Idiocracy, the documentary

I honestly don’t expect much from the free Metro subway paper. For one thing, it’s a free paper, and for another it’s designed to be read at an hour when I’m not physically capable of expecting much. That I am sometimes driven to mild irritation at the hack writing and/or shallow insight says reams about how dreadful it actually is.

Then I saw this article about ‘celebrity journalism giant’ Bonnie Fuller yesterday morning. The first few paragraphs had me mildly interested. The rest catapulted me straight past irritation and right to ‘that bout with PMS of which we no longer speak’.

So. Much. Fail.

I don’t know who to toss bricks at first. Fuller, for having real power to ‘explore the world’ via Michael Jackson, the Balloon Boy and Jon & Kate and using it to spawn cocktail chatter; or her interviewer, for not having even the tinest particle of wit required to realise what he’s currently doing with his actual journalism degree. If he has one. Maybe it’s ‘communications’. Or ‘media studies’…

"The great thing about celebrities today is that they come in all different ages, shapes, sizes and ethnic backgrounds… If your marriage is in trouble and you’re wondering if you can go through a divorce, you can look to Jon and Kate…"

Somehow, it all just sludges together into one massive wad of bleak.  On the plus side, though, I got to spend the rest of the subway ride fantasising about What Woodward & Bernstein Would Do if confronted with this situation. Too bad I got to my stop while they were still taking aim on the Pulitzer toss.

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Couple things bugging me lately…

Nothing too serious, just the usual opportunities to waaaaaaaay overthink public media on the daily commute:

1.) The Big Giant Ad of Specialness one of the online dating services – could be lavalife.com – has put up @ Union Station. ‘We’re looking for Canada’s Top 200 Singles!’ it says. Apparently there are prizes and everything.
Now, correct me if I’m missing some marketing subtletly here, but this is a dating service, right?  So, following things out to the logical conclusion, your ‘top singles’ would be…the ones who aren’t single anymore? I mean, if they are still single, that would indicate a pretty severe failure to get with the program, from your POV.

2.) OK, this Robert Pattinson thing. He has my undying respect for his candidly-stated approach to his Twilight character – basically, the Method expression of "Are you %#$^%&-ing kidding me?". Thing is, he has also been confronting me on newstands everywhere lately, and you’ll need to excuse me while I get this off my chest:

Is it just me, or does he – when in Edward Teh Angsty Vampire mode, anyhow – look exactly like a live-action Dragonball Z character? You know – the Brows of Badassery drawn way down his face, with a ferocious little scowl sort of wedged beneath? Like, it’s hard to tell whether he’s heroic or just irritable that he didn’t listen when his mom said his face would freeze like that?

This all I have been able to see for some few months now, at any rate, and it is impeding what little ability I have left to take the whole Sparkly Fun Undead franchise seriously…oops, slipped another notch there.

You know, there are days when a long urban commute has its compensations, after all.

Dust in the wind

Being a young, single Jehovah’s Witness in the big city can be a…fraught experience, at times. Especially when the need to unwind strikes on a Friday night.
It helps of course that I don’t drink by choice, not by religious proscription; also, that I’m really not all that social an animal to begin with. Since I was a small child it has always seemed to me that there were more interesting things to do than actively seek the company of people – not cynicism, you understand, merely contented introversion. My friends tend to be those who understand this POV, and even share it to some extent.

Thus it is that my resourceful inner self and I have developed a compromise: each Friday night we seek out those more interesting things – new things, or things we know and love but simply haven’t had the time to think of lately. We hike wherever our feet feel like going, heedless of time. Could be around nearby Leaside, or the Danforth, or Eglinton West, poking in stores and people-watching and just generally obeying the impulse of the moment. Sometimes Shoemom comes along, and those are good times, because her idea of an urban hike inevitably involves a good gossip and a stop at a favourite coffee shop.

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This is your brain on Monday…

So first of all I must mention the loverly little shout-out West of Bathurst creator Kari Maaren was kind enough to award me in return the other day. Given the bit about my being ‘a good writer’, I will go so far as to add that if she ever does install a forum, I will become a charter member.

