Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Some Strategic Razzle-Dazzle

Say you’re watching two objects — one painted in muted colors, perhaps in a similar tone to the background it’s moving against, and the other in bold, contrasting colors that stand out against both each other and the background. Now, which object should be easier to track?

If you think like I do, the answer should be obvious. But navy technicians, at least for a period, thought differently, and around both World Wars they painted battleships to look like extravagantly dressed fat ladies in Tim Burton movies. Observe:

What the hell, right? If anything, these ships should be hard to miss, but the theory behind dazzle camouflage — yes, that’s what it’s called — states that seagoing vessels painted in this manner would confound people watching them to the point that they literally couldn’t tell the front end from the back end, much less whether either was moving away from or toward them. (You can see more full-color examples of how these ships looked here.) Now, at this point in the explanation, the theory behind dazzle confounds me, even when I suspect that practice of it wouldn’t. I mean, should not the simple test of “Is it getting bigger or smaller?” override any color-based, visual trickery? Apparently not. According to Wikipedia, ship movements were tracked using an instrument that pieces images together, and the irregular shaped formed by dazzle camouflage made it hard to tell which piece went where, kind of like how a jigsaw puzzle of a Picasso painting would be an exercise in frustration. Whatever the effectiveness, the world powers’ battleships no longer sport the look of an M.C. Escher mistress stepping out for a night on the town.

I think what’s important to take away from this little history lesson, however, is that a military tactic — one that may well have saved or cost lives, depending on whose side you’re on — went by a name that might describe a certain musical theater aesthetic: “COLORS! And lots of ‘em. I want their eyes just popping out of their heads in presence of all this glitter and zazz! and kapowie! and hey-there! and did I say COLOR?!” The funny thing is that this association isn’t without precedent. In one of my favorite posts about obscure color terminology, I discussed a similar camouflage effort: Mountbatten Pink. Invented by Louis Mountbatten of the British Royal Navy, this shad would purportedly would have let ships pass undetected during the rosier hours of sunrise and sunset. It didn’t work, though it did make these naval ships look more like vessels in the service of the militant wing of the Mary Kay empire.

Best of all, Admiral Mountbatten had a certain reputation, based on his alleged proclivities during his days as a seasoned seaman, that earned him the nickname “Mount Bottom.” I’ve included an annotated painting of Lord Mountbatten so you may further understand the implications this nickname:

Did I mention that he was known to his friends as Dickie? And no, his first name was not Richard.

In conclusion, naval warfare has a history steeped in daring color schemes and overall gaiety.

Monday, May 30, 2011

She’s on Fire

This lady, this Maggie Mae, moves like she has a nerve disorder that she’s determined will not hold her back in life.

No, wait — she moves like she is being constantly bitten by tiny spiders and she’s trying to shake off the spiders.

No, wait — she moves like your mom’s friend at her thirtieth high school reunion when she mixed a white wine spritzer with her mood-stabilizer pills and ended up on the news.

No, wait — she’s actually moving like she’s literally on fire and she just never learned the stop-drop-roll procedure.

No, wait — the way she just starts herk-a-jerking out of the crowd and toward the stage makes me think she’s actually just a crazy woman in the audience who brought her own microphone, and the real Maggie Mae is standing just off stage, asking “Who’s this bitch who stole my fucking number?”

Nice glasses, though.

(Via PCL LinkDump.)

Another Kristen, Another Life

So I tend to see people I know in people I see. It’s not a bad habit, per se, but it can be a frustrating habit when I see resemblances that no one else does. I don’t know why this is. Maybe I just see smaller details than other people don’t notice — expressions, poses, the vaguest hints at someone else. Or maybe I’m just wrong. Regardless, I do this often enough that it has become a minor character trait, and I was recently gratified to learn that I’m not entirely off base.

This is Kristen — friend, lover, business partner and competitive bobsled teammate:

Here she is, terrified and in a tree (as she frequently was for most of college):

And here is a Superman cover depicting Lois Lane that we all agreed looked eerily like our little “muffin in the rain.”

(What was in Superman’s forbidden room? We’ll never know. I’m guessing Kryptonian porn.)

