Saturday, July 23, 2005

Stephen King Lets His Anti-Intellectual Flag Fly

I like Stephen King, really I do. He was one to write a good novel, once upon a time. I've gone as far as to compare him favorably to Charles Dickens, and I hate people who denigrate King's work merely because he's a popular author. But King has perhaps gone too far in his idiot celebration of America's hick culture this week in his Entertainment Weekly column.

King, who does himself no favors in his attempts to be folksy (which always sound like a condescending attempt to ingratiate himself with this false image of the "common man" which he has in his head), this week praised American pop culture. Cool with me. If he loves Alan Jackson, commercials for slick crook lawyers, smart-assed bumper stickers, strident sloganeering on tee shirts, shows on Fox, Steven Spielberg, Tom Cruise, McDonald's, Dodge Ram pickups, Twinkies, and Diet Pepsi, then that's his thing. I don't really care for the above, but whatever. I don't always agree with or support the things he says in his monthly column, The Pop of King, but it's an editorial and he has the right to say whatever he wants.

And it's not that I disagree with his idea of what constitutes American culture; it's the way he writes about it that irks me. After pulling these things to his heart, he says the following:

There are plenty of people who see this beautiful junk-shop carnival as lowbrow, thoughtless, ruinous, even vicious (I'm thinking of folks like Harold Bloom, the literary critic who had a cow when the National Book Foundation gave me an award for, ahem, Distinguished Contribution to American Letters). They are not, as a rule, the ones who shoot off fireworks on the Fourth of July. Or subscribe to Entertainment Weekly, for that matter. Many are folks who believe art should be work and see entertainment as subversive.

As for this kid...well, let me finish by paraphrasing a couplet from "Trashy Women" by the immortal Confederate Railroad: "They say the opposites attract. Well, I don't agree. I want a culture just as tacky as me."

I think that pretty much sums it up. Case closed.

Case closed? What the fuck is that supposed to mean? So, first King throws his credentials in my face (and the National Book Foundation is, like any award-giving body, merely a constitution of collected opinions, and not an arbiter), to make me think he speaks from some kind of authority on the culture, and then sums up by basically saying that only those who are as tacky as he know what culture really is. Why the attack on the highbrow culture, exactly?

I think it stems from America's eternal anti-intellectualist bent. Some people (like King, apparently) seem to feel that, because they don't appreciate Van Gogh or Woody Allen or Beethoven, that it is somehow because they aren't smart enough to get their work. But that has nothing to do with it. It's not a matter of intellect so much as it's a matter of taste. Maybe some people don't think the films of Ingmar Bergman are insights into human behavior, but does that make them dumb? Of course not.

But then people overreact. They bristle at feeling they don't have the intellectual capacity to understand Salvador Dali, and assume they aren't allowed into that highbrow culture, and assault it by listening loudly to Toby Keith albums. They react to this perceived failing by embracing this self-image and becoming proud of it. And I hate it; I hate Gretchen Wilson and her attempts to laud common, lowbrow culture and turn it into something proud and noble. I hate the pride people feel in being stupid. Typical America.

Hey, if you're into Toby Keith and French fries and Larry the Cable Guy, fine. I don't care. But I am not one of you. I don't think you're the "real American culture." But neither do I assume that only Bob Dylan and Woody Allen are it, either. Each one mixes, each comments on the other, sometimes complementing it, sometimes defining it. And I think King's misguided, strident denigration of the literati he still feels have not given him the respect he seems to feel his due is as disgusting as his frequent attempts to position himself as the Voice of the Common Man. He frequently defends himself along those old-fashioned lines: "I know what I like, and I don't need to feel ashamed of what I like."

No, you don't. But couldn't you at least defend your opinions once in a while? Because "I like what I like because it's what I like" truly is as lowbrow as it gets.

Maybe "Sorry" Isn't Good Enough Just Now

London is falling apart so fast you'd almost think it had been built by IKEA. After last week's bombings, and another set this past Thursday, their infrastructure seems ready to succumb to martial law. When did the people whom the Nazis could never conquer grow so damn soft? It's almost like they're just looking for someone, anyone to surrender to.

