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:
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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.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Your Apartment Building Is Stupid

Today’s word-of-the-week names something that will be familiar to anyone living in Southern California. But don’t be turned off, people who demand reasonable commutes; it may be interesting to you as well.
dingbat (DING-bat) — noun: 1. a typographical symbol or ornament. 2. a nitwit or kook. 3. a type of apartment building typically consisting of two or three stories of residential space situation in a rectangular structure, often with parking on the bottom floor.
It’s that third definition — the one that doesn’t appear in the Webster’s entry and which I therefore had to write myself — is the one that I’m focusing on today, though dingbat is clearly an awesome word that improves any sentence it appears in, regardless of it meaning.

Since I moved to Los Angeles, I’ve repeatedly seen this style of apartment building in just about every neighborhood I’ve been to. (Not so much Beverly Hills.) Shaped more or less like a boxcar, these stuccoed-over structures seem to be designed to fit the most possible units into the allotted space. Often, they have names, and often these names evoke some dated sense of the exotic or the luxurious — the Chalet, the Continental, the Yucatecan, the Kon-Tiki, the Fair Winds, the Bahamian, etc. Even if you have no awareness of the time period they come from, looking at them instantly take you back to a vague late 60s-early 70s era in which everything is slightly yellow in color and the theme to “Three’s Company” is playing in the background. These, my friends, are the dingbats.

Some examples:

Do you see what I mean? Sometimes the upper stories jut out over the soft bottom floor (a.k.a. “earthquake’s delight”), but in general the structures remain uniformly rectangular. Wikipedia notes Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies as nailing the dingbat with the following description:
[Dingbats] are normally a two-story walk-up apartment-block developed back over the full depth of the site, built of wood and stuccoed over. These are the materials that Rudolf Schindler and others used to build the first modern architecture in Los Angeles, and the dingbat, left to its own devices, often exhibits the basic characteristics of a primitive modern architecture. Round the back, away from the public gaze, they display simple rectangular forms and flush smooth surfaces, skinny steel columns and simple boxed balconies, and extensive overhangs to shelter four or five cars.
So why the hell would these buildings be called the same thing as Archie Bunker called his wife? It would seem that the term dingbat once referred not to the building itself but to the of-the-era embellishments that often appear on the side of the building that faces the street. (In the above photos, the double diamond design would be a dingbat.) Somehow, enough people knew to call these ornaments dingbats that the name eventually stuck to the structure itself. The association of dingbat with front-of-the-building flourishes seems to have arisen from a typographical term: In this sense, a dingbat is anything you can print that’s not a letter, a number or a punctuation mark, pretty much. Everything in the Wingdings and Webdings font sets would be dingbats. Check them out:

✱ ✲ ✳ ✴ ✶ ✷ ✺ ✻ ✾ ✿

And the next obvious question: So why call these little nothings dingbats? According to Etymonline, the term is a uniquely American one that arose back in the day when a lot of other fun-to-say words for unimportant things slid into general use: dingus, doohickey, gadget, gizmo and thingamabob among them. Etymonline notes that dingbat has over time referred not just to apartment buildings and typographical flourishes but also has meant “money,” “a professional tramp,” “a muffin,” “male genitalia,” “a Chinese,” “an Italian,” “a woman who is neither your sister nor your mother” and “a foolish person in authority.” It does credit All in the Family as helping popularize the “foolish person” sense of the term, though it also notes that this usage goes back to the early twentieth century.

So remember: The next time you see one of these apartment buildings, know that it’s not just some architectural relic rendered kitschy by the passage of time. It’s a dingbat.

Previous strange and wonderful words:
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Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Weather as Predicted by Vintage Candy

I mean, it could hardly be worse that saltwater taffy, right?

Also worth calling attention to: “Hollywood Candy Co., Minneapolis, Minnesota."

