‘Tis the season to be snarky

Public-service announcement: Given that you’re all probably writhing in disappointment that I didn’t catalogue Little House’s hilariously blatant anachronisms in full below, I point out that others have gotten there first, and funnie. Here’s the most excellently ranty essay I’ve read on the subject yet.

Albeit it leaves out the one I especially liked: at the blind school, Mary presents her visiting parents with a (quite obviously modern) layer cake she made all by her little self — "I know it’s lopsided, but then my cakes were always lopsided!" D’awwwwww… um, wait. Just how much sugar, butter and white flour was available to a dirt-poor family on the 1880’s prairie, anyhow? Mary was sixteen when she went to the blind school.
I always figured that for what it cost to subsidise his daughter’s baking career Pa could easily have afforded that addition he never put on his two-room shanty. Carrie & Grace probably cursed those cakes with their dying breaths.

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Otherwise, it’s Sunday, kinda cloudy, and I got nothin’. Except maybe relief that Hallowe’en is over for another year… another sweet, blissful year of not having to watch the neighborhood struggle with fake cobwebs.
Seriously. We are unclear on exactly why this particular decor choice bugs us more than, say, the plastic skeletons with cheery-boutonniere-wearing-tarantulas in their eye sockets; we only know that it does. It may be the sheer laziness of the thing. "Hey, Bob, we just string this-here stuff onto the hedge and whoooo! Looks spooky!"

No. No it does NOT. It looks like you voluntarily decorated your house in huge wads of dryer lint. Dryer lint is not spooky. STOP DOING THAT.

We also feel the need to point out the seasonal nastiness over on ‘realistic’ comic strip For Better or For Worse. We do not currently celebrate the holiday chez Shoe, of course, but this particular strip we see more as perpetrating crimes against childhood generally. Also we just like ragging on FBoFW whenever possible.

Honestly. ‘Honey, I’d like to throw the rest of that candy away now’? On the morning after Hallowe’en? The hell? Not only is Elly confiscating the candy pile before the poor kid’s even got through the good stuff (which, to a kid being confronted with that choice, is all of it, homemade popcorn included), she’s forcing him to admit it’s ‘the right thing to do’?!

Pre-enrollment as Witnesses, great ceremony attended the post-Hallowe’en candy sort chez Shoe — Shoemom even gave us tips on how to rank the pieces, albeit not necessarily helpful ones. ("You’re not gonna eat those brown molasses kisses? We had those when I was a kid! Those are the best ones!")
At any rate, once sorting and trading was over, the brown kisses were handed over to Shoemom en masse after one sample — leading to Dark Suspicions of her motives — and the rest was left to us. If we gorged ourselves right away, we only had ourselves to blame for the consequences; but interestingly enough, we more often saved them. I think we were overwhelmed by the responsibility of it all. Having all the candy you want, to a little kid, is Serious Business.

As is nicely illustrated by little Mikey’s content in the last panel, having learned that in order to keep his goodies he must not only whoof them down like hyenas on the veldt, but lie, cheat and steal to and from trusting family members. "Survival of the fittest… and besides, it’s fun!"

All of which is the longform version of: Elly may have taken off her pointy hat and nose warts, but she’s still in costume.

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.

Nitpicking in Oz, part II

As was previously mentioned — and if you haven’t been reading my lit-crit masterpieces in order, why not, may I ask — at any rate, Oz was consciously designed as a very practical Fairyland. You notice, when the characters stop for supper on their nigh-endless journeys, how often milk is mentioned?

In other words: Tolkien, Baum was not. This is part of the reason I don’t buy into the idea of the first book as a political allegory; there’s just no evidence of that much conscious planning in the rest of the series. Really, the very idea of designing intricate languages and mythologies and making sure Celaborn was pronounced correctly would’ve seemed vaguely unwholesome, to a middle-aged Midwesterner at the turn of the 20th century.

Thus Oz grew into a truly American fantasy concept: sturdy and free and self-reliant and… not making a lick of sense, really. On the plus side, at least he didn’t attempt to turn the whole thing into a religious allegory.

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He did, however, have to deal with the effects of magic — yes, even in kiddy books. This posed a special problem for Baum, since — as TVTropes explains in their splendid page on the subject — you don’t really need rules, but you do have to have internal logic. If it’s been established that the Enchanted Whatzis can get you out of a situation, it’s bad form to repeat that situation sans Whatzis.
‘Cause you just know some random critic is going to turn it intosnark fodder. Or, as in the case of Star Trek, you have to reboot an entire decades-old franchise at least partly because there was literally no way left to get the crew in trouble that couldn’t be solved by previously demonstrated tech.

Baum seemed to have an especially unfortunate gift for granting omniscience. In Oz, after the third book, there is the Magic Belt, worn by Ozma, which functions as a shameless deus et accessory. Ozma also has a Magic Picture (noticing a trend here?) which shows her anything she wants to see the instant she asks.
There is also Glinda the ‘powerful Sorceress’, who possesses the Great Book, on which everything that occurs everywhere in the world is instantly recorded. There is the Wizard, on his return, who becomes her apprentice. There is even a frelling Powder of Life that can grant sentience to whatever it touches. All this, without even mentioning the winged monkeys.

