Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Hercules Rockefeller and Other Paragons of Masculinity

Not too long ago, an article on the strange, sad life of Rock Hudson went up at The Hairpin, and while Hudson’s story merits the time it takes to tell it, my takeaway was Henry Willson, the Hollywood superagent, talent scout and peenhound who created the actor’s public persona. Even given Hudson’s sad end, he stands out as one of the most successful Hollywood Frankensteins that Willson plucked from obscurity and then rebuilt them head-to-toe into something more marquee-friendly, more deserving of the affection of the American public. This process often necessitated a rechristening, and Wilson seemed to have very specific ideas about what a masculine movie star name sounded like. I mean, consider Roy Harold Fitzgerald, the Midwestern boy that Wilson transformed into, to borrow The Hairpin’s phrasing, the “Ken doll with a dye job” who is remembered today as Rock Hudson.

rock, but it could just as easily be any of the other men on this list

Here are all the Willson dreamboats I could find, ordered by the increasing macho ridiculousness of their names:
  • Nicholas Aloysius Adamshock became Nick Adams, which is actually a fairly sensible shortening.
  • Gail Shilkles became Craig Stevens — and for the better, I’d say.
  • Raymon Lee Cramton became Chad Everett.
  • Norman Eugene Walker became Clint Walker.
  • Armand Joseph Catalano became the far blander-sounding Guy Williams, though with that name he at least starred in the TV series Zorro and Lost in Space.
  • Carmen Orrico is today known as John Saxon, and with that name he’s racked up a few notable horror credits, including A Nightmare on Elm Street, Tenebrae and the original Black Christmas. But according to a few sites, like this one, he narrowly avoided being given the name Rand Saxon.
  • Merle Johnson became Troy Donahue. (And, by the way, Donahue along with a Willson creation who didn’t change his name, Doug McClure, are the sources of the name of Simpsons character Troy McClure, who stars in “rained out ballgame”-style B-movies inspired by the the kind of movies the actors on this list appeared in.)
  • Francis Timothy McCown became Rory Calhoun, the western star whose name, when entered into the Google search box, calls up that one Simpsons reference rather quickly in the list of frequent searches.
  • Robert Ozell Moseley — a man born in a California town whose name, while we’re on the subject, is Pumpkin Center — became Guy Madison. (Madison, by the way is sited in this Salon article as the slab o’ man that inspired the term beefcake.)
  • Arthur Andrew Kelm became Tab Hunter, the soda pop who shoots deer.
  • Earl Carver became Cal Bolder, which pretty much gets to the hart of Willson’s renaming process.
  • James Westmoreland was saddled with the very awkward Rad Fulton, though he later reverted to his original name and continued acting.
  • Orison Whipple Hunderford became Ty Hardin, which, yes, sounds like a porn name, and an obvious one at that.
  • John Papiro was transformed into the weirdly white power-sounding Race Gentry.
  • And, finally, Norman Jay Rambeau was given the name that The Hairpin calls out as the worst (also the best): Dack Rambo. Apparently Willson had run out of one-syllable names that sounded butch enough and had simply decided to make them up. (Dack, by the way, had a twin brother — “TWINS!!!” is what Willson surely said one slow afternoon at the docks — named Orman Ray, whom Willson renamed Dirk Rambo. This other brother died young, however.)
I’m sure there are others. (In fact, I know there are: I can’t find enough information on Chance Gentry or Chance Nesbitt to determine who they were before Willson got his hands on them.) But with the exceptions of Rory Calhoun and Troy Donahue, each name fits the pattern of single-syllable first name plus double-syllable last name. I don’t know why that screams “American movie-going market” exactly, but I suppose there is something inherently manly in that first monosyllabic strike — like a punch to the gut or the firing of a gun — that suggests the brute force of a man of action. It also tends to sound Germanic, as opposed to the flowing three- and four-beat names more typical of Italian or Spanish names. And the last names evoke some combination of ruggedness or general Americanness or both. It’s pretty obvious to see, especially today, but that’s not to sat that people couldn’t see through the names even back then. According to this article, Kaye Ballard suggested four more that Willson could add to the stable: “Grid Iron, Cuff Links, Plate Glass and Bran Muffin.”

