Friday, December 2, 2011

An unlikely association

So Cookie Monster is a lot like Tyler Durden.

Stay with me.

I was thinking about Cookie Monster yesterday morning on the way to work, for two reasons.  One is that I was, as usual, grasping at any mental straw I could get my figurative hands on in order to distract myself from the fact that it was 6:23 in the morning and I was on my way to a 6-hour shift in the data entry factory, and the second was that I was trying to forget that the morning before, I had, upon leaving my apartment, neglected to close the door.  For whatever reasons my brain coughed up Cookie Monster, that lovable expression of the id, who I primarily remember from my yearly viewing of Christmas Eve on Sesame Street which, along with Ernest Saves Christmas, was yearly Holiday viewing (meanwhile, I have, to this day, managed to avoid more than a few minutes at a time of A Christmas Story, and in fact had to Google 'christmas ralphie' in order to pull out the title for it.  I have seen It's a Wonderful Life, but it took until my mid-twenties).  For those of you who haven't seen this particular special, Cookie Monster's character arc throughout the special features his repeated attempts to contact Santa Claus, but his hyper-awareness of his own desires and impulses (to wit: he wants cookies) causes him to eat first his pencil and paper, his typewriter, and then the telephone, confusing each of them with the delicious treats he so desperately craves.  The telephone scene is especially heart-wrenching; after staring at the phone, an old-fashioned rotary (the special was created before cellular technology, meaning it now plays as a period piece) he confuses the two ends of the phone for chocolate cupcakes and eats the whole thing.  Unfortunately, just as he finishes his impromptu feeding frenzy, Santa picks up from hold.  The scene is a master class in dramatic irony, as Cookie Monster, horror slowly dawning in both googly eyes, tries in vain to communicate with Santa.  You could cut the pathos with a knife, were you not afraid that he would eat it.  What's worse is that the movie's tag has Susan and Gordon returning to their apartment, only to discover that Cookie Monster has eaten the needles and ornaments from their Christmas tree, having not learned his lesson.  Cookie Monster is the living embodiment of that first tenet of Buddhism, "desire leads to suffering."

I am Jack's addictive personality.
Perhaps that yearly message of suffering is why I took Cookie Monster as a cautionary tale, whose behavior was not something to emulate.  I'm not saying I totally eschew baked goods; I don't even eschew baked goods daily.  But I learned this behavior because sugar and chocolate are delicious, not because I was following the example of a blue monster.  Nevertheless, in an effort that I don't think is entirely misguided Cookie Monster, having declared that he was powerless to control his addiction and accepting change though a higher power (probably Snuffleupagus), legally changed his name to Veggie Monster, explaining that cookies are a "sometime" food.  I can see the logic here even though I recognize that, by becoming Veggie Monster, the blatant absurdity of the character is dampened; most kids are probably not going to be terribly discerning when they see their favorite (although this possibly deserved air quotes since I have no idea how popular Sesame Street is these days) character scarfing down pastries.  Seeing someone who is funny, engaging, appealing, charismatic, or otherwise adjectival behave badly can cause us to link that behavior with the demeanor in our minds, and even if that person suffers negative consequences for the bad behavior we still may not get the message that we shouldn't do what they do.

This brings us to Tyler Durden and why I made the association.  Fight Club (the movie; it's been too long since I read the book for me to be able to confidently speak about it) is a movie where one man, reacting violently against his meaningless rat-race consumerist lifestyle, snaps toward another extreme, that of anarchic nihilism.  Said anarchic nihilism manifests in Tyler Durden, who creates the titular fight clubs and basically sets out to destroy society.  The thing is that Tyler Durden is played by Brad Pitt in probably the best shape of his or anyone else's life, and he just looks so fucking stylish and cool that even if you intellectually understand the meaning of the movie (that neither Ed Norton's nameless protagonist's life nor Durden's are desirable) you'll still likely want to walk out of the movie saying, with some degree of seriousness, that you want to start your own fight club.