Recently, Spencer stumbled across a photo of the actor Matthew Fox standing beside a woman who looked a great deal like Kristen:

I suspect that the woman is Fox’s wife, Margarhita Ronchi, And while she generally doesn’t look like Kristen, I think the resemblance in this photo is rather striking — and conducive to many, many questions about Kristen’s personal life. Really, does this mean she could be married to Matthew Fox? Lost reference?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Community-Cougar Town Continuum of Coolness, Continued

It’s a case of “well, I guess I have to post this now.” The season finale to Cougar Town repaid the quick Community cameo of Busy Philipps and Dan Byrn with one by Danny Pudi.

The only way it could have been better would have been if Pudi had crossed through the background of a Courteney Cox scene like he described in the My Dinner With Andre episode of Community. But I’m not complaining.

Notably, having Abed show up in the background wasn’t even the best crossover in this episode. No, that honor goes to the appearance of Ted Buckland, the sad sack lawyer from Scrubs, who reveals that his love interest on Scrubs, the ukelele-plahing Gooch, has run off with Dr. Hooch. And that’s pretty great, but the only way it would have been better, intra-network-crossover-wise, would have been if he had made a joke about the actress who played Gooch, Kate Micucci, now appearing as a recurring character on Raising Hope. What can I say? I have high expectations for pop culture minutiae.

Driftwood and the Island Dog

After a needed break from writing, I’m back, and I’ve revised the blog template to a point that I think is damn near final. What do you think?

I’ve felt for a while that the traditional columns-beside-columns looked too cluttered, and I’ve recently come to enjoy the Shady Characters blog, which does a lot with fairly little, layout-wise. So this was my compromise: white background, no sidebars, a bigger font and all extra stuff pared down and then shoved to the bottom of the page, because I suspect that not that many people paid attention to it anyway. Do tell me if anything seems jarring or if the wider text space goes beyond the confines of your computer screen.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Two Strikes Against Owls

I honestly thought I wanted a baby owl until I watched this video.


And I’m not even talking about the one eating the rat. I’m talking about the one next him, silently gibbering, BOB from Twin Peaks-style.

Speaking of owls — which is something I’m doing a lot today, I guess — there’s also this less horrifying depiction of these birds.

I swear, I’ve seen mothers in supermarkets make this exact expression.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bombay Pam and the Flatbread Gang

Three photos which you may find more or less appetizing, depending on what kind of person you are. First, that cool, new-fangled broccoli that has points. Can anyone tell me what this kind of broccoli is called? I really want to mention it as being superior when anyone else talks about regular broccoli.

Second, this is not spaghetti. But seriously, how could would this be if it were actually spaghetti? Like, spaghetti strands this long would take a seriously long time to make.

Finally, this painting of a woman hangs at LACMA. Do you think, as I do, that it was chosen for display because it totally looks like Kevin McDonald from Kids in the Hall in drag?

Respond or don’t!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Fuck My Ancient Greek Life

I suppose the ancient Greeks had their own spin on “fuck my life, and, perhaps foolishly, I’d like to think that it sounded more eloquent than what people today say when, like, they crack their iPhone screen on when their significant other finds their secret porn Tumblr. Perhaps the ancients would have asked Zeus to strike them down with a lightning bolt. Or maybe they’d ask Artemis to summon a pack of frothing, wild dogs to tear them apart. That’s the beauty of the Greek pantheon: So many ways for the Powers That Be to write the end of your story.

Eloquent or not, many, many, many would have had reason to use the ancient Greek equivalent of “fuck my life,” since most characters in Greek mythology led terrible lives that ended badly. Yes, in spite of the fact that their culture enjoyed the benefits of democracy and homoerotic wrestling, the typical Greek of the ancient world had to contend with multiheaded monsters, countless wars and spear-thrusting jealous lovers, just to name a few of the most common life-enders. Perhaps an unsung heroine of rough Greek life, however, would be Hypsipyle — the Queen of Lemnos and an all-around sad sack.