I’d be lying if I said things weren’t different today. Actors get to keep their awkward names, and some are even born with names that sound like the product of a focus group spitballing in an underventilated conference room. (It annoys me to no end that we have a moderately famous person named Channing Tatum now.) One thing I can say for sure: Henry Willson would have loved Heath Ledger.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

What to Call Your Double-Faced Cat

So Gawker today has a post up on Frank and Louie (“Frankenlouie”) a double-faced cat that holds the world record for longevity for having evaded death for twelve whole years. The lifespan is remarkable because most such cats die fairly quickly, apparently missing out on the eighteen lives you’d expect they’d get.


The technical term for these little experiments of God is Janus cat, so-called for the two-faced Roman god from whom we get the name for January, the month when we’re looking back on the past year and preparing for the new year to come. But I say a better term is Regina Delvecchio cats, after that two-faced bitch Regina Delvechhio. She knows what she did. And she’s not welcome around here anymore.

YOU HEAR THAT, REGINA?

Monday, September 26, 2011

My Review of Drive (Having Not Seen Drive)

Hi. Thanks for reading this post, despite my note in the post title stating that I have no reason to weigh in on this film in any way. However, Spencer has informed me of one plot point from Drive that bothered him enough that he wanted to share it with me. even though I have not seen it yet. And that plot point is this: In the movie, despite the fact that Christina Hendricks plays a supporting role, Carey Mulligan plays a woman who has a child with Latino gangster.

This I cannot accept.

Like, in a fictional universe where both Christina Hendricks and Carey Mulligan play characters — even tangentially related ones — the Latino gangster would never procreate with Mulligan. He’d totally hit the curvy hotness that is Hendricks. There’s just no situation in which he’d say, “Nah, I ‘d rather go for that slim-hipped chick with the pixie cut.” If for some reason Hendricks didn’t occupy a social circle that directly intersected with his, he’d find out about her — being a crime boss, he has ears all over town, of course. Even if Carey Mulligan were banging at his door, begging for it, he’d still go for Christina Hendricks over her. It’s just a matter of fact.

Now, I should probably point out now that I’ve never seen a Carey Mulligan movie — not An Education, not Never Let Me Go, not the Wall Street sequel. My entire awareness of her public persona is drawn from interviews (print and video) and photos of her walking across various red carpets with wildly hit-or-miss gowns draped on her boyish figure. And that’s not saying that she’s overall dressed worse than Hendricks, who herself can’t seem to dress in a consistently flattering manner. But that doesn’t prevent me from imagining Mulligan as some winchy, squinchy little Judi Dench-esque imp dressed in a way that pleases a fairly limited audience, especially compared with Hendricks, who at least knows that showcasing her breasts will win the attention of certain audiences (straight men, some lesbians and gay men supporting her right to own the thing she has going on anatomically).

Let’s compare, shall we?




So then could there ever be a situation in which Hendricks — who already over-vavooms Elisabeth Moss on Mad Men — could seem less appealing to the stereotypical male than Carey “Elisabeth Moss with a Bad Haircut” Mulligan? Even slapped hard with the most drastic hoodrat drag, I cannot see it. I thought long and hard about this matter. Maybe, I thought, if Hendricks played a character who aggressively farted, but then I realized that, no, that wouldn’t do it. Maybe if Hendricks’s character had somehow obtained some of those discontinued, olestra-enriched potato chips that make flatulence “productive” — visibly so? Still no. Even a stained pair of sweats stretched around her rounder-than-Hollywood-normal ass couldn’t do it. Maybe, just maybe, if she did her best impression of Gail the Snail while playing a character runs around cutting off guys’ dicks and yelling “I’m you mom! Your mom is doing this! FAAAART!” Then, and only then, would Hendricks seem like the lesser of the two when the two are her and Mulligan. But even then, it’s only slightly a closer race than it would be between, say, Hendricks and Dinah Manoff or Hendricks and Tyne Daly or Hendricks and some horrible hybrid of Rhoda Morgenstern’s mother and the Frankenstein monster.

My non-review, then: Either Hendricks and Mulligan should have swapped roles, or the Mulligan role should have gone to Michelle Williams, who for years has been doing Mulligan’s whole thing with a hell of a lot more sex appeal.

And yes, I will follow this post up when I finally see Drive.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

There’s a Word for That Thing That Made You Think You Were Dying!

