Saturday, December 31, 2011

I’m Really Worried About Zooey Deschanel

Like I just said, Zooey Deschanel has given me cause for concern — not about her personal well-being, because that’s a given, but more that she’s secretly some sort of malicious entity bent on amassing power. Look at her. Just look at her.

No one dresses that cute without an ulterior agenda. Just from an aesthetic standpoint, Zooey Deschanel should worry you, too: She dresses in a way that seems to charm old people and hipsters alike. What is that? Like, that’s not something that happens, yet she nonetheless seems to win over these disparate groups. She’s a Hollywood brat who somehow maintains indie cred, and then she jumps from playing at an alt rock musical festival back to L.A. to film an episode of her popular network sitcom, all while wearing outfits that make her look good but which when imitated by mortal women make them look sad, boho dumbasses. I did the math; that shouldn’t be possible. Oh and that blog! That blog! “Hello Giggles”? Did she really trick the literate, adult women of the world into thinking it’s somehow okay to read something called “Hello Giggles”? And why is she the only thing I remember now about Almost Famous? She was barely in it. What was it about? Zooey the stewardess saves the world and kills Kate Hudson? Can’t even remember now.

Here’s basically what I think will happen in 2012: You’re going to wake up one day and say, “Hey, when did Zooey Deschanel become the unquestioned lord and master of the universe? The last thing I remember was I was watching a YouTube clip of her singing some dopey song with a ukelele. But I liked the song, even though anyone else singing the same song with the same ukelele would be pitiful and repellant, and I just got lost in those blue eyes. What color are those eyes? Cyan? Ice blue? Some especially cool shade of winter mint that God spared from the spectrum just so it could exist solely in the eyes of the Zooey Deschanel?” And then when you come to, Zooey is sitting on a throne adorned with the skulls of the her imperfect, failed prototype girlbots — Katy Perry, Emily Blunt, Lizzy Caplan and Anna Friel — and demanding blood sacrifices of us all because her plan worked, dammit, and we were all to fucking busy humming the theme song to The New Girl to notice. She’s reigning over all with an iron fist — iron fists sheathed in vintage pearl white driving gloves are stil iron fists — with her sister, Bones, seated at her right side. And oh yeah — we call her “Bones” now because she actually eats people’s bones. Because she can. Because she always wanted to and now she can.

So yeah, I’ve got to say it: I’m really worried about Zooey Deschanel. And now that I’ve publicly associated myself with these fears, I’m worried about myself. If she comes and kills me, at least she’ll do it in a cute manner.

She’s watching me. She’s watching you. Deschanel Blue sees all.

(Apparently this is how I end the year.)

Friday, December 30, 2011

How the World Ends

Not with a bang but with whimper-growling muffled by foam.

While saner minds stood guard, even. (And sorry, Africa — like, for the millionth time.)

Apocalypse notwithstanding, it was a lovely December afternoon spent on grass.

And the world, you’ll be happy to know, was placed out-of-reach, on a shelf, where it belongs.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Robots Are Coming

What’s so notable about The Android Sisters’ 1984 song “The Robots Are Coming”? Despite the title, the name of the band and the fact that it sounds like a porny version of the Main Street Electrical Parade theme? This song is unusual in that it has a twist: At one point, the mantra of “The robots are coming” gets paired up with a weirdly sexy, synth “ooh,” giving you the listener the opportunity to wonder if the robots aren’t just coming but they’re also actually coming.

And that, friends, is why The Android Sisters are everybody’s favorite 80s band. 

A Legitimate Question About Human Centipede

Haven’t seen it. Don’t intend to. I mean, I saw Salo and decided that I wouldn’t ever watch a movie just to be grossed out. (Grossed-out and dazzled by top-notch choreography? That’s a different story.) But I have a genuine question about this movie that I can’t think of a simple way to Google, so I’m posting it here in hopes that someone with the answer will come to me: Why does the doctor who sews all the people together think that makes them a centipede? Like, why isn’t it, oh, Human Millipede or Human Caterpillar or whatever? Is there something about centipede anatomy I don’t get? About their digestive anatomy in particular?

Are centipedes, like, made of butts and mouths?

