Sunday, February 27, 2011

What Now Remains for the Unhappy Signora Psyche Zenobia?

“A Predicament” is the only Edgar Allen Poe story to feature a female narrator. Keeping that in mind, please enjoy this Wikipedia summary of it and draw your own conclusions.
The bizarre story follows Signora Psyche Zenobia. While walking through the city with her five-inch-tall poodle Diana and three-foot-tall servant Pompey, she is drawn to a large Gothic cathedral. As she makes her way into the steeple, she ponders life and the metaphor of surmounting stairs: “One step remained. One step! One little, little step! Upon one such little step in the great staircase of human life how vast a sum of human happiness or misery depends! I thought of myself, then of Pompey, and then of the mysterious and inexplicable destiny which surrounded us... I thought of my many false steps which have been taken and may be taken again.”
At the steeple, Zenobia sees a small opening that she wishes to look through. Standing on Pompey's shoulders, she pushes her head through the opening and realizes she is in the face of a giant clock. As she gazes out at the city beyond, she soon finds that the sharp minute hand has begun to dig into her neck. Slowly, the minute hand decapitates her, which it will do for the remainder of the story. At one point, pressure against her neck causes her eye to fall and roll down into the gutter and then into the streets below. She is annoyed not so much that she has lost her eye but at “the insolent air of independence and contempt” it had while looking back at her. Her other eye follows soon thereafter.
“At twenty-five minutes past five in the afternoon, precisely,” the clock has fully severed her head from her body. She does not express despair and is, in fact, glad to be rid of the “head which had occasioned... so much embarrassment.” For a moment, Zenobia wonders which is the real Zenobia: her headless body or her severed head. Comically, the head then gives a heroic speech (unwritten in the story), which Zenobia’s body cannot hear because it has no ears. Her narration continues, however, without her head, as she is now able to step down from her predicament.
Pompey, in fear, runs off, and Zenobia sees that her poodle has been eaten by a rat. “What now remains for the unhappy Signora Psyche Zenobia?” she asks in the last lines. “Alas — nothing! I have done.”

They Care a Lot

Justin Bieber has his Beliebers. Lady Gaga has her Monsters. But what can your lesser popsters hope for in the way of fanatical followers? The answer lies in the word of the week.
stan (STAN) — noun: an overzealous fan of a celebrity.
A week ago, the only word I would have used to describe the people who obsessively follow shallow, seemingly unworthy celebrities would have been losers. However, as a result of an error that ran on the website that I work for, I learned the term stan can refer to people who psychotically root for pop culture’s dullest. You see, an article erroneously mentioned Christina Aguilera as having picked up a Razzie nomination for Burlesque. As it turns out, only Cher was publicly censured for her role in Burlesque, like some kind of sacrificial mutton — stringy, tough, aged mutton. Almost immediately, the website’s Twitter feed was flooded with messages from rabid Aguilera fans who pointed out the error, assumed it resulted from a deliberate effort to bring Aguilera down and, most notably, referred to the website’s staffers as bobbleheads. (Weird, right? Since when did crazy people use polite insults?) Attempting to sort through the barrage of retweets to locate the original call to arms, I eventually stumbled onto a message board that made repeated references to stans and even featured this graphic:

Confused, I did some Googling and ended up at Urban Dictionary — you know, Wikipedia for fourteen-year-old racists — and found the definition I posted above. And while the site conjectures that the term comes from a combination of stalker and fan, it looks like the term comes from a suitably pop-cultural source:

Yup, the 2000 hit “Stan.” (Hey, remember Dido?) It’s that Stan that the stans emulate when they use the term — the fictional character from the Eminem song who writes the rapper obsessive letters and, when he doesn’t get a response, murder-suicides his pregnant girlfriend and himself by driving off a bridge. Isn’t that awesome? I mean, talk about finding the rainbow at the end of the storm! These balls-out fans so love their popbots that they’ve modeled themselves after a mentally ill man who imagines a personal relationship with a celebrity with whom none exists! And that’s to say nothing of how the have overlooked the point of the song, which is Eminem’s surprisingly levelheaded warning against that sort of behavior.

Please note: It’s not just Christina Aguilera for whom one can be a stan. If your life is that lacking in meaning, you could be a Beyonce stan, a Katy Perry stan or (I suppose) a Tracy Chapman stan. Each defends their chosen idol without fail, without logic and without any consideration of whether the star’s merit support. Must be nice to care that much and yet care so little.

Previous strange and wonderful words:
Word nerd? Subscribe to Back of the Cereal Box’s word-related posts by clicking here.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Anti-Smoking Swanephant

So this is a thing:

It doesn’t want you to smoke. Apparently. Though it’s also smoking, so you could argue that it’s just pissing itself off, a sort of ouroboros of expectation and self-defeat. According to No-sword, the symbol, which is part of a Japanese anti-smoking campaign, is kind of a visual pun on the similarity between the Japanese words for “swan” and “elephant” as well as the word for “elephant” and a particle connoting emphasis and determination. End result: something that translates to “Non-smokers shouldn’t have to smoke” but which is graphically represented by this weird elephant-swan hybrid in which the latter’s face seems to be penetrated by the swan’s… stem. And the elephant looks none-too-pleased about it. No-sword unpacks it further:
Symbologically though this is kind of a mess. If its name is a pun on “I won't smoke,” why is it smoking? Is that look on Elephant’s face oblivious or malicious? If Swan hates Elephant’s secondhand smoke so much, why doesn't he just get off Elephant’s back? If Elephant’s trunk is a cigarette, is it reasonable to place restrictions on how he uses it? (Can he even breathe any other way?) And of course there's the weird sense, created by the color scheme, that the trunk/cigarette is actually part of Swan, somehow poking through Elephant.