On Friday, a South Asian man (whose name has not been released) was shot dead by police officers. Remember when they didn't carry guns? This is a good argument for why they shouldn't. A young man, whose block was under surveillance in conjunction with the investigation into the bombings, left his home and immediately drew police suspicion. Why? My best guess based on statements that have been released: he was foreign and wore a trenchcoat. That's pretty much it. Immediately, London police saw a foreign national walking along the streets, who happened to be wearing a trenchcoat on a hot day. Dude, I wear long sleeves and jeans all year long, I'd like to think I'm not going to get gunned down for it one day. But, like people who wear black or show any interest in World War II history or listen to heavy metal music, anyone wearing a trenchcoat is immediately suspicious.

It kind of scares me how much I fit the cliche profile of a lone killer. I like all kinds of music, and among them is some hard rock and metal--especially AC/DC, Black Sabbath, and Kiss. I speak German (had to take a foreign language), have several books on Hitler (I used to be history major and took several 20th century history courses), and don't really like to talk to a lot of people. I wear a regular-length coat, but I dress warmly all year. I keep to myself and don't go out much. I read writers like Robert E. Howard, whose works are violent, and H.P. Lovecraft, who some idiots consider an occult writer. I believe in democracy, but I don't think we have it in America and I wish for a more socialist system. I hate our government, I hate our president, and I don't support the war. I'm irreligious, and I have a lot of books on mythology and religious studies. I long for the overthrow of religion and I despise the papacy. I've been known to play violent video games and enjoy violent movies. Oh, and I love me some porn. I look at pornographic images every single day of my life, because I like the sight of naked women (and sometimes men, for that matter).

Does this mean that if someone pipe-bombed my school, I would be a suspect? Because I fit some profile that's been made-up purely out of circumstantial evidence? If I were mistakenly killed, would the news reports focus only on the above, or would they take into account my fascination with animation history, my vast collection of Disney movies? Or would they twist that around, too? It's sickening to me, because I'm not exactly a believer in violence as a way to solve social problems.

Back to the South Asian victim in London. He was chased into the London Underground and shot five times at point blank range by cops. Point blank range. Five times. And, as I predicted when I first read the story, he had nothing to do with any terrorist activities. He was just too dumb and scared to stop when the police told him to. Maybe he didn't hear them. Maybe he didn't speak English. Either way, now he's dead, and the London Metropolitan Police can't think of anything better to say than "sorry." Actually, they haven't even gone that far. They agree that it's tragic and unfortunate, but they haven't really apologized for it yet.

Doesn't that scare anyone in London? Because it should terrify them. It says that your authorities consider it within their power to murder citizens on the mere suspicion of guilt. The man wasn't even armed, for chrissakes. He was just in the wrong place for some angry cops to find a scapegoat.

Western Civilization just keeps on declining.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Man, I'm Bored

1. Grab the book nearest to you, turn to page 18, find line 4, Write down what it says: "[. . .] aristocratic, indeed heroic ancestors. The former is represented [. . .]" From Tom Shippey's J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century.

2. Stretch your left arm out as far as you can. What do you touch first? Nothing.

3. What is the last thing you watched on TV? Surprisingly, the music video for Jessica Simpson's "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'." Thankfully, MTV seems to be following my mental dictum to play said video once every hour.

4. WITHOUT LOOKING, guess what time it is: 12:06pm

5. Now look at the clock; what is the actual time? 12:02pm

6. With the exception of the computer, what can you hear? Jessica Simpson. Oh yeah.

7. When did you last step outside? What were you doing? Just a couple of hours ago; I had an exam in Sociology this morning. It was raining hard, too.

8. Before you came to the Web site you're seeing this on, what did you look at? Animation News (in my links). Awesome extras on the upcoming Looney Tunes: The Golden Collection, Volume 3.

9. What are you wearing? My grey sleep pants and a plain dark grey tee shirt.

10. Did you dream last night? Yeah; I dreamt I was married to Jessica Simpson but having an affair with her mother. Weird...

