Saturday, March 30, 2013

JP 4

Yes, you are welcome to interpret this as being fraught with symbolism.

Personally, I have no idea who or what JB is, nor why there might be four of them. Happy Easter.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Upon Possibly Seeing Patty Hearst in Line at the Coffee Shop

Why does that lady behind me look familiar? She was dressed really nicely. Maybe she’s someone’s mom? No, I know her from somewhere else. Somewhere… Veronica Mars-y. Oh shit. Is that Patty Hearst? No. No. Why should Patty Hearst be at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in Los Feliz. Well, now that I think about it, why shouldn’t Patty Hearst be at the Coffee Bean in Los Feliz. This is a nice enough area. She is a woman of means. She can certainly afford an iced coffee. Oh shit — is she going to shoot people? No, wait — she doesn’t do that anymore. She’s normal now. She’s now a rich lady who doesn’t shoot people. Maybe it’s not her. She was standing with somebody else. Maybe it’s her daughter? Maybe it’s her granddaughter? Maybe if I just casually turn around…

(Drew turns around behind him but lingers long enough to capture Possible Patty’s attention. She makes direct eye contact and says “Hello” in a manner that clearly means “Please do not look at us.” Drew, dumbly responds with “Oh hi!” Drew feels he his reconnaissance mission has failed.)

Well that solved nothing. Would Patty Hearst call me out on staring? Or would she be all meek? Or would she just never go out in public without a bodyguard in case the SLA comes back? Did they all die except her? Wait — maybe that lady just didn’t want me staring at her because she thought I was leering at the younger girl… which I wasn’t. But that girl didn’t look like Patty Hearst. Did “Patty Hearst” look like Patty Hearst? It’s so hard to tell. Wait, if you were Patty Hearst — and you never will be at this rate — wouldn’t you just play with your pile of money and send out false Pattys to do all your errands and take the brunt of the gunfire? I would never leave the pool. Should I Google her? No, if it is Patty Hearst, she could totally see what I’m looking at on her phone. And then she might shoot me. Does Patty Hearst have a Twitter? No, of course not. Famous kidnapping victims can’t have Twitters. I wonder if —

(Suddenly, Drew is at the front of the line, and the girl at the register has raised her eyebrows in expectation of his order. After a few beats, “Do you know what you want?” Drew, again dumbly: “Oh, not at all. I haven’t even thought about it.”)

patty, “tania” & selma rose

Conclusion: No conclusion. I will never know if that was Patty Hearst or not. Either way, at least this woman chose not to shoot me.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Don't Let That Red Equals Signs Become a Hollow Gesture

Hey, cool, you changed your Facebook photo to show your support for a cause. Now follow that shit up.

Back at my college paper, I had an editor who forbade the staff from using the phrase "raising awareness" because he felt that it didn't convey meaning. Instead of just writing down "raising awareness" when you're interviewing one advocacy group or another, he said, you should press further and ask for specific examples of how they were raising awareness -- holding public talks, screaming at people from street corners, writing pithy slogans before doing nude backflips through the campus's central plaza, etc. -- because these examples would make for a more interesting sentence. He was correct. As it stands, "raising awareness" is a mushy, beige, inert phrase that's only slightly more exciting than other not-so-active verbs such as "being," "existing," and "continuing to exist." Even worse, it could be used by people who want to sound as though they're doing more than they actually are: "Raising awareness" could be a placeholder until they figure out exactly what they're doing, and they might not ever get to deciding how they were raising awareness. They might just have posted one or twice on some lonely message board. They may have taped a single flyer to a single telephone pole. But if you asked them down the line, "Hey, what exactly did you spend your funding on?", they could say, "Oh, we were working on raising awareness," and they'd not technically be lying. This is why reporters have follow-up questions.

