Friday, August 31, 2007

Since U Put UR Finger Up My Nose

First off, I like women. I'm the first to call someone — male or female — on making a statement that exhibits some kind of ingrained misogyny. I routinely end up formulating a feminist slant on all manner of pop culture obscurity. And most of the people I call friends happen to be female.

However, there's something in the DNA of those with the double-X chromosome that — godammit — makes them automatically thrust their hands into the hair during the chorus of Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone." I don't understand it. I can't explain it. And for the most part, I've kept my distance from the recordings of Kelly Clarkson as a result. However, being stuck tonight at a club that happened to be featuring a cover band that happened to play its versions of Top 40 hits made me and Kelly meet in a more physically intimate environment than I ever hoped to.

In short, I'm not the kind of guy who can readily identify the various radio hits that the majority of people my age seem to love. Standing in crowd before the band, I had no idea that it was playing "Since U Been Gone" until the all-to-familiar chorus. (The verses are utterly unremarkable.) Once the singer belted out that chorus, however, I knew I was in deep shit, as the female patrons of the bar started waving their hands in unison in a way that made me think I was at some kind of poppy Nazi rally. I tried to wait it out, hoping somehow that this band would pick something less physically motivating for their next cover, but when the chorus returned for a second go-around and the dress-clad starting with the arm-flailing and hopping-in-place such that the whole floor shook, my brain told me that I'd best back away from the stage and get another drink. I turned around just in time to have some drunken Kelly Clarkson fan — who, yes, was jumping and throwing her hands in the air — jam her ring finger directly up my nose.

I stopped walking. She stopped dancing. For a moment, we stood there, facing each other in horror as her digit probed the depths of my nasal cavity. I don't know what kind of facial expression I made, but hers read as that of a person who suddenly found their finger in something warm and moist when she didn't expect to do so. I put my hands up in a sort of "I surrender" pose, and she, looking more and more disgusted by the millisecond, decided to yank her finger out at an angle perpendicular to the direction my nostril runs. Essentially, she fishhooked me. It hurt like a motherfucker. I seriously hope she didn't bruise the fucking cartilage, because I haven't felt such a sharp, sudden pain like that since I prematurely pulled out a loose tooth.

I'm sure she felt as embarrassed as I did, though slightly less pained and slightly more mucous-y. Needless to say, what she did effectively ended my night — everyone standing behind us saw this disgraceful incident, you see — and I hightailed it to the back of the bar.

Kelly Clarkson, clearly, is to blame. She's the one who sang this terrible, text message-grammar-level song, and I hate her for it. My curse on her is this: May your every subsequent hit be a somber ballad, the likes of which motivate your fans to simply sway sympathetically and hug themselves in an effort to feel your pain.

And to the dumb girl who jammed her finger up my nose: Fuck you. In the first place, I don't know where your finger has been. Secondly, the fact that you love Kelly Clarkson does not give you the right to thrust parts of your body however and wherever you chose. I won't begrudge you the right to enjoy the music you love, but the minute your enjoyment infringes on my right not to be nasally violated, you've taken your music too damn far. My curse on you is this: I hope somebody yanks something out of one of your orifices at the wrong fucking angle…every day for the rest of your life.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Have You Seen This Bird?

Well, have you?

There's a cool post up on a Disney nostalgia blog called Passport to Dreams. It details the Orange Bird, probably one of the rarer Disney characters to ever grace the Happiest Place on Earth. The Orange Bird, according to the post, was once the mascot of the Florida Citrus Growers, who sponsored Disney World's Sunshine Pavilion. Disney has since released the apparently once-beloved Orange Bird from its employ, though the post's author notes that the character would seem based on its resemblance to other "super deformed," big-headed, Japanese-spawn mascots like Hello Kitty.