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This is going to be a quick post. It’s only that I have a strange compulsion to comment on the current TV scene; strange, because  I don’t watch any of it, or for that matter have cable in the first place. I do however pass huge banks of posters for it every day to and from, which means they’re working, I guess. I am starting to feel what I believe are ‘vibes’ from ‘the buzz’. It’s either about the new fall season or drinking all that Sprite at lunch, one of the two.

So…um…Heroes, huh? This Darkness thing, pretty, uh…dark. Yeah. Weeds, heh, a suburban mom selling dope! See, it’s funny, ’cause it’s so at odds with her fresh, wholesome image! What edgy concept will those whacky sitcom producers come up with next? Maybe a show about a suburban mom who’s really a witch, or something!
Or – wait – a hit woman! Yeah, I’m offering that one for free right here. Called…Babes and Bullets, maybe. They could do an episode where she gets so wound up after a morning trapped indoors with a Dora the Explorer DVD that she finally snaps and empties her semiautomatic into the TV set, screaming “Repeat this, you little ___!” Insta-ratings smash, I guarantee it.

(Slightly) more seriously, there’s this one Global ad – in the ‘BIG’ series, if it helps – that features this shot of a really hunky guy looking all ironically dark and brooding, that I wouldn’t mind somebody naming him for me so my flippings through People at the grocery checkout can have some real purpose. The poster is captioned ‘BIG Trouble’. If it helps.

Then I get on the subway, and because of the unwritten agreement among rush-hour passengers that we are so not making any eye contact we don’t get paid for, I end up spending a lot of time staring at an overhead insert showing all the Desperate Housewives, reruns now on Bravo channel.
‘Least, I think it’s all of them. Marcia Cross, Teri Hatcher, Eva Longoria and a couple blondes on the ends I don’t recognise. They’re all wearing frankly inexplicable wine-coloured cocktail dresses, and they’re all doing their best to look like Women on the Verge. What scares me a bit is that they’re succeeding. I thought this was all supposed to be lighthearted parody, but Teri there especially looks like they gave her a strand of pearls for the express purpose of breaking it with her teeth.

Also, Marcia Cross – whom I cannot for the life of me imagine just calling ‘Marcia’ – it occurs to me, staring at this thing, that I’ve never seen a pic of her looking straight on at the camera. She’s always looking out at me with a knowing smile from under brows set in little arches of irony, with that great glowing Forehead looming over it all.
It could be a nifty little satirical comment on real female desperation in Hollywood – Behold, the Power of Botox! – but I’m pretty sure that’s not what she’s going for, and instead of being intimidated I start getting uncomfortable, the way you do when you’re sitting and you’re talking to someone who’s standing. “Erm, Marcia Cro…Marcia? You can let your occipital lobes down now. No, please, really.”

How to survive Wednesday

First of all, upon realizing you’ve skipped breakfast on the way to work, don’t try and replace it with a super-sized May West cake. The whole experience was reminiscent of the ‘division dumplings’ scene from the Phantom Tollbooth – I could actually feel myself becoming less and less nourished the more I ate. Urgh.
Along the same lines, except with brain cells in the starring role, is wasting a rare chance to actually sit down and relax on the subway on the MetroNews free paper. I do not wish to provoke backchat involving rocks and glass houses here…but if there ever was anything meant to be read only in quick snatches as a distraction from the random limbs that keep banging into your face, the snoggings of Paris and latest would be it.
“They were so absorbed in each other – it was like the Oscars weren’t even on!” a ‘source’ gushes. A really, really, easily-impressed source. Honey, I hate to break this to you, but I watched the Oscars with my mother, from start to finish, and it was still like they weren’t even on. More

Potpourri’s Revenge

So I’ve spent the past few days (when not curled up in the foetal position, whining and wheezing) exploring one of the bigger problems you encounter writing a weekly column – or at least, a weekly conglomeration of thoughts you’re pleased to call a column. Namely, coming up with things to conglom about.

It’s not a shortage of ideas, per se; I’ve started up any number of promisingly thoughful trains…only to have them fizzle and die not much further down the tracks. Clearly I need to come up with more interesting concepts, or possibly just be more interesting period. The quest to find out which it was naturally led me back around to my many and varied influences.

Didn’t work. Or rather, worked all too well. By the time I was half-way through the list of workaday idols, it became clear that all of them had either had or were in the process of having really interesting-/exciting-/amusing-incident-filled lives, to the point where my own random irritation with movie posters in the subway was starting to make even Arthur Black look like a raconteur on par with Twain. The only major exception was Dave Barry, but I’m really not into either booger jokes or beer, strong indulgence in the latter I suspect is necessary to make the former that funny anyhow.

