Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Return of the Smersh

A letter I recently receieved, in response to this post.
Hi Drew,

I was Googling "Tempus Fugit" and was astonished to see that David Martin had actually contacted you almost exactly a year ago about the song by the Notorious Head of Smersh, and your blog entry on it.

My name is James, I am the drummer he speaks of in his message to you. I had simply done a Google search on the Smersh a while back and found your blog entry, told David on myspace, and I guess he emailed you. I thought you might be interested to know a couple of fun facts about the Smersh, since David has always been a man of few words, and you seem to have a slight interest in the band.

Yes, you are correct that the name is taken from James Bond.
  • Tempus Fugit was written around 1997 and recorded in David's living room on a 4-track. We recorded 9 tracks in total, and called our first CD "No Strings" because David was always breaking his.
  • Until I Googled the song title, I had no idea what Tempus Fugit actually meant. I was the drummer, I didn't need to know. :)
  • The singer (and bass player), David's brother Jonathan, hated singing, and we would have to leave the room when he recorded his vocals because he wouldn't sing if there was anyone else in the room.
  • We played two shows in our time together in the Smersh, both battle of the bands competitions. We didn't win either, although one of the times (I think the second one) we played our 8 minute opus Loud Bit, Quiet Bit, and most people left the room. Our third "show" no one attended.
  • I moved to the States from England in 2000 and that was the end of the Smersh. I haven't seen the rest of the band since then, although I have contacted David on myspace.
I'd also like to echo David's sentiments in saying that I'm quite honored that you put our song on your blog. The Smersh was a good time for me when I was a teenager, and holds some incredibly fond memories. The idea that our music is still, 10 years later, floating around the internet, and that people are enjoying it, is quite astonishing. David and I joked recently that we should do a reunion tour, or at least a greatest hits. I still have all the mp3s so it's possible. :)

You have made an old ex-drummer very happy. It all seemed worth while now :) Thanks again!
I think I'm working my way to a complete set.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Kitty on Her Tibby-Toes

A quick addendum to the previous post regarding words and gender: The same site that told me about the widow/widower, bride/bridegroom thing also explained that the masculine "tomcat" has a feminine version that I'd never heard of. Apparently, the complement to "tomcat" is "tibcat," though the latter seems fairly archaic. Even the British, who originated the term, don't seem to use it very often anymore.

What's especially interesting "tibcat" is that by virtue of the feminine version vanishing from English, the generic "cat" could arguably become associated with female cats. Most people are familiar with the expression "tomcat" — perhaps as the verb "to tomcat," meaning to roam around looking for sexual gratification — but if the term is associated with male cats without an understood complement for females, the construction could arguably become "tomcat and cat," as in "dog and bitch," "cock and hen," "lion and lioness." What, then, does that say about the culture that uses the feminine synonymously with the generic?

The two other animal words that jump to mind as examples of the feminine being used frequently to refer to the whole species are "cow" and "duck." Think about it: How often do you drive by a dairy and say "Look at all the cows and bulls"? You don't. Regardless of how many of the animals are male, the whole group gets takes the female term, possibly because the activity humans most associate with them — milking — is inherently feminine. Ducks do too, though what feminine association we have with ducks is beyond me. "Duck" can technically refer to the species as a whole or the just the lady-ducks, with "drake" referring to just the man-ducks. (I blame Ducktales for the confusion.)

What trips me up when speaking of these strange animal gender problems is that other familiar species avoid the problem altogether by having an understood name for the male, the female and the whole species in general. Take sheep, for example. Most people know that a boy sheep are rams and girl sheep are ewes, yet we can still refer to them by their species name and not identify gender one way or the other.

Strange, strange.

And on a final note, does this mean that Mindy and Sally Sue can go out on the town, tibcatting around?

Saturday, May 26, 2007

If You Were the Baltic Sea and I Were a Cup

"Hey, how many oceans are there?"

Last night ended as many on State Street do: with the gorging upon of food at places that I wouldn't have had any inclination to visit had I not tossed down a few drinks beforehand. Mad Dogs — which occupies the spot where Hot Spots once lived, and where the Fish and Chippery had before that — was the only place willing to serve my party shortly before two in the morning. Thus, hot dogs and chili fries it was. Like I said, not what I would have done had I been sober, but that wonderful phrase "had I been sober" can be neatly tacked onto the end of so many sentences in order to make objectionable behavior seem acceptable, right?

So there we sat, the six of us — three boys, three girls, in the kind of gender balance that makes me happiest — scarfing down things that were either greasy or phallic or both, when the stereotypical drunk girl approached us and asked us to settle a stereotypically drunk argument. "Hey, how many oceans are there?" she demanded.

It's a good question. Upon first glance at the Mercator projection of the world that graces our hallway, I'd have to say that Earth has but one ocean, singular and whole as blue, dark blue and light blue flow from one corner the next. What I mean to say is this: One can pick out the Baltic Sea easily, as the land that borders it clearly makes it a self-contained body of water, but where do the molecules of the Pacific Ocean stop and become the ones that belong to those of the Atlantic or Arctic or Indian? This uneducated writer can't say.

Apparently the classification of an "ocean" results from an entirely technical process now, though I doubt this was the case back in the days of eye patches, cutlasses and scurvy. Factors like water temperature, particulate matter, inhabiting species and current direction all factor in, likely in ways that use a large calculator, I'd imagine. The big surprise that we found after our cab dropped us off at the house and near internet access is that modern science now regards the world to have a full five oceans, not four.

The Pacific.

The Atlantic.

The Indian.

The Arctic.

And the Southern.