So basically the remaining Oz stories should all be about two pages long. Instead, the characters go on quests like the one in Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, in which the title characters get trapped in the centre of the Earth and held captive by vegetable people, who declare their intention of ‘planting’ the visitors.
After several days of fobbing them off, Dorothy and party escape via a steep cave path up towards the surface. It’s a long, hard climb. Along the way they get attacked by bloodthirsty invisible bears and captured by wooden Gargoyles, wander unaware into a dragon’s den and get annoyed the hell out of by a crazy man half-way up who won’t let them leave without a box of his High-Grade Artificial Flutters and Rustles.

All of which is splendid fun; nobody ever accused Baum of a dearth of imagination. The kicker comes when they find themselves trapped in a cavern juuuuuust too far below the surface to reach. Even the Wizard starts lamenting their fate, until…
…Dorothy calmly announces that they’ll be OK, because she’s made a deal with Ozma: At four o’clock every day, Ozma will look for her in the Magic Picture, and if Dorothy is making a ‘special signal’, she’ll use the Magic Belt to transport her and her companions out immediately. So she does, and she does, and they do.

Right. Let me just remind the reader, this is several days later. It’s explicitly mentioned in the text.

Apparently Ozma has ethical qualms, or something, about using the thing indiscriminately; at one point in Road to Oz she tells Dorothy that she was on the verge of rescuing her, but Dorothy et al got out OK by themselves. That can-do frontier spirit in action again, I guess. But it still leaves everybody else wondering why Dorothy’s companions didn’t raise even the eensiest little question about why the @!$@#%#$ she DIDN’T MENTION THIS BEFORE THE GIANT INVISIBLE KILLER BEARS. Or, for that matter, have some choice words for Ozma’s ethics.

Nitpicking in Oz, part I

So OK, I realise that The Wizard of Oz was originally a one-off deal. The first sequel was intended as a cash-in once the original became a  hit stage play, and the others were written pretty much as a favour to the fans (partly because, frankly, Baum needed the money too much to refuse them).

All that said… you do sometimes wonder, coming back to the original, if Baum ever bothered to reread it himself before embarking on the embellishment. Oz in the first book is — in keeping with the preface — a determinedly mundane fairyland, designed deliberately as an antidote to the vivid and grotesque European classics. (We will skip lightly over the fact that Wizard nevertheless has a body count in the dozens, largely of animals who get their heads chopped off by the Tin Woodman. It’s entirely possible that in Grimm, he would’ve carefully kept the severed heads to put in the Wicked Witch’s bed later, where they would recite doggerel predicting her gruesome demise. So it works out.)

In Oz the original, then, there is death. There is aging. They use money. The Tin Woodman’s retro-hilarious backstory involves him staying with his mother after his father’s death, until she too dies and he decides to get married on his inheritance.
There is suspicion, fear and stinginess. The Emerald City — in a bit that always struck us as goofily random, even at ten — is one gigantic fake, involving green glasses perma-locked to everyone’s head. (Couldn’t have called it, say, the Rose Quartz City and been halfway-clever with the glasses, noooooooo, it has to be green.)
There is no mention of a ruling dynasty of Oz. While trolling Wikipedia we were surprised and amused to note that the bit in the second book, that has the Wizard overthrowing same and sneaking the true heir away to be hidden by a Witch, is a direct offshoot of the decision in the original play to drop the Wicked Witch and go with the Wizard as the villain. The play also has a dancing cow named Imogene replacing Toto, so you can guess which version stuck in the popular imagination. In that version, of course, the Wizard is genial and loveable and please, Mr. Baum, can’t you bring him back to Oz again?
Thus Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, and the famous ‘What did the Wizard know, and when did he know it?’ conudrum was born. So was Ozma of Oz. We have already made it pretty clear what we think of that decision.

Let’s face it, Ozma’s kind of an idiot.

Really, she is. I know this, because I have lately been on a course of Oz sequels (in eBook form) and I have been experiencing that prickly sort of irritation that twigs only in the presence of a Purity Sue. It’s been building for a couple rereads now, but this time this Author on Board-sense is just off the charts. Also, this time I have a journal in which to rant about stuff like this.

Disclaimer: I love the Oz books. I really do. It is the one fairyland in which you are absolutely confident that anything can happen, and can never tell what might be around the corner – for the very good reason that the author couldn’t either. There is a sort of naiive charm about that. Having not hung himself up in a web of Rules for his World, Baum’s imagination was free to roam in a way that even Tolkien himself might… well, nod thoughtfully at.
It’s just that every time the Ruler of Oz shows up – and a smart few times when she’s offscreen – all this amused tolerance comes bang! to a screeching halt. You can’t get away from Ozma, not least because you’re implied to be a terrible person if you try. Baum goes on and on and on about how beautiful and sweet and dainty and beloved she is, to the point where it basically amounts to older man in love with ideal young creation.