I'm not meaning to imply that I'm smarter than anyone else who saw Fight Club; I thought it was cool and bad-ass too and it took me years to come around to the actual, "oh, they're both nuts," thing, but I'm willing to bet that there is a non-negligible population of people who have seen Fight Club who honestly believe the take-away is that you should buy less Ikea furniture, be more manly and solve problems with violence, and I'm 100% certain there's someone who's re-enacted the skin-burning scene.  And I'm not saying that we should never make complicated, layered entertainment with messages you have to dig for, or that we should suger-coat or pull back because someone might misinterpret something or because someone disturbed might watch it and take it the wrong way.  But I don't know how different we, as adults, are from kids who need to be reminded that cookies are a sometime food.  Maybe I'm wrong and people largely got Fight Club, but I find myself feeling like the movie could use a little Veggie Durden.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sanding the edges: Arkham City

Batman: Arkham City came out for PC a couple days ago.  This is a momentous occasion for me because I love Batman.  He's my favorite superhero, and I'm the kind of person who doesn't really have a favorite anything.  Ask me what my favorite band is and it's going to oscillate between a number of groups or artists, as it would if you asked me about my favorite book or author.  But superheroes?  Batman is number one.  (The number two slot is up for grabs, naturally.)

My favorite part of the game so far is nearly everything about it.  My least favorite part is the brutal, unrelenting misogyny.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Attack of the Fussbudget: West Wing s5e1

I don't want to be negative, but I hate everything, which presents a problem.  'Everything' is a (slight) exaggeration, though, because I have been known to occasionally like things.  For example, The West Wing, an examination of the executive branch of our own United States government, written for the first four seasons by Aaron Sorkin, who also penned the long-running, critically acclaimed Studio 60 and a little art-house movie called The Social Network, which I think was about Friendster.

The West Wing is actually one of my favorite shows, but I always have to say that with a caveat.  You see, the first four seasons are brilliant television.  The acting is wonderful, and the writing is top-notch, addressing comedic and dramatic moments with an even hand.  Sorkin's dialogue is distinctive, like art or pornography, and when it became known that he would be leaving (along with Thomas Schlamme, who specialized in the "walk and talk" style that was part of the series' signature look) I'm sure the nascent blogosphere of '03 was all a-twitter (sans Twitter) about just what would happen.  Well, here's what happened; one of the most brilliant shows on television started to fucking suck, that's what.

For a while I didn't pursue this too hard, mentally speaking, simply chalking it up to the fact that Sorkin had left and, because Sorkin is not a very nurturing person by all accounts, no proto-Sorkins had learned his ways sufficiently to take over.  Therefore, executive producer John Wells, of ER fame, was left to do what he did best, which was do fairly average, by-the-numbers TV drama.  I had planned never to revisit the bad seasons again, but I had gotten Brynne into the show and she, rightly, wanted to know what the hell happened after season four's agonizing multiple cliffhangers.  My warnings were insufficient and so we watched the first episode of season five.  And you know what?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

More like Breaking Good, am I right?

Hey, shocker, Breaking Bad is a good show.  I am not the first person to say this, obviously; I am saying it this late in the game because for a while I was like most people who have not yet seen it.  You have likely absorbed some kind of message from the collective unconscious/your favorite social media outlet/whatever TV reviews you may or may not be reading that let you know before this point that Breaking Bad is incredible, and you should be watching it.  And, like me, you probably thought, "I'll get around to it, God, stop hassling me."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Explaining the Unexplainable

"Okay, explain to me what you're doing," she asked.  And I was stymied, because what I was doing was so far down the rabbit-hole.  Novelists talk about starting your story as close to the end as possible, filling in the blanks with exposition as necessary, but every start/end point I could think of necessitated exposition.

"I'm playing Super Robot Wars: A Portable," I replied, after a time.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Death and The Wire: "One Arrest" and "Lessons"

If I said, "the violence is starting to ramp up on The Wire," and you had watched "One Arrest" without then watching "Lessons" you might well wonder what the hell I'm talking about, given that no one dies in "One Arrest," and not even in the Brandon sense of no one dies.  If you take them as a piece, however, especially when viewing the Omar plotline, you start to see that things are starting to get very serious between Omar and those Barksdale boys.  To say nothing of a poor young stripper rolled up in a rug and thrown out with the trash.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Death and The Wire: "The Pager" and "The Wire"

I would be remiss as someone writing about death as it relates to the particular television show if I didn't point out that the first meeting between Omar, McNulty and Greggs takes place in a cemetery.