I found myself spiralling down through the depths of recall, calling forth every random regular bit of newsprint I’d ever read, finally landing up back in my pre-teen-hood. We had a subscription to the Toronto Sun for a few years…

That’s when it hit me. Potpourri Guy. More

Where have you gone, Johnny Carson?…

So I got a note from my editor yesterday telling me that he was very pleased with the results of my condense-and-focus job on the article…

[pause while those who know me well pick their jaws up from the floor]

…thank you. At any rate, his only major changes involved tweaking my idiosyncratic grammar into mass-magazine mode…which was kind of a peculiar experience. Not unpleasant, per se; believe me, nobody should be crushed at the discovery that the general public doesn’t share my stream of consciousness.

Just…well, by now I’ve got used to the thing having a certain rhythm and flow – my rhythm – and it feels decidedly odd to have it go off among strangers and come back sounding so carefully mature. [snif] My little article, all grown up and ready to stun the world…

Or something. I’ll know in about two-three weeks, he says, when the article goes up onsite. He also says there’s going to be a reference to this blog in the footer to the article…meaning I suddenly have a whole new set of literary anxieties.

This is after all a very classy magazine – I can tell, because a friend who holds a professorship in political science has heard of it. Which means these very classy readers are going to land @ Shoe Central expecting, like, reams of thoughtful, sensitive pop-culture critiquage, and you can’t just cheerily explain it was all a fluke, ha ha, and hope you like the Transformers review!

Thus I have only a fortnight or so to reinvent myself as a sophisticated, culturally-aware literati of whom same would not be wholly embarrassed to be seen engaging in discussion. Basically, I’m thinking of referring to the French Revolution a whole lot from here on in.
Ooh, and post-modernism. I have never had any clear idea what that means, except that Andy Warhol mocked it a lot, and boy howdy did that turn out to be the place where enthusiasm goes to die. However, it apparently has a lot to do with ‘theory’ and ‘irony’, so I figure I get the usage down pat enough to drop it into casual conversation (“The theoretical irony of robots philosophizing in Transformers is, like, mega-post-modernist, dude!”), and I’m totally covered in any discussion past 1952.

More immediately, this puts paid to my ambition to be the sole Oscar-free blog of 2008…

…I would add ‘except of course http://www.mustardlabelcollectors.org’, except I’m sure the Seinfeld bee probably claims he got his start in one of those Kraft Honey Dijon commercials (“a taste that was meant to bee,” if you’ve forgotten).

Seriously, what was with that little cameo anyway? Granted it might have been trickier logistically to have Pixar mock up a few seconds’ worth of clever, what was preventing the Academy from having someone – maybe David Niven’s streaker dude, since he seems to have been promoted to a sort of official adorably-naughty mascot – run across the stage waving a sign reading Welcome to the Oscars, Now Only $1.98!

Addendum to Hollywood: Nobody cares about the stupid bee movie. Yes, we know it has Jerry Seinfeld in it; we still Do. Not. Care. Even as far out of the cultural loop as I am, I could almost physically feel the great big waves of Not Caring rolling over the land as I waded through the hype. The last time we as a movie-going public cared about a cute-talking-insect flick was roughly around the same time Seinfeld was actually relevant.
Meanwhile you just keep on keepin’ on with the fawning articles and the Amex ads, and now this. It’s like at some point the marketing campaign switched to ‘Hey, at least people still remember Battlefield Earth!” Really weird, watching the hollow shell of Media Buzz form around the vacuum – also sort of ironic, come to think of it. Hey, this post-modernism thing is easier than I thought!

Anyhow, back at the Oscars (“Call now, and we’ll throw in this fabulous shrimp-deveining attachment absolutely FREE!”)

I don’t know. Seeing as how the usual Academy navel-gazing has long since got to the point where even Republicans aren’t afraid to mock, I frankly find it kind of ironic (woo-hoo!) that this morning everyone’s all ‘Bor-ing! Blasé! Common-place!’ The Toronto Star critic, usually as level-headed and thoughtful a chap as you’ll find in this business, actually complained about the lack of a big splashy opening number. What, you’d rather take a chance on Snow White showing up for an encore?