I can’t see the point in trying to build up this one or trying to tie it to some anecdote from my life. I’m just surprised and impressed that someone thought to assign a word to this harrowing yet harmless condition.
beeturia (bee-TYOO-ree-ah) — noun: the passing of red or pink urine after eating beets.
And you might have thought that one urine-related word of the week was enough. No, of course not. More urine, I say. Isn’t this particular pee word both handy and awesome? You don’t need to call it “red beet pee,” “the red tide” or “OHMYGOD take me to urgent care I AM DYING!” You can just say, “Oh, I have the beeturia again! I love how it makes bathroom use more interesting,”


Fun for entertaining, too.

According to Wikipedia, only ten and fourteen percent of the population suffer from beeturia. Wikipedia did not say, however, whether there exists a special word to refer to what asparagus does to one’s urine. I think I have a new goal for 2012.

Previous words of the week after the jump.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Honey Blonde Justice, NBC-Style

On the left: Kelli Giddish, who as of this week is the new member of Law & Order: SVU. On the right: Maria Bello, the protagonist of the Prime Suspect remake, which as of this week is also airing on NBC. Am I crazy or is there a certain resemblance between these two?


Or am I just seizing onto the fact that for the first moment in TV history, fictional New York crimes are being investigated by large-headed, pretty-but-tough blonde ladies? And why isn’t some show arming Sarah Alexander and making her walk the beat?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

M(Adam) Butterfly: A Brief Introduction

The gist: Life really does imitate art, in case you thought that was a fake thing. Also, Weezer!

Generally, I know next to nothing about opera. I can talk books and movies and TV and music and games and even certain kinds of live performance, to a degree, but I just don’t know opera, have never been taught opera and, indeed, have never watched an opera, at least in the strictest sense of the term. I mean, I attended one, but I was blindfolded so I couldn’t watch it. What a weird birthday.

Just recently, however, I wikistumbled into limited knowledge about the opera Madame Butterfly. It happened as a result of running late to work. When Morning Becomes Eclectic starts in, I know I’m my computer monitor is conspicuously blank. On this particular slow-moving morning, I was behind enough that I heard all of the show’s first song, a strange blend of operatic singing, spoken word and that very 80s variety of pop that sounds familiar even if you haven’t heard it before. The song, it turns out, was an experimental piece by Malcolm McLaren, a guy I know primarily for managing The Sex Pistols and being responsible for that downtempo remix of “She’s Not There” that plays during the Mexican hotel scene at the end of Kill Bill, Vol. Two. That song I like. This opera-influenced one I can’t recommend, exactly, but it’s enough of a curiosity that music buffs should want to give it a spin, just for the “This exists?” factor.


It’s a riff of the Madame Butterfly story, complete with the more famous parts of Puccini’s opera. Not knowing the story, I looked it up. Here’s a quick synopsis, via Wikipedia:
In 1904, an American navy man, Pinkerton, marries a Japanese woman — Cio-Cio San, nicknamed Butterfly — while he’s staying in Nagasaki. She converts from Buddhism to Christianity for him. However, he leaves and does not return for years. Butterfly insists that Pinkerton will come back to both her and the son she bore in his absence. When Pinkerton does return to Japan, Butterfly spots his ship and spends the entire night waiting for him. Pinkerton eventually arrives at Butterfly’s house, but he brings the new wife and the news that he intends to collect his son. Butterfly, heartbroken, apologizes to Buddha and then kills herself.
Very sad stuff, of course — it is a tragic opera, after all — and there’s something particularly moving in the image of the woman waiting up all night, thinking that the person she loves will come running back to her at any moment, when everybody but her knows that he will not.

Now, knowing that Madame Butterfly is also called Madama Butterfly, I assumed that M. Butterfly — a play that became a movie that I know mostly by virtue of it being one of the only major David Cronenberg-directed work that I haven’t seen — must be yet another version of the same story. It is not. M. Butterfly is, in fact, a separate but related work inspired by the opera.

Here is another quick synopsis:
Rene Gallimard works in the French embassy in China, where he falls in love with a beautiful opera singer, Song Liling, not realizing that the Beijing opera casts men in all the roles. Song does not explain this to Gallimard, and they fall in love anyway. Ultimately, Song comes with Gallimard back to France, where Song’s true gender is revealed. Gallimard is jailed and then commits harakiri.
You can draw parallels easily — the enmeshing of orientalism with occidentalism, trans-Eurasian love, deception leading to suicide. But here’s the thing: M. Butterfly is also based on real events.

