Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Public Imagination of Vanilla

We were just watching an episode of "The Office" and some of the characters were arguing about what type of ice cream to get. Then another character suggested that they get vanilla, because it's not very controversial, and it's something that pretty much everyone could agree on. Well I thought it was rather interesting that at the same time, Britney Spears' Pop Up Shop is selling a candle they're calling Vanilla Flame candle that, as of the time of this writing, is available for about another 72 hours. Of course what makes it an interesting choice is that the stereotype of vanilla is that it is a plain, boring flavor. And in fact, we even use "vanilla" as an adjective to explain sex devoid of kink. Well, considering Britney Spears' history, I find this an interesting choice. You may notice that it's Britney's favorite. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Her tastes run pretty "meh." I once watched a video of her being hassled in her car, and they lean over to talk to her, and you can hear her stereo playing that Michael Jackson song "Want To Be Starting Somethin'" or whatever it's called, and you hear one of the papparazzi guys say, just barely audible: "She's listening to Michael Jackson." And once, I saw (on DVD) a stylist ask her what she's into and she named a bunch of boring mall stores like The Gap and Abercrombie etc. But then, I mean, that interview was from when she was 16. But! Also! This was coming from a girl who grew up in a tiny rural town in the south, and her family didn't have a lot of money (the lore of the Britney myth is that when she started bringing home the big bucks she then paid off her parents' debts). So I guess I can't really fault her for being into those stores. It must sort of suck to be famous when you're super young because then any time anybody wants to make an argument like "Oh her tastes are so vanilla" and then the example they use is some random quote from like 15 years previous. Anyway, maybe Britney's management was trying to do some sort of subliminal thing about trying to make the public think she's vanilla. Or make some sort of association with what people think of the smell of vanilla...? Or that it's straight up a money-making thing, like since vanilla is one of the most popular flavors, so they know they'll make a lot of sales...? I like the former reason better for sort of dystopian attempt to control the population by way of public opinion about the bla bla bla Chomsky ideological hegemony whatever whatever, but the fact is, I think it is more likely that the real reason is the most simple reason, and that is, money.

And probably because Britney Spears probably does have pretty boring tastes, really.

The color of the spectrum that's often associated with the vanilla is often thought of being a white. And then of course, all the typical mainstream, modern, western imagination associates the color of white with white skin color, blue eyes -- there was a period where I saw pictures of Britney wearing blue contacts (she has naturally born brown eyes) -- And of course the stereotype in the modern imagination's eye thinks that the best possible combination of hair and skin is blue eyes and blonde hair. Naturally speaking, Britney has neither blue eyes nor blonde hair. But she did refer to herself as "lilly white" once in a tweet. (I'm totally taking this out of context. It was a tweet in reference to someone doing her wrong and she said something to the effect that they can "kiss my lilly white ass.") Also, she once told a journalist something to the effect that the media should give her a break and harass some other "over-exposed blonde" for a while. Blonde hair, blue eyes, vanilla skin, vanilla scent. I'm sure this all seems like pretty elementary point to make that the most mainstream person in the world has the most mainstream tastes. But you would think of all the people she has working for her that they would get her in touch with some more interesting stuff. Madonna does. She's known for her legendary scouting of  musical genres, new trends in dance, new stuff in theater and music, and then she uses it in her work. Sure, it's not stuff that's super, super underground, but it is stuff that's not necessarily in the mainstream yet -- like William Orbit for her Ray of Light era, etc. I mean, it's not William Orbit was the most underground person at that era, but certainly he wasn't so, well, vanilla. (Random thought: But didn't Madonna date or sleep with Vanilla Ice? So apparently her tastes do run a little Vanilla -- ha ha ha.)

And yet, I was almost tempted to buy Britney Spears' candle. Because actually, vanilla does smell pretty good.

Finally, about vanilla (suddenly I feel like I'm Diane Ackerman writing some natural history book, like this is a book called The Natural History of Vanilla. Maybe after the book they'll turn it into a PBS mini series!): Once in a reality show they took a woman who was having problems identifying herself as something apart from her twin sister, and a life coach took her into a perfumery and said something like, "You need to figure out who you are. Now is the time for you to start formulating opinions about things. Pick a scent that you like." And guess what? She picked vanilla. Humph.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Notion of Credit, Names for Networks and Cats, As Well As a 38 Special Song.

Something I've been thinking about is this idea of credit. Credit can mean money, but it can also mean getting recognition and/or approval, and those elements are really tied together. So while driving to see a movie I put the car radio on scan, so it played about 10 seconds of each station. If you want to stop it on the station you press the button. We ended up on some channel that was playing that 38 Special song Whatever Whatever On a Feeling, I forget the name of it, but I know it well enough to sing along (perhaps you might as well), even with the instrumental parts. I know, I know -- whatever, I mean, I grew up with that on the radio as a kid. While I was singing along to the guitar part (The fact that I would say "I was singing along to a 38 Special song" -- this is making me laugh that I said that so nonchalantly, which cracks me up in some meta-kinda way) I realized that it had the same guitar line as Smells Like Teen Spirit, which I found very amusing. I simultaneously thought about how someone should do a mashup of both songs in some way (even though it is pretty boring to sample/cover/reference Smells...Spirit at this point, I agree) and then also I thought that I would like someone else to do it and if it turned out good I thought it would be hilarious to demand some type of credit for it. (As if cleverness was the important thing to demand credit for, not the origin of the musical samples.) Wouldn't it be hilarious if we lived in some type of dystopian society where there was some sort of cyberplace where you would get some type of money credited to some account somewhere if somebody used a phrase you originated, just like in every day speech with someone else? Like I always joke when someone says something clever, I go "I'm totally going to use that. But I will give you credit. Actual royalties." This reminds me of this book I'm reading right now called Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart. (The book is sort of dystopian but also leaves room for some very human interaction with sense of humor.) What really resonated with me was that there's this character who basically everything he says is a podcast, and occasionally he'll say something about a sponsor, just thrown into conversation, so even if he's having an interaction with somebody, just a regular conversation, it's like a reality show, but a podcast. All the time. Like The Truman Show but even the star of the show knows. So if his friends have something they want to say in private, they can't do it when he's around. Anyway, I feel like that kind of sums up the mentality these days, of a certain perspective, one that's all about branding oneself, as if everything one does should be considered entertainment -- I'm going to have to work on that idea little bit, but I feel like there's a little nugget of something there. Something about making each experience less authentic -- or something. I feel like it is somehow tied up with this feeling I complain about that sometimes when I spend a lot of time experiencing something behind the lens of my camera or feeling like I need to tweet about it or document it in some way, it can sometimes detract from the enjoyment of an experience. But that isn't always true. I enjoy documenting. I enjoy photographing. I enjoy uploading stuff to Flickr and writing about the experience. In fact, I remember in college when I took film classes, and I remember hearing other students say that taking film classes made them enjoy watching movies less because they felt like they were deconstructing the film instead of enjoying it. My response when people would say that was like Really? Are you an asshole? My response was disbelief. Because I think talking about something, studying it, elaborating on it, discussing the nuances, these are all things that enhance my experience of any kind of movie or book or TV show (or anything, really). These are all things that help build an appreciation for something. Mmmm...There must be medium between the joy of documentation and the enjoyment of the moment...

This evening I went to the Dil Pickle Club reboot -- Chicago  Dil Pickle Club 2.0 I guess. It was at the Billy Goat Tavern and the theme was black and white. It's really nice how many literary events there are going on in Chicago these days, more than I remember there always being, and it seems that there are ones that I actually want to go to -- clever things with themes and hooks and what have you. In fact there were 2 I even thought about going to tonight (The Encyclopedia Show and/or something at Moe's tavern) but the fact of the matter is that it was so nice out that I couldn't bear to be indoors. Anyway, the Dil Pickle event was really wonderful -- a resurgence of the old timey Chicago Dil Pickle stuff. The theme was "black and white" and my favorite was a zoologist who trains black bears and had all these amazing animal stories. Anyway, so last night after the event at the Billy Goat I had to navigate around in the rain to get to some public transportation that was actually running. I had forgotten to bring my Super phone with the CTA app to see what was running and where in relation to where I was, so I only had my I-Touch, that is basically an I-phone without a phone or a camera. So every few blocks I would escape from the downpour and then pull out my I-pod to see if I could log onto someone's wifi to see if there were any password-less areas. I secretly sort of enjoyed that. I felt like I was some hacker on the run etc etc. And in the rain. So dramatic! I loved how every few blocks I would pull up a bunch of random networks on my I-pod to see which were available and which didn't need passwords, and I loved to see what they were called, how they changed block to block, what I could figure out about each person just by looking at what their wifi connections were called. Thinking about the name of what you're going to call your wifi connection is like thinking about what you're going to be for Halloween. Or what you want to name your pet. Fun things to think about.

Which reminds me! The post-it is full. Maybe you know what that means. It means that since the post-it on the fridge is full of the names I've been using to address the cats lately ("address the cats," as if this is a court room "The Honorable Judge Kitty!") it is time to write it up on the blog and then start a new one. So you'll see that some of them are for one cat, some for both etc.

Humpty Dumpty Plumpty
Crocket and Tubbs
Fickle Pickle
Meow & Meow Incorporated
Suitcase Handle

The last one makes sense if you think about the shape of the cat. They're like walking suitcase handles!!!

Why did I need to put exclamation points on there?

And finally, I had a bounty of enjoyable eating experiences this weekend, one of which was dim sum. I did not know that dim sum was the food ride style. That is, I didn't know they do that thing where they keep coming around to your table with carts and offering you food. All the times I've ever been to dim sum it's been in a situation where we've ordered off the menu. I thought it was basically like Asian tapas. I was wrong. It's actually closer to an Argentenian steakhouse situation, except at an Argentenian steak house they rely on you to swerve the ping-pong paddle on your table up on green if you want more, or whatever it was. I can't remember if Fogo De Ciao (I'm sure I spelled that wrong) was a paddle with a red and a green side, or if it was some other piece of equipment, perhaps something that involves lamination. I don't know. Anyway, at dim sum you don't have any actual piece of equipment you put out to let them know you want more. You just look forlorn and expectant and hope they'll come by and offer you something amazing. Some things were amazing. Other things had prongs sticking out. What I liked best are the ben pao I think they're called. My husband and I have always called them Old Man Buns, and we've been doing that for so long I don't remember why we do that. I'm sure it's a joke rooted in something. The buns at The Phoneix in Chinatown tasted like a tiny portion of a sloppy joe encased inside an albino puff puff thingy. I remember getting those at a convenient mart in Kyoto and wishing that they were in convenient marts near my home in Chicago. I would say the experience was more like the Paul Bunyon Food Ride in the Wisconsin Dells (that's what Joe calls it -- "The Food Ride") where they just sail around the room with food and ask you if you want some. More of this? More of that? Well don't mind if I do!! At The Phoenix where we had the dim sum they write down every time you accept a food and at the end they add it all up, like when you go to the sushi places with the conveyer belts and they add up the dishes when you're done. Like you really want to hear about my food experiences! Like we don't all eat 27 times a day?! Oh dear diary, does anybody read you?

Friday, May 20, 2011

What I Find Funny. Also: I Kind of Have Rachel Maddow Hair Now (Sort of, Not Intentionally)

This has been quite an event-laden week for me. Tonight I went to the Creative Lounge for Words That Kill poetry and comedy slam because Quimby's was one of the sponsors and I felt like I should probably make an appearance. I didn't go to perform, just to watch. The open mic was fine, but what I really enjoyed were the comedianes who performed, one of which I'd actually seen 2 nights ago at the Beat Kitchen for the Chicago Underground Comedy night, and I was actually impressed that he had different material (mostly) for both nights. (But the Chicago comedy scene needs more women! I know of like one or two. And I'm talking standup. I could give a fuck about improv.) And then last night we went to hillbilly bingo at the Horseshoe (the bar, not a casino, duh!), where I won a Sailor Jerry print. I announced loudly, "The reason I know this is a full rig ship? Sugar packets!" Did anybody understand what I was talking about? If you've ever used the sugar packets at restaurants and cafes that have the different types of ships on them then yes, you would know what I was talking about. (I mean that was a million years ago, but whatever. Do they even make those sugar packets with that on them anymore?) And then tomorrow night we're going to the midnight showing of The Room at The Music Box which I am very excited about, having recently been turned on to this Worst Movie of All Time And Therefore The Best Movie of All Time phenomena that is The Room. I won't go into it in case you already know about it, but in case you don't, here's some info at it's Wikipedia site. What this makes me think of is how there are certain things that each of us, no matter how expansive our experience of culture is, we all experience life in such a way that there are certain things that get caught in our web of experience and certain things that don't, all because we experience life in such a way that sometimes certain things won't get caught into our net of experience. For example, certain things never really crossed into my path that I have missed out on that element of culture. So The Room, in spite of the fact that it seemed like a shoe-in for something I would totally be into, I never encountered it until a few months ago, even though the movie came out in 2003. And once I looked into it, I realized that lots of people have made parodies, and comedians I like have made references to it -- and it was awesome, and I was like "Another thing to be into!" Which is always fun of course. Indeed, it is "The Citizen Kane of bad movies" as Entertainment Weekly called it. In fact, that very article was about the cult of that movie. The friends that got me into this movie told me that when people go see the movie live, it's like Rocky Horror, but only in as far as people interacting with the movie. They throw spoons (there's a lot of spoon art in the movie) and so on. I am very excited because lines of this movie have kept Facebook threads on for days with my friends. My favorite though is when Joe and I are walking down the street we'll be imitating Tommy Wiseau (the main character, who funded the movie by selling leather jackets to Korea -- yes, I know this is fucked up -- and on the cover of the DVD he looks like a fucked up Christopher Walken with a super fucked up lazy eye, I know I know, this is crazy) -- anyway, Joe and I will imitate him with this weird wimpy European chamomiled-out "Oh, hai [fill in the blank name of person or thing]" and then snort and chuckle all the way home at how hilarious we think we are. I can't wait! I was afraid that I would get there late because of the insanity that was supposed to be a signing at Quimby's for Eddie Trunk's Essential Hard Rock and Heavy Metal book. However, the Eddie Trunk event is now cancelled because he had some family-related thing that popped up. I tried to get the word out as much as possible about the cancellation, to avoid the mob that was going to show up (at least, according to the publisher who made us order 150 BOOKS -- I am not making that up).

Also! Just today I remembered that it wasn't until I was in junior high that I pretty much couldn't stay awake for movies. My co-worker and I were talking about The Dark Crystal. He was saying that he had this theory that if you saw the movie when you were a kid for the first time, you probably loved it but if you saw it as an adult for the first time, you probably hated it -- the age you were the first time you saw it has a lot to do with how much you liked it. Well, I remember it always playing in the background at slumber parties but I could never stay awake for a full movie, so I never really saw the whole thing, or at least, not in order, and not enough to really remember it. So, I will need to move it up in the Netflix queue so that I can watch it and see how I like it. We agreed that I would be an interesting anomalous test case.

However, I have been watching Dead Like Me in the middle of the night, episodes on the watch now function on Netflix. Did I talk about this in my blog? I can't remember. Anyway, it's a coming-of-age story TV show that was on for like maybe one or two seasons, with mixed reviews. I remember there being a lot of buzz about it when it was on though -- on the radio and stuff, interviews etc. (I do remember though that someone on Fresh Air said that Mandy Patinkin talked like he was a beat poet and it sounded unnatural. Interesting. He didn't sound too beat poet-y to me. Whatever.) The catch is that even though it's about an apathetic girl who gets killed in an accident at 18, it is still a coming of age story. In death, she is appointed the role of one of multiple grim reapers, who escort people into the next phase of the (after)life.  I like that a main thing about the show is that what it's really about is that even though she's dead, we see her sort of go through the process of becoming a person. (When I was in high school I remember hearing someone say, "We never really stop becoming a person." That has really stuck with me.) This idea of the taking over the "office" of death is interesting. Of course, it is nothing new, and I know plenty of movies and books have touched on this. But specifically, the way they do it in the show reminds me of Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality series, where people take on these offices of things like Time, Fate, Death, etc. And since they're formally humans, when they take over the job after the previous person who held the position leaves, there's a learning curve where they have to figure out what they're doing. And that affects things. So the woman who takes over the office of Fate, she accidentally cuts her strings wrong and Death comes and pounds on her door and gets mad at her. He says that a bunch of people senselessly died, WTF did she do? And so on. Very compelling. I am a sucker for the whole idea of taking something mystical or philosophically big and turning it into something banal and humorous. Why can't I think of any good examples right now? Grrrr. For some reason, what comes to my mind is Woody Allen's Love and Death. You know, Swedish art film/Russian literature made silly and ridiculous.

I guess some of my favorite stuff is really about juxtaposition. I feel like that's the theme that I keep coming back to in things that I find compelling and things that really make me laugh too: robbing a bank and getting caught up in paperwork (wasn't that in a different W. Allen film? Whatever.) -- Heavy metal with ballerinas. Hippos in tutus.

In un-related other news, I walked into Big Hair and demanded a haircut. When I came into work the next day, a customer at Quimby's said that I look like Rachel Maddow:


Rachel Maddow
One last thought: If Saturday the 21st is judgment day, it might happen while I'm at the Chicago Pug Party! Will the pugs get to stay with us heretics? Please?! Please?! Today someone brought in their cutie French Bulldog to the store and it was a little white and pink bunny piggy with a pink leash and I almost cried with how cute it was.

It is 3:34am. Good night/morning.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Nutella and Time Travel

So last night I stayed up to watch The Butterfly Effect. Um yes, the movie with Ashton Kucher. It's about this kid that has black out periods growing up , where he can't remember what happened. He keeps a journal growing up. When he gets older he finds that when he looks back at the journal, he can magically transport himself back to those moments when he was a kid and see what really happened for himself, and then change something about it. He then gets transported back to the place in time he was previously in, but then everything had changed. The same person that could be a crack whore in one reality then becomes a frat girl in another, etc.

After I watch movies I'm always super interested in reading the bonus features. I don't really care about the special effects ones (though I do watch them) but really what I want is the stuff where they talk to the writers and the directors. They talked to people who were into chaos and string theory, psychologists who write about time travel, scholars who study time travel in literature, etc. And of course they talked about the TARDIS, they talked about Bill and Ted in their own little tiny TARDIS (trending now: Bill & Ted's 3?!!! I can't fucking wait.), variations of movie versions of The Time Machine (one was directed by Wells' grandson I think!), etc. They talked to the directors of the movie, 2 guys, and everybody on set agreed that the two guys were totally in sync with each other, although one of them was the liaison between the actors and the crew, where as the other director was the one who dealt with technical things. And no, it wasn't the Warchoski brothers (or however they spell their name -- the guys who did The Matrix movies). Anyway, after I watched all that, I was in a time travel-y science-fiction mode and decided that as long as I had the computer on my lap (um, I was watching the disc on our TV but then the TV pretty much shorted out and I had to watch the rest of it on my computer). So I followed the recommendations that popped up and that led me to Sliders, that cheesy TV show from when I was in college, with John Rhys-Davies as a professor accompanying a physics grad student and his friends on trips through wormholes that lead them to different dimensions, yet all these realities are all on earth. At least, for the first episodes I watched. I watched a few episodes and the next thing I knew it was three in the morning.

Sidenote: Oh shit. I am drinking an amazing latte right now, a Nutello. For reals: Milk, espresso, Nutella. Oh shit. It's at Cafe Neo in Lincoln Square, Chicago. Fuck this is sooooooooo good. I also noticed that they can also make you a crepe with Nutella and bananas. When I was in France in high school, my host sister was the only person in the country who didn't like Nutella. A tragedy!

When I realized how late it was I started thinking about how I read somewhere or heard an interview with a writer once, where someone said something like, "We live in a time machine. Time itself passing is a time machine. That's kind of amazing. We should consider even that as amazing." And then I remember someone else (or perhaps the same person in the same interview?) said something like "If I could find one thing out ever, what I really want to know is, What is time? Not just how we define it, but what actually is it?" This is a good question. Because without knowing it, I think I have thought that question many times. What is time composed of? And is it just what some people say, that really, it's a human-imposed categorization imposed on reality? But then, if gravity is the curvature of time and space, then time really is something, something that's part of an equation? After all, time is used in all sorts of equations in things like speed and velocity. Or is it that time is something else entirely, but that we call it time, but really it's something else that we're not able to comprehend? Maybe time is something that if we were to learn more about it, it would be beyond our initial ability to comprehend until we figured it out.

Which brings me to another point, which is this: so we saw the Thor movie last weekend, and Natalie Portman's character pulled out the "Magic is just unexplained science" quote. Who actually said that initially? Was it Arthur C. Clark as Natalie Portman's character claims in the movie? I thought it was PK Dick. Is that what And I'm also pretty sure that Skully said something like that on the X-Files once. So just out of curiosity, I Google-researched to see if I could get a line on where that quote actually came from. I got 644 results in .22 seconds. Here's just a snippet, none of which answers my question of the origin of this quote, but shows merely that the trope of magic being unexplained science is a common assessment:

So in my head both the TV show and the movie kind of fused. I love it when that happens. I once had a poetry instructor in college who turned me onto enjoying when that happens. That is, to enjoy when multiple things you're reading fuse to make a bigger narrative. Or at least, overlap in some meaningful way. It never even occurred to me to think that, but now I realize that that's how good teachers might come up with syllabuses. You read something and think of how it overlaps with something else, and from those things you might build a curriculum. If I were teaching a literature class, I might help my students write about what they're reading if I said something like, "So the text you read, what does it make you think of? What mythology or TV show or movie or piece of history does it remind you of? Why does it make you think of that?" There's lessons to be learned, thesis statements to be made. Or at least tweets to be Tweeted.

Fuck! I finished this Nutello latte. Would I be a pig if I got another one? This is especially distressing because I just came from someone's house who fed me and we had delicious banana pudding for dessert. Also, I only have about 45 minutes left on the parking meter. I feel like there's a poetry in thinking about time left on the meter while I'm writing about time travel.

But so back to The Butterfly Effect. Yes it was cheesy, in case you're wondering (and if you haven't seen it, or if you want to know what I thought about it's overall quality of entertainment value. I was riveted but I still thought it was cheesy. In fact, I started watching it earlier in the day and had to turn it off to go out, and I was interested in getting back to watch it. Anyway, I wasn't really thinking of it as time travel really, because we think of time travel as being something that you need a machine for it. But he didn't really have a machine. And in fact, I didn't consider it to be time travel until I was watching the bonus features and they were talking about time travel. What is interesting about Sliders was that they made it clear early on that they weren't so much moving in time but in dimensions. The way it was set up on the show, time runs in the same way no matter what dimension you go into. So as far as I can tell, that eliminates the problem I get caught up in thinking about when reading/watching time-travel genre stuff, which is that if you're traveling in time, and you're gone for a long time, you go back to where you left and you're suddenly very old because you've been traveling for years and years. In the Sliders universe (uni-multiverse) you leave one dimension but time carries on there. (This is sort of addressed in The Time Traveler's Wife, I guess. And maybe I could think of other things too, if I thought about it.)

Also, something else I've been thinking about lately is that Stephen Hawking quote (or something) where he was debunking time travel and said something like, "We would have been visited by now if there was time travel." But! Maybe we figure out time travel and can only go forward?

Maybe I should go out and put on a fake mustache and come back into the cafe and order another Nutello. Do you think they'd notice?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Kambodian Karaoke Disc Viewing pt II: My Questionably Offensive Blow By Blow Reportage In Real-Time Viewing of Cambodian Karaoke DIsc Videos That My Friend Sends Me, In Successive E-mail Bursts Collecting Commentary Made By Me and My Husband Joe, All of Which Sound Like Little Poems


We are sucking on your barley mints you gave me for my birthday and enjoying the karaoke discs. They are delicious.

The mints, I mean.

Although the discs are delicious as well.

Was I not supposed to eat them?

This video features a tomboy who both falls for and is rescued by her best friend's boyfriend. The boyfriend drives a Lexus mini van. She's from the wrong side of the tracks, and as the video continues the narrative progresses as a montage of her becoming girlier.

When they smash a bottle on the male love interest's head, it makes a loud crash, which is weird for a song. Also weird: the girl is wearing a baseball hat that merely says "80s."

Such a tragic ending.

Cambodia is not particularly big on the happily ever after videos.

Joe claims that the "Oh! My Friend" song/video we just watched was really about one of them trying to get train fare from the other.

In this song, we can definitely hear an electric accordion, or maybe it's a keyboard made to sound like an accordion. Unfortunately there is no accordion in this video, just a lady singing in a sack dress missing one shoulder. The dress is missing a shoulder, not the lady, although that would be much more interesting if the lady was missing a shoulder. And she's standing between 2 trees. Not a lot of plotline.

I should mention that each video ends with some text. We speculate that instead of being the credits typically seen at the end of karaoke videos that they're proverbs of some sort, like, "Always stand by your friends if they have their hair combed forword."

This next video shows a lady in different outfits, sometimes in a t-shirt with a skull on it. And sometimes she's in front of some mystical stone structure that has crazy clouds moving in fast forward above her, like an 80s video.  Her mouth is slightly slanted to the right and we speculated that maybe she had a stroke or has Bells palsey.

On the box to this DVD there's a picture of a chicken and it says "Master Grill." Was this disc purchased at a Cambodian fried chicken restaurant? Also, in the video presently on, the woman singing is in front of what looks like a rocking band, but then there's also a keyboard that is clearly not in the music playing. This song sounds like "Masterplan" by Oasis. Do they sell Oasis discs at a Cambodian fried chicken fast food chain?

Also, this woman's jeans are only stonewashed in the front, as if they are chaps. Who wears stonewashed chaps?!

Joe speculated that the maxim at the end of the last video was "We are available for parties and bar mitzvahs."

In the current video, a man walks through a city. Literally, like he's taller than the buidlings.

In another scene he is singing in front of drums, but nobody is actually playing the drums. Maybe he's a one man band and he can only do one thing at a time?

Joe just went upstairs for a second to put on pajamas. I said, "Do you want me to pause it?"

He answered definitively and loudly, "NO!"


A buddy song! 2 guys! One with a blonde mohawk, and one with a darker mohawk. Sort of Ebony and Sort of Ivory. This song has an English subtitle and chorus refrain, "Oh! My Friend." And a saxophone. An obvious WHAM influence.

And that saxaphone is heavy on flourishes.

A key change elevates the emphasis of the song's sentiment. When will they have sex?

You'll be happy to hear the video about the tomboy girl ditched by the rich boyfriend who abandoned her after being beat up by his friends, well, there is a sequel.

The sequel features the same female protagonist/narrator sitting on a window sill, pensively considering her time with the male love interest. She is older, wiser, and has honed her skills with makeup.

She reminisces on her time with the male love interest and how they would go to playgrounds and drink slurpies.

Also, she now lives in some sort of villa with a quad.

But oh! That was a reconciliation video, where he visits her and they hug.

He kind of looks like MC Lars.

If MC Lars were Asian and had feathered hair combed forward.


The guy with a wispy mustache and overly pushed forward hair guy is barging in with a knife.

That video ended abruptly.

But not before someone got stabbed and died and blood gushed out.

Karaoke Horror! Like Ryu Murakami's Karaoke Terror: The Complete Japanese Showa Songbook.

Joe and I are wondering: Is this disc all sad ballads?

Lots of piano.

Why is this man standing by the side of the highway? It's a grey day and nothing is going on in the background. The cinematography is not that good.

Also, sometimes the guy singing is standing in front of a bunch of drawings of buildings, which we think might be Wesley Willis drawings. Is he big in Cambodia? Well, he was big everywhere; he was a very large man. Now he is big nowhere because he is dead.

OH MY GOD! This video started with someone stabbed and dead and people crying! 

And there's all these kids drinking. What is the drinking age in Cambodia?!!?!

This song features a guy with peroxided hair in a shoe store with pin fixtures. He looks like he's 12.  Both of us agree that he has very nice skin, although his eyebrows are infinitely darker then his hair.

There's a very prominent sitar in this song that is very attractive to our ears. Both Joe and I are in strong agreement of this point.

Parts of this video feature the singer in front of a carnival ride.

Now the love interest is breaking up with him and leaving him stranded with his balloons and roses. As the video ends, Joe reassures me, "That's OK. He's really gay."


Oh my god! Someone got run over by a Chrysler La Baron!

Oh, it was just a dream.


Why is there only one drunk woman in a restaurant being carried out by her boyfriend?

He's putting a wet rag on her forehead to help nurse her hangover.

Also, they are the only people in a movie theater.

And now the guy is drinking a bottle of champagne and throwing it over the bridge.

Is this song about a destructive relationship that focuses on the destructiveness of alcohol?

OH MY GOD!!! They have a blooper reel.

What you don't know if that they used a green screen for parts of the videos.


Did you eat at the Master Grill? Because their logo is on the DVD we just watched from you (see attached). 
Joe pointed out that they deliver. How late do you think they'll go? I'm starving. And I need some karaoke. I know just the place.

Also, we are excited by the prospect of the company that made the disc (M Production) we just watched can provide treasure hunts:

Also, they stated on their website that they are looking for the "Newface in whole world" Does that come with the chicken do you think?

Also, I very much like their operating philosophy as stated on their web site:

Individuals will enjoy a gradually increasing amount of discretionary time, both on and off the job. This is an irony, as most will perceive that they have less time to do the things they want.

Could I have said it better?

No, I think not.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Fish Out of Water, A Book Yet to Be Read, A Tattoo Yet to Be Done

So I saw "Thor" this evening, and it was actually pretty good. I expected 2 things: boringness and heavy father-son drama, as one would expect from movies that involve Kenneth Branagh (he directed it). Well, no it was not boring. And yes, there was father-son drama.

However, me being me, the parts I liked best were the fish-out-of-water sequences, that on first description sound like the premise for jokes:

Thor the Thunder God walks into a pet store. He demands a horse!
Thor the Thunder God enjoys coffee. He demands more by throwing the cup on the floor!
Thor the Thunder God --

well, you get the idea.

And as overdone as fish-out-of-water sequences usually are, I still find them funny every time. Almost. Somebody should make me a video where they combine fish-out-of-water sequences from movies, and I could sit back and laugh.

I guess. Sort of.

It's just that if you take the fish-out-of-water premise too far, then it just ends up dehumanizing characters, and it can start to sort of migrate into territory that makes me uncomfortable. Look, an American in another country! Look at those crazy foreigners in the foreign land! Look, a person of non-white or American origin in America, look they're totally out of their element! And so on.

I guess you just have to be careful with the fish-out-of-water premise. If it's take too far then it just comes off as intolerant. Or racist. Or something. I don't know. I feel uncomfortable even bringing it up. It is also difficult to not watch "Outsourced" if it's on. I am not altogether comfortable with admitting that.

And then one other thing I found interesting in "Thor." Some blog entries back, I wrote about how in my mind, superhero films, at least the first ones in the series, which are usually origin films, are pretty much coming-of-age films. (Nothing wrong with that. I didn't mean it in a dismissive kind of a way.) But what was different about Thor (after all, this Thor was the Marvel Thor, which yes, is based on the mythology, but it is primarily the comic book Thor) is that Thor already had the power and the hammer and all that. He just needed to mature, learn some anger management, gain wisdom through experience, etc. So unlike other comic book movies, this movie was less of an origin story (he didn't get bitten by a radioactive spider or fall in a vat of toxic waste etc.). But it did have that coming-of-age slant. And by the way, one slant is not necessarily better than the other. It's just interesting, is all I'm saying. And I guess the same way that Thor had a power through birth right, Superman did too, I guess, so that's actually another example of a coming-of-age comic book super hero movie that was less about origin and more about coming into one's own.

By a strange coincidence, today at work I received an ARC (advance reader copy) of the new Grant Morrison book Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human. What a perfectly timed arrival, in light of tonight's movie. I'm sure it will be very enlightening and entertaining. Grant Morrison can take any conventional thing and make it trippy and weird and awesome. I think while I read this book I will picture him reading it aloud to me with his thick Scottish accent. For some reason what comes to my mind is him announcing to the 2000 Disinfo Con that he had just taken drugs before he got up to speak. Here is a transcript, if that's helpful in describing what I'm talking about here:

"WOOOOOOOOOW! Here we are! Right! Fuck man, I tell you when I was a kid I read Robert Anton Wilson and all this shit and here we are, we're standing here, talking about this shit and it's real! OK, I'm pissed (Holds up red beaker) and in half an hour I'm gonna come up on drugs, so watch for it!"

You get the idea.

Meanwhile, I spent a great deal of time after work today researching images I plan to use for my next tattoo. I'm getting it on Sunday! It's going to be on my right wrist. It's going to be a karaoke tattoo. Here are some of the images I'm working into it!

So this first picture, I like the Sailor Jerry-esque sparrows and flowers. Instead of "Accounting" it would say "Karaoke." And the stars might be different. I'm thinking about making it more atomic age, like the stars below under this picture.

It would be the black ones, not the outlined ones. Or maybe these stars, which come to think of it, may be a little closer to what I'm looking for:

Another option would be a variation of something like this:
The layout would be an anchor but it would say something about karaoke, and then instead of the bottle and the lady it would have pictures of a microphone and a song list. 

Or maybe I should just do a skull and crossbones but the crossbones are microphones.

No! That's stupid.

My original thought was to do a microphone, a song list, and a TV monitor over a heart with some stars and a scroll that says "Karaoke Forever" or something like that. The problem is that I can't seem to find a good picture of a monitor that I like. Here is what I've come up with so far:

This one pretty much typifies the karaoke TV set up. Except I should mention I went into this karaoke place next to my dentist's office to look at buying new monitors, and the new ones are all flat screen light weight ones. Karaoke of the future! So I have to be careful about not getting pictures of technology that will become outdated too fast. Is there a way of getting a TV picture that's kind of timeless?

OK, so this next one, ditch the stuff on the right. Just the TV and the stand it's on, and the microphones. Except one of the micas has to go. I don't do duets!

I have found some kind of good microphones though:

There's also this:

What I really like about this are the stars and littler star-dot pixie dust around the scroll.


It doesn't help that I have kind of small wrists, so there's not a lot of room to work with there.

I wish I was into cupcakes. There are a lot of good cupcake tattoos on the internet. I mean, don't get me wrong, I love cupcakes. But not enough to get a tattoo of one.

Tomorrow night big events! The comics artist Chester Brown is doing an event for his new book Paying For It, about being a John, at 7pm at Quimby's. And then later tomorrow night is also Hillbilly Bingo at The Horseshoe at 4115 N. Lincoln, 9pm.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Steam Erotica and Other Things I've Been Reading For Work

If you're a steampunk enthusiast, maybe you've jokingly looked at clothes someone else is wearing and you hyperbolically announce, "I am drooling over that accessory." You want to own it and wear it, which to some degree means you want to consume it. Maybe if you're being silly you might even say "Oh my god,  I totally want to have sex with those clothes." You're not serious about wanting to actually literally have intercourse with the items. But in "lusting" after some garment or accessory, there is a desire to in some way own and therefore use the item for one's own liking, whether to wear or to decorate.  Steampunk lends itself to playful genre-specific fetishization. People get really into the clothes, the accessories, the gadgets, the gears. So it makes sense that within the steampunk fiction genre there's erotica. Bionics, opticals, a heart made of a time piece, machine arms in place of real arms -- all of these things are various levels of robotics or cyborg-like devices that in costume or real-life, create a steampunk-identified identity which is created by consuming of fetishizing.

On a symbolic level, in customizing the accessories and machine parts to one's costume, it's as if devoted steampunk enthusiasts want to "consume" the gear, the clothes, all that - in a way, to "customize" the old to create something new. The term for the process food undergoes after you consume it, when it becomes part of your body, is called assimilation. This seems like a symbolically effective term to label what happens when you customize something steampunk-esque to work into your own appearance. Maybe there's a welded piece of jewelry. Maybe there's multiple jewelers lenses screwed onto frames. Maybe there's multiple broken timepieces dangling. These are all modified objects that are customized, consumed, assimilated. These are all activities that can to some degree also describe "consumption" in ways that are sexual. Think about the word "consume" in any way you want. And also consider that when one reads something, they can also "devour." 

And so that brings us to this anthology of short, sexy steampunk stories.

In Carnal Machines: Steampunk Erotica, a woman visits a doctor about sexually based ailment. There is a Doctor Watson. There might have been at least one monocle. There are varieties of sexual preferences. Some stories in Carnal Machines are more compelling then others. "Human Powered" by Teresa Noelle Roberts is the most compelling in terms of narrative, which is probably why the anthology starts with this story about male and a female scientists working on a lust powered machine, which brings together two scientists, one being a widow who needs some tender loving (and also, sex). Some of the stories subvert cultural traditions, such as "Mutiny On the Danika Blue" by Poe Von Page. In this story, a woman on deck of the ship has no rights. But in the bedroom quarters below, she is the captain, a bossy domm who demands the ship's captain call her "sir."

There are a few moments where some of the stories feel like McDonald's Drive Through Steampunk Porn. That is to say, some of the pieces have a tang of erotica with steampunk machines and images name-checked in it. Make a list of steampunk things: goggles, a dirigible, gears, experiments, British accents and so on. Now open this book to any random page. You will probably find something on that list mentioned. So on one hand, genre pieces belong to that genre because they each share certain characteristics. On the other hand, if a story is merely name-checking conventions or motifs of the genre, they become less compelling. How do you write something genre-specific without sounding like you're using a genre cookie cutter?

Let's say that you wished to perform improvisational sex steampunk comedy (you know, in the unlikely event that you happen to be in that very specific situation with those exact details). In some ways you could use this book; open to any page and you will probably find images that are totally steampunk genre-specific. For example (and for laughs), I just opened to page 170 and my finger landed on this: 

"Of course, the amount of electricity harvested depended on each boy's stamina and level of sexual voracity. Some subjects produced almost twice the amount of electrical energy as others."

I kind of want to take these random quotes and act them for an audience. Has anybody done steampunk comedy yet? I have seen elements of humor incorporated into steampunk genre stuff like music, literature, music videos etc. Would that type of performance get old quickly though? Do you run out of references? Is it a one trick pony that's better in making reference to than watching a full show of? Does it have to be backed up by good writing? Should genre-specific stuff regarding certain details of physical objects and conventions of literature be incidental? Should the story exist first or the conventions of the genre exist first? Do the references to goggles and dirigibles get tired fast? Is that why some of these stories feel like someone wrote a sexy story but then their work was solicited by the editors who were like "Here's what steampunk is! Now go write one of your sexy stories with steampunk as being part of it!"?

When I was done with the book, I noticed in the back of the book is a an ad for a book coming out called Steamlust, but that it's not coming out until October. The subtitle on it was "Erotic Romance," whereas Carnal Machines is "Steampunk Erotica." Is there a difference? Or was it just that there's a lot of steampunky material out there and not all of it would fit in one book? I noticed the books each have different editors.  I'm curious to know, how did both books come to be? Or maybe both of the editors were both really knowledgeable and know lots of people who write these types of stories and the publisher (Cleis) was like, "We cannot fit all this in one book?! Let not all of this go to waste! Let's just do more than one book!" Or perhaps Cleis was like, "Steampunk is super big right now! And sex is always big! Sex and machines! Like a David Cronenberg movie but without shitty special effects and way more optical devices! And with much better behaved characters who also happen to be better dressed!" Perhaps I should interview the editors of both books?

But most importantly, my priority above all else, was doing a Google search to see if somebody got to the clever before I did. That is, had anybody coined steampunk porny stuff as being "SPUNK?" Because really, all anybody really wants is to get credit for making up a clever turn of phrase, myself included. So I found some stuff. Sort of. There was one reference to "steamspunk" but it wasn't quite regarding sex, on on their "This is NOT steampunk" section, but what was particularly funny is that they found all this hilarious stuff where the crafters mistyped it (I assume) because sometimes they label stuff as "streampunk" or "stempunk" and so on, which I found hilarious. Streampunk? (Like it's fish! Is that like steamed fish? To eat?). Also there was at least one spelling "staempunk." In case you're curious, it was a vender selling a "Staempunk (sic) accessory Greek Sheild Tassle" which I thought was hilarious. Anyway, there are a lot of sexy steampunk toys that come up when you google "Steampunk sex SPUNK." My sexy computer is getting a virus as we speak. Also what comes up with a google search of that nature are all manner of steampunk sex toys like a death ray vibrator or a "steamvibe" (which, I noticed when looking at the picture of it, an ad solicited me for a "Spyware Remover Download," which I thought was humorously poetic on a variety of levels.) But! So! Considering that the google search for "Steampunk sex SPUNK" pulled up 160,000 hits and I don't want to spend a whole day looking to see if someone was more clever than me, I abandoned the investigation. If someone hasn't used the term "spunk" in reference to porny steampunk then they can use it now. I found lots of hits that were just people calling steampunk "spunk" but not any in my immediate search that used "spunk" as being sexy steampunk.

Also, I just finished reading Dangerous Angels: The Weetzie Bat Books by Francesca Lia Block (Harper Collins). It's not necessarily something I would normally read but my next door neighbor lent it to me one day when we were suggesting books for each other. I gave her my copy of Drew Barrymore's autobiography and she gave me this book. It's actually an anthology of five different books in a series. And they're young adult novels, which I'd heard about when I was taking a class about teaching young adult novels when I was getting my teaching certificate. (I didn't read it because we got to read whatever we wanted and present it to the class.) That class was one of my faves when I was in school, because the books were so much fun. And it turned me on to Orson Scott Card's Enders Game books which are pretty awesome (and lately it has been made into comics. I bet a movie is probably in the works). So the Weetzie books are about kids who are kind of hippie-ish, sometimes arty, bla bla. It's kind of magic realism-y. And they're about falling in and out of love and has a very "life is beautiful carpe diem"-ish run-on sentence feel, with lots of fireflies and drum circles. Some of it bordered on the edge of cheesy. It was a quick entertaining read, even though I think drum circles are sort of intolerable. Images that stick out in my mind from it: A Jayne Mansfield Appreciation Club, crafting angel wings (I know, I know, don't even start), tearing photographs, dressing up in goat pants. For some reason that last one about the goat pants makes me think of the Red Hot Chili Peppers because didn't Flea wear pants with stuffed animals on them? That's ridiculous that THAT's the first thing I think of and not something mythologically huge like Pan the Goat God. What is that saying about me? Nothing really, because I don't really like the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Anyway, I'm not sure that I'd say the Weetzie anthology was actually good, but I will say that I had a hard time putting it down. Maybe that does mean it was good. Maybe "compelling" and "good" have more overlap than I think? Does it even matter? After all, my retention rate is so low these days that I could reread this book again tomorrow and it's almost like it's a new book. Maybe I'm consuming too much media in general and not thinking about what I've consumed enough. If I see too many movies in too close of a proximity of time, my retention rate in all of them drops. In fact, I did see 2 movies yesterday. The new version of Jane Eyre that I saw at The Century and then later, I watched a Netflixed disc "The Second Coming," written by Russell T. Davies, and starring Christopher Eccleston. The former movie because I enjoy movie versions of Jane Eyre (as far as I can tell, I think I've seen 3 now), and also, I love a good movie cry. I picked up a slab of napkins at the concession stand before the movie and had them ready to go before the lights were even dimmed. I used all of them. Yay! And then I watched the second movie because of the Doctor Who connection of Davies and Eccleston. It was super good and I can see why they cast Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor. Anyway, in "The Second Coming" he plays a guy that finds out he is the son of god, and everybody believes him. Periodically he downloads messages from God in his head. (Should John Denver be in that with George Burns?) Strangely, minutes before I watched that last movie I actually ran across an "interview with god" piece in an issue of Vice that Bob Odenkirk wrote. I know, Vice is a sorta douche-y mag, but I still read it.

Also, I am trying to make my way through the winter 2011 Lapham's Quarterly the theme being Celebrity, which is slow going. It's very juicy with quotes and short blurbs and full on articles about the topic, from stuff going back to Cicero in 54 BC Rome type of stuff. Some of it is good I guess…I thought I would really like it. I want to like it. I want to say I'm the type of person who reads Lapham's Quarterly and Harper's and Monocle. Am I? I am a fairweather reader that skips a lot of it but finds little gems in it. Sometimes. Sort of. It's rare that I ever actually buy magazines because my reading list is always very long. Plus, I get the previous issues free when the new ones come in, so I am perpetually an issue behind. (Like that really matters.) And because I didn't invest any money in buying them I don't feel like I have to read anything in it I don't want to read. Furthermore, it would do me some good in not guilting myself about not wanting to read certain things. But I should read more. I should set a specific minimum or average for how many hours of reading I should get in during a week but I don't live the type of luxury where there isn't something immediately pressing that I have to do a lot of the time. Sadly, reading seems like a luxury compared to my To Do list, especially ironic because I work in a bookstore. And I also feel like I need to have some time to process all the media I've consumed. There should be a minimum of time per week that I spend processing all that media I've consumed. "Processing" can mean any number of things: maybe it's writing about it, maybe it's talking about it, maybe it's journaling about it,-- but I feel it's important to do something. Otherwise I am a mindless consumer. Even if it's consumption of high quality media. And I do feel that it's OK to consume lowbrow culture media too. But the trick is that I have to process it in some way so that I'm not just reading/eating/consuming trash without chewing on it. It's OK to watch a million hours of TV a day, as long as you spend time processing it. It's OK to read Star and US Weekly and People, if you're creatively processing it in some way. But what is the right way? ANd the right ratio of consumption to processing?

I'll have to chew on that.