I feel similarly about social media-spanning campaigns like the one that is currently symbolizing the need for marriage equality with red-and-pink versions of the Human Rights Campaign equals signs. On one hand, it's great that you're willing to make proclaim to the literate world that you believe gay people deserve marriage rights. (Why red-and-pink, I wonder. Is it for love, in the Valentine's Day sense of it? Is it because the love of rare steaks is as wonderful and pure as marital love?) But I worry that the people making this gesture will walk away from their computers feeling, "Yay. Today I did something." Because they didn't, really. They didn't donate money to the Human Rights Campaign or their local gay and lesbian center or some shelter for young people who have hit a serious rough patch. Even a small donation to any of these groups would be more helpful, in the long run, than would swapping out your Facebook photo for a few days. Sure, you'd make your beliefs known. With most people I know, these beliefs would only be news to, say, an aunt from back home who uses Facebook occasionally and didn't know that you had opinions nowadays, but I suppose it's possible that a lot of your friends might be surprised, for all I know about you, stranger reading this post.

Don't have money? Cool. Go talk to someone you know who does not want gay people to get married. As logically and calmly as possible, explain why their dislike for gay people shouldn't trump this minority's ability to enjoy basic rights. You will probably be unsuccessful, as the people who usually oppose gay marriage don't like to admit that they're doing so because they just don't like gay people, but at least you'll feel like you laid out an argument of which you can be proud.

And oh yeah -- vote when you have the opportunity, because old people love voting as much as they dislike gay marriage, statistically speaking.

I hope I'm being clear. There's nothing wrong with this campaign, but I just feel like you shouldn't let your participation in it become a hollow gesture. Ignore the superficial satisfaction you may feel. Be the good reporter and follow that shit up. In the end, it will take more than a red equals sign to make your Evangelical cousin from Fresno make an about-face on this issue, and it seems unlikely that Antonin Scalia will log into his Facebook, see a sea of meaty reds and suddenly reconsider his stance on the matter at hand.

Once again: Follow that shit up.

EDIT: Previous post notwithstanding, I swear I won't make every post on this blog me telling you what not to do. I am not that cranky. Not yet.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Please Don't Ruin "Little Talks" for Me

Way back in 2010, I heard the great song called "Home," which was performed by Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeroes. Perhaps you've heard it because you own a TV and have ears.

Featuring as much talking as singing, this song reminded me of a modern Lee Hazlewood-Nancy Sinatra duet, and at the time, I thought I'd love it forever. But then the last three years happened, and now I will literally never again think, "Hey, you know, I could really go for listening to 'Home' right now," because I reached the point where I'd heard it too many times, and then I heard it another hundred more times. Even worse, Hollywood realized that "Home" worked as a shorthand for a certain folksy sort of affection, and then every TV show ever, even ones I liked, used it to underscore the moment when characters realize that home ISN'T A BUILDING AT ALL! IT'S WHERE YOU ARE! KISSKISSKISSKISS AND…. FADE OUT. Now, basically, the only use of "Home" I'd be okay with is over a montage of evicted families stranding outside their foreclosed homes, because only then would the rest of the world know the antipathy I feel toward it.

Last year, my friend Stephanie introduced me to a rousing little tune called "Little Talks," by the Icelandic group Of Monsters and Men. It's upbeat but rather grim lyrically, since it's about a lonely, empty house and maybe ghosts. The video looks like a game I'd really like to play and features neither empty houses nor ghosts but instead monsters and men because maybe the director thought the song name was the band name and vice-versa? Here, watch:

Appealing but weird video notwithstanding, I was happy to have "Little Talks" be my little indie rock pet that was weird and maybe most people liked but didn't know too much about. But then it got used in all the ads for that new Tina Fey movie that you probably aren't rushing to see and I realized that "Little Talks," similar to "Home," works as a shorthand for a "journey where you feel lots of emotions and then learn something about yourself and maybe you end up spinning in a field while laugh-crying." Yep, I'm suddenly worried that it will soon also be in every show or movie where the writing can't quite nail the moment.