I know, I know. "The Southern"? The name simply can't compare with the wonderfully peaceful-sounding name of the Pacific or the mythology-reminiscent name of the Atlantic. But more importantly, when, exactly, did a bunch of eggheads convene and decide to render years of elementary school geography invalid by creating a fifth ocean? And could the same group of know-it-alls have been the ones to discredit Pluto as a planet? According to the Wikipedia page for The Southern Ocean, the body of water was officially defined as such by the International Hydrographic Organization in 2000, the decision being mostly based on studies of currents.

Eggheads. I told you. And word of the change never got word to me. This, friends, is why we have TV shows like Are You Smarter Than a Fifth-Grader Who Stuck a Q-Tip in Too Far? I suppose I'm okay with science's claim that the sea has five distinct regions and not the four I'm used to. After all, I never learned any cute mnemonic device for remembering the names of the oceans. The planets, however, will never be the same. "My very eccentric mother just sent us ninety pizzas" has tragically become "My very egocentric mother just sued Uncle Norman."

Drunk girl, if you're reading this now, know that I bothered to look it up.

Dial 1-900-4JANINE.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Snake in the Mailbox

Charlie Pace — never my favorite. Among the plentiful Losers, as I like to call the cast of Lost, Charlie was an “always the bridesmaid, never the bride” type who, following derring-do in the pilot, slunk into the background. Following the resolution of his heroin addiction plotline, Charlie seemed to just spin around Claire, forming the closest to a nuclear family that the show had to offer. Thus, his death didn’t come to a surprise, in my opinion, since anyone familiar to the show should know the writers so often depicted family interactions as being rather toxic and fragmented.

Following last night’s season finale of Lost, I have to say that I feel a sense of relief, rather than — ahem — loss. Charlie’s much-foreshadowed death struck me as tragic but fitting, even heroic in his last-minute scrawling of “NOT PENNY’S BOAT” on his hand in an effort to warn Desmond that Naomi — a.k.a. the girl who fell from the sky — may not be the savior the Losers had hoped for.

Furthermore, the show didn’t end this season on as much a jaw-dropping cliffhanger as the previous two seasons did. That’s a plus, in my book. Sure, the faithful must now agonize until February over the notion that the Losers do, in fact, escape Four Toe Island at some point. Based on Jack’s appearance in his “flash forward” — as opposed to the flashbacks that mark every single preceding episode — not everyone who escapes is better off for doing so. How can this be? I have no clue, nor do I expect to for the next year or so. But I can just happily ponder that. It won’t occupy the amount of mental energy the week-to-week chain of surprises and mysteries did.

I have to ask again, however, if the Lost writers had a grudge against certain groups: namely Mancunians and black people. In one episode, Lost dispatched its two characters who hail from Manchester — Naomi and Charlie — just one episode after the pair bonded over their shared hometown. Granted, Naomi isn’t necessarily dead one the ground, but a knife to the back doesn’t bode well. Even less so for the blood pouring from her mouth.

Naomi — who looks like she could be Hispanic or Indian or any number of races but whose last name “Dorrit” leads me to believe she’s black, much as Marsha Thomason, the actress who plays her is — marks the most recent in a long list of dearly departed black characters. First, Michael, shortly after he shot two characters to death, left the island with Walt, then Eko was smashed to death and Miss Klugh took a bullet in the chest. The sole black character with a speaking role is now Rose and God help the writers of Lost if they knock her off too.

By the way, Lost fans posting online have posited that Naomi Dorrit’s name is an anagram for two phrases that are descriptions of her as a person: “maid in rotor,” which perhaps refers to her introduction to the show as having leapt from a helicopter, and “raid monitor,” which could confirm that Charlie and Ben’s allegations that she has a far more sinister job than as Penelope’s scout wanting to help the whole cast home.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

O-Ren Before There Was an O-Ren

A rare title card from the Japanese film Lady Snowblood.


It's a fantastic movie that Kill Bill owes more to than perhaps any other influence. Think of Kill Bill's plot set in 1700s Japan and with Lucy Liu's character, O-ren Ishii, as the heroine on the hunt for revenge. Considering that Lady Snowblood came out in 1973, the above image is in remarkable condition, so much so that it looks like it could actually be a still from a scene in the intentionally retro Kill Bill.

Of course, that may well have been the point.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

This is the Green Screen

Let this make you as happy as it makes me.

Two notes: (1) This has nothing to do with the M&Ms commercial. (2) The name of this band being "The The" and the name of the song being "This Is the Day," the above is a video that does not lend itself particularly well to Googling.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Queen of Diamonds, Basically

So I have an affinity for various forgotten aspects of video games I played long ago. Included in this interests are minor female characters, who by virtue of being female are rarely a game's central character and by virtue of being minor tend to express personality traits not often associated with a central heroine, who usually must be beautiful and benevolent and rather sexless. Recently, I've been thinking about the damsel-in-distress that awaits players at the end of a more recent game, Wario Land Advance, the fourth in the a series that spun off of the Mario Land games, which marked the Nintendo mascot's entry into the world of handheld video game systems. Two titles in, however, Nintendo pitted Mario against his evil alterego, Wario, who proved immediately popular and starred as the antihero of the third game, Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3. From then on, the games disregarded the Mario Land numbering and followed Wario Land as if it had been the first. Wario Land Advance is often called Wario Land 4.

Anyway, in this game, Wario is raiding the Golden Temple, whose former owner, the purportedly dead Princess Shokora, is the woman who awaits rescue at the end. What's especially interesting about Shokora — other than the fact that her being dead has apparently not freed her from the threat of kidnapping — is that she actually appears throughout the game — as the black cat who follows Wario throughout the Golden Pyramid and as the Mr. Game & Watch-looking fellow who peddles items for Wario to use in boss battles. The curse placed placed on her by the Golden Diva — the game's big bad— apparently lets Shokora exist in any shape other than her own.

