Sunday, July 31, 2011

One Hundred Thousand Fireflies

Worthwhile things I have blogged in the past four months:
(And yes, it has been four months since I posted any sort of round-up of things blogged-but-not-sucky. The visual index will have to await until I figure out how to make it in the new Blogger set-up.)

Crazy, Stupid, Love and the Perfect Imperfect Teenager

I can’t be the only one who, in his younger years, suffered from a mental illness that made me see nearly anyone slightly older than me as cool. I couldn’t explain why, especially now that my first reaction upon meeting most people — older or younger — is that they are quite likely enormous douchebags who will want to invade my quiet existence with Top 40 music, complicated handshakes and other badness. But as a kid, most teenagers seemed (a) as tall as giants, (b) effortlessly well-dressed and (c) likely the most popular student at whatever school they attended. Looking back on these older kid crushes, I realize the people I once idolized were probably huge dorks whose high school lives were no more glamorous or privileged than my own eventually was. Some, clearly, were massively unpopular, and that’s why they had the open schedule to converse with someone my age. An urgent message to my younger self: Their board games and fantasy novels do not, in fact, signify coolness.

These thoughts currently rattle around my head thanks to Crazy, Stupid, Love, which I saw this weekend and enjoyed a lot more than I thought I would and probably more than any other film that could be called a romance. And while there’s a lot to like about it, I want to write today specifically on one character: Jessica the babysitter, played by Analeigh Tipton, whose awkwardness and lack of high school social status are invisible to the thirteen-year-old who’s in love with her. Most screenwriters wouldn’t have bothered to round her character out as much as Dan Fogelman did. I’m glad he cared enough to make give her real depth, because she may be one of the best cinematic representations I’ve ever seen of a multifaceted teenager.

Granted, I was in the tank for this character from the get-go, as Tipton is a Top Model alumna and I have a fairly thorough awareness of this reality show because I, as the result of a different mental illness, still watch it. It’s weirdly rewarding to see Top Model’s also-rans land role in major movies, like Yaya Dacosta appearing in The Kids Are All Right or even Naima being the doomed teacher in the second season of Veronica Mars. And while Tipton’s performance proves that she can act — that is, she isn’t just a model who stumbled, baby giraffe-like, into a movie role — she clearly draws on her modeling past in playing Jessica. It’s remarkable how she transforms from a poised young woman on the cusp of owning her beauty (when she’s talking to the thirteen-year-old who thinks she is his soulmate) to a painfully shy girl who’s all big lips that can’t talk and big eyes that don’t know where to look (when she’s talking to Steve Carell’s character, whom she is in desperate teenaged love with). And at one point in the film, Tipton even models when her character poses in her bedroom, naked, in front of a camera in an attempt to be that kind of grown-up sexy she thinks she needs to be. Remembering this girl’s photos from her earlier life as a reality show contestant, I’m all the more impressed that she makes herself look so unprofessional and so hopelessly immature in this scene.

The contrasts in this character aren’t limited to her interactions with people older or younger than she is, however. In what is probably the one the scene that best gets at the heart of who she is — studious, Stanford-bound, and without an apparent social outlet that’s not babysitting-related — Jessica asks the school slut for advice on landing an older man. These scene could have played out so predictably, with the school slut being an unreasonable bitch who’s inexplicably popular, but it doesn’t. The slutty girl, who doesn’t seem popular so much as just so over high school stuff, is refreshingly candid as she advises the nervous and likely virginal Jessica. She’s even surprised and impressed that Jessica has the guts to admit that she feels something sexual for anyone, much less someone who’s, “like, parent-age.” It may well be that this is the only exchange the two have ever shared, and that’s even further telling about who Jessica is.

As I said, I enjoyed a lot about Crazy, Stupid, Love but I liked these scenes in particular because they proved true that theory about teenaged life: Until you head out on your own, you’re not an integrated person. Instead, you just react to the people around you and consequently become countless different versions of yourself, Zelig-style, depending on who you’re talking to. As you get older, the personalities that work collapse into an actual personality, while the ill-fitting ones get discarded. That’s what I think Jessica’s narrative is about in this movie.

And now I wonder if was this process I was participating in when I idolized those teenaged giants. It wasn’t that I was so off-the-mark in what kind of people they were back then; it was that this was the only version of them I was capable of seeing.

(See previous “a funny story” posts, which are essentially the little of my life that I permit to squeak through onto this blog.)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Amazing What a Basket of Kisses Can Do

Was I the only one who didn’t realized that Flo, the endlessly perky spokeslady for Progressive Insurance, is played by the same actress who played Marge, one of the office hags in the early days of Mad Men?

I feel like the change is pretty dramatic. Of course, I will always primarily identify this actress, Stephanie Courtney, as one of leads in Melvin Goes to Dinner, which more people should see. But, like, seriously. It’s not Mad Men good, but it’s better than a Progressive Insurance commercial.

The Glittering Futuristic Skyline of 1988

I posted not too long ago that I feel tremendous nostalgia inexplicably for an old video game that I was never all that attached to. Here’s another one: a game I only played once but the mere intro to which transforms me back into a little kid.

I only played Mega Man II once or twice during my childhood. It was a rental, and, at that, I think it was my brother’s rental, so I didn’t get my hands on it all that much. Nonetheless, this one stands out in my head for one simple reason: seeing Mega Man’s hair “blowing” in the “wind” made me think I was looking at the future technology. Seriously. “They can do hair?” I still feel the same way, kinda.

To this day, I still get that opening tune stuck in my head, even if I’d only heard it a handful of times. Must be the marvel that is realistic (for its time) pixel hair.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Soundtrack to a Feline Heart Attack

Asked by a co-worker: “Now, if you were to have been the music supervisor for this video, would have chosen a similar song?”

This is the video:

My response: “Yes, I would have chosen a similar song, and that’s this song, because nothing is more similar to this song than this song. It is the most appropriate song for this video, and in fact is the perfect melding of subject and soundtrack.”

No, kidding. Of course, I said “Baby Elephant Walk.”

A Dishes-Based Video Game, for Sad Girls Without Aspirations

Hey there, Susie. Are you tired of feeling left out of big brother’s video games? Well, now there’s a game made especially for you.

