Saturday, May 03, 2008

Card, Rowling, and the Lexicon Lawsuit

Orson Scott Card has written a column taking J.K. Rowling to task over what he calls her "frivolous lawsuit" against the author and would-be publishers of The Harry Potter Lexicon. I have to say, I agree with about 95% of what he says, and I urge you to read it if you have any interest at all in this case. While I can't speak to the similarities between Harry Potter and Ender's Game (I've not read Ender's, and he's being mostly tongue-in-cheek about that part), and while I don't think Rowling was merely borrowing heavily from other fiction, he makes some great points. Among them:

1. That The Harry Potter Lexicon and the website are scholarly comment, not presented as original content.

2. That J.K. Rowling is something of a hypocrite in this case, since books of scholarly comment on the Harry Potter series have been published before, and since she herself brought the suit she claims is destroying her will to write, and since she herself has praised the website in the past and acknowledged that she put it to use.

3. That the lawsuit puts literary scholarship at risk.

That last one is especially of interest to me, since I've written and even published scholarly papers on literature. Some of it is, in my own opinion, among the best stuff I've ever written. I even used to, until very recently, serve as an associate editor on a scholarly literary journal, Studies in Fantasy Literature. I can't imagine being sued by the heirs of Tolkien or John Steinbeck or Herman Melville over things I've written. Actually, I can. Because I wrote this paper on The Grapes of Wrath for a class and was accused of plagiarizing it by my professor. And it's awful being accused or even suspected of something like that.

I especially agree with Card that J.K. Rowling is so very desperate for respect that it's painful to watch. And in the past I've been annoyed that Rowling didn't get more respect for her actual work, because those are good, compelling, well-written books. Are they Camus? Are they Melville? Are they Tolstoy? No, but they're still very good. They're hard to put down. And, since the phenomenon began, Rowling has had to put up with a lot of shots from the literati who've looked down on her for writing children's books and gotten angry over her success. She's had to put up with the constant ridicule of bullshit outlets like Entertainment Weekly, a magazine that has always lauded the pop culture phenomenon while going out of their way to criticize the novels themselves (the worst slap in the face was probably when they got Christopher Paolini, child author of Eragon, to write a review of one of the books that would barely get a passing grade in remedial 12th grade English; another was having Stephen King review one of her books--the man's so desperate for his own respect that he'll trample on anyone else's reputation if they're popular just to show he can be a snob, too).

What I guess I'm especially glad of right now is that, thanks to the movies and Daniel Radcliffe and endless marketing, Harry Potter is now bigger than J.K. Rowling. So my complete and utter lack of respect for her now won't ruin my perception of a series of novels I quite enjoyed.

I don't know, read what he has to say. It's a very interesting perspective from someone in the same business.

Things You Learn Being a Sub

1. 95% of substitute teachers are completely full of shit and kind of hate children. They come in overdressed with this idea that children really, really want to learn. They expect the kids are going to sit and listen quietly while they're told all of these really great things about life and history and math or what have you. It would be hilarious if they didn't turn into total jerks about it. One of the subs who has been showing up every so often at the school is the kind of woman who apparently had the idea that teaching fifth graders was going to be like Little House on the Prairie; behaved, contrite, and completely outdated. Then, when the kids push the subs around (because fifth grade is when they really start pushing their boundaries en masse), the subs can't handle it and react with this anger and completely give up trying to teach. Instead they just try to keep order and yell and threaten a lot.

They also tend to be total snobs, but to be fair, I show up in jeans, I'm overweight (which of course must mean I'm a slob), and the kids actually like me without me having to yell at them. In fact, my four fifth-grade regulars gained a bunch of respect for me when I corrected this same sub on the president's salary. Even Melody felt she could say "I couldn't wait to get away from that woman!"

2. 98% of the other assistants protect their elite little group. Seriously, would it kill you guys to be nice to me more often? A couple of them have gotten to know me and think I'm helping out. Most of them feel inexplicably threatened by me, which kind of sucks. That's why I don't eat lunch in the breakroom very often. More often than not I just eat in my car.

3. Kids actually, really, really, really freaking love Alvin & the Chipmunks. I've never hated children more.

Last Word on the Miley "Controversy"

Disney's doing their spin on this entire Vanity Fair thing; I can't believe how seriously they're taking this now. They're playing up the contrite, wholesome little teenager thing and banned her from a red carpet event this week. The vigor they've jumped on this with is surprising; maybe they're afraid of having another Lindsay Lohan on their hands, especially one who is as much of a cash cow as Miley is (and she's the biggest cash cow they've had in teenage girl form since Hilary Duff, whom they stupidly let go in a business decision I still can't get over for its sheer dumbassery). I expect People to have the big story to counter the Vanity Fair article in which she talks about homework and the Jonas Brothers and going to church and how she supports the troops. I should just go into this business, everything is so freaking obvious. Cynically, I wonder if Disney enforcing the little Disney girl image is working against the obvious plan on the part of Miley and her family to break away from the good girl Disney image.

