villain I have ever seen, and he manages to pull off lines that would fall flat coming from almost anyone else. Jada Pinkett Smith makes a strong and likable (though unusual) heroine, not playing to the usual tropes, and William Sadler brings a surprising depth and humanity to the character Brayker. The rest of the cast delivers solid performances for what are for the most part stock characters, although each has their standout moments.
The other thing that elevates this movie from trash to triumph is the script. It combines a surprisingly deep story with some fantastic writing. With great lines such as “Do me a favor? Don’t scream. Just hear what I’ve gotta say… and then scream” and “You know this ‘Hell on Earth’ business? Big fucking deal – I’ve got hemorrhoids”, the script manages to range all over the emotional terrain from terrifying to tragic to comedic without breaking the moment or the momentum. The Crypt Keeper himself is an added bonus.
Death Becomes Her (1992) – Not a horror movie per se, but definitely a dark comedy that shades more to the dark than the comedy. With an amazing cast that includes Meryl Streep, Bruce Willis, and Goldie Hawn, you know you’re in for some solid comedy, but I have to admit I had no idea they could go so dark. The basic plot line revolves around the two women who are old rivals and constantly out to “one up” one another, and they both (unbeknownst to each other) discover a potion of youth and immortality. Of course, immortality isn’t always what you think it is, and things get very weird very fast.
The special effects in this film haven’t aged particularly well, but they’re not bad for what they are, and the performance from both leading ladies more than makes up for it. Bruce Willis manages to turn in a surprisingly subdued performance for people who are used to seeing him as the take-charge action star, and the twist ending is decidedly macabre. There’s more humor than horror, but there’s enough darkness to it to definitely put it in the category of spooky films.
Dark City (1998) – A neo-noir sci-fi flick in the vein of Twelve Monkeys, with the same sort of WTF ending that makes you want to watch the whole thing over again, Dark City is another film that doesn’t really fall into the genre of horror, but the dark and brooding atmosphere of noir definitely puts it in the same general ballpark of suspense and thriller films. A bizarre film that revolves around the unfolding story of John Murdoch (played by Rufus Sewell) and the ominously named Strangers, Dark City has plenty of action but also more than a little pop philosophy for those who are inclined to mix some thinking into their entertainment. There’s also a strong performance from the always entertaining Kiefer Sutherland. I could go into more detail, but frankly that would take away most of the joy of watching this unique film. Better to try it for yourself and enjoy the bittersweet ending.
There you have it, my picks for a dark and stormy night, when the wind is howling and the ghouls are knocking at the door. Halloween is fast approaching, so if you’re looking for something different for your filmfest than the usual slasher fare or zombierama, give ‘em a try. Just don’t blame me if you have to sleep with the light on.
Save me from “artists”. I put that in quotation marks because I want to distinguish the specific group of individuals who claim to be artists but aren’t willing to put in the work that comes with the job. I don’t mean “output”, because I know quite a few self-described artists who have generated quite a bit of output, but they have certain deficiencies that will always hold them back from real achievement in their chosen field.
The first is that they will almost universally make claims to “originality”, and will refuse to study what has come before. I see a couple of problems with this. The most notable is that if you don’t know what came before you, how can you honestly speak to originality? Even if you came by something honestly, it may (and likely is) similar to something that has already been done, at least close enough to exist in a school or art that has already been done to death. Study gives you knowledge of what to stay away from if nothing else. Secondary to that is the fact that we are all of us influenced by everything that we are exposed to. Unless you grew up in a bubble and live in a sealed room, you are constantly being influenced. If you don’t take the time to study your art, you won’t even be aware of how you’re being influenced.
The other way they refuse to put in the work, and the more damaging in my opinion, is that (again, almost universally) they refuse to work for money. Some call it being “commercialized”, others call it “selling out”. I call it “working for a living”. Self-proclaimed “artists” who don’t want their “artistic vision” to be “corrupted” or “constrained” by others are artists who tend to go hungry. This refusal to work in their chosen field may have something to do with “artistic integrity”, but likely owes more to ego and vanity. The kind of people who don’t want to be told what to make are the kind of people who are creating for their own amusement and yet expect others to pay them for the privilege. As a friend of mine recently pointed out, most theater majors don’t go into carpentry, and there’s a reason for that: they’re not really interested in working in the theater; they’re interested in the spotlight. Sure carpenters get steady work, but they don’t get applause.
This idolization of idolization is at the heart of the problem. Despite what Andy Wharhol may have told us (and what reality television tries to sell us) not everyone will get to be famous, even for fifteen minutes. Even worse, a desire for fame is antithetical to true creation. While fame may eventually be a reward for creation, it should be a side-effect, like a shadow that is cast by talent when in the presence of the light of hard work. The shadow is an ephemeral dream that has no substance; it is a signifier that comes after the fact, not before it. Those who focus on it will never grasp the reality it signifies.
As some of you may recall, I signed up for two different packages from the online service Quarterly. The first to arrive of the tandem is the Technology and Toys box, of which so far I’ve already reviewed one (which you can see here). The second arrived just last week, but with everything going on I haven’t had time to write up a proper review until now. I know, I know, just like I said to the postman, “I don’t care about your problems, I only want to know what’s in the box!” Well, here we go.
First up, I found a set of paper robots.