You know, in which you get punished for failing basic household chores.

Actually, Dishaster isn’t about washing dishes so much as it is about spinning them on poles. (And sure, that could be a metaphor for the life of a homemaker, but I feel that probably gives the game creators too much credit.) Seeing the actual gameplay in motion makes me wish it was actually about chores, because my god this looks tedious and horrible. Do you suppose the object was to trick girls, to make a life with actual dishes and related drudgery seem less awful by comparison?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sounds Cute / Isn’t

Maybe only second to the Lemonade Berry tree in terms of Willy Wonka-style fantasticality, the Poodle-Dog bush sounds like a wonderful thing.

It’s not, as the L.A. Times points out: “Skin contact can cause rashes, blisters, swelling and general irritation. Those who have tangled with the purple-flowered plant called poodle-dog bush say it’s like handling poison oak.”

My theory: The plant evolved its irritating properties in revenge for getting stuck with the name Poodle-dog bush.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Chariots of Kong

Worth noting: The composer of the Donkey Kong Country games owes a debt to to Vangelis’s “Antarctica,” at least for Donkey Kong Country 2’s Arctic Abyss stage. Compare:

If not for the sonic similarity, then that each were created to soundtrack beautiful, frozen lands.

People and Their Silly Severed Heads (a Follow-Up)

So let’s be honest: There’s virtually no occasion on which someone be in the presence of a severed human head — theirs or someone else’s — and it doesn’t seem a little awkward. However, if you’re going to be a cephalophore and tote around a head like a big Christmas turnip, you may as well do it in a manner that will be immortalized in art. That’s the lesson we should take away from the Biblical story of Judith, the wily widow who gets an Assyrian general drunk, cuts off his head, and then shows people. The combination of Judith’s virtuous beauty and her raw aggression made the scene of her lopping off Holofernes a popular subject for painters.

See? Lucas Cranach the Elder’s treatment of the subject matter depicts Judith as poised, sly and powerful, whereas Holofernes wears an expression that we can only read as “What, bitch?” Just lovely.

Many chose to depict her carrying away the man’s head in a basket but some of whom instead painted the actual assassination. These ones are the most interesting. 

However, Spencer pointed out to me after me that certain artist’s rendition of Judith and Holofernes made for some interesting projections. Take Caravaggio’s painting.

Holofernes looks shocked, Judith looks like she’s concentrating more on the prevision of the act that the person she’s doing it to and finally Judith’s maid looks as if she’s goading Judith on. That all being said, it’s enlightening to know that, per Wikipedia, Caravggio based Holofernes on himself, Judith on his former mistress and the maid on the mistress’s mother. Which is cute.

Conversely, there’s Artemesia Gentileschi’s treatment of the same scene: the moment of death.

Gentileschi also mapped personalities from her life onto the characters. As Wikipedia points out, Judith looks a lot like Gentileschi herself, while Holofernes looks loopks like Agostino Tassi, a painter in his own right who’s today best known for having raped Gentileschi.

With background like this, I could actually not got tired of looking at biblical paintings by dead Italians.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Twenty British Terms I Wish American English Would Adopt

Via Wikipedia’s list of British words not widely used in the United States, via Dina
  1. agony aunt (an advice columnist who responds to readers’ problems, such as Dear Abby)
  2. argy-bargy (a fight that may be more or less serious than an argle-bargle)
  3. Belisha beacon (the orange flashing light mounted at either end of a pedestrian crossing, or zebra crossing, if we’re being all British — also if there’s not a British porn star performing under this name, the across-the-pond porn community is not as on-the-ball as I would like)
  4. bumf (useless paperwork, from the expression bum fodder, meaning “toilet paper”)
  5. chutney ferret (a homosexual, for rather obscene reasons)
  6. courgette (what we Americans call by the far less elegant name zucchini)
  7. dodgems (bumper cars, renamed to be even more literal)
  8. fish fingers (fishsticks a la the cat’s pajamas, the snake’s hips, etc.)
  9. fruit spleggins (fruit jelly, although I can’t decide whether it sounds more sexual or fantastical)
  10. gormless (lacking intelligence, with a vacant expression)
  11. kappa-slappa (in chav culture, a promiscuous woman)
  12. nutty gum (peanut butter, although I think our term makes more sense and that this term should instead be applied to nut-flavored chewing gum)
  13. plonk (cheap wine, especially red wine)
  14. quango (meaning “a semi-public advisory or administrative body funded by the taxpayer the members of which are appointed by the government,” an acronym formed from quasi-autonomous non-governmental organizations, though of course it should be applied to something way more interesting)
  15. quiff (the hairstyle and not the more obscene thing it sounds like it might mean)
  16. rodger (as a verb, “to engage in a sexual act”)
  17. reverse charge call (what we call a collect call, but let’s make refer to a special sort of call you can make where the phone company has to pay you)
  18. salad-dodger (an overweight person)
  19. “suck it and see” (an AMAZING turn of phrase meaning “to undertake a course of actions without knowing its full consequences)
  20. verucca (what we call plantar wart, made to sound as pretty as it possibly could)

One Mean Frick

When I think about the robber barons, I usually imagine them as Mr. Burns-esque coffin-dodgers, hunched over desks and wheezing out commands to their subordinates. But that’s not necessarily the case. These men had to have some life in them in order to rule their respective corners of the world, and one in particular who strenuously fights my preconceptions of his ilk is Henry Clay Frick. Aside from a vague awareness of his status as an industrialist, I only really knew Frick as the man whose paintings are on view today at the Frick Collection in New York. But in addition to being a lover of art, Frick was also an unequivocally mean son of a bitch.

i mean, right?

Friday’s episode of Daily Show had on the author Scott Miller, whose new book The President and the Assassin details William McKinley, Leon Czolgosz and the general state of the nation around the time the former was killed by the latter. As Miller explained it, the turn of the century was a time when many Americans fears the machinations of anarchists.

Miller brings up one anarchist strike in particular: the attempted assassination of Frick by one of Emma Goldman’s acolytes, Alexander Berkman. Now, accounts seem to differ slightly regarding exactly how Berkman made his way into Frick’s office. On The Daily Show, it’s explained that he simply made an appointment. An except from Goldman’s autobiography, however, states that Berkman forced his way in “on the heels of a Negro porter who had taken his card.” I’m not sure whether Goldman or Miller would be more reliable, but I have found that most sources online seem to omit the details that make this such an amazing story. So from here on out, I’m just going to take Miller’s word for it, per The Daily Show.

