Monday, May 31, 2010

On Appearing to Be Crazy

I am thankful for what I believe to be a keen ability to spot crazy people. Anyone can see the disheveled guy dancing down the street and wearing floaties despite a lack of nearby pools, but I would like to think that I can spot the more subtle indicators of crazy — occasionally emphatic hand gestures that serve no purpose, briefly flashed facial expressions that would be inappropriate for public comportment, minor wardrobe choices that reflect a fractured worldview and finally what I refer to “culprit posture.” These people are usually harmless, but I like to give them a wide berth anyway, just because there’s always a small chance that they’re the type of crazy person who will kill me on the spot but also because I don’t want to invade their crazy person space and set them off like some kind of human car alarm.

However, at times I am confronted with the notion that I may be harshly judging the people I pass on the sidewalk and that they may well be fairly sane people that I am catching in a bad moment. Take, for example, my walk home from the breakfast burrito emporium on Saturday morning, during which I remembered something funny that happened and then miserably failed to stifle giggles the entire walk home. Oh, I stopped laughing for maybe a minute or two — just long enough to turn the corner and encounter a new group of fellow sidewalk users who would witness my calm face giving way to uncontrollable laughter that to them was unwarranted and strange. I tried playing it off as coughing. I don’t think anyone bought it. And, of course, once I arrived home to eat my burrito, the urge to laugh left my body.

So if you saw me on Saturday and wondered if I might be mentally ill, please understand that I was remembering a funny thing and was not, in fact, laughing at invisible bunnies who were performing delightful acrobatic shenanigans.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Extended Backyard

While I was home around Easter, I decided to take advantage of the fact that my parents’ house sits only a few miles from the Pinnacles, a national monument that I hadn’t been to since I was in high school. Figuring I’d never be in the area with a day to spare again when it’s neither tourist season nor rattlesnake season, I went. I took pictures. Lovely day. Please look at things.

324 083

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324 112

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The surprising conclusion being not that I saw a caterpillar at the end of the hike but that my hometown doesn’t actually consume and destroy anything nice black hole-style.

Sexual Liberation on Clinton Avenue

A bizarre Brady Bunch scene that has been eliminated from reruns, probably with good reason. In it, Alice refuses to let Bobby and Cindy swim naked at a neighbor's clothing-optional pool.

Would this have not been weird in the 70s? Or is Alice actually trying to protect the kids from a family of sex predators?

(Via Scrubbles.)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Varieties of Iris Whose Names Sound Like Other Things

Some of them sound like porno films:
Some of them sound like sex acts:
Some of them sound like terrible bands:
Some of them sound like things your grandmother might say about women she does not like:
Some of them sound like strains of weed:
Some of them sound like perfume brands a prostitute would wear:
And some of them sound like baby names chosen by pretentious assholes:

Other things they also sounded like but I didn't feel like making lists for: sugary cocktails, clothing lines for plus-sized women, bargain vacation packages, euphemisms that mafiosos might use to refer to methods of killing people, dances that were popular in the 60s, and slogans for ill-fated political candidates.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Knott Appropriate for Children

One of several sources of childhood torment: these two pages from some storybook I picked up at Knott’s Berry Farm as a kid. It’s about bears. Berry? Bear? Get it?

When I scanned the book, I didn’t actually read it, so I have no idea where the bears are going or why their party wagon is full of frogs, which aren’t homophonic with anything that goes into pies. But it’s clear that they took a wrong turn into Stormy Mountain and Weird Woods, neither of which are likely Greenland- or Iceland-like misnomers. In any case, those trees once scared the hell out of me to the point that I’d flip past them as quickly as possible.

Maybe that’s why I can’t remember critical parts of the plot.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Dodging the Dodge La Femme

Back on Tuesday, I blogged about alleged “cheesecake” provocateuse Alice Lon, whose leg-crossing cost her the job of Lawrence Welk Show “champagne girl.” Well, the history of the term cheesecake isn’t the story I can tell about a woman who got fired for sexiness that by today’s standards qualifies as barely above the schoolmarm level. Before the end of Lon’s tenure as Welk’s right-hand gal, she appeared in a print advertisement for the Dodge La Femme, an automobile introduced by the Chrysler Corporation in 1955 to appeal to female motorists, who were just then beginning to care about those fancy four-wheeled boxes that their husbands had been driving to work and then to their mistresses’ houses on the edge of town.

