Archive | television RSS feed for this section

Big Bang Theory Isn’t That Fucking Good – Redux

1 Mar

A couple of years ago, I wrote this essay about how confused I was that CBS’s The Big Bang Theory was getting such high ratings on Thursday nights against NBC’s Community. I blamed the Nielsen ratings system. It’s not that I expected Big Bang Theory to get low ratings, or that I thought Community could or should eclipse it, I was just boggled by the fact that Big Bang Theory was the highest-rated sitcom, period, and decimated NBC’s offering by a factor of five. I mean, to be clear, I think Big Bang Theory sucks, but I’m not amazed that it’s popular.

 photo community1_zpsdbd641fc.jpg
Last night, the fourth episode of the fourth season of Community aired. This season, which was supposed to begin in October 2012 but was inexplicably pushed to February of this year, is the first without creator Dan Harmon on writing staff. He was canned for reasons about which I am unclear and don’t really care to know. I like Dan Harmon, I think what he did with the show touched upon brilliance, but I don’t think he’s a flawless writer. There were lots of dropped points and gaping plot holes left in his wake. But it was pretty clear, and is crystal fucking clear now that Harmon loved these characters. Even Pierce, despite Harmon’s public feuding with Chevy Chase, was handled with humanity when it came time to film. I say this with renewed appreciation for Dan Harmon, because Community fucking sucks a dead dog’s diseased dick right about now.

 photo community2_zpsf9ea2ca0.jpg
It’s tough to wield such a large cast every week, at least I can imagine. But that doesn’t mean you need to shoehorn every character into each episode just to justify their paychecks. Write them in. Use your ability to write. I could make an episode of Troy and Abed having a conversation while every other character gets a walk-on opportunity to cut a fart. But I wouldn’t have really written anything except for Troy and Abed’s lines. This is sort of where the show is now, an A plot and a lamer B plot and then Pierce and Shirley are marginalized to mutter under their breaths or–this is actually true of the first episode–make a series of lame dick jokes. Dan Harmon was good at satire and parody, and the show reflected that under his guidance. I expected that to change with a new writing staff. What I didn’t expect was a lazily-written sitcom so contrived that I wished there was a laugh track so I’d know when something funny happened.

 photo community3_zps4819188c.jpg
Last night’s episode, where the study group fought for their study room, was the last straw. Never mind the fact that the foosball episode from last season was one of the least likeable episodes, if you’re going to revive that annoying German trio, then at least have Nick Kroll back. The whole thing with their “war” was worse than a Scooby-Doo hallway door chase scene. The resolution, where the group painted a bunch of broom closets to appease the rest of the school, was stupid and difficult to believe. The scenes with the Dean and Chang were painful, and these guys are supposed to be the comic relief–on a show that is already supposed to be funny! Fuck this show. If you’re still watching it out of a misplaced sense of loyalty, you’re an idiot. Flip over to The Big Bang Theory instead. At least that show has a laugh track to tell you when to chuckle.

Goddamn You, Robert Kirkman

1 Mar

I’ve been reading The Walking Dead in trade editions since they started coming out in 2004. For those that think this essay might be about the TV show on AMC called The Walking Dead, it isn’t. I don’t watch that show. I saw the first season and the first episode of the second season and dropped it. I found the show plodding and aimless, the dialogue ridiculous to the point of insulting, and generally found the program to be a huge letdown. I have heard from some that it’s gotten better (though others tell me it sucks still), but I don’t care. How many chances am I supposed to give a show? If you can’t ramp up to speed after the first season, then your show is a failure. Maybe I’ll catch it all one drunken weekend when the series has wrapped up, but I’ve no interest in following it week to week, and I’m not prepared to discuss anything specific about it.
The comic, however, I’ve been reading in trade editions since 2004. Frankly, I didn’t like that at first, either. The art was uneven and the drama was pretty sappy, and I wasn’t connecting with the characters enough to care whether they survived a zombie apocalypse or not. There was an introduction in the first paperback which told the reader how great the series was going to be, how profound and changing it would become, which turned me off. I walked away from the series for about a year, then went back when the story in paperback was up to where the protagonists met the Governor. I got hooked. This was no Mad Max dystopian future, it wasn’t full of insightful, annoying social commentary, it had become the rather touching story of human beings being fucked up to one another in order to survive. Even at this early stage in the story, the zombie horde was little more than an occasional nuisance. The real threat came from other members of the living.