So on top of appearing in multiple forms in the game — thus eliminating the possibility of finding a "true" Shokora — there's few images of her available online. Even a Google search won't turn up much.

Thus, I present the following.

your princess is an alley cat

game & princess

As for what Shokora actually looks like, I'm still not so sure. In the game's ending sequence, she appears to Wario in one of four form, depending on how much treasure Wario has collected over the course of the game.

clockwise from the top left: best, good, not so good, bottom of the barrel

If Wario collects all the available treasure, he gets a rather stern-looking Shokora with cropped hair and what would appear to be a prince's outfit. The runner-up form — the Princess Peach look-alike — is then not the "best" form Wario can meet, even though she certainly looks more like a typical end-of-the-game damsel than the ultimate prize. To complicate the matter somewhat, an image of a newspaper glimpsed during the game's intro shows a black-and-white photo of Shokora that would seem to be based off her "runner-up" form and not the somewhat masculinized version.

Could this be a joke on Wario? Like, he's such an anti-hero that his completion of the game to its fullest is rewarded with a sort of joke prize of a less feminine damsel. It reminds me of the ending of the first Wario Land game, in which Wario strives to obtain a large-scale statue of Princess Peach to give to her as a gift, only to have Mario sweep in and snatch it away at the last moment. Or could this be more of a commentary on video game damsels, with Shokora's appearance becoming increasingly appealing the richer Wario gets? Is the final, less cute version indicative of Shokora's financial interests? Odd stuff, to say the least. At least anybody else trying to find images of Princess Shokora's various forms will be able to.

And as for Baby Shokora and Wario-looking Shokora... Well, I wouldn't want to get a kiss from them either.

EDIT: I was twiddling about online today and ending up looking at a Japanese-to-English dictionary and found that Shokora's name is actually the Japanese approximation for the English word "chocolate," which would put her in league with most of the other women in the Mario and Wario game universe, who nearly always seem to be named after things that taste good, smell nice or are pretty to look at.

Other goings-on with the ladies in the games with the Mario:

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Mario's Long-Forgotten Sports Debut

So when did Mario get his start as an athlete? Mario Kart perhaps, since that game established the effectiveness of the Mario spin-offs? Or was it NES Open Tournament Golf, since that was Mario's first starring role in a sports title? Or could it even be plain ol' NES Golf, even though Mario looked more like some golf-playing uncle who just happened to be named "Mario" rather than the mustached wonder himself?

None of these is the true origin of Mario sports, actually.

In keeping up with my fascination with obscure bits of Mario trivia, I thought I'd mention this: the nearly forgotten Game & Watch title Donkey Kong Hockey. There's not much information available about this 1984 game online. Its Wikipedia entry is basically limited to stating it exists and noting that "Critics claim that if Nintendo put the same amount of work into the game as they did on the design, the game would have been better."

image courtesy of

Donkey Kong Hockey had a wider screen that most Game & Watch releases. It also featured two control pads, so players could go head-to-head, with one playing as D.K. and the other playing as Mario.

What interests me especially about this title is that hockey is the one sport that Mario and crew have not yet returned to. With tennis, golf, baseball, basketball and soccer being done to death, could this be the next event Mario turns to? Perhaps not, if the game was as unpopular as some negative reviews imply. But of all sports to pick, why on earth did Nintendo pick hockey to be Mario's sports debut?

image courtesy of

For more information on this and other Game & Watch titles, check out Andy Cole's page, which offers a great collection accessible through a top-notch interface.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Money, Not Mushrooms, Makes Mario Grow

NeoGAF has posted an interesting graph that shows how various Mario games have sold in Japan. See that big Fiery Mario on the far right? That tells you that Japanese gamers have collectively purchased 6,810,000 copies of the original Super Mario Bros. That's probably not surprising, but the runner-up may be. The Japanese apparently love New Super Mario Bros. enough to sent 4,419,952 copies flying off shelves.

Interesting — and laid out in a graphically appealing format. Click the above image for a larger version.

[ Source: NeoGAF ]

Where Do the Blue Raspberries Grow, Anyway?

Post-Coachella, Sarah put up an article up at telling about her experiences as a first-timer. In it, she recalled that I ordered — and consumed — two snowcones, back-to-back. It's true. I did. And I did it with a big, stained grin on my face. (What the article didn't mention is that I asked for extra syrup on the second one, sugar-addled fifth grader-style.) The second of these two frosty treats — which in 100-degree Indio heat seriously rocked my world — was flavored with the delicious but mysterious flavor of blue raspberry.

I've often wondered exactly why this flavor exists, much less in the abundance it does today. Raspberries, after all, aren't blue. Yet virtually any candy offering a rainbow of flavor sensations picks blue to be raspberry. The rest (in order) generally go as follows: cherry or strawberry, orange, lemon (though banana flavor for sadistic candy companies), lime or green apple, and finally grape (blackcurrant in the U.K). On a good day, pink might be watermelon, which makes about as much sense as blue raspberry but that's a different blog post. And then, almost always, blue raspberry is stuck there, between lime and grape. Odd, no? I mean, we have tasty blue berries already. They're called "blueberries." Yet the flavor is generally what I imagine is a flavor that doesn't exist in nature matched with a color that doesn't generally appear on non-poisonous things.