Think I’m being unkind to a classic of kidlit? There’s an entire book, The Road to Oz, that’s actually built around all the Ozites and every single character from Baum’s other books attending Ozma’s super-spectacular birthday party, the like of which the world has never seen. Dorothy is clearly too deep in the throes of a girlish crush to notice, but one might expect the Shaggy Man to be a trifle more bemused:

"You got me totally lost, saddled me with a couple of kids, which half the time one’s a damn fox – yeah, let’s give the dumb one the sharp teeth, that’s not a problem, noooooo. Plus one rainbow sprite – you ever tried collecting the perfect dewdrops at six am? And if it’s not perfect, she starts up that damn dancing again, and it’s like Oh, God, my stomach’s gonna add a brand-new colour to the spectrum right here. So here we are, completely lost…Oh, and the Scoodlers, did I mention them? ‘We love you in soup’, yeah yeah, most hilarious thing ever. Until they give me the donkey head. By then I thought that was a nice touch, actually.

"And so I have to swim in the Truth Pond – yeah, love that magical moss or whatever it was, bring it on – because I still have to keep the kids from picking up every random whatsis they find by the side of the road and we FINALLY get here and I’m staring at a little kid …and it’s her frelling birthday… hey, everybody, welcome to a Very Special Episode in Oz! Firearms are bad! Ha ha ha hahahahah…"

That said, this is not the nadir. It is close – especially the ending, where after spending a couple days in All Hail Ozma the Super-Specially Sparkly mode all the potentially interesting people just sort of float home in super-strong soap bubbles – but not yet.

No, the nadir is The Emerald City of Oz. In which Dorothy finally decides to bring her family to fairyland for good, at the same time as Evil finally decides that those ‘disgustingly goody-good’ Ozites need a thorough conquering. As a child, this is frankly terrifying. As an adult, especially a snarky-minded one, it’s… a bit less so. During the recent reread, I started mentally compiling a list of Ways This Kiddie Fantasy Novel Has Been Bugging the Crap Out of Me For Years Now, and since as noted I do have a journal this time…

…you might want to look out for the next entry. In the ‘Ooh, lovely!’ sense or the Wile-E-Coyote-with-tiny-little-umbrella sense, works fine either way.

Summer’s here, and the time is wrong

It is hot. H-O-T. The air is soup, the pavement glares, the bugs in the porchlights are the only living things moving fast.

It is so hot that I am reduced to going to work in those silk slacks I couldn’t resist at the thrift shop. The ones that are a little faded and increasingly crumply, so that it looks like I’m wearing the lining of some other pants.

I could iron them, I guess, but I am terrified of scorching the delicate fabric. Because then I would be reduced to going to work in those raggedy cutoffs that no longer fit. It is JUST THAT DAMN HOT.

Et cetera et cetera/Ad infinitum/Ad astra, forever…or not

So yes, in the course of rambling on about Feminism in Watership Down, below, I got a little carried away. Especially does this bug in terms of children’s media (which Watership really isn’t, but we’ll ignore that for now). It’s something I’ve been personally confronting lately, as I rummage around in my Sesame Street-intensive past. Do you realise, fellow Gen-Xers, that the newest DVD sets of the show carry a disclaimer to the effect that "These early episodes of Sesame Street are intended for grown-ups, and may not meet the needs of today’s preschoolers"?

Sad, and a little strange – not least because accurate. On the one hand the belief is that children are more sophisticated than ever before; on the other, that they’re fragile flowers whose every input needs monitoring for fear it’ll corrupt the mechanism.You see it reflected in the pages and pages of ‘what behaviours is The Mole Sisters teaching my child’-type posts to the TreehouseTV forums, complete with just-saw-it-on-Oprah-so-I-know-it’s-scientific vocabularies. In the Fat Albert movie, which disavows the crude-but-funny ‘snaps’ that made the show famous in favour of hauling in a little (white) girl to teach the gang proper English. In the attitude of my nephew’s pre-K teacher, who reacts to the news that this four-year-old has taught himself to read with ‘Well, we need to think about how much he actually comprehends…’

Yes. She really said that. I swear, you just want to grab these people by their PTA-attending pencil necks and hiss, "Look, I spent an entire ruddy childhood watching a trenchcoated Muppet sidling up to innocent kids and asking if they wanted to buy an ‘O’ – that’s when he wasn’t off stealing the Golden An just for kicks – and somehow I managed to become a fully functional member of society…" [shaking them violently] "DO – YOU – UNDERSTAND?"

…Heh. [ahem]. Well, maybe there is something to be said for social conditioning. I’m not advocating wholesale exposure to disturbing imagery, either; children’s mechanisms can certainly suffer from neglect, and on the whole it’s a Very Good Thing that those closest to them realise that. But you can get carried away with it, is all I am saying. This obsession with socialization, with carefully categorizing every possible influence in the here and now, actively works to stifle any imaginative possibilities for the future. Worse, it gives kids the impression that intelligence, thinking about the answers, is much less important than getting the answers right. If you’re going to ensure the world is laid out exactly as it should be, then where’s the inspiration to think about what could be?

More rantiness under the cut…

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