Anyway, what's been bugging me about this week's controversy is not only the fact that this whole thing is self-serving on every level, but the way kids look up to Miley (and, again, they do, I see it at the school all the time). Of course, they've been seeing worse, really, with her personal photos "leaking" online. Another blogger managed to put into words what bugs me the most about this whole stupidity:

People ask what is wrong with the Miley Cyrus photos. I don't think it is the actual photos themselves as much as it is what the people who control her life are trying to convey. Do they want 25 year old guys to think she is sexy and hot? Do they want guys thinking of her in a sexual way? Although none of them will probably get with Miley Cyrus, what about the other 15 year old girls who now think it is perfectly acceptable to dress like Miley and to flash their bra to the world. Who is going to protect those girls from the guy who can't get with Miley but sure has a chance with this other teenage girl. That to me is the issue, and why we need to do a better job of protecting our youth.
And I guess that's kind of the real issue for me. It's indicative of a problem we've been having for a while, which is that our culture is currently obsessed with the sexuality of teenage girls. The teen pop singers who flaunt their sexuality while using chastity as a marketing tool are sexualizing themselves in the most cynical way. The people who manufacture outrage over it seem to see teen sexuality as a time bomb that needs to be defused, but they're still focusing on the sexuality. And then there's the guys who are interested in teen sexuality for obvious reasons, which is something I seem to be hearing a great deal about this week.

Once again, I have no idea what the answer is. Only that there's still a schism between how society wants us to view teenage girls, and how we actually view them. American culture isn't always entire honest with itself. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Friday, May 02, 2008

Throwdown 5/2

Random thoughts, questions, and observations for the week.

1. Kim Kardashian endorsed Barack Obama. Please tell me there wasn’t someone out there waiting to see who Kim Kardashian endorsed before they made up their mind. Still, I’d like to get an, um, endorsement off of Kimmy myself…

2. Turns out Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford made it 30 years ago. And apparently it turns out this is news. Oddly, it also turns out that Carrie Fisher can remember stuff that happened 30 years ago, which honestly surprises me. Still, I prefer to think she really had the hots for Chewie.

3. The biggest squid ever captured, a half-ton monster with 30-foot-long tentacles lined with razor-sharp hooks. And it turns out this might be a lot smaller than what’s living down in the Antarctic waters. Megafauna!

4. Not so large, but the greater dwarf cloud rat was rediscovered in the Philippines. It’s never been seen by scientists in its natural habitat, and no one’s seen one in 112 years. I don’t know, stories like this make me happy.

5. How scary is it that Mark David Chapman is now obsessed with Lindsay Lohan? Apparently he’s begging to be allowed to write to her and has pictures of her all over the walls of his cell in Attica. He wants her to come for a visit. I still don’t understand why they let this guy have any access at all to the outside world. He’s psychotic; he’s been diagnosed. I’m not a big fan of forgiving these people just because they’re sick.

6. Okay, so, is this going on the family Christmas card this year? What the fuck, Billy Ray? You are officially in Joe Simpson territory now. I love how he claims now that he’s “mortified” by the suggestive shots of Miley that were supposedly taken after he left the shoot. Dude, she’s 15. You’re telling me that you didn’t get to proof the pictures before they were used? You’re telling me you’re surprised that Annie Leibovitz would take pictures like that? You kind of set the tone with this crap. Would you stop making it look like you and Miley are lovers? It’s creepy.

7. But not as creepy as these pictures of Hulk Hogan lovingly caressing—er, rubbing tanning oil on his daughter Brooke’s ass and inner thighs. What the fuck, Hulk? Seriously, what the fuck? Oh, by the way, happy twentieth birthday today, Brooke.

8. Hollywood is now up in arms over net neutrality, saying that it will compromise their fight against piracy. Apparently they’re still not considering hipping to modern times and updating their business model to address what’s already going on. Too obvious, or…?

9. Apparently Madonna hasn’t had enough attention devoted to how much she follows the trend of really, really pretending to give a shit about poor people, so now she wants to adopt a baby from either Palestine or Cambodia. Christ, do rich people really think they’re somehow solving racism and poverty by collecting tribes of token children for their own personal United Nations? I wonder if Madonna will actually adopt this one or just abduct it like last time.

10. The D.C. Madam has “killed herself” in Florida. Just letting that sink in. “Committed suicide.” I’m sure this is the last we’ll ever hear of this, now that she’s “killed herself.”

11. So, if John McCain supports the troops so damn much, why won’t he support the GI Bill? That doesn’t sound very supportive to me, but maybe I’m missing something.

12. Dana Perino says that we were all wrong to make fun of “Mission Accomplished” because apparently the banner was meant to denote that the mission of the USS Abraham Lincoln had been completed. Because it’s normal to call a national press conference guest starring the president as Captain Flyboy every time an aircraft carrier docks and declare “the battle of Iraq is over.” Seriously, honey, I work with first graders, and you and your idiot boss lie about as well as they do. We’re not stupid; you are, if you think we’re buying what you’re selling.