At point-blank range, Berkman shot Frick twice, once in the neck, but the steel industrialist nonetheless managed to tackle Berkman. Struggling on the ground, Berkman stabbed Frick several times before he was finally overpowered. (According to Wikipedia’s account, when the police arrived, Frick commanded, “Don’t shoot! Leave him to the law, but raise his head and let me see his face.” And that’s pretty badass.) When doctors came in to remove the bullet from Frick’s neck, he refused any anesthesia. Once he was stitched up, he sat back down at his desk, completed a bank loan, and then wrote a letter to his mother in which he mentioned that he had been shot.

And that’s the story.

Lessons learned:
  • Do not underestimate the robber barons, for they are wilier and spryer than you may imagine.
  • They may also be immortal. (I personally can’t verify that Frick died of a heart attack twenty-seven years later. Can someone look into it?)
  • Frick had it coming. (Didn’t technically learn that during the Daily Show segment, but subsequent reading indicates that just about everyone believes this to be the case.)
  • I actually want to learn history when the person teaches me chooses not to skimp on the details.
  • I may have to purchase Miller’s book.
(Also: previous posts tagged with “Now That’s Interesting!”)

Pixelated Stars on a Six-Zero Sky

A few days ago, I wrote about the strange experience of hearing some early-generation video game music that didn’t suck — or that at least bore enough of a resemblance to something I’d listen to now that I could be okay with it. But when I said all that, I was misleading, I think, because I do have a soft spot for that music, that blippy, plinky soundtrack to my childhood. I know everyone doesn’t feel this way, not even people who grew up playing these, but I am to this day easily moved by certain eight-bit anthems.

And this, for some reason, is the one that movies me most.

I didn’t even really like this game that much, honestly. The first Legend of Zelda was great, but the second one threw a little too much at my young mind. (Leveling up? What does that even mean?) But watching the intro sequence immediately zaps me back to being about seven years old and feeling intimated by the apparent gravity of all this. Honestly, I didn’t know what the hell was going on, just that there was a sword and stars and space and whatever, and I think being completely in the dark helped instill in me that sort of childhood awe that doesn’t go away even when you know better.

I just felt like pointing that out.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Winds Broken

Earlier this week, I had decided that my Sunday word was going to be haboob, that wonderful Arabic term for a type of sandstorm that occurs in Africa, the Middle East and apparently Arizona. But then those racist idiots in Arizona made a big fuss about using one of those “over there” words that “they” use for something that happens in America, and then the New York Times ran that piece about the uproar in which the reporter basically said “Hey, let’s all laugh at these toothless yokels with their Funyuns and their Crocs and their asses so big they can’t fit into a Walmart,” and then everyone knew about the word haboob and I had no reason to use it.

But I’ll say this much: The racism of those people objecting to the words so great that they’re willing to avoid an inherently hilarious word like haboob, and that’s just sad. Come on, people. Haboob has ha and boob packed right next to each other. How could you resist?

And I’ll ask this: What do you suppose we should call them instead? Cowboy clouds? Freedom winds? America air? I’d make a joke how they might also want to rename algebra if they learned that the term also comes from Arabic, but I’d wager they probably already just call algebra “that funny math with the letters in it.”

Proper Care for Your Headless Saint

I like specific words. No, scratch that. I like words that exist despite the fact that most sane people would never have good reason to use them. On that note, may I present the word of the week?
cephalophore (SEF-uh-LOH-four) — noun: 1. a saint who is generally depicted carrying his or her own head. 2. a cephalostat designed to take in-sequence-oriented facial photographs and gnathostatic models.
Guess which definition I think is more interesting?

modified detail from the dore inferno illustrations / not a saint but you get the point

I’ll be honest: I’m not even sure what that second definition means. Yes, I’m going Catholic for this one and reveling in the bizarre violence that typifies tales of martyrdom. Really, the saints were a great P.R. move for the Catholic Church in that they draw in kids for the same reason that lurid crime comics, Greek myths and the young adult horror fiction books do: violence, the occasional action sequence and sometimes even some paranormal shenanigans. This post has all of these.

Lest you think that cephalophore is just an art term used to describe the way statues or paintings indicate that a saint was decapitated, know that it also describes people who people supposedly trotted around, head in hand, fueled by Jesus power — or devil magic, in the case of non-Jesus-affiliated cephalophores such as the Headless Horseman or the Green Knight. According to Wikipedia, the most famous Christian cephalophore is probably Denis, the patron saint of Paris, who allegedly walked six miles after his beheading to the summit of the tallest hill in the city, Montmartre.

note how the artist circumvented the halo problem
There, Denis’s head delivered a sermon, despite the considerable handicap of having had its vocal chords severed, before Denis’s body finally dropped dead. I presume finally dying resulted in the body dropping the head. It’s possible it rolled down Montmartre before someone caught it. (“Someone grab that head, otherwise it will be difficult to prove this implausible story!”)

Other, less famous saints are allegedly also cephalophores, but it’s a truly C-list group. St. Gemolo, anyone? St. Juthwara? St. Emygdius? St. Valerie of Limoges? No, of course not. No one is looking to these guys for confirmation names.

The word cephalophore comes from the Greek kephale, meaning “head,” and a form of the verb pherein, “to carry,” which you also see in words like transfer and refer as well as names like Christopher, “Christ bearer,” and Lucifer, “light bearer.” But I’m more interested in the artistic implications of the cephalophore. See, the trouble with depicting saints carrying their own heads, as opposed to regular godless people doing the same, is that it forces the artist to make a choice: Do I put the halo on the head as it rests in the hands? Or do I put it above the neck stump, where it would have been had the head not been lopped off? It’s a choice that makes you really consider the physics of halos — or at least makes you think like a serial killer posing his victims in some kind of grim tableau. Or you know what? It can be both. Why shouldn’t it?

st. denis at notre dame / halo placed, you know, wherever

More mutilation made holy: the horrible story of St. Agatha and her “bells on a plate,” which, it turns out, totally aren’t bells and oh god the depravity of it all.