11. When did you last laugh? Just an hour ago, reading Jay Pinkerton's site.

12. What is on the walls of the room you are in? A picture Becca drew of an Indian woman and her child, a Lord of the Rings calendar, a painting of a snowy scene, lots of stains from the constant insect killing that goes on in here, and a Calvin & Hobbes Sunday page. But, I hasten to add, our bedroom is still covered with seven of Becca's posters of Hilary Duff (one of which is on the ceiling), her Hilary Duff calendar, her Barbarella poster, her nude pinups of Pamela Anderson and Miriam Gonzales, and my lone Jessica Simpson calendar. What is she trying to tell me...

13. Seen anything weird lately? Not today.

14. What is the last film you saw? In the theater, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. On video, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

15. If you became a multi-millionaire overnight, what would you buy first? Lindsay Lohan, so I can raise her right.

16. If you could change one thing about the world, regardless of guilt or politics, what would you do? Feed Africa already, for chrissakes!

17. Do you like to dance? At my weight, it just might be dangerous.

18. Imagine your first child is a girl. What do you call her? Vixen, Pim, Barbarella, Ozma, Penny, Andromeda, or Susan Calvin.

19. Imagine your first child is a boy. What do you call him? Kirk, Thomas, Roger, Victor, Harlan Ellison, or Thomas Jefferson. Interestingly, I am actually related to Thomas Jefferson on my mother's side, and to Jefferson Davis on my mother's side.

20. Would you ever consider living abroad? Absolutely.

True Tales of Sociological Madness

This summer I'm taking Sociology 170: Introduction to Sociology. The class is far more interesting that I figured it would be (I last took soc back in my junior year of high school, 1992-93), but it has a tendency to be depressing for a myriad of reasons. Here are three tales of Soc 170 that depressed the hell out of me...

**********
PROFESSOR: Does anyone know what a cohort is? A "cohort" is a group of people who were born around the same time and therefore have similar memories and a similar frame of reference. For example, you all remember September 11th personally. Some of you may have watched it happen on TV. But your children will only see images of it. They won't know what it was like. Let's try another example: how many of you were born in, say, 1987?

Two people raise their hands.

PROFESSOR: Alright, how about 1986?

Half the class raise their hands.

PROFESSOR: 1985?

Most of the other half raise their hands.

PROFESSOR: Anyone born before 1985?

I raise my hand.

PROFESSOR: But you're probably still within this cohort range if you were born around 1982 or so. What year were you born?

ME: 1976...

PROFESSOR: Oh...

I feel liver spots break out on my hand.

**********

GRANT (a tall, young, rich white guy wearing cargo pants who has blonde highlights in his hair): But, when we're talking about children who live in poverty, it's not really their fault, it it?

PROFESSOR (blinking for a full two seconds): Well, no, Grant...

GRANT: I mean, it's their parents' fault, right? They can't manage their money.

PROFESSOR: Well, what you have to realize, of course, is that poverty is based on two factors--socialization and opportunities available. If you don't have the opportunity of an education, let's say, then your job opportunities will be limited.

GRANT: But, if you work hard, you can do well.

PROFESSOR: That's largely a myth, actually. What about a guy who works 50 hours a week on a loading dock but makes $5 an hour. That should put him around $20,000 a year, and after taxes, that $13,500. That's not even enough to buy a new car. And what if he has no insurance? He has to pay out of pocket when he takes his kids to the doctor, or when there's a hospital emergency. Can you feed your kids on that money?

GRANT (I swear to God this is true): Yeah, if you don't spend all that money on cigarettes and beer.

PROFESSOR: That's a myth, Grant, a stereotype called the Culture of Poverty. A lot of arrogant rich people believe that poor people have something defective in them that makes them unable to manage their money. It's what I like to call Archaic Reasoning, and it's extremely unthoughtful and outdated.

BLACK DUDE WITH BICEPS THE SIZE OF MY HEAD AND MAKES ANY FIVE RAPPERS LOOK LIKE LITTLE GIRLS WITH HIS THOR-LIKE TOUGHNESS (to Grant): You don't know nothin' man... we'll talk about this later...

**********

PROFESSOR: Now, think about this: our country was founded in 1776, but it wasn't until 1920 that women were given the basic right to vote. And their participation in politics got off to a slow start, though that is changing quite a bit. Now, it wasn't until 1996 that the first woman was appointed Secretary of State. Does anyone remember her name?

BUNCH OF STUDENTS: Madeline Albright.

PROFESSOR: Right. Does anyone know who it is now?

Silence. I watch the class to see if someone will answer. A tumbleweed blows through as the professor waits. Finally...

ME: It's Condoleeza Rice! Come on!

PROFESSOR: Thank you.

I once again rethink the wisdom of giving people this young the right to vote...

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Feminization of Cinema

I've just watched the Disney movie Ice Princess (yes, I see everything Disney), and I've been thinking about the talent involved. Ever since Disney opened up the tween/teen girl market just a few years ago (bolstered along by the success of teen pop girls like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera), it seems like there've been more and more movies aimed at young girls. But when they grow up and get serious, where are they going to go? Even after all this time, the amount of interesting leading roles for women are still few in number. This is why a woman can win the Oscar and be rewarded for it with winning the lead in Catwoman, Aeon Flux, and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Where are the roles Meryl Streep used to play?

I think we have to take issue with the directors and studios, really. Disney and others have grown a crop of potentially good actresses: Michelle Trachtenberg, Hayden Panettiere, Raven-Symone, Christy Carlson Romano, Lalaine Paras, Hilary Duff, Anne Hathaway; and from the non-Disney, there's Evan Rachel Wood, Scarlett Johansson, Amanda Seyfried, Lacey Chabert, and quite a few others. But as they grow up, are they going to find any interesting roles, or are they going to linger along playing girlfriends, suffering wives, and the occasional professor or nurse? Why aren't there more women directors and, therefore, more interesting stories for women that aren't based on Jane Austen?

Given the young actors coming up with these girls, the next generation of cinema is bound to be even more of a bore. So rather than waste all of this young girl talent, why not let women tell stories about women? Take a movie like Ice Princess; there is only one man in the story with anything to do. The core of the story is really about mothers and daughters. The screenplay was written by two women, but it was directed by a man. Why? Why shouldn't a woman have directed it, or The Princess Diaries or The Lizzie McGuire Movie, or any of these movies? Wouldn't they have more insight into how to tell a woman's story than a man's? Look at a movie like Normal, which Hayden Panettiere was in, and which told the story of a man who wanted to be a woman. It was directed by a woman, Jane Anderson. Or Thirteen, a hard drama about thirteen year-old girls who get in too much trouble--directed by Catherine Hardwicke. Nikki Caro's Whale Rider. Asia Argento's Scarlet Diva. They're all out there, and they're not as quick to sell out as Amy Heckerling or Kathryn Bigelow (I hope).

Are women going to let men tell their stories forever, or what?

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Language Fascist

I am something of a language fascist; grammatical errors rankle me awfully, and though I often don't say anything, I always notice them. I'm not one of those people who expect formal language in every e-mail or anything like that, but as I am currently in a grammar class, I have noticed several ways which people mangle the English language that do bother me a great deal. Here are a few examples:

1. Pronunciation of the letter "i" as though it were "e." I do not live in the state of "Ellenois." Nor do I drink "melk." We wasted an entire half-hour in class because one woman (an elementary school teacher, no less) wanted to know why "sense" was considered an adverb. Well, "sense" isn't, but "since" is.

2. People who say "criteria," even though they don't know what it means. Especially when they say, "my only criteria is..." The singular of "criteria" is, of course, "criterion." If you only have one, you should not be using the word "criteria." To quote George Carlin, "these is my only criterions."

3. The fact that no one on the planet Earth seems to recall any longer that the word "lose" is spelled with only one "o." Everyone now spells it "loose," for reasons I can't comprehend. I dread peer reviewing in English classes, because every paper has "loose" for "lose." If you have lost something, you had something you can "lose." If you have a fence and the gate snaps off the hinge, the gate has come "loose."

4. Similar words that people misuse. You can "accept" a check, or you can "except" yourself from being an asshole today. You can be "affected" by words, or your words can "effect" change. If you misuse terms in "your" paper, then "you're" a half-wit. And, of course, don't forget about academics who are going to review these papers: "they're" watching for your mistakes with "their" brains, which are more formal than yours. And don't get me started on "to" and "too."

5. I know I do it, too, but was there an explosion at the comma store? Comma usage today is completely fucked. It's as though there was a riot, and some people picked up way more commas than they would ever need, and some people ran away with too few. As a result, nobody seems to use them correctly.

6. When people put parantheses or quotations marks around slang. People who are self-conscious about slang should never use it, ever. I remember one person telling someone else that they were going to step out for coffee. "I'm just going to get, uh...a CUPPA." Ouch. What a dork.

7. Phrases that were stupid to begin with, only they've become corporate buzzspeak, like "outside the box" (appropriated by Taco Bell for their hideous "Think Outside the Bun" ad campaign). If you're speaking the same way as an ad exec, I pity you.

8. The colloquial "you" is just insulting. Never, ever use it in a piece of formal writing. "You can't believe your eyes!" Well, maybe I can. Maybe a flaming man falling from the top of a building is so mundane a sight to me that I'm bored with it now. Never assume that way. One cannot believe one's eyes, perhaps, but I'm very special, and I tend to see a lot.

9. "Display how" and "discuss how" are redundant. "Display your pride" has the exact same meaning as "display how you have pride," it just sounds less like a very old man who has been speaking Russian all his life. Also redundant is the word "irregardless." I'm not even sure it's a word. "Regardless" is just fine.

10. The misapplication of inflection. In some new McDonald's commercial, they're advertising for something that sounds truly disgusting that comes with eggs. It's a "something something something with egg meal." But the announcer can't inflect properly, so he says "egg meal" instead of "egg meal." The point is to emphasize the meal, not the egg. The way he says it, it sounds like one word: "eggmeal." What the fuck is eggmeal--it sounds abhorrent. And will BBC America kindly stop referring to its hit ripoff of Trading Spaces as Changing Rooms? The inflection is all off in the commercials. Here they want to emphasize the second word in the title: "Changing ROOMS." Instead, they say "CHANGING Rooms," and unless I'm seeing babies get new diapers or watching chicks try on clothes at JC Penny's, these ain't changing rooms. People on the show are redecorating, or changing rooms. It's supposed to be a clever pun, but instead it's a reminder that puns aren't often clever.

11. Fewer or less? If something has an exact number, and you take another number away, you have less of something. If you don't know the number of a mass of people, and Jesus suddenly takes them away, and people are left behind, those lucky people are fewer than before. "Fewer" is indeterminate. Also, something is farther away in physical reality. Further is how you'll have to think to get it right (it refers to an idea or mental space).

12. White guys need to stop talking like Snoop Dogg. The one that bothers me most is this: a white guy has heard something he can't or won't accept. He tries to make that Snoop Dogg face of congenial stonedness, slits his eyes, and says the following as overdramatically as possible: "Aw, HELLLLLLLLLL, nah." Shut the fuck up you fucking morons. You don't sound cool, you sound like the burger-flipping fryalator-cleaning bathroom-mopping attendants you will one day be. By the way, guys, I like my towels on the thick side and my pants lightly pressed. Just for future reference when we run into each other at the hotel. You'll be working there.

13. The phrase "back in the day" makes me want to punch you in the throat. Back in what day, exactly?

14. People misuse "self," and it really bugs me. Eight times out of ten, it's superfluous. You don't need to tell me you're going to "self-teach myself" something. Just say "I'm going to teach myself to read, because I'm 21 and somehow got into college, so it's only fair." "Someone gave the blueprints to Bob and myself." "Bob and me" is fine, you don't need anymore. Why so needlessly elegant?

I know this all sounds like I'm being a tremendously huge dick, but having a tremendously huge dick and being one are two different things. You all annoy me with your constant kicking of the English language in its face, so it's only fair that I get to have my say. It is (for many of you reading this) your native language after all; one would think using is the only thing everyone would be able to do correctly.

I think I want to be a junior high teacher so I can demoralize the little assholes... Heh.