Monday, December 26, 2011

As Close as I Got to a White Christmas Was a Gosh-Darned Alien Invasion

The alien landed in the yard at my parents’ house, in the corner where no one noticed. It might seem harmless enough, what with its French vanilla design, but upon completion of its larval stage it oozes out in every which way, Blob-style, and smothering all in fluffy, white death.

Of course, at the rate it’s going, it will take a year for anyone else to notice what it’s doing, and by then it will seem downright festive.

Oh yes, this alien is clever. Death is a holiday cliche.

Friday, December 23, 2011

For God’s Sake, Get Into Bed

May the Santa Claus who visits your home have nobler intentions than this sex criminal.

Merry invasive Christmas, all!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

My Childhood Bedroom — Just as I Left It in 1989

Oh, hey there, random artifact from my childhood that inexplicably materialized on the nightstand in the bedroom I grew up in.

I can’t decide if this is more or less strange by virtue of the fact that I came home in possession of a brand new Mario game in which he once again has a magical raccoon tail. And by “strange” I actually mean that bittersweetly nostalgic sense of wondersad.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

One Fife a-Fifing

My contribution to my office’s white elephant gift exchange:

It was one of my finer moments.

Hanging Faces (Positive Sense)

Of all that I saw at the Getty, I was perhaps most surprised and impressed to see Dana Cowin, editor of Food & Wine magazine and occasional Top Chef guest judge.

I think the resemblance is rather striking. Or I think Cowin has aged particularly well. Unsure which.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tahst (as Opposed to Tayst)

First off, I’m not perfect. I typo like crazy and make the occasional factual error. That said, if I’m pulling off some big project — something I’m sending in somewhere, something on which I’m staking my reputation, something that may well outlast me, etc. — I will double- and triple-check the smallest of details. Or, failing that, I will pay someone especially savvy to give it a once-over.

So you’d think the Getty — fancied fortress of art overlooking the expanse of Los Angeles — would take similar measures. Not so, apparently. Have a look at this mural at the Getty Center restaurant and see if you can spot the glaring mistake.

Yep. The word taste is apparently pronounced to rhyme more or less with how a British person might pronounce the word vast… which is not how I pronounce it. This I find fairly surprising. I’m not sure if it’s the painted-on version of a typo (a painto?) or if whoever oversaw the construction of this word mural simply didn’t understand how to represent a long “A,” but I think it’s pretty surprising that the mural exists in its current state, just because one would imagine that the Getty would exercise enough curatorial control to ensure that the first line, at least, read correctly. Besides that, the error could be fixed pretty simply just by turning the umlaut into a long mark. Right?

Now, if any of you have the opportunity to go to the Getty and decided to get a meal, please do your best to shake your head disapprovingly at the tahst.

And many thanks to someone’s dear Aunt Diane — who’s fun when she drinks maybe! — for not minding that I captured her head in the bottom of my photo.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Is Lamb Kosher?

No, but seriously, is it?

Is that the surprise? Also: Chanukah and Passover? In one? You decided it best not to space those out, huh, Shari?

The Bizarre Family Dynamics of Bubble Bobble

To people who don’t know video games, Bubble Bobble is maybe that game with the bubbles and the infuriatingly looping theme song. Or perhaps it’s the game whose spinoff got ripped off as that title so much more popular with the casual gaming crowd, Snood. And if you’ve read this blog for a while, you might recall Bubble Bobble as the game whose box art I found psychologically disturbing because it featured a character transformed form the waist down into a slice of watermelon, the bizarre symbolism of which is something not even Carl Jung himself could hope to decode.

Regardless, all you need to know about Bubble Bobble is that it is a video game in which the heroes — transformed into bubble-spitting dinosaurs — travel from room to room, attempting to encase all the enemies in bubbles, at which point they pop them and proceed to the next stage. The game’s “good ending” is famously hard to achieve. When you did, however… things got weird.

Basically, the game’s big bad is an impish creature saddled with the name Super Drunk.

He’s a mega-sized version of a generic baddie who’s just named Drunk and whose method of attack involves hucking empty bottles at you. Now, whether you’ve set yourself up for the good ending or not, defeating Super Drunk allows your characters to rescue their girlfriends and transform from little dinosaurs back into humans. Beat the game on hard mode, however, and you’ll get the big reveal: In the same way that you were transformed into dinosaurs, Super Drunk was transformed into its monstrous form and is actually… your parents.