Previous words of the week after the jump.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

They Bombed Their Smurfing Brains out

If you’re like me, you’ve always wondered what Smurfette would look like as a mangled, charred corpse. Well, wonder no longer friends, because footage of this exact image exists!

This spot — which aired in 2009 on Belgian TV — was sponsored by UNICEF to raise awareness about African child soldiers. (The text at the end reads “Don’t let war destroy the children’s world.”) In this CBS news article, one of the ad folks who dreamed up the spot explained it this way: “We see so many images that we don’t really react anymore. In 35 seconds, we wanted to show adults how awful war is by reaching them within their memories of childhood.”

Credit for this find goes to the Topless Robot article “Eight Facts About the Smurfs That Are Surprisingly Interesting,” which also taught me that the late Smurfs creator, Peyo, seems to have detested Smurfette, in which case he probably wouldn’t have minded that her lifeless body is the only one you can really identify in the UNICEF spot.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Suggestive Salad

So this is a thing: candle salad.

insofar as Amy Sedaris made it on Bravo once and then someone made a Wikipedia page for it. That’s good enough for me! But seriously, check the page out now. Wikipedia isn’t convinced the article meets its stringent notability standards, so learn all about this wholly inappropriate salad while you can.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Marta and Luisa Throw a Dance Party

Hey there. Meet the Great Giana Sisters.

Look familiar? No? How about a different perspective:

Get it now? Yes, these sisters are distaff rip-offs of the Mario Bros., and not just because they’re a pair of Italian siblings staring in a video game. The level design in The Great Giana Sisters so closely resembles that in Super Mario Bros. that Nintendo sued it off the shelves after its release. Kotaku just did a “Hey! Remember old stuff?” post on it this week, and though I’ve known about this game for some time, I’d never actually seen it in motion. So I watched, but more importantly I listened. Given that the game was released in 1987, I’m damn impressed with what it did with tinny eight-bit sound.

Give the title track a spin:

At the beginning, it sounds a lot like the opening theme to an Italian horror movie from that wonderful late 70s-early 80s time period that I’m so fond of. At about the 0:45 mark, it breaks down into something else that I noticed even more in this track:

I could be way off on this, but doesn’t this sound remarkable like most of the parts of certain electro-indie bands playing today? I’m getting a distinctly Crystal Castles vibe here — much more so than I get from other dance, chiptune-inspired and -influenced stuff out there. (And yes, by the way, there is an old school video game named Crystal Castles, and no, that isn’t where the band gets its name.) I think it’s a profound similarity, just filtered through the comparatively primitive sound-processing abilities of the ZX Spectrum game system. Compare, oh, say “Crimewave,” for example.

Do you hear it too? Is my brain pixels? Should by electroclash band be called Is My Brain Pixels?

In closing, I would like to note that it was almost a year ago that I put up a post in which I theorized that the faux eight-bit sounds of Mega Man 9 sounded weirdly like the Scissor Sisters.

Robots Before There Should Be Robots

When I wrote about history’s first mechano-man (or at least the first guy on record to get a spare part), I said that people of the fifteenth-century wouldn’t have known what a robot was. And they wouldn’t, at least according to how we use the word today.

That thing is, robots as a general concept wouldn’t have been completely unfamiliar to some people, depending their level of education. Presented for you consideration: two instances of robots, essentially, from back before robots should have been a thing.

First, there’s Hebrew bruiser himself, the golem. What do you call a hunk of inanimate material that walks around on two legs and follows commands? Well, if it exists in Jewish folklore, you call it a golem, but you might as well call it a robot. Think about it: Golems “turn on” as a result of a word, a written command. Isn’t that a computer program in its most essential state? As the stories go, most golems lumber around and smash things in the style of robots from 50s B-movies — or maybe like Frankenstein’s monster, who also is kind of a golem, just powered by electricity rather than commands — but technically, Son Number One himself, Adam, is a golem. According to the second creation story in Genesis, God made Adam from clay — “[kneaded] him into a shapeless husk” and then breathed life into him. So following that mushy golem logic, we’d be golems too. And that’s a different kind of weird.

And then there are the helperbots. Had anyone in ol’ Iron Fist’s time been familiar instead with Greek mythology, they might have known about Hephaestus, the smithy god who supposedly forged golden assistants to help him in his metalworking efforts. (I assume that some text at point in time gives these steampunk helper-bots had names. I can’t find them.) When you’re talking about his Roman equivalent, Vulcan, they’re specified as metallic slave-girls, which, of course, lends the story a whole Roman-style sexy element. Hephaestus also made a guard robo giant enough to make even the biggest fan of Japanese TV proud: Talos, a towering bronze automaton who protected Crete my smashing nearby ships with boulders. Dude — that’s an action figure right there. Kids would love that

I’ll be honest, this kind of creeps me out, kind of in the same way I feel about that carving of the Mayan dude who’s supposedly piloting a spaceship or that Egyptian snake-in-the-jar that some people think is a lightbulb. I see the connection, I don’t know what to make of it, and the whole time I’m telling myself “Well, that shouldn’t be.”

I wonder if this gets to anyone else the way it does to me — not just that an vague awareness of robot technology seems to lurk in stories eons before it could exist in real life, but also that the conception of it back then matches up so well how robots exist in pop culture today. Maybe the human mind has always wanted to make its own people? Or its own cheap labor? Maybe the basic idea of these creations just hasn’t significantly changed since way back in the day? Or is it that these artificial workers that populate old stories ended up informing the creative processes of scifi writers ever since?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

With “It” Referring to Lady Musculature

Serena Williams or She-Hulk: Who wore it better?

(The second in an apparent series linking female celebrities to unflattering lookalikes.)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Ass-Licking, Iron-Fisting: A History Lesson

Why couldn’t any history class I’ve ever taken be this interesting?

From the June issue of Wired, I learned the story of Gottfried “Götz” von Berlichingen, the fifteenth-century German knight who had a robotic hand. As Wired begins, “The Six Million Dollar Man, Darth Vader, Robocop — we have a passion for badasses who restore their mortal bodies with machinery.” Well, Berlichingen, known sometimes as Götz of the Iron Hand, lost a part of his body most vital to his warrior profession when, as Wikipedia explains, “enemy cannon fire forced his sword against him.”

