Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Substance of "The Wire"

Television has been going through a renaissance of sorts the last few years. There are some genuinely engrossing shows coming out every year, though some of them don’t make it through more than a few seasons (R.I.P. Arrested Development). I’m not a television critic -- though I do tend to criticize television – but I would wager to say that the last few years have been some of the most creative in at least a decade.

The course of events that led to this renaissance is beyond my scope, but I can submit a few guesses. One guess is that due to the success of so-called reality television, networks have many incentives to push the envelope with their programming. They can sink the money they save with reality programming into more creative projects. Or, perhaps more likely, they can be more selective with their programming because they can cheaply replace failures with new, cheaper reality fare. Or maybe they just choose to fill their timeslots with boring-reality-crap-tv rather than good-ol’-fashioned regular boring-crap tv.

In any case, an unforeseen development in television that contributed to its current renaissance is the critical success of HBO’s original programming. It's common knowledge that HBO is well-regarded for their original shows. “The Sopranos,” their flagship original drama, has won all sorts of awards for it's all-inclusive, artistic, pop cultural kitchen sink approach to television and likewise “Six Feet Under” -- though, I’m not sure why – I haven’t watched much of it myself. Let’s just say it got pretty steady critical acclaim.

HBO had pretty good timing in their foray into original programming -- which isn’t to say that their shows aren’t good, because they are -- but circumstance in the form of the reality TV boom, helped put the radar on HBO because, frankly, there wasn’t much out there in the form of really good television, reality or otherwise. Also, HBO is free from the broadcast dogma that tends to affect, in one way or another, the final product of a network or general cable television show. HBO also tends to completely ignore trends – that is, other than it’s own. In fact, HBO is usually considered a trendsetter. (It’s strange to me how, during the last few years, there is always one or two original shows on a network that are really well done, do really well and are worth watching. But, the following season, at least one other network will have a show eerily similar in many different ways to said show. Originality pays off, you see, and so these lesser, knock-off shows tend to be entirely unremarkable.):

Anyway, I've been watching HBO's “The Wire” on DVD lately and I was struck by a strange notion the other day that made me re-think the difference between network and general cable television and pay-able television on a more critical level. For those of you who don’t know, “The Wire” is a gritty, realist police drama set in the middle of the drug trade in Baltimore. It lacks an HBO “style”; i.e. the supposed pop-culture referential genius of “The Sopranos,” the foul-mouthed Shakespearean prose of “Deadwood,” and the ironic dark humor of “Six Feet Under,” but it’s story-lines are just as compelling as any of the above, if not more so. I guess you could say the style of “The Wire” is it’s gritty realism, or lack of style, which is what struck me. In my feeble mind, “The Wire” is a significant artistic achievement in the notoriously artless medium of television. But – and here’s the rub – there’s nothing overtly artistic about it, comparatively speaking.

Now, the creators of the show, along with some of its admirers, may not agree with me. But hear me out: The Wire’s artistic achievement is its gritty realism.* I think most any of the show’s fans would agree with me on that. Now my question is: why has television become such that a relatively straight-forward “realistic” show is considered artistic? (The “is” is italicized on Microsoft word, which, for some reason, is not an option on the blog editor. I just want to make sure that people know there is emphasis on “is”. – K)

If you flip through the channels, you will see flashier programs with snappier dialogue, hipper music and a defter editorial slight-of-hand than ‘The Wire.’ However, you will not see such a confident commitment to realism -- quality realism. CSI is by no means un-artistic, but I personally don’t believe that show and I certainly don’t believe in that show. It’s too flashy. The storylines are too character-driven. I mean, come on, who wants to kidnap a crime scene investigator and hold them hostage? It’s too “on the nose” to use industry parlance.

“The Wire,” however, is so “on the nose” that it’s not even close to “on the nose”. By that, I mean it’s so artless that it’s now artistic again by comparison. There’s too much filler bullshit in most network television. Much of the plot exposition is tangential and sensationalistic – almost to the point of being off-story. Consider “Lost,” which I think to be one of the greatest television shows of all time (a subject that I intend to write about at some point). But this whole season has felt like a stall tactic, which is something the “Lost” creators have done to varying degrees and with varying success in the past. In “Lost,” the story will often progress to a point where it is revealed that other previous plot progressions or story points are rendered invalid or incorrect by virtue of this new exposition. This is genius in a way, but a complete and utter sham in another. And, yeah, I get it a certain amount of regressive trickery is required for the success of the show. Otherwise the point of “Lost” would be lost -- hehe. But, nonetheless, it’s growing increasingly aggravating and seemingly unnecessary as the show progresses, particularly in the current season. Ultimately, these devices are reduced to what is oft referred to as “style,” which is sometimes a more positive way of saying “gimmickry.”

What I’m driving at is that at some point “popular” television became so artistically rich, so richly artistic, that it neutered itself. Seeing what people refer to as “MTV-style editing” or gimmick-laden, fast-paced, storytelling is no longer jarring or noteworthy. It is expected, maybe even required for your typical television show. Meanwhile, straight story telling and a noticeable lack of style is laudable for the emphasis of substance over style, or lack thereof.

Like “Lost,” “The Wire’s” plots are both character and story-driven, but lack the gimmickry that makes “Lost” so appealing…and so frustrating. And like most, or maybe even all of HBO’s shows, there is a strong serial plot thread present in “The Wire,” coupled with some episodic plots and some running storylines that are usually resolved within the span of a few episodes. If you’re a patient and observant viewer, you will relish seeing seemingly inconsequential moments from previous episodes pay off later. If you’re a fucking spaz with television ADD, then you won’t.

So it seems that art has come full circle in the pop culture milieu: the abundance of style has saturated so many mediums that style has become commonplace, artless. While substance and conformity to reality carries a high artistic currency because of the dearth of style.

This could be argued for just about any artistic medium and the reasons for it can be pure conjecture. People tend to think that independent films are more artistic because there’s less studio involvement. Maybe so. Same with music. Critics tend to appreciate indy bands more for their lack of gimmicks. Indeed it is an argument that has been made and re-made many times over, often appearing as the aforementioned substance versus style or the art versus commerce debate.