Sadly, Google is not particularly helpful in solving this mystery, so I have to take what I can get. And that's Wikipedia. Take it with a grain of salt, but the Wikipedia entry for "blue raspberry" states that the flavor does not come from a real blue fruit, but was derived in the late '50s from the juice of whitebark raspberry fruit juice. Its pairing with electric blue food dye, Wikipedia explains, helps differentiate the flavor from strawberry. (And here I thought the color was just for the added benefit of turning one's mouth all Smurfy.) The entry concludes with a short list of various brands that have incorporated the flavor, including (in order) Go-Gurt, ICEE, Dum Dum Pops, Jolly Ranchers, Skittlers, and Hubba Bubba. (Read that list out loud as see if in doesn't put a smile on your face. Works best if screamed. At work.) In short, the concept of blue raspberry is a total fabrication that now sours in my stomach.

A small debate on the entry's talk page questions, however, if the flavor might have a real-life basis after all. Some allege that the fruit species Rubus leucodermis — which literally translates to "white-skinned bramble berry" but is more popularly called as the "whitebark raspberry" or, oddly, the "black raspberry" — is known to some Native Americans as the "blue raspberry," though often as the frambuesa azul. Could be, but one should note that a Google search for that turns up mostly Spanish-language sites hawking the same list of candy brands to Spanish-speakers.

And if we trust what Google tells us — and who doesn't? — then I think we have our answer.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Only Way to Make Them Sound Cuter

A quick one to brighten your dreary existence: In their original Belgian incarnation, the Smurfs were knows as "Les Schtroumpfs." Say it aloud. Shout it from your workplace cubicle or home computer den. Let the neighbors know.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Princess Peach: Feminist?

NOTE: If you subscribe to the "games only" feed of this blog, you maybe be confused as to why this is showing up. In truth, this is a re-post of an entry I put up on another blog quite a while ago. However, given that Back of the Cereal Box has focused more and more on gaming, I feel like it belongs here. Consider this posted for posterity's sake.

Yeah, I'm picking on Peach today. If she's the most visible female character in the most popular video game franchises ever, I feel comfortable examining whether how well she represents gender in the Marioverse.

Had I asked the question posed in this post's title ten years ago, the answer to the above question would be a resounding "no." To be blunt, Peach — who only had then only recently shed the first name "Toadstool" in the States — was a big pink sissy whose primary function in life was to get kidnapped and scream for help. Peach didn't even have the honor of being the first leading lady in Mario's life. That character, of course, was Pauline, who did about as much and at least got to wear a more modern-looking outfit. With her floor-length royal gown and odd, flipped-out Farah Fawcett hair, Peach was a deadweight character — a reminder of what a woman's place was 50 years ago. She was an uber-stereotype of what women should be, injected into the Mario series to balance out the overwhelmingly male cast with a double dose of sugar-coated girliness.

It's a Man's World… on the NES

I suppose it's interesting that Peach is the apparent ruler of the Mushroom Kingdom. But does it make sense that she's the head honcho and still saddled with the title "princess" instead of "queen" or "prime minister" or — I don't know — "admiral"? The American version of the instruction manual for Super Mario Bros. makes sure to explain away the confusion with the alleged existence of the Mushroom King. Presumably Peach's father, the guy never appears in the series. On top of that, I have to question whether Nintendo's placement of a female character at the helm of a fantasy nation like the Mushroom Kingdom is really such a noble move, considering that Bowser promptly toppled her reign and enslaved her people. It's a good lesson: Girls can't be in charge.

Sure, Nintendo made an initial effort to give Peach something to do besides get carried away. They gave her a fully playable role in the American Super Mario Bros. 2. She could jump, pluck and run with the rest of the cast. And if anybody wanted to, they could easily play through the game's twenty stages solely as the princess. I know I always picked her — perhaps because choosing a female character was novel for a platformer junkie like myself. However, if you really think about it, Peach is a beginner's character. Unlike Luigi — who can reach such great heights with his bicycle-kicking legs — Peach's jumping ability's let her hovercraft over baddies, thus negating any direct interaction with them.

And while having one active female character may be notable for American releases of its day, keep in mind that the game Super Mario Bros. 2 was based on, Doki Doki Panic, featured two heroines alongside two heroes. The long-jumping Peach was initially the pink-veiled Lina, while the high-jumping Luigi was initially the blue-veiled Mama. That's Even Steven, not the token girl role seen in the Super Mario Bros. 2 version. In my book, that a step backward.

See Peach Run… in the 16-bit Era

Heroics in Super Mario Bros. 2 aside, Nintendo didn't gave much of anything for Peach to do besides overcoming captivity until well after Super Mario World. She finally got her second playable role in Super Mario Kart, in which she and Yoshi formed the quick-accelerating faction of the available characters. Out of the eight available racers, Peach was the only female. Nonetheless, it cemented her status as a playable character in future Mario spin-offs.

Given the relative unpopularity of the Virtual Boy, likely next-to-nobody played Mario's Tennis. The game did, however, mark the first Mario sports outing in which Peach was playable. (The immediately preceding sports title, NES Open Tournament Golf notably featured Peach and Daisy as non-functional caddies. Boo on that.) Even this game, however, makes Peach a notable minority. Recently, it surfaced that the planned line-up was to include Birdo as playable as well. However, before the final version hit shelves, Birdo was cut, rendering Peach a token once again.

Perhaps her first chance at doing anything respectable since Super Mario Bros. 2 was Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. Once again, Nintendo allowed Peach to tackle baddies alongside Mario. (It's possible that RPG giant Square, which co-developed the game designed it to be so. Generally, Square had a better track record with active female characters.) And Peach played her role with flair, too. Although the game could have relegated to the status of party healer — as her Group Hug ability was an ideal all-member HP-raiser — Peach was at least allotted a weapon that put her on par with heavy hitters like Bowser and Geno. Tragically, that weapon was the Frying Pan. The item alluded well to Peach's future as a capable cake-baker, it was yet another reminder that Peach is, in fact, a girl.