A third quick synopsis:
In 1964, Bernard Bouriscot was a 20-year-old employed at the French embassy in China. Finally out of school and off in a foreign land, he sought to fall in love with a woman, having previously only experienced sex with other men. He met Shi Pei Pu, a Chinese opera singer who told him that he was a woman dressing and posing as a man. The two fell in love, allegedly only having sex in the dark so that Bouriscot believed Shi was female and shy-in-a-Chinese-way about her body. At some point, he began giving Shi the kind of documents you’re not supposed to give to other countries. Shi, meanwhile produced a boy — actually purchased the kid, but whatever — and claimed it was Bouriscot’s. Finally, 20 years into the affair, Shi was found out when Bouriscot attempted to bring him to France to live as his wife. The couple’s treason was revealed and, during the subsequent trial, so was the truth of Shi’s biological gender. Bouriscot slit his own throat. He survived. Shi remained in Paris, working as an opera singer. The two had no contact with each other in their remaining years, and their son grew up in France. 
Bouriscot is still alive. Shi, pictured below, died in 2009. 


Bouriscot once commented, “When I believed it, it was a beautiful story.” And it is, in its own strange way. In fact, the strangeness of it all may actually make it especially beautiful, even if these quirks ultimately caused the story to end. In my estimation, of the three stories I’ve told in this post, the one that actually happened is the best. Beneath the political and anatomical levels lies a story about two people who felt something so profound that it eclipsed every limitation imposed on it. I’m fascinated how roles swap and shift between Madame Butterfly, M. Butterfly and the real-life events that occurred between the two works — who’s deceiving whom, who’s exhibiting that constant, unbreakable type of love that should elicit both admiration and pity in anyone observing it. And I’m awed that such a similar story could play out three times, over the course of a century, in such an observable way.

There’s a bit more to be done with the story, a few more cultural connections to make, as if the story didn’t already pull enough together. For example, I can’t say whether David Henry Hwang, the author of M. Butterfly, did this intentionally, but what his play lacks and what Madame Butterfly has, on a phonetic level, is Adam, a name that effectively means “man.” The notion of masculinity being hidden, even in the title, even on the phonetic level, is too enticing for me not to mention.

The other link I can make between this swirling mass of Madame Butterfly-ness is one that people with my taste in music probably made when they hit the fifth paragraph: Weezer’s second album, Pinkerton. I’d always thought that the title referenced the detectives or at least was a color-coded entry between The Blue Album and The Green Album. But in thinking all this over, I realized the title had to have come from the opera. I mean, come on — “Across the Sea”? “El Scorcho”? The cover art?

Here is that cover art, by the way: “Night Snow at Kambara,” in its original cropping:



Of course, the very plausible connection between Pinkerton and Madame Butterfly was noted by better-educated Weezer fans years ago and is plainly stated on the album’s Wikipedia page. But it’s a good connection to note, and I just want to say that I thought of it on my own, and it was that kind of “Oh, that’s what that is” moments that I don’t have often enough anymore.

Oh, and regarding the Malcolm McLaren video? No, I don’t know why it has a bunch of white ladies in flesh-toned one-pieces bathing together in a seductive manner. I can’t connect all the dots.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Yeah, I Watched Ghost Dad Three Times. So?

When I was eight years old, I saw the Bill Cosby movie Ghost Dad in the theater. Never heard of Ghost Dad? Here, let me to explain it to you. Its title is Ghost Dad. That’s all you need to know. It plays out pretty much exactly as you’d expect a movie called Ghost Dad would.

dad is dead and his oldest daughter is weirdly thrilled about it!

However, for my screening of it back in 1990, the person running the projection booth apparently loaded the reels incorrectly or the studio screwed up or something, because while the first act unfolded in a logical manner, the most of the rest of it played out of order. (However, it did still end with the closing credits, I will point out.) Ghost Dad, with its 5 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, is probably a painful cinematic experience even when its scenes play in the proper order, but I didn’t know that then and I was too young and stupid to realize that there was anything strange about the movie’s plot. Furthermore, my mom had to point out to me after the movie that we saw the scenes out of order and I not only refused to accept this fact but also protested that the movie was, in fact, good.

A year or so later, I saw the movie in a video store and demanded that I should get the chance to re-watch it to determine whether my mom was right. She was. The movie, on VHS, made a lot more sense, and I liked it even more.

Why bring this up? I have a habit, I realize, of rallying behind certain thing that most people find disappointing — the finale of Lost, for example, or the Twin Peaks movie or certain individuals that everyone else in the world can spot as a loser from a mile away . Some strange impulse in me pushes me to advocate the hell out of these devils, and I often don’t realize the error of my ways until long after. My love for both Ghost Dad and Ghost Dad: Revised Timeline Version (Director’s Cut) would be the earliest examples of this habit of mine, this failure of good taste.