But it seems a strange phenomenon – this art paradox in television – because television is supposed to be a notoriously artless medium. However, most television shows are unquestionably more artistic than “The Wire,” at least at first glance. But quality, I would argue, is the greatest artistic achievement, whether this is achieved through substance or style. And “The Wire” is superior substance.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Arm-Chair Quarterbacking Your Team into A Loser

Last night the New York Giants played the Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night Football on ESPN. (Side note to ESPN: I understand the national exposure presents a good opportunity to showcase the myriad wonderful shows ABC has in its current line-up. But your cross-promotion ploy sucks. I beg of you: please stop cutting away from football to your in-booth interviews. People (me) tune-in to watch football, not hear about all the other great shows ABC has to offer. That's what COMMERCIALS are for. End of message) {Side-side note: ESPN is owned by Disney, which also owns ABC, hence the cross-promotion.}

Anyway, during the first-half of the game, Cowboys quarterback Drew Bledsoe made some "terrible mistakes" by getting sacked three times in the first half and then had the audacity to run for a touchdown. He followed this by making a valid mistake - throwing an interception in the red zone which left the Cowboys unable to capitalize on a Giants turnover. The Giants, in turn, failed to capitalize on the Bledsoe interception. So it evens out.

When the second-half started, Bledsoe was replaced by oft-called for, but seldom seen fourth-year second-stringer Tony Romo, who went on to have his first pass tipped and intercepted on the Cowboys' first offensive series of the half. Romo ignited the crowd and at times seemed in-command while throwing three touchdown passes. But he made some awful, awful choices which also resulted in three interceptions.

Now, to clarify: I am not a Cowboys fan. I am a Broncos fan. However, I couldn't help but notice an eerie similarity between Bledsoe's predicament and that of the Broncos' struggling quarterback, Jake Plummer and his own personal 'Romo', Jay Cutler. Ever since draft day, people have been calling for a change at the quarterback position from Plummer to Cutler. This is not news. Also, Plummer has not played well. At all. Also, not news. But consider this: the Broncos are 5-1. Plummer is as important if not more so than any one player on the team, especially in the end result of each game. Granted, he makes bad decisions at inopportune times, but he has yet to "lose" a game for the team, just as he has yet to "win" a Super Bowl, which is the problem. What is seldom discussed is the fact that Plummer has one of the best records as a quarterback in the last five seasons in the NFL and as a result, so do the Broncos. This puts him in a category he shares with other quarterbacks you may not always associate him with: Peyton Manning and Donovan McNabb to name a couple.

Recently, I checked out Malcolm Gladwell's website, as I am often wont to do, and I read a re-print of a New Yorker article titled: "Game Theory". Check it out at: gladwell.com/2006/2006_05_29_a_game.html In the article, Gladwell references a book called "The Wages of Wins" (Stanford; $29.95), by economists David J. Berri, Martin B. Schmidt, and Stacey L. Brook. In the book, the authors explore the overall value of professional basketball players to their respective teams. I haven't read the book (I intend to, but I wish it was about football) but from what I read in Gladwell's article, I wasn't particularly surprised by the results and I suspect neither will be most readers. The authors argue that value assessment is currently way off in basketball and that scoring a lot of points isn't exactly the category that makes you the most valuable member of a team. (I could go on about what Gladwell said about the book, but I don't want to steal ideas from so many great minds. So for specifics, read the article and the book.)

Back to Plummer. He has led the Broncos to three straight playoff appearances, including a trip to the AFC championship, where the Broncos, unfortunately lost. (Note to Plummer-blaming fans: there are 21 other starters and a an entire coaching staff to share the burden of your derision.) He helps them to win games far more than he does to lose them, despite his mistakes. In other seasons, he has led a usually steady offense to wins despite the fact that the defense barely decided to show up at all. This year, the opposite is true: the defense has picked up the slack while the offense "struggles." While it's unfortunate that the Broncos' offense, Plummer specifically, isn't playing particularly well thus far, I point you to their record - a hard-fought and similarly well-earned 5-1 - and I remind you that two of those wins have come, at one time or another, against teams that are currently leading their division - the Ravens and the Patriots.

Armed with this knowledge, you would think that most Broncos fans would recognize Plummer's value to the organization and would therefore be reluctant to hand a team with a winning record over to a young and inexperienced quarterback like the Cowboys have seemingly done. Well, you would be wrong. It seems that the cause du jour since draft day has been calling for Broncos coach Mike Shanahan to replace Plummer with Cutler, who has yet to see a regular season snap.

For a working example of this scenario, I point you to the Arizona Cardinals, who replaced their starting quarterback, former NFL MVP Kurt Warner, with their top draft pick Matt Leinart. Leinart is a contemporary of Cutler and some say a near-equivalent in all respects. Leinart has played well, no doubt. The Cardinals record? 1-6.

It is said that quarterback in the NFL is one of the hardest positions to play successfly in professional sports. Rookie quarterbacks make a lot of mistakes. It is expected. What is not expected is that they win. This is taken into consideration when coaches put them in the game. But, fans expect their teams to win, no matter who is playing. The chances of doing so are damaged significantly with a rookie quarterbback at the helm. Albeit that it's not impossible. Ben Roethlisberger led Pittsburgh to the playoffs as a rooke and to a Super Bowl win in just his second-year. It is, however, notably rare.

Leinart is used to winning. He won a lot at USC. A lot. But the point is this: Broncos fans seem prepared to see an unpopular and unrelentingly scrutinized quarterback with a record of 5-1 and the top spot in the AFC West benched in favor of an unproven rookie who is bound to make game-changing mistakes.

Personally, I just can't envision a scenario wherein the Broncos chances of being successful would be enhanced by playing Cutler.

Don't get me wrong. Plummer may very well be playing his last season as a Broncos starter, especially if the team stalls in the playoffs. But as of yet, there isn't any reason to bench him in favor of Cutler. None at all. And at this rate the Broncos are poised to go somewhere around 13-3 by seasons's end. Not many teams do that. The teams that do typically make it pretty far in the playoffs, if not the Super Bowl.