 photo walkingdead3_zps91e1b5ab.jpg
This point was made shockingly clear in a splash page scene of the main protagonist’s wife getting shot in the back while clutching her newborn baby. I realized at this point that I had grown to like these characters, enough to hope for their success, and to see this hopeful thing snuffed out in a very large, graphic way was disheartening. I became a fan, and started to follow the adventures of this widower, Rick, and his increasingly weird son Carl as they tried to make it in a world where no one could be trusted. I picked up volume after volume, gripped by the depths to which our heroes would sink in order to stay alive and defended. I scanned panel after panel of them walking through the wilderness, scavenging what little they could and losing hope for a stable future. I read, and read, and read about their actual and metaphorical journey. Then I started to get bored again.

 photo walkingdead5_zps4325b512.jpg
At one point, they are led to a fortified suburban enclave where a group of people have holed up and formed a community. Then it started to feel like a soap opera. Just people fucking each others’ partners and getting jealous about it. Yeah, people died, but it was often due to over-the-top reactions by blowhards with post-traumatic stress disorder. It wasn’t like I needed to see more death or deaths caused by zombies, to the contrary it seemed like deaths were being shoehorned into the plot in order to make it engrossing. I was getting bored of the series, and figured I would drop it soon if things didn’t turn around. And turn around they did, in vol. 17, Something to Fear.

 photo walkingdead1_zps1e33ee19.jpg
It hardly necessitates me claiming “spoilers” when this edition has been out since last November, and the floppy comics produced well before that. Anyone who reads this blog knows that I willfully spoil shit without penitence. How else am I supposed to write about the things I want to discuss? Besides, I’ve already dropped plenty of plot points in this essay already without cautioning “spoilers,” so fuck yourself. So by this point in the story, the folks in the suburban enclave have met another larger, far off community who is willing to trade supplies. Unfortunately, this larger community is being terrorized by a gang known as the Saviors, who demand half of their supplies in exchange for not fucking up the commune. Our heroes have a run-in with this gang, kill several of them humiliatingly, and then are back on the way to the larger group for supplies when they’re accosted by the Saviors. I’m leaving a lot of incidental stuff out, but the important thing, the instance that makes me want to shake my fist at Robert Kirkman and which will keep me buying new trade editions for the foreseeable future, is that the leader of the Saviors pulls Glenn out of the group and bashes his head in with a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire. Oh, and Glenn’s girlfriend, Maggie, had just revealed she was pregnant. Did I forget to mention that? Glenn was brutally snuffed before he got to be a real dad for the first time.

 photo walkingdead4_zpsbcd993c2.png
And there it was, the same sickening pitch that lured me in the first time will lure me in for another half dozen or so volumes. Fucking Robert Kirkman. Playing with our sensibilities and emotions like some puppeteer. Forcing us to face our most deviant proclivities while you toy with our heartstrings. I don’t necessarily want to read a comic where a main character gets his head caved in so badly that his eye begins to pop out, to watch him calling for his girlfriend while a spiked bat crashes into his skull over and over. You made me do that, Robert Kirkman, with your slow burn suspense story and pandering to the lowest gory denominator. Goddamn you, Kirkman. Just take my wallet and leave me sobbing in a corner with my brutal self-realizations.

Give the Boot to Reboots

7 Feb

It’s been about a year and a half since DC Comics restarted their entire line-up of titles with The New 52, a company-wide event that did away with the past histories of their diverse line of characters and started all over again to attract new readers. I thought it was a hare-brained idea at the time, but being that I don’t buy floppy comics and I’m fairly used to DC making incomprehensible business decisions, I decided not to opine. Sure, I was pessimistic, but that’s my nature. What the hell do I know about a good Flash comic anyway? The best thing you could do for a Flash comic, in my opinion, is cancel it.

 photo new52-1_zpsb5671602.jpg
Well, the dust has settled, trade editions of the first New 52 comics have trickled out, and what we see isn’t a more tempered, sensible universe than the one that preceded it, but the same confuddled claptrap as always. Some origins have been changed, Barbara Gordon has overcome her paralysis to become Batgirl again, but there’s no sense that we’re seeing anything new and fresh. And why should we? DC Comics has a history spanning nine decades, one they periodically try to omit with little success. DC’s concern with its past seems to revolve around the fact that their characters have been portrayed in many ways over the years. This makes sense because different people have written and drawn the comics, and public sensibilities have changed radically in the last century. For some reason, this doesn’t sit well with the powers that be: they feel that Superman should never be depicted changing clothes inside a phone booth when we live in a cellular phone world.