The original La Femme is actually quite elegant — more so that the Mary Kay-mobile you may be picturing as you read this.

The car’s inherent femininity becomes more apparent when you learn about its interior. According to Wikipedia, the upholstery was tapestry featuring “pink rosebuds on a pale silver-pink background and pale pink vinyl trim.”

Every purchase of a La Femme garnered its owner a pink calfskin purse that coordinated with the interior of the car as well as a face-powder compact, lipstick case, cigarette case, comb, cigarette lighter and a change purse, all in addition to a raincoat, rain bonnet and umbrella that each matched the rosebud interior fabric. Wikipedia notes that the La Femme was marketed as the car made “By Special Appointment to Her Majesty... the American Woman.”

No joke. I mean, this sounds like something that even Betty Draper would turn her nose up at, but the real kicker here is that the La Femme concept seemed at least promising enough that a 1656 edition was produced. It was further femmed-up. Instead of the Heather Rose and Sapphire White paint combo, the La Femme 2.0 sported Misty Orchid and Regal Orchid seat coverings that resembled purple loop-pile carpeting. This version of the car was the last, and it faded into obscurity, not unlike Alice Lon after she got canned.

I can only hope that at least one man at some point was stranded with only a La Femme to drive to safety. Ha ha. Mortification.

A final note: At last, a worse idea for a car than the Intelligent Whale.

EDIT: Now that I read this over, I realized I missed a great opportunity to make a joke about bad women drivers and the fact that this car’s name could be literally read as “Get out of the way of the woman.”

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Cheesecake, Twice in One Day

Are you familiar with the term cheesecake? Like, not in the sense of what Dorothy, Blanche and Rose ate out on the lanai but the rather stuff their husbands might have tacked to the wall of the garage? Not porn and barely erotica — I’m talking about cheesecake in sense of a pneumatic-looking lady posing on the hood of a car or perhaps encouraging you to enjoy a nice refreshing Coke.

I’d never heard the term before yesterday. I had rewatched the Lawrence Welk sketch from the Betty White-hosted episode of SNL, the one with Kristen Wiig as the baby-handed Dooneese. (Yeah, that’s the character’s name, though her developmental problems make it hard to understand.) In it, Fred Armisen makes a joke about Lawrence’s occasional inability to pronounce the “TH” sound correctly and I wondered what his accent was supposed to be. Wikipedia tells me that Larry hails from not from anywhere exotic but Strasberg, North Dakota, where he was raised by German-speaking immigrants from Odessa. So that’s that. But while there, I read a bit more about a guy about whom I knew fairly little about aside from that he is still beloved by old people and that he consequently has things named after himself in Palm Springs.

I learned that Welk in 1959 fired his show’s “champagne girl,” Alice Lon, because she showed too much leg during on of her performances. He said we would not tolerate such “cheesecake” on his show. (Accounts vary about how exactly it all went down, but I can’t find a clip online. Some say Welk dismissed Lon on-air, other’s say it happened after the episode finished.) It seemed that Lon crossed her legs while sitting on a desk, exposing maybe as little as a knee. In Welk’s eyes, this turned his show down from a family-friendly hour of music and bubbles into a raunchfest. I was surprised. As far as the evolution of American sexual mores, 1959 is not really all that long ago, and yet this poor woman lost her job for showing off her legs, possibly accidentally. Still curious, I looked her up to see what kind of woman could so enrage of Lawrence Welk.

My evaluation: She’s about as desexualized a beauty as could be. It helps, of course, that she’s singing “Wonderful, Wonderful,” a song I associate with that one horrifying X-Files episode about the incest mutants who keep their multiple amputee mother-sister in a trundle bed. (Now that I think about it, Dooneese would not be at all out of place with those freaks.)