Out of the Kitchen and Into the Action

Only during the years of the Nintendo 64 and Gamecube did Peach finally come into her own. Nearly any Mario game now featured Peach in some kind of playable role, from Mario Kart 64 to the first Mario Party to sports titles, Peach is dependably playable. Not in Super Mario 64, of course — that's a "big" Mario game.

But she did in others — and that's a start.

For example, Peach appeared in the Nintendo 64 version of Mario Golf with Plum and Maple — two generic human characters who never appeared again. Granted, Plum and Maple may not have ended up mattering all that much in the grand scheme of the Marioverse, but it's important to note that Peach was finally the main female character and not the only female character. The trend was repeated with the Nintendo 64 Mario Tennis, when Peach was joined by Birdo and Daisy, both of whom were promptly admitted to the regular Mario spin-off cast.

Her biggest coup of this age would have to be Paper Mario, in which the game's interstitial segments featured the princess as playable and prowling around her castle, the whole of which had been abducted by Bowser. Peach did so with the aid of her own partner character, a counterpart of sorts to the little buddies that followed Mario throughout this game. Peach's little friend, Twink — a suggestively named but nonetheless helpful star-creature — even helped Peach in her one-and-only fight in the game: the penultimate against Bowser's second-in-command, Kammy Koopa. It's noteworthy, I guess, that the series pitted its number one female character against the the game's most prominent female villain.

It only makes sense, given that the Paper Mario games are the unofficial inheritor to the legacy of Square's Super Mario RPG, but Peach ended up being even more prominent in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. Again, Peach starred in her own segments — many of which featured her creepily romancing a supercomputer — but the game also posed her as the second-to-last boss. The Shadow Queen — herself a powerful female character — possesses Peach at the game's end, forcing Mario to battle a demonic, black-clad Peach in order to save the world. For what it's worth, she puts up quite a fight. But Mario still knocks her on her ass.

Smash Bros. Melee — A Study Unto Itself

Leaps and bounds above typical Mario action though her RPG outings might allow, the biggest testament to Peach's place in video games as a whole, however, would have to be the Gamecube installment of Smash Bros.. Nintendo contrasts Peach and her super-femininity against a handful of other female characters, all of which are masculinized in some way. For example: Peach, Samus, and Zelda are all slender, blonde video game heroines. Samus, however, fights solely in her Chozo suit space armor. To the uninitiated gamer, Samus might as well be a dude. Zelda, much like Peach, appears in her default appearance as a princess in a pink dress. However, half of Zelda's powers stem from her transformation into her "male" alterego, Sheik. If a player wants, he or she could select the Ice Climbers with the female member, Nana, as the leader. That, however, is not the default arrangement, which instead doffers the male member — Popo, suited in masculine blue — as the leader and Nana — suited in feminine pink — as the follower. Even Jigglypuff, whose alternate costumes include bows and tiaras, is not clearly gendered.

Thus, it's Peach who, of the game's 25 available characters, is indubitably, irrefutably the most feminine. More so, she's quite the effective character. Even when her most powerful attack involves swinging that damned stereotypical frying pan, Peach manages to fend off her opponents with an interesting mix of aerial maneuvers — that is, retro Super Mario Bros. 2-style hovering — and close-quarters combat. She's the only female character whose arsenal of attacks doesn't require to deny her femininity in any way.

Superficially, Peach is just one of Melee's more effective fighters. Deep down, she's the sole combatant who is entirely feminine — and none the worse for it

Highs and Lows of Late

Easily, Peach's lowest point in recent days would be that one scene in Super Mario Sunshine in which Mario confronts Bowser Jr. and the tyke reveals the big plan for kidnapping Peach. Junior elaborates that Bowser told him to nab the princess because she's his mother. Stunned, Peach puts her hand to her mouth. "I'm your mommy?" she asks, with all the self-awareness of a refrigerator magnet. From the way the line is spoken, it hard to say whether Peach is just shocked at the revelation of the plan or if she honestly thinks she could be the mother of Bowser's son. Before anyone can ask a follow-up question, Bowser Jr. makes of with "mom" and she is not scene again until after Bowser — both senior and junior — are vanquished.

Given my affection for Peach during her playable appearance in Super Mario Bros. 2, I was perhaps more excited than anyone about her starring role in the Nintendo DS title Super Princess Peach. Perhaps because Melee set my expectations so high for an empowered princess, I was especially disappointed with Nintendo's decision to arm Peach with such a stereotypical set of weapons: her quickly-changing emotions. As was pointed out in the article "Trouble in Super Macho World," having a series's only female star be manipulated by her own emotions may not have been the most progressive notion for her first starring role. Furthermore, the game was insanely easy, as if the people who'd want to play as Peach wouldn't be good enough to tackle a "real" game. At the same time, however, the game did finally feature Peach stomping and bopping on her own — and on a quest to rescue Mario and Luigi, no less.

The only other social advance that can be credited to the days of the Gamecube would be fashion-related. For example, Peach's outfit in Super Mario Sunshine. She finally gets to shed her courtly clothes and dress like a normal person. As far as athletic competition goes, Peach got another first in the soccer title Super Mario Strikers: pants — or shorts, anyway. I seriously wonder if the game's developers had to ask special permission to put the princess in something besides a skirt.

Piich and the Wii

We'll have to wait and see how Peach fares on the Wii, as the vast majority of her appearances so far have been in Virtual Console titles. However, Peach received a sizable role in Super Paper Mario. It nearly makes up for her misogynistic portrayal in Super Princess Peach and her absence in Super Mario 64 DS. In short, Nintendo lets her do everything the boys can do. Though it's technically a platformer, Peach hops and bops with the best of them. She can fight bosses — causing the same amount of damage as Mario does — or she can flit around with her umbrella, which seems to have replaced her natural hovering ability seen in Super Mario Bros. 2. Even more to the point, Peach isn't a playable character that you unlock after defeating the game. She's there nearly from the get-go and she teams up with Mario even before Bowser does.