 photo new52-2_zps0e0ea043.jpg
I think that DC Comics should embrace their storied history, and not in the cornball way they usually do by dragging kitschy characters like Challengers of the Unknown and the Bat Mite out of storage for a “modern” revamp. A “reboot” usually means the male heroes will all have stubble and wrestle with their consciences while they clobber globs of snot from outer space. Instead, DC should admit that they have a lot of characters spanning a healthy person’s lifetime and let writers do what they fucking want. You want to write a story about the early days of Wonder Woman? Go ahead. You want to depict Batman with an iPhone and a Bat-Segway? Let’s see what you’ve got. Many of these characters have become archetypes for our culture and personal gratification. The important part about Superman is that he can punch people through walls, not whether or not his adoptive Earth parents wore spectacles. Cut it out with these title-spanning events that change DC continuity and make Superman have to wear ridiculous costumes.

 photo new52-3_zpsd67d57e1.jpg
What I’m saying is that a fictional world of people who can fly unencumbered through space and fire laser beams from their fingertips doesn’t need a reboot. It’s fantasy, and as such writers should feel free to depict these characters in any fashion, from any era, and respect the readership enough to take these stories at face value. I know DC has its Elseworlds line, but I’m talking about having fun with these heroes and villains in series. Maybe depict the Joker with some humanity. Allow Superman to fight alongside Aquaman with the bureaucracy of the Justice League getting in the way. Let the Green Lantern cut a fart now and again. His uniform already leaves little to the imagination, it’s not a far leap to begin showing his endocrine functions.

Forget the Stupid Justice League Movie Already

14 Dec

Hey, there’s been some recent news about the long-rumored Justice League film, due out 2015! Isn’t that exciting? Haven’t you been waiting for a movie about the Justice League for like freaking ever?! You know the Justice League, right? That collection of DC Comics properties that includes Superman, Batman…I think Wonder Woman is in it…also the Flash and Green Lantern, and…that green guy. No, not Green Lantern, I already mentioned him. The other one. The guy that’s as strong as Superman plus he turns invisible. Also the guy with the wings, Hawkman is in it. I think that’s it. Oh wait, Aquaman, he’s got to be in there. Basically everyone from the SuperFriends except the non-white characters.


Wait, there’s more heroes in the League? You say that the Justice League contains every hero belonging to DC Comics, going back to 1938? Well, fuck me. There’s something lackluster about a specialized league that anyone with a talent remotely approaching a super power can join. They have two heroes with the power to stretch themselves like taffy. There are about four that can run faster than the speed of sound. And there are so many meta-humans with the power of flight, that their base of operations has to be held on a fucking satellite. Otherwise, they’d have to employ air traffic controllers, opening up a host of labor problems. There are more people in tights in the Justice League than the Ringling Bros. circus. And every time they hold a meeting, there’s a rift in the space-time continuum or something that spells imminent disaster for the cosmos. I mean, I’m not saying there’s a causal relationship, but it’s a coincidence worth investigating since the fate of the universe seems to depend on it.


Why Warner Bros., parent devils to DC Comics are so gung-ho for a Justice League movie, I have no idea. It’s not like their other attempts at comic books-turned movies in the new millennium have been successful excepting Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies and, to a lesser extent, attempts to turn Alan Moore’s graphic novels into movies. Green Lantern was an irredeemable piece of shit. Superman Returns was almost as confusing as it was boring. What DC has proven is that when they have a lot of input into how one of their characters is represented in movies, the result is garbage. Only when more talented people take the ball and run with it, like Nolan did, are the results satisfactory. “Perhaps,” you begin, pushing your coke-bottle glasses up the greasy bridge of your blackhead-specked nose, “comics are already in their perfect medium and require no film representation at all.” You might be right, despite the cloud of halitosis you belched in making that comment. But Marvel comics has made a bunch of superhero movies in the 2000s that are entertaining and enjoyable. They even made a pretty good movie around their clown costume conglomerate, The Avengers, which collects a bunch of well-known Marvel heroes, many of them already established in their own films.