Sad little trivial epilogue: Not only was Ghost Dad directed by Sidney Poitier, it was the last film the guy ever directed.

Sad little personal epilogue: I no longer think Ghost Dad was a good movie, though I should confess that I had to see it a third time, in high school, to be sure.

Friday, September 16, 2011

I Dropped My Wine Glass in the Toilet

(This post has no direct connection to the title. However, the title is accurate. I’d be lying if I said this didn’t happen. Think of it as less of a plot than a statement of theme.)

My apartment has flies. I can do nothing to stop the problem. Every day when I come home from work, I find at least three small, reddish flies buzzing about, often in the vicinity of the bathroom mirror so long as I haven’t left out anything like wine or vinegar. If I have left out wine or vinegar — even sealed bottles of these substances — the flies are instead clustered around the opening like tiny drunks. And if I leave out an open bottle of vinegar — because I wouldn’t leave out bottles of wine, of course — I have to throw it out, because the flies have dove into the vinegar and have drowned in it, turning the liquid into a combination slurry of vinegar and dissolving fly organs.

I know what you’re thinking (I CAN READ YOUR THOUGHTS!!!!): “Oh, this Drew Mackie keeps house in a dreadful fashion and is probably a clumsy thing!” But this is lies, because I actually keep a tidy house and am graceful like swans. There’s just no feasible way to keep the flies out, because the flies are small enough that they (apparently) wriggle though my window screens and I simply refuse to never open my window screens because while I am willing to live in a Fly House, I am unwilling to live in a Smells-Like-Armpit-Ass House, and I therefore have just accepted that the flies are part of my life now. Me and the rotating cast of flies — we’re like roommates now. We’re like a buddy comedy. We’re like fucking Bosom Buddies, except all the hijinks involve them depositing bacteria on my eyes while I’m asleep.

So my question is this: How much have I settled regarding my life as a 29-year-old adultish person?

Addendum: Okay, I’ll explain the post title. What happened was that I dropped the wine glass into the toilet. That’s not all that much extra, I realize. But to pretend that it didn’t happen would be like, I don’t know, saying I realized all the dreams I once had of what my life would be like around this age.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Claudine Longet: A Real Renaissance Woman

Hey, do you know Claudine Longet? No? Well, here she is.


Oh no! She was hiding behind a tree and you surprised her maybe! But now that you can see Claudine, isn’t she pretty? And the thing is she also has a pretty voice. Yes, this pretty French lady has a pretty voice that she made with her pretty face, and she used that pretty voice to sing pretty songs about the prettier things in life, including but not limited to the different colors that love can be.


Longet got attention for more than her voice, however. For example, she married the noted (but less pretty) singer Andy Williams. And she happened to be friends with Robert F. Kennedy. But the thing that really sets her apart from other singers of her era, French or otherwise, would have to be her fatally shooting Olympic ski champion Vladmir “Spider” Sabich in 1976. She claimed the gun fired accidentally. Prosecutors said otherwise, but she ultimately was sentenced to only 30 days jail time. And, according to Wikipedia, a subsequent civil suit filed by Sabich’s family was resolved out of court, with the peculiar provision that she never tell or write about what actually happened.

And that’s all interesting, sure, but the real capper for me is this bit, also from Wikipedia: A Racquel Welch-hosted episode from the first season of Saturday Night Live made fun of the incident with a sketch titled “The Claudine Longet Invitational,” which played gunshot sounds over stock footage of skiers wiping out. Bad taste, sure, but funny nonetheless. Shortly after, Longet’s attorney demanded that the show cease such mockeries, and Lorne Michaels himself apologized on the following episode. However, the strange part is that cease-and-desist letter notwithstanding, the sketch is still viewable — on Netflix or on Hulu Plus. I actually just watched it, and while I can’t embed Hulu Plus videos, I can at least offer you this:




You get the idea.