I’m going to say right now that if this ever happened to me, someone living the current day with a wide array of medical options, I’d probably just die, because the combo of cannon and sword working against me seems like too much. I would just ask to quietly pass away, down in the mud and the puddle of what used to be my sword arm.

Ol’ Götz was made of sterner stuff — metaphorically so but soon literally as well. He ordered the construction of a prosthetic which by today’s standards might be somewhat crude but to Götz’s contemporaries transformed him into a walking robotic terror — or at least would have, had they had awareness of robots back then. As Wired notes, the replacement has “articulated fingers controlled by gears, [with which] he was able to grip anything from a sword to a quill pen.”

diagram of the actual hand, which, yes, is not an actual hand, but still
The article doesn’t comment on his penmanship, but Götz maintained his status as a terror on the battlefield, fighting, pillaging, ransoming all across Germany before dying in piece at age 82. The steampunk cyborg arm remains on display today in Jagsthausen Castle in Germany, but this relic isn’t Götz only lasting legacy. A 1773 play about the man’s life has him respond as follows to a demand for his surrender: “Er aber, sag’s ihm, er kann mich im Arsche lecken!” Translated, that would be something like “He, however, can lick me in the ass.” The quote, which according to Wikipedia is known today as the Gotz quote.

The quote would later inspire Mozart to write at least one but and possibly two cannons, Leck mich im Arsch, which I don’t feel needs a translation, and Leck mir den Arsch fein recht schön sauber, or something like “Lick my ass fine, well and clean.” It’s the second one that’s the more vulgar of the two, so of course I’ll be offering the translated lyrics in full:
Lick my ass nicely
Lick it nice and clean
Nice and clean, lick my ass
That's a greasy desire
Nicely buttered
Like the licking of roast meat, my daily activity
Three will lick more than two,
Come on, just try it,
And lick, lick, lick.
Everybody lick their ass for themselves.
It doesn’t seem noted that this second, more scatological canon is directly inspired by Götz, so I suppose it’s possible that Mozart simply springboarded of the earlier canon into new levels of depravity. It may also be that Mozart simply set new, filthy lyrics to a composition by Wenzel Trnka, which, if you ask me, is an amazing fuck you from the former to the latter.

Game nerd that I am, I suspect that Götz has one more cultural connection: Who’s got German heritage, crazy battle skills and two thumbs (one of which is mechanical)? This guy.

He’s a fairly unpopular character in the second Samurai Shodown and a controllable character despite the notable handicap of not being a samurai in anyway. His name is different — Neinhalt Sieger, as I wrote in one of my “games ’n’ names” posts, is a bad approximation for “non-stop victory” in whatever you’d call the German version on Engrish — but I’m willing to bet that Götz at least partly inspired the character because the series also features fighters based on real-life historical personages including but not limited to Andrew Jackson, Charlotte Corday and various Japanese notables. And, you know, he’s a menacing German knight with a mechano-arm.

Yeah, games are weird sometimes, but hey — so are Germans.

“Now That’s Interesting,” previously:

Sunday, July 17, 2011

In Praise of The Night Stalker

Not Richard Ramirez and not that guy in Goleta that they never actually caught, but the fictional, non-murdering person who went by this name: Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

How did I not realize how great this show was and why have I wasted time watching things that aren’t it?

Here’s the deal: Darren McGavin plays Carl Kolchak, a newspaper crime reporter who investigates paranormal cases week to week. He never sets out to, but much in the way death plagues Jessica Fletcher’s every Sunday brunch or weekend getaway, strangeness has a way of finding Kolchak. The show ran for just one season — September 1974 to March 1975 on ABC — before being cancelled, but it stands out as a clear predecessor for shows like The X-Files and Buffy, as far as monster-of-the-week episodes go. What’s maybe most remarkable is how fresh it feels. Don’t misunderstand: The Night Stalker looks like the mid-70s and the special effects reflect this. To get an idea of the flavor, watch the opening credits.

But I think the very 70s-ness of The Night Stalker only makes it more appealing. It’s a good kind of dated, for one, and the fact that this aired in the same era as Good Times, Rhoda and Happy Days makes it all the more surprising how dark it could get. This show has a high body count — on par with your average X-Files, usually — and that it’s not scared to get weird, even for a show about the paranormal. It does the vampire and werewolf episodes you’d expect, of course, but others go even further beyond typical TV fare. There’s one that has him chasing a rakshasa in a Jewish neighborhood, for example, and I can honestly say that I can’t recall a single other episode of television in which Hebrew and Hindu cultures united to battle a demon.

That’s my pitch, and you’re free to look into the show on your own — it’s available on DVD, and that’s how I’m watching it now — but I have a second point to make, and it’s only of interest to people who have seen the show.

I have to say that I’m fascinated by one of Kolchak’s fellow reporters, a prissy Ned Flanders of a guy named Ron Updyke, who’s clearly gay in spite of the fact that the show just tap-dances around the matter, so to speak, using various codes — he’s fastidiously dressed, he mingles with high-society types, he’s cultured, he’s a native of San Francisco, he’s less masculine in ever way than Kolchak is. (And he’s played by Jack Grinnage, who played one of the toughs in Rebel Without a Cause, which at this point means about as many gay points as driving a freshly groomed min-pin around in your Miata.) This is far from the only show to feature this kind of sissy stock character, but the weird thing about The Night Stalker is that he serves no other purpose than to be a sissy. He’s not written to be particularly funny, but his sole purpose seems to be to make a few catty remarks per episode and otherwise refrain from interacting with the larger plot in any way. Usually, he gets less screentime than any of the one-off characters that Kolchak meets in a given week’s investigation.

It’s very strange, and I can only guess that he exists for the same reason that the Gil Chesterton character existed on Frasier: to make the main character seem straighter my comparison. See, Kolchak seems weirdly neutered, especially for a hardboiled mystery-solver type. Eight episodes in, and I haven’t seen him express the slightest interest in any of the attractive women he’s met with. He even pays a prostitute to not have sex with him in one scene. Contrasting Kolchak against an stereotypically effeminate works, I suppose, to underscore his masculinity, but I can’t imagine why that’s a simpler solution than just giving the poor guy a one night stand,

Three Assumptions I’m Making About the Ancient World

One: Greco-Persian peoples had an unusual sense of jewelry aesthetics.