So I ask you, Broncos fans: "Do you still call for Jay Cutler?" Surely you jest.

Epilogue:
After the game last night, a Denver newscaster announced Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo's first shot at quarterback as a triumph by off-handedly relating that he threw three touchdown passes. Apropos, I think, for a town who seems collectively hell-bent on engineering the ruin of its own NFL team this season. What the newscaster failed to mention is that Romo also threw three interceptions. And the Cowboys still lost.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Imagidivination

I have writer's block. I feel like I'm in a Stephen King novel sitting here, staring at an empty page, waiting for a topic to pop in my head that I can run away with. Inspiration is hard to come by these days, imagination even more so. What’s that saying about inspiration and perspiration? Well whatever anti-perspirant I am using must be an equally affective anti-inspirant as well. My imagination? Well that’s just gone.

Let’s explore this a little. Where does imagination go as we grow older? Why is it that the things we imagine are so much more vivid in our youth than they are in adulthood? Why does the mind seem so much more effective at creating gleeful absurdity when it is filtered through a child? In my opinion the answer lies in the –

Oops, there’s the five o’clock whistle. Time to punch out and go home.

I’ll get back to this some other time…

Monday, July 17, 2006

THE ART OF LEISURE

I went to the bookstore the other day, (why does it seem like all of my posts begin with this sentence? Why do none of them begin with the sentence, “I went a-whorin’ the other night?) seeking out Marcus Aurelius’ classic treatise on stoic self-relflection, Mediations. As I am often wont to do, I found several other interesting reads and sat down to flip through some of these other books. When I sat down, I caught -- out of the corner of my eye -- the cover a book titled, quite simply: “Doing Nothing.” I could over-dramatize my discovery of this book as providential -- a beacon of slacker hope beckoning the ship adrift that is my mind towards, well, further drifting -- but I am way too lazy to do that. So, suffice it to say, that I just stumbled onto it.

Upon closer inspection I discovered that the full title of this book is Doing Nothing: A History of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers, and Bums in America by Tom Lutz. Now, I am not one so self-aggrandized to claim that a book was written for me. But, by gosh, this book was written for and about people like me. I can’t really say what sort of demographic Mr. Lutz had in mind when he wrote this book, but I will just assume for now it is the very same sort of folk who like to engage in the activity the title suggests. Although, Mr. Lutz does apparently live in my Los Angeles neighborhood, so maybe I will just pop by his dwelling some day and ask.

Regardless, Doing Nothing was quickly added to my list of ‘books I must have’ and, since I have no patience whatsoever, the book was just as quickly re-categorized into ‘books I own.’ I read the first chapter as soon as I got home, which is a sizable number of pages and quite an accomplishment for someone who considers himself a slacker. I was struck by Lutz’s early thesis (or seemingly so, I’m not really sure if that term applies here) that sometimes people who are traditionally considered as enjoying leisure pursue said leisure or activities considered leisurely in an almost workmanlike manner, so that it thusly becomes work. Lutz uses several examples of writers, artists, poets and the like who espouse the slacker lifestyle, but hardly adhere to it as they churn out several pieces of work at a sometimes staggering rate.

Lutz also pays heed to the flip-side of the coin by exploring the fact that some classic examples of hard-workers worked only slightly as hard as they claim. Benjamin Franklin is the earliest, most accessible and most symbolic example. Though Franklin often meditates on the merits of hard work, there is ample evidence to indicate that he often led his life to the contrary.

Now I’m not criticizing Ben Franklin for being a closet slacker, but it’s interesting what this book has to say about the opposing views of what is and is not considered ‘hard work’ and how those who often tout the merits of hard work fail to live up to even their own standards. This is all to say nothing about the differing attitudes about what is and isn’t “activity” in general and the omnipresent qualitative disparity regarding between the generations, which is told through his son’s reluctance to leave the couch in an effort to find a job.

I grew up in a hard-working household. My dad works harder than anybody I’ve ever known and (gasp) he actually enjoys it. We’re talking actual physical labor here. Not sitting in front of a computer pretending to make television (good or otherwise) like his son does. My work experience growing up was mixed. I learned the value of hard work as defined by my dad, which, consequently gave me motivation to never have to do that stuff again, which, although maybe not what my dad wanted me to learn, was nonetheless a valuable lesson. After all, a person takes from each experience what he will, regardless of the original intention. Basically, my credo became work hard at not having to work hard and this translated to going to college, getting a degree in a field I like, graduating, and getting a job doing that thing which I like; all so I never have to do that which I hate, which may or may not include manual labor, or, ‘working hard,’ by my dad’s definition. The weird thing is, even to this day, whenever I should venture to have the discussion of my work history with my dad, he still seems to argue alternately that I have and have never had to work hard in my life, depending on the context. He tends to be contrarian in this regard. For example, if I am arguing that I’ve never worked hard, he will list all of the tough jobs I’ve had. But if I’m saying I know what it is to work hard, he will argue that though I have had tough jobs, they were never “that” tough and if they were, I didn’t work very hard at them and, in fact, spent most of the workday complaining about how hard the work was.

I believe, my dad’s aim was to teach me the value of hard work. The side effect – my realization that hard work sucked -- was unintended. One thing rings true: my dad worked hard to provide. It is after all the most important lesson: learning how to provide, whether it’s for self or for others. As for things I ‘wanted’ I have had to work for most of those things since I was about 14. But the irony is, that my parents have usually ended up footing the bill for much of said ‘wanted things’ in the end. But I think, for them, it’s just the satisfaction of knowing that if it was really and truly necessary, I could, at some point, pay for all of it myself. Or at least I have the capacity to do so.

Doing Nothing also first introduced to me to the (apparently archaic) concept of otium, which, by Lutz’s definition is using leisure as an opportunity to further pursue the arts, philosophy and overall betterment of the self. I say that otium is apparently archaic because a Google search of the term curiously turns up next to nothing. So clearly the term is not one in on the tips of many tongues these days.

Within otium, though, is how I justify what I call my own personal “constant pursuit of leisure.” True, I often say that I like to do as little as possible. But it doesn’t mean that I’m literally lying in bed all day staring at the ceiling (though I do that from time to time). I spend most of my time doing nothing, not in front of the television, but reading or writing or playing music…or playing video games. Okay, so a guy’s got to have some vices. But it is in this context that doing nothing is actually doing something. That is, when the pursuit of leisure is actually the antithesis of doing actual work, but not so of being productive, in a sense.

Productivity is a tricky word. Is productivity actually having a physical end-product that is corporeally tangible? Or can it also be a work-in-progress abstract notion of building towards an admittedly vague, but no less real goal of some sort? In my case, I pursue doing nothing in an effort to broaden my mind, to expand knowledge on subjects where little or no knowledge previously existed or, in other words, to be a jack of all intellectual trades and a master of none. I can’t say that there is an ultimate goal, because if there is an ultimate goal, then there is also reason to eventually stop my pursuit of otium, which I don’t see happening anytime soon.

What I find peculiar is that when people phone me and ask what I’m doing, most of the time I answer “hangin’ out”or “chillin’ or “lampin’,” all of which are interchangeable with “doing nothing.” However, chances are I am probably doing something -- the aforementioned leisurely activities of otium -- even if it borders on nothing. Most of the time I tell people this because I don’t want to send the impression that I am too busy to talk or to make immediate plans, but I also don’t want to give the impression that I don’t know how to enjoy myself, because I do. And how!

The pursuit of otium may not be appealing to all. Some people may not consider the leisure of art or the art of leisure all that rewarding. Many are not happy unless they are actually moving and exerting some sort of physical effort. But, is this movement any less a pursuit of leisure than non-movement?

It is a mistake to confuse leisure with inactivity or inertia. It is also a mistake to become too leisurely, lest we lose all motivation whatsoever. I admittedly fall victim to waxing and waning levels of motivation. But that is what is called laziness, which, again, should not be confused with leisure or ‘doing nothing.’ After all, doing nothing is usually doing something, even though the “something may be of little consequence to others, even ourselves, it is still something, nonetheless.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Spel-chek yerself! Before ewe Spel-rek yoself!

And to think, I nearly bought a book yesterday entitled, "The Dumbing Down of America." But I didn't think it all that true...until now.


http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060705/ap_on_re_us/simpl_wurdz;_ylt=AgF2_OQ1B4ASxsCXb2PU8YSs0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTA3ODdxdHBhBHNlYwM5NjQ-

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A 2-Fer

Projects that I have abandoned for obvious reasons

Trust Buddies - A mentoring program that brings together rehabilitated ex-convicts and inner-city under-privileged youth.

The Johnny Clash - A cover band that plays Johnny Cash songs in the style of The Clash and vice Versa

Nun O’ That! - A road-trip screenplay about three nuns on a cross-country pilgrimage for some vague charitable cause whose station wagon break down, so they hitch a ride with a van full of frat boys. Too much sexual tension

The Point Dexters - A nerd-surf rock band. Just fucking ridiculous

An investigative report on jean jackets in the 21st centrury.

Trying to capture the meaning of life in just one song. Somehow it always comes back to bitches and/or money.

A position paper on vertical versus horizontal stripes.

An in-depth essay on how to write in-depth essays.

Writing an epic poem spoof called “The Silly-ad”. Too lazy and can’t find the right meter.

Menace II Society the Musical.

Recording my first Pop/R&B crossover balad entitled, “Girl, Why You Ain’t Neva Gimme No Ass (No Mo’)?

Starting a new religion.

More Unfinished Brilliance

Questionable Topics/Themes for Children’s Books That I May Or May Not Write

Writing children’s books is easy. All the author has to do is repeatedly use patronizing rhyming hyperbole and emphasize what is humorous with an exclamation point. (Example!) However, topics for children’s books can be hard to come by. I have outlined some topics below that may or may not be suitable for a child’s impressionable mind.

Ricky Rickets and His Struggle to Cure Stress-Related, Possibly Psychosomatic Illnesses

Pros: Children may be a little more inclined to understand their parents and let mommy and daddy have a little fuckin’ peace and quiet already for crissakes!

Cons: Generally, children are not aware of or afflicted by stress-related illnesses…yet


The Dangers of Habitual Hard-Drug Use

Pros: Creates awareness in children that drugs, while sexy, glamorous and romantic, are in fact, danger-ish.

Cons: Maybe that is something the children should find out on their own.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Synergy - A Farce

INT. – COFFEE SHOP - DAY

Two Gentlemen, ROD and JIM are seated at a table.

Rod: So, I was at this party the other night and these two guys, Mike and Phil made a bet on a boxing match. The loser had to be known as the other’s bitch for a full year.

Jim: So, they just do each other favors and call each other “bitch,” or what?

Rod: No, the loser had to legally change his name. So the loser, Mike, had to go down to the courthouse and change his name to Phil Johnson’s Bitch, Mike. Isn’t that hilarious?

Jim: No fucking way! I don’t believe you.

Rod: Straight up, my man. That’s the whole reason I brought it up. Phil Johnson's Bitch Mike is right over there. (over Jim’s shoulder) Hey Phil Johnson’s Bitch, Mike! What’s up dude?

(PHIL JOHNSON’S BITCH, MIKE, notices them and approaches. Rod stands to shake his hand.)

Rod: (continuing) Jim Halverson, this is Phil Johnson’s Bitch Mike.

Jim (standing, shaking Phil Johnson’s Bitch, Mike’s hand): Um, nice to meet you, um Mike.

Phil Johnson’s Bitch, Mike: Actually, it’s Phil Johnson’s Bitch, Mike.

(They all sit.)

Jim: Okay…Phil Johnson’s Bitch, Mike. But doesn’t it bother you to be called that?

Phil Johnson’s Bitch, Mike: Nah, man. A bet’s a bet. I don’t think my fiancée likes it too much that we have to change our wedding announcements to read Phil Johnson’s Bitch, Mike Anthony Johnson and Caitlin Fleur Nelson, but that’s all right.

Rod: You’re just missing the bigger picture. Actually at the party, we went around the room assigning one-dimensional qualities to people that best explains their personality archetype. You can get to know someone so much better that way.