My reasoning:
  • First, because the women of Lemnos didn’t pay proper tribute to Aphrodite, this hateful goddess of love cursed all of them, Hypsipyle included, with a carnal stink that rendered them untouchable.
  • The men, I’m sure, made other plans, and the women decided that the wholesale slaughter of their male relatives would solve the problem. Only Hypsipyle — she of the name that sounds like an adverb describing the motion of Joan from Mad Men — spared one: her dad. Her betrayal of her female subjects went unnoticed for a time…
  • Meanwhile, Lemnos became a port-of-call for the Argonauts, who were apparently so starved for female affection or so used to boat life and its attendant stench of human ass that they leapt at the chance to score with the Lemnians, she-stink and all. Think of it as a less gay Fleet Week. Jason — the Argonauts’ leader and one the foremost dicks in all of ancient lore — put a baby in Hypsipyle, swore that she’d always be his number-one gal and then promptly shoved off.
  • So recall that Hypsipyle decided not to kill her pops. Well, the lady Lemnians caught on. Seemingly empowered by their recent sexcapades, they forced her off the throne, leaving her to wander the countryside in that way that fallen queens probably do. Eventually, rescue came in the form of a boat.
  • Surprise! The boat is pirates, and they promptly sell her to Nemea, where she ends up working as an au pair to the king’s son, Opheltes. Great job, right? Especially considering Hypsipyle’s lack of work experience?
  • Oh but wait. One day, while she’s apparently taking baby Opheltes on some sort of nature walk, she encounters an army from Argos — not to be confused with the crew from the Argo, which is different and that’s why only one has an “S” — and they demand that she lead them to a drinking fountain. She complies, but then makes the baffling choice of placing the baby on the ground, whereupon he was strangled by a snake.
  • The Theban king, incensed by Hypsipyle’s stupidity and likely regretting hiring her, seeks revenge, though in the end the Argives protected her, just so she could live out her life while stewing in regret and shame.
Oh, and if this fifteenth-century depiction is accurate, the lady also suffered from some serious fivehead.

What’s she writing, do you suppose? I’d like to think it’s a request to the king of Nemea for a letter of rec for a new job.

This is where the story ends, as far as I know. True, many of her contemporaries suffered worse fates and got turned into various animals in an effort to teach other people morals, but as far as mythological C-stringers go, Hypsipyle led a pretty miserable existence. I’m not sure if she’s punished for any misdeed in particular, so I’m afraid there’s nothing to take away from this story, except that you’re probably better off for not being the queen of Lemnos. Please aspire to other goals.

And yes, I’m including the story of Hypsipyle in the “Now That’s Interesting!” tag. Even though this tag has previously been attached to historical characters, there’s probably a historical basis for Hypsipyle, and her life was probably worse.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Oh Mercy! How They Scare!

You don’t think old-timey music can be creepy? Of course it can! I mean, old people like it, so that’s creepy points off the bat. But here’s one that really drives the point home: the usually chipper Lennon Sisters performing “Dem Bones” in skeleton costumes.

Creepy music, previously:

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sexpun TK

Because Netflix’s streamable James Bond movies have been my world this week, I am presenting a list of Bond girls whose names serve as a pun, a sexual reference or something else with meaning beyond what a “straight” character name does. Here are the ones I could decipher or read something into:
  • Honey Rider in Dr. No: Kind of gets there in terms of suggesting that she’s sweet but also up for a roll in the hay.
  • Sylvia Trench in From Russia With Love: Not a pun, especially, but the sexual implications of the word trench are debatable.
  • Pussy Galore in Goldfinger: Well, doy. And double for appearing in a movie titled Goldfinger. Triple for the fact that in the book version, she is a lesbian until Bond “turns” her.
  • Fiona Volpe in Thunderball: Volpe is Italian for “fox,” which could be used to describe just about every woman to ever cross paths with James Bond.
  • Patricia Fearing in Never Say Never Again: She goes by Pat, and that combined with her last name indicates a character who is less than welcoming towards Bond’s physical advances. The fact that Fearing receives a massage from Bond makes me think her name is not coincidental.
  • Kissy Suzuki in You Only Live Twice: A fairly unsubtle reference that must have confused thoughtful English-speaking viewers as much as it did Japanese people who had never comes across a Japanese woman named Kissy.
  • Tiffany Case in Diamonds Are Forever: I think she’s the first Bond girl to have an awareness that her name means something. She earned it as a result of being born in a Tiffany & Co. store.
  • Plenty O’Toole in Diamonds Are Forever: And she totally is. It has nothing to do with her name, but can I just mentioned that this otherwise amusing Bond bit player has been completely ruined for me since I found out that she’s played by Lana Wood, Natalie Wood’s sister? This fact makes Plenty’s drowning death especially awkward.
  • Bambi and Thumper in Diamonds Are Forever: Because obviously if you acquire henchwomen who happen to be named after characters from a Disney movie, you’d have them work as a team.
  • Holly Goodhead in Moonraker: Yep.
  • Bibi Dahl in For Your Eyes Only: A name made all the more awkward by the fact that it’s associated with a hypersexual 15-year-old who tries her damnedest to get Bond to take her virginity.
  • Octopussy in Octopussy: The thing people may forget about this character is that she has a full, normal name, Octavia Charlotte Smythe, but she goes by Octopussy because her father was a scientist known for studying octopuses. I believe this is called “owning it.” But seriously, does it seem weird to anybody else that there was a movie called Octopussy?
  • Penelope Smallbone in Octopussy: She’s the mini-Moneypenny. Her first name reflects her connection to Moneypenny, and her last name enforces her inferior status while also hinting that she might have a teeny peen.
  • Fatima Blush in Never Say Never Again: Knowing the Bond series, I’d guess that that last name Blush — which is strange, seeing as how it’s connected to a non-Anglo-seeming character — is a reference to sex blush, though the fact that the character hates men might provide evidence that this isn’t the case.
  • May Day in A View to Kill: Just by her name, you can tell that she’s bad news. Alternately, you could interpret her name as a sign that she supports workers’ rights, but that would be stupid.
  • Jenny Flex in A View to Kill: As I noted in a previous post, it’s a pun on genuflect, “to bend the knee,” which is arguably sexual in that a woman might bend her knees to engage in various sexual positions.
  • Pan Ho in A View to Kill: As commenter Sam points out, you could interpret her name as meaning something like “all ho,” but that interpretation would be stretching plausibility… though not all that much more than names in other Bond films.
  • Xenia Onatopp in Goldeneye: Given the connotations of xenia and hospitality, it’s decidedly sexual.
  • Wai Lin in Tomorrow Never Dies: Would I put it past the Bond movie writers to create a character whose name reads like wailing? No.
  • Elektra King in The World Is Not Enough: Considering her major daddy issues and the fact that she’s the heiress to her father’s oil fortune, her name is anything but random.
  • Christmas Jones in The World Is Not Enough: A character seemingly named solely to set up the classic Bond quip, “I thought Christmas only comes once a year.”
  • Molly Warmflash in The World Is Not Enough: Maybe one of the Bond names that drags the series into self-parody. Unless that name is supposed to be a menopause reference, I guess.
  • Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale: It’s not sexual at all, but the name apparently has been interpreted by some as a pun on “West Berlin” as a reference to the fact that she’s a double agent loyal to two different powers.
  • Strawberry Fields in Quantum of Solace: As I noted in a previous post, In accordance with the Daniel Craig-era bond films skewing grittier and less campy, a classic Bond pun name wouldn’t work. That’s why this character — whose name references a Beatles song — refuses to tell Bond her first name. Only the credits reveal it to be Strawberry. Alas, she dies, and Strawberry Fields proves to not be, in fact, forever.
Did I miss anyone?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Weirdo Gang of Thrillseekers on a Sin and Crime Rampage

Dude. Someone wrote a book about my life without getting my permission.

No worries. Lawyers on the phone as I’m typing this.

Back to Back / Sacroilac / Spinless Movement and a Wild Attack

Question: Do you still get raptured if you’re standing inside when the big moment comes? Or do you, like, get caught on the ceiling or in the rafters like a birthday balloon that gets away.

Another question: I had been planning to by a couch tomorrow. Should I hold off?

It’s not a question, I know, but still, this:

See you tomorrow probably!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Me Love You Long Time… Mr. Bond

The gist: Pan Ho got screwed, but that doesn’t mean that she didn’t leave her mark on pop culture. In fact, you know of the actress who played her, in a sense, even if you have never seen a James Bond movie.

When a cache of Bond movies suddenly appeared on my Netflix instant queue, I said goodbye to mostly everything else and hello to a world intrigue, firearms, sex puns and frequently contrived drama. The Bond franchise generally gets a pass in my book. Even when these movies suck, and they occasionally do, I still generally say that watching a James Bond movie is better than not watching one. I’m a sucker that way.