Please, people who put songs in commercials or TV shows or whatever, can you just lay off this one? Because I would really rather continue enjoying this song, instead of instinctively skipping it and then wondering why I can't remember to remove it from my iTunes playlists. Don't Gotye this for me, world. Case in point: Remember when you weren't sure how to pronounce "Gotye"? Then that one song got overplayed and that pronunciation problem solved itself. Find something more top 40 and make that your next "Hey Soul Sister," your next song by Smash Mouth whose name I can't think of, your Black Eyed Peas song that was apparently written with the sole purpose of being used in commercials. Please.

(And if you're an Of Monsters and Men member and you're reading this, I'm really sorry. I know you want money, but trust me: Artistic credibility is so much better. Really.)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Centaurs for Girls!

I’m not saying you’re going to write a fantasy novel one day. That’s up to you. But suppose you do sit down and pen a tale of swords and magic and weird sex, you may want to jump into it prepared with the kind of vocabulary that will endear to your target audience of nitpicking nerds. In advance, you’re welcome.
kentaurides (ken-tar-EE-deez) — noun: the female centaur.
Yep, there’s a special word for lady centaurs, even though they weren’t popular even back in the day. According to Wikipedia, the best-known in Greek mythology was Hylonome, and she’s only known for killing herself when her centaur husband dies in battle. That sets the bar pretty low for female centaurs making something of themselves. Perhaps as a result of not being all that interesting, these figures show up more in art than they do in literature.

second-century mosaic, via wikipedia
seventh-century relief inexplicably depicting medusa as a centaur, via wikipedia
Why would someone decide it would be fun to make Medusa into a centaur? Classical fan fiction, I would guess. A fun thing to note, perhaps: There’s a Wikipedia category for centaurs and another one for fictional centaurs, and not all the pages appearing in the former appear in the latter.

When I think about the logistics of a female version of these randy, barechested horsedudes, it seems logical that there would be a lot of the various geeky media, but I can only think of three off the top of my head. The “Pastoral Symphony” segment of the original Fantasia features some whose brazen toplessness seems surprising, given how the film was released back in 1940. (If Ariel and her type wore clamshell bras, should the Fantasia centaurettes be wearing horseshoe bras?)

And then there’s Golden Axe, a game that’s yielded some interesting bits for word nerds previously on this blog. In the second arcade installment f the game, you could play as a female centaur named Dora, who’s easily the most bad-ass character to get saddled with that name ever, even if her weapon is a weird, American Gladiators-style jousting Q-tip.


There’s also centaur Leela in the Futurama fantasy parody episode, but I’m not sure if this is poking fun at the lameness of “busty lady centaur” stock character (is a thing, maybe?) or just assigning Leela a role that’s awkward and unfeminine. Whatever the case (and whatever the fate of the horse-centric literature that will one day provide us all with a window in your psyche), know this much about this fancy new word kentaurides: As is the case with the related word centaur, we are not especially sure where it came from. The centaurs themselves we know come from the drunken, unholy union between stable boy and equine beauty. That’s just common sense biology. The wordy end of it, however, is a bit murkier.

Previous words of the week after the jump.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Truth Behind Hateful Advertising

Dermatologists HATE her! … because she has really terrible skin from using bullshit home remedies.

Trainers HATE him! … because he has really bad form and he could be encouraging novice weightlifters to injure themselves.

Weight loss experts HATE THEM! … because they're rather comfortable with their bodies as they appear now.

Foreign language tutors HATE them! … because they're all stuck up and shit.

Wedding planners HATE her! … because she's just an awful person and that fucking dog is not house-trained.

Grief counselors HATE him! … because it turns out that grief counselors have issues they need to work through too.

Midwives HATE her! … because she made a racist joke at the midwife convention.

Tap dance instructors HATE him! … because he's always pointing out the ways that tap dance is super dumb.


Lyric poets HATE her! … because her verses have too many syllables in them and that is sloppy writing.

Homeopathic care advisors HATE him! … because he's a doctor who prescribes real medicine.

Assembly line workers HATE them! … because they're the boss's kids and they are not respectful.

Investment bankers HATE her! … because she broke their hearts.

Medical doctors HATE her! … because she keeps smoking after she had that stroke.

Bartenders HATE him! … because he quit drinking, whereas his alcoholism has previously been helping pay off that new boat.

Or, you know, maybe the dermatologists just hate her because she's peeling off her skin like a snake, and that is nightmarish and terrifying?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Finding the Feminine (if Not the Feminist) in Early Nintendo

If you don’t read about video games, then you probably don’t know of Anita Sarkeesian. She is a feminist blogger whose talking head stars in the “Feminist Frequency” online series, and she recently rose to a greater level of prominence as a result of a successful Kickstarster campaign to explore the role of female characters in video games. The campaign also elicited a shitstorm of harassment that basically proved Sarkeesian’s point that video game culture can have a nasty, misogynist bent to it, but the first video premiered on March 7 in spite of the small but active band trying to keep girls out of the treehouse.

image via
In the first installment, “Damsels in Distress,” Sarkeesian seems to be laying groundwork for the rest of the series, explaining the origins of the “lady tied to the train tracks” stock character and how it relates to video games. She actually talks about video games a lot less than you might expect — like I said, I’m guessing she’s building a foundation, but there’s a point when you may think, “She’s still going on about this?” — and the two franchises that get the most attention are Mario and Zelda. This too has earned her some criticism, as newer franchises feature more progressive politics than do these series that have remained fundamentally unchanged since they debuted in the 80s. But it’s Nintendo, and in addition to Mario and Zelda being two of the most long-lived successful video game franchises ever, those early days of the original Nintendo Entertainment System were hugely important to the medium. Thus, it’s a good place to start. Neither series has ever come close to gender parity, and regardless of whether you think they should, that is exactly why this very month has seen the release of hacked versions of Donkey Kong and Legend of Zelda that allow you to play as Pauline or as Princess Zelda and rescue their respective dudes.

This all made me think of a subject I haven’t picked up in a while.

Now, one of the responses to Sarkeesian’s first video pointed out that she didn’t mention one of the reasons the Mario and Zelda don’t evolve: Their creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, isn’t big on plot elements. He’d rather minimize backstory, let players get to the fun part and not bury the essence of the game. Especially back in the earlier days, Miyamoto wasn’t about to let co-workers who thought otherwise meddle with his brain babies. (That’s less the case now, and it’s worth pointing out that as the stories behind these games grew deeper, we got less wimpy female characters, like Rosalina and Midna.)

In that same early age of home console Nintendo, however, Mario and Zelda weren’t Nintendo’s only attempts at launching power franchises. They were just the most successful ones. A few months after Legend of Zelda hit shelves, Nintendo debuted two other games: Metroid and Kid Icarus. The two are “sister” series in more than one way. For example, Metroid baddies show up in Kid Icarus. In both, the screen can scroll both vertically and horizontally, whereas the first Mario and Zelda didn’t. Both were developed without Miyamoto’s participation; Gunpei Yokoi served as producer for both, and many of the staffers who worked on Metroid shifted to Icarus as they finished their work. Both didn’t receive sequels until years later. And both offer major roles to female characters that Mario and Zelda do not.

images via here and here
In Metroid, of course, the big reveal players get for completing certain requirements is finding out that Samus, the robot-looking dude they’ve been controlling all this time, is actually a woman — and what a woman! She’s wearing a weird mom bathing suit and everything!