That’s the first reason that the Justice League movie shouldn’t be made: we haven’t seen decent representation of the heroes involved outside of comic books and cartoons. And let’s face it, only nerds and fatties watch cartoons and read comic books. The rest of the world will be scratching their heads wondering why a hero like the Flash exists when there is already an even buffer dude named Superman who can move at super-speed. Batman as represented in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy obviously doesn’t exist in a universe populated by other superheroes, and besides–spoiler alert for this movie that’s been out for six months–Bruce Wayne gives up the Batman mantle at the end of The Dark Knight Rises. It would seriously taint an otherwise solid trilogy if DC dragged the same character out of retirement so he could fight space fish with Dr. Fate and Plastic Man. The implication of the article linked in the first paragraph is that Joseph Gordon-Levitt will play Batman in the Justice League movie, tying it to the Nolan trilogy since Gordon-Levitt was in the last movie. But that strikes me as totally unnecessary and stupid. For one thing, this would mean that Bruce Wayne will not be Batman in the Justice League movie, which will thoroughly befuddle and irritate the average person who is familiar with popular representations of Batman. For another thing, it’s entirely unnecessary. The tale of Batman is timeless, it can be (and has been) told and re-told a lot of ways, provided the basic tenet–that the son of wealthy socialites deals with the trauma of having watched his parents get gunned down before him by dressing up like a bat–remains the same. Jospeh Gordon-Levitt could fit that bill well enough, particularly if he’s to be surrounded by other heroes in their technicolor dreamcoats. He would be a cog in the Justice League machine, so a fully fleshed-out character may not be necessary.


But even given that fact, a Justice League movie would only serve the highlight the fact that DC has made little progress ingratiating their characters with the general public. Where is the long-rumored Wonder Woman movie? How about an attempt at telling Hawkman’s fairly intricate origin story outside of a film that will have to squeeze in the characterizations of at least half a dozen super folks? Baby steps, people. This apparent need for DC to skip to the end of the story was the main flaw in the Green Lantern movie. Yes, as I wrote before, Ryan Reynolds was mis-cast in his role as Hal Jordan. But it might have been a serviceable movie had his character not gone from ordinary test pilot to a cgi space cop battling the oldest evil in the universe in the space of one movie. In the comics, Hal Jordan doesn’t even get contacted by the Intergalactic Nerd Cops until he’s dicked around with his new ring for a while. They might have stretched the Green Lantern story into two and three movies, instead of making one largely incomprehensible piece of shit. And that’s what we’re looking at in a Justice League movie in two years.


It’s the movie few people understand and nobody wants. Maybe if I thought they’d do the Justice League from Keith Giffen’s run in the 1980s, I’d get on board. That was a group of secondary heroes doing a kind of Moonlighting/Hill Street Blues type of thing, and the characters were evinced through dialogue with each other. I guess I fear that the Justice League movie in 2015 might open with Batman and Superman standing on the bridge of their satellite headquarters, then during the credits they get attacked by Starro the space monster. Twenty minutes later, they’re already on an alternate earth fighting Owlman and Ultraman. By the last half hour of the movie, they’re replaying the events of Infinite Crisis to a thoroughly bewildered and bored audience. But maybe I’m too pessimistic. Or maybe I ACTUALLY WATCHED THAT FUCKING GREEN LANTERN MOVIE WITH RYAN REYNOLDS AND I WANT MY GODDAMNED TWO HOURS BACK.

I Got Rid Of My Old Television

12 Apr

We moved into a nice, affordable two-bedroom apartment at the beginning of 2003, coinciding with the departure of a downstairs neighbor about a month later. He was not vacating his studio apartment voluntarily, mind you, but at the firm, legal request of our mutual landlady. He hadn’t paid rent. In a while. Presumably cash-strapped, he offered to sell his lightly-used, practically brand new Samsung high-definition television–at less than half of its original price, to boot. This was too good of an opportunity to pass up. Though we, ourselves, were light on loot at the time, having just moved and all, we scraped together the five-hundred bucks our neighbor wanted for the television and a shitty TV stand that looked half put-together. We were satisfied in the feeling of having come out ahead in this particular transaction.

Until we tried to move the thing upstairs.