I would also be remiss if I did not warn you that Omar comin'.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Death and The Wire: "The Buys" and "Old Cases"

The first four episodes have, among other things, forced me to really evaluate how I think about the count (which is important, because if you're wrong with the count they'll fuck you up) of bodies going forward.  This was somewhat relevant during the second episode, where we see a medical examiner about to cut open a dead body.  Since said body has no impact on the narrative or on the storytelling, I'm not counting it.  I am, however, counting someone we don't see die on-screen, but whose death and manner of dying ripple outward and illuminate many aspects of many characters.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

My shoes are gone; my life, spent

R.E.M. called it quits today.  In all likelihood they called it quits a little earlier than today, but today is the day they decided to let everyone know.

It's hard to say I'm exactly surprised.  I'm not one of the ones who think that they truly ceased to be when Bill Berry left the band; certainly I think they were different, but R.E.M. was a band that went through a metamorphosis between every album; the size of the change was different each time, but there was always a change.  I think any group that's together that long has to do that to survive, but they were doing it almost from the beginning.

R.E.M. was my favorite band for many years.  They still may be.  By nature I'm not someone who is comfortable picking favorites.  I like R.E.M., the Pet Shop Boys, and Bruce Springsteen, and I think calling any one of the three of those things better than the others is an exercise in futility; they provide different things, at different times.  I read James Ellroy and Terry Pratchett and I read them at different times for different reasons and don't see much point in trying to rank them.  A hammer is a shitty wrench, but that doesn't mean it isn't useful.

What I can say is that R.E.M., primarily their catalogue from Fables up through Automatic, provided the soundtrack to my adolescence and early adulthood.  Lifes Rich Pageant was the album I would play to begin the many trips I took between North Carolina and Illinois.  I can summon nearly any song to instant recollection if I think about it.  I learned to play guitar with the song books for Out of Time and Automatic for the People.  I am one of the many people whose life was saved by the beautiful simplicity of "Everybody Hurts."

R.E.M. formed in 1980, the year I was born.  I always saw a kind of symmetry in that.  I don't know the exact date they formed off the top of my head, but I do know that now it's going to be a matter of months before I've been around longer than the band was.

To Michael, Mike, Peter and Bill: thanks for the music you made.  Live well and be happy.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Why the new Spider-Man is awesome

Around the time of the first X-Men movie, more than 10 years ago, Marvel Comics realized that, while the movie might do well enough to get people to go into a comic book shop and pick up an X-Men comic, they really had no comic that would be readily accessible to such a person.  This isn't a problem for movies based on novels, since if you watch the Lord of the Rings movies you can walk into a bookstore and hey, there are the books.  Easy.  Comics, given their serial nature, are a different beast; even if no one has a Batman or Spider-Man or X-Men story to tell that month, there's still going to tell it to get that book on the shelves, leading to the accretion of impenetrable story chunks that have built up like coral.  In the year 2000, if someone saw that movie, there was no equivalent comic they could really sell that person; I don't have any idea off the top of my head what the X-Men were doing in the year 2000, but it was probably unreadable to a layman.

Marvel solved this problem with the creation of the Ultimate Universe, which was billed as a universe where writers could tell stories that weren't related to the main Marvel universe in anything but name.  The flagship title was Ultimate Spider-Man, written by Brian Michael Bendis; the Ultimate X-Men book followed soon after, and these books carved out a little niche for themselves despite fan skepticism.  I loved the X-Men book when I first read it, but now I find it to be nearly unreadable, and the rotating team of writers means the book never really established a core vision; it was either too closely aping the main universe stuff, or it was being out-there and edgy for the sake of being edgy.  Ultimate Spider-Man, however, is a quality title, and has been in the hands of Bendis from the beginning, although the art duties have changed hands a few times.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Why I'm shirty about this NPR story

I posted yesterday about an NPR story about Brian Selznick's Wonderstruck and because I'm a pedantic little fussbudget it's still sort of bouncing around in my skull.  Since this blog is largely an exercise in getting those voices out I feel the need to go on at a little more length.

Death and The Wire: "The Target" and "The Detail"

Beginning, middle and end: the three classical parts of a story.  Also, the points of the first episode of The Wire where we see a dead body.  I had not actually thought about this when I conceived of this series but it certainly seems to be some kind of a sign from the internet gods that I was meant to write about corpses.

Thanks, internet gods.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A little critical thought would have killed you?

NPR's Morning Edition had a story about author Brian Selznick's Wonderstruck, leading off the story by saying, "It's not all that often that you hear of a writer who can illustrate his own books."