Always heartening to see other people dwell on pop culture minutiae.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Portions of Foxes and the Lagomorphic Vases

Before houses conquered the expanses of great, wild nothing in the grassy "neighborhood" of my childhood, I would go walking, with a stick in hand and with no more pressing goal than seeing some creek, some valley, some literal hole-in-the-ground that had previous escaped my detection and — to my small brain — the detection of any other human who could truly appreciate it. Once, on one of these journeys, I came across an unusual bush I had never seen before. No taller than a soccer ball, flat-bottomed and round-topped, this bush stood out against the dry grass by virtue of being a reddish-gold. (Outside of autumn and poison oak, red does not figure largely into the palette of rural, central California.) The bush had spiky, thin leaves one might associate with an evergreen or some hearty cactus, yet it still looked soft. A second bush was growing a few yards away, I soon saw. Curious and intent on being the first to observe these plant specimens — which had seemingly sprouted up overnight and which I'm sure I intended to dub "Drewshrubs" — I approached them. A few steps away from the first, however, a canine head shot from around one side and bushy tail from around the other. Within moments, a similar head and tail appeared around the second bush. Before I could process what I was watching, both bushes had leapt onto their paws and darted into the distance.

Since that day, I've never stepped closer to wild foxes. Whenever I see one trotting about now, I think "There goes another one of those bushes."

Monday morning, when I awoke before dawn to make the drive from Hollister in time for work in Santa Barbara, I groggily walked around the new additions that have so radically changed the house I grew up in. These include a new window that faces out onto the side lawn. Looking through this window and onto this part of the yard newly visible from inside the house, I saw what initially looked like three brown vases arranged symmetrically on the lawn. Each of the three had narrow bases, bulging midsections and odd tops that tapered thinner and thinner before forming tips at the end. In my sleepy state, I had to consider what I was looking at for a moment before I realized that the vases were actually three hares enjoying a good, motionless sit at the start of their day. They looked a lot less like inanimate objects when the dog rounded the corner and chased the three in different directions. Vases, it turns out, can move pretty quickly when properly motivated.

As I pulled out of my parents' driveway and down the hill, I saw one brown hare sitting on the other side of the fence — again motionless and again, I'd guess, looking like a jar if a half-awake person not wearing glasses saw it from behind.

I'd like to think vase mimicry is a common hare hobby. Apparently mistaking woodland creatures for inanimate objects is my hobby.

Portions of Foxes are headlining a show downtown on Saturday, with The Lagomorphic Vases opening. I know the bands from way back and can totally get you tickets.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Starting on the Right Foot

I never thought I'd be such a fan of a blog titled "El Toilet," but it really keeps delivering the goods. Die Wunderkammer lives on.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Pulling My Mahogany

From Spencer comes the tale of a Wikipedia, which, in turn, tells the tale of Harvey Stanley Hyde Blackburn, who earned every one of his four names by tricking doctors, friends and the entire Australian army by hiding the fact that he only had one leg.

After his left foot was crushed in a railroad accident, Blackburn was fitted with a wooden prosthetic from the knee down. Having already been enlisted at the time of the accident, Blackburn did not tell his superiors that he was now an amputee because he still wanted to serve. He then fooled his doctor with what he later called a "one-in-a-million ruse" — after telling the examiner that he was "shy," he took his pants off only his right leg. After his still-intact leg was given a once-over, Blackburn distracted the doctor with questions long enough that he could present the good leg again. The doctor didn't notice and Blackburn was told he was fit for service. Eventually, the medical staff realized the trick, but Blackburn protested to the point where the doctors agreed he could serve. He did so throughout World War I.

Stories like this amuse, especially when the come with good epilogues. Blackburn applied again for service in World War II, but was rejected. He lived to be 90 years old. His leg now at the Australian War Museum in Canberra.

As it should be.

[ More: Blackburn's Wikipedia page ]

Thursday, August 23, 2007

He's a Bicycle, She's a Baha'i

Yet another word-of-the-day from Wordsmith that leads me to believe that someone their has dirty sense of humor.
bissextile (by-SEKS-til)

adjective: Of or pertaining to the leap year or the extra day in the leap year.

noun: Leap year.

[From Latin bisextilis annus (leap year), from Latin bissextus (February 29: leap day), from bi- (two) + sextus (sixth), from the fact that the sixth day before the Calends of March (February 24) appeared twice every leap year.]
Also: previous speculations into Wordsmith's alluded-to perversions.

Sodas That Should Not Have Been

I've been meaning to get this up for a while now: a simple link to a series of articles at X-Entertainment on bygone soft drinks — those that were widely distributed and then yanked due to customer revulsion as well as those that never made it past test markets. Crystal Pepsi, Coke II, Strawberry Burst Pepsi, Surge, Pepsi Blue, Pepsi Fire and, of course, Orbitz.