Wholesome or foully strumpetine, Alice Lon will be forever associated with the word cheesecake. I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t have appreciated this legacy, but it at least taught me that the word doesn’t always refer to the fatty dessert. And just a few hours after learning this, I was reading Boing Boing and saw it used again, in a context completely removed from Alice Lon and Lawrence Welk: a clip from the 1958 movie She Demons. The clip, via Amy Crehore, is titled on YouTube as “Fifties Cheesecake Dance No. 1.”

So how did cheesecake get so wrapped up with all things vaguely smutty?

According to Online Etymology Dictionary, the term as a name for a dessert goes back to the mid-fifteenth century and as something meaning “soft” or “effeminate” back to the eighteenth. A 1934 Time magazine article defined it — hilariously — as “leg-pictures of sporty females” and apparently it’s lingered in English ever since.

Now please, no jokes, but I feel like I’m more familiar with the term beefcake than cheesecake — as in beefcake magazine or just the just the hunky guys themselves. I’d even guess that beefcake is now the more widely understood term. Online Etymology Dictionary doesn’t disagree, but it does say that this sense of beefcake came after cheesecake. It was first used in 1952 to mean “display of male pulchritude” — again, hilarious — although an actual dish called beefcake may have existed before this. We can all be thankful that the literal beefcake no longer exists.

And that’s the story with me and cheesecake. Full disclosure: I’m kind of like Lawrence Welk in that I don’t tolerate cheesecake either. It really is disgusting. Note that I didn’t use italics there. Please, no jokes.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Know Your Japanese Subculture Girls!

Discussed in this post: video games (initially), Japanese subcultures (mostly) and the wonders of transliteration (somewhatly) and the unremarkable nature of blonde hair in the U.S. (finally).

Because I like to know about video games — especially the ones that were out around the time I was a kid — I found myself reading the Wikipedia page for Dragon Quest IX just so I’d have some basic understanding of what it is. Though the Dragon Quest games are now in their ninth iteration, with a tenth Wii-bound soon, I have only played the first one, which came out for the NES when I was seven years old. Dragon Quest is a huge moneymaker, but despite that as well as legions of fans and overall critical praise, I know next to nothing about this particular series of games. Hence the wikicramming. It was on this particular page that I fell into a wikihole, specifically at the end of this sentence: “[Immediately after] the game’s launch, it had largely received mixed to highly negative responses from fans on the Internet, particularly towards Sandy the gyaru-ish fairy.”

Huh. Girl’s name is Sandy? And she’s enough to turn scores of gamers against a title that eventually became the tenth ever to receive a perfect score from Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu? What could possibly be so objectionable about this Sandy? And what the hell is a gyaru?

The answers are part of the word of the week.
gyaru (gi-ah-roo) — noun: a subculture of fashion-conscious Japanese women and girls prevalent in the 1980s.
According to just about any source I found, the term is a transliteration of the English word gal that fell into usage in Japan when a brand of women’s jeans bearing that name became popular. (The brand’s slogan? “I can’t live without men,” which seems like a better motivator not to buy pants.) Given that gyaru were known for flashy clothes and less-than-mature behavior, you might say that this subculture works sort of like a Japanese answer to the Southern California valley girl.

gyaru just want to have fun!

But I’m not sure valley girls would have had the wherewithal to construct all the social group signifiers and subsubcultures and subsubsubcultures associated with the gyaru. Take, for example, the himegyaru (“princess gal”), which mixes big hair with party dresses in a way that suggests a 60s-era Nancy Sinatra who died of exposure in the Las Vegas heat. Or there’s the ganguro (“face black”). While the gyaru themselves are known for tan skin and bleached hair, the ganguro take it to the extreme, with catcher’s mitt skin that actually gives you second-hand melanoma — made all the more striking by bizarre white eye make-up. Scary stuff. And there’s even the B-gyaru — literally “B girl,” just like the ones that once breakdanced on the streets of 1980s America — who emulate R&B stars instead of the blonder Staci Sideponytails and Tiffany Slapbracelets.

left to right: ganguro, himegyaru and b-gyaru

And don’t worry — there are many other varieties of gyaru. Find the one that works for you!