13. Another Bush story (the guy is just going to crash us into the sun if he can, because he knows he’s not getting back in): he’s threatening to veto a bill making it mandatory that the Coast Guard provide security around eight liquefied natural gas terminals and arriving tankers. The fact that the House needed to legislate (overwhelmingly, 395-7) is bad enough. But veto it? They must be Halliburton competitors. Either way, the House has a lot more than the two-thirds necessary to overturn if he does it. Hey, this is the same guy who wanted to combat terrorism by turning our ports over to the Middle East.

14. One more, but it warms my evil heart: Bush wants his Preznenshal Liberry at Southern Methodist University. They recently took a vote on whether to host Bush’s papers (a charitable description of what I can only imagine as unfinished coloring books and flowers made out of construction paper), and it came in at 844-20. That’s 844 against. Mission accomplished, indeed.

15. Why is it that in a presidential race against a former First Lady and an admiral’s son who married into a beer fortune, it’s the black guy with almost no political presence who has to prove he’s not an elitist? That’s all I’ve heard for a month now, and all it’s done is make it okay for white people to say publicly that they're uncomfortable voting for a black man. They are using “elitist” as a codeword for “uppity nigger.” I wonder if Michelle Obama is still proud of her country?

16. Once again, President Duh has gone before the cameras to tell America that he’s perfectly willing to solve all of their problems, but Congress just won’t let him. Yes, there’s a mortgage crisis, a lending crisis, a credit crisis, rising food costs, rising oil costs, and a falling dollar, but that’s all because Congress won’t let him drill for oil in Alaska. When asked if we were in a recession or not (and even Greenspan told CNBC that we were), Fuckwit-in-Chief said: “the average person doesn't really care what we call it. The average person wants to know whether or not we know that they're paying higher gasoline prices and they're worried about staying in their homes.” Thanks, George, but you’re the last person I would ever ask about what the average person wants. You’ve never cared. So, as an average person, I’d like to extend a heartfelt wish that you go and fuck yourself, you filthy piece of shit. Why don’t you go and play with your blocks in the corner and we’ll let you know when it’s time for you to go home.

Soon, Very Soon...

Math According to Becca

A theory based on the lame concept of "internet celebrities."

YouTube star = guy who served me fries yesterday

What Can I Say? I'm a Fan

Happy 18th Birthday, Kay Panabaker!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

You Idiot

Got the first-graders to P.E. Hopped in my car and proceeded to think about what I wanted for lunch. My lunch is 11:45 to 12:30.

Hmm, I wonder if this town has a McDonald's or a Wendy's or something fast and not overly disgusting.

Nope... wow, this place is sparse. It's like one school, a real estate brokerage, a gas station, and endless McMansions countered by endless trailer homes.

Wow, a double-wide for sale? I've never seen a handwritten sign advertising that before. Weird.

Wow, lots of train tracks and some boarded buildings. I didn't realize this place was so badly off. I'm glad they got the referendum to build a new school. This place is simultaneously extra poor and overcrowded.

Town-wide garage sale tomorrow? Hmm, maybe...

Man, I'm getting far north of the school and still no place to eat.

Huh. I wonder what's wrong with my clock. It says it's only 10:56.


Oh, for the love of crumbcake!

Small favors: no one noticed. Thank you, thank you, thank you...

Ever, Ever More on the Subject of Me

I got tagged by a monkey to tell you more about me. Here are the rules:

A) The rules of the game get posted at the beginning.
B) Each player answers the questions about himself or herself.
C) At the end of the post, the player then tags five people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read your blog.

1. Ten years ago I was: Driving a van for a living, delivering for a small printing company. Still living at home, too. Trying hard to get one or four of the girls at work to sleep with me. Looking forward to seeing Godzilla, about to get a crash course in how bad blockbusters were going to get.

2. Five things on today's to do list: 1. Survive work (done). 2. Pick up the mail (done). 3. Blog (done). 4. Watch internet porn (done). 5. Watch the three TV shows I watch on Thursday and relax in the fact that tomorrow's another institute day that I don't have to go to, so I've got a three-day weekend (pending).

3. Things I'd do if I were a billionaire: I like Dr. Monkey's answers, because it's the same thing I always said I'd do if I were a billionaire--find ways to create and fund efficient energy, organic farms, sustainability, and alternative fuels. Also, how about we finally finish the whole New Orleans rebuild, huh?

4. Three bad habits: Impatience, taking things the wrong way, watching internet porn.

5. Five places I've lived: Des Moines, IA; Killeen, TX; Woodridge, IL; Villa Park, IL; DeKalb, IL.

6. Six jobs I've had in my life: Driver, video store supervisor, bookstore inventory manager, cashier, voice-over guy, substitute teacher.

Oh, such tagginess do I tag: Angry, Megan, Splotchmeister, Chance, and Becks. I know a lot of bloggers don't do tags, so iffin' you don't, I understandsk.

Street Pixels


I Need a Drink

3:32 PM. Kids are bustling around, getting to their buses or starting the walk home. I'm waiting with one of the school secretaries to make sure the last of the fifth and third graders get out. I sigh heavily because my feet hurt, my back hurts, and I'm tired as hell.