First on the list was A View to Kill, the only James Bond movie that I’d never actually seen before. Reading the cast list results in one of those “Gosh, the 80s truly were a different time” moments, with Christopher Walken playing the big bad with just a glimmer of the glee he’d bring to roles later in his career. And the main Bond girl is an heiress-turned-geologist played by Tanya Roberts, the raspy-voiced beauty who today is primarily remembered as either the lead in Sheena, Queen of the Jungle (depending on how much AMC you watch) or Donna Pinciotti’s mom on That 70s Show (depending on you neglect to change the channel after the occasional weekday Simpsons rerun.) Roberts was also a member of Charlie’s Angels late in the original series’s run. I wonder: Can anyone else boast about being both a Bond girl and an Angel?

Had I known that A View to Kill features one of the better teams of henchwomen in the entire franchise, I probably would have sought it out over some of the more peen-dominated films. Please meet the all-female team of bodyguards that evert megalomaniac needs patrolling his estate: May Day, Jenny Flex and Pan Ho.

Grace Jones’s May Day steals the show, and rightly so, since she’s GRACE FUCKING JONES, strutting around like some sort of beautiful, evil praying mantis alien. Additionally, May Day has one of those last-minute changes of heart that prompts her to side with Bond and die an honorable death. Jenny Flex and Pan Ho, however, eat it before they can decide that the chance at a romp with Bond is more attractive that a life of servitude under a cruel, blond Christopher Walken. And at that, the viewer only Flex’s dead body floating in flooded chamber of… the San Andreas Fault? Is that where the big fight plays out? Alison Doody, the actress who played Flex, got more screen time as a shortsightedly ambitious villainess in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but at least she joins the ranks of those lucky Bond girls whose names serve as puns. The term her name hints at — genuflect, literally “to bend the knee” — doesn’t flood the mind with sexual imagery the way that, say, Pussy Galore or Honey Rider do, but a pun is a pun. Why do you want to take more away from this woman?

Lastly, there’s Pan Ho, who gets a single line before dying. Worse, she never gets the honor of being a corpse bobbing about on screen. And the greatest insult of all: Her name isn’t even a sex pun, despite the presence of the word ho right at the end there, begging for an easy joke. I wonder if her minimal presence in the final cut of A View to Kill resulted from difficulties with the actress playing her, Papillon Soo Soo. (And yes, that’s her real name and yes, the real-life actress sounds more like a Bond girl than her character.)

But Soo Soo made a contribution to society anyway — one greater than perhaps A View to Kill itself. One of Soo Soo’s two other roles is in Full Metal Jacket, in which she delivers a line that was burned into the brain of anyone who existed around radios in early 90s: “Me so horny. Me love you long time.”

I think there’s bragging rights in this, something along the lines of “Yeah, I was in this James Bond movie, and it was cool, but then I played Nameless Da Nang Hooker in this other movie and they sampled me int this rap song that was, like, monumentally successful — certainly bigger than any of the songs that Grace Jones went on to record…. No, by the way, I’ve never watched That 70s Show.”

And that, in my book, is how Pan Ho, the little henchwoman who could, overcame the obscurity of her role in A View to Kill.

Monday, May 16, 2011

They Always Look the Other Way

I really enjoy this — and not only because it’s inspired by one of my favorite Apples in Stereo Songs.

(From Luke Personified’s Flickr.)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Making the Most of Russian Peasants

For once, a moderately timely word-of-the-week post. This week, word nerd blogs weighed in on Scrabble’s addition of two words to its list of sanctioned playables: qin (a Chinese zither) and fiqh (an expansion of Sharia Islamic law). My first reaction? Fine, I guess, but the rulemakers are obviously just adding words that allow players to make better use of their “Q” tiles. And though that may well be the case, one commenter on the post over at Language Hat points out that both these words have, in fact, been used more and more frequently in English texts in the last twenty years. So there’s that, at least.

