Monday, February 28, 2011

The Eternal Struggle

Recently I went to Wendy's for lunch and I was struck with an incredible dilemma: do I get the Spicy Chicken Combo or the Baconator combo.  Normally this would have been an easy decision, but this time something seemed different.  For some reason I felt that I had not simply been caught in the middle of a culinary conundrum, but rather in the middle of the battle between the forces of Good and Evil.  It wasn't beef versus chicken.  It was Destruction versus Resurection.  There were two opposing forces playing a game of chess for the souls of mankind and I was but a lowly pawn.  But sometimes pawn takes king.

Lately I've been a pretty frequent guest in the Baconator camp and have made some pretty strong allegiances there.  With its tempting double beef patties, melted cheese, excessive bacon and complete lack of vegetables it makes for quite the dark companion.  However, I have had a much longer standing relationship with the Spicy Chicken, its finely spiced white chicken breast boldy proclaiming its righteousness along with its steadfast companions lettuce and tomato holding a soft spot in my heart and colon.  Normally, I'd just say fuck it and go with the Baconator because I love the beef, but that day was different.  I felt like Luke, caught between the Light side and the Dark side of the force.  I felt like this decision would somehow influence the entire course of my personal history, sending me down whatever road I would choose and invariably affecting my destiny.

The decision was not easy.

To me the Baconator represented the Dark side.  It was big and greasy and delicious and contained an entire day's worth of calories for a full grown human male in a single sitting of perfectly square patties and fatty bacon.  It was filling and spiritually satisfying in ways I could never fully describe, but I knew that no good would come of it.  It represented chaos, and unchecked, raw power.  The Spicy Chicken sat there quietly waiting to impart its wisdom.  This was the Light side.  It was quiet, and humble.  I knew that choosing it I would feel lighter for some reason and some way.  Like it would help unburden me.  I could hear both of them calling out to me, beckoning me forward to choose my fate.  And I was paralyzed by indecision.

As the line in front of me grew inevitably shorter I knew I would have to choose.  But it was a dangerous choice.  In battles this Epic, once a choice was made there would be no coming back from it.  Not this time.  This was a Once and For All type decision.  A blood oath, eternally binding.  I could feel my soul being pulled in two directions.  (And it kind of hurt.)  I craved power, but I needed wisdom.  I looked up to the heavens with pleading eyes, hoping to see some kind of sign, some divine prophecy that would lead me towards my true destiny.

Finally it was my turn to order.  I stepped forward onto the battlefield with a confident stride that belied the struggle within me.  I could feel all eyes on my.  A restaurant -nay, a realm- full of potential allies and enemies, all focused on me.  What would he choose?  I locked eyes with the stone-faced cashier and unsheathed my weapon- my debit card, my mighty Exbaliber- and with a voice that shook the heavens I boldly declared:

"I'll have the Spicy Chicken combo, please."

"What would you like to drink?" shot back the cashier, with eyes and words of ice.

"Root beer," I replied without a moment's hesitation.

And with that the decision had been made.  My fate -whatever it may be- was decided on that day.  That Spicy Chicken and I, our destinies had been intertwined since before I had even woken up that morning.  What this choice portends I have no idea.  The future is a twisting highway and my metaphysical headlights are dim, but I do know that wherever I go, whatever I do, from this point forward the light of the Spicy Chicken shall lead my way, be my constant companion, my beacon of hope.  Each day is another step in the path to understanding the significance of my decision in this epic battle so that on some glorious day in the future I will be able to look back to that day in Wendy's and quietly say to myself, "Now I know.  Now  understand how that led to this," take a deep breath and walk out into the fray assured that there is a purpose.

And that's how you choose a fucking sandwich.  

Thursday, February 24, 2011

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Show

As experiments in human physical endurance when dealing with severe sleep deprivation my wife and like to engage in what we term as Power Watchings (we don't actually call them that, I actually just made that up) - that is we start watching a show, begin to enjoy it, then just watch the shit out of it.  I mean, just watch it to death until all hours of the morning and jeaporadize both our proffessional relationships and personal health just to "watch one more episode" of our newest favourite show.  This only works, however, if you have access to multiple seasons of a show via DVD or BluRay, Netflix, or some other (a-hem, Ryebone) means of pirating acquiring digital media outside the bounds of the law in the strictest sense.  It's really a grey area.  Well not really.  Pirates are cool and therefore the act of pirating is cool which means that Henry Winkler does it which means its OK for me.  In our latest case Netflix was the purveyer of our drug, and a powerful drug it was. 
 Mad Men has been occupying a prominent place in the public consciousness for the past couple of years.  During the summer months when I spend some more time at home I end up watching Live With Regis and Kelly and Regis is totally into Mad Men almost as much as he is into wearing bad ties.  (As a side note to Regis: learn to relax a little.  You always seem to be yelling for no reason and it scares me just a little bit.)  Then there was a recent Simpsons Halloween special I caught at a friend's house and at the time I had have explained to me that a silhouette of Homer Simpon slowly falling amidst an abstractly drawn skyline was actually a reference to Mad Men.  I was starting to feel a little left out and fairly hungry. 

So one cold night in January when the kids were shipped off to bed my wife and I made some poporn and watched the first episode of Mad Men.  And we were immediately hooked.  Watching that first episode I got that same feeling I got watching Deadwood or Rescue Me or The Sopranos for the first time.  Even though it wasn't an HBOor FX show and didn't actually have swearing or nudity what it did have was excellent writing and a great cast and almost-nudity (hurray for tassles!).  It's far too complicated to sum up here but Mad Men basically follows the life of Don Draper (Jon Hamm), an ad executive (well, creative director) at a little firm called Sterling Cooper and his home and work life.  Mad Men is unique from other period shows like Deadwood or Rome, however, in that its focus really isn't so much on depicting life in that particular period , but in emphasizing the differences between that period and our own.  And that, to me, is really at least half of the enterainment value of the show.

Right out of the gates one of the key aspects of the show is battered into your skull.  Gender roles and how men and women relate to each other is just driven home again, and again, and again like Ron Jeremy pounding some tender, young ass hole with his giagantic meat wand.  It sometimes seems like the whole goal of the show is to show us the differences in gender roles in the 60's and gender roles today.  And the assumed reaction from the audience is "Holy shit, I can't believe it used to be like that," which, of course, is my first reaction.  I can only really speak from my experience as a white male (Apparently past lives aren't yet recognized in a court of law.  Crazy, I know.) and to me how women especially are treated in the show (and presumably in the real 60's as well) seems very foreign.  I understand how we tend to fill the roles that society creates for us and that even today some people might still percieve minor inequalities, but even the staunchest feminist has to admit how drastically social scripts have changed in the last fifty years.  If even half of what Mad Men presents is factual, well, holy shit, man.  I mean, the women at home are relegated to cooks, cleaners and childrearers whose secondary function is to look good at social functons and occaisionally recieve her husband's sperm in whatever oriface he sees fit to deposit it in. 

In fact the whole institution of marriage is front and centre as the only woman on the block who has been divorced (gasp!) is seen as some kind of otherworldy creature or at least as some kind of social deviant.  Marriage is depicted in the show as basically an entire support system for the husband as he basically gets to come home, eat his dinner, have a drink, fuck his wife, have a cigarette then fall asleep only to awake in the morning to freshly cleaned and pressed clothes, dressed and fed kids, a hot breakfast and a kiss on the cheek as he heads out the door again.  The women at work don't have it much better.  The audience is constantly being reminded that the only jobs most women could get were as secretaries or maybe as a sales associate at a department store or as the mistress of a rich, married guy.  The exception, of course, is Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) who works her way up from secretary to slightly more attractive copywriter who represents the slowly changing attitudes towards women and the rising feminist movement of the time. 

With the constant reminders about gender roles comes the constant sexual encounters between the married Draper and various women, and indeed between virtually all the married male characters in the show and random secretaries, au pairs and struggling artists.  This purpose of showing (but not showing) gratutitous amounts of sex is A) because it's entertaining to watch and/or imagine people having sex and that sells B) to once again emphasize changing views on sex and marriage C) to give us a brief glimpse of the sexual revolution in the 60's and D) to show differences in what body types were desirable in the 60's and E) to frustrate legions of male fans by not showing January Jones naked.  God bless you HBO for the bounty we always recieve from you.

And when we're not being slapped in the face with differences in gender roles it's some other cultural differece that's being rammed down our throats.  There's the flippant attitude towards drinking -at home, at work, morning, noon, night, sitting, standing, at your kid's birthday party, driving (A whole new generation now has a better understanding of what "One for the road" actually means) waiting in the waiting room for your baby to be born while your wife goes through the delivery alone, or during some kind of strange beatnik performing art bullshit.  The attitude in smoking is both explicitely (one of Sterling Cooper's biggest clients is Lucky Strike, a cigarette company) and implicitely (everybody's smoking all the time, even the gynaecologist during a pelvic exam) emphasized in practically every episode.  Littering is taken for granted, you were allowed to hit your kids, and when they made a mess you could just get your wife to clean it up while you got your ten-year-old to mix you another cocktail. 

All these differences between society in the 60's and today are so much the forefront of the show, that at times they overshadow the characters or the plot.  But I fucking love it.  I eat that shit up.  It's so fascinating and entertaining to me to go watch Mad Men and go "Holy shit, I can't believe it used to be like," or "Holy shit I can't believe they actually thought like that," or "Holy shit Christina Hendricks has a great ass that you could just get lost in for days."  To me all those "Holy shit" moments are at least if not more entertaining than the plot and the character developments and the dramatic reveals.  What's more fascinating to me than Don Draper's secret past (which is very intriguing and engaging, don't get me wrong) is how Don Draper is (mostly) a man of his time.  What's crazy is that this character is from around the same time period of my grandparents, so I keep imagining a younger, more attractive version of my grandfather (he was a good looking guy back in the day) hanging out with Draper, drinking excessively and slapping the waitress's ass.  And I begin to wonder how much of these social scripts my grandparents went through time and time again.  The answer is probably all of them.     

And then it hits me.  We aren't men and women.  We are men and women of our time.  Which kind of makes me worried.  It's amusing to me to watch Mad Men and laugh at how silly their views on smoking were or how much fun they seemed to have as they drove their Cadillacs while sipping glasses of finely-aged scotch, or shake my head at their narrow views on homosexuality or their treatment of black people.  But then I take pause.  And what I think about then is how future generations will view us and how we will be depicted in their TV shows.  And then all of the sudden watching Mad Men makes me a little bit sad.  But this isn't a bad thing. 

And now for your viewing pleasure:

Sunday, February 20, 2011

When We Were Kings

Back in 2006 after the release of Guitar Hero II it seemed like a veritable impossibility that this cultural juggernaut would eventually end.  It seemed far more likely that mutant gorillas from the third planet of the Kuroug system would master intergalactic travel, traverse the infinite dangers of interplanetary navigation to end up on our planet and buttfuck Nelson Mandella, sample our finest cheeses then depart only after stopping at Stonehenge to take a giant dump and scribble the secret of eternal youth with their feces on the rocks in a language we can't yet comprehend.   However, much to the surprise of gamers the world over (but probably not to the executives and employees over at Activision) that is exactly what has happened.  Not the gorilla thing, but the Guitar Hero franchise ending thing.  The news came as quite a shock to me as I felt quite certain that it at least had the staying power to outlast the HARRY POTTER movie series, but apparently teenage wizards who play with their wands all day (Get it?  It's a masturbation joke!  Wand = Penis.  Tee hee hee.) and who fall ass backwards into various, increasingly pointless and convoluted adventures still has more pull than one of the most pervasive cultural video game phenomenons since Nintendo showed us how awesome plumbers were and how they could all break bricks with their heads.  True story.  Who amongst the gaming community -be they gamers or developers- would have thought that Guitar Hero would have had a shorter marketable shelf life than disco?

I suppose in retrospect this outcome was not totally unforseen.  I remember looking at the shelves in gaming stores and at the electronics section at Wal-Mart and marvelling at the ever-increasing number of Guitar Hero titles.  Remember Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks The 80'sGuitar Hero: Aerosmith?  Yeah, unfortunately I do too.  All in all since 2005 there have been at least 19 iterations of the Hero series, including DJ Hero and the appropriately titled DJ Hero II.  There were times when I would get flashes, but nothing concrete.  Nothing that would point to Total Meltdown.  The number of releases seemed excessive, but in a culture that seems to demand excess I kind of figured that the unrelenting content would be consumed indefinitely and digested slowly like a wad of chewing gum stuck to the inside wall of your lower intestine.  I feel kind of sad, but I'm not sure why.  Rhythm gaming is still alive and kicking thanks to the Rockband brand, though the complete annihilation of their closest competitor is probably more bittersweet than satisfying.  The end of Guitar Hero might seem to some (and rightly so) like an indication of where the entire genre is currently hanging in the marketplace and I have a sneaking suspicion that the folks employed over at Harmonix are taking a collective deep breath as it might seem more like a temporary reprieve than a free pass.

Looking at the whole soap opera behind the scenes with Guitar Hero and Rockband what with the split between Harmonix and RedOctane as they were acquired by MTV Games and Activision respectively I can't help but be reminded of that Simspon's episode where those accursed folks over at Shelbyville steal the lemon tree from Springfield which the children had been harvesting to make lemonade.  The children of Springfield -led, of course, by Bart Simpson- embark on a desperate and hilarious rescue mission to get back the beloved tree, and with the aid of their parents -led, of course, by Homer Simpson- return the tree to its rightful place while the children of Shelbyville were left to enjoy a fresh glass of turnip juice.  Well it looks like the Guitar Hero turnip has been squeezed dry so now if you want a glass of freshly squeezed turnip juice you'll have to go to the Rockband lemon tree.  Or something like that.

But now in the aftermath of this consumerist cataclysm it seems like the perfect time to reflect on what Guitar Hero was.  Well to millions of people it might have seemed like "just a game" (though I find the "just" somewhat demeaning as it implies that games -video included- have little to no cultural value) however it was even more than that.  What Guitar Hero -and all rhythm gaming- represents is how we, as a culture, view music today.

I remember being opposed to playing Guitar Hero when I first heard about it.  I don't know why, but I felt indignant about it.  I feel embarrassed now, but I think I remember telling people that it was essentially a waste of time and their energy was better spent learning to play a "real" musical instrument.  I don't know why I felt this way.  Perhaps it was the kind of reactionary, self-righteous view that only someone influenced by years of organized religion would tend to gravitate towards.  Or maybe because I have a naturally contrary personality and I feel I have the obligation to disagree with the Majority just on pure principle alone.  However, when I actually tried playing the game I was immediately won over and have been addicted ever since.  I remember the song that I busted my cherry on: Nirvana's "Heart Shaped Box" featured on Guitar Hero II (or rather "Heart Shaped Box", as made famous by Nirvana as at that time RedOctane or whoever didn't have the cash to get the actual master tracks for their games yet).  Once I lost my rhythm gaming virginity I very quickly turned pro and became a whore, only instead of getting paid with money I was racking up stars and points.

Almost immediately after I bought Guitar Hero II for my much loved PS2 I became acutely aware that I was having fun playing a bunch of songs I had either never heard of or never really paid attention to before.  But now in order to complete the game I had to concentrate intensely on songs I had never really had interest in before.  It quickly became apparent what was happening: my musical horizons were being broadened.  Also the pain in my wrists from excessive masturbation was being exacerbated by hours of continuous playing, but that's another story.  What Guitar Hero had done for me -and most likely countless others- was grant access to entire new musical worlds in a relatively friendly environment.  This accessibility becomes even more pronounced for younger players.  In this case what rhythm gaming has done is introduce a whole new generation of gamers to music they might not otherwise have had access to.  I think thirteen-year-olds rocking out to music like "Paint it Black", "War Pigs" or "Sweet Home Alabama" is not only culturally relevant and necessary to enrich their lives, but also to encourage them to research rockers of the past and learn valuable lessons about the benefits of promiscuous sex and excessive drug and alcohol abuse and the relative safety (or lack thereof) of airline travel.

While this cross-generational cultural show and tell is aggrandizing it is also at the same time highly reductive. The game developers elevated some songs to create a pantheon of music: essentially they created a historical narrative.  However, this narrative, like all historical narratives, is highly biased.  The developers picked songs that they either A) really liked, B) had the money to pay for the rights to use the song, or C) both.  Whether valued for their (relative) musical merit or their status as a commodity the game developers were presenting what they considered to be the best or the essential in music history.  On the other hand they took epic songs from the past (both recent and classic) that represented something significant to a generation and  reduced them to a bunch of shiny circles flying by on our television screens.  Yesterday's masterpieces are today's playthings.  Like an episode of The Amazing Race the entire world is nothing but a source of entertainment to us here in the West.  Tiananmen Square is nothing more than a few seconds of video that we use in music videos to try to represent emotions we wish we had.

The other reason Guitar Hero is so significant culturally is because it is a form of social interaction that presents very little chance of giving you herpes.  Well, maybe that's not as significant, but being herpes-free is always a bonus and the same can't be said for other family-friendly activities like getting pantless lapdances at your local strip bar or playing a few rounds of Injecting Yourself With Unknown Substances from Dirty Needles Found in Your Local Playground.  God, I miss the good old days.  But I digress.  No, the other reason Guitar Hero is so significant is because it does what we as a culture now love to do: deconstruct things.  We love to analyse and break things down into their base forms.  It's the same reason we love documentaries, or at least I do.   I love to see some aspect of society broken down into its base components, into a few easily digestible concepts.  We love to take the mystery and the mystique out of things.

I remember a couple of years ago -I believe it was 2007- I heard about something incredible.  Led Zeppelin -the band that aging hipsters and young douchebags alike can definitively describe as "the greatest band of all time" in a strangely self-congratulatory way and then predictably quote "Stairway to Heaven" as their favourite song as well as being "the best (rock/blues) song of all time" because it was on the top of a bunch of arbitrary top-ten lists that they feel obliged to take as gospel even though it wasn't even the band's best song- was reuniting for a concert of epic proportions twenty-seven years after breaking up due to the death of John Bonham.  Now when I first heard this I was blown away.  Not because I was a particularly enthusiastic or hardcore Led Zeppelin fan, but because they were a legendary rock band that had previously only existed in the tales passed down from generation to generation or whispered about in dark corners as college students got high and listened to Led Zeppelin II after trying three separate times to get Dark Side of the Moon to sink up to THE WIZARD OF OZ and failing.  Hearing of their reunion was the equivalent of hearing that Hercules would be showing up in New York tomorrow to fight Goliath, Godzilla, and one of the three heads of Cerberus before ass-raping the Loch Ness Monster with Hitler's skeleton.

While this sounds awesome at first, the reality quickly dawned on me.  Led Zeppelin reuniting was the equivalent of a child finding out that there was no Santa Claus.  Led Zeppelin reuniting took all the mystery out of Led Zeppelin.  Before that reunion they were legends; they were gods; they were ideas that could inspire us.  After the reunion show reality set it and they were once again relegated to the realm of mere mortals.  They were a bunch of old rockers who couldn't play as fast as they used to and had to lower the keys of their songs so that Robert Plant could still sing them.  These banalities are not the concerns of gods, but of mortals.  To me the idea of Led Zeppelin -the myth- was forever damaged.  And as with all of us it's the myth, not that man, that will live on.

In my mind Guitar Hero kind of did the same thing, but to all music everywhere.  Now anyone anywhere with even a modicum of gaming ability, coordination or rhythm could play Free Bird.  What was once legendary was now commonplace.  What the developers had to do in order to make these games was to break music down into its key components -rhythm, tempo, beat, harmony- and translate that into a rigid system that was easily quantifiable to the players and represented by coloured circles and a system of points awarded for strumming at the right time.  What they did was to take music -the best of which is organic- and make it mechanical.  That's not to say it's not still fun, just different.  Any musician will tell you that music is more than just the notes on a page, and indeed if you did just play the notes on a page you wouldn't be playing the song.  Not really.  When you play a song -really play a song- it has a natural flow that can't be broken down or translated.  Guitar Hero deconstructed music and in so doing made it infinitely more accessible, but at the same time it made it infinitely more mundane.  Yet somehow, paradoxically, infinitely more fun.

Deconstructed or not, Guitar Hero (and even more so Rockband) made playing music with your friends easier than having to learn to play an actual guitar or bass or drums.  This accessibility and the continually developing social aspect make playing music more fun to more people.  While this deconstruction ultimately takes the wind out of the very sails these games are trying to fill, what they allow us to do is to temporarily become rock stars.  When we pick up those plastic instruments, adjust the straps and the foot pedals, and make our song lists, for a moment we are able to suspend our disbelief and become Gods of Rock and Roll.  And even though it's fleeting, for those few brief moments, we are allowed into a world we are otherwise barred from ever entering (like that hall you got kicked out of at your cousin's wedding for being way too drunk and covering the men's bathroom with projectile vomit and were then subsequently banned from the premises for) and that fleeting sense of rockstardom is perhaps the closest thing to real happiness most of us will ever know.  Deconstructed music breeding constructed happiness.  But that's not necessarily a bad thing.  Rest in Peace, Guitar Hero.                                            

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Whatever Happened To....?

Nostalgia doth not (necessarily) a good movie make.  Which is really unfortunate because a very large percentage of the movie industry is now built upon a cornerstone of nostalgia.  Nostalgia has become very fashionable these days and is front and centre in the public consciousnes.  It has become so popular, in fact, that it now ranks Number 2 on my list of annoying cultural idiom right after (but still far behind) irony which nobody seems to understand but cites it incessantly anyway.  Nostalgia is not so misunderstood as misrepresented as it is simply overused and borderline delusional.  I myself have been guilty of premature nostalgination and it was no less annoying when I was the guilty party.  I remember back in university reminiscing with my friends about the "good old days" -which were really just our first two years of university which we had just finished experiencing.  We had no right or cause to be nostalgic.  Sixty year old men who've lost their wives, are on the verge of being fired just a few years before retirement, have kids who have grown up and left the nest and have lived long enough to see significant cultural changes over a long period of time, enough time to actually have a story arch to reflect on.  We were just some drunk university kids who were starting to feel how fast the world was actually turning and beginning to realize just how fast our lives were going to slip away from us.  The hypothetical sixty year old dude (who had also contracted genital herpes from a pigeon-toed prostitute in Vietnam, by the way) would have been experiencing genuine nostalgia; I was a whiny semi-depressed young man who was really coming to terms with the realization that I might not be young forever.

But the problem is even worse than that.  Recently I overheard some thirteen year old kids reminiscing about "how good it was" when they were younger.  Thirteen!  Some might say that it's a sign of the times, that children are getting more cynical and more cognisant that worldwide political and social unrest is building to biblical proportions and that the smallest spark in the form of another Saddam Hussein, George W. Bush or Wayan brothers comedy might just set the whole powder keg off.  But I don't think so.  I think it's just a bunch of spoiled kids who enjoy whining, because that's what upper-middle class kids do: they immaturely whine and moan about how good they had it when they were five years old when they could still shit their pants with impunity and most of them were still haning from their moms' stretched out teats.  They're not nostalgic they're lazy with a sense of entitlement.  This is premature nostalgia.

Then there's another symptom I've fallen victim to which I like to call False Nostalgia.  All nostalgia is by its very nature is false.  As we all now the word "nostalgia" comes from the Greek "nostos" meaning "retuning home" and "algos" which means " pain or ache" (At least according to Wikipedia, and we all know that everything we read on the internet is true.  Everything!).  So literally it means an ache or pain to return home.  A yearning for a place that does not exist.  I don't know if psychologists have a technical term for the mechanism that exists in the human psyche that selectively filters out all the shit and leaves nothing but the gold fillings in certain memories.  I don't know whether it's part of the psyche that helps us deal with severe trauma or whether it's the same part that deals with delusion and psychosis but it's definitely not accurate.  And whatever the case extremely innacurate recollections -ie. False Nostalgia- lead to a lot of tragic byproducts like the On Again/Off Again couple.  Weird and Tragic. 

Another strange cousin of False Nostalgia is something I like to call False Nostalgia II (What?  It worked for BACK TO THE FUTURE.)  False Nostalgia II is a feeling of longing and edited memories about a time period you never even lived in.  Perhaps my most notable experience of false nostalgia revloves around my romantic notions of the 1960's.  This is due in large part to many movies -the main one that comes to mind is FORREST GUMP- that romantisize and idealize that particular time period.  Looking back on that time period now one gets the impression that there was hope looming on the horizon.  There was the sexual revoluton, the explosion of recreational drugs, the musical renaissance, massive social movements against racism and pointless wars on foreign soil.  It just seems like being a flower child in the 60's was a gloriously idealistic time to be alive.  But that's really just bullshit.  If I were transplanted through time right now to live out the re of my days in he 1960's I would probably kill myself inside of a week.  When you think about it the sixties weren't that great.  A lot of promiscuous sex just leads to the unmitigated sharing of STD's which I would be to paranoid about to actually fuck a bunch of random chicks in a Woodstock urinal.  I don't do drugs now and I probably wouldn't do them with John Lennon because (aside from maybe a little weed) I'd be really paranoid about overdosing and winding up lying in a bathroom, drowned in a puddle of my own vomit.  The main event I would have liked to attend would have been Woodstock, but I can jut buy the DVD.  Experiencing The Beatles in their prime?  Their music is available on iTunes now, plus I get to enjoy all the great music that has been made since they rocked out with their cocks out on The Ed Sullivan show.  I guess that goes for anythin else culturally.  I mean, there wouldn't even be STAR WARS yet.  No internet, losing access to all the medical advancements made in the last forty years, and governments that still wage pointess wars in foreign countries.  Ignorance really is bliss.

If I did live in the sixties I also wouldn't have had the opportunity (?) to see TRON: LEGACY and BOONDOCK SAINTS II: ALL SAINTS DAY.  On the surface these are two very dissimilar films: one a special effects extraveganza summer blockbuster relaesed in the middle of winter and the other a direct to video mongrel sequel to a cult classic.  While conceptually they are extremely different they are ideologically quite similar.

TRON:LEGACY is, of course, Disney's masturbatory twenty year later sequel to it's often referenced TRON.  The plot, besides being convoluted and dull, is completely irrelevent in understanding the movie.  TRON:LEGACY is Disney's monument to itself and its own "achievements" in "filmmaking."  The supposed "achievement" is the "classic" TRON which was a largely forgettable movie about a whiz-kid played by Jeff Bridges who gets sucked into a virtual world inside his computer where he meets some anthropomorphic computer programs and then proceeds to be almost bored to death for a couple hours.  The claim to fame for TRON is that it helped pioneer the age of digital effects which, considering many blockbusters released in recent years, is a dubious legacy.  The whole point of TRON:LEGACY seemed to be to remind us about the advances the crew at Disney made way back when and to supposedly push the envelope of modern cinematic techniques, ei. digital effects and 3D.  Admitedly, one of the reasons I went to see te new TRON was to compare the 3D to the 3D in AVATAR, now one of only two movies to have effectively make use of the new 3D technology.  Although not all of TRON: LEGACY was in 3D for some reason, it still looked fucking good and made my pants feel a little tighter.

The second reason I wanted to see TRON:LEGACY was because of the special effects, specifically the anti-aging technology used to make Jeff Bridges look twenty years younger.  I'm not sure why exactly this fascinated me so much.  Maybe it was curiosity about what The Dude would look like as a plucky twenty-something.  Or maybe I'm curious about the future of cinema where there might be fully-rendered, digital actors that looked "real" and could actually replace "real" actors.  Honestly, it was pretty fucking amazing.  There were times when young Jeff Bridges looked a little cartoony and kind of creepy, like a mannequin come to life, but there were certain scenes where it was pretty fucking impossible to tell it was digital effects.  I mean, we're still a long way off from completely photorealistic digital human characters.  It might yet be a while before we get a realistic rendition of Marilyn Monroe scissoring Pamela Anderson while Humphrey Bogart enjoys a handjob from Tom Cruise and blows his load all over their tits while Orson Welles pees blood on them all while swinging from a chandelier with the son of Kong, but there's hope on the horizon.

But in the end the best TRON: LEGACY can claim to be is sickeningly sweet eye candy.  Visually it was stunning, but it was so frustrating that nothing really happened.  It was a really fucking boring, conceited movie.  It was so self-indulgent, self-aggrandizing, self-centred, and self-absorbed that TRON: LEGACY seemed to be nothing more than a giant monument to itself.  It was like a guy with a really small dick who buys a really big, expensive car then drives around the neighbourhood as if to say, "Hey, look at me!  Look at my car!  A car this expensive and shiny must mean I have an unusually large penis.  Aren't you impressed?"  Well, no, not really.  The starting point for TRON: LEGACY was False Nostalgia and so was doomed from the start.  The makers of this movie wrongly remembered the original TRON as some kind of sci-fi masterpiece and concluded that a sequel carrying on that story and that legacy would be just as signifiant or meaningful.  Unfortunately for those of us who saw the movie they were (at least) half right.

BOONDOCK SAINTS II: ALL SAINTS DAY (just for the record, a really shitty subtitle) is another example of cancerous nostalgia left unchecked.  In this case, however, it is Premature Nostalgia.  This movie is writer/director Troy Duffy's very desperate attempt to recreate the violent, cat-exploding magic he somehow captured and bottled in his cult classic THE BOONDOCK SAINTS.  Now I really hoped against hope that this sequel wouldn't be a complete piece of shit, much like a young child asks Santa Claus for mommy and daddy to get back together.  Unfortunately both that kid and I were (probably) sorely disappointed, me when I watched Troy Duffy's aborted fetus of a film and the kid when it slowly dawned on him that the guy in the cheap Santa suit he'd been asking for his parents to get back together was probably his new "Uncle Jimmy" who'd just moved into his house and was, in all likelyhood, now banging his freshly-divorced and (until recently) sexually unsatisfied mom.  Reality is a hard pill to swallow sometimes.

Again as with TRON:LEGACY the plot here is unessential.  It basically catches up with the MacManus Brothers (Sean Patrick Flannery and Norman Reedus) who used to be ruthless vigilantes in Boston meting out bloody justice to mobsters and gangbangers, but who have now retired from their violent ways (despite an apocalyptic diatribe at the end of the first movie, but anyway...) and live in Ireland farming and fucking herding each other sheep.  For some reason.  Anyway, insert flimsy plot device here and they return to Boston.... meting out bloody justice to mobsters and gangbangers.  Again.  They are aided by an eccentric FBI agent.  Again.  They are teamed up with an annoying sidekick.  Again.  I will say, to Troy Duffy's credit, that never have I ever seen a ten or twenty year later sequel that managed to bring back a cast almost in its entirety.  Granted most of them were lesser-known actors, but I was still impressed that he managed such a reunion.  And also a little sad.  Because even the slight joy I felt at seeing all these characters I remembered was stomped to death by steel toe boots when I realized what Duffy was trying to do: systematically recreate the first film, piece by piece.  It was kind of depressing actually that Duffy seemed to be so desperately clinging to his first movie as if it were some kind of metaphysical liferaft.

It quickly became apparent that BOONDOCK SAINTS II was not a sequel but one man's desperate attempt to live in a past that simply does not exist any more.  BOONDOCK SAINTS II is to BOONDOCK SAINTS what THE EXPENDABLES was to EVERY ACTION MOVIE FROM THE 80's: a pale, though slightly more dressed up, immitation.  BOODOCK SAINTS II is a bunch of thirteen year old boys standing around discussing BOONDOCK SAINTS while getting sick smoking dad's cigarettes for the first time and feeling all growed up.  And really the only people who could see having gotten any enjoyment whatsoever from the sequel are guys like me who loved BOONDOCK SAINTS and got a mild kick from sort of reminiscing about that movie.  But in reality, I'd rather jus go and watch the first one again.  I mean, it was cool to see cameos from Willem Dafoe and David Della Rocko, but they were (especially in Rocko's case whose character actually died in the first movie, and no before you ask he was not just used in a flashback unfortunately) really unnecessary and only served to drive home the point that I really should have spent the last hour and a half watching the original, which seems to be what Troy Duffy actually wants to do to.  We should totally hang some time, Troy, and watch BOONDOCK SAINTS.  I think we'd have a good time.

Nostalgia is not always bad, even when it comes to making movies.  In recent memory movies like STAR TREK, ROCKY BALBOA, and RAMBO have really capitalized on nostalgia.  Where those movies went right, however, was in their ability both to acknowledge that sense of nostalgia while either A) growing and evolving from the original idea or B) using that nostalgia as a jumping off point and boldly going in new and wonderful directions.  What TRON: LEGACY and BOONDOCK SAINTS II failed to do was evolve and so will forever be doomed to be trapped in the primordeal swamps of our already stagnant culture.  These two movies grew more like a cancer and less like a beatiful rose stretching its petals towards the sun while I fuck Olivia Wilde doggy-style behind a nearby dumpster.  It's almost poetic, I know.

I give TRON: LEGACY a 4/10 = One Surprised Homosexal Albino Digital Club Owners Head Exploding in a Terrible Act of Betrayal

BOONDOCK SAINTS II: ALL SAINTS DAY also gets a 4/10 = Two Bearded Vigilante Heads Taking a Strangly Erotic and Incestuous Shower Together    

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Go Netflix Yourself

I remember one cold, winter day back in high school my OAC (grade 13 back when we had grade 13) physics teacher was talking to a bunch of students after another generic physics class and he gave us this analogy: math is to physics as masturbation is to sex.  This might seem like a strange thing to say, and in today's hypersensitive society such comments might even be considered by some sheltered, conservative individuals to be warning signs of a sexual predator, but these are probably the same kinds people who go to some kind of church on a regular basis or who try to banish Halloween from public schools or who voted for Bush.  But my physics teacher was not (to my best knowledge) trying to elicit sexual stories from eighteen year old boys that he could deposit in his spank bank and jerk off to later.  Rather, he was trying to make the assertion that A) physics was far more fulfilling (maybe even more fun?) and hence had more intrinsic value than math because the practical applicaions of physics and in a roundabout way B) sex was far more desirable and fulfilling than masturbation.  The first implication didn't have any real relevence to my life then or now, but the second one is still quite pertinent.

Among certain circles there seems to be this idea that sex and masturbation are somehow polar opposites or oppositional concepts and if they were ever brought together they would cause some kind of devastating, cataclysmic event like introducing matter to anit-matter (thank you Scotty).  It was always like you ha to choose: you can either be one of those dudes who fucks chicks or one of those dudes who sits at home alone on a Friday night playing Xbox, eating a frozen pizza and taking a twenty minute break to tug on his own dick because he couldn't find a chick who was gracious enough to overlook his chronic acne and flabby body long enough to let him stick his dick into her for what would (presumably) some laughably short amount of time (roughly 37 seconds, give or take...).  But that's bullshit.  You don't have to pick.  Why would you?  I enjoy sex but I also enjoy masturbation.  Everybody masturbates.  It feels good.  Sex and masturbation are not diametrically opposed: they are both actions that cause sexual arousal and stimulation, and both viable remedies to your morning wood, depending on your Facebook relationship status.

So now it's time for my own analogy, which is only true for me personally, but which some few of you might also understand: Netflix is to physical digital media as masturbation is to sex.  Keeping in mind that (apparently) unlike my physics teacher I actually enjoy masturbation.  This makes the analogy slightly different ideologically than his.  For me collecting DVD's and now BluRays is sex.  I don't just "buy DVD's", I "Add to my Collection."  It is extremely satisfying to me in ways you can't (or maybe can) possibly imagine to find a movie that is difficult to find or to find a crazy, hardcore mulitple-disk edition of a movie, or to find either of these at some insanely low price that has to be a mistake so you buy it without talking to the clerk and specifically don't mention the price because he might realize that he made a mistake and charge what that piece of cinematic history must surely be worth and then get the hell out of there as quickly as possible.  I remember flipping a coin with my then-university-roomate Dave to see who could buy the only copy of DONNIE DARKO we could find in town (ended up being at CD Plus) which sounds just as ridiculous as it actually must have been.  We were flipping a coin in order to spend money.  The winner was actually out by about $20 or $25.  But we were totally stoked.  In the context of our social circle our DVD colletion defined us.  It wasn't just a random collection of movies.  The movies you had in your collection were actually an extension of who you were as a person.  They represented your identity.  When we looked at the movies somebody owned it told us something about that person, something intrinsic that was being revealed through the collection.  What it told us I don't think we knew, but we knew for sure it told us something.  And it seemed perfectly logical and natural to relate to people in this way, and in a lot of ways it still does for me anyway.  And I kind of assume (even though this is undoubtedly the furthest thing from their minds) that when I show other people my Collection that they will also see that intangible something that I see when I look at DVD/BluRay collections, and that they will somehow draw conclusions about my relative awsomeness based on that esoteric, undefinable information and so I choose my movies accordingly.  This process of selection, purchase and display is very emotionally satisfying to me.

Netflix is satisfying, but in a different way.  Netflix is masturbation.  You'd think that after my diatribe about the relative personal and cultural significance that I seem to attribute to seemingly meaningless inanimte objects that the whole idea of Netflix would be anathema to me.  Where is the hunt for rare special editions?  Where is the collection?  Where is the concept of ownership and identity?  In a way Netflix is a great equalizer: everybody who subscribes to the service has the exact same collection.  People stream different movies through their various game consoles, but they all have access to the same pool. Netflix is commercially satisfying in a narrower sense.  Instead of "adding to my Collection" Netflix simply allows me to "watch a movie," which, after all, is what I generally like to do.  It's the quick fix.  It tides me over until I can further feed my addiction.

But Netflix also serves several purposes that traditional physical media just couldn't fulfill.  In fact, from my point of view, physical media and Netflix are not even at odds ideologically.  To me they are not mutually exclusive: they , in fact, work in tandem.  The first thing that Netflix allows me to do is "casually" watch movies and TV shows.  What I mean by "casually" is "financially relaxed," which means the cost is negligible and easy to overlook just like we tend to take for granted our cable or satellite bills.  For a relatively (and, in the case of Netflix, actually) low price I get access to a lot of shows I wouldn't normally have access to due to my limited cable budget.  This is satisfying in and of itself to me personally, however it also leads me directly into point number two which is that this access to movies and shows that I might not otherwise have seen will lead to an increase in commerce.  Take for example my and my wife's recent obsession with MAD MEN.  We instantly got addicted to the show for several reasons.  One, it was well-written and Don Draper is a compelling, three-dimensional character.  Two, it is simply fascinating to watch a show that derives a great deal of its entertainment value simply my emphasizing the cultural differences between the 1960's and the 2000's.  The emphasis on the attitudes surrounding things like drinking, smoking, family life, and especially gender relations is not accidental and is one of the key driving forces of the show.  I mean, I want to find out what happens to the characters, but I also want to be shocked at how the doctor smokes during a pap smear or how you can slap your secretary's ass, fuck her on your couch in your office, send her out to get you a cup of coffee and then fire her for no apparent reason all in the space of a day.  The point is MAD MEN is a great show that I will eventually buy on BluRay, thanks to Netflix which allowed me to wtch it in the first place.  Netflix is in some ways a series of feature-length trailers.

The third reason I enjoy Netflix is far more philosophical and self-indulgent; it gives me a chance to watch a bunch of shit I would never, ever, in a million years have spontaneously bought and watched.  In a way Netflix is helping to broaden my cinematic horizons.  But while this form of consumerist communism helps to satisfy my cravings I will always have that desire to go out and buy that crazy five disk edition of BLADE RUNNER, or to own both my original copy of CLERKS to prove that I was a fan before it was cool and the CLERKS X sepcial edition DVD because it is a special edition with a lot of excellent suplemental material (Kevin Smith is still da bomb, ya'll!).  A lot of people would call that crazy.  They're probably right.

Unlike my physics teacher I can see the value in both sex and masturbation.  I would go so far as to argue that not only are they different pages in the same magazine, they are both necessary to maintain sexual health.  Sex is fucking great.  There's nothing that can compare with sticking your dick into your wife/girlfriend/random stranger/Fleshlight (that one's for you, Pat) and having healthy, emotionally reciprocated sex.  But sometimes you don't want sex.  Sometimes you just want to rub one out, whether it's in the interest of time (don't want to commit to the time it takes to go through all the plot points of the foreplay/sex/cuddling plot structure or you just need to release that stress right fucking now) or doing shit in your fantasies you know your wife/girlfriend/random stranger/ household pet Fleshlight (go Pat!) would just not be into or having virtual sex with celebrities via your right hand (I assume it's your right...).  And there's nothing wrong with that.  That's why I'm totally stoked about Netflix.  It's the perfect compliment to my DVD/BluRay collection and completely satisfying, in a different, funny-feeling-when-climbing-the-rope-in-gym-class sort of way.  I can only assume that my physics teacher hates it though.

This one was for you Mr. Lamore.