Her: Doing okay today?

Me: Sure. Which room is the bar in?

Her (laughing): I haven't found it yet.

Me: You let me know the second you do.

Falling Down

So, Scarlett. I just heard your single, "Falling Down," from your upcoming album Anywhere I Lay My Head. And I want you to know that I still love you. We all make kind of lame mistakes. And besides, I know you can sing. I've heard you. That version of "Summertime" you recorded is F-A-B. So I can understand why someone would think it was a good idea to do an album with you. And an album of Tom Waits covers? Very cool. But you know what's great about Tom Waits? His songs are raw. His songs are unashamedly emotional. His songs are not overproduced pop songs. Sadly, whoever is producing your album has yet to realize this simple fact. "Falling Down" is so overproduced it barely even sounds like music. And your unfortunate, straightforward approach to the vocals is kind of disappointing. And the overdubs? My God, honey, it's like listening to U2 get scraped of all melody, harmony, and tunefulness.

I am seriously not looking forward to this album anymore. And if I may, it was probably a bad idea trying to call out Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton for making bad albums. Because Lindsay's first album was actually pretty darn good; at least she didn't go for the overdubbing too egregiously. That was just asking for it, ScarJo.

But like I said, we all make mistakes. Not everything you make is going to be good. And if I can overlook how truly awful The Nanny Diaries was, I can overlook this latest lapse in taste. Better luck on the next project.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Today I had the tiniest breakthrough with Melody.

She's my problem student. Now that I'm on full days, I get the whole group--Melody, Josie, Valerie, and Alan--twice a day instead of just once. I was supposed to be doing math and then reading with the four of them this morning, but the resource coordinator pulled out a game called Octaminoes, which teaches kids about money and math, and Alan and I started playing. Josie wanted to play, too. Then Mel and Val both got really interested, and I spent the whole 90 minutes playing the game with them. They had fun, they learned a bit about counting money, and they mostly behaved. It was the first time I'd ever gotten the four of them to all sit down and focus on something, and needless to say, I was happy about that. I considered that a productive morning.

In the afternoon, Josie and Alan wanted to play the game again. I said they could, and the five of us went upstairs into the resource room again. But this time, Melody was upset. She's been working on some Social Studies homework for the last couple of days, and she's having problems. They've got to fill in this brochure on the three branches of government, describing the powers of each branch, the term limits of the officials within them, and the qualifications to serve. For some reason, Mel is convinced that she's got to get on the internet to search for the answers, but all of the answers are actually in a packet on the Constitution that all of the kids have. She got frustrated because I wouldn't let her get on the computer (all of the kids have a tendency to try and surf the web or play games or otherwise be off task, her especially) and she says she doesn't have the internet at home. I'd never seen her so sullen and upset; she seemed to really not know what to do.

I took her to another table and talked to her about it. She was communicating in nods and head shakes at first. I explained to her that all of the answers were in her packet and even showed her which pages she could find them on without leading her to the specific answers. Melody still felt upset, but I felt like I was getting through. I talked to her face to face about why she had to do her work. It sunk in. I finally made a deal with her. I marked the page where she could find the powers of the three branches listed (the one that says "POWERS" in big letters) and made her promise to do those at home since it was essentially transcribing. Then I told her if she finished the other half of the brochure for me, I'd let her get on the computer for 8 minutes. And she did it. She did it pretty quickly. And I let her get on the computer like I told her I would. I thanked her for following directions. And I hope she went home and finished her work, although I'm a little skeptical there.

Still, for the very first time, I finally got through to her about her schoolwork. I'm not even sure how I did, really. It just sort of happened. It feels good.

I have a feeling that, like many things, she'll forget about it tomorrow. That she'll be just as difficult as she always is. And that she'll try to take advantage of me some way.

But for now, I know that dealing with her works. That she can focus when it comes down to it. Small victories. It was a small victory. But I'll take it.

75 Years of Willie Nelson

"Gee, ain't it funny how time slips away."

So Very Tired

On the playground, sitting on the bench, keeping an eye on the kids at recess, thinking to myself.

Look at those kids running around with all of that energy. How do they do it?

I'll bet I could take a running leap.

By "running leap," I mean "jump."

By "jump," I mean "hop."


By "hop," I mean "stand in place."

Titanic Duel

Manx, I love this.

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

Meh. It's as meh as the first movie. We meet a bunch of people we don't care about, they mostly get killed, some of the special effects are good, blah blah blah, who gives a shit? Yeah, it's not terrible, but it's so pointless. ** stars.

Beautiful, tragic tale of a samurai who falls in love with a woman who is already married. He becomes obsessed with her and does everything he can to steal her from her functionary husband, but in the end... well, you need to see it. It's one of the great Japanese films. **** stars.

J'ACCUSE (1919)
Two men serving in World War I are both in love with the same woman. Abel Gance's epic film is emotional and wrenching, though at three hours it may be too full for some. Beautifully shot. **** stars.