Qin and fiqh aside, the general discussion about obscure Scrabble words has been very good for my word-of-the-week posts here, and though I haven’t seen anyone yet mention umiaq as one of those high-scoring words that’s essentially useless outside the context of Scrabble, I have seen some good ones. So here, for the sake of creating contentious Scrabble games throughout the English-speaking word and consequently ruining countless friendships, is the strangest, highest-scoring word I could find:
muzjiks (moo-ZHEEK) — noun: Russian peasants.
I put it in the plural because that “S” at the end makes it a seven-letter word, meaning playing it could earn you the 50-point bonus for using all your tiles on a single turn. Discounting bonuses and double- and triple-scores, it nets its user 29 points. If used strategically, however, muzjiks could get the user as many as 128. And that, really, is about all I can say about muzjiks. Go ahead, Google it: Virtually all your hits result from this word’s status as Scrabble’s secret game-changer. And that is neat and all, but something about this makes me vaguely uncomfortable, sort of in the same way that I feel when I think about turning Native American caricatures into sports team mascots. But perhaps I am just overthinking this, right? I mean, Scrabble is just Scrabble, after all. You hear that, poor old little Russian man?

You may smell of hay and ash, and your simple, rough textiles may scratch the skin, and you may be unable to clean the beat juice from the cracks in your hands, but you are of worth to someone, somewhere: the Scrabble player! Oh, how he loves you! … No, he does not wish to see you or help you, per se, but he will use your existence to his advantage! Okay, now, do hobble along!

Previous strange and wonderful words:
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The Community-Cougar Town Continuum of Coolness

I really enjoy that, quickly and inexplicably, Busy Philipps and Dan Byrd appeared in the final moments of Community’s paintball season finale:

And I look forward seeing how the symbiotic-but-slightly-competitive relationship between these two shows evolves as they enter their third seasons. I also would like to see there respective casts have a paintball war. I would also be fine with Busy Philipps showing up on whatever TV show whose set she wanders onto.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Testicular Fortitude

In case this morning’s post didn’t provide you with enough scrotumnal fun, a comment on that post offers some additional wonderment in the form of this clip from the 1994 movie Pom Poko.

What’s most notable about this movie, as the commenter points out, is that it was released in the U.S. with the flinging, swinging ballsacks intact — and the film was distributed Disney, no less. It’s not surprising when you consider that DIsney has happily translated the other Studio Ghibli movies for American audiences — Ponyo, Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, others — but I’m baffled as to why anyone thought referred to the scrotums only as “pouches” made it okay. I mean, a scrotum is a pouch, technically speaking. I don’t know what else scrotums could be called, exactly, but I can’t imagine pouch was the best alternative.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Baby Jesus Bear

I’m a sucker for a good prank, and damned if artists don’t possess exactly the kind of creative mind to truly fuck with someone. The May issue of Wired offers a few brief tales of painters who used their medium as a means of revenge, and it has fueled my passion for creative, terrible vengeance. It includes some good ones, such as James Abbott McNeill Whister’s decision to paint his former patron — Frederick Leyland, for whom Whistler painted his famous Peacock Room before they had a falling out— as a hunch-over, piano-playing peacock-man.

Which is clever, but foremost among these recounted incidents was the story of the fourteenth-century painter Buonamico Buffalmacco. Also known as Buonamico di Martino or Buonamico di Cristifano, this Florentine artist found the perfect revenge to wreak upon a stingy patron. As Wired succinctly notes, “A patron refuses to pay him for his fresco of the Virgin and Child, so the Italian painter substitutes a bear cub for baby Jesus.”

Simple. Awesome. Hilarious.

Immediately upon learning of this, I set out to find an image of this righteous desecration. It makes me happy that it exists for any reason, but that it resulted from Buffalmacco’s desire to piss someone off made me all the more eager to lay my eyes on it. Alas, it was not to be. For one, the incident isn’t exactly the most celebrated in Buffalmacco’s career. His Wikipedia page, for example, doesn’t even mention it. Being better versed in art history, Spencer helped me look and we ultimately arrived at a disappointing answer: He restored the Christ child to the Madonna’s arms once he was paid.