No, folks, better we should be enjoying this moment while it lasts, which – given that producers were still capable of replaying Cuba Gooding Jr’s Oscar moment completely straight – is not going to be long. This was a strangely humbled Hollywood, a chastened Establishment with its lonely eyes turned to Jack Nicholson, who as per usual was too busy trying to remember if this was Tuesday, and frankly Shoemom and I at least quite enjoyed the chance to snark on the outfits in such peaceful surroundings.

For the record, we were quite pleased with the general effort towards glamour and elegance; enough to forgive the occasional fish scale or floral fantasia…or lurking suspicion that the red-o-rama thing was some sort of half-baked effort to show solidarity with the whole ‘Fight AIDS in Africa’ thing, meaning I would’ve had to blow my entire life savings on a plane ticket just so I could slap them all silly in person.

(It was hard enough keeping still during that little ‘let’s honour the soldiers’ Moment. Really, now, people. There are single-celled organisms that would’ve realised ‘let’s have the cute wittle heroes hand out the award right before we hand an award to vicious critics of the war’ was an ill-advised idea.)

Compared to that level of tacky, the occasional spectacular sartorial flop was just amusing; how you could tell it was the Oscars after all.

Stylists, please just lay off Jennifer Hudson, OK? Telling the poor girl that she should draw attention away from her waist was a whole lot of yuks last year, I’m sure, but things are starting to get out of hand. Likewise Cameron Diaz’ pretty pink princess fantasies, from which we learn that multi-$$ designer hip flounces are just as tacky-looking as the ones on the dress your Cousin Flo threw together for her wedding at the Legion. Girlfriend, just put on the ruddy tiara and get it out of your system.

Also, Jessica Alba? Those feathers? Stop that.

I also have it on reliable sources – specifically, from a co-worker who actually reads sites that use ‘reliable sources’ – that Helen Mirren’s dress, lovely and sophisticated as it looked on-camera, flopped dismally backstage on account of the light level suddenly being unable to hide the crocheting beneath the sparkles. Which disturbs me out of all reason, because I have this small-but-stubborn need for Mirren to be Practically Perfect at all times and seasons, by way of balancing out stuff like Jack Palance doing pushups.

Oh, speaking of sparkly thingies, has anybody seen Nicole Kidman today? Because I was getting seriously nervous vibes off that necklace. Like maybe, later that night, seeing her safely asleep, it was planning to crawl out of its case and back round her neck…

…ahem. The montages were also quite good fun – sure, the self-referential fawning is generally kinda icky, but when you run all the winners together like that it’s hard not to be just a little awed by the sheer Star power. At least, until they get to the bit where The Greatest Show on Earth beats out (a not even nominated) Singin’ in the Rain for Best Picture. The post-modern irony helps some, but not enough. Not nearly enough.

So overall Stewart’s little skit featuring the ones we ‘would have seen, except…oops’, was a welcome counterpoint. Again, I don’t really get the complaints; glaringly obvious time-fillers or no, the point is they worked. I see no reason at all why they couldn’t be adapted into a new running feature, even. Greatest Scenes Featuring a Pointlessly Clicky Computer Monitor, for instance. Feather Usage Throughout Cinema History. The list is endless.

Shoemom, on the other hand, was a little peeved by the whole thing. She was raised in the grand tradition of Because Hollywood Says So, you understand, and considers it something of a duty to ooh at every Star and chuckle appreciatively at every telepromptered gag. Except the ones enacted by Those Young People Today, at which point things get a bit problematic.

Because she starts laughing, then has to stop and ask me why, then glares at me throughout the rest of the bit like it’s somehow my fault that Random Dorky Guys (who may have appeared in a Judd Apatow movie, I’m not quite that far into the loop yet) are arguing over who’d make a hotter femme. “So are we gonna actually see Judi Dench here? And if not, can we move on now?”

It goes without saying that she – and I, as it happened – hadn’t actually watched any of the movies involved. Excepting Ratatouille. Which, BTW, I agree with that one critic in Iowa: as the one movie both critics and masses actually admitted to liking a whole lot, it totally should’ve won Best Picture by default. After they showed that one particular clip, of the dozens of itty-bitty critters coming out of the dishwasher with their fur all poofy, I have a feeling that many if not most of the Academy members – at least the female ones – were all ”Hit men in the desert? What was I thinking?”