Two: In a similar way, Minoans had an odd sense of humor.

And three: The Etruscans didn’t really understand the animal kingdom.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Surprising Sex Explosion That Killed Some Famous People

Last month was a big one for me. Not only did I turn twenty-nine and creep ever closer to wrinkly decrepitude, but I also passed my driver’s test. This may not sound like an accomplishment, seeing as how I’ve been driving legally for thirteen years and only rarely use the “pinballing from one parked car to another” strategy to travel, but for reasons I don’t understand I was required to re-take the written DMV test in order to renew my license. This caused a burst of stress second only is severity to going through puberty again, not because I feel I don’t know the laws of the road but instead because the prospect of taking the test — and being allowed to miss even fewer questions this time — dredged up a potent mix of adolescent anxieties I had repressed long ago.

Though I probably didn’t need to, I crammed, college-style, and read the entire California DMV handbook the night before. I got a perfect score, and my driver’s test is currently on display on my refrigerator. (Seriously.) But in reading the handbook, I came across a word I’d never heard before. It’s my word of the week.
sharrow (SHAIR-oh) — noun: the markings painted on road surfaces to indicating that both motor vehicles and bicycles use the indicated lane.

But is it weird to anyone else that I’d never heard this term before? I don’t recall it appearing in the DMV handbook when I first took the test back in 1998 — you know, back in the age when some drivers actually resented the presence of cyclists on city streets, if you can imagine that — but I’m totally familiar with the concept. I just had no idea that this portmanteau of share and arrow was used to refer to them. I don’t know why we need a specific term for them, but I guess sharrow is handier than “bike symbol thing,” which is what I would have called them had I ever felt the need to refer to them before, which I didn’t.

But if I can quibble for a second, is it not strange to create a symbol for a shared road that only represents one of the two entities that it's encouraging to be all buddy-buddy? Maybe? A little bit? I can think of several designs that might be more all-encompassing, and those are these:
  • some sort of half-car, half-bike contraption not unlike the centaurs of Greek mythology
  • a car and a bike kissing
  • a car and a bike getting married
  • a car and a bike cradling a baby that's a half-car, half-bike contraption not unlike the centaurs of Greek mythology
  • a photorealistic lobster (to get people's attention!)
So remember, the next time your piloting your motor carriage down the street, it’s a sharrow that you’re ignorantly driving over as you cut off an irate cyclist.

In closing, I should tell you that the “pinballing from one parked car to another” travel strategy is not an efficient one, but it is one that can get you noticed by other motorists. Also sharing arrows is also the polite thing to do if you ever travel back in time to Robin Hood days, so keep that in mind. Finally, I titled this post as I did because sharrows are one of the most boring topics ever and I wanted to trick you into reading it. I'm really sorry and yet am also not.

(The previous word of the week? Quiff. That and all the rest after the jump.)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

As Lame as Tiny Tim

This is the worst pro-literacy service announcement I have ever seen.

A poster, urging people to "Explore New Worlds / Read a book" but featuring the art from the terrible 2009 CGI movie adaptation of A Christmas Carol, witnessed by me in July and almost two years after the film's cinematic release and almost two years and one week after anyone stopped caring about it. I can't decide if the Ad Council simply forgot about this poster (and it somehow evaded graffiti and bum vomit) or if someone actually printed one of these fresh and said, "Yeah, the people of Los Angeles would be motivated to read after they see this."

I'll say this much: This PSA did, in fact, make me walk straight home and pop open my director's cut of A Christmas Carol.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Return of Mrs. Applewhite

I can think of at least two things wrong with the below image-and-caption, which I screengrabbed from one of the photo services I use for work.

I should also probably mention that I stumbled onto it while searching for pictures of Misty Mae Treanor, so seeing this was even more confusing.

His Derivative Way

Since learning that Sintra’s standard “My Way” shares its melody with the earlier Claude Francois song “Comme d’habitude,” I’ve bouncing between two conclusion. The first is that it’s ironic a song about living your life the way you chose would be derivative of someone else’s song. The second, on the other hand, is that it’s actually fitting that Sinatra’s song took someone else’s musical blueprints and built it up into someone else that became more famous than the original and ultimately more closely identified with him than it was with Francois.

Either way, it sounds wrong to hear someone else singing the song in the “wrong” language and with the “wrong” lyrics.

Also, Paul Anka wrote the English lyrics, so if anything it’s Paul’s way. I’d like to believe that Frank Sinatra was never told that his song wasn’t the original — and if he found out today, he’d be punching dames in heaven.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Mailbox Was Haldeman

Remember that episode of 30 Rock with Carrie Fisher playing the ground-breaking Laugh-in writer whose attitudes toward various social issues, though liberal, seemed crude and offensive by the standards of the 2000s? I’m thinking specifically of the scene where the character, Rosemary, is dreaming up a sketch and she says “We open on a New Orleans abortion clinic. A beautiful mulatto—“ only to have Liz cut her off with “I don’t think we’re allowed to use any of those words.” That — that — is what I thought of when I stumbled onto a clip from Hair this weekend.

I thought I’d seen Hair, but I realize now that I actually only saw Jesus Christ Superstar. Hair is different. See, because here’s why: the song “Black Boys / White Boys,” which shoves the awkwardness in your face right off the bat with the opening lyrics “Black boys are delicious.”

You may not know me personally, so I’ll tell you that I have an “Are you serious?” face. Rest assured, the only time I wasn’t making it during this number was when I was making my “Is it okay that I’m watching this?” face or my “Am I going to get in trouble?” face.

I haven’t felt this way since my William Faulkner seminar.

And yes, by the way, that is Nell Carter.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Drew Helps You Craft Your New Online Identity

Hey, are you on Twitter yet? Because if no, then I checked at the following usernames are still available.I should also note that @whatistwitter has been suspended, but I’ll keep an eye on it. Also, @lindasucks exists but seems out of commission, and the single tweet posted there is disturbing.

I look forward to tweeting with you.

Make Real Your Dreams (Actual Lyrics)

I can name three surprising things about this clip of the 1980 film Can’t Stop the Music.