It’s an interesting measure of how much SNL’s edge has been nerfed since the show began. In 1976, SNL ran a sketch that just about everyone would admit is offensive, and while it offered an on-air apology for doing so, the sketch didn’t get excised from reruns. More recently, however, Abby Elliott’s impression of Brittany Murphy on “Weekend Update” — as borderline unemployable, dazed and under the incorrect impression that she’s hosting (“Ladies and gentleman, Sum 41 is here!”) — got yanked from reruns, Hulu, iTunes and anywhere else NBC can find it, even though it aired 15 days before Murphy died. No apology, and presumably no request on the part of Murphy’s family for one. Yet this is the only trace of it that I could find, and it’s only the first few seconds:


I remember the sketch. It was less than respectful toward Murphy, who did actually host SNL in 2002, during the peak of her career. (The musical guest, by the way, was Nelly.) But that’s SNL’s job, making fun of people, and the sketch didn’t overstep a line. Yet it’s gone forever, apparently, and “The Claudine Longet Invitational” is still around.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Upon Accidentally Clicking the Photobooth Icon

(A super precise breakdown of my mental processes in the single second after I perform the action named in the post title.)

“Who the fuck is that?”

“Wait, that guy looks like me.”

“Wait, that is me!”

“Holy shit — this is a video of me!”

“Oh my god — this is a live feed of my in my living room working at my computer! I’ve been hacked! The computer has seen everything!”

“Oh, I just accidentally clicked the Photobooth icon again. I should really move that out of my system tray.”

{ FIN }

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Adventures of Miminy-Piminy and Namby-Pamby

A word of the week that manages to open the door to a worthwhile bit of linguistic trivia while at the same time sounding a little stupid:
hobson-jobson (HOB-suhn-JOB-suhn) — noun: the alteration of a word borrowed from a foreign language to accord more closely with the linguistic patterns of the borrowing language.
The term came about as a result of English-speakers hearing the Shia chant of “Yā Ḥasan! Yā Ḥosain,” not understanding it and doing their best to estimate with their floppy, English tongues. And it became popular enough that two linguists, when compiling an 1886 dictionary of Indian words that had crept into English, chose to title the book Hobson-Jobson. Today, the term gets used — in the rare occasion that people know what it means, of course — to refer to any word that gets borrowed from language A and then mashed, Play-Doh Fun Factory-style, into the confines of language B.

As Wiktionary points out, the English hoosegow, “jail,” is the result of English’s flirtation with the Spanish word juzgado, “a judicial court.” If the English word plonk, meaning “cheap, low-quality wine,” truly does come from the French vin blanc, “white wine,” then it’s a hobson-jobson too. And the same with hocus-pocus, if it did, in fact, arrive in English as a result of non-Latin-speaking churchgoers mishearing the priestly pronouncement Hoc set corpus meum, “This is my body.” Sometimes the switch is less dramatic. I’d guess that Montana, the state name, is also a hobson-jobson, just by virtue of it coming from the Spanish montaña but most Americans not being able to or just not caring to pay attention to that tilde hovering over the “n.” Yeah, Montana just means “mountain.” Kind of weird, right? When you think about it?

In her paper on the dictionary Hobson-Jobson and hobson-jobsons in general, Traci Nagle makes a point about English words that have this structure: They tend to be the vocabulary of little kids (Humpty Dumpty, Hokey Pokey) or dicks putting something down (namby-pamby, mumbo-jumbo). If this is true, is hobson-jobson childish or sneering? Kind of both, more the latter, it turns out. From Wikipedia: “Hobson and Jobson were stock characters in Victorian times, used to indicate a pair of yokels, clowns, or idiots.” But it’s debatable whether the men putting together the Anglo-Indian dictionary were commenting on themselves or other people involved in the borrowing of words from one language to another.

Previous words of the week after the jump.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Secret Inrestigater

In honor of Friday, I will be turning my brain off. Hence, this:


No, the text does not work. But the graphic does. Shit, was I supposed to have turned off my brain?

But anyway: Really? Inrestigater?

(This comes from El Comfortador, which is my other little project. Just saying.)

Oh, There It Is

You know, all night I was trying to think of something funny to say about the fact that a ninth-century Viking explorer and adventurer named Ohthere once existed. This name makes me laugh for reasons I can’t quite explain. And all I could come up with was this stupid post title.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Truth, Justice and the American Way Meet Dancing, “Making It Happen” and “Owning This Town”

So there exists, apparently, this Snowflame, a supervillain in the DC universe. The name fits, but not because he has powers over, you know, ice or fire or anything, but because it describes the thing that gives him his powers, the thing he worships as a god: cocaine. Yep, he’s a coke superfiend, and that’s about the extent of his character.