What a freakish, partially digested, suspended animation abortion of a beverage. I actually think I have some Orbitz somewhere in my closet at home. Clearly, I realized how short-lived the product would be and thought to hold onto a couple for kitsch value. And is it odd to anyone else how the online travel company just kind of swooped in and stole that brand name? Am I the only one who thinks about gelatinous balls suspended in sugar water when I see their ads on TV?

The same guy who wrote the dead sodas article has also written separate entries on rarities like Pepsi Holiday Spice, Mountain Dew Pitch Black, and the Jones Soda Holiday Pack. I was surprised to learn that in addition to the infamous Turkey and Gravy flavor, the pack also includes Cranberry Sauce, Mashed Potatoes, Fruitcake, and Green Been Casserole.

Somehow, these little bits have slipped past my pop culture awareness. Little, Orbitz-like bitz.

Hiding Your Dinner From God

From Spencer, a random and moderately disgusting item of food trivia: The Ortolan Bunting, despite being a protected species in France, is a culinary delicacy. The details of eating in strain believability.

The eating of the bird, from The Stranger:
You catch the ortolan with a net spread up in the forest canopy. Take it alive. Take it home. Poke out its eyes and put it in a small cage. Force-feed it oats and millet and figs until it has swollen to four times its normal size. Drown it in brandy. Roast it whole, in an oven at high heat, for six to eight minutes. Bring it to the table. Place a cloth—a napkin will do—over your head to hide your cruelty from the sight of God. Put the whole bird into your mouth, with only the beak protruding from your lips. Bite. Put the beak on your plate and begin chewing, gently. You will taste three things: First, the sweetness of the flesh and fat. This is God. Then, the bitterness of the guts will begin to overwhelm you. This is the suffering of Jesus. Finally, as your teeth break the small, delicate bones and they begin to lacerate your gums, you will taste the salt of your own blood, mingling with the richness of the fat and the bitterness of the organs. This is the Holy Spirit, the mystery of the Trinity—three united as one. It is cruel. And beautiful. According to Claude Souvenir, chewing the ortolan takes approximately 15 minutes.
The bolding is mine, to maximize the creepiness and weirdness.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Psychedelic Incest Prom

Apparently David Lynch has been on more minds than just mine lately. Jill sent me a link to an article on McSweeney's that she correctly noted as being something I would like: David Lynch's Tips for a Great Prom.

A selection:
Picking and Presenting the Right Corsage

This is crucial for many reasons, none of which I can go into. Select a corsage that comes in an oddly anachronistic box. Arrive at your date's house and present the corsage first. Then greet her mother and father warmly and promise you'll have their daughter home before midnight. Laugh together about this, even though you have no idea what exactly you're laughing about, nor why the father's entire head has turned a very unnatural purple color and is ballooning in size. Don't spend any time trying to figure out what's happening, however. After the father excuses himself, your date will descend the staircase very slowly. Pin the corsage on in the same slow motion. Be careful here not to stare too long at the flower once it's pinned on your date, as you may get a brief glimpse of your own yawning face aged 20 years and wearing brazenly applied clown makeup for a reason that is not yet clear to you. Bid the mother good night. "Gosh," you might want to say to yourself, "maybe the yellow corsage would have been better."

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Smiling Despite

When I first saw the below photo — some accidentally hilarious snapshot that's no doubt made the rounds on the internet for some time now — I thought it was funny, though I couldn't put my finger on what seemed strangely familiar about it.

Then I remembered a slide ID I had to learn back in Art 1A.

This photo, by Weegee, depicts a drowned man at Coney Island. Despite the grim situation, however, the woman in the photo's center is smiling. It's not a genuine smile, I don't think, but more of the kind of automatic facial expression that people so often make when you stick a camera in front of them. Given the woman's proximity to the recently deceased, I'd bet she's either a relation of his or part of the rescue crew. In either case, it's totally inappropriate for her to be grinning — unless, of course, she really didn't care for him and she's not afraid to let everybody know about it.

The top photo reminds me of the Weegee in the sense of people being programmed to perform a certain way when being photographed — smiling or throwing your arms around your friends in order to make it clear to anyone who sees the photo that you are, in fact, a group. In the bottom photo, the contrast between the men's genuine reactions and the woman's artificial one makes for art. In the top, the result is three girls determined to blankly hug and smile for a photo regardless of what's happening around them — namely the pooling of freshly spilt beer. Just as the Coney Island woman probably didn't anticipate how strange she would look if she smiled for the photo, the girl in the middle clearly threw her arms around her friends without realizing that putting her arm at that angle would spill her beer and make her look foolish.