One: Seeing Bruce Jenner interacting with the Village People is weird, mostly because Jenner’s current claim to fame — being the man-captive held hostage by a coven of donkey-voice witches, Anthony from Designing Women-style — totally overshadows what made him famous in the first place.

Two: Bruce Jenner’s old face, before he suffered the catastrophic firebomb attack that resulted in him looking as he does today.

And three: This, apparently, passed for acceptable heterosexual streetwear at the end of the disco era. Seriously? Straight guys could wear halfshirts ever? How is Bruce Jenner dressed in a gayer manner than any one of the Village People?

I can also name two unsurprising things: First, this was Jenner’s only movie role ever. And second, MY GOD the stifling, pungent, dripping-from-the-walls gayness of everything that happens in the “Y.M.C.A.” sequence, which by comparison makes Bruce Jenner’s outfit look straighter than Sylvester Stallone shotgunning a beer whilst simultaneously shooting a lion and pissing on a fire.

A follow-up question: Is that example actually straight-seeming or is it, like the above clip itself, so stereotypically masculine that it goes beyond actual masculine and becomes gay again?

A second follow-up: How is it, again, that “Y.M.C.A.” became such a mainstream standard when it sounds so much like instructions for how to get easy casual sex in a locker room shower stall?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Rudest Hairstyle

Hi. I learned something. And though I think the thing learned is interesting, I should probably disclose that I learned it as a result of something awful. Do you know Jedward? God, I hope you don’t. Jedward looks like this:

Yes, Jedward is a “they” — the boys are John and Edward in their off-stage lives — and, because they’re twins, I think it’s awkward that they have their names smashed into a portmanteau in the style usually reserved for romantic pairings. As you can see, they look like cloned Vanilla Ice organ banks crossed with the Cat in the Hat’s Thing One and Thing Two by way of the Fanning family. They also happened to emerge victorious on a season of The X-Factor, and judging what I know about the style of singing that tends to succeed on competitive reality shows, I will never, ever like anything that Jedward does. I’m happy to just leave it at that.

Because it’s not something they did, exactly, I can be happy that this… thing’s existence at least educated me: I read that the two were known for their trademark hairstyles — you know, as opposed to their music — and the text described the follicular weirdness going on as a quiff. And in doing so, I got a new word of the week.
quiff (kwif) — a prominent forelock, especially one brushed upward from the forehead.
Wikipedia elaborates a bit more, placing the quiff somewhere between the pompadour, the flattop and maybe the mohawk, which should offer you no help to picture the style on a non-Jedward head. But it also notes that Morrissey has a quiff, though I’d imagine his is a more pompadour-ish one — and that most people would just call his mop a pompadour and be done with it.

I did a Google Image search for “quiff” and came up with a whole variety of fashion hair that I wouldn’t have classified together in the period of my life B.Q. (“before quiff-knowing”) but what the hell — apparently these are all examples of this particular hairstyle.

natalie portman, la roux and philip j. fry, together at last

So that’s what the quiff looks like, but where does the term come from? Etymonline posits that it could be related to whiff. Wiktionary and other less reputable sources guess that it could come from coif, which would make sense , but following that line there’s a surprising association. According to some sources, quiff can also mean “a promiscuous woman” or “a prostitute,” while coif can be French slang for “vulva.” I have never heard this before, but then again I don’t frequent French prostitutes. This connection between coif and vulva isn’t not wholly unreasonable, since English at least has a varied manager of of hair-associated slang terms for the same body part, beaver, pussy and possibly even cunt maybe being the most popular. (“Popular” in terms of use, maybe others too, depending on what kind of girl you’re talking about.) And then there’s the joke I’ve been restraining myself from making this whole post: the similarity between quiff and queef. But the jury’s out and probably forever will be out on the etymology of that one.

In the end, I can’t conclude much, but I wholly support there being greater gravity to the insults that haters recklessly hurl at Jedward. Not Morrissey though. Don’t call Morrissey that. Morrissey is the man.

(The previous word of the week? Pettitoes. This and all the rest after the jump.)

Saturday, July 09, 2011

That New Street Drug, Antioxidants

So this is the scene: me, walking through an upper-class neighborhood with a Venti Starbucks iced green tea in hand. If the L.A.-ishness of the preceding sentence seems a bit much, don’t worry. It’s not that kind of story.

So I’m moseying along the sidewalk, exuding good citizenship in my every action, when I notice I cop walking cresting the hill and walking toward me. I get anxious. Even though there’s literally no way I’ve broken any law today, cops make me nervous in the same way I get when I notice a bee in the car. Eventually, we’re within reaching distance of each other. “Excuse me, sir,” says the cop on the easiest beat in the world. “What’s in the cup?”

I stop, and for a second I’m sure the cop cannot be speaking to me. I even point at myself, although no one else is using the sidewalk and he literally couldn’t be speaking to anyone but me. “This is… green tea?” I answer. It is green tea. I know this. But I respond in with an interrogative because I’m utterly baffled by why a police officer would care. His reply: “Excuse me?” I replay the exchange so far in my head. Could I have possibly answered “meth juice” and forgotten? Wait — am I too methed out to know? “It’s green tea. From Starbucks,” I answer. I can see myself in his sunglasses in a very film school sort of shot. He’s not particularly expressive.

“What’s in it?” he asks. Again, I’m at a loss. I mean, it’s green fucking tea — tea that is green. What the hell else is in it? And then I give what most cops would probably consider a smart-mouthed punk response: “Antioxidants.” I don’t know why I say this, but it’s true — aside from the ice cubes, I do know this Venti green tea has antioxidants in it. His reply, again: “Excuse me?” I’m not sure if he actually wants me to answer this, but I can’t because I don’t have a layman-friendly synonym for antioxidants. In fact, I don’t know what antioxidants are, aside from allegedly health-promoting, cancer-attacking particles. I wish now that I had looked into this before now — and, you know, before I began consuming them like crazy in a possibly misguided attempt to evade death. What if we find out in a year that antioxidants are actually poison?

It’s at this point — my antioxidant identity crisis — that I look down at my beverage. See, when you order iced green tea at Starbucks, the barista pours the already-brewed mix over ice and then shakes it. This action has given the tea a foamy head not unlike a beer that some crazy person might pour into a Starbucks cup and tote along on his walk. And the purportedly green tea, as viewed through my see-through plastic cup, actually looks yellow — light beer yellow, in fact. I get it now. “It’s just tea. Iced. And shaken. So the foam. Because it’s shaken. It’s not beer. You can have a look.” I offer it, and he regards it like it’s a urine sample, which foamy green tea also kind of looks like, I realize.

Did I mention he’s not especially expressive? After an inspection of my beverage — or, for all I know, a power nap, since I can’t see his eyes — he begins walking again. “You recycle that when you’re done,” he tell me. And then he walked past me, got into his parked car and drove away.

And you know what? I did recycle it.

But not because he told me to.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Preserve Your Loved Ones in Marble!

Quickly now, two people I met at the Getty Villa:

First, Dick Casablancas from Veronica Mars was there. I can only assume it’s a testament to the greatness of this show that even the Greeks were going on about it back in the day. (Carving busts out of marble is the ancient Greek equivalent of blogging, don’t you know.)

And yes, if Dick himself had been there, he would have made a “bust of a youth” joke.

And then this little bitch. It may sound harsh for me to call the child being represented here a bitch, but that’s actually how the Getty Villa labeled it in the brochure: “Little Bitch, Rome, A.D. 180-200 / The Early Bitchface Age.”

I can only guess that artisans of the day chose to re-create this awful little girl’s likeness in marble simply so their descendants could know what a little bitch she was.

Monday, July 04, 2011

They’re Murdering That Woman! And She’s White!

Last Thursday’s Daily Show tackled last week’s Supreme Court ruling that said a ban on violent video games would violate freedom of speech. If you watched this episode, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that I generally agree with Jon Stewart’s take. I grew up playing video games (some violent), and I probably would defend a person’s First Amendment rights as loudly as anyone else you know. However, now that I’m thinking about this issue for the first time since Tipper Gore made a fuss about it in the 90s — that is, also, for the first time since I’m no longer a child myself — I do worry about how the user-initiated blood spatter could affect the impressionable. I don’t think the government should override a parent’s role in protecting their kids from bone-breaking, organ-tearing melees, but I can also see how angry these parents might be if they found out that Little Joey played one of these forbidden, blood-soaked games despite their best efforts to prevent him from doing so.

I guess I’m old now.

But here’s a small facet of this issue that I don’t agree with The Daily Show on: the clip used to illustrate the depravity of these gory games. Now, if you click the above link for the actual episode, you’ll see that Stewart gives viewers a heads up that they’re about to see something that they might find very disturbing. It’s from the new Mortal Kombat, and it’s shows the game’s main heroine, Sonya, on the receiving end of the “Make a Wish” fatality. Yup, it’s a wishbone reference, and the victor of their little tussle splits in two and grabs either of Sonya’s legs, pulling until she rips up the midsection. She screams the whole time. If you absolutely must see the clip to get an idea of how awful it looks, click here. It’s not Sonya getting torn in twain but a different female fighter. You’ll get the idea.

Back? Great. I think we can agree that that’s pretty fucked up. That’s kind of the point. But hey — if you’re an adult spending your own money, you should have every right to spend it on that. And if you’re an adult with a child, you should also have every chance to forbid your child from telling the game to make it happen, to say nothing of seeing it happen at all. (How, exactly, would you shield your child from something that would be inherently tantalizing to most boys? I’ve got no idea. Figure it our, breeders.)

The “Make a Wish” clip, however, isn’t the only one from the game; there’s another, also featuring Sonya on the receiving end of a finishing move. Earlier in the same segment, the show cuts to Sonya getting punched the face and having her skull caved in. This one’s a little less explicit — Stewart doesn’t warn the viewer beforehand — and I’m posting a screenshot, mostly to show Stewart’s reaction.

Unfortunately, the way The Daily Show introduces Mortal Kombat is exactly the same way that those Tipper Gore-affiliated anti-violence crusaders demonstrated the graphic graphics of the original Mortal Kombat back in the day. I can remember from watching the news: The clip shown a forum on violent video games showed something very similar to the below image.

Sub Zero has pulled Sonya’s head off her body, her still-attached spine hanging done like some kind of grim wind chime. (Another knock against Mortal Kombat: unrealistic depictions of dissections. A decapitated head would never stay attached to the spine like that, stupid!) The speaker noted how sick it was that a game showed a man decapitating a woman.

This is where the prepubescent me raised an objection, and I’m raising it again today to a slightly larger audience. It doesn’t matter that the violence is being perpetuated by a man against a woman. If you’re going to object, it should be on grounds that it’s happening at all. In a sense, the Mortal Kombat series and all other fighting games is egalitarian in its carnage. Men and women can beat the hell out of each other equally, and no special allotment is made for a fighter’s gender. That means that a woman can get horribly mutilated but also that the same character can do it to a man. It’s wrong, but on some level, at least, it’s also kind of right.

The fact that Sonya, in particular, gets depicted as a victim of Mortal Kombat’s violence is especially telling because this is what Sonya looks like when her body is not literally being torn limb from limb:

If you likened her to a model in military-themed Victoria’s Secret show, you’d be spot-on — Bridgette Wilson played her in the live-action movie, and for good reason. She also happens to be the only blond-haired, light-skinned, female fighter in the series. There are women, but they look Asian or Vampirella-like or otherwise demonic, and I feel like there’s an unconsidered bias here — racist? misogynist? classist? Vampirella-ist? — that prompts people decrying the game’s violence to make Sonya play the victim. Tipper Gore’s people did, and years later, so did the Daily Show staffers, even though I’d imagine that they have fairly little regard for Tipper Gore’s shrill opinions.

In The Daily Show’s defense, Stewart did note the strangeness of the Supreme Court ruling that games could be regulated if they featured sexual content (as opposed to violent content), essentially meaning that Mortal Kombat would be more offensive if Sonya suffered a nipple slip while being disemboweled. But still, it’s telling that people conveying the extent of the game’s violence still go for the lowest common denominator, that being violence specifically against the series’s whitest, blondest, prettiest character.

A final thought: Why, if the Mortal Kombat characters are capable of so quickly reducing each other to corpses, do they just not attempt to do that in the first place?