Technically speaking, gyaru themselves wouldn’t even refer to themselves as such — they’re more often known today as kogyaro, a contraction of kôkôsei gyaru (“high school gal”) which itself can be reverse-transliterated as kogal. Again, like valley girls, they have their own way of speaking that I’m sure is as irritating to non-gyaru Japanese as valspeak is to the portion of the U.S. that didn’t grow up in 1980s-era San Fernando Valley. They even have a system of writing — or texting, really — that is specific to their subculture, gyaru-moji.

So, clearly, this is an established Japanese type who might have had her day long ago but whose descendants are still thriving. Why, then, would game-players unleash so much rage on Sandy the Fairy?

Well, this is what she looks like.

are you feeling rage?

Pretty innocuous, I’d say. Maybe especially feminine, but to my Californian eyes, she looks like any other tan-skinned blonde girl that you might see here, belonging to any number of American subcultures or none at all. And yet the Dragon Quest diehards hate her to the point that there exists a popular ASCII art Flash game that lets you slap Sandy in the face.

I can only guess that Japanese gamers find this little pixel pixie offensive because she represents Dragon Quest IX’s attempt to cash in on a fad. When Kotaku posted about Sandy, it noted the strangeness of a tanned, blonde character in the Japanese-created game’s medieval-inspired world. The post went on to explain that the title’s creators consciously designed the character to embody this particular style. And I suppose buying into a fad and attempting to profit off a subculture are both the kind of social missteps that can cause a backlash. I mean, this is why people hate Hot Topic, right?

I also think it’s interesting that no such backlash could exist against this character in America. For one, most gamers wouldn’t know or care about gyaru culture. And for another, a gyaru rendered in cartoon form becomes indistinguishable from a run-of-the-mill California sunbunny. There’s something in here — a strange, subtle cultural reciprocity, what with the word gal being absorbed unrecognizably into Japanese as gyaru and the gyaru look passing invisibly back into American culture when Dragon Quest IX gets released here this summer. And that is neat.

Full disclosure: I probably will never play Dragon Quest IX and am apathetic toward Sandy the Fairy. But I still enjoyed slapping her in that little Flash game.

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Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Last Lost

Scattered thoughts about the last episode of my favorite show:

I’m not partaking in any Lost finale festivities. That, like much of the show itself, may be more a result of circumstance than design.

However, I will be soon drinking two different beers that are labeled Island Lager. This is most likely a coincidence, I’m guessing, though it may be a meaningful one.

I haven’t yet begun watching, though the six hours of Lost and Lost-related programming have already started. I’m hoping to skip through commercials, despite the fact that the show has ably demonstrated the dangers of time travel.

It’s also worth mentioning that several of the people I might have watched the finale with are opting out in favor of attending a show of Future Islands, a band whose name seems especially appropriate for tonight. Their song “Follow You” is good, though the attached video is rather pukey.

In a sense, it’s fitting that I’d be tackling the last Lost solo, as that’s how my relationship with the show began. Back in 2005, I bought myself Christmas presents in the form of two first season DVDs of critically acclaimed shows: Veronica Mars and Lost. Both have gone on to figure prominently into my life, the conversations I have with friends and this blog’s underlying theme of my personal interaction with popular culture. I watched the pilots for both shows late on December 26, in the darkness of my parents’ living room. Once I realized Veronica Mars was filmed in San Diego and was set in a thinly veiled version of San Diego, I knew that I’d be trekking through that series with one other special person with whom it would resonate. With Lost, however, it’s largely been my thing, accompanied at points by a motley crew of other fans, naysayers and mehsayers. Over the course of the show, those fellow Lost-watchers dropped off, stopped caring or moved away, and it always ended with me continuing to watch, cheering the show during its triumphs and apologizing for it when it stumbled. I’m not in my parents’ living room tonight, but if I turn the lights down low, I can imagine I am and that I like everything else on the show traveled full circle.

Though I love the show, I’m glad it’s ending, both because I don’t know if I could deal with another year of intrigue and questions-that-follow-questions. A more diehard fan might say that I should instead be glad that it’s ending on a higher note than similar cult favorite shows such as Twin Peaks, The X-Files and the aforementioned show about the teen detective. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit glad that my mental energies would be focused elsewhere.

Maybe I am a Lost apologist and maybe what I’m going to say next is proof of that, but I don’t actually expect all that much from tonight’s episode. It’s been an amazing ride, as clichéd as that sounds, and I learned long ago that every question won’t be answered by the time the credits roll. Why should it? Nothing about Lost has ever suggested that the little universe it’s created is one where everything makes sense, where the cause-and-effect relationships are always clear. Perhaps that’s the aspect of this often surreal and unreal show that’s most like real life.

For example, I don’t care why the numbers are cursed.

On the other hand, I still I wish I knew more about Libby.

Another reason I don’t have high expectations about what should happen tonight: Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Locke and Hurley were never my favorite characters. I tend to root for the underdogs and the underdogs’ underdogs. Most of storylines revolving around the characters I liked best have been resolved to one extent or another.

Case in point: Though the episode “Exposé” couldn’t have had less to do with the overall plot, it managed to be both entertaining and an interesting way to respond to viewers concerns about the show’s direction.

Those who feel that they’re owed something by people who have delivered such a phenomenal show for six years for free should reexamine their approach to being an audience member. Viewing a TV show produced over the span of years is inherently different than, say, watching a movie or reading a novel. People who can’t accept that may want to stop watching TV altogether, if only to avoid future frustration and heartache when a show is cancelled, an actor prematurely leaves a show or when producers bow to the will of network executives or demanding audiences.

I’d suggest Lost not only as a good example of how the TV series as a medium has advantages over books (despite that books allow the reader’s imagination more freedom) and movies (despite that movies have higher budgets and are therefore theoretically capable of more in a shorter amount of time). The story that Lost told could never have been told in the same way via a different format — and in the best possible way.

In a parallel universe, this show would have been cancelled years ago, just as so many others I’ve loved have been. I’m glad that we’ve gotten this far.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

You’re My Funny Little Frog

A grouping as equally awkward as the one featured in the previous post, though also every bit as aesthetically appealing.

And, yes, as that last image may suggest, we have reached the end of this little weeklong diversion. Regular programming to resume promptly.

Friday, May 21, 2010

A Dog, a Walrus and a Kingfisher Walk Into a Bar

No unifying theme here: just three scans of animal illustrations that I’ve liked since I was a kid.

I can accept that the Kingfisher is wearing a crown, but why on earth would it be depicted as about to skewer a ladybug?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Appropriate Punishment for Saucy Children

And sometimes I don’t have to do anything to make the storybook image seem disturbing or strange because it’s already arrived there.

I think my favorite part is that the child doesn’t look horrified as he’s boiled alive — just a little miffed.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What the Owl Did

See, I can be mature about this. I don’t have to find something smutty to say about every scanned illustration I post. For example, here is an owl.

What a nice owl! I’m not going to make a “hooters” joke. I’m just going to admire this piece of vintage storybook art for what it is. Oh? What’s that? You have another picture of an owl we can use? And he’s doing what?

Oh. Well, that’s a different story then.

The Big Book of How, Why and WHAAAAAA?!

Just to prove that I’m not going to post only art from childhood storybooks and then try to imply that it is sexual in some way, here is the cover of one of those amazingly dated educational books that I believe I may have inherited from my mom.

I always loved the art, even if it might have made me think that various celestial bodies were a lot closer together than they actually are.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Poem That Is, Unfortunately, About a Diminutive Cat

I don’t care what anyone thinks. This is hilarious.

The title, the lyrics, the accompanying art — literally everything about this poem is a total success in my book. They had to know, right? I mean, yeah, this is from a kids’ book, but they had to know.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Suggestive Fish

Hello. I’m going to be otherwise occupied for a few days, so the blog will be featuring pre-written posts that themselves feature art from storybooks I enjoyed as a child. I recently scanned some of them because I felt like the art didn’t need to be imprisoned on a shelf. Some it is very good. Some of it is also inadvertently implies sex of one sort or another.

Take, for instance, the positions of these four fish who are sharing a bed.

Inappropriate or not, they at least appear to be enjoying themselves.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Problem With Parallel Universes

Television has recently given me reason to think about the idea of alternate dimensions. These slightly tweaked planes of existence have been central to both of J.J. Abrams’s current shows this season, Lost and Fringe. In both, a parallel universe offers a take on the “regular” one in which things are basically the same, only with a few minor modifications. In Lost’s sideways universe, Kate is still a fugitive but she maybe didn’t kill her father. And Sawyer is a cop, not a con, but he’s still interacting with the same scuzzy elements of society. But let’s put aside Lost for a moment, mostly because I’m not sure its alternate reality is a true one — that is, one that has existed and developed alongside the main one — so much as a wish-fulfillment fantasy land that may or may not be a form of the afterlife. (Heaven? Hell? That’s one for a separate post.)

Fringe’s “over there” is a more richly developed world. Sure, protagonist Olivia Dunham is an FBI agent specializing in paranormal events in both the main universe and the alternate one, with her most significant difference so far being a different hairdo — kind of an obvious signifier of otherness, really, but it spares viewers from having to wonder which Olivia they’re looking at. An aside: Olivialternate’s hair is more flattering. See?

standard olivia the left, olivialternate on the right

More strikingly in the Fringe over there, the Twin Towers never fell, the Empire State Building was and still is used as a mooring point for zeppelins, and Antonio Guadi’s never-realized hotel exists was built on the bank of the Hudson. In last Thursday’s episode, we also glimpsed a map of the alternate universe’s United States, which features the State of Midland instead of Oklahoma and Kansas, the Louisiana Territory instead of plain old Louisiana, the District of Virginia instead of the District of Columbia and a California that is presumably underwater. But for all these differences, much is still the same. Nixon was still a president, Obama is the current president, and The West Wing was still a TV show — it’s just now in its eleventh season. And, of course, all the Fringe characters we know and love have alternate versions of themselves running around.

This is where I have a problem. Now, I’m sure this is a notion that has previously been arrived at by theoretical physicians and science fiction buffs alike, but the way we often think about parallel dimensions and especially how they’re often portrayed in fiction implies a degree of spirituality if not outright religion. Otherwise, they’re just plain wrong.

Think about it this way: Let’s say we have a universe parallel to this one, that has existed as long as ours has but in which things happened differently. Following the grand tradition of naming parallel universes, we’ll call in Universe X. People living here have over the course of history made different decisions than they did in our version of history. If this is the case, the odds that any of us would have Universe X versions of ourselves are slim at best and likely nonexistent. Any single person exists as a result of the fact that every one of their ancestors existed long enough to procreate with one other special person. Furthermore, the conditions of that act of procreation had to be such that one sperm hit the egg instead of any of its competitors, otherwise the child conceived would have had a different combination of genes. Even if this male and female ancestor happened to have still lived in the same place and interacted long enough to conceive a child together, the act of sex itself seems like it would have happened in the exact same way — same bed, same position, same time of day, same moment of climax — otherwise a different sperm might have reached the egg and created a different person. Had that person been male instead of female, for example, an entire line of subsequent humans would be wiped out or at least replaced with a different group of people. When you really think about it on a biological level, the odds that any of us got the chance to exist are staggering, as the slightest variation in great-great-great-grandpa romancing great-great-great-grandma could have prevented us from being born at all. (Thanks for never getting kicked in the balls by a goat, great-great-great-grandpa!)

So take that into account alongside the fact that people having the opportunity to make other decisions and sometimes acting on those options would make for drastically different history. I mean, World War II resulted from many people making many decisions over time. So too did many other things result this way, but if World War II had occurred differently or not at all, then most people alive today would most likely not exist. I say this because it seems plausible that this globally significant event did a lot to put young people in places they might not have been otherwise, and those people then fell in love, got married and raised children who subsequently fell in love, got married and raised more children, all of whom wouldn’t have had the chance to do that if World War II hadn’t happened. So, awful though it was, maybe we should all be thankful that World War II happened? I guess? Maybe?

This all because irrelevant if you think about the alternate universe as branching off from the main timeline more recently. If that happened ten years ago, then yeah — we’d all theoretically have alternate versions of ourselves. But that’s often not the case they way such realities are depicted in fiction. As far as we know, Fringe’s alternate universe is a twin to the main one — born at the same time and running parallel the whole time. So, then, how can we account for the fact that this reality is only slightly different rather than completely different aside from the geography of the planet it exists on? I can’t think of a explanation that doesn’t refer to God, souls or destiny. And that sounds weird, seeing as how the conversation up to this point as been purely scientific. But given that most of us seemingly lucked into existence, the only way it could be that we would have done so in parallel dimension would be that some higher power demanded that we be born and that our soul was pre-planned and destined to walk the earth. Or both earths, I guess.