Most people know that. But the game also pits Samus against a female(ish) big bad: the Mother Brain. There’s not too much explicitly female about a cycloptic brain in a jar, but all the literature discussing the Mother Brain as a “she” — even on Captain N, where she was inexplicably voiced by the guy who voiced Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors.

image via
In the third Metroid game, the brain gets a body, and graphics designer Toru Osawa explained that his initial impulse had been to make her look like “an old lady living in my apartment complex.” You can still kind of see that in the final design:

That’s something that literally never occurred to me until this month: that a game debuting that early in the story of Nintendo would have a female hero taking down a female villain — an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful big bad, no less.

Kid Icarus also boasts better feminist credentials. Though the hero is male — more a boy than a man, though I’m unsure if that matters — the big bad is female. It’s Medusa, who in the universe of the game is the goddess of darkness, and offered as the antithesis to Palutena, the goddess of light and the game’s damsel in distress. (Importantly, Medusa looks like a woman, but she also has a Mother Brain-y like form where she appears as a huge, one-eyed head… thing.) Yes, there’s a woman awaiting rescue at the end of the game, but there is something different about it being another woman who locked her up, especially when those characters function as stand-ins for God and the Devil, or at least Athena and a Lady Hades (Ladeez).

This all proves nothing, of course, and it’s worth underscoring that Metroid and Kid Icarus didn’t find the success that Super Mario Bros. and Legend of Zelda did. The former only became a successful franchise in 2002 and the latter just received its second sequel in 2012. But when you’re looking at the early days of Nintendo, with Princess Peach and Princess Zelda mostly sitting around in dungeons, it’s kind of cool that female characters in other games were being given something interesting to do: be evil, get captured or take of their clothes at the end of the game. There’s a case to be made for finding elements of the sacred feminine in Mario and Zelda, but it’s a dig to get there. With Metroid and Kid Icarus, it’s right there in the instruction booklet.

Gender and video games, previously:

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Boy’s Best Friend Is Vera Farmiga

A few quick thoughts on tonight’s premiere of the Psycho prequel series, Bates Motel, the most pressing of them first.

While Freddie Highmore may prove to be a decent Norman Bates, he has to figure out how to capture that Anthony Perkins look all the time. In a handful of the shots, he looks more like Peter Brady, and “Hey! It’s Peter Brady” is not the reaction the director probably wants me to have.

Some years down the line, someone will probably come up with a damning hypothesis about why American culture decided to reboot two of its most famous fictional serial killers — Norman Bates and Hannibal Lector — as characters on TV series.

I have to admit: Part of me wants some magic crystal ball that would let me see what Bates Motel would look like had Bryan Fuller helmed it instead of doing Hannibal.

The show immediately starts drawing parallels between Norma and Marion Crane. In fact, the first time we see Norma, she’s in the bathroom, just stepping out of the shower. Furthermore, Norman complains about his mother being impulsive and flighty. That’s important, because impulsiveness and flightiness are not only Marion’s most prominent qualities, they’re also basically her only qualities. Similarly, Norman and Norma travel from Arizona to California, and that’s the same path that Marion takes to the Bates Motel — Phoenix to some terrible off-ramp in California.

You really have to wonder how much the source material will inform the series. In the books and the movies, the specter of incest between Norman and Norma hangs heavier than dusty velvet curtains. And while that tension has already manifested on the show, people will not continue to watch if Vera Farmiga starts fucking her teenaged son. (... Right?) Similarly, should Bates Motel have some sort of lampshaded cross-dressing moment?

How does it affect your viewing of the show to know that unless it departs radically from the source material, little Freddie Highmore will end up killing Vera Farmiga and keeping her corpse preserved in the fruit cellar?

How necessary was it to show Norma’s rape? How necessary was it that she had to be raped at all? I will answer right now: It wasn’t.

Norman’s girlfriend, the popular one who kind of looks like Tara Reid — she’s going to get murdered, yes? By Norman? Even though she actually turned out to be nice and not a queen bee playing a prank on the damaged new kid?