Strange what people will do in a photo.

[ Source: El Toilet ]

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Zaca Fire — Just for Laughs?

Doubtlessly, I'm not the only one who thought to snap a cell phone photo of the Megaton Thunderhead from Hell, who towered over the top of the mountains for the better part of afternoon. Scary stuff. Even if the head of this cloud monster looked like the fluffy cumulus cotton balls you might see in Hawaii, its belly was pulsing with the destructive purple energy of a wildfire. It's since sunk back down, trailing, I'm told, up into Visalia.

Here's my photodocumentation. Please excuse the dark ridge at the bottom. I believe it's my finger.

Though the Megaton Thunderhead from Hell apparently signified less of a catastrophe than one might have thought, I couldn't help be amused once again by the accidentally hilarious fusions of news text and image that popped up on a Google news search for Zaca Fire info.

Indeed, KEYT. Indeed.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Whatever Happened to Space Xena?

Remember back in 2005 when scientists found those two new celestial bodies? And they called one Ceres? And they called the other one Xena? And for a little while people were saying we might get eleven planets in our solar system?

But then, horrifically, they decided instead that not only were Ceres and Xena not planets, but Pluto wasn't anymore either?

Remember that?

ol' what's-her-name

Well, I do. And I thought of that recently and decided to find out exactly what became of the "Xena" nickname, since I couldn't remember. Fittingly, for something that had a shot — however small — at being named a planet but was ultimately demoted down to "dwarf planet," Xena eventually took the name "Eris," after goddess of spite and discord. It's no "Xena," but it at least beats "2003 UB313," the name it was initially known by International Astronomical Union while its members sorted out the various taxonomical rules that govern the naming of space rocks. Reading up on the subject on the Wikipedia, I found that the astro-researchers who initially found Eris nicknamed the body after the titular character from Xena: Warrior Princess for the following reasons:
We chose it since it started with an X ("Planet X”). It sounds mythological (OK, so it’s TV mythology, but Pluto is named after a cartoon, right?). And (this part is actually true) we’ve been working to get more female deities out there (i.e. Sedna). Also at the time the TV show was still on TV, which shows you how long we’ve been searching!

spite, as always, wins out

Interesting. (Sedna, by the way, is another would-be planet that may one day qualify for dwarf planet status, depending on how the International Astronomical Union chooses to define the term. She takes her name from an Inuit goddess.) Before the official designation, Persephone was also tossed around as a possible official name for the tenth planet, in reference to its proximity to Pluto's, but Eris was ultimately selected, as the Wikipedia puts it, in reference to "the discord in the astronomical community caused by the debate over the object's (and Pluto's) nature."

"Persephone" actually topped the list of reader submissions printed by New Scientist back in the day. That list also included "Xena," as well as "Galileo," "Rupert" (after A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), "Titan," "Nibiru" (a Babylonian goddess), "Cerberus," "Loki," "Bob," some variation on the number ten. (The best: "Bolero," which was so adeptly used in Bo Derek's Ten.)

lucy, in the sky, without laws

Easily the best thing I learned in all this research into this, however, has to be the epilogue that gives poor Xena another shot at astronomical celebrity. Shortly after Eris herself was discovered, so too was a moon that orbited her. While the satellite had been initially nicknamed "Gabrielle," after Xena's sidekick on the show, it eventually earned the name "Dysnomia." In mythology, Dysnomia is Eris's daughter and the Greek representation of lawlessness.

That is, like Lucy Lawless, the actress who played Xena.

That pseudo-Greek heroine made in into the sky after all.

EDIT: And then another time I bitched about celestial names.

Mangled Name, Emerald Mane

Correction: Make that the giant virgin with green hair.

Days after I note the relative obscurity of the character Palutena from Nintendo's 8-bit classic Kid Icarus, she reappears in large-scale high-tech glory. Figures. The Smash Bros. Brawl developers blog that I mentioned earlier posted some screenshots of the pseudo-Greek deity last night.