I could explain more, I suppose, but his profile on the DC wiki lays out it pretty well — and the succinct, direct, repetitive way its laid out cannot be trumped my flashy words:


Succinct, yes? Direct, yes? Repetitive, yes? And easily the best part is “Touching Snowflame was sufficient to give The Floronic Man a contact high.”

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Ooh, I Love Classic Cinema

Vintage Kenan.

Monday, September 05, 2011

They’ll Forget to Bury Her

You could pick out a lot that’s weird about Goya’s painting of the Charles IV, King of Spain, and his brood.



For example, you could choose to focus on how Goya inserting himself, ghostly and leering in the background. I, however, feel more weirded out by the woman turned away — you know, as if the painting were made in the same way a photo is snapped and she just happened to have turned away stupidly.


So what’s her deal? She’s Charles IV’s oldest daughter, Carlota of Spain, who eventually became queen consort of Portugal. In all honestly, it’s perhaps kinder of Goya to have painted her turned away, because this is what she looked like:


And given the fact that this an official portrait, you can assume that the artist employed the painting equivalent of a Photoshop “look less like shit” filter. From her Wikipedia page, a little more insight into poor, dumpy Carlota:
In 1788, when his eldest brother Joseph, Prince of Brazil, died, John became the first in line to his mother's throne. Soon he received the titles Prince of Brazil and 17th Duke of Braganza. Between 1788 and 1816, Charlotte was known as Princess of Brazil. John, her husband, was good-natured, indolent, corpulent and almost as ugly as was she. His religious observances bored her and they were quite incompatible. Nevertheless they produced nine children and, because they were all handsome, it was rumoured that especially the younger ones had a different father. After the birth of the ninth child they began to live separate lives, he at Mafra and she at Queluz. Here it was rumoured that she had bought a retreat where she indulged in sexual orgies. 
And if that isn’t a Wikipedia passage that’s clearly skewed by bias, then Queen Carlota’s totally wasn’t the product of generations of inbreeding.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Racist Bugs (Cartoon Version — Insect Version TBA)

You’d have a hard time arguing that Bugs Bunny didn’t have racist tendencies back in the day. Is this news? Then please examine the old Merrie Melodies cartoons “All This and Rabbit Stew” and “Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips.”



Yikes, right?

These cartoons don’t get a lot of airplay today, and for good reason. But upon reading a post on the blog Shakesville, I was surprised to learn that one of Bugs’s not-edited-for-TV catchphrases has some rather nasty implications. It’s my word of the week.
maroon (ma-ROON) — noun: 1. a dark red or reddish-brown. 2. a kind of sweet chestnut produced in Southern Europe and known elsewhere as the French or Italian chestnut. 3. a person who is marooned. 4. (when capitalized) a fugitive black slave of the West Indes and Guiana in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; also a descendant of such a slave.
Guess which one people find offensive? Of course, when Bugs comments “What a maroon,” he’s most likely not using that fourth definition of the word but instead just mispronouncing the word moron. I think.

Even if the writers who first put that word in Bugs’s mouth understood the connotations, the later ones who re-used the catchphrase most likely didn’t any more than the kids who watched the show. But it brings up a question I’ve never thought about before: Are you any less at fault for using an offensive word if you don’t understand the meaning? I’m feeling the answer is no. It’s a sticky swamp to tread through by defending yourself with “Oh, I had no idea,” since you then seem ignorant and ignorance breeds racism. And in the practical sense, if your child made up a word that he then began showing off to his friends, and the syllables he put together just happened to be penisfucker, you’d probably tell him to stop saying it, even if he chanced upon it innocently. Right? Given that Cartoon Network and Warner Bros. temporarily banned Speedy Gonzales after allegations of racism and stereotyping, I’d guess that “What a maroon!” has been yanked from the arsenal of insults that Bugs Bunny can use in future cartoons, just to be safe, just to stop a controversy before it has a chance to happen.

Thinking how we most often use maroon today — in the color sense — I might guess that the racist definition refers to skin color. It doesn’t. Weirdly, it is the racist maroon from whence we get the the verb sense of maroon — “to put ashore on a desolate island or coast and leave to one’s fate.” (So… I guess we shouldn’t use that one either?) According to Etymonline, the racist maroon comes from the Spanish cimmaron, meaning “wild, untamed,” which in turn comes from the Old Spanish cimarra, “thicket.” To complicate matters just a little more, cimmaron is also where we get the Native American tribe name, Seminole.

