Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Big Purple Thing That Isn't Barney the Dinosaur

So this has been plaguing me since, oh, I was seven or so. In the world of the McDonald’s mascots, each of Ronald McDonald’s acquaintances has some clear association with the food products his restaurant sells. The Hamburglar steals hamburgers. Mayor McCheese is a cheeseburger. The Fry Kids are made of French fries. And Birdie the Early Bird, horrifically, would appear to be unprocessed Chicken McNuggets. But exactly what is Grimace? McDonald’s sells no products that are purple or pear-shaped, but there he is nonetheless, all stupid and clumsy and purple and antithetical to the very fiber of the McDonaldland existence. (Please keep in mind that I was the same kid who was frustrated by the liberal interpretation of Santa Cruz geography in “The Lost Boys.”) Recently, I did some research and learned the story behind Grimace, seen below clutching a yellow feather for reasons I’ll never know.



Apparently, Grimace was created originally as a McDonaldland villain. Called “The Evil Grimace,” this purple meanie — whose name makes a hell of a lot more sense in the context of being evil — initially had four arms, all the better for stealing McDonald’s milkshakes, his addiction to which ostensibly drove him to a life of crime. I suppose this then would explain what Grimace’s food association is, though if he looks like anything that goes into McDonald’s shakes — and I wouldn’t be surprised if he did — I think I’m going to be sick. Note the next illustration, which depicts the Evil Grimace.



Like Smurfette or Donkey Kong, Grimace switched over to the good guy side shortly after his debut. No longer evil, he instead became clumsy and slow-witted — and also Ronald’s best friend. (You know how to pick ’em, Ron.) He’s been confusing inquisitive McDonald’s patrons ever since.

The mystery of Grimace has been explored by several websites in the past few years. Ask Yahoo ran an item on it, but also concluded that Grimace is, in fact, nothing. (The writer also likens Grimace’s lack of a clear species to Disney’s Goofy and Gonzo of the Muppets, noting “Maybe all this ambiguousness has something to do with the letter ‘G.’”) A website called The Straight Dope also tackled the question, with more amusing results. Cecil Adams, the site’s letter-answerer contacts a McDonald’s spokeswoman, who reads from the official McDonald’s description.
Grimace personifies the child in everyone… He is Ronald [McDonald]'s special pal. Everyone loves Grimace because of his innocent loving nature. He occasionally causes trouble in McDonaldland because he is clumsy, but his friends overlook this because he is so happy.
Adams continues:
You are gagging, I expect. So am I. [Spokeswoman] Jane Hulbert is… well, Jane is doing her best to be professional about this, but it's a struggle. Here's more: Hamburglar is a “fun-loving prankster.” The Happy Meal Guys are the “fun-loving personification of the hamburger, soft drink, and fries that compose the Happy Meal.” CosMc is a “wacky fun-loving alien who came to McDonaldland from outer space” and is “part vehicle and part creature.” (“I can't believe they pay me to read this,” Jane muttered at this point, but we promised we wouldn't tell the Kroc family.)
Perhaps the best results of such an investigation were yielded Ben Kosima at The Rubber Chicken. Instead of contacting McDonald’s directly, Kosima emailed a multitude of celebrities, including George W. Bush, the Olsen Twins, the Ninja Turtles, Cousin Oliver from “The Brady Bunch” and the guy who inspired Kramer from “Seinfeld.” Kosima’s conclusion: Grimace is a giant, cloned beetroot.

Well, I thought it was funny. And for the record, no, I don't know who the sailor-capped dog in the first Grimace image is, and I vow to never dedicate a blog post to finding out.

Tomb of the Unknown Hitchhiker

What my holiday looked like — minus humans.













Sunday, December 25, 2005

Medusa Meets Monty Python

Perhaps you've noticed my tendency to discuss odd tidbits of popular culture, sometimes in groups that wouldn't necessarily seem to go together and sometimes in groups that don't go together. I like these little pieces of random and I think it shows.

Last week, I came across and article that namechecks, among other things, Medusa, the basilisk, "The Ring," a Monty Python sketch, Stendhal Syndrome, Lady Godiva, a song called "Gloomy Sunday" and that creepy "Red Room" Flash site that allegedly infatuated my new little friend, Nevada-tan. These subjects wouldn't readily seem to share any quality warranting their presence in the same article. And before I read the Wikipedia entry on "Motif of harmful sensation," I wouldn't have expected anything other than something I wrote to include them all, either.

To explain, the motif of harmful sensation is a rather clunkily named phenomenon in which a person is killed or otherwise harmed simply by perceiving something, usually visually or aurally. For example, the video tape in "The Ring" causes people to die, whereas most video tapes do not. Looking at Medusa's face also kills people — though, by turning them to stone, though I suppose that total body petrification should kill someone as well. Looking at most other people, however, does not result in this effect.

I have been aware of this notion for some time, and even been attracted to it, though I never thought to put a name to it or anything. (If I had, I think I would have picked something better than "motif of harmful sensation." Maybe something like "thing-that-isn't-usually-bad-is" or "bad perception thing" or "gooberstumpis" or something.) The motif of harmful sensation, as the Wikipedia calls it, is quite an old concept that has arisen repeatedly in various world cultures.