Compare this series to Smallville, which eventually introduced Lois Lane a lot earlier in Superman’s “career” than she appears in the standard continuity. Will a teenaged Marion show up at some point? Like, on vacation with her parents? Or is Norma enough of a Marion? How far off should the events of the movie be from this show? A decade? Two?

Bates Motel is not a period piece, but it might as well be, since modern technology figures into the pilot’s plot only once, and even then in a small way. It looks old, frequently, and that’s not just the dilapidated house — it’s the beige-y 90s-ness of it, which perhaps stems from it having been filmed in British Columbia. But I wonder why it wasn’t a period piece, especially for a story that’s so centrally about old things still lingering, still affecting the present. Were it not for texting and ringtones, there’d be no reason, motivation-wise or aesthetic-wise why this couldn’t take place decades ago. But I’ll shut up about that, for the creators probably don’t want me comparing it to the decade-vague look of the Anne Heche remake.

I enjoy that Nestor Carbonell’s presence on this show has caused a whole new audience to ask, “Wait, why is that guy wearing eye shadow?”

Psycho, previously:

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Nobody Told Me About John Ritter

My family has this strange problem identifying what information I’d find interesting. See, my parents never told me that they were once casual friends with Adrienne Barbeau during that magical time we call “back in the seventies.” The omission might be understandable were I your typical, goldfish-memoried young person with no interest in anything that happened before the immediate present. I, however, was Drew, the kind of kid who decided that his favorite movie was Swamp Thing and who watched reruns of Maude. So you’d think during any of the times I was watching one or the other of these, my mom might have pointed out “Oh, by the way, your father and I kind of knew that lady Swamp Thing is rescuing” or “Oh hey, we were seventies friends with the woman playing Bea Arthur’s sassy divorcee daughter.” Nope. I only found out years later, via the most casual of asides. Some time after that, I’d be walking down the street in Santa Barbara, and I’d hear Adrienne Barbeau’s voice. (She’d played the part of Catwoman in the nineties Batman cartoons, and I watched those enough that her voice had become unmistakable.) But she was on the phone, so I didn’t get a chance to ask her exactly how well she knew my parents and if there was a reason they hadn’t mentioned her. “Did something weird go down in the seventies, Adrienne Barbeau?” I was genuinely curious to know.

Take all that as a preface for my story about John Ritter. I’d told my parents that yes, I do think stuff like this is interesting and yes, I do want you to tell me. In late 2003, John Ritter and Johnny Cash died a day apart, and the next time I came home from college, I visited my grandmother. We talked about Johnny Cash until my grandmother commented, “And John Ritter seemed like a nice man. And good-looking, too.” Something about the way she said it made me think she wasn’t meaning it in the “just watched him on Three’s Company way.” So I asked.

My grandma: “Oh, well he made that movie here.”

So I asked.

Grandma: “The horse movie. They filmed it where we kept our horses. And Buddy Ebsen was in it too. And that one actress who went on to be famous.”

So I asked. My grandmother struggled to recall the name. “Oh, I remember that she couldn’t do the scene correctly, and she got upset and then they had to bring out her mother, who was also so famous.”

I pushed further, but she couldn’t pull out the name. The closest I got was “Oh, she had the… this,” and then my grandmother put her hands over her ears and moved them around in a circular motion. Princess Leia. My eighty-year-old grandmother had just pantomimed a Star Wars character, yet that was not the strangest thing happening. Me: “Carrie Fisher? Carrie Fisher was in the movie they filmed here? And Debbie Reynolds had to come out and yell at Carrie Fisher to make her do her lines correctly.”

Grandma: “That’s them.” She filled in a few more details — my family was on-set, they and other locals sat in the stands for a crowd scene, Debbie Reynolds was also nice and talked to people after she scared her daughter into not tarnishing the family legacy — but soon enough I was headed home, eager to ask my mom why I hadn’t heard about the time she was in a movie.

Me: “Mom, Grandma said that they filmed a movie with John Ritter here, and also Carrie Fisher was in it, and it was before either of them were famous, and Debbie Reynolds had to come yell at Carrie Fisher, and also you were in crowd scenes and also John Ritter seemed nice and good-looking. Is any of that true?”

My mom: “Yes.”

Me: “Why the hell wouldn’t you tell me?”

My mom: “Well, it was just a TV movie.”

And I feel like my mom probably would have been fine leaving it at that, as if this one paltry TV movie paled in comparison to the series of megablockbusters that were filmed in our anonymous little corner of California. But I prodded her to confirm any of the details, and I guess none of it resulted from a bad case of grandma brain. This week, I found that the film is posted on YouTube. It’s called Leave Yesterday Behind, which the most TV movie-seeming name ever, and it looks about exactly like you’d expect a 1978 TV movie about horses would look. If any scene featured people with whom I share DNA, it seems like it would be this one:

But I can’t pick out any of the extras as looking familiar, what with their heavy seventies disguises. In fact, just about any of the women who maybe, possibly could be my mom could just as easily be Adrienne Barbeau. In fact, it probably is Adrienne Barbeau and my mom. They were probably hanging out on set, “because that’s just something we did back in the seventies.”

Allegedly funny stories, previously:

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Forms of Telekinesis, in Declining Order of Awesomeness

Telekinesis — from the Greek tele-, meaning “far” or “at a distance,” and kinesis, “movement” — takes many forms, and science has proven that most humans can manipulate something psychically. Alas, most of us are given dominion over something too stupid to be useful, too stupid to even try to bother with. Here are the most common forms, best to worst. (You probably have one of the stupid ones.)

pyrokinesis (ability to manipulate fire with one’s mind)

erotokinesis (ability to manipulate lust)

cryokinesis (ability to manipulate ice)

geokinesis (ability to manipulate the earth)

arachnokinesis (ability to manipulate spiders)

phytokinesis (ability to manipulate plants)

peptokinesis (ability to manipulate digestion)

bovokinesis (ability to manipulate cows)

geronokinetsis (ability to manipulate the elderly)

coprokinesis (ability to manipulate shit — no, literally shit)

lekanokinesis (ability to manipulate dishware)

biblokinesis (ability to manipulate books)

rhinokinesis (ability to manipulate noses)

ulokinesis (ability to manipulate wool)

cosmetikinesis (ability to manipulate make-up)

xenokinesis (ability to manipulate foreigners, which is actually the most 
common because we all basically have it)

tyrokinesis (ability to manipulate cheese)

blepharokinesis (ability to manipulate eyelashes)

echinokinesis (ability to manipulate hedgehogs or sea urchins — 
not so cool, even for a twofer)

kakopygikinesis (ability to move someone’s ugly ass — 
no, wait this might actually be the most useful)

Not listed: hydrokinesis, as it is purely fictional.

How does one get a certain telekinetic power of another? It depends what kind of girl you mother was. How do you know which power you have? Ask your local oracle or any person of Greek descent. They know. Oh yes, they know.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Three Views of the Ponderous Pup

In Silver Lake, at 3649 Beverly Boulevard, there once stood a dog — larger than most household canines and apparently confused about the circumstances of his existence. He was known as the Ponderous Pup, and he was the mascot to a 1920s-era Los Angeles restaurant chain, Barkies Sandwich Shop. The address still exists today, though tragically far less dog-centric. But let us cling together in support of the memory none of us are old enough to actually remember. Here, courtesy of the L.A. Public Library photo archive, are three shots of the Ponderous Pup back in his heyday.

May he be chasing giant cars in heaven and/or licking his oversized privates in hell.

(Image sources: 1, 2 and 3.)

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

On Moonchildren

If you're like me, The Neverending Story figured prominently into your early life, and you know that the one of the central plot points of the film involves the protagonist, Bastian, having to rename the Childlike Empress. He does so, even flinging open the window of the attic he's hanging out it — weird, attic-dwelling kid, this Bastian — and shouting the name to the world. Unfortunately, the actor playing Bastian did not excel at enunciating while yelling, and it's really hard to hear what the hell he's saying.

Listen for yourself:

I actually never knew what he was saying — Moochidna was my best guess — and no one ever refers to the Childlike Empress by this new name throughout the rest of the movie, which raises the question of why the hell she was all up on Bastian about picking a name in the first place. It wasn't until I bought the book years later that I learned the name. (BTW, the actual, physical Neverending Story is less than 500 pages long, so far from infinite, but the ink does change color depending on who is narrating, and that is a neat.) In the book, this line of dialogue isn't represented by "[unintelligible yelled syllables]" but instead by what the author apparently thought was a name: Moonchild. In fact, Bastian picks that name because he thinks it belonged to his mother, who is dead, probably because as a result of embarrassment at having been named Moonchild. In the book's native Germany, the name would have been Mondenkind, which I have never heard of before but for all I know is, like, the Julie of Germany. Regardless, by American standards, even in a movie about cannibalistic rocks and racing snails, the name seems weird.

All of this came back to me this week when my friend Thoon sent me this video of a terrible concept album celebrating the signs of the zodiac. Go on, give it a look. Laugh at it, if you must, but ask yourself if this project turned out all that much worse than the album you recorded about astrology. Did it?

Weirdly, the track that follows Gemini is titled "Moonchild/Cancer."

Apparently, the moon in Moonchild comes from the fact that ruling planet of the sign Cancer is the moon, which is a planet, perhaps, some people believe. And it looks like people started using Moonchild as a stand-in for Cancer between 1965 and 1970, around the time people were putting flowers in the hair and the only song people listened to was Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love." I haven't found out why this word may have come into fashion, even if only briefly, but I can guess that it might have stemmed from some effort to spare people born under this sign from association with a horrible disease. ("I'm not a Cancer. I'm a Moonchild," said that one aunt of yours as she twirled all the way to Canada in a cloud of pot smoke and patchouli.) But regardless of the reason, it apparently didn't take, because just twenty years later, my only frame of reference for the term was the Childlike Empress. Was Moonchild too 1960s to have staying power? Or can you just not make a dent in thousands of years of tradition, even in the face of the overwhelming ick of cancer? Could it have something to do with mooncalves? Can we start a movement to rebrand my sign, Gemini, as Twinsies?

And, finally, I'm curious to know: Can anyone who was alive back when Moonchild might have been in fashion tell me how widespread its use was?

An unrelated epilogue on a subject I know better: I think the Childlike Empress should have implored Bastian to pick a new name for himself, since Bastian sounds like his parents — you know, pops and ol' Moonchild — split the difference between Sebastian and bastard. But that's just me.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Bigamy and Cartoon Rabbits

— "Mom, what's bigamy?"

— "Where did you learn that word?"

— "Cartoons."

— "Was it The Simpsons?"

— "No, it was Tiny Toons."

— "Are you sure?"
This a partially remembered, probably fictionalized version of a conversation that occurred several years before my mom probably wanted to learn about bigamy, trigamy or any of the polygamies offering married types a respite from the horrors of monogamy. I hadn't thought about it in years, but Sunday morning, I was struck with the similarity of the word bigamy and the phrase big of me. Then I realized why: Tiny Toons had made the joke years ago.

Of course, the clip is posted on the internet:

Even knowing about the whole finger prints/finger Prince joke on Animaniacs a few years later, doesn't this seem like a unusually adult joke for this show? Vocabulary-wise, if not alternative lifestyle-wise? Especially because the payoff isn't that great? I mean, it's just entry-level wordplay. And yet the censors — you know, the people that Tiny Toons purported to crack up, per the opening theme song — must have seen this and said "Yeah, that seems about right. If they didn't learn about bigamy from the Bible, they can learn it on Tiny Toons."