Previous assertions of my visual literacy:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Tori Paradox

I did a double take. I rarely actually do, but I totally did this weekend.

There I was, browsing DVDs, when I spotted a used fifth season set for Saved by the Bell. And I almost kept on going until my brain registered what was so strange about it. See if you can spot it:

saved by the bell season 5 dvd cover tori paradox

Right? Proof that Jessie Spano and Kelly Kapowski do, in fact, exist in the same universe as new girl Tori Scott. I’d always imagined that the last few episodes of Saved by the Bell followed some alternate Bayside timeline in which Jesse and Kelly never existed, hence why no one seems to care about their whereabouts in the Tori episodes. But no, that’s apparently not the case, as Elizabeth Berkeley and Tiffani Thiessen (who played Jessie and Kelly) at least stood near Leanna Creel (Tori) long enough to take this promo photo.

If you’ve never read Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, you’re missing one of the best critical essays on Saved by the Bell and the bizarre final season in which certain episodes feature the regular six-member gang — Zack, Screech, Lisa, Slater, Jessie and Kelly — and others feature just the first four and Tori, who kind of melds Jessie’s outspokenness with Kelly’s status as Zack’s love interest. In reality, the Jessie and Kelly episodes were shot first and end with the high school graduation episode, but then NBC ordered more episodes. Berkeley and Thiessen declined to come back, and so the group was balanced out with Tori. When the episodes actually aired, Jessie and Kelly episodes were interspersed with the Tori episodes, creating the suggestion that Jessie and Kelly are mutually exclusive from Tori, socially speaking, and that Jessie and Kelly are occasionally doing god-knows-what with god-knows-whom, possibly in classrooms on the opposite side of the hallway that we never see. (Also, Tori apparently doesn’t graduate, as far as the viewer sees. I assume the pressure of being the new kid got to her, she overdosed, and she was dead in her leather jacket somewhere, not found until after graduation festivities conclude. “Friends Forever” indeed.) In Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, Chuck Klosterman posits that the Tori Paradox is one of the more realistic things about Saved by the Bell, in that actual high school social circles tend to change and grow and occasionally omit certain people — that is, you don’t do everything with the same group of friends, and some friends are present during memorable events and others just aren’t. And depending on the size of your high school, it may be possible that your close friends could never meet. I know, at least, that I ended up marching in my high school graduation ceremony next to a girl I’d never met until that day.

Everything I said about the bifurcated final season was explained in Klosterman’s book, but I learned today that the territories that didn’t stagger the Tori episodes but still managed to air a confusing final season. In England, for example, the Jessie and Kelly half ran through all on its own, ending with the graduation episode. Then the Tori episodes aired, giving the impression that though the cast had already graduated, Zack, Screech, Lisa and Slater returned back to high school for a few more weeks without any apparent memory that they’d already finished. And it’s all even stranger when you consider Saved by the Bell: The College Years, which took place after the Tori episodes, but in which Kelly suddenly comes back into the group, having successfully performed a last-minute transfer into California University, which apparently lets students start taking classes whenever they feel like it. “Tori who? I go here now! See ya never, Lisa Turtle-substituting black girl who I apparently took the place of!”

In any case, I was surprised and a little confused that given the show’s producers would have bothered to cram the whole cast into the final promo photos, especially given that they would have already known that Tori would never interact with Jessie and Kelly. Then again, I’ve already thought more about Saved by the Bell than the show deserves, and it’s possible that my brain energies could be better spent elsewhere.

Finally (and totally contradicting that final thought), I ask you this: Is it coincidental that Tori would share her name with Tori Spelling, who made several appearances on the show as Screech’s geeky love interest, Violet Bickerstaff?

EDIT: Four years later, I am certain that the box art was not faked. Leanna Creel was really there with the entire Saved by the Bell cast.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Kitten Rides Turtle! KITTEN RIDES TURTLE!

You asked for it!

Personal tidbit: The expressions the kitten makes approximate my own feelings about public transportation.

Be Unlike the Squirrel, Girl

The three most inappropriate memorials posted on the site of Sugar Bush Squirrel, rising internet star and allegedly the “most-photographed squirrel” in the world:

Michael Jackson

Benazir Bhutto

Natalee Holloway (with accompanying graphic of Sugar Bush Squirrel continuing the search for her a human jawbone found in Aruba proved not to be hers)

Their baffling inappropriateness aside, I must say that that a lot of care went into these little dioramas. How do you get a squirrel to wear a headdress?

Finally, one that is not disrespectful or distasteful, exactly, but which makes less and less sense the more you look at it: the Sarah Palin squirrel.

Do check out the website for more of pop culture more of pop culture’s biggest recent moments rendered as only the medium of posed squirrel photography. It’s sort of like a more up-to-date “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” only less annoying and more telling of the person who composed it.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Legend of Retrospectacle II: Adventure of the Link

What happened before has happened again, and the blogaversary post proved to be too-packed with flashbacking wonderment to make the blog feed. So do click on over to “Retrospectacle 3: Look Who’s Blogging Now” to see the history of this now eight-year-old blog in visual form.

So what’s with the Zelda reference?

Well, it seems that today also happens to be the twenty-fifth anniversary of the original Legend of Zelda, and it’s so like a beloved childhood pastime to show me up on my special day. I guess I’ll have to blog a lot more actively in the next twelve months if I want to outdo Zelda in time for February 21, 2012.

Retrospectacle 3: Look Who’s Blogging Now

Hello. This blog is eight years old today. Required celebration appears below. You may have noticed that this year’s celebration looks a lot like last year’s and the one from the year before that. You would be correct. I simply could not think of anything better than the clickable visual index. What? What are you doing for your stupid blog’s eighth blogaversary?

Look forward to another slightly shuffled version of this on February 22, 2012.