An especially interesting aspect of Peach's appearance in Super Paper Mario is the game's set-up: a forced wedding between her and Bowser. It's a little heartening to see her rebelling against that kind of bossiness. Sure, she's not rejecting marriage outright but just to the guy who kidnaps her on a regular basis. But it's still good to see her turn up her nose at the idea of becoming Mrs. Bowser. She has a spine after all.

The Answer?

Given her history, Peach has a lot to work against — more so than, say, Ms. Pac-Man, who by virtue of that title "Ms." became a feminist figure almost immediately. However, Nintendo is doing better. Peach is no longer the only playable female character in a given game. And as Nintendo adds more characters to the mix, I'd be shocked if they don't continue to even out the gender ratio. We may not see another Super Princess Peach in the near future, given lackluster sales figures and poor critical reception. But if Nintendo does decide to put the princess in the spotlight again, we can hope they'll know not to make her any more girly than she already is making her emotions fluctuate in the kind of violent manner that usually necessitates medication.

In the end, I have to give a tentative "no" to the question of whether Peach could be considered a feminist figure. That answer may not surprise too many people. Take one look at that dress and hear her cutesy giggles, and most would assume she's worse than a Disney princess on a high after her weekly prettiness injections. However, if you think about it, Nintendo's gotten better about treating her more like an actual character and not just a pretty pink thing waiting in Bowser's jail.

Smash Bros. Melee-level respectability aside, however, she's got a ways to go before Nintendo can stop dragging her into the depths of the sewer of stereotypes. Ask me again when we're awaiting the dawn of the next generation of video games, however, and I might well have a different answer.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Constant Comment

Seriously, does the name of this Bigelow-brand tea make sense to anybody else?

I've seen it a hundred times before but only really noticed it for the first time yesterday. After initially reading it as "Constant Cement" I re-read it, only to be nonetheless baffled. And why is the name in quotes? Is that the comment? The hell?

In Which Drew Swears He Won't Mock Jerry Falwell

Jerry Falwell has died. I will not revel in his death. Hearing that he keeled over after breakfast with a friend, I must ask whether he truly fell well. But that's just a bad pun. That's not reveling. It's nice, however, to have a well-known figure kick the bucket and not have to pretend I'm sad in any way. That being said, I will say that I sincerely, sincerely hope that some kind of heavenly clerical error sends Falwell to Gay Heaven. If such a place doesn't already exist outside of some bar in the Castro, I hope it now exists and Falwell is there, horrified and on the receiving end of cutting remark after cutting remark from the likes of Paul Lynde.

In closing, I would like to submit one image for your perusal.

It's been said before, I'm sure, but I'm not sure whether the bigger sin being depicted is Falwell's pride — at displaying a painting of himself — or gluttony — at having gained so much weight between the time the painting was made and this photo taken.

Let us never speak of him again.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Panic in the Sand

Last week, as I slowly work through my Netflix queue, I watched the 1973 film The Candy Snatchers. It's exploitation, for sure, but not as raunchy as the title might imply. (The film, does, however concern the kidnapping of a 17-year-old schoolgirl named Candy, if that gives you any indication of the plot.) Anyway, the DVD included interviews with the film's female castmembers, including Tiffany Bolling, who recalled how she became involved with the project and what she did with her life aside from Snatchers. Among Bolling's accomplishments was a role on a short-lived Aaron Spelling show that the actress refers to as being "lost" now. I wasn't clear exactly how she meant that, so I looked online.

Turns out Bolling meant "lost" with a capital "L," as she was a regular on a 1969 series called The New People. It lasted for a season, during which viewers could enjoy the exploits of 40-some college students who crashed on a deserted island en route home from a semester abroad in southeast Asia. All the adults died, leaving the students a chance to re-invent society, much in the manner a lot of 60s radicals wanted to: free of the prejudices that marred life before the island. However, such a utopia was elusive, and the show dealt with problems faced by the marooned. Racism reared it head. Someone alleged to have been raped. Somebody brought a gun or something.

the leads, who apparently escaped their wrecked ship with luggage in hand

At its most bare bones levels, the plot resembles Lost's, though clearly Lost has done a better job hooking viewers. The New People is also remarkable in that it was one of the few 45-minute TV shows ever broadcast. (It shared a 90-minute slot with another series, The Music Scene.) For more, check out the page on the Television Obscurities, which includes video clips of the show. The site notes that info on the show is hard to come by, as its been nearly forgotten.
Thankfully, all seventeen episodes of The New People are held at the UCLA Film & Television Archive. A 16mm transfer of the pilot episode is also in the hands of private collectors. A novel and two comic books were published during the show's run back in 1969. A handful of promotional images also survive as well as some promotional records with original music from the series. Additionally, Television Obscurities holds in its archives several reel-to-reel tapes used in the production of the series as well as an original script from September 1969.
One of the few bits of evidence I could find online was a page scanned from an old 16 magazine in what essentially amounts to beefcake photos.

Another good trivia note: When asked by Entertainment Weekly if the Lost creators knew about The New People, executive producer Damon Lindelof said that they didn't.
"I wish we had known about it before,'' says Damon Lindelof, exec producer of Lost, ''so we could've changed Charlie's [Dominic Monaghan] band name to The New People instead of Driveshaft.''
For the record, Driveshaft is a terrible name for a band.

God Knows What They're Saying in Portuguese

My souvenir from this year's Coachella — aside from photos and the unavoidable, permanent hearing loss I think I've suffered — is the music I now have that I wouldn't have otherwise. Though I could have used the event to check out new bands that, given their appearance on the line-up, I would probably dig. But more often, I end up seeing the acts I already know and like, who also tend to populate the Coachella stages.

The clear winner for this year's batch, at least as far as my iTunes play count is concerned, is CSS, a São Paulo indie band whose three-letter name stands for "Cansei de Ser Sexy," a Portuguese translation of a quote by Beyoncé Knowles about how she is "tired of being sexy." Mike and Kristen touted the band's rockitude in the hotel room the night before their set, but I brushed the recommendation off. After all, I had pictures to take. In retrospect, I should have caught CSS. Though they might look like an American Apparel photo shoot set to music, CSS makes the kind of dance rock that my inner hipster craves. Their big hit, "Let's Make Love and Listen to Death From Above," was apparently used in some promos for Ugly Bety earlier this year, but it somehow escaped my notice.

This is the video. It tickles me inside, in the appropriate way.

The top of my personal charts, however, belongs to "Music Is My Hot, Hot Sex." I doubt this — what I'm guessing is a parody of R. Kelly's "Trapped in the Closet" video starring who I think is the midget from Gummo — is the track's official video. I have to like a song that includes lines like these.
Music is my beach house
Music is my hometown
Music is my king-size bed
Music is my hot, hot bath
Music is my hot, hot sex
Music is my back rub
Music is where I'd like you to touch

God knows what they're saying in Portuguese.

Other recent finds:

Monday, May 14, 2007

Everyone Else Who Enjoys Being Astonished

What appears below is part of an old brochure for Mystery Park, an "amusement park" in Interlaken, Switzerland that is dedicated to crackpot theories. Kristen and I passed through a few years back, took one look at the brochure and quickly decided not to go but to instead laugh at Mystery Park and its adherents. I kept the brochure because the address of the founder — a cardio emergency of a man named Erich von Däniken — was especially hilarious.

Seriously, this was apparently the best photo they could find, even with the bolo tie askew.

It's not exactly a face that elicits my trust. Here is the letter to potential visitors that so tickled me. My favorite phrase — which I would guess arose from a rough translation — became the title of this post.


And then there's an image of what I assume is people building the pyramids, only it looks like it was created on a Nintendo 64.

Finally, a quick Wikipedia check on the park indicates that it is the subject of some controversy. Dubbed "a cultural Chernobyl" by a member of the Swiss Academy of Sciences, the park drew ire from science-types for von Däniken's allegations that aliens are responsible for various human triumphs, like the Nazca Lines. Also, it's currently closed, due to financial problems. I'd guess too many people saw the brochure.

Click on the image above for to open a full scan of the brochure.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Top Ten Band Names (Had I Talent)

Subject to change without notice.
  1. Eldest Daughter Sondra
  2. Drew Mxxxxx and the Macaroons
  3. Team Water
  4. Creamo and the Creampuffs
  5. What's In My Eye!
  6. Alphonso van Floof
  7. Drewbot Mackietron
  8. Pinchface
  9. Boo Boo Tannenbaum and the Dysfunctional Glass family
  10. Eaten by Mummies
Bonus eleventh: All-Jade Lunch Service

It Gets Ugly

As a forewarning, I'd like to state now that this post features more ugly than a high school colorguard halftime show. Proceed at your own risk.

The rather tragic woman depicted above this text is Beatriz Pinzón Solano, the title character in the former Colombian telenovela, Yo Soy Betty, La Fea. It translates to "I am Betty, the ugly one." I don't watch the show's American incarnation, Ugly Betty, but I have a passing familiarity with it, mostly through poor America Ferrera's connections to terrorism and thievery alleged by faulty image-pulling mechanisms in Google news searches for "Santa Barbara." Looking into the show, I've been thoroughly amused by the literal translations of Ugly Betty's various permutations. That, plus what horrendous features different countries cobble together to make what they think is ugly.

The first nation to rip off the show and make it their own kind of ugly is India, who dubbed it Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin. The translation: "There's nobody like Jassi." Let's hope not.

In Israel, it's Esti Ha'mechoeret — ir "Ugly Esti." I can't help but to read that long, apostrophed Hebrew word as "hatchet-faced."

In Germany, it's Verliebt in Berlin, which makes no remark about it's protagonist's nuclear disaster of a face but apparently is a pun that can translate to either "In love with Berlin" or "In love in Berlin." Also, she's ugly, though not quite as ugly as her international counterparts.

In the former Soviet Union countries, the show was called Ne Rodis' Krasivoy, or "Be Not Born Beautiful." I'm not clear whether that's a command or just good advice.

The Turkish Sensiz Olmuyor translates to "Won't Work Without You." That's not funny. However, the fact that the lead ugly's name is "Gönül" that makes me laugh. Even more ugly-sounding: the actress's name, Özlem Conker, the sound of which strikes my ears like battering ram.

Not to be outdone by the original Colombian series, a Mexican network made its own version,
La Fea Más Bella, or "The Most Beautiful Ugly Girl."

The real prettiest ugly girl, however, would have to be the woman playing Lotte Pronk, the Dutch version of Ugly Betty. Literally, this character strikes me as not ugly in any manner whatsoever, save for a slightly out-of-date mop of Shirley Temple ringlets. Lotte's show is simply called Lotte — not Ugly Lotte, not Lotte With the Thing on Her Neck, not Lotte Has Orthopedic Shoes. I guess the Dutch are really such a fantastically beautiful people that Lotte is as ugly the best attempt at ugly they can put forth.