I certainly can't think of any.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Evolving minute by minute

I had kind of a bad weekend, not really because of any sort of external factors but because I was in a bad head space, for lack of a less hippie-ish term.  I was in a place where I needed to be cheered up and, as even a cursory perusal of the subjects my blog seems to be covering would reveal, I have not been experiencing a lot of cheery media.  Fortunately, however, I do have a solution for this.  It's a TV show I was trying to write about before, but that post turned into a post about the giant robot genre in general, rather than one show in specific.  The show in question?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Death and The Wire: Introduction

A lot of people die over the course of Ed Burns' and David Simon's The Wire, called by many, myself included, the best TV show ever.  At some point I had the idea of going through the show and cataloging just how many people actually died over the course of the series' five season run, which never came to fruition because what point would there be in doing so if I couldn't post it on the internet.  As I have never been accused of being cheerful or upbeat anything I wrote about the show would necessarily have been a little morbid anyway, so why not just go whole hog with it, right?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Breaking my Promise

I said no political stuff but given the trajectory of my thoughts most days I should have known that would ultimately be unsustainable.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A genre mostly concerned with shouting and punching

I feel like I would be misrepresenting myself on the Internet if I went five posts without talking about either video games or anime, and since everyone is always scrupulously honest in cyberspace I shall do so.  I could fulfill both requirements in the same post if I wanted to talk about Super Robot Wars, (alternate link) I will eschew the nerdy home run that post would be in favor of the modestly dorky line drive of a post about giant robots.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Book vs. Movie: L.A. Confidential

The likelihood of a given movie these days being based on a book or a short story or some other extra-cinematic source is pretty high these days.  Equally high is the chance of, when in conversation with others about such a movie, some motherfucker opening their mouth and saying, "it wasn't as good as the book!" as if this adds anything reasonable to the discourse.  In 'Book vs. Movie,' a title that sufficiently demonstrates my preternatural brilliance for nomenclature, I am that motherfucker.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Unbearable Violence of James Ellroy

One of the benefits/quirks of my current relationship is that when we engage in shared media consumption (i.e. watching shit) it causes me to call into question why exactly it is that I am so all right with seeing people die on-camera. We were watching L.A. Confidential the other night and mid-way through there's a montage, complete with Danny DeVito narration, of a bunch of mobsters being gunned down.  The movie, like any proper Ellroy adaptation, has what might be charitably described as an excessively high body count (Ellroy's patented three-narrator perspective might be viewed as a necessity, coming as it does from an author who might, were he to limit himself to two narrators, or even one, end up killing them before the book even ended.  This reads like a joke but it literally almost happened in Blood's a Rover, a book where he had to bring in new P.O.V. characters mid-way through because so many of them had died).  This caused me, at one point, to remark, somewhat sheepishly (for it was I who had selected the evening's entertainment), "I forgot how many people die in this movie."  Which was true.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Why The Usual Suspects is a great movie

There's a moment near the end of the movie, when McManus and Keaton are searching the ship for the cocaine, killing everyone they come across.  We're in a long shot through a doorway, looking at McManus as he moves forward through the room.  There's a dog in the room (I think it was some kind of German Shepherd mix although it also had kind of a fuzzy terrier muzzle as well) and at this point you kind of expect McManus, played by Stephen Baldwin, to shoot the dog and keep going, or for it to attack.  But McManus just moves through the room, pets the dog's head for a moment, and keeps going.

That, to me, is art.  Someone, be it the screenwriter or the director or Baldwin himself thought through that scene, which is maybe ten seconds long, and made a decision.  And it makes sense if you think about it.  McManus would totally be a dog person.  He doesn't get along with people at all, but he values loyalty, which the movie has already established through his relationship with Fenster.  He may be a thug, and a thief, and a ruthless killer, but he's also a sniper, which lends itself to a certain economy of violence, and a man like that doesn't shoot the dog if he doesn't have to.  (Hockney shoots the dog if he walks through that room, I think.  Keaton ignores it.)

Monday, August 8, 2011


Blog posts have been accumulating in my head like bad similes, and so I go to write them down and then I think to myself, "wait, that can't possibly be the first post on your BRAND NEW BLOG you are doing it wrong, idiot," and then I go and do something else, usually involving video games or eating. So here I am, getting the first post out of the way so that I can do all the other posts.