LA ROUE (1923)
Abel Gance's four-and-a-half-hour epic tells the story of a family torn apart by lust. Sisif, an engineer, finds an orphaned girl and adopts her as his own. He raises her alongside his own son, but when she blossoms into a lovely young woman he falls powerfully in love with her and is wracked with guilt. Meanwhile, his son is also harboring feelings for the girl, not realizing that she's not really his sister. Everyone in the movie struggles powerfully with self-disgust and anger; it's very French. Beautiful to look at; the train scenes are excellent and exciting. **** stars.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Jan! Jan! Jan!

Happy 50th Birthday, Eve Plumb!

The Health Report, Year 2: Week 20

Well, I had a little talk yesterday with Principal MILF, and as of today I'm working full days at the school. So I'm on my feet for several hours longer, but it is slightly more money, which is a good thing going into summer. Although the last thing it feels like around here is summer. 40 degrees today at best, snow all day yesterday... and I was so hot last week when it was in the seventies!

Today was a weird day; the entire school was at a baseball game for a field trip, except for eight kids who didn't get their work in on time, so my job was just to help out with them. Tomorrow will be more structured, which will be nice. I need to space out time to eat, too, because I think I'm gaining weight again, even though I'm eating less. I'm exercising in the morning again, too, so that my legs are ready to go and don't collapse under my immense weight. I never had to take a lunch break in the teachers' lounge before, and it was fascinating today. It really is just like you imagine as a kid: they complain about kids and parents they don't like. The biggest complaint, to no surprise at all, is calling parents about a behavioral or work problem, only to have the parents accuse the school of doing something wrong because their precious Baby Junior Sonofabitch likes to trip other kids or thinks it's okay to write their numbers backwards because "you know what I mean." That was fun to listen to.

Dammit, my feet hurt and I just want to nap for an hour or five. And I want dinner. Can I sleep and eat at the same time?

Still, it's nice to have something to do all day besides be on the computer.

Another Day, Another Miley Scandal, Another Ramble

Yesterday's post about Miley Cyrus's Vanity Fair controversy sure brought in a lot of traffic. And I know why. It's not really because people wanted to see the picture that I had up. It's because people wanted to see the picture going around of Miley Cyrus topless in her bedroom. Apparently it's been going around a bunch of Facebook pages, and now it's hit the internet, and a couple of people who read this blog sent me the picture. And here's the funny part: it's not Miley Cyrus. It's so not Miley Cyrus that it's kind of sad how many people completely believe it's Miley Cyrus.

Just look at the girl's face. Not only do I think I see Photoshop lines, but the earlobes are a dead giveaway. (I'm not sure what it says about me that I notice that.) And I'm just posting her face; I saw a number of blogs and "serious" news sites that put the picture up and simply put stars or a line over her breasts or blurred them. I'm not showing her body because I've seen the picture and the girl does look like she's about fourteen years old, and I may put up a lot of questionable and inappropriate content, but topless fourteen year-olds are one thing I'm not going to be posting.

What's really crazy here is the way so many people want, even need this to be a topless picture of Miley. I understand it, I really do, but isn't this the sort of thing that people used to be a lot more quiet about?

This is a debate I've had a few times over the years, especially since Britney Spears became the first underage girl it was "okay" to openly lust over. Gosh, that was a decade ago now. I remember it pretty well because I was about 22 when "Baby One More Time" hit MTV, and a friend and I were talking about how strange we felt that we didn't like high school girls when we were in high school, but sure as hell looked at them now that we were technically adults. Why was that urge there?

My feeling is this: it's wired in the male brain that young women, very young women, are sexually desirable. It's the mating urge. That doesn't excuse the behavior that's rampant in America right now, where young starlets are some kind of game trophy, but it's there. It hasn't been that long ago in our history that teenagers regularly married older men. Because an older man had proven his ability to provide for a family, and a young girl who hadn't borne any children yet was desirable for that very reason.

And for their part, it's wired in the female brain that this is when they start becoming sexually attractive, and they tend to start displaying, if you will, to see what effect they have on boys. The problem with this is that adult men notice. They nearly always notice. Most men, if we're being completely and totally honest, want to fuck a teenager. It's not an intellectualized need, either. It's just an instinct. This is one of the great schisms of modern society. On the one hand, men know that women are ready to start bearing children when they reach sexual maturity. On the other hand, societal rules say it's a crime to have sex with a child. One of the many reasons why sexual politics are so fucked up. This isn't pedophilia--pedophiles get off from establishing trusting relationships and then abusing that trust in the most invasive way possible. This is simple biology; civilization ignores a primal urge for the sake of gentility. I'm not trying to excuse this, I'm just saying that it's there and it's potentially dangerous. And believe it or not, it's hard on men, too. Some of us hate that we feel that way and can't deal with it.