She's, um, a lot taller than I remember. The little video game mascots scurrying about below her can see up her toga, surely.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

All Through the Night

Googly eyes, jerky dancing, arms on sticks. That, apparently, is the recipe for a genius music video.

Charles recommended this after I mentioned to him that the Cookie Monster's Wikipedia page makes reference to the Cookie Monster style of singing common in death metal. I thank Charles for this. Whoever took the time to splice together old Muppet Show clips to sync up with the new disco sounds of Escort totally made my day.

Monday, August 6, 2007


The blogosphere ain't big enough for two Backs of Cereal Boxes. Dear blogmaster, I insist you re-title your blog "The Other Back of the Cereal Box," "Back of the Cereal Box No. 2" or possibly "Box of the Cereal Back." You think about that last one.

Box of the Cereal Back.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

The Virgin With Green Hair

As someone who has faithfully played video games since his single-digit days, I've been following the progress of Nintendo's Super Smash Bros. Brawl, a title for the Wii that functions basically like a Nintendo version of Battle of the Network Stars, only with punching and kicking instead of athletics. The last time I blogged about this game — the third in the series so far — it was to celebrate the fact that Nintendo had finally chosen to include the bygone mascot of the Kid Icarus series, from which my former on-screen alias and the URL of this blog get their name.

Last Friday, the production team's official development blog posted more screenshots of the game-in-progress, including the following image:

The figure in the background is Pit, the hero and essentially the namesake of Kid Icarus. He would appear to be facing the game's damsel — a pseudo-Greek goddess who, in the style of many female characters created in Japan, has green hair. We can't see too much of the woman, but the hair, the toga and the armor are a dead giveaway she is Palutena, whom longtime gamers like me remember from back when she was more crudely pixilated.

Palutena as she appeared in the original game's ending.

And as she appeared in the instruction manual. (In retrospect, this piece of art may have been one of the first examples of manga-styled drawing I ever saw.)

Palutena already represents an amazing cross-section of my fields of interest — video games, things Japanese and Greek mythology — but what's especially interesting to me about this rather obscure Nintendo character is her name. (Names, of course, are also one of the subjects I tend to fixate upon.) People who make Japanese games draw upon a wide variety of source materials when they decide what might look cool reduced down to colored dots that move in concert with each other. Books, movies, religions, mythologies, world history and freaky robots join together in a mishmash. The names of these elements often recall their national origins, but they can sometimes become unrecognizable once they're translated into the Japanese syllabary and then into English. (There's a long-running sidescroller series Castlevania, for example, that features several generation of the monster-fighting Belnades family, which I just recently realized is intended to have the more common surname "Fernandez.") Anyway, if you think about what "Palutena" might have originally been intended to sound like and look at the way she's dressed, you'll realize her name is a variation on "Parthenos," an appellation that sometimes preceded Athena's name to signify that she was a virgin goddess. As in Athena's temple the Parthenon. As in the scientific term parthenogenesis, or virgin birth.

That's Pa + Lu ("r" becomes "l" and a vowel bridge gets added) + Te ("th" doesn't exist in Japanese) + a feminine ending to make her sound properly goddess-like.

In short, this silly, insignificant video game character is actually a representation of Athena, one of the more important deities in Greek mythology. So there, was that interest-spanning enough? I've been trying for new heights. If it still needs a nudge over the top, here's one last bit: Palutena's arch-rival goddess is Medusa. Triple score!

EDIT: Despite Palutena's previously mentioned obscurity, she has a Wikipedia page. I don't know why I'm surprised.

Abject Horror

More cell phone photography:

In an effort to avoid drawing the wrong kind of attention to this blog, I won't recount the story that put this expression on Dina's face. However, I will drop a few keywords: "first time," "seafood," "filled," "it went everywhere," "guy videotaping in the closet" and "she ran out with the bedsheet just stuck to her body."

Saturday, August 4, 2007

The Subspace Emissary: A Shout-out to Super Mario Bros. 2 and Wrecking Crew?

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.

One of this week’s updates to Smash Bros. Dojo, the development blog kept by Smash Bros. Brawl director Masahiro Sakurai, announced that the game’s strange story mode will bear the title “The Subspace Emissary.”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this a pretty obvious Super Mario reference? In Super Mario Bros. 2, Mario and company could toss a potion onto the ground and create a doorway to another world called Sub-Space in which day became night, turnips became coins and the organ grinder theme of the game reverted to the original Super Mario Bros. theme. I’ve always assumed that the name Sub-Space was a play on the name of the game’s setting, Subcon, which itself was a play on the word subconscious.