I have to admit, this was an awesome find for me. I can remember going to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum all the time as a kid, and while I never got anything from the gift shop, this is exactly the kind of thing I would pick up and look at longingly while my Not So Humble Mother would wait for me to figure out she wasn’t going to buy me yet another toy that was going to sit around my room untouched for weeks before she finally had to throw it out. Fortunately I’m a big boy now, and I can add this to my growing collection of toys that sits around my room unplayed with that My Not So Humble Wife never gets to throw away at all, because it’s called a “man cave” now, and I can still claim I’ll get around to putting them together someday when I just have the time and didn’t you want me to mow the lawn today?
And speaking of robot toys that are right up my alley, the next item really grabbed my attention:
Yes, that’s a tin wind-up robot. It’s only a couple inches tall, but that just makes it that much easier for it to scoot across the table. I especially love that I got the one named “Ima-Robot”. This is exactly the sort of goofy little toy that appeals to me, and it went right into my kitsch collection in my office along with my Pip-Boy Bobble Head and Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.
The next item in the box was only vaguely appealing to me, but at least I can understand why they included it in the Technology and Toys box, and My Not So Humble Wife is quite fond of it. It’s…. sand. Yes, you read that right.
In case you’re wondering “what could this stuff be?” I’ll tell you right now it’s exactly what it says on the label. It’s sand. It never dries out, it’s not too damp, and it’s just like playing with sand at the beach. I personally found it entertaining for about 30 seconds, but My Not So Humble Wife is a notorious fidget and it has kept her busy for hours, so looks like we have a winner with this one.
Alas, the same could not be said for the final item in the box.
Yes, it’s a stylus for all your electronic gadgets. Honestly this is the sort of thing I would expect to buy on my own if I felt I needed one, and if I don’t feel a need for one I would never use one even if someone game me one. *cough* *cough* The problem is I see this going one of two ways. Even though I have exceptionally fat fingers for a man of my slender build, the problem is that either I will find it incredibly useless and will throw it away within a week, or I will get used to it and then I will lose it within a day or so of deciding I have no idea how I ever lived without it. I just don’t see the win here. I also don’t see how this relates to “Toys”, although it’s definitely “Technology”.
So here’s the final verdict: all told a cool box this month, but overall I still didn’t find enough here to justify the $50 price tag, even accounting for someone going to the trouble of curating all the items for me. It just doesn’t have enough of the “fun” or “cool” factor to say “I don’t mind paying extra to have someone pick this stuff out”, nor is there sufficient value in the goodies present to say I got enough to be fully satisfied, although it came a lot closer this time than last time. Your mileage may differ, and if you see enough stuff you like I still recommend checking it out. Also if you think you might like any of the other options, of which there are many, sign up now, because more than a few are sold out (including some of the ones I was thinking of switching to). You can sign up for the waiting list, but three months is already long enough to wait between packages. Don’t wait any longer than you have to.
Get ready haters, I’m about to give you yet another reason to call me a self-involved, entitled, culturally insensitive, ignorant, tone-deaf dudebro. So here it is: if I hear the word “appropriation” misused or overused one more time, I’m going to appropriate a can of whup-ass and start spraying uppercuts. (See what I just did there?)
Here’s the thing: I understand that historically Caucasians (I do so hate the term “white people”) have taken credit for creating entire cultural movements that were actually created by other groups, whether it be people from another country or oppressed minorities within their own countries. Whether it be art, food, music, dance, or pretty much any form of creative or personal expression, if it’s been done by someone a white person (and usually a white man) came along, repackaged it, and sold it as something “new”. And lots of people are still understandably angry about that. Add onto that a history of assimilation (read: be forced to do as we do or you’ll get nothing and worse) and the flames burn even hotter.
But then something strange happened: somewhere along the line, and I’m not sure exactly where, people of all ethnicities and backgrounds started getting credit for their original creations, and we even started going back and correcting the dominant historical narrative. There’s still work to do, and the debate about who originated what is likely to rage for decades if not centuries, but that’s actually normal (people still argue about who “actually” wrote Shakespeare’s plays). This extends beyond individuals to entire elements of society, such as African American culture, Asian culture, and “start-up culture”, and even localized geographical elements, such as Portland culture and Silicon Valley culture.
What many individuals seem to be missing in all of this, however, is that despite the deficiencies of the past, culture does not exist in a vacuum. It influences and is influenced by the society and cultures around it. Pop culture influences African American culture, which influences start up culture, which influences Portland culture, which influences Asian culture, which influences Silicon Valley culture, which in turn influence pop culture, and they all influence each other. When African Americans adopt some element of pop culture (whether individually or as a group) there is no great outcry of “appropriation!”, and yet as soon as some element of African American culture (or any other minority culture) becomes a part of the dominant paradigm, there is an immediate rush to cry foul.
And this is where I have a problem. This failure to acknowledge the intertwined and interactive nature of culture (and note I do not say modern culture, I mean culture across all time and all places) is a fallacy. The problem of appropriation (as I understand it) was not and is not one of the dominant culture being influenced by other cultures, it is that it tries to subsume those cultures, to take what it wants without even acknowledging that those other cultures ever even existed. Today I don’t see that happening so much as I see a blending of cultures, of people being inspired to try new things, to make something a part of their cultural lexicon that wasn’t there before.
Does that mean they have a complete grasp of the entirety of what it is they are exploring or are delving into? No, it doesn’t. In the same way that an artist may see a painting by another artist without understanding the entirety of the subject matter, the depth and composition of it, or even the cultural significance of it because she lacks the necessary referents, and yet still be inspired by it and tries to incorporate some elements of it into her own work. Just as there’s a fine line between tribute and plagiarism, so there is a fine line between inspiration and appropriation. But a knee-jerk reaction that assumes every cultural movement is an act of bad faith is simply a reflection of itself.