Teenage girls know they attract that attention from older men, but they usually don't know it until they've already done it. Lots of them feel creepy about it. I never thought about this as a teenage boy, but having talked to a lot of women as an adult, nearly all of them talked about how they noticed a lot as developing teenagers that grown men used to look at them with more than a passing interest. In some cases, someone said something to them that they still remember because they thought it was creepy. I imagine it must feel weird growing up and being looked at that way by adults when you only want boys to look at you.

I'll give you an example. There's a girl in one of my fifth grade classes, and she's very developed. A lot more developed than any of the other girls. You'd look at her and think she was fifteen or sixteen, easy, when she's actually eleven. And I actually try not to look at her when I'm scanning the class, making sure everyone is quiet and behaving, because I don't want her to think I'm looking at her in an inappropriate way. Because I'm sure she already gets that from adults, and I don't want to be one more adult who makes her feel like there's something wrong with her because she developed early. She's going to have a hard enough time in junior high, which is hell on everyone. And part of me hates that I even have to take this into consideration, but when I first started at this school, I saw the way she would look down, embarrassed and frustrated, when I would even look in her direction.

But, thanks to our pals in the media, lust towards underage girls has become socially acceptable, at least in the larger sense. Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Miley Cyrus. Teenage girls show more and more in the way they dress, and everyone's videotaping it to put on the internet. Jamie-Lynn Spears is pregnant at 17 and this is completely acceptable. And now 2000 people come to my blog in the hopes that I have a picture of a topless 14 year-old girl.

My youngest sister turns 13 in two weeks. This is the world she's going to have to be a teenager in. And, of course, my hard ass dad and humorless stepmom are being as strict as they can be with her, which only makes her pull harder against their rules. Because I'm her brother, she's told me about some of it. I told her she could always tell me the truth and I would help her and not judge her whenever I could, because she's my sister and I love her and I think someone needs to be able to tell her when she should rein it in without yelling at her like a parent. But she's got a cell phone and the internet, and she's pretty popular, and I worry that she's becoming a teenager in a day when seeing Miley Cyrus's breasts is apparently not a crime but a sport.

ScarJo Portraiture

Monday, April 28, 2008

That's a Bit Depressing

The scene outside my window at this very moment.
I know it won't build up, or anything, but still... what a way to start the day. It's 28 April, for crying out loud. Good thing global climate change is only a myth.

Hard Candy

Does anyone out there still want to fuck Madonna?

The only reason I ask is that so much of Madonna's pop culture persona is predicated on the notion that she's really sexy and people want to fuck her. The problem is, Madonna's never been sexy. Not really. She's been fuckable at times, but never sexy. She's not smart enough, not interesting enough, not physically appealing enough, not mysterious enough to be sexy. She's been sexual, certainly, but in much more of a clinical way. I guess she feels like she's spent her career attempting to deconstruct sex itself, along with the attitudes and mores and basic processes associated with it, but it's never quite worked. She's not smart enough, not interesting enough, not physically appealing enough, not mysterious enough to pull it off. She's never really, truly commited to sex in any way. She's just used it as some sort of half-assed art statement along the way to a long-term career in generic, occasionally listenable pop music.

This weekend, I listened to a couple of tracks from Madonna's new album, Hard Candy. Frankly, I was embarrassed for her. Remember when they used to push Madonna as someone ahead of her time? It's been so very, very long since that was remotely true. During her whole Erotica phase, she was really just ripping off Prince. When the electronica boom happened, she was at the forefront, but only in the sense that she was already doing things that Moby, the Prodigy and, hell, New Order had been doing for years. "Ray of Light" was like the adult contemporary version of techno. Her last album, Confessions on a Dance Floor, had a couple of decent singles, but it was years too late for it to be anything groundbreaking. Kylie Minogue did it better years before. And now Hard Candy, which features Justin Timberlake and Timbaland, is just a bland attempt to do what Nelly Furtado, Gnarls Barkley, Christina Aguilera, Gwen Stefani, JT himself, and nearly every other act selling to the under-20s has been doing for a couple of years now.

And, even though I've never bought into the idea that Madonna is some kind of vital, groundbreaking artist, it's kind of sad to see someone who takes themselves so seriously playing catch-up on musical trends. Hard Candy is essentially a hip-pop album by a 50 year-old white woman, and it's not even as exciting as that sounds. It's especially funny because, on that idiot single "4 Minutes," you can hear Justin and Timbaland holding back, not wanting to give their best stuff to a has-been. It's not a song, it's a dance break. And not a good one. Madonna can barely even keep up with the beat.

This is nothing against older women, but in musical terms, Madonna's elderly. Yeah, the Rolling Stones don't stop recording, but they're also not trying to keep up with the kids. They're still mining the same sound they've always had; they're smart that way. Hard Candy is sort of an apt name for this album; I assume the next one will be called Early Bird Special or 4 PM Bedtime or A Quiet Morning of Knitting.

How pathetic.