It would certainly go along with the general surreal feeling of Brawl’s odd single-player mode, what with the bazillion crossovers and the blending of game series that would normally have nothing to do with each other. It’s even weirder to me that Nintendo seems to be setting up this mode to be taken rather seriously.

The apparent Super Mario Bros. 2 homage wasn’t the only surprise. In the short video posted of part of a Subspace Emissary cutscene, Mario and Kirby get attacked by strange robot-looking dudes who fall from the sky and seem to assemble themselves out of nothing. They also look a hell of a lot like the Eggplant Men, the generic baddies from Wrecking Crew.

the creepo from brawl

and an eggplant Man, courtesy of gamehiker

The Brawl creatures are clearly the dumb, anonymous grunt-type enemies that so often populate video games, so maybe that’s part of the resemblance. But am I totally off base on this one? The Eggplant Man — or Nasubi Kamen, “Masked Eggplant,” as it's known in Japan — might provide a common enemy for both Mario, who battled with him in Wrecking Crew, and Pit, who fought a similar baddie in Kid Icarus, the Eggplant Wizard.

In any case, there’s some very strange and surprising stuff going with this game.

Friday, August 3, 2007

The Real Lisa Simpson

Carol, the substitute receptionist at my office told me that she read my Simpsons article and that she knows Lisa Simpson, only in the way that doesn't make her crazy. She went on to explain that when she lived down south, her daughter was friends with the daughter of Lisa Groening, Matt Groening's sister and Lisa Simpson's namesake. I find this fascinating, the idea of being able to say that you've met Lisa Simpson.

It's matters like this that motivated me to start this blog in the first place.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Pahusacheta and Jamshed, in Case You're Wondering

My only contribution to this week's Independent isn't in the news section. Nonetheless, it's something I've wanted to write for sometime. I'm not crazy about the title, but a print story is a print story.

Rhapsody in Yellow

I remember watching the first-ever episode of
The Simpsons. Titled “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire,” this Christmas-themed pilot aired December 17, 1989 — at a time when I doubt my seven-year-old brain understood most of the jokes or could have expected how this bug-eyed, surreally yellow family would figure so largely into my life. I know, I know — it’s The Simpsons, for god’s sake, but here I am making a case for the value of this TV.

In short, I’m a diehard. I don’t claim to know everything about the show, but I’m unabashedly nerdy, for example, in my ability to name Apu’s niece and nephew. I was one of the first in line to see the The Simpsons Movie, which opened last week. And, if prompted, I’ll talk a person’s ear off about how the plot of the “Kamp Krusty” episode was initially conceived as a possible setup for a Simpsons film back in 1992. And, to me, all this is okay, because I feel this show is important not only in the scheme of pop culture but in full-on, prefix-free culture culture.

This all sounds less schmaltzy if I break it down mathematically. I’ve seen each one of the 400 episodes of The Simpsons. That’s 200 hours. However, the miracle of syndication has allowed me to watch daily reruns — religiously as a teenager, less regularly now. (Though, I must argue, I can’t watch as often now since Santa Barbara’s Fox affiliate, KKFX, swapped out the second Simpsons weekday rerun for considerably worse fare — That ’70s Show. Curse you!) I have purchased or have been given each of the show’s nine available DVD sets as well. A conservative estimate puts the total time this writer has spent watching the antics of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie at roughly 1,000 hours. Bare minimum, that’s nearly 42 straight days spent in Springfield, a city that’s so far endured floods, riots, fires, a potentially catastrophic comet, a hurricane, former president George Bush, a bear attack, the dreaded Osaka Flu, countless near-nuclear meltdowns, and, yes, the beheading of the statue of its founder.

As the show quips its way toward its 20th anniversary, I realize that even having lived in Santa Barbara for seven years, I’ve still spent more time with the Simpson family than with the majority of the people I know today. That’s scary. Another sobering thought: thousands of people throughout the world are just like me. We grew up watching Bart pull pranks that pundits once alleged would inspire copycat misbehavior and general mind-mush. And yet many of us devotees graduated college and now have jobs. And we’ll soon be succeeded in this feat by a younger generation that has never known life without
The Simpsons. What then, could be the result of all this quality? And why has this show managed to make such an indelible mark on me?

I can only answer personally, as I don’t have the means to poll every person whose time watching The Simpsons registers in the quadruple digits. (Nor the interest, honestly, as I fear that group might include far too many people who talk, look, and think like Comic Book Guy, the show’s resident gastropod trash-culture glutton.) But if I had to hazard a guess how The Simpsons came to surpass Ozzie and Harriet as the longest-running American sitcom — and back in 2004, no less — I’d say the answer lies in the level of comfort the show provides.

Though I still watch new episodes if I’m unoccupied at 8 p.m. on a Sunday, I’m the first to admit the jokes don’t fall quite so perfectly from the overbite-afflicted mouths of the show’s characters as they did once. Like many fans, I can even pinpoint when I started to believe the sentiment that the show’s longevity might stem more from the money it rakes in rather than the Fox network’s intent to deliver a quality TV show. Nonetheless, it’s still funny.

Even more importantly, the show feels familiar to me in the way few other things can be just by virtue of its lengthy existence. I hear those nasal Simpsons voices and bam — I’m a kid again, sneaking into a vacant room to watch the show my parents told me not to. Since I moved away from the town where I grew up, I don’t regularly encounter such well-honed memory triggers. But even if I decide I have something better to do on my Sunday night, I’m comforted by the fact that I could have stayed home, watched Homer injure himself in a way that should have killed him, and connected it to a time I saw a similar gag 12 years earlier.

My personal happy place can’t keep a show on the air for two decades, of course, so I suppose the key to
The Simpsons’ staying power lies in its seemingly paradoxical ability to stay timeless while being topical. The members of the Simpson family themselves don’t age, creating chronological puzzlements like Bart being 10 years old when the show began 18 years ago but 15 years younger than me today. However, this anomaly hasn’t prevented the show’s writers from ably taking shots at three U.S. presidents — the only three to exist in my consciousness of political events — and various crises facing the country, with The Simpsons Movie humorously addressing the planet’s looming environmental apocalypse. (Trust me: In 100 years, humankind will either regard the underlying warning as either delightfully quaint or grimly accurate.)

As difficult as it may be for the uninitiated to swallow this notion of
The Simpsons-as-culture, it’s just as strange for me to look back on my relationship with the show. In the end, I can’t yet state what the net result of my avid watching might be, aside from a tendency to bond with complete strangers over verbatim recitations of the bits we love. Part of me wants The Simpsons to continue on forever. I’ll probably watch until the end. And from then on, I suppose I’ll have some wonderful memories — shaded, of course, in trademark Simpsons yellow.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Dusty Little Mermaid

Given that I had to read The Rape of the Lock twice in my academic career, you'd think I would have gotten the joke sooner. I don't know how many times I've watched "The Deep South," the Futurama episode in which the crew discovers the lost city of Atlanta. But upon seeing it yesterday in rerun form, I finally noticed that it manages to reference both Rape and Disney's The Little Mermaid — a commendable feat.

In the episode, Fry meets and marries the mermaid princess of Atlanta. Voiced by a drawling Parker Posey, this one-off character is named Umbriel. In Rape, the protagonist-idiot-heroine, Belinda, is attended chiefly by two spiritual guardians, the airy-fairy sylph Ariel and a dustier, more earthen and far less beautiful gnome named Umbriel. (As far as I can remember, Umbriel doesn't do much useful except return from the Cave of Spleen with far more aggravation for Belinda once her lock's been raped. Umbriel's name would seem to come from the Latin word umbra, meaning shadow. We get "umbrella" from the same root.) In any case, the Futurama mermaid being a slightly off version of the main character from The Little Mermaid, the name "Umbriel" is doubly appropriate. Clearly, Alexander Pope's dust fairy Umbriel has gotten way more mileage than cameoing attendant fairies Brillante, Momentilla, Crispissa, who are referenced nowhere outside of Rape.

And who says you can't do anything with an English major?

Also: I feel weird about abbreviating The Rape of the Lock to just "Rape," but I refuse to write it out.

Bacon Machine

It makes me laugh.

It makes me wonder why I had never thought of it before.

[ Source: Botinok ]