Spain too put forth a verion of the show, Yo Soy Bea. According to Wikipedia, the title is a pun. Bea's name sounds like either bella or fea, depending on whether she's wearing those goddamn glasses or not.

And finally the clear winner in the ratty hair and caterpillar eyebrows department, we have
the title character of the Greek series, Maria, i Asximi, or "Maria, the ugly one."

And an honorable mention in the ugly race: the translation of the Japanese name for the original version Betty, Ai to uragiri no hishojitsu, comes out to "Betty, love and betrayal secretarial office," which perhaps gets more to the point than anything any other country has put together on the subject.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Late Night Creepy

Staying up late at the end of a hot day — when the wind has just kicked up and set all the doors in the apartment complex to ghostly simultaneous slamming — is not the time to fact-check an article on the military industrial complex and recall that the first three nuclear bombs ever made were called Trinity, Little Boy and Fat Man. I've known this since junior high, but I've never realized the odd Christian theme underlying the three names.

I should sleep.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Fun With All Night Nippon Super Mario Bros.

One of the best parts of is that it allows gamers to experience games they never had a chance to. Ones their parents wouldn't buy for them, ones they were too embarrassed to own and games that never made it outside of Japan. The one Mario-related title up so far is All Night Nippon Super Mario Bros., a game I had heard about before but never bothered to download for any previous emulator.

All Night Nippon Super Mario Bros. is a retooling of the original Super Mario Bros. engine. In addition to some graphic substitutions, the stages play differently — a mix of the original levels, ones from the arcade game Vs. Super Mario Bros. and the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2. All Night Nippon was a popular Japanese radio program in the '80s, and Nintendo apparently made the game in 1986 for the show to raffle off as a promotional gimmick.

i'm led to believe the japanese text in the logo would say
"all night nippon." to be honest, it could say anything.

Cool, I'll admit, though it makes sense that the game stayed local, since the celebrities making cameos are virtually unrecognizable to a non-Japanese audience. (It bears mentioning, however, that Ninety-Nine, the comic duo responsible for the Hot Mario Bros. ad campaign work for All Night Nippon, though they began there after this game was released.)

Case in point:

Hello Mr. Goomba. But wait! You're no Goomba at all. You're... a strange bald man with sunglasses and no torso.

Some levels are more-or-less like the original. Level 1-1 plays fairly familiarly, with the most immediately noticeable changes being cosmetic. It's night — All Night Nippon, after all — and the background sprites are from The Lost Levels. In short, Nintendo slapped a face on anything they could. For those only familiar with the regular Super Mario Bros., the items will seem strangely placed.

Unless my memory is failing me, that should be a Fire Flower popping out of that question box, not a Starman. And when I say Starman, I mean six-pointed Star of David. Don't doubt the power of Judaism in the Mushroom Kingdom.

Not everything has changed, however.

The flag the arised from the end-level castles now bears the symbol of the Fujisankei company, which owns Nippon Broadcasting, which in turn features All Night Nippon. The Mushroom Kingdom's entry on this game notes that Fujisankei also owns Fuji TV, which developed Doki Doki Panic, which became the American Super Mario Bros. 2. Gotta love that product placement.

There are some irregularities. For example, it's daylight at the beginning of Level 1-2, but night again when Mario emerges from the sewers.

Down below, you'll notice that the Piranha Plants have been replaces with more sunshades-wearing mystery celebrities. Creepy, actually. Also, the blue-toned Goomba replacements look like skulls.

Little else is all that different, however. The axe that for whatever reason keeps the Bowser bridge intact is now a larger version of the Fujisankei logo, which makes as much sense as a bridge stabilizer as an axe, I suppose. Also, the Frujisankei logo looks like a stylized, lashed version of the CBS eye.

Most troubling: I was led to believe that this title has Mario rescuing All Night Nippon personalities in lieu of Mushroom Retainers and Peach. No dice, it seems, at least with the version posted at I've seen this screen before.

The entry for this title at Nintendo Database has the proper line-up, which I've stolen and re-posted here so you can imagine what rescuing unknown Japanese celebrities would have been like. Fun crew, it looks like, and more chromatically varied than Peach and the Toad crew were in the game's original iteration.

image property of nintendo database

Another small change evident in Level 2-1: The mushrooms dotting the background landscape have been replaced with microphones.

And then my clumsy hands — which refuse to learn how to play video games using my computer keyboard — failed me. Level 2-4 is as far as I got.

No telling whether the glitchy character replacing the "v" in "OVER" is a product of the original game or me playing an emulated version.

A big notable change is the option of playing as Mario or Luigi, with the latter retaining his high-jumping, low-traction properties. Again, maybe it's a problem with the version posted, but when I selected "LUIGI GAME" I ended up still playing as Mario. Lean Green didn't take over until Mario died, and even then I couldn't convince him to move, I'm assuming because the keyboard that controls Mario is identified to the emulator as the controller for Player One. So Luigi just stood there, unmoving and alone until his timer ran out. Fitting, in a way.

All in all, I'm glad I played this footnote of trivia in Mario's history. It's neat the game was made, but now I can happily never play it again. As a free upgrade for those who purchased the original Super Mario Bros. on the Wii Virtual Console, however, All Night Nippon might be cool, if only to allow me to play it with a real controller.

Here's a YouTube clip of somebody who had better luck with it.

That's some poetry in the end sequence. I quote:

Peace is paved

With kingdom saved
Hurrah to Mario
Our only hero
This ends your trip
Of a long friendship

I'm assuming the end of the "trip of long friendship" mentioned is a reference to Luigi, who surely got his moustache out of joint when he heard the celebratory poem referred to Mario as "our only hero."

Game geek? Subscribe to the video games-only feed for Back of the Cereal Box.