Legendary Refreshment


Miley Apologizes: Manufactured Controversy

Here's Miley Cyrus in Vanity Fair. Of course, this is a controversy. And for once, something that is a controversy probably should be. After all, Miley is a role model. I hate to say that about pop stars or people who are in sitcoms, but it's very true. I work with kids, and every day I see Hannah Montana backpacks, tee shirts, eyeglass frames, sneakers, book covers, and tie-in novels. I hear kids singing her songs; the special education class uses her music so kids can get up and dance for movement breaks. Kids love her. Kids of a certain age look up to her.

This was not a good idea at all.

Miley is 15 years old. She's at that age where a lot of girls are experimenting with sexuality and not thinking about the consequences. She's at that age where she takes risque pictures of herself and puts them on the internet, thinking no one will ever see them. She reminds me of what Tina Fey said in Playboy about Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan: that we've got a generation of young, famous girls who think they can say whatever they want in the press and it will be true. There has been photo after photo of Miley, many of which have been on this blog, looking stoned and in progressive stages of nudity and laying with boys and swapping spit with her girlfriends. You know, apparently normal kid stuff for this generation. I guess kids were doing that when I was 15, but I was too nerdy to be invited and they weren't making videos and taking pictures of it and there wasn't really an internet to upload that stuff onto.

Still, that stuff wasn't marketed to an audience, and that's the real difference here. This photo, with Miley wrapped in a blanket and her bare back exposed to remove any doubt that she's naked under it, is for Vanity frigging Fair. It was taken by one of the go-to people in the industry, Annie Leibovitz. This is Miley pretending to be a sophisticated adult and other adults letting her do it. And, apparently, it was intended to be as risque as a major magazine could possibly get away with.

Miley apparently felt good about it, saying: "Annie took, like, a beautiful shot, and I thought it was really cool. That’s what she wanted me to do, and you can’t say no to Annie. I think it’s really artsy. It wasn’t in a skanky way."

But then she reversed herself, and I'm sure that has more to do with the early, negative reaction to them. Now she wants to distance herself from the finished product and says: "I took part in a photo shoot that was supposed to be 'artistic' and now, seeing the photographs and reading the story, I feel so embarrassed. I never intended for any of this to happen and I apologize to my fans who I care so deeply about."

Bullshit. If she cared so deeply about her fans, she would've realized that the majority of them are in the fifth grade at best and not done these pictures. What she really cares deeply about is the longevity of her career. And there's nothing wrong with that, really, she just shouldn't be so manipulative about it. Be honest if you're so grown up. She's had a negative example set for her by the Lindsay Lohans of the world, but look at where Lindsay's inepet attempts to manipulate the media and her fans got her. It's pretty obvious that Miley and her parents (who didn't seem to think being half-nude in Vanity Fair was such a bad idea, either) are trying to ensure that Miley doesn't wind up another Disney has-been and are trying to make her appealing to a market beyond children and Disney fans, but come on. You're still parents. And if you treat her career right instead of going for the quick bucks, she'll probably do fine. This is just fucking stupid.

The Disney Channel, of course, is pretty pissed off. The network says: "Unfortunately, as the article suggests, a situation was created to deliberately manipulate a 15-year-old in order to sell magazines." What they really mean is, if anyone is going to manipulate Miley to sell stuff, they want it to be Disney.

The funny thing is, Miley's parents were there. They've released a bunch of behind-the-scenes pics that show Miley being treated just fine and going along with the shoot. Photos are digital now, so they would've seen the photos right away. Everyone involved seems to have thought this was a good idea. Vanity Fair says that everyone thought it was a beautiful portrait. And you know what? It is. But it's still not a good idea.

Another funny thing: the pictures haven't even been released yet. She's rushed to the press to spin this thing the way she wants it because Disney's all pissy about it. This way she gets to have the sexy picture out there proving she's not just a kid, as well as be upset about how she's being exploited. Except she's being exploited by herself. Kids are just so wonderfully media-savvy these days, aren't they? Wait, is media-savvy the term I want? Maybe I should just say hypocrite.

I'm reading a lot of stuff about how Miley is letting down her fans and how Vanity Fair is exploiting a child. But the real insanity isn't the picture. It's the way that everyone involved--Miley and her parents, Vanity Fair, and Disney--is attempting to spin this picture to their advantage. This little tempest isn't about morality. Sure, it's sad to see a teenager whom so many younger kids look up to and buy into attempting to exploit her own image as internet age jailbait to make sure she's not always going to be eating at the kiddie table, but that's not what irritates me with this. It's the way that Miley backpedaled on her feelings in order to save her reputation with Disney, the way Disney accuses Vanity Fair of doing what Disney's already doing itself, and the way Vanity Fair thought it was a brilliant idea to take risque pictures of a 15 year-old kid.

Why do we need the media, again?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Song of the Week: "Who Are You"

Sweet Jeebus Q. Kazoo, I love this song. This is one of the most absolutely perfect rock songs I've ever heard in my life, and it's one that I don't think I can ever hear too many times. This is The Who in The Kids Are Alright at the height of perfection. Before Keith Moon died. Before Face Dances. The four of them, rocking hard, Pete Townshend's hard melody meeting Roger Daltrey's epic howl and Keith Moon's powerful drums and John Entwhistle's underrated bass setting the through-line. All meeting in five of the most powerful minutes you will ever hear. I love it when a plan comes together. You know, the next time someone writes the history of punk music, they need to take The Who much more into account as a punk influence. They were doing it long before Johnny Rotten was an anarchist, and they were doing it better. The power and the irreverence was already there, and they could do it without the posing.