From Adrienne DeAngelis’s account of the incident:
[H]aving painted in fresco at Calcinaia a Madonna with the Child in her arms, he who had charged him to do it, in place of paying him, gave him words; whence Buonamico, who was not used to being trifled with or being fooled, determined to get his due by hook or by crook. And so, having gone one morning to Calcinaia, he transformed the child that he had painted in the arms of the Virgin into a little bear, but in colors made only with water, without size or distemper. This change being seen, not long after, by the peasant who had given him the work to do, almost in despair he went to find Buonamico, praying him for the sake of Heaven to remove the little bear and to paint another child as before, for he was ready to make satisfaction. This the other did amicably, being paid for both the first and the second labour without delay; and for restoring the whole work a wet sponge sufficed.
So it’s a yay-boo thing: boo, the bear no longer exists, but yay that Buffalmacco at least managed to squeeze more money out of the man who commissioned the fresco. Also, the search yielded an additional surprise. Again, from DeAngelis:
[Andrea Tafi, of whom Buffalmacco was a disciple and with whom Buffalmacco resided, made] it a custom, when the nights were long, to get up before daylight to labor, and to call the lads to night work. This being displeasing to Buonamico, who was made to rise out of his soundest sleep, he began to think of finding a way whereby Andrea might give up rising so much before daylight to work, and he succeeded; for having found thirty large cockroaches, or rather blackbeetles, in a badly swept cellar, with certain fine and short needles he fixed a little taper on the back of each of the said cockroaches, and, the hour coming when Andrea was wont to rise, he lit the tapers and put the animals one by one into the room of Andrea, through a chink in the door. He, awaking at the very hour when he was wont to call Buffalmacco, and seeing those little lights, all full of fear began to tremble and in great terror to recommend himself under his breath to God, like the old gaffer that he was, and to say his prayers or psalms; and finally, putting his head below the bedclothes, he made no attempt for that night to call Buffalmacco, but stayed as he was, ever trembling with fear, up to daylight. In the morning, then, having risen, he asked Buonamico if he had seen, as he had himself, more than a thousand demons; whereupon Buonamico said he had not, because he had kept his eyes closed, and was marveling that he had not been called to night work.
I’m calling this yay-yay: the first for not burning the house down, and the second for effectively using flaming bugs to take advantage of his master’s deeply held religious beliefs. All that being said, I still was hoping I could see the Madonna and her Baby Jesus Bear, and so I decided to simply create the best substitute I could manage on a work night.

Now, it belongs to the ages.

Mario’s Lack of Balls

If you ask anyone who was of the age and of the mindset back in 1990 what set Super Mario Bros. 3 apart from its predecessors, they’d probably mention that this game was the first that send Mario skyward. My unquestioning eight-year-old mind readily accepted that the addition of a raccoon tail to Mario’s ass would allow him to fly. I mean totally, right? Why shouldn’t it? But the raccoon tail wasn’t the only power-up that gave Mario this ability. A powered-up form of that power-up, a full, head-to-toe raccoon suit, also granted this ability, with the added benefit of also allowing Mario to transform into a statue that could sit there, excitingly unmoving, as enemies toddled by.

Today, most people who might bother to wonder about this strangeness — raccoons flying, raccoons turning into statues — know that the idea grew from a mythological character who would be familiar to Japanese people but unknown to all but the biggest American Japanophiles: the tanuki. These racccoon-looking creatures are often depicted in statue form and placed outside Japanese restaurants, straw hat on head and jug of sake in the other. Oh, and they have enormous balls.

Nintendo chose to omit that anatomical feature from the various Super Mario Bros. 3 transformations, I’m assuming to avoid imitative behavior in impressionable schoolchildren. But I was thinking about what Raccoon Mario actually does in Super Mario Bros. 3, and I’m wondering if the tail serves as a stand-in for the tanuki’s floppy, heaving nutsack. For example, in his raccoon form, Mario can spin around and thwack enemies with his big tail. And sure, one could do that with a tail if one wanted to, but if you had a thin, furry tail one one end and the genital equivalent of a gym teacher’s loaded soccer ball bag on the other, which one would you use to swat away attackers? There’s even a cultural precedent for exactly this sort of activity:

See? That ballsack is totally breaking up a human get-together.

Another instance of tanuki-on-human violence, with the scrotum being the weapon of choice.

And here the tanuki are skillfully using their testicles to subdue a giant fish. Wouldn’t you if you happened to be hung like a Hefty bag?

The taniki scrotum can apparently be used in more than one way to help catch fish. It’s quite the multipurpose body part!

And yes, it can even be used as a rain bonnet. Damn, Nintendo really sold Mario short on those tanuki powers. (Pink Tentacle has a comprehensive round-up of all the other possible uses of a tanuki scrotum, in case you have not seen enough.)