Friday, February 18, 2011

It's Cold Out, So Take a Cozier

A thing I learned today: The noun bustier ("boo-stee-ay," referring to the article of women's clothing) is spelled the same as the adjective bustier, the comparative form of busty. That gives us fun sentences like "The lady in the bustier looks a lot bustier than the one wearing the burlap sack." This may well be old news to anyone who has reason to buy or wear these garments, but I had to write the word today and realized that I had no idea how to spell it.

I find this homograph a lot more pleasant that the one that can either be the adjective meaning "containing or related to pus" and the noun that can mean "a cat," among other things.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Where Pixelated Ashes Grow Like Digital Wheat

It takes two to make an accident.

I don’t know how many people combined efforts to create this, but I am extremely glad that it happened.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Real Housewives of the Labyrinth

When I tell you that I ended up watching Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, you should probably know that I knew about one of its castmembers, Kyle Richards, beforehand. In high school, I sort of lost my mind over the original Halloween, in which Kyle plays Lindsey Wallace, one of the two kids whose babysitters get stalked by Michael Meyers. (She’s not Jamie Lee Curtis’s charge, however. Her babysitter, Annie, gets killed, so clearly the Wallaces didn’t hire the right girl.) Later, in college, a roommate and I ended up watching Watcher in the Woods, a 1980 Disney-produced horror movie for kids starring Kyle and Bette Davis. (The fuck, right?) I can’t remember why we watched that, but it was right around the time Paris Hilton became a thing, and I was surprised when I found out that this former child actress was Hilton’s aunt. Ever since, I’ve paid attention to Kyle Richards — an easy task considering that she was pretty much off the map, save for a recurring role on E.R.. Then, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills happened, Kyle is more off-the-moment than Paris right now, and I can no longer impress people by telling them the little girl from Halloween is Paris’s aunt. Funny how that works out.

Today, at work, I ended up stumbling onto an official-seeming website for Kim Richards — Kyle’s sister, another RHOBH castmember and an even bigger child actress. The site includes a whole lot of information about Richards family, including Kyle. The site predates Paris’s rise to fame, so the content skews in favor of the previous generation in a way that seems quaint. And the site design is wonderfully, horrifically dated, like what you remember the internet first looking like back in the day. It has pictures — stills from old TV and movies that the Richards sisters appeared in, clippings from magazines that covered the girls in their acting years, and personal photos that the family itself may have sent in. You can even send Kim Richards e-cards to your friends. Overall, It is a fucking treasure trove, even if you couldn’t care less about this family.

For example, there’s a scan of a 1979 issue of Tiger Beat featuring Kim playing a weird, two-person version of crack the whip with Todd Bridges of Diff’rent Strokes.

There’s also what looks like a catalogue shot of Kyle and Kim sitting on a fence, looking at a horse and finding the whole situation hilarious. Also, Kim’s back pocket is full of carrots.

But the best thing I found would have to be this picture, posted without context and picturing what would seem to be the time Kyle Richards fell into a Labyrinth-like world of phantasmagorical world of horrors. She apparently had to rescue a baby from it. The baby didn’t seem all that fazed by the situation.

I’m not in charge of publicity for Kyle Richards, but can I just say that if I were her, I’d be using this photo to this very day for any and all promotional purposes. Because it says so much, you know?

Here’s to the newly famous — or newly re-famous, I guess — forgetting about stuff being posted online.

Monday, February 14, 2011

An Adventure Into Black Magic

In case you needed any proof that the Grindhouse trailers were fairly spot on, check out this one for Black Sabbath (also known as Black Sunday), the Mario Bava-directed Boris Karloff movie that gave Ozzy Osbourne’s band its name.

I quote: “Starring the incomparable Boris Karloff, the personable Mark Damon, and lush and lovely women, even though one is from the netherworld.”

Since we’re on the subject, have a look at the trailer for The Girl Who Knew Too Much (La ragazza che sapeva troppo), which is practically a work of art in itself.

I cannot say how that song has not yet made its way into a Quentin Tarantino movie, but shouldn't it?

Oh, and happy Valentine’s, I guess.

Let the Lion Dog Be Small

The article “Sun Yat Sen Will Eat Again” focuses largely on its title character — a Pekingese named after a Chinese statement and who survived the sinking of the Titanic when many of that boat’s non-canine passengers perished.

But the article also mentions several other notable, high society Pekingeses. Their names seemed worth mentioning, and so here they are:
  • Broadoak Beetle
  • Gunterstone Pu-Wen
  • Sih Gerza
  • Lo Lo
  • Wingerworth Kou-Kou (pictured above)
  • Chun-Chu
  • Nanking Wen-Ti
  • Mai-Mai
  • Yen-Chu
  • Ko-Tzu
  • Choo-Tai
  • Howbury Ming
Fucking rich ladies, right?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Word for Stating the Obvious

For this week, a word that is by definition not what it means.
exoterica (eks-ə-TER-i-ka) — noun: writing, facts, or principles that are widely known.
Simply put, it’s the opposite of anything esoteric. It’s funny, then, that we’d use an obscure word to refer to such common matters, but you must agree that exoterica and exoteric would be esoteric terms. Furthermore, exoterica means the opposite of its sound-alike and look-alike, exotica. According to Etymonline, the more familiar esoteric comes from the Greek esoterikos, “belonging to an inner circle,” which in terms comes from esterikos, “more within,” which is the comparative form of the adverb eso, meaning simply “within.” English-speakers once used it to refer to the Pythagorean triangle magic. Exoterica just takes it in the opposite direction, from hush-hush matters to the crap that any idiot knows.

The term raises an interesting question: What, exactly, constitutes a thing widely known? That if you let go of something it falls to the ground? That the sky is blue? That dogs have four legs? That Sacramento is the capital of California? Even with that last one, I might have moved into the circle of things more commonly known to Californians, since I feel people who don’t live in this state would have no reason to pay attention to Sac Town. I’m frequently baffled by what others consider to be new, strange bits of information and what is new to me but which others expect that I should already know. Really, in the global sense, the number of things most people could agree to call exoteric might be smaller than what would be relegated esoteric, when you consider how what might be shared between me, a 28-year-old writer who grew up in the United States, and a 70-year-old Mongolian goatherd. Do Mongolian goatherds even live that long? I have no idea. See what I mean?

Previous strange and wonderful words:
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Saturday, February 12, 2011

The New “The Lady or The Tiger?”

Why is it so much better that the name Jelly Belly can refer to either the brand of fancy jellybeans or the horrific disease pseudomyxoma peritonea, in which a tumor causes excess mucus production that swells the abdomen and compresses and endangers the various torso vital structures?

Remember, when you hear “Jelly Belly,” think delicious multiflavored candies. Or cancerous, fatal abdominal swelling. Your pick.

Stanley Hudson’s Punch-Out!!

Never realized how much Stanley from The Office looks like Doc Louis, the trainer from Mike Tyson’s Punch-Outt!! The resemblance carries over even to Doc Louis’s makeover for the Wii version of the game.

The Office, previously:

Friday, February 11, 2011

Gourmet Food, Dumbass Text


This I found on my front door tonight. Stoned Baked Pizza? The difference between that and Stone Baked Pizza is slight but also, you know, gigantic. You’d think they’d know that verbiage like that doesn’t sell pizza in a decidedly non-college neighborhood like Brentwood, but then again, they were probably stoned and baked when they approved the copy. And I assume the “buy one, get one free” offer only holds true if the delivery boy manages to find your house.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


I thought you might like it if I drew a picture for you.

But then I remembered that I'm shit terrible at drawing. And spelling. Sorry.

(Via somewhere stupid online.)

Beware the Snow Monsters

In Japan, trees covered in rime ice are known as juhyou (casually “snow monsters,” but literally “snow-covered trees”). I am struck by their strange beauty.

More over at Pink Tentacle.

What a Wonderful Word

Capping of these week’s theme of Asian people, non-Asian people and their mutual intersection with popular music, I offer you this: a Japanese actor in blackface impersonating Louie Armstrong but doing a surprisingly passable rendition of “What a Wonderful World.”

(Via Godaigamer’s comment on the “Japanese Boy” post.)

The previous three related posts, in order:

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

My Name Is Sue and I’m a Singer

Okay, I am mentally ill. There’s no other explanation for what I’m doing to myself.

Against my better judgment, I further investigated the Scottish (and fake Japanese) pop singer Aneka further in hopes of seeing what other weirdness she might have wrought upon the pop fans of the 80s. This search led to the 1982 song “Ooh Shooby Doo Doo Lang.” Yes, I typed that correctly. I found the video on YouTube. I watched it. You can too, but I should warn you now that the song itself represents some sort of bastard child sired by Julie Andrews, UB40 and getting stabbed in the brain.

You were warned.

Seriously. This was a thing.

I don’t think I’m overstepping in announcing that I don’t know what the fuck this is supposed to be. On one hand, the narrative of the song introduces a situation common in the music industry but rarely sung about: the behind-the-scenes person who has a hand in pop hits but who is hidden from the public. I have to take a few issues:
  • The background mural appears to feature a man in blackface, in case we didn’t suspect this musical trend of racism already. 
  • The background dancers seem weirdly sexualized. 
  • Conversely, Aneka is dressed like gangster for no reason I can understand. 
  • She’s smiling way too much for someone who is ostensibly bemoaning their lack of fame. 
  • Given Aneka’s status as a one-hit wonder, I feel like the lyrics might be overselling her importance to pop music. Did she really work with Stevie Wonder? Does Paul McCartney in fact call her all the time?
  • Aneka kind of looks like Princess Di, which is awkward, though I understand it’s nothing she could have foreseen. 
  • Aneka also looks like my Aunt Linda (not your problem, I understand). 
  • The song samples and shouts out to “Japanese Boy.”
  • I don’t know if I’m supposed to read meaning into the scenes gradual shift from monochrome to full color, but all of the interpretations I have for this relate to casual racism.
Please, someone just answer the question “What the fuck?” and I’ll be okay.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

It’s Breaking Up a Happy Home

Yesterday, I posted on this blog Nancy Nova’s “Made in Japan” as an example of a bad pop song that more than borders on offensive but in fact dances over that line with costume bucked teeth in place, exclaiming “So solly! So solly!” I’m still not sure what that video was, exactly, but it happened, and we can’t go back in time and prevent it from happening, unfortunately.

Now, however, I’m wondering whether it is actually worse — in terms of quality, in terms of political correctness — than my old standby for fascinatingly bad, offensive 80s pop songs: Aneka’s “Japanese Boy.” The song, which many people seem to recognize today from Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, strikes the ears like a flurry of shurikens. But it is also incredibly catchy in a way that often leaves its victims humming it days afterwards, even when they have acknowledged how bad the song is. Even worse: It, like “Made in Japan” is sung by a Caucasian woman — in this case, Scottish mezzo soprano Mary Sandeman. It represents a strange trend in 80s pop music that had singers donning Asian clothes and acting in a manner that Westerners might consider traditionally Asian. Totally offensive, right? Like, on the same level as blackface, and I’d call this trend yellowface if that too didn’t sound totally racist to me. (Geishaface? Does that work?)

Anyway, I’m curious to know if people find “Made in Japan” or “Japanese Boy” more offensive, by whatever standard you chose to gauge offensiveness. Here is the video for “Japanese Boy,” featuring backup dancers that lord almighty I hope are actually Japanese and Sandeman herself, looking sort of like a hard luck Jane Leeves forced on stage because she lost a bet.

So? Which makes you feel worse about things white people have done? Which one makes you most regret having ears? Which one seems catchier, despite everything bad about it?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

He Lives on Beef-Steaks and Loaf-Sugar

The best-ever description of a Pekingese:

Mr. Drew’s Improbable Vocabulary

I won’t lie; I was reminded of this word as a result of the preceding post.
Feghoot (FEG-hoot) — noun: a humorous short story or vignette ending in a pun.
Rarely do I get to reference “Little Bunny Foo Foo” in my writing, but today I can. Thought it’s been a long time since the Wee Sing Silly Songs album has figured into my life, I can remember being confused by this stupid bunny song back when I was a kid. As you’ll recall, Foo Foo, the protagonist, is warned by some genius loci fairy woman to treat field mice more kindly. (Admission: In trying to remember the lyrics, I at first thought that Foo Foo was “scooping up the field mice / and pooping on their head,” but this isn’t the case. He’s actually “bopping them on the head,” which seems more appropriate for a children’s song but also like a far lesser crime, if you ask me.) If he continues acting the park of the jerkass, the fairy explains, she will transform him into a “goon,” whatever that means. I couldn’t tell at the time. I asked, was told that a goon is like a henchman, more or less, and acted like that solved the problem even though it totally didn’t. Even looking up the word today, there’s no widely used definition for goon that would explain the fairy’s threat.

After reading about Feghoots, I understand that the only reason that the word goon was included in the lyrics was to set up the atrocious pun the serves as the moral of the story. Although I have no recollection of this, the song ends after Foo Foo has been turned into a goon, at which point the narrator notes that the lesson to take away is “Hare today, goon tomorrow.” (Forced smile. Eye roll. Vomit. Eye bleeding. Death rattle.) This is what Feghoots do, more or less, and despite their tendency to induce cringes and (I’m assuming) the tendency for audiences to murder the people who tell such tales, they persist. You might also know about Feghoots if you ever watched Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons. The “Mr. Peabody’s Improbable History” segments — you know, the ones with the snide, effeminate dog and the developmentally disabled boy he inexplicably hired as an assistant? — each end with Mr. Peabody offering a terrible pun. (Example: In this installment about the formation of the Texas Rangers, Mr. Peabody and Sherman meet the Dallas Kid, whom Peabody claims went on to found an amusement park so famous that a book was written about it. Sherman: “Durrrr, really? (drools) Mr Peabody: “Why yes. Haven’t you ever heard of Dallas in Wonderland?” Egregious, I know, but it illustrates the point.)

A question you may be asking: Why would the term for these sorts of stories be a word that sounds like what a hateful immigrant woman would call the confirmed bachelors upstairs? According to Wikipedia, this sort of storytelling device originated with the science fiction series Through Time and Space With Ferdinand Feghoot, written by Reginald Bretnor (under the anagram name Grendel Briarton) beginning in the 1950s. (Not sure where Bretnor came up with Feghoot as a name, however.) Sort of like the Mr. Peabody shorts, the stories had Ferdinand Feghoot traveling through time and going on adventures that last only a few paragraphs and always finish with a play on a well-known phrase. Feghoot fans still write new stories today. Some even ones without the Feghoot character. Take this one, from the online Feghoot collection Tarzans Tripes Forever:
After Mary Poppins became older, she gave up being a nanny and retired to the West Coast of the United States. After a while, she became bored and decided to open up a small detective agency specializing in solving crimes using her psychic ability and strong nose. She opened a small space on Hollywood Boulevard and posted her sign proudly. It read: “Super California Mystic, Expert Halitosis.”
Gut-busting, right? Your gut, busted.

I dwell on bits of culture that I consider to be awful, mostly because I want to understand what fans see in them. Such is the case here. The stories themselves are insubstantial — flash fiction, really — and really only serve to generate a painful pun. I actually wouldn’t be surprised in the least if the pun were written first and then the story constructed just to get from point B to point A. But I’ll bet most people don’t write them; they just read them. Why? Does the satisfaction lie in seeing how the author wraps up the various stray bits into the word play punchline? Is this like people who eat the poisonously hot chili peppers or something? Is it a test of endurance that you can make it through these without becoming so annoyed they swear off the written word? I’m at a loss.

Fun word, though. Feghoot.

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