100 Things I Love

Last week, I explicated 100 Things I Hate. As promised, I restore my karma by countering with 100 things I love. This was a hard list to do, actually. It kind of reminded me of Tolstoy's assertion that “All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Similarly, the things piss you off are always specific and interesting and kind of funny, while everyone tends to love the same things in life and it tends to come off sappy and lame. But, you know, karma at stake and all that. So here we are. 100 Things I Love.

1. The smell of rain.
2. The art of cooking.
3. The smell of old books and libraries.
4. Breasts. All sizes.
5. When a woman is soft and curvy.
6. Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck.
7. Bells in pop music.
8. Petting a furry animal.
9. Carving pumpkins.
10. Making lists.
11. Cleaning, though I don't do it often enough.
12. The first bite of a perfectly juicy hamburger.
13. Outsmarting someone. I'm petty that way.
14. The light breeze of a spring day.
15. The sound of birds.
16. Orgasms.
17. Crying at the end of a really great movie.
18. Musicals. I admit it.
19. Watching entire seasons of TV shows on DVD.
20. Early morning.
21. Being able to spot a planet in the night sky.
22. Looking up at the stars and convincing yourself that you can feel the planet revolving in space.
23. Sailing.
24. Fishing.
25. Laughing really, really hard.
26. Reading just about anything.
27. The moment when the lights dim and the movie starts. I'm always excited in the hopes of being entertained.
28. That moment in the Lou Reed song "Perfect Day" when the violins come up.
29. Being surprised by art.
30. Grimace. From McDonald Land. I just love the guy.
31. Fantastic wordplay. Sit down, Jason Mraz, no one means you.
32. Nipple slips. They feel naughty. There's not enough good naughtiness in the world anymore--too much of it's become normalized, and where's the fun in that?
33. The music from Super Mario Bros. It makes me inexplicably happy.
34. The Pac Man sound effects.
35. Zoos.
36. Driving on a lonely road at three in the morning, feeling like the only person in the world, and then the perfect oldie comes up. Like, "Whiter Shade of Pale" or something.
37. Singing. I suck at it, but I love to do it.
38. Long, hot showers.
39. Dissonance in music.
40. Monsters, giant or otherwise.
41. Robots, giant or otherwise.
42. Gorillas, giant or otherwise.
43. Crunchberries.
44. Latinas. They just make me feel comforted somehow. I think it's because of Maria from Sesame Street.
45. Keeping a garden.
46. The rustling sound made by the mass of birds who used to come to my balcony and feed all at once.
47. Dinosaurs.
48. Megafauna. Even the word itself is exciting.
49. Girls who play the guitar.
50. The melodies of the Beach Boys.
51. Swordfighting in movies.
52. Those increasingly rare lazy days with nothing to do but relax.
53. Chocolate chips.
54. An old-fashioned strawberry soda at the height of summer.
55. The middle eight section of the Doctor Who theme music. Oh, yes!
56. Old jazz. The clunky, ramshackle kind that sounds like it's being made up as it goes along. We're talking 1920s style.
57. Porn. Most kinds.
58. Jones Gruesome Grape Soda. It's the grapiest. Or at least the purplest.
59. The smell of a newly opened box of crayons.
60. For some reason, the daughters of rock stars.
61. Tarzan.
62. Seeing my pet rabbit asleep and happy.
63. When the night gets very still and quiet, as though the damn college kids don't even exist.
64. The way snow seems to light up the darkness.
65. The commercialization of Christmas.
66. Candles in the dark.
67. Illustration art.
68. Julian Barnes novels.
69. 69
70. Susan Sarandon's singing voice.
71. Good, wholesome nudity.
72. Harlan Ellison short stories.
73. Swimming.
74. The feeling every May of anticipating a great summer movie season. Sure, the actuality is always a letdown, but the anticipation is great.
75. Really good pasta.
76. Elephants.
77. Naps.
78. Peanut butter.
79. The word "fuck."
80. Coca-Cola in glass bottles.
81. Mythology and folklore. Fairy tales, too.
82. Commercials from when I was a kid.
83. Fair-skinned redheads.
84. Muppets.
85. Daleks.
86. Superman.
87. The Far Side.
88. Mutts.
89. Calvin and Hobbes.
90. Driving with all four of the windows down.
91. Used bookstores.
92. Barns.
93. Circuses. Especially the really old, creepy circuses (as I've only been able to read about them, sadly).
94. Cartoons, of course.
95. Playing chess.
96. Trivia games.
97. Watching old movies.
98. Coming home from work feeling like I've made a difference and helped kids, not just herded them and babysat.
99. Being thoughtful, goddammit.
100. That no matter how evil things get here in the world, the stars will always be there, untouchable.