Notable examples:
  • Like Medusa, the mythical medieval animal called the basilisk, a bird-looking serpent that could turn people to stone just by looking at them.
  • There's a plant called the mandrake that supposedly emits a human-like shriek when it is plucked. The shriek causes instant death.
  • The Stendhal syndrome is a supposedly documented effect in which people become dizzy or ill after viewing a painting or other work of art that they find particularly dazzling.
  • The Chuck Palahniuk novels Lullaby and Diary. In the former, hearing the lyrics to a certain song causes instant death. In the latter, a woman's drawings cause a severe form of Stendhal syndrome.
  • "Gloomy Sunday," also known as the "Hungarian Suicide Song," a little ditty that purportedly drove scads of Hungarians to kill themselves. (I've actually heard the Billie Holiday version of the English translation and like it quite a bit.)
  • The whole thing with the number of God in that movie "Pi."
  • A Monty Python sketch in which the British invent a joke so funny that anyone who hears it will die laughing. The joke is then used as a weapon against the Germans in World War II.
Best part of all, the article also mentions that creepy haunted eBay painting. In fact, the only glaring omission I see is that episode of "The Tick" in which the Queen of the Ottoman Empire tried to steal the Most Comfortable Chair in the World, a seat so accommodating that anybody who sits it in is unable to leave it of their own volition. But that might be different. Maybe.

I'm not sure why I find this so fascinating, but I think it might have something to do with that fact that these things, if they existed, would be forbidden to be perceived — unless you had a death wish, of course. So on top of never being able to see them because they're not real, I would be dead if I had seen them. Shoot.
[ link: the full article ]

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Painter of Blight

Currently, I'm reading Joan Didion's Where I Was From. It drags in places, but this memoir of her childhood in California-cum-Golden State trivia tidbit history lesson makes some interesting points. About Leland Stanford. About The Gold Rush. About the transcontinental railroad. And, surprisingly enough, even about my hometown, Hollister.

But easily my favorite part is Didion's description of Thomas Kinkade, the man who calls himself "the painter of light," and who became my hometown's neighbor in the past few years. Didion draw a parallel between Kinkade’s work and the apparently commonplace practice of glossing over California’s history of hardship with a sweeter, more idealized version of the actual events — kitsch in the Milan Kundera sense. But her description of the paintings themselves nails their utter shittiness better than I ever could.

Sayeth the Didion:
A Kinkade painting was typically rendered in slightly surreal pastels. It typically featured a cottage or a house of such insistent coziness as to seem actually sinister, suggestive of a trap designed to attract Hansel and Gretel. Every window was lit, to lurid effect, as if the interior of the structure might be on fire.
Perfect. She got it just fucking perfect. I’m quickly becoming enamored of this woman.

Merry Date Rape: The Truth About Bing Crosby's "It's Cold Outside"

I've been prepping for the holidays by breaking my tradition of avoiding Christmas music. (Bless you, Vince Guaraldi.) However, various factors have led me to the conclusion that the Christmas favorite "Baby It's Cold Outside" is, in fact, about date rape.

The most popular rendition of the song features Bing Crosby as the rapist and Doris Day as the victim who asked for it. As proof of my findings, I present the full lyrics to "Baby It's Cold Outside." Since the song is a duet, I've decided to put the man's lyrics in parentheses. And to hammer home the point, I will also interject my comments, which are indented.

I really I can’t stay
(But baby, it’s cold outside)
I’ve got to go away
(But baby its cold outside)
The woman has established that she wants to leave. The man is trying to convince her otherwise. RAPE!
This evening has been so very nice
(I’ll hold your hands — they’re just like ice)
Hold you hands — in my pants.
My mother will start to worry!
(Beautiful, what’s you hurry?)
And father will be pacing with fury
(Listen to the fireplace roar)
She wrongfully believes that her status as a rape victim will shame her family.
So really I better scurry!
(Beautiful, please hurry)
Well maybe just a half a drink more
Roofie colada.
(Put some records on while I pour)
The neighbors might think
(Baby, its bad out there)
Say, what’s in this drink?
Roofies. Lots of roofies.
(No cabs to be had out there)
I wish I knew how to break the spell
(Your eyes are like starlight now)
Glazed from the roofies.
I’ll take your hat
(Your hair looks swell)
I ought to say no! no! no!
And she is.
(Mind if I move in close?)
At least I'll say that I tried.
"Rape schmape. I give up easily, apparently."
(What’s the sense of hurtin’ my pride?)
I really can't stay
(Baby, don’t hold out)

But it’s cold outside!

I simply must go
(But baby it’s cold outside)
The answer in no
He knows. He ain't listening.
(But baby it’s cold outside)
This welcome has been so nice and warm
(Look out the window at that storm!)
My sister will be suspicious!
(Your lips look delicious!)
How is she still standing after all those roofies?
My brother will be there at the door!
"Waiting to hit me for being a whore."
(Waves upon a tropical shore!)
My maiden aunt’s mind is vicious
"Maiden aunt"? What the hell?
(Gosh, your lips are delicious!)
Well maybe just a cigarette more
(Never such a blizzard before)
I’ve got to get home!
(But baby, you’ll freeze out there!)
Say lend me a coat?
He's not gonna give you any more clothes, honey.
(It’s up to your knees out there)
Her knees would be much warmer on the carpet.
You’ve really been grand!
(I thrill when you touch my hand)
"And even more if you'd touch my penis."
But don’t you see?
(How can you do this thing to me?)
"Don't be like that, baby."
There’s bound to be talk tomorrow
(Think of my lifelong sorrow!)
At least there will be plenty of implied
We're way beyond implication here.
(If you caught pneumonia and died!)
I really can’t stay!
(Get over that old out)
But baby it’s cold outside!

The message: though it may be cold outside, nothing beats the warm embrace of non-consensual sex.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Lagoon Phone

How else should you deal with stress? Call 805 562-9054. It's the number for the payphone near the lagoon. Call it at ten to the hour on weekdays to fuck with people on their way to class. Or call on Friday or Saturday night and fuck with freshman walking to I.V. to party.

The best so far: pretending I'm an enraged parent looking for my daughter.