This television weighed four-hundred pounds, if it weighed an ounce. Why such a television would be made for the home consumer, considering it required a pair of professional weightlifters to move it, beggars explanation. Compounding the problem of relocating this appliance to our apartment was the fact that it had been designed by some Lovecraftian aficionado well-versed in non-Euclidean geometry, for though it seemed to have a number of corners and crevices, the television could not be accurately gripped or held by any being with an outstretched span less than that of an orangutan. We moved the television upstairs, step by step, taking frequent breaks to pant and curse. Several times, I considered giving up, leaving the television on the stairs, and navigating around it when entering or exiting the apartment. But we got the thing up to the second floor and somehow–I do not remember how–perched it atop its accompanying television stand.


A couple of years later, our pairing parted ways and we divvied up our belongings. I gave her my older television, a second-hand tube set with roughly a thirty-five inch screen. I took what I believed to be the better, newer television. And so began seven years of lugging this terrible behemoth from apartment to apartment, anxiously worrying whenever tasked to budge it, expelling deep relief once I’d secured it in a location from where it would not need to be shifted again, at least for a while. I actually moved only three times since 2004, which is relatively stable for dwelling in New York City. Twice, I hired movers, once I moved myself with the help of a very strong friend. Each time, the Samsung television needed to be moved, and each time it presented the biggest problems. The television became a proverbial elephant in the room, and weighed about as much by my estimation.


Over time, the television’s other limitations surfaced. For one, I had lost or had never received a remote control. More importantly, though this television claimed to have high-definition resolution, it simply did not. I don’t know if the meaning of high-definition changed from the early part of the century, or if it was a bold-faced lie, but the very year we got our massive television, I got a high-definition cable box and invited a bunch of people over to watch the Super Bowl. The total lack of a crystal clear picture was obvious and immediate, and we ultimately switched back to regular digital television before the second half started. More recently, since most newer programs are broadcast in widescreen, I was missing the extreme left and right of my picture. It was screwing up my Netflix and Hulu menus and generally soured my television addiction. Watching that Samsung television in recent years was probably akin to a junkie on methadone: it does the job, but it’s not quite the same as the uncut dope. So, I endeavored to get a new television.


Of course, the new TV is almost twice as large, screen-wise, but weighs one-fifth of the Samsung. I shoved the Samsung into a corner while setting up the new appliance, and it stayed there a week. “How are you going to get rid of it?” my knowledgeable friends and family asked. “When do you want to move the old TV?” my girlfriend gently prodded. I despaired. I didn’t know how to get rid of this television. People suggested I advertise it on craigslist, but since the thing could only be moved by two or more stalwart lumberjacks, I envisioned a stream of people trampling through my house to look at this pig in a poke, rightly decide that they couldn’t budge it, and exiting only to leave me with the monstrosity and the dirty feeling of having a stranger judge me for my Batman comics collection. I considered taking the television apart and disposing of it in pieces, but a friend advised against this as a substantial charge can remain within the recesses of older television sets. I worried, I fretted. I tried to ignore this gigantic television lying dormant right next to my seat on the couch. “Maybe I can pass it off as sculpture,” I pondered. I wondered how much trouble I’d get into for shoving the television off of my balcony, and even how I would shlep the thing four measly feet to do that much.


Then, in a fit of hopeless exuberance, my girlfriend and I got rid of it. How we did it is not important, and I don’t know that I could even describe it. The important thing is the extreme feeling of relief upon expelling the beast from my apartment, from my life. It was more than the weight and size of the physical thing, that Samsung television amounted to a quarter-ton badge of shame signifying my familiarity with shitty prime-time sitcoms and interminably boring sporting events. As with many such feelings, I wished I had gotten rid of the damned thing sooner. We all carry our impossible televisions through life, metaphorically and sometimes literally, feeling like these are our crosses to bear, the things we’re given with which we’ve got to make do. It isn’t true. I’ve got a new television, but it doesn’t carry with it the worry and discomfort of my old immovable, anxiety-laden set. Getting rid of that headache sooner would have been worth missing all of the episodes of Family Matters re-runs that I watched in the interim.

The Joystick is Broken: Watch the Way I Dance

29 Jan

In the initial parts of this rather muddled series of essays, I attempted to show how video games have been a communal function from their inception, beginning with crowds of competitors and onlookers thronging arcades and pizza parlors in the 1980s, and ultimately arriving at online co-op play of games of every type, sometimes including hundreds of people at once. There is another, lesser-known way that people share video games–one very much akin to the origins of video game spectating–and that’s when one records oneself playing games, sometimes with simultaneous commentary, for the benefit of people to watch later. This commentary can be aimless rambling on any number of personal or universal subjects, other times it is structