Saturday, October 20, 2007

Give the Monkey Some Cake

Happy Belated Birthday, Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein!

Friday, October 19, 2007

How to Get Me Not to See a Movie

An Imagined Conversation.

Hey, are you going to go see the new Steve Carell movie Dan in Real Life?

Oh, Steve Carell's got a new movie that isn't Evan Almighty? I love Carell.

Yeah, and it's directed by the guy who directed Pieces of April, Peter Hedges.

Man, that was a surprisingly good movie. The guy even made Katie Holmes look like she could act. Hmm, maybe there's something to this one. Plus, Hedges co-wrote About a Boy, one of my 500 Faves.

Also, it's got Alison Pill from The Book of Daniel and Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen and, well, Pieces of April.

Aw, yeah, she's a little cutie. Who else is in it?

Juliette Binoche, Dianne Wiest...

Nice. Strong actors, both.

Dane Cook is in it, too.

...

...

What?

Yeah, Dane Cook, the stand-up comic.

Really?

Yeah, why?

Dane Cook, the no-talent, joke-thieving, overly-aggressive, piece of shit, hacky, unfunny ass monkey?

Umm... sure.

I'm not going. Maybe I'll catch Carell's next next movie.

I LOVE to Play with Michelle Marsh's Image When I'm Bored



A Brief, Pointless Rumination on Scarlett Cinema

MC sent me a list about two months ago where MSNBC picked the top 5 Scarlett Johansson movies. He sent along a note saying that he expected me to call bullshit on the list. So, occasionally I'll look at the list and think about it and, really, I don't know, it's hard to call bullshit on it. Mostly because, as much as I love my darling ScarJo... well, she really hasn't made that many truly good movies. Not really, in my opinion.

MSNBC picks the following as her five best: Match Point, Lost in Translation, In Good Company, The Prestige, and Ghost World. And for the most part, that's a pretty fair assessment. Match Point, Lost in Translation, and Ghost World are just excellent movies. I know not everyone agrees, but I think they're wonderful. Scarlett's at her best when she's playing characters that don't really fit. It's the best use of her acting style, which is not really stagey, but is a little removed from naturalistic behavior. Not a bad thing at all, but it means she's better at playing certain types of characters than others.

In Good Company and The Prestige... well, I liked The Prestige very much, although I think Scarlett is kind of wasted in it. She's a plot device and little else, but it's that kind of movie--an intellectual exercise in clever plotting. In Good Company is just not a very good movie. It has its moments, but it doesn't have anything very groundbreaking or original to say, and it's easy to forget Scarlett's in it. It's not as dramatic as it would like to be. It's just sort of there.

Personally, in place of those two, I prefer Girl with a Pearl Earring (which is a lovely movie) and An American Rhapsody, a movie so little-seen that MSNBC didn't even put it on the list of movies you could vote for as your favorite Scarlett Johansson picture. (Oh, and to the 12% of you who decided your favorite movie with Scarlett was The Horse Whisperer.... why?)

Anyway, I think she's made those three truly great films, and there's a lot of time for her to make more. It would be nice if she never had to make another The Perfect Score (redeemed only slightly by Scarlett with dark red hair and strawberry panties) or A Good Woman or A Love Song for Bobby Long. And I liked Scoop. I thought The Black Dahlia was a real waste of everyone and everything involved, and I thought she was very good in The Island, a movie that, given the filmmakers, had no chance of being any good.

So, I wish I could be my cynical, acerbic self and call bullshit on that list in a creative way, but... well, it's not that bad.

Even More Spelling Matters

You'll have to explain this to me.

Someone forwarded me this email that's going around, which "proves" how unimportant spelling supposedly is. It's sort of amusing to me in the "Heh, I can read that" sense of things, but I'm not sure that it actually means anything. Is any of this information remotely accurate? I assume that when I read this--and I can read this, straight through--my brain is compensating for the misspellings and correcting them. This happens to me at other times, when I read one word and think it's another because I'm reading too fast or somesuch.

Here's the email:

fi yuo cna raed tihs, yuo hvae a sgtrane mnid too. Cnayuo raed tihs? Olny 55
plepoe out of 100 can.i cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrdwaht I
was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuanmnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at
CmabrigdeUinervtisy, it dseno't mtaetr in waht oerdr theltteres in a wrod are,
the olny iproamtnt tihng istaht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae.
The rset can be a taotl mses andyou can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs
isbcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter byistlef, but the wrod as a
wlohe. Azanmig huh? yaeh andI awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt !
I do hate that little anti-intellectual smarm at the bottom. I know there are people intimidated by the intellect who relish the idea that you already experientially know everything you need to survive and that there book-learnin' isn't important. Unless, of course, you want to keep advancing humankind, but I know there are some people who are frightened by that, too.

Anyway, I just found it interesting in the sense of something I've been wondering about on the blog here for a couple of years: creative spelling. Lots of people are agin it, but I'm still curious about what its real effects would be. If it's better to encourage a child to learn creative problem-solving, or if that's just New Age bullshit. Either way, if you look at the evolution of the English language over the centuries, it's pretty ridiculous to think that the English language as it is now is the way it's going to continue to be. I know that drives copy editors and grammar teachers and even me nuts, but it's just going to keep changing. Hell, who even capitalizes the word internet or puts the hyphen in email anymore? If anything's going to continue to shorten our language, it's the online culture.

Anyway, can anyone else read that email? And do they really think it means anything? Because I'm not sure how it could.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Just as Felix Salten Saw It

Hey, it cheered me up.

Health Report Update: I Quit

So, just like that, I quit my job. I normally would wait until the next Health Report to mention it, but I decided I'd bring it up early. I feel good about it. Really good.

All that pain and stress, and yesterday I finally thought: "You know, you can always quit." And all the pain and stress went away. My heart beat regularly and my stomach unknotted. That was the answer. And I announced my intention to quit. They've asked me to stay until the end of the month, and I said that was fine. But holy shit, do I feel better. Much better. Even better than I felt back when I was unemployed. I mean, it's nice to know--as my supervisor and manager both mentioned when asking me to stay--that I'm an excellent worker and they want to keep me there. But I don't want to stay. And I don't have to. So I'm not going to.

All the pieces are falling into place for my substitute teaching adventure. I don't have TB, I did my physical and passed (it's no longer been years since a woman I barely know fondled my balls--bah-zing!), and I have my transcripts. I have everything I need, including an appointment to be fingerprinted. I'm only working in this terrible cave until Halloween. And I'm not panicking about money because, honestly, I really think this is all going to work out.

Damn, I feel good.

I think I'll go to the zoo this weekend.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Happy Birthday, Carl

My longtime friend (20 years, can you believe?) Carl turns 31 today. I put this picture up because he likes pictures of girls kissing (who doesn't? I can't think of much that's more beautiful), and because it's amusing to me that he looks at my blog from work and has to scramble to make sure no one sees a picture like this at the top.

Happy birthday, man!

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week. Or rather, this past since-the-last-time-I-did-this.

GWENDOLINE (1984)
I can't believe Just Jaeckin hasn't made a film since this one. I like his work, actually--very erotic, frank, pretty, and French, and I know a lot of Americans didn't care for his films (which include Emmanuelle and the version of Lady Chatterly's Lover with Sylvia Kristel, which is still the only adaptation of the novel I've liked). This film, based on the French comic strip The Adventures of Sweet Gwendolyne, is like a French version of Raiders of the Lost Ark. What do I mean by that? It's silly, certainly, and over-the-top, and takes time out for humorous moments. It's also got its erotic scenes. Tawny Kitaen stars as Gwendoline, but the direction of the film is enough that she comes across believably. Gwendoline is trying to escape China to find her father, who is seeking a rare butterfly in the Yik Yak, a sort of Asian outback. She and her virginal friend and a rough American sailor (whom she instantly falls in love with) then come across an underground society of women diamond miners. It's... really hard to explain. The thing is, it's not like a lot of American films of the time. It doesn't try to excuse its own stupidity or play it off as a joke. It just wonderfully is what it is, and because of that, I enjoyed the hell out of it. I think a lot of people would think it's one of the dumbest movies they'd ever seen. And it is. But it's also fun as hell. ***1/2 stars.

THE STUDENT PRINCE IN OLD HEIDELBURG (1927)
Ramon Novarro stars in this sad Ernst Lubitsch film as a German prince who goes to study and falls in love with a beautiful barmaid (Norma Shearer, as beautiful a barmaid as there could be). Their romance is doomed, but that doesn't stop them from having intense feelings for one another. This is classic romantic drama, sweeping but genuinely emotional. A great film from a great year. **** stars.

WESTFRONT 1918 (1930)
G.W. Pabst directed this visceral, terrifying story about the Germans at war. One of the first dramatic films to present the reality of war, rather than the perceived nobility. I understand it was a slap in the face at the time it was released. It's still powerful, showing German officers as somewhat petty and German soldiers as very cynical about the whole purpose of the war (and the mean by which it's carried out). **** stars.

TOKYO STORY (1953)
Yasujiro Ozu was a genius at depicting the subtleties of human behavior and finding the meanings behind the routines. This film broke my heart; an old couple goes to Tokyo to visit their children, but instead of being treated with respect, they're treated as old bores and nusiances. To my way of thinking, this is Ozu's masterpiece. But he has several. **** stars.

THE MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (1933)
I could watch Fay Wray do anything, even though her movies fail to satisfy me (with some obvious exceptions). The last Film Week, I watched Doctor X, which I found disappointing. I liked this one a bit better, but I still felt they made the usual mistake of putting the dullest characters in front (except this time, the wise-cracking reporter is a woman). But Fay is wonderful and beautiful, of course, and Lionel Atwill is menacing and riveting, of course, and there are some truly excellent makeup effects (including at least one genuine scare). And it doesn't go on long enough to wear out its welcome. *** stars.

BELOW THE SEA (1933)
Fay Wray again, this time as a socialite making a deep sea trip with rough old sailor Ralph Bellamy, who doesn't think women belong aboard ships--until he falls in love with her, of course. It's actually not a bad movie, and anything that's a bit silly is silly in a rather sublime way. Such as the scene where Fay's dirigible gets attacked by a giant octopus. *** stars.

DIRIGIBLE (1931)
Frank Capra directed this potboiler about a lost dirigible pilot and the man who rescues him. And if the name Capra says boredom to you, then you already know what this movie is like. At least Fay Wray is in it and it's short. Mediocre at best. *1/2 stars.

BLACK BOOK (2006)
I was hoping that Paul Verhoeven would make another film like Soldier of Orange before he died, and he has--along with his Orange screenwriter. The film manages at once to be a character piece (Carice Van Houten is truly excellent, giving one of the best performances I've ever seen) and an investigative look into the darker side of the Dutch Resistance. It's a very European film, by which I mean it's very thoughtful and multi-faceted without being overly serious or overly light. One of the best films of last year. **** stars.

THE SCAR OF SHAME (1927)
A man falls in love with a low class woman, and his mother protests. Historically, it's interesting, because the cast is all black. But as entertainment.... ** stars.

THE UNHOLY THREE (1930)
Jack Conway directed this remake of Tod Browning's 1925 classic about carnival workers who set up a pet store scam to rob people of their jewels. It even has two of the same cast members: Harry Earles, who would also star in Browning's Freaks, and Lon Chaney, in the only talkie he would ever make. Chaney is just as good here as he ever was in silents (and god damn it, he was a great actor), and it's a shame to know that he died just afterwards (he was Tod Browning's first choice to play the lead in Dracula). Lila Lee is also very good as the girl who helps front their scheme. **** stars.

THE VAMPIRE BAT (1933)
Ah, Fay Wray, wherever you go, I am there. This is a very atmospheric and moody little thriller, but it has its slow points, too. Lionel Atwill is in this one, too. *** stars.

THE SQUID AND THE WHALE (2005)
I had some trepidations about seeing this movie, but it was actually very good. Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney play a couple who get a divorce, and the film is really about how the divorce affects their sons. The teenager is just like his dad--cold and intellectual and removed--and the younger is like his mom--tired of being browbeaten by dad. I went through my parents getting divorced when I was 12 and 13, so I recognized a lot of what was going on here. Thankfully, my parents weren't like the ones here. Or if they were, they managed to keep it from me. I know there are times when I felt neither of them listened, especially my mom--although that's mostly because I lived with my mom and saw her almost every day, so I just had more time to notice it and it seemed bigger. This was a sad, delicate movie, just like it would be in real life--sudden explosions and everyone tiptoeing around what's wrong in a misguided attempt to avoid confrontations. This was powerful stuff. **** stars.

DU BARRY WAS A LADY (1943)
I am not a fan of Red Buttons. He plays a coat-check guy at a swanky restaurant, then comes into some money, and then slips himself a mickey and dreams that he's the King of France and the singer he loves is Madame Du Barry. There are Cole Porter songs and colorful costumes, but I found my attention drifting anytime that Du Barry--Lucille Ball looking quite possibly her absolute sexiest, and I don't care what you see, she was a very sexy woman--wasn't on screen. It's rather lame. Ball is wonderful, of course, and Gene Kelly is always good, but it's a mess. No, not a mess, just dull. **1/2 stars.

THE PLOW THAT BROKE THE PLAINS (1936)
Excellent pastoral documentary about the Dust Bowl and how it may have been caused by overfarming in the Bread Basket. Gorgeous to look at and listen to, and very convincing (and emotionally appealing, I have to add). **** stars.

THE BAD NEWS BEARS (1976)
I'd never seen this before. I don't know, it has its cute moments. Kids swearing was a little bit of a novelty, so I can see why it always appeals to kids. I like Tatum O'Neal. But I don't know if it's just not really that good or if it's just that it came out the year I was born and I've seen all the rip-offs, but I just didn't really think it was very good. Walter Matthau isn't even fun, just because he doesn't get to play a character so much as some mannerisms. But yeah, it has its cute moments. **1/2 stars.

BAD NEWS BEARS (2005)
As pointless a remake as I've ever seen, right down to some of the same shots. What was the point of this? To add a kid in a wheelchair? Whoopie. How stupid. * star.

HIS LAST GAME (1909)
Overly serious yarn about an Indian baseball player paid to throw a game. *1/2 stars.

THE BALLPLAYER AND THE BANDIT (1912)
Meh. * star.

HEADIN' HOME (1920)
Babe Ruth stars as, imagine that, a baseball player named Babe. This movie is seriously annoying. I once knew a guy who, when the Chicago White Sox were in the Series, wore a Sox uniform--the whole uniform--to work. He also thought that the Sox would magically win because they were playing at home and the magical support would magically infuse the players with magic winning juice. (As I said at the time, "My Starfleet uniform is in the wash.") This movie is like talking to that guy. * star.

THE MASK OF FU MANCHU (1932)
Fu Manchu schemes to find the sword of Genghis Khan and destroy the white race. The real strength of the movie is Boris Karloff as Fu Manchu, doing some great acting and menacing the world convincingly. Also fun is Myrna Loy as his daughter, who is pure evil. *** stars.

ANTS (1977)
Are you fucking kidding me? No stars.

UN CHIEN ANDALOU (1929)
One of the most bizarre--and most unforgettable--short films I've ever seen. Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali conceived this film, and it's truly surreal. This has the famous scene of an eyeball being split open with a razor. You have to see this for yourself; describing it would be a disservice. **** stars.

WHITE FAWN'S DEVOTION: A PLAY ACTED BY A TRIBE OF RED INDIANS IN AMERICA (1910)
Well-shot movie about a pioneer whose Indian wife tries to kill herself. When he's blamed for the murder, he flees and the tribe pursues him to bring him to justice. The chase scene is pretty thrilling. **** stars.

THE BUSHER (1919)
Blah blah blah baseball blah blah. * star.

CASEY AT THE BAT, OR THE FATE OF A ROTTEN UMPIRE (1899)
Overly earnest. *1/2 stars.

HEARTS AND DIAMONDS (1914)
A baseball player and stuff. * star.

HAPPY DAYS (1926)
The second in a series of films based on the long-running comic strip (until 1990!) Winnie Winkle the Breadwinner. The girl who stars in it, Ethelyn Gibson, is pretty good. Otherwise, ** stars.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Health Report: Week 44

Where do I start?

I ate tortellini last night for only the second time in my life. I was wary of eating pasta (so good, but sooo problematic), but I think I've finally learned a thing or two about portion size. I think this is the first time in the last seven or so years that I ate pasta for dinner and didn't go to bed coughing and choking. I didn't get a bunch of phlegm in my throat overnight. When I woke up, I didn't feel sick to my stomach or have that taste of bile in my mouth. I had to use the bathroom like mad, but everything else was a-okay. Which is nice, because that was fucking good pasta.

That's about the best thing that's happened this week. And it's a week that, for the most part, has been a sea of unrest.

Last Thursday, I had a bit of a confrontation at work with that woman I hate. If anything makes you feel bad at your job, it's being compared to an infant learning to walk and falling on his face. I wanted, quite literally, to leap over to her, land on her chest, grind her into the floor, and rip her fat head right off. Oh my fuck do I hate that fucking bitch. I was PISSED at her little lecture. I was pissed at the way she thinks everything she says is funny. I was pissed at her being so damn over-familiar and asking pointed questions about what kind of work I really want to do, as if I can't leave soon enough for her. I was pissed at the way she thinks she really runs the department and steamrolls over my too-nice supervisor all the time in her little, delusional power struggle. I was pissed at the way she whines that she has to do everything herself, and then constantly rechecks your work because you're just going to do everything wrong, anyway.

And I still can't stop that kind of bullshit from becoming so goddamn epic. Turning it into an opera in my head and feeling so intensely. I can't ever stop myself from piling everything in my life that is frustrating and unsatisfying and broken into one moment of anger.

And then the chest pains started.

Intense, wracking chest pains. Pain that shot through my left arm and made me nauseous. Pain that went straight through to my back and all the way down. And there was sweat and coughing and shortness of breath. What they call a sense of impending doom. I felt awful. I felt wrong. And I felt, worse than I have in many years, dread.

I looked up the symptoms of a heart attack online, and I was feeling every one of them. There, right at the bottom: "An impending sense of doom." And a lot of scary stuff about how you shouldn't wait to see if it subsides, unless of course you want to let even more cells in your heart die and make it harder to survive.

I immediately clocked out and left work. I drove myself to the emergency room and was let right in. Because of my panic, I had a hard time giving the nurse veins, so there are still bruises on my left arm from several attempts at a blood draw, and a scar from the catheter that was inserted into my right hand (that hurt like a son of a bitch). They ran a number of tests on me, and mostly I just laid there and wondered what it would be like to die and how people would feel about it. I thought it was appropriate that I was there alone and that "Cosmic Dancer" by T. Rex was the last song I might ever hear. I thought about the feeling I've always had that I would die at age 42, and wondered how I could be off by 11 years. The pain didn't stop, and I just sat there, clenched teeth, and thought a lot.

But.

But.

But my blood pressure was always normal. Normal? Hell, for a man with hypertension, it wasn't bad at all--mostly around the neighborhood of 130/78. And the nitro didn't help the pain ebb away. And all of my tests were normal. I asked the doctor if this could be a severe panic attack, and he said it could be. I had an awful panic attack once, on Christmas Eve 2001, with awful, shooting pain in my chest. I hadn't known what it was then, but I later realized it was a panic attack. And now, here again, I was having one. But this one was far, far worse.

Boy, I can't wait to pay for the emergency room visit. But at the time, I really thought I was having a heart attack. I know it almost sounds like a case of overreacting, but I really thought that was finally the end of me. It certainly felt like it. Still, I left the hospital and came home. The pain didn't go away, but I was able to eat dinner and act normally. The pain got duller and duller. I had a hard time sleeping, and my right hand hurt so bad that I could barely hold anything, but eventually my eyes shut and I drifted off. The next morning, there was a dull ache in my left shoulder, but the rest of the pain was gone. I took the day off of work and relaxed.

I tried to relax most of the weekend. I threw myself into writing and had a generally productive weekend. And now I'm back at work and I realize that, for the sake of my health, I have to get the fuck away from this job. I'm glad that I'm finally bringing some money in again, but if I have to spend it all on medical bills, what's the fucking point? I'm not even full time.

To that end, I'm latching on to my earlier idea of giving substitute teaching a try. I printed out all of the papers I need, the applications, etc. I got my transcripts from NIU and I went yesterday for the first part of my mandatory TB test. The nurse at the health department who did it asked me if I fainted at the sight of needles; when she looked at my arm and saw all the bruises from the attempts to draw blood last week, she asked where I'd been mutilated. I didn't even feel the needle go in. I think, after the catheter in the hand, I'll never be bothered by needles again. I'll go back on Thursday for the results, then they can sign off on my lack of the tuberculin and I can go and apply to be a substitute teacher. The best part is, if they license me, I'll have to quit the job I have now, because (according to the ethics test I took today at work), I can't have two state jobs at once. Alas, poor textbook office, I can't wait to get the hell out you.

Seriously, work is depressing. I work underground, and if that weren't bad enough, the office I work in is just under the surface and not under the gigantic fucking building we're ostensibly in the basement of. Which means it gets colder there than in other parts of the building, so no matter what I wear I end up having to put my jacket on by midday. And it's so damn cold here right now; the rain, the constant gray--welcome to autumn in the Midwest. We're in season 1 of the 4 Chicago Seasons: almost winter, winter, still winter, and road construction. And that damn troll I work with is obviously going through menopause (though she'd never admit it), so she has to have periods of turning the damn fan on! I'm stuck in an office with this horrible woman who listens to a Christian music (I refuse to call it "Christian rock") on her radio all day, and I stare at a CTR monitor under flourescent track lights all day. And I still get twinges of that pain. Twinges that fucking hurt.

Yeah, I'm not going to miss that at all.

I felt pretty good on Monday, though. I never miss a chance now to subtly let her know how I feel about her. Yesterday morning, I guess I wasn't looking my brightest-eyed and bushy-tailed. She said, sarcastically: "Happy to be here?"

"Not usually," I said.

"How do you know?" she asked. "You've hardly been here!"

"But I'm here now," I answered back, "so now I'm not happy anymore." Followed by a nasty fake smile.

(And don't talk to me about who in the office needs to just let their kids grow up, alright? When your daughter goes to college and then forgets for five fucking weeks that she left her pet hermit crab at home, which it turns out has died in the meantime, you don't get to brag about raising smart children, alright?)

Sorry. That was a tangent.

There's a certain kind of life that I want, and I know I'll never have it. I'm trying to accept that some things just won't happen so that I can stop letting myself get jerked around emotionally and try to put myself in a position to obtain the obtainable. It seems to me that there's a certain wisdom that I'm missing. Not that I want to resign myself to always being unhappy, that's not it. What I want is to be able to recognize what I can and can't do and be realistic about what my means are. I still feel like a very small person who keeps getting ahead of himself without knowing or caring where he is, and I need to stop that. I need to figure out where I am and what I can do from here. How I can get the writing career I want and pay for the scary student loans that are right around the corner.

Fuck, I'm depressed as hell. But maybe things are going to change. It's honestly hard to care somedays when there's no silver lining in sight and there's time to dwell on stuff. And that's all I've got to say about it.

Monday, October 15, 2007

TV Report: Fuck It, I'm Not Watching Heroes Anymore

Boy, I had really, genuinely forgotten since last season just how tedious Heroes can be. Watching it is something of a chore sometimes, especially in the beginning of the season. Already, I'm at a standstill with this show. I'm in the same place as much of last year: I hate Peter, I hate Nathan, I'm annoyed by much of it, and I really only care what happens to Hiro and Claire and her father. And this whole Mexican kids plotline...not doing it for me.

Fuck it; I'll watch the whole thing on DVD in the summer. On DVD, Heroes--much like Lost--will actually have the illusion of momentum. For now... well, for now that's one more hour I have reclaimed to myself.

Two, actually--I'm done with Journeyman, too. It's just... meh. I have better things to do with my time.

See you in September, Hayden!

Frell the SCIFI Channel

This is something I wrote a few years back when SCIFI cancelled Farscape. It was published on Revolution Science Fiction (www.revolutionsf.com), a site which I recently noticed is no longer on the web. Which means my piece is also down. So, I'm posting it here. You don't have to pay any attention to it, I just thought it should be up online somewhere. It's an ego thing.

Frell the SCIFI Channel: A Plea to Fans of Science Fiction
by Aaron R. Davis

And now, the end is near (cue sappy music here). Farscape, arguably one of the greatest science fiction television series in history, is about to end. Not eventually, not in the future, not even when the story is finished. No; in a mere matter of weeks. But after months of angry speculation and fan campaigns to save the show, we finally know who is to blame.

We are.

That's right, the fans of the show, who aren't asking for anything more earth-shattering than for a favorite TV show to air for one more year (and that's all, nothing too pie-in-the-sky), are to blame for the cancellation. Those of us writing letters, sending emails, flowers, crackers (trust me if you don't get it: there's a reason), complaints, pleas, and even threats--we're to blame. Apparently we just don't care enough.

According to the SCIFI Channel, that is. In a piece that TV Guide Online ran on January 7, fans of Farscape don't actually watch Farscape. In a piece wonderfully titled "SCIFI's Murder by Numbers?", Bonnie Hammer, president of the SCIFI Channel, said that she was sorry the show was cancelled, but that the ratings weren't high enough. She then said, "If all of those incredible fans who wrote in and sent notes and flowers [. . .] had actually watched it every week, we would have been able to do the 22 [episodes of a fifth season]." So it's our fault, then. Now, before you go and ask yourself why you have been expending all of this energy on a show you apparently don't even watch (I know, it surprised me too), let's consider ratings reality.

When asked if Stargate SG-1 really deserved a seventh season over Farscape getting a fifth, Bonnie Hammer went to the numbers. "It's crazy! Before we ended the season on Stargate, we were getting a very high 1 [rating] and peaked at, I think, a 2 or a 2.1. That was for new, original episodes. [Now] our average for Stargate repeats has been unbelievable: 1.7 and 1.8 [ratings]. When Farscape was repeating, we were lucky if we got a .8. So there's a huge difference." See? If we had only been satisfied with reruns, everything would be fine. How could we not want to stay home on Friday nights to watch something we had already seen?

The reality of the situation is a little different. First off, let's ignore the fact that Stargate aired on Showtime for most of its early run, and SCIFI is airing episodes that the Stargate fans without Showtime haven't been able to see (in effect, making the repeats new episodes).

Let's look at the fact that SCIFI decided to stop airing Farscape completely after the first run of fourth season episodes. No repeats at all. What are we supposed to watch in its place? Let's be honest, here: most of us only watch the SCIFI Channel to see Farscape. And take a look at the ratings of Farscape now that our final episodes have begun to air--the show only trails Stargate in ratings by a .2 or .3 on average. Just keep lying to us, SCIFI Channel. Just last June, Thomas Vitale, a senior VP of SCIFI, said in his column on the website that Farscape was doing "incredibly well." Where is the problem, then?

Rockne S. O'Bannon, the creator of Farscape, sees the fire behind the smoke. Back in September, after SCIFI crushed our spirits, O'Bannon went on the SCIFI Channel's website and responded to the channel's infamous FAQ (in which they effectively said they were fans of the show, but didn't want to see it anymore), by saying "The SCIFI Channel chose not to pick up the series for season 5, period. To say they want the show is completely false."

And there you have our dilemma. The time spent yelling to a channel that is deaf to our cries, because they made up their minds long ago that they didn't want to air Farscape anymore. And don't buy their hype about how they tried to promote the show--count on your fingers all of the times you saw a commercial promoting Farscape on the SCIFI Channel. You sure won't see one now; what if they promoted the show and it got better ratings? They couldn't justify their plan to dump the show. They want it gone.

Well, it's our turn. Aren't you sick of being treated this way? I know I am. In a fantastic article titled "Who Killed Farscape?" published at Strange Horizons on 14 October 2002, Claire Sainsbury eloquently voiced our frustrations: "Ultimately, the network's attitude suggests that, despite the number of speculative successes like Buffy, despite the number of long-running franchises like Star Trek, the television industry's attitude towards speculative fiction fans remains much the same as it has always been. Unlike, say, sports fans, speculative fiction fans can safely be treated with contempt. The basic assumption appears to be that speculative shows are essentially disposable and interchangeable--that no one takes them seriously. Therefore, one show, however successful and well-beloved, can be destroyed and replaced by another without loss of audience."

Even the channel (I refuse to call it a network) that we thought was made FOR US, a haven to foster our love of science fiction (and ultimately betrayed us), treats us like consumers. Brand loyalty, channel loyalty, is a thing of the past, and if we don't bring in the bucks, who cares? Keep in mind that the SCIFI Channel didn't even respect our loyalty enough to announce the cancellation of Farscape. The news was leaked by David Kemper and Ben Browder because they wanted the fans to know. SCIFI wanted to "take the high road," according to Hammer. Is it that, or did she not want the inevitable bad reaction?

Well, let's give it to them. My plea to science fiction fans everywhere is to completely boycott the SCIFI Channel. Don't watch it anymore. When Farscape runs out, just let it go. Let the SCIFI Channel go over the horizon and don't call it back. Let them air reruns of cancelled series or movies that couldn't even get video distribution. Trust me, you won't miss them. We expect to be treated this way by Fox, or the WB--but SCIFI? That's our channel, man. Tell them you're angry. Tell them that, until we get a fifth season, we're not going to tune in anymore. This is a capitalist society, and we need to fight their capitalism with our own. Money talks, and let yours tell them that you've decided that if the SCIFI Channel can get by without shows that don't insult our intelligence, then we can get by with going out on Friday nights. Trust me, Children of Dune will be released on video about a month after it airs: watch it then, not when it's on SCIFI.

Frell the SCIFI Channel. It's all up to us now.

copyright 2003, Aaron R. Davis

Update to the Piece: I was somewhat mollified by SCIFI later airing The Peacekeeper Wars, a miniseries that provided a more satisfying ending (and resolved a major cliffhanger in which two of the main characters appeared to die). But still, I only watch the occasional Quantum Leap marathon or episode of Doctor Who. I don't watch them much, and I refuse to support their original series. The best part is that, in 1999 and 2000, the SCIFI channel used to pay me to review DVDs for their website SCIFI NOW (www.scifinow.com), also no longer on the web.

Just for the hell of it, here are some responses the article got. Yes, I saved them. Again, it's an ego thing.

From Rachel Ivey:
Aaron Davis' commentary was excellent. He suggests the very same course of action I took on Saturday, March 22nd, the day after the final episode of Farscape aired.

I e-mailed SCIFI Channel to tell them in no uncertain terms that the ONLY reason I was ever exposed to any other SCIFI Channel programming was because of Farscape. I went on to say that without a 5th season of Farscape, I had no reason to watch the SCIFI Channel at all. I told them that if I had the option of dropping the channel from my satellite channel line-up, I would have already done so.

I'm with Aaron. Forget SCIFI Channel. We can find quality entertainment elsewhere.

From Paul T. Riddell:
Aaron Davis was, as usually, right on the ball as far as how Skiffy Channel management didn't want to keep Farscape going in the first place. Considering the late-Friday timeslot, where only shut-ins and agoraphobics would come across it in the first place, and the lack of advertising and promotion compared to garbage like Crossing Over, this was a done deal a while back. (If the Channel management really had given a flip, don't you think we'd be seeing reruns on regular television a la Stargate SG-1 so as to build up the viewer base?)

However, I come to praise Aaron for one point that became patently obvious over a year ago. When the Skiffy Channel resurrected "SCI FI" magazine at the end of 2001, a lot changed in the formatting. In particular, did anyone notice that not only does the magazine no longer have a letters column, but that the magazine doesn't carry contact information for the people involved? In other words, it's the party line all over again: we don't care what you think, and we don't care how strongly you feel about it. Just shut up and watch that Battlestar Galactica Chain Reaction and the same five crappy movies we bought because nobody else wanted them."

If the last three years after getting ditched from SCI FI has taught me anything, it's that I don't miss it: either the magazine or the Channel. I just remember the days when Skiffy made the big promises, and it was Comedy Central that consisted of nothing but bad direct-to-cable movies and lousy TV shows that TVLand didn't want. Times change, don't they?

Note: Paul, who was my editor at SCIFI NOW, was of course referring to the original crappy 197-whatever version of Galactica.

From Edgar Harris:
Not to argue with the author, but I think I can hazard a guess as to why the AggieCon this year had such a low turnout, and it has nothing to do with the war or with the fact that so many of its previous patrons no longer have jobs allowing them $300 or more of disposable income per week. It's a problem with conventions all over: a lack of promotion.

This has been a sore point with me for the last decade: I hear con committees crying and kvetching about how their turnouts get smaller and smaller every year, but does anyone do anything about it? Gee, it couldn't have ANYTHING to do with the fact that most cons expect the attendees to jump through hoops to get there, rather than making it as easy as possible for new fans to attend, could it? It, of course, has nothing to do with the fact that the "promotion" for most cons consists of sending a quickie schedule to Locus or the Asimov's con listing in the back, which only brings out the same five wannabe writers who hope to con some editor into buying their eighteen-volume Absolutely Fabulous/Farscape crossover series.

It has nothing to do with the con staff waiting until the week before the con to contact the local newspapers, or giving TV crews enough time to do a report other than the usual "look at the freaks" specials that run the Sunday night of the convention. It also has nothing to do with cons that are set up in airport hotels that require ridiculous tolls to get in or out, or ones that are held in hotels so far away from basic amenities to save a few bucks on security deposits. Oh, it has nothing to do with con staffs that let the misanthrope who roundfiles all of his e-mail run Guest and Con Relations, so that nobody else in the staff discovers that half of the guests can't attend until the day of the convention. And what say of cons that schedule themselves deliberately in the middle of Spring Break, opposite a big local football game, or any other event that was scheduled months or years in advance? (My personal favorite in this regard is Armadillocon in Austin: to save a couple of bucks, the con moved from mid-October, when the Texas heat is at least tolerable to those not born in a lead smelter, to the week before classes start at the University of Texas, guaranteeing that the only people who attend are the con staff, the few poor guests, a handful of newbies who don't know better than to go outside in Austin in August, and the sycophants who can't get enough of Bruce Sterling yammering "It's on the Viridian List! Have I mentioned the Viridian List?")

Naaw, it has to do with the war. Silly me.

Sorry to bring up the issue, but when I hear conventions complain about low turnout, I want to scream. Most make a big deal about getting big-name guests and then assume that attendees will discover the con through telepathy or psychic osmosis. Either that, or the hubris is so high that the staff just assumes that the world needs what they have to offer. (A classic point is with the crew running each year's WorldCon continuing to run on the same weekend as Dragon*Con. For all of its faults, Dragon*Con at least advertises to its core audience, and advertises well, while all each WorldCon has to offer is the opportunity to vote for the Hugo Awards. Oh, joy: I plunk down $150 for the privilege of joining another 110 idiots in voting for an award that serves no relevant purpose any more and for books and magazines nobody's actually read. Where the hell do I sign up?) Then, when the convention flubs, it's everyone else's fault.

To be fair to AggieCon, the crew running it does a pretty good job, and I'd be much more inclined to spend my hard-earned cash in College Station than with a lot of the incompetently run cons out there. Just quit worrying about scheduling yet another "How to get published in science fiction" panel with the same four tired guests (thank Elvis Paul Riddell is no longer writing, because at least we no longer have to listen to him bitch and moan) and spend some time on promoting your site to someone besides the same eight geeks who'll be at A-Kon or Armadillocon, okay?

I LOVE Michelle Marsh in Her Final Photoshoot (Featuring Lucy Pinder)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Song of the Week: "Sniper"

A sad, haunting song. This is Harry Chapin, live on the PBS Soundstage in 1975. The song is about the 1966 University of Texas Massacre, what I'd always heard referred to as "The Clock Tower Shooting." The song is from the point of view of the killer, Charles Whitman. He doesn't glorify, romanticize, or justify his brutality, but Chapin tries to understand what pushes a man to something so tragic. Sad that this song is still so relevant. And I wish more people would see these things as a tragedy for all, killers included; too dismiss killers as nutcases excuses and perpetuates the problem, instead of recognizing it. This song touches me. Not because of what Whitman did, but just because I recognize the feeling of isolation sometimes. I've asked "Am I?" as well. I just have found better answers.

The video is a little messed up, but the performance is powerful.

Sunday Hottie 141

AMANDA BEARD

Squeezing You for Your Own Good

I just read that a dentist in California--one Mark Anderson, that's MARK ANDERSON, whom you should never ever go to--is accused of fondling the breasts of 27 female patients. Here's why this case is so indicative of what's wrong with the legal system of this country. Not only is he not denying that he's done it, he's trying to claim that chest massages are important in dentistry. That it's not only appropriate to do so, but essential to the treatment of TMJ (temporo-mandibular joint disorder). So, basically, Dr. Anderson is feeling you up for your own good, and what right have 27 women to complain that he pinches their boobs every so often when they don't have to deal with neck pain?

I wonder if anyone thought to ask whether Anderson asked permission or even explained this procedure.

Anderson, of course, says he deserves to keep his dental license. He has seven children to feed. But my question is: who would ever go to this guy again?

Actually, that's not my question. Because then I read this part of the news item: "Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Phillips gave Lew three new complaints, including one from a 31-year-old woman who said Anderson fondled her at least six times over two years. She took to wearing tight shirts with high necklines, 'and Anderson would still get in under her shirt and bra,' according to a police report."

My question is really this: how many times does a woman have to get groped by a dentist before she stops going to see him? Seriously, do you know how many dentists there are in the world?

Head Full of Pulp

I really, really hate it when people forward me emails that have something to do with how nice and pastoral and wonderful religion is. Look, I'm not into it. I'm not buying religion, okay? It's not that I haven't heard the right things, or don't get it, or need to have it explained to me in different ways over and over again. I just don't care. I'm not religious, and I don't want to hear about it anymore.

Anyway, here's the email. It's been going around for a few years (this is not the first time I've gotten it), so it might look a bit familiar to you.

Being a Christian is like being a pumpkin.

God lifts you up, takes you in, and washes all the dirt off of you. He opens you up, touches you deep inside and scoops out all the yucky stuff - including the seeds of doubt, hate, greed, etc. Then He carves you a new smiling face and puts His light inside you to shine for all the world to see.

This was passed on to me from another pumpkin. Now, it is your turn to pass it to a pumpkin. I liked this enough to send it to all the pumpkins in my patch.
Ew. "All the pumpkins in my patch"? Yuck. Be careful, don't let the treacle flooding from this thing drown you.

Now, because this is the kind of person I am, this thing just creeped me out. God scoops out all the yucky stuff and carves you a new smiling face? Isn't that what Room 101 is supposed to do, too? Why are some Christians so exceedingly proud of the idea that God is great because he frees you from the burden of thinking and doing for yourself? What are you, pets? You're human beings, fend for yourself already.

Anyway, this year I decided to compose a reply to that email. Because I've told the person who sent it to me not to send me this kind of God fan club bullshit. I sat down and I wrote this:

Being a Christian is like being a pumpkin.

God judges whether you are good enough, then rips you from the earth that nourishes you and conforms you into looking like every other pumpkin. He opens you up and sucks out everything he doesn't like -- including the seeds of independent thought, rationality, skepticism, your soul, and anything that doesn't make you afraid of the world around you. Then, like a plastic surgeon, he carves a bizarre, creapy, unrealistic smile on you that grows into a scowl as you wither and die. He puts a flame of constant fear and doubt inside of you to scorch you into blind obedience. And then, when he's done enjoying your pain, he throws you away.

But while you slowly die, at least you make me laugh with your attempts to paste Christ-inanity onto a holiday that has nothing to do with it!

I don't know... too much? I decided not to send it. Instead I just emailed them this very offensive picture and called it "God and His Believer."

Enjoy your autumn!