As Wikipedia notes, Japanese people acknowledge the potential for tanuki testicular motion. A schoolyard song, oddly enough sung to the tune of “Shall We Gather at the River?,” goes “Tan Tan Tanuki no kintama wa, / Kaze mo nai no ni, /Bura bura,” or, in English, “Tan-tan-tauki’s testicles, there isn’t even any win but still go swing-swing-swing.” (And yes, we all clearly missed out by not growing up in Japan.)

So what about flying? As near as I can tell, the tanuki of Japanese folklore doesn’t get airborne. I could be wrong — and please correct me if I am — but most search hits for “flying tanuki” turn up Super Mario Bros. 3 stuff, and I at least I feel safe saying that flight isn’t among the tanuki’s most common activities. However, at least one person unaffiliated with Nintendo has imagined how it might happen, and it doesn’t involve much tail action. In his 2003 novel Villa Incognito, Tom Robbins features a tanuki — the Tanuki, in fact — as one of his central characters. And just as Mario can soar up high and then flit back down to earth with the aid of his raccoon tail, so does this Tanuki master the skies… by using his scrotum. Yes, it’s so big, in fact, that he uses it like a parachute, which I must say is the best use of such a body part in literature ever, aside, I guess, from fathering children.

With this, I’ll say that I at least would like to think that the developers of Super Mario Bros. 3 had ballsacks in mind when they strapped a raccoon tail on Mario. The subject has been on my mind as a result of a promo screen released for the new Super Mario Bros. game being developed for the new Nintendo portable, the 3DS. Playing off the numeral in the system’s title, these developers saw fit to call back to Super Mario Bros. 3 and revive the raccoon tail — both in the logo and in the gameplay itself.

I mean, at least I think that’s supposed to be a tail.

(Alternate title considered for this post: “Surprise! Your Cherished Childhood Memory Is Actually About Testicles!”)

Super Mario studies, previously:

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tuesday Is the Kindest Day of the Week

As appropriate as anything else I could put up today.

From Une semaine de bonté (“A Week of Kindness”), Max Ernst’s surreal collage masterpiece.

Monday, May 9, 2011

On Deciphering a Dream as Sexual the Moment You Explain It to Someone Else

Okay, so all of a sudden I’m in this indoor pool-looking place, but it has slick tile walls and I can’t climb out. I can’t even see far enough up to tell if the walls actually end. And the pool isn’t filled with water. No, it’s full of, like, milk or something. So I’m nervous and treading water or treading milk or whatever and then I realize that there’s something moving beneath me. In the milk, there are these little squirmy things moving around my legs, and I can’t really seem them but I know that there’s lots of them moving around all over and — oh, fuck. Um, okay, I just now realized they were totally sperms. Well, that’s it. No more dream talk. Forget I said anything. End of story.

(based on actual events)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Shit-talking, Etymologically Speaking

There’s talking shit in the casual sense, and then there’s talking shit in the psychological sense.
coprolalia (kah-pruh-LAY-lee-ah) — noun: obsessive of uncontrollable use of obscene language.
I found this one almost a year ago via A Word a Day and it’s been stewing ever since, waiting for the right moment to burst forth and ruin a dinner party.

The preceding imagery is doubly unpleasant, you see, for in addition to copralalia having everything to do with “F”- and “C”- and all other fun consonant-led swears, it is especially rooted in the “S”-word, because it comes from the Greek word for “shit.” Yep, the root korpos means “excrement,” and floats up in on all manner of unpleasant English words: among them, corprolite (fossilized excrement, or literally “stone shit”), coprology (the scientific pursuit of Dr. Poop, Ph.D.) and coprophagia (practiced by your dog, no matter how much you love him). The second root in coprolalia, -lalia, meaning “babble,” seems to exist in English only in the names of various speech disorders, such as alalia (the lack of speech), glossolalia (speaking in tongues) and echolalia (either the involuntarily repeating of others’ words or the imitative babbling of infants).

Of course, the immediate association most people would make upon learning of this word coprolalia would be Tourette’s syndrome, but Wikipedia states that only about ten percent of those with this affliction actually suffer from the need to append every other sentence with “shitballs dicklicker.” Those that do, I’m sure, would be even more frustrated to know that the technical term incorporates a word for “feces,” though I’d imagine they’d have little trouble talking about it.

Previous strange and wonderful words:
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