Phil Johnson’s Bitch, Mike: Sorta like how Native Indians used to name each other, like Chief Sitting Bull or Crazy Horse.

Rod: Right, but with a modern twist. For example, that girl you used to date in college, Mary, was there. And she was the first to be renamed as Mary Takes A Lotta Dicks.

Jim: She does?

Phil Johnson’s Bitch, Mike: And then there was Gunter Coke-In-Nose, because he’s always doing so much coke. And Rebekah The Semi-Retarded Waitress. It’s like, synergy, man.

Rod: Yeah, exactly.

Jim: What?

Rod: What, you’ve never heard of the advertising concept of the interaction of two or more agents or forces so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects?

Phil Johnson’s Bitch, Mike: Yeah, it’s like an ad thing.

Jim: Yes, yes. I’m familiar with synergy, but I don’t find the fact that this guy legally changed his name to indicate that he’s someone’s bitch particularly synergistic.

Rod: Well, you’ve heard about these guys who’ve had the names of companies tattooed on their foreheads or whatever, right?

Jim: Yeah.

Phil Johnson’s Bitch, Mike: Well the same thing applies here.

Rod: And it’s catching on. You’ve to get in on the ground floor on this one, Jim. People are changing. The world is changing.

Jim: Like, how?

Rod: Well, take me for example. I’ve rented out my ass and my dick for sponsorship contracts.

Jim: You what now?

Rod: You heard me right. On my ass, I have a temporary tattoo of Frizzle Freeze Fruit Droolers and my dick has been renamed Celltech Wireless Presents Rod’s Cock. So, everytime I get naked, I am contractually obligated to say aloud, "Celltech Wireless Presents Rod’s Cock." A lot of porn stars are doing it, too. They get the logos tattooed right onto their junk.

Jim: They have advertisements on their genitalia?

Phil Johnson’s Bitch, Mike: Same here, man except when ever I take my shirt off I announce, “Phil Johnson’s Bitch, Mike’s naked upper torso is Brought to you by Squeezie’s Extra Soft Tissue Paper, Vitriol Vitamins and Deuce-Loose Juice Incontinence Products. The Juice gets the Deuce Loose!”

Jim: You guys are fucking with me, right?

Rod: Sheeyit! How do you think I paid for Paradigm Pictures’ in partnership with Sinking Ships Studios Presents Cinderella 2 Presents Rod’s new Audi?

Phil Johnson’s Bitch, Mike: The same way I paid for Phil Johnson’s Bitch, Mike’s new nose was produced by Funderland Amusement Parks, a division of Stooperlame Entertainment Corp, LLC. Synergy…

Jim: Synergy?

Rod and Phil Johnson’s Bitch, Mike (together): Synergy.

Jim: So you think I should get down with synergy?

Phil Johnson’s Bitch, Mike: Everybody should get down with synergy. As a matter of fact, I hear Chewsy Chopper’s Chewing Gum is taking applicants for forehead-tattoo billboards right now, right down the street at the Vietnamese-American deli. It pays pretty well, too.

Jim: You think I should go check it out?

Rod: Maybe…and by maybe, I mean, “Hell yes!”

Jim: All right, I’m gonna go check it out. Wait here for me? I’ll be right back.

Rod: You know it.

Jim: And, thanks, Phil Johnson’s Bitch, Mike.

Phil Johnson’s Bitch, Mike (calling after Jim): Phil Johnson’s Bitch, Mike and the Department of Education advise you to stay in school!

(Jim exits hastily.)

Phil Johnson’s Bitch, Mike (continuing): You think he bought it?

Rod: I told you he would, he’s a sucker for money.

Phil Johnson’s Bitch, Mike: Nicely done. You truly have a gift.

Rod: Another branded walking billboard, courtesy of Chewsy Chopper’s Chewing Gum’s newest advertising synergist, Rod “Richman” Richmond!

(They share a hearty laugh.)



END.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A (Finished?) Tale

I stumbled onto this short story as I was doing a little first-day-of-summer snooping in my old files. I know why I wrote it. I know what it's about. I understand the satire. The thing is, I can't remember if I considered this a finished piece or not. It's clearly not polished.

Is it finished? You be the judge.



“The Sudden Epidemic Blues: Pestilence Pandemonium!”



I made my way outside in the early morning sun, stretching my weary bones giving way to fits of yawns. As I stooped to grab the paper, I noticed the neighbors packing up their minivan, hustling their kids out of the house and into the back seat.

Jim, the more male of the two parental figures must’ve noticed my quizzical gaze.
“Getting out of town for the weekend. I suggest you do the same,” he shouted over the hedgegrow.
Funny how sometimes people see in the expression of your face that you require additional information, yet they fail to provide it.
“Alright,” I half-yawned, “have fun.”
I could feel his sharp gaze penetrate the back of my head as I made my way up the rickety steps onto my porch. By the time I turned round to acknowledge him, he had refocused his attention on the screaming two year-old struggling in the car seat.

Once inside, I set the paper down in favor of seeing what the television had to offer on a Saturday morning. I usually make it a point to avoid watching the local news – it can be downright scary and unfairly so, I might add. This morning was no different, -er, okay, this morning was a little different because every channel was playing and replaying coverage of the same thing: a pestiferous virus had somehow made its way into Los Angeles and was quickly spreading throughout the community. I pondered the juxtaposition of the words “community” and “Los Angeles” and the hypocrisy inherent therein for a moment. The two did not seem to fit together well. In fact, one of the things I loved/hated about Los Angeles was its complete lack of community, and so I found it puzzling that the newscaster would dare presume that anyone would feel alarmed by this “perceived” threat to the perceived “community.”

Surprisingly enough, many of the various news reports were suggesting either a mass exodus or mass quarantine of the LA area. Quite frankly, I didn’t know the difference because as soon as you tried to evacuate the LA area, an unintentional clusterfuck of a quarantine is exactly what you’d have. And, as they switched over to the traffic copters, I soon found that is exactly what they did have. I (perhaps a little selfishly) wondered how these recently developing events would affect the errands I had to run later in the day.

I picked up the paper and scanned the headlines: more about the pandemic. I was momentarily horrified as I stared at the front page, but upon further investigation my horror subsided when I learned that no, Madonna and Guy Ritchie had not separated, they were just in different locations working on different projects –separation of the geographical nature, not of the matrimonial variety.

To humor myself I read a little about the impending plague, which had already made sick a few hundred Valley residents and a handful of which had already expired. It seems that the emergency rooms were nearly full by midnight this morning as people came in and claimed to be suffering from a variety of mild to mildly serious flu-like symptoms. Either a serious bug was in the air, or there was a nasty strain of food poisoning working its way through a local taco stand. I was hardly three paragraphs into the article when I came across the inevitable terrorist attack speculation, which I then learned had been tenuously proven true but was as yet unconfirmed by the authorities. The paper indicated that no one had yet claimed responsibility. I stopped to ponder on how perplexing it was that terrorists take so much pride in claiming responsibility for calamity. I had always assumed that deniability was the first and best option.

The television was demanding more of my attention than I wanted to give it so, as I picked up the remote to turn it off, I paused to watch a little of the fourth ‘This Just In’ segment in the last ninety-seconds. It seemed that FEMA was now involved and was rescinding the request that Los Angelenos evacuate the city. Instead, the visibly stirred official asked LA residents to stay in their homes and await further instructions. As it turns out, the cops and EMTs were having trouble keeping up with the increasing demands of the gridlocked traffic as several semi-major car accidents, fistfights and small riots had put the entire freeway system at a standstill. In other words, the Saturday morning traffic more resembled a weekday morning. I shook off the sudden shudder of terror that went up my spine at the prospect of having to sit in traffic all day in an attempt at getting my errands done.
“I’ll just take the surface streets,” I proclaimed jovially to myself.
I could hear sirens wailing in the distance. Then an altogether new set of sirens chirped and whined in closer proximity. I frowned knowing all this noise in my normally quiet neighborhood was going to seriously affect my customary afternoon nap.

Despite the mass exodus, the news reporters were still able to find willing interviewees. It’s funny how when people are running away from an impending disaster, there always seems to be a handful of them who are willing to stop for a camera and explain to a reporter how they are running away from an impending disaster. This thought snapped me out of my daze and I snapped off the television. Exclamation point.

I found this to be a genuine golden opportunity to go back to bed and wait the latest pandemonium out the only way I know how: by ignoring it. Now if only my neighbor would shut off his fucking radio with all of the “Large Scale Disaster of Epidemic Proportions” chatter I can barely hear coming from outside my window. I mean, seriously, some people are so selfish, it’s like they don’t care about anybody else but themselves at all.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

On the Anti-Intellectualism of the Tao

In the past few months I have undertaken a serious study in the Taoist canon via firstly, the Tao Te Ching, and then a collection of Thomas Cleary translations broken down into volumes called, appropriately enough, The Taoist Classics. While I am only part of the way through the second of four volumes in this particular series, I can tell you that one common theme comes through in the pursuit of the Tao – a conscious effort to avoid conscious or, contrived, thought.

It is, for those who pursue the study of Taoist thought, readily apparent that Taoism is incredibly hard to understand, often seemingly contradicting its own logic, or complete lack thereof. The further one goes into this study, the more complicated and esoteric the Tao becomes and it is incredibly easy to get lost in the rhetoric, much of which is delivered via metaphorical prose that is in and of itself a task to decipher. However, it seems that getting lost in the rhetoric defeats the purpose of studying the Tao, as it is often stated in the literature that the words are not as important as the end result.

I am no exception to the confusion. I am currently in the middle of exploring Taoist alchemy, which is maddeningly complex and have found that my “western sensibilities” are proving of very little use in coming to understand the meaning behind these texts.

For those who don’t know, I will briefly and simply, relate what I believe to be the main purpose of the Tao: to return to the state at which one is “clear and responsive” – an almost infantile state of empty-minded, yet fully-aware consciousness. Reacting instead of acting. It doesn’t mean zoning out, or closing up, or taking a vow of silence. It simply means observing, considering and reacting appropriately according to the tenets of modern ethics, etc.

One thing I love about Taoism is the stated purpose of conforming the rhetoric to fit the current social conditions instead of ascetic adherence to an archaic pantheon of moral code. Taoism acknowledges the ever-changing state of society and encourages one to consider how his thoughts and behavior are appropriate for the time, while still incorporating the methodology and overall basic thesis of the Tao. This concept is similar to taking ‘the middle path’ – a Buddhist concept that preaches right mindfulness.

It is interesting to me, though, how the study and application of the Tao in my life has carried over to my interactions with others and my thought process in its entirety. I find this both a blessing and a curse. For example, a blessing is I have spent less time intellectualizing and over-analyzing my relationships, actions and general overall function in any given environment, which is something – for better or worse – that I am often prone to do. In fact, one might say that I have historically spent much of my time in critical self-analysis. Obviously, this affects nearly everything that I think, do or say, and so consequently, I have found it difficult to find new things to write about in this new state of mind, which is a curse, albeit a tolerable one.

I cannot say how long this foray into Eastern thought will last. I have become more and more interested in philosophy in the last few years and have pursued my interest in various media. But there is a difference between Eastern and Western thought, most notably, the degree to which a topic is intellectualized. In my brief dalliance with Eastern thought, I have found that critical analysis is forsaken in favor of simplistic face-value assessment. In fact, Eastern thought isn’t generally categorized in the Philosophy section or the religious section of a book store, but into a grey area somewhere in-between, often called, (surprisingly enough) “Eastern Thought.”

My pursuit of Taoism has inspired me to expand (once I finish with the current canon, of course) into Buddhism, which has much in common the certain schools of Taoism.

It’s strange to actively try and not think about things that are so commonly over-analyzed in one’s daily life – to let situations that are usually associated with internal or external strife enter your mind and dissolve, leaving no trace of existence whatever. I wouldn’t claim to have mastered any of the Taoist techniques, but I have experimented with it to some success and I find that much of my experience, when it lacks the taint of my personal judgment, is far more rewarding now than it once was. It’s sort of like the old saying that goes something like “love like you won’t get hurt,” etc. The pure simplicity of interaction itself is worth the effort.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Question

I have seriously asked this question of several people in the last few days. It's a weird query, I know, but for some reason it's been bugging me.

Why don't we wash our toothbrushes in the dishwasher?

Okay, here's my logic: you eat off of a fork and a spoon and a plate and drink out of a cup, all of which are either handwashed or washed in the dishwash apparatus. Why, then, do we not wash something that we stick in our mouths more than once a day and leave to fester and rot with our daily mouthgerms all over it?

What does this problem say about the philosophy of hygiene in our culture?

I think I know the answer, or at least a rough approximation of one, but any one answer I come to seems unsatisfactory. It could be that soap may get caught in the bristles and we would slowly damage our teeth or, worse yet, poison ourselves to death. But that seems highly unlikely.

Maybe toothpaste is an adequate enough of a cleansing agent not to require outsourced cleansing. I mean, it may be that cleansing a cleanser itself is redundant.

...and I think I just answered my own dumbass question.

The preceeding was an ill-conceived thought experiment.

I'm sorry.

(Just trying to get something going, for mine brain hath grown stagnant).

Monday, May 15, 2006

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Also...

To the dudes who go around posting advertisements in the comments section of my blog,

Don't be a dick, else I'll start forwarding all of my spam to the email address you leave. Leave my blog alone, or maybe I'll report you to the innernet policia, la bitchface!

O! Ire-nee, what d'ye have for me?

I am on the Internet Movie Database. I don't know how. I don't know why. I didn't give anyone permission to put my name on IMDb, and yet, sure as shit, it's there. I have two credits, which are both not entirely correct. Here's the kicker, though: I wanted to change my profile and add some "trivia" as in 'trivial information', as in, 'bullshit nobody need know/care about'. My reason for doing this was to, y'know, fuck around'n'stuff. But, I CAN'T CHANGE MY OWN IMDb PROFILE!!! *shaking fist in the air*

Why? I don't know. I don't have enough 'experience' as a 'contributor' the submission page says, which, I guess, translates to not having spent enough time updating "other projects" Gary Busey is or has been involved in and naming all of the dogs that James Cann may or may not own. Well, I don't know who 'contributed' my information, but I would like to pay them a 'tribute' and 'contribute' my own 'contribution' of trivial factoids that I would place on my own damn page about me, if I could.

So, go now and look ye upon my name in all of its semi-correct splendor, then pretend you click on a link entitled 'trivia' and are reading such wonderful things about me as listed below (in no particular order).

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1618403/

Here now, my IMDb trivia:

Is handsome.

Has many second cousins and knows the names of almost none of them.

Is related to the infamous (or is that un-famous?) BeeBibbleC.

Does not, to his knowledge, own any reptiles.

Is Tao-ish.

Is still unaware, to this day, how or why his name is even on this website and why 1/2 (half) of his two (2) entries are incorrect-ish.

Gained 10-ish pounds to take on a role in Texas. The role was behind the camera. And it was a reality show. He has yet to lose that weight.
END TRIVIAL-NESS

I am in Denver right now, by the way. So look forward to some Denver-related posts coming sometime in the next few days, weeks or probably never!

Monday, March 13, 2006

Scientology Sincerest

Late in the game, I know. I don't know why I never posted this.

Anyway...

I've always wanted to write something about Scientology, but to be honest, I don't have anything original or interesting to say about it. Sure, they've supposedly got an air force and are waiting for an alien invasion or something. But I don't know enough about it to comment on it. However, a Google search will reveal a few comprehensive articles about Scientology that reveal the seedier elements, if that's your interest.

Why am I thinking about Scientology? Well, for one, The Scientology Center is right down the street from me on L. Ron Hubbard Drive. Do you think it's a coincidence that L. Ron Hubbard's church ended up on a street named after him.

That was a joke by the way.

The other reason I'm thinking about Scientology is because of John Travolta and insincere actors in general. I know it's a little late, but in watching the Academy Awards, I couldn't help but notice that whenever John Travolta's face graced my television set, he was each time upstaged by his own hair. Dude was wearing a rug. Not a toupe, either. A straight up rug. Like that sketch from the movie Amazon Women on the Moon with Joey Pants where he's selling carpet that you wear on your head. That's how fake his shit looks.

At one point, Travolta (or Revolta as I've heard my sister call him) got up to address the crowd in presenting an award or something. It was then that I quickly analyzed my decade or so long deep seated dislike for him. In all that time, I knew I didn't like him, but I didn't know why. I mean, he's just a guy. All right, he's an actor-guy, but he's still only human. Suddenly though, I had a Travolta-epiphany. John Travolta is that rare breed of actor who is even less sincere as a "real-life" personality than he is as a character in films.

Granted, one can't really look to John Travolta for examples of great thespian achievements. We all know he's made a lot of bad movies, so I don't fault him for that. Well, maybe I do, but not when it comes to his public persona. After all, he was kick-ass in Pulp Fiction and Welcome Back Kotter. He was also in Grease. I'll at least concede that.

But whenever I see interviews or similar clips on television, I find myself constantly on the offensive about his demeanor and his hair in particular. He has my scrutiny in common with his fellow Scientologist Tom Cruise, who until around a year ago actually seemed like a pretty cool guy. Now, he's a nutter.

Anyway - that hair! That hair! How do you expect your fans to believe that hair, Travolta? What are you thinking? Why can't actors just grow old? You look even more foolish with that fake hair than you think you do as an old, balding man. How insulting to the rest of America that you can just pretend you're not going bald, when you so clearly are. I saw Look Who's Talking AND Look Who's Talking, Too. (Not the third one, fool me once...or twice...) I knew you were on your way then. I know what a receding hairline looks like. But now, your hairline looks poised to join your eyebrows in an eyeball to asshole mat that goes down your back, jack.

These are the reasons America doesn't trust celebrity religion or politics. Why would anyone in there right mind take life cues from somebody who is so clearly in self-denial?

That's all I have to say...for now.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Pretentious AND Precocious

Whilst doing my "time" in Texas, an administrator at the school where I was working explained to me the Peter Principle and the theory of the Glass Ceiling. I would love to relate to you exactly why this discussion was appropriate, but I'm still not clear why or if it was. I didn't ask him to, but he did it. Anyway, I always thought the Peter Principle had something to do with robbing Peter to pay Paul or some such thing. Apparently that's Biblical. The Peter Principle is corproeally conceived - no divination whatsoever. The way that this administator explained the Peter Principle to me and my colleague can be summed up thusly: one only rises to one's minimum level of incompetence. Like I said, I don't know what the hell he was talking about. However, in reading through several of my writings for this blog and other non-existent "projects", I have come to realize that this same principle applies to not only my writing, but almost everything that I pursue in my life.

What I mean by this is that I am almost always trying to achieve something that is just beyond the reach of my abilities. Some people would call this ambition, others may call it arrogance, others still may call it a ham sandwich, but I don't know why anyone would listen to what a schizophrenic has to say anyway. (Note to self: I wonder what would come from letting schizophrenics review movies, books, television and music. I think there may be some problems inherent. It requires further thought.)

Anyway, the various sketches of possible blog entries, personal essays, goofy spoofy scenarios, etc. have in common one thing, other than their current status of incomplete: they are all outside my realm of expertise. Now, I'm not saying I have an expertise, because I don't. But if I were to have one - which I don't - it wouldn't be in writing about shit that I barely understand. True I tend to write about movies, music, pop cultural phenomena, etc. But what person doesn't have an opinion on such pedestrian topics? And does that person really fully understand what it is that their opining about? Hardly. But, it's when I try to find some deeper connection or meaning to these topics that I seem to flounder in the pools of Peter Principlean precociousness.

In the documentary Hearts of Darkness about the making of the film Apocalypse Now, filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola says the worst thing you can be called is pretentious. He then goes on to say that there's a very fine line in art between doing something people will find artistically credible or egomaniacally pretentious. The same thing is probably true of anything done for mass consumption. But what certain quality makes one project more or less pretentious than the next?

When I was in film school the word my professors most loathed to hear from the students during our lengthy and sometimes brutal critique sessions was that something was "good" or "bad". Their hatred for such lack of critical commitment is understandable. But the other oft-used and much-loathed critical term was "cheesy". When asked why they hated this term, or any of the three offending terms, the professors would often cite the ambiguity inherent in the words themselves. What does good or bad mean and who dictates their meaning? Bear in mind these are the same people who would quickly call something "insincere" or "sentimental", neither of which have any real out-of-context critical value. If you say to someone that their project is insincere, then they may respond that insincere is exactly what they were going for and so they will be pleased.

What am I interested in is this: what is the defining quality that gives those words the negative or positive connotation with which they've been attached? Is calling something cheesy no less qualifiable than calling something sentimental? And further, is it really such a bad thing to be considered pretentious, or precocious, even if you are the one ascribing this quality to your own "work"? After all, there is no inherent negativity to these words. The negativity is injected by the user in any certain context.

I think it is valid to be inquisitive about things you don't understand, to attach meaning to things that isn't necessarily inherent, to find connections between things - academically or otherwise - whether or not it is "legitimate". Babies make sense of the world by a very similar process of trial and error. One would make sense of an alien culture using the same techniques, but maybe not in such brazenly outspoken way.

Most of all, though, it is meaningful to comment on things that are beyond one's realm of understanding. I think it is essential, even. However, it is in this discussion that we HOPEFULLY become more aware of what it is that we are exploring and somehow gain some semblence of understanding. It's a risk. You may seem precocious, pretentious, sentimental, insincere or cheesy - even to yourself. But at least you took the risk and maybe in doing so, you increased your minimum level of incompetence just slightly. And you are a better person for having done so. And, of course, by "you" I mean "me".

FYI: The so-called Peter Principle, according to http://www.bartleby.com -

"The theory that employees within an organization will advance to their highest level of competence and then be promoted to and remain at a level at which they are incompetent."

Monday, February 20, 2006

Of New Obsessions and Olde Friends

Alright.

I know.

It's been awhile.

I've been on a hiatus of sorts, but that's all over now. Well, at least until I get busy with work...again...in Texas...help.

Oh my god, I have so much to tell you! There has been much on my mind. The well is overflowing once again. It never really went dry, but laziness got the best of me. It always does. But right now, I'm sitting in my sister's apartment without a place of my own, huddled in the corner trying not to make a spectacle of myself as I bubble over with excitement at this newfound ambition to write some.

I have tried, recently, to contribute to the sorry state of mine own blog. I started a piece in defense of Jake Plummer after the Broncos lost the AFC Championship game to the Steelers. But I lost passion halfway through. Someday soon I may revisit said piece, but then again, I may not. I am hardly qualified to provide commentary on the reasons why Jake Plummer should not be replaced at quarterback. That, and I think I suddenly went on a (failed) tangent about something else.

However, as an update, I am providing a list of things that I have done/seen/read/thought about in these last few months:

1. Comic books. Lots and lots of comic books.
2. Video iPod. It's going to change the world again. Starting...now. Because I said it just now.
3. Lewis and Clark's journals. Utterly fascinating. I couldn't put it down the first time I picked it up, but then I felt like taking a nap, so I did.
4. Texas. Never wanted to go there. Went there. Don't want to go back. Probably will. (There is nothing wrong with Texas, it's just not California.)
5. Lost souls. Accidental, providential, etc. You know who you are and I am sorry that it's like this. Honestly. But I can do nothing to help you.
6. Heavy psychedelic rock. Always.
7. Movies. They suck right now. I am so annoyed.
8. Television. Finally catching up with Lost. I fucking love Lost. It's the most brilliant piece of television ever. Ever.
9. Firefly. Never thought I would love this show so much. I do.
10. Football. Denver didn't show up for the AFC Championship. People asked me who I was rooting for during the Super Bowl. The Broncos.
11. Reading. Holy shit I read a lot. And I like it.
12. Re-establishing contact with old friends. It's never too late. Now matter how long it's been.


SOON.