Although I may now have to take a flier on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward, Robert Ford, just because I adore movies with long, archaic, pseudo-formal titles. Clearly I’m not alone, either; it was overall a very good year for presenters trying to impress casting directors for future reference. My one regret is that I did not realize my long-cherished dream – well, cherished for about the twenty seconds between the promo and her appearance – to hear chippy-cheeked little Miley Cyrus intone “There WILL Be Blood!”

Other hilights:

— Jon Stewart. Bless the man, at least he tried to be a good host, not just a memorable one. Despite a few on-target lines, he didn’t succeed on either count, but his half-sheepish-half-sincere mein was immensely likeable anyway. Hauling Shy Indie Song Girl back out to finish her acceptance speech is about as gallant as it gets, in his world. Then again, he’s also really, really lucky she turned out to be as harmlessly, not to say succinctly, inspiring as her song.

–Overall the acceptance speeches were rather startlingly on-point. The wit was actually witty, the grace was unforced, the Coen brothers didn’t make me want to smack them upside the head, and Javier Bardem paid tribute to his mom in Spanish. Even Daniel Day-Lewis survived his Hanks Attack (more on that below) by virtue of being so…well…yeah. What’s not to love?

I especially get a kick out of the winners who really, honestly believed they had no shot. It’s seriously difficult to resist a Post-Modern Goth girl sobbing helplessly about ‘I’m learning so much from you guys!’ or a pretty Frenchwoman delirious with joy…then again, so was Cuba Gooding Jr. And he was definitely wearing a better outfit. You just know somebody somewhere is dying to put Ellen Page in a kiddie flick with talking penguins, is all I’m sayin’.

— Man-oh-man, were those Best Song Nominees not. At all. The Enchanted numbers were actually doing quite well off acknowledging this, since as gentle parodies of Disney tunes they work just as well set against the Kodak Theatre experience…right up until they hauled out Random Idol Semifinalist Dude (I’m assuming) to croak out the most incredibly, soul-destroyingly, excuse-me-I-have-a-date-with-the-gas-oven-now awful Love Theme ever not performed as a duet with Celine Dion.

Seriously. The previous song, which featured a Harlem choir wailing about finding new ways to look at the world and reaching for your dreams no matter what and then hauled an adorable eleven-year-old out front for good measure – suddenly it begins to feel like a lost Marvin Gaye masterpiece, in comparison with this thing. And this, please remember, is what happens when Disney tries to parody itself. If you try to think too hard of this universe as one in which Ratatouille simoultaneously isn’t eligible for Best Picture, your head becomes very very hurty.

— So…um…Tom Hanks. Beloved idol of millions. Yup. Heartland hero, introducing the soldiers, trust entire and automatic. Erm…I guess that means I’m the only one who’s starting to suspect his body’s slowly being taken over by the Plastic Pod People, here? No, work with me for a sec. That narrowing about the eyes, that little frowsy thing his mouth does even when he’s clearly trying to force it to smile…y’know, I’m just asking, has Tom Cruise been seen in his vicinity lately? (Come to think of it, that would explain Nicole’s necklace, too. The Xenian Diamond Torture, why not?)

— Best evidence (not involving Sean Penn, anyway) that this whole thing just might be a giant meta-gag on the participants: Presenter Colin Farrell slips…makes a quick joke…then stares out at the audience for a full ten seconds as it sloooooowly but surely sinks in that he could have just announced that he’s the reincarnation of Shakespeare and here’s the new play to prove it, and the collective Hollywood establishment would care less than they do about Seinfeld playing a bee.

— Shoemom: “So he’s saying that Cate Blanchett actually played Bob Dylan?”
Me, between mental eyerolls: “No, Mom. And – just for future reference – she didn’t play that    pitbull, either.”
Shoemom: “Hmph.”
[time passes, we arrive at the Best Supporting Actress nominees]
Shoemom: “Wow, that sure looks like Bob Dylan…”
Me [sullenly]: “Fine, yeah, whatever. But she still didn’t play that pitbull, OK?”

[sigh] If anybody has any other helpful suggestions, bring ’em on. Meanwhile, stay tuned for future efforts…

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