If that’s the case, it would seem that every one of our ancestors didn’t have the free will they might have thought they did. Sure, they could have dyed their hair red and gotten bangs, as Olivialternate did, but they still had to get from Point A to Point B, especially if that latter spot in time was conceiving the child they were destined to have, so he too got his chance to exist. That’s destiny right there — or at least destiny with a little wiggle room.

Personally speaking, my religious beliefs waver. I’m not an atheist but I’ve yet to hear any religion offer an explanation for existence that makes sense. And I’m not saying that any form of speculative fiction that features a parallel dimension is tacitly endorsing one idea of God or another. However, it’s interesting that we have this fiction tradition of characters interacting with their alternate dimension version of themselves a la Spock and the goateed Evil Spock that is so prevalent that most people contemplating Universe X imagine a different version of themselves who married the one that got away, who divorced when they had the chance, who went abroad, who stayed abroad, who did buy that boat, who didn’t lose his hand in the factory accident, who sprung for the perm, who saved instead of spending, who kept trying instead of giving up, who waited, who moved on, who got the dog instead of the cat. Because those alternate selves probably don’t exist — unless of course they’re destined to.

I, for one, am choosing to be happy that I beat overwhelming odds and therefore got to exist in any one dimension, whether I was meant to or not.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Thag Simmons, R.I.P.

Despite its older-than-I-am pop culture references and obscure zoology jokes, The Far Side played a larger role in my young life than it should have. Hell, it ceased to be before I entered eighth grade, which alone should indicate that most of its strips would have been meaningless to me back when they were still appearing in newspapers. Still, as I’ve mentioned previously on this blog, I read it and bought the books and got something out of it all. And, via Dina, I just recently learned that The Far Side also gave a word to the world of paleontology.
thagomizer (THAG-ō-mīz-er) — noun: the arrangement of tail spikes found on certain dinosaurs, most famously the stegosaurus.
The minute Dina sent me the link to the Wikipedia page for the thagomizer, I instantly knew what it had to be, where it had gotten its name and why Dina had thought to push it my way. The term thagomizer comes from a 1982 Far Side strip featuring a caveman lecturing to a class about dinosaur anatomy, the joke being that the anatomical feature was named for a fellow caveman who presumably died as a result of contact with it. (Fun honor, becoming the namesake for the thing that killed you. Mark my words: One day we will refer to the act of giving a belly buzzer to a hibernating bear as doing a Drew Mackie.)

And though I clearly remembered the strip, I didn’t know that a real-life paleontologist — Ken Carpenter of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science — is credited as having first used the term in real-life in 1993. Thagomizer then became an unofficial but nonetheless recognized term to describe dinosaur tail spikes that has been used in other museums, including the Smithsonian. The Wikipedia entry on the thagomizer concludes with this note: “The fate of Thag Simmons notwithstanding, dinosaurs and humans did not exist in the same era.” Part of me hates that this has to be pointed out, but another part of me understands the widely varying intelligence levels of the people who use Wikipedia and therefore accepts that this sentence is necessary.

Since we’re on the subject, thagomizer is not the only word to originate on the funny pages and pass into the realm of science. Wikipedia notes that some scientists find the term Big Bang just a little pedestrian and prefer instead Horrendous Space Kablooie, a term coined by a Calvin & Hobbes strip. Al Capp’s Shmoo has lent its name to the fields of socioeconomics, astronomy and beer- and bread-making. And, of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the Far Side author himself, Gary Larson, had a species of chewing lice named after him: Strigiphilus garylarsoni. (Again, a weird honor, though it’s at least better than the cancer-causing protein known as Sonic hedgehog. “The bad news is that you’re dying, but the good news is that the thing killing you has a quirky name!” A potential inhibitor for this little menace? Robotnikinin, of course.)

And now, five lines of empty space in memory of the late Thag Simmons.

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