So now this makes me wonder if the logic I applied to the Bugs Bunny situation. Should we also take pains to avoid maroon the verb? How might the Seminoles feel about the etymology of the name we English-speakers call them? Should Bugs Bunny still be discouraged from uttering “What a maroon,” even in the face of Elmer Fudd’s idiocy and independent of any kind of racial context?

Previous words of the week after the jump.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Puffinface

This photo exists at the precise intersection of “cute” and “horrifying.” It’s like Cute Overload as processed through the servers of Cthulhu.


Also, I feel the puffin looks slightly guilty.

Happy long weekend!

A Game of Shit

There exists a video game — specifically a Pac-Man clone released for the MSX — whose title is Oh Shit! I am not kidding. Here’s the European cover:


And here’s the Japanese version, which truncates that title simply to Shit:


That title is no misnomer: According to Hardcore Gaming 101, the game is an example of a kusoge. Literally translating from Japanese as “shit game” or “shitty game,” the term refers to a purposefully bad game that is meant to be enjoyed in a campy way. Think of hipsters watching Mama’s Family and you get the idea. But be honest: How many times have you been playing actual Pac-Man or one of its less shitty knock-offs and met your death-by-ghost-touch in a dark, dot-lined hallway and exclaimed simply “Shit!”?

Thursday, September 01, 2011

The Puppets Are Apparently in the Forest

(Apparently I’m starting September by firing the geekiness in full force.)

I have this thing where I like something and then find out the thing I like seems to be referencing something else that I liked long ago and had forgotten about. It’s strange, because I end up wondering if my liking of this later thing has resulted from my own conscious processes or something deeper and less deliberate. I suppose the jury will remain out on that matter. Also, I’m a TV geek. And a video game geek. And, inasmuch as one can be when one lacks any aptitude for it, a music geek. And today’s post hits all three pegs.

Long, long ago, I saw a few episodes of The Storyteller, a Jim Henson-produced TV series that employed puppets to tell old tales from various world folklores. I can’t even remember how I first saw this, and given the show’s BBC affiliation, I think it might have been during one of my childhood stints in New Zealand. But I did see it, and I loved it, even if I more or less forgot about it in my later life. Then, slightly less long ago, I played a particular video game, Super Mario RPG, this wonderful team-up between the people who gave me Super Mario Bros. and Final Fantasy. It had an especially memorable soundtrack for a video game, and to this day, years later, I find these tunes sneaking out of my lower brain registry, into my consciousness and then into my humming mechanisms. (I feel like people wonder what I’m humming and why it tends to loop.) So imagine my great surprise when it was pointed out to me that the Storyteller closing credits theme song greatly resembles one of the more stand-out tracks from this video game.

(A break: I generally refrain from posting those kind of “OMG this song rips off this other song OMG!” posts, mostly because I don’t have the greatest technical understanding of music, despite seven years of piano lessons. It mostly comes down to a fundamental failure on my part to “get” music. For all I know, the similarities I’m hearing in certain pieces aren’t actually that remarkable but instead are just indicative of typical, standard chord progressions and whatnot. Regardless of my musical ineptitude, I’m pushing this one on you. Decide for yourself.)

So here they are, side-by-side: the end credits theme from The Storyteller and the forest music from Super Mario RPG:


I mean, aren’t they strikingly similar? If the video game one doesn’t cut it for you, imagine its more primitive, digital instrumentation replaced by the real deal. Then, now, imaginative one, can you hear it?

In case you don’t, I’d like to point out two major reasons why I’m not crazy. First, the Super Mario RPG theme plays during the point in the game when the player is wandering through a forest, chasing Geno — the blue-cloaked character in the video image and a very Pinocchio-esque character who starts out as a wooden puppet and then comes to life. Yes, a puppet — not a Muppet but still. In the context of a Jim Henson cultural connection, that seems noteworthy. Secondly, the name of the video game track is “Beware the Forest Mushrooms.” Doesn’t that sound like the title of some old world fairy tale? Doesn’t that sound like the warning some headstrong Eastern European orphan would not heed, therefore brining about his own demise? The song title ties in with the game, yes, but couldn’t it also be a nod to the composer’s inspiration?

And if you outright pooh-pooh the idea that video game music or even video games in general could have a cause-and-effect relationship with “higher” pop culture, then consider this: The composer, Yoko Shimomura, went on to do more video games, including a sequel to my beloved Secret of Mana games. One of the songs from this game ended up getting sampled in a Janet Jackson song.


And that’s pretty weird on its own.

Thoughts?