Yep, the big bad of the game — a villain named Super Drunk, no less — is actually the mother and father of the game’s heroes, transformed by evil magic into a single monstrous form.

The implications of this are… a lot, to say the least, and you have to wonder what the hell the developers were attempting to say about the state of the nuclear family. No, wait — it’s actually painfully obvious. The message of Bubble Bobble is that your parents are abusive drunks. Hey — at least you have video games though, right?

Reading too much into video games, previously:

Sunday, December 18, 2011

It’s a John McClane Kind of Christmas

Not every Christmas movie ends with a cliche — let’s say a family of chestnuts gathering for a soak in a mug of eggnog while the Coca-Cola polar bears dance around Zuzu’s petals in the background. The best ones are simply Christmas-tangential, by which I mean the holiday serves only as the backdrop and not the focus. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Poseidon Adventure, The Rules of Attraction, Batman Returns, Less Than Zero, The Ref and even the original Black Christmas make the most of decked halls and the enforced sense of mirth that come with Christmas while not ending with clanging Christmas Eve church bells. And, of course, there’s Die Hard, which I watched today for the first time in years. Great film. Exemplary action movie. Holiday classic. And I’m celebrating it the best way I know how: with trivia.

Here, in the spirit of giving, are three facts about Die Hard you may find surprising.

One: It was originally planned as a sequel to the 1985 movie Commando, with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character scrambling through a big-city skyscraper, picking off terrorists. I think the end result benefitted for starring Bruce Willis instead, though I wouldn’t mind hearing Arnold Schwarzenegger attempt the like “Yippie-kay-yay, motherfucker.” The fact that General Esperanza in Die Hard 2 hails from the factional Latin American nation of Val Verde is a nod to the setting of Commando.

Two: Though initially planned as a sequel to Commando, the plot originated in a 1979 detective novel, Nothing Lasts Forever, which itself was the sequel to The Detective, a book that was adapted into a film of the same name in 1968. It starred Frank Sinatra, who is essentially playing a prototype for Bruce Willis’s Die Hard character.

Three: Hans Gruber, the ur-90s action film heavy played by Alan Rickman, gets his name from a minor villain in the 1966 spy movie parody Our Man Flint. The film starred James Coburn as a twist on James Bond… thirty years before Mike Myers played a similar character in Austin Powers. (In fact, the ringtone of Austin’s personal phone is lifted directly from one in Our Man Flint, though before Austin it had been used in the less successful Bruce Willis action flick, Hudson Hawk.) The Hans Gruber of Our Man Flint gets iced by Flint in a toilet stall, so you might even say that that Irish assassin in Austin Powers — “They’re always after me lucky charms!” — has some shared DNA with the Die Hard Hans Gruber.

Non-trivia-related postscript: What is the best way to write out the word yippie-kay-yay, anyway?

Clash at Demonhead and Other Video Game-Inspired Band Names

A short list of Nintendo Entertainment System video games whose titles — whole or in part — could be Scott Pilgrim vs. the World-style alt rock band names in the style of Sex Bob-omb, Clash at Demonhead, Sonic & Knuckles, Crash and the Boys and Kid Chameleon.
  • Abadox
  • The Adventures of Rad Gravity
  • Air Fortress
  • Arkista’s Ring
  • Bandit Kings of Ancient China
  • Boulder Dash
  • Casino Kid
  • Color a Dinosaur
  • Conquest of the Crystal Palace
  • Dash Galaxy in the Alien System
  • Destination Earthstar
  • Elevator Action
  • Faxandu
  • Flight of the Intruder
  • Gotcha! The Sport!
  • Gyromite
  • Ikari Warriors
  • Image Fight
  • Isolated Warrior
  • Kabuki Quantum Fighter
  • Kid Niki
  • King’s Knight
  • The Krion Conquest
  • Laser Invasion
  • Little Samson
  • Lee Trevino’s Fighting Golf
  • Legend of the Ghost Lion
  • Lunar Pool
  • The Magic of Scheherazade
  • Magmax
  • Marble Madness
  • Mechanized Attack
  • Mighty Bomb Jack
  • Nobunaga’s Ambition
  • Parasol Stars
  • Qix
  • Rainbow Islands
  • Rolling Thunder
  • Romance of the Three Kingdoms
  • Rygar
  • Shingen the Ruler
  • Smash TV
  • Stanley and the Search for Dr. Livingston
  • StarTropics
  • Swords and Serpents
  • Touchdown Fever
  • Twin Cobra
  • Twin Eagle
  • Ufouria
  • Wizards & Warriors
  • Wrath of the Black Manta
  • Xevious
I have only linked the one title because I wanted to draw attention to the title that served as the inspiration for Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge from that one Christmas episode of The Simpsons. (Hey! Holiday tie-in!) But of all these, I have to say that Clash at Demonhead is easily the best. I’ve never played the game myself, but I decided long ago that it had to be the most awesome thing ever after I laid eyes on the box art.

It is, of course, an assemblage of images chosen deliberately by scientists to draw the eyes of boys aged five to twelve, and I am completely aware of this, but also how could anything associated with this not be the absolute coolest?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Enchanting Nature of Video Games

A short story aimed directly at my core readership: words trivia buffs nostalgic for old video games.

So years ago, I was writing news articles and blog entries alike on an antiquated version of Microsoft Word whose spell check function didn’t recognize certain modern words. Specifically, it failed to recognize the word pixelated and instead recommended that I use pixilated. Consequently, as far back as 2003, I used the word pixilated to refer to computer images whose basic visual components are large enough to be visible. This usage is incorrect, I have learned, for pixilated refers not to what you see on a screen but to what pixies do to you.
pixilated (PIKS-el-AYT-ed) — adjective: 1. behaving in an eccentric manner, as though led by pixies. 2. whimsical. 3. drunk.
Namely, pixies make you crazy, confused or somehow intoxicated. Pixilated, constructed in the fashion of the word titillated, describes the state of the pixie-addled person, whose encounter with the glitter-adorned segment of the paranormal world would forever render them awkward at parties. The largely obsolete pixilated makes for a surprising footnote, as far as the English language as a whole goes, but it’s especially relevant to people who play in video games or regularly experience any other program that involves animation. The distance between pixie (from the Swedish pyske, “a small fairy”) and pixel (literally pic(ture) el(ement)) is great but perhaps abridged somewhat by the similarity between related pair sprite (again, the fairy type) and sprite (“a two-dimensional image or animation that is integrated into a larger scene”).

Video games have soul, at least etymologically speaking.

Previous words of the week after the jump.
Word nerd? Subscribe to Back of the Cereal Box’s word-related posts by clicking here.

Friday, December 16, 2011

I Can See Your Eyes (Or — The Inside of Lisa Turtle’s Brain)

The combination of work and yuletide toil has me worn down to the point that I’m heading to bed at 10:30 on a Friday night, which ranks as the yikesiest sign of encroaching adulthood yet. But before I finish this week, I’ll offer one desperate attempt at coolness: a song that collapses the cultural distance between the 80s and whatever we’re calling our cool kid culture now. (Personally, I vote for “the acid reflux version of 80s nostalgia.”)

It’s “Eyes” by the Italian band Clio, which sexily straddled the divide between disco and new wave but whose admirable artistic efforts apparently didn’t render them worthy of a Wikipedia page. The VHS-tastic, Saved by the Bell-on-an-acid trip video might look all radically Ray Ban-popping, but’s contemporary, though you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise. I’m especially taken with this band for the way they sound so very now — sort of like a French take on CSS’s sound — despite the fact that this song came out in 1984. Personally, I can’t stop listening to it.

Regarding the video specifically: glam but borderline nightmarish, right?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Her Eyes Aren’t the Only Body Part That’s Stormy, I’ll Bet

I don’t know exactly what kind of relationship the narrator has with this woman whose name is apparently not Wendy but the more unfortunately-connoted Windy, but if you actually listen to the lyrics, it’s clear that Windy is some kind of psychopath.

Who’s peeking’ out from under a stairway
Calling a name that’s lighter than air?
Who’s bending down to give me a rainbow?
Everyone knows it’s Windy
s tripping down the streets of the city
Smilin’ at everybody she sees?
Who's reaching’ out to capture a moment
Everyone knows it’s Windy
And Windy has stormy eyes

That flash at the sound of lies
And Windy has wings to fly

Above the cloud (above the clouds!)
Clearly, Windy is a 60s-era Manic Pixie Dream Girl, though she might be hiding under stairway for the same reasons that earned her the name Windy.

All that said, however, I feel like this song would make a great soundtrack for, say, spinning in a field of daisies or skipping down the street on an April afternoon. You know — reaching out to capture a moment.

 No, wait — why is she bending over to give him a “rainbow”? What the hell is this song about, anyway?

Monday, December 12, 2011

How You’re Insulting Your Low-Class Hangers-on

Call a lady a trollop and you get a better reaction — possibly an altogether good one if she’s a dumb trollop who just doesn’t know what the word means. Maybe charmed by the British accent you’re faking. She can’t tell. She grew up in Kansas, the dumb backwoods trollop. Why, trollop kind of sounds like a cross between tra-la-la and roll-up, and she used to eat Fruit Roll-Ups with Grandma Bertie back before Grandma Bertie fell asleep in her smoking chair. And, well, in a way it was what she would have wanted, because she loved that chair and you couldn’t tell where the smoking chair ended and Grandma Bertie began. It doesn’t seem so long ago, really…

(Word of the week.)
hoyden (HOY-den) — noun: a rude, uncultured or rowdy girl or woman. adjective: high-spirited and boisterous; saucy, tomboyish.
I wouldn’t have learned of the existence of this polite-seeming alternative insult — which, by the way, comes from the Dutch heiden, “a rustic, uncivilized man,” which in turn descends from the Middle Dutch word for heathen — had it not been for Annie, Get Your Gun. I had to watch this movie this week, and though I got paid to do so, the experience was painful, because musicals — and in particular, the especially musical-y musicals from the midcentury — annoy the hell out of me. I mean, you wouldn’t a boring movie could be made about a feisty, illiterate crackshot who could split a flying playing card in half from ninety yards, but is boring when the majority of the film consists of her singing now-tired showtunes like “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and “Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better).”

And although Annie Oakley could be called a hoyden, especially in the dirty, semi-feral state in which she’s introduced in the film, that’s not where I heard the word first. There’s an interesting backstory in which the role of Annie in the first-ever big screen adaptation initially was to go to Judy Garland. I’ve always wondered when Garland ceased to be the singing, dancing wunderkind she was in her Wizard of Oz days and instead became the slurring, hysterical dinosaur that I know best from Kristen Wiig impressions on Saturday Night Live. Well, it was Annie, Get Your Gun. Garland’s movie career basically ended when she more or less couldn’t find the set, and she was replaced by an actress named Betty Hutton, who as near as I can tell is a sketch character that Amy Poehler went back in time and played before her establishing her current comedy career in the late 90s. And Hutton scored the role of Annie Oakley because she had previously found success in a similar biopic: The Perils of Pauline, where she portrayed silent film star Pearl White as “an ambitious hoyden who rises from amateur-night vaudeville” to mainstream fame.

And that, dear children, is how English got the now-obscure word hoyden, how Judy Garland rode that crazy train called Hollywood to an untimely end, how Amy Poehler was a time-traveling immortal from beyond the stars, and how Grandma Bertie survives in our hearts as a great reason not to smoke.

But I have to share one more bit with you. Even though Annie, Get Your Gun wasn’t my cup of tea, I did a little bit more research into Hutton’s career and consequently watched a clip from The Perils of Pauline. And it featured a song. And it was called “Rumble.” And I’m including here for one specific reason.

The reason: There’s something funny about a woman scooching up and down a piano, singing “Rumble, rumble, rumble / Tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,” and I think it’s that it it sounds like she’s suffering from some severe digestive discomfort.

Happy new word!

Previous words of the week after the jump.
Word nerd? Subscribe to Back of the Cereal Box’s word-related posts by clicking here.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Pixies and the War on Drugs

I have a soft spot for the late 80s. And in saying that, I actually mean that I have a soft spot for the pop culture of the 80s and not my existence during that time, which was largely marred by being underweight and consistently wearing a lot of Gecko Hawaiian clothes. Whatever. Mixed feelings be damned, here’s a nifty follow-up to my post yesterday about Owen Pallett paying tribute to an obscure Super Mario ditty in one of his feats of indie rock artsiness. The Pixies did the same, it turns out.

Here is NARC, an arcade game I remember being frustrated by back in a hometown pizza parlor:

There was also a port to the Nintendo console that I fared better at, but it was a game my brother took to more than I did. Aside from standing out for being more violent than most games I played back in the day — I’m guessing it was around 1989 or so that I actually laid hands on it — I remember the game’s theme song sounding a lot more like actual rock music than most video game soundtracks ever did. It turns out Black Francis felt the same way. His band, The Pixies, covered the NARC theme as a B-side to the 1991 single “Planet of Sound.”

Here are the two tracks, side by side:

If I ever heard this Pixies track before, I didn’t note the similarity. It’s not in my MP3 collection and I assume I’ve just gone this far in life without having heard it, because if I saw the name I probably would have wanted to listen to it. In fact, I only found about this odd little exchange between video games and music because I blog I follow, VGJunk, happened to have posted about this very subject, and I stumbled onto the post more or less randomly a few hours after I put up the Owen Pallett-Super Mario Land weirdness. Funny how that happens.

Video games and pop music, previously:

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Midday to Midnight

It makes me happy that years of geeky pursuits have trained me to notice things most other people wouldn’t. Like music. From a bygone Game Boy game. Getting covered (sampled?) by an indie rock musician that lame people don’t know about.

I present to you: the “Star Maze” music from Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins making an appearance in Owen Pallett’s song “An Arrow in the Side of Final Fantasy.”

After a few abortive attempts, I’m finally appreciating Pallett’s solo stuff. Pallett — who ride that Arcade Fire rocket to greater fame and who released the song when he was still calling his solo side project “Final Fantasy” before he decided it was better to be, you know, Googleable — has never shied away from his video game influences. In fact, his song “Hey Dad” employs the Super Mario Bros. 3 “Coin Heaven” melody at the beginning — and fairly beautifully, I should add. But a lot of people could hum the Coin Heaven music if they were asked. No one really gives a damn about Super Mario Land 2 — it was the the one where Mario could grow rabbit ears, people! — so this is definitely the greater find.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Peas of Death

I suppose if my rest stop’s claim to fame was it being the last place that James Dean visited before his death, I’d want to market that fact too.

But at the same time, I’m not sure reminding passing motorists of death by car accident is the most effective way to peddle dehydrated peas. Props to the accurate apostrophe use, at least. And I did, in fact, buy the peas. Salty, snacky goodness, it was.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Translucent Dahlia (Or — A Short Story That Should Stay Short)

Elizabeth Short died at only twenty-two years old, her list of accomplishments numbering few. I don’t count an arrest in Santa Barbara for underage drinking as a resume-worthy, but in her brief, mostly unremarkable life, it serves as a high point, sadly enough.

Of course, most people know her, in a sense, because in death she became the Black Dahlia, one of California’s most famous murder victims. And to this day, her killer has never been identified. Given that her mutilated body was found in 1947, it’s quite likely that Short’s killer has also died. But her legacy lives on, mostly as a result of the infamously grisly state of her corpse, the sensationalist reporters who covered the investigation and later writers who cobbled into her story a considerable amount of fiction.

And this, I say, is fucked up.

I've written here before about the strangeness of taking creative liberties with Short’s story — only one of the many problems I had with the 2006 Brian de Palma movie, The Black Dahlia. But I was reminded of this awkwardness again last week, when I watched American Horror Story. Yeah, I’m still watching it, not because I think it’s scary but mostly because I’m curious to see what campy heights (depths?) the writers will take the story.

On last week’s episode, Short, played by Mena Suvari, showed up as one of the ghosts haunting the Murder House. (Yes, that’s what I’m calling it, in the same way that I called Lost’s setting Four Toe Island. I simply don’t have a better name for it.) Not that the house needed a resident spook, exactly, since at least thirteen others were already hovering about, and since I'm nitpicking, where the hell was she in any of the preceding episodes? Lost in the linen closet? It’s not that big of a house. Whatever the case, she’s there in Los Angeles County’s single most problematic piece of real estate, rubbing elbows and other body parts with Moira the Nympho Hag, Jessica Lange’s ghost children and the crazy-eyed sister of the girl playing Lisbeth in Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. (Awkward Christmas for the Mara family.) As a character, Ghost Dahlia is a little superfluous, maybe, but superfluity is tough to gauge in a Ryan Murphy creation.

Irrespective of American Horror Story’s status as the most Karo syrup-y campfest this side of Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby, I have two main objections to Short’s inclusion as a character.

First, it wasn’t necessary to present her as the Black Dahlia when they could have just made her a Black Dahlia, so to speak. I understand that the writers have enjoyed riffing on historical crimes in Southern California history. That’s a good instinct on this sort of show. I didn’t have a problem with the second episode’s introduction of the R. Franklin character — the psycho who killed two women in the house in 1968, back when it was a dorm — because they futzed with the details of Richard Speck enough that the plot didn’t directly piggyback off Speck’s real-life murders. That’s what makes the Black Dahlia’s appearance “as is” seem so awkward. They could have easily made her a Black Dahlia-like character in the way R. Franklin was a Speck-like character. Why spare the victims of one tragedy the indignity of becoming camp caricatures but throw Elizabeth Short on the sofa with Moira (hot Alex Breckenridge version) for some titillating lesbi-action?

Secondly, in placing Short’s ghost in the Murder House, the writers had to explain that she died there. All the house’s ghosts were humans who died within the property boundaries, apparently, so it was deemed necessary to show her getting gassed unconscious by a dentist and expiring while the good doctor screwed her on the operating chair. The problem I have with American Horror Story inventing a character to be Short’s killer is the same problem I had with the The Black Dahlia revealing a histrionic Fiona Shaw as the culprit. It’s shitty. It gives the viewer a false sense of closure about a real-life murder, when the person who most deserves justice — the dead girl — doesn’t get that. It’s in bad taste. Again, I know — Ryan Murphy project. But there’s a difference between an eye roller of Glee musical number and appropriating the tragic end of some poor girl for the purposes of cheap entertainment.

I know biopics reinterpret the lives of important people. As I write this, I could run out to a theater and watch fictionalized, dramatized takes on both Marilyn Monroe and J. Edgar Hoover. But while these two earned their place in history as a result of how they lived, all Elizabeth Short has is how she died. (Seriously: Off the top of your head, how much do you know about her?) I don’t care that it’s been more than fifty years since some tossed the wreck of her body into some brush on the side of the road. I don’t think I want to see a fictional solution to her enduring mystery.

Alas, I’ve read that Suvari will be back for at least another episode, playing Elizabeth Short and not, like, Sharon Tate, though I would not blink if Murphy were to pull such a move. I can only hope the writers find a way to artfully intertwine her story with that of the other real-life personage who appeared in last week’s episode: the Pope. Yes, the Pope is a character in American Horror Story. I only hope he was majorly weirded out when he watched this episode.

Stray thoughts:
  • Upon appearing on this show, Mena Suvari can now count American Pie, American Beauty and American Horror Story among her credits.
  • Fiona Shaw from The Black Dahlia happens to be the same actress who played the female heavy in the Super Mario Bros. movie. Neat, huh?
  • I couldn’t think of a way to artfully work in “She looks just like that dead girl,” that infamous line from The Black Dahlia, spoken more than once about Hilary Swank’s resemblance to Elizabeth Short, who in the film is played by Mia Kirshner. I’d just like to point out that Swank looks no more like Elizabeth Short or Kirshner than she does Lucille Ball, and I’d like to point out that Suvari doesn’t much resemble Short either.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Flies That Blow

A book I’m reading mentioned bluebottles and greenbottles in the same sentence, in a way that presumed that I would know the difference between these types of insects, and I realized I hadn’t a clue about bottles of any color. “Daggurnit, he doesn’t know his bluebottles from his greenbottles!” is what some hay-chewing old man might say about me in mockery of my citified, bug- and bottle-ignorant ways. Personally, I’d rather not be mocked, so I looked it up. It turns out both colors of bottles are the same bug, which is neither bottle-like in any observable way nor is it generally all blue or all green. It looks like this:

(Apparently opalescentbottle was a mouthful.)

The same bug is also known by the name blowfly, which I’d heard without ever understanding. But in the same way that bluebottle seems like an arbitrary name for this creature, blowflies don’t actually blow on anything. They got that name, apparently, from an Early Modern English term flyblown, which describes meat — animal and otherwise, butchered and living — that has been contaminated with fly eggs. In fact, there’s even a word flyblow that describes the eggs themselves. Citing a Texas A&M textbook, Wikipedia notes that the first recorded instances of the word blow being used with flies themselves — as opposed to the eggs, I guess? — are Love’s Labour’s Lost, The Tempest and Antony and Cleopatra. So, you see, even the lowly fly can benefit from William Shakespeare’s verbal magic.

Blowfish, on the other hand, got their name as a result of their fondness for recreational oral sex. (Research ongoing. Will update with proper sourcing shortly.)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Where the Sugar Plums Grew

This is a brief, inconsequential follow-up to what I posted earlier today. The photo I’m posting here won’t mean much to most people who read this blog, but I’m putting it up anyway, mostly to see who notices it.

This sign is not without some significance to my childhood.

Attack of the Sugar Plum Witch

I’ll say it up front: “The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” creeps me out.

It’s odd we now use the song as a shorthand for that late-night Christmas Eve magic — and by “we,” I mean the people who select music for TV commercials — because “The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” is just one of many compositions Tchaikovsky wrote for The Nutcracker. And while The Nutcracker is a ballet about Christmas and performed at Christmas, the song itself isn’t all that Christmas-y. Nearly all the other yuletide standards skew either tranquilly Christian (“O Holy Night,” “Silent Night”) or boisterously secular (“Jingle Bells,” “Deck the Halls”), yet “Sugar Plum Fairy” is ethereal and twinkly. And it’s centered not on Christ-birthing or gift-giving but on the performance of this woman, the reigning monarch of the candy land that serves as the setting for the second act. And while the song found a second life as a Christmas jingle, the fairy herself never became a major Christmas icon. I mean, I’ve got no clue what she should look like — except maybe purple, I guess? — and don’t even ask me a sugar plum is. (Wikipedia knows, but it’s for some reason a bit of trivia I can’t commit to memory.)

olga preobrazhenskaya, one of the early sugar plum fairies. (not purple.)
So how has it happened that the month of December cannot pass without subjecting us to the song on a daily basis? Well, independent of The Nutcracker, “Sugar Plum Fairy” has a Christmas tie as a result of song’s name. Regardless of the fact that no one really eats sugar plums anymore — right? — most people remember the line “While visions of sugar plums danced in their heads” from the poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” which is apparently the actual name of the poem “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” (Wikipedia knows a lot, it turns out!) And since Tchaikovsky composed The Nutcracker almost seventy years after “A Visit From St. Nicholas” was written, I guess he wasn’t breaking ground by associating the candy with Christmas.

There’s also the fact that the song makes a spot-on soundtrack for falling snow. Not that I can claim to understand the motivations of a musical genius like Tchaikovsky, but I might argue that in writing “The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” he strove for music that would complement the lighter-than-air movements of a woman who dances the way snowflakes fall: gentle and soft, catching the light as they flit effortlessly through the sky. It’s no coincidence that he composed it to showcase an instrument so heavenly-sounding that it’s called the celesta. So since Christmastime often means gently falling snow, perhaps it’s this association that has prompted people to make it a holiday standard.

Listening to the song as often as I have in the past few days — on TV, in stores, in fantastical dreams I have about fighting a Mouse King in the Land of Sweets — I’m reminded that it is indeed a creepy song. I have always felt this way, and today I realized why. I have only watched The Nutcracker once or twice. The majority of the times I’ve heard “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” it’s been in different contexts, though it’s often used to underscore a certain kind of scene in contemporary pop culture: the latest, darkest hours of Christmas Eve. Extracted from The Nutcracker over, for example, a scene of parents tiptoeing through dark house and ninja-ing their presents under the tree or even some anonymous camera just winding around the decked (but darkened) halls, those suggestions at light, soft movement dredge up a different Christmas memory for me: my childhood fear of that bearded psychopath Santa Claus, whom neither my parents nor a burglar alarm could stop from entering our home in the middle of the night. All those twinkling notes trying to evoke sylph-like, muffled footsteps end up in my brain playing like the soundtrack to Santa slipping in — under the garage door, because in my young imagining of his evil process, he could make himself flat like a sheet of paper — and doing god-knows-what inside, only sparing our lives when he found our offering of milk and cookies satisfactory. It’s Santa Claus and his unstoppable, nearly undetectable movements that I’m thinking of when I hear that song.

And that is why a grown man with a mostly rational mind is on some level frightened of a song about a fairy queen’s pretty Christmas dance.

The celesta, by the way, is featured in many other compositions for which someone has decided to add in pretty princess twinkling. But it can also sound pretty damn magical while cutting the sweetness.

Neither sweet nor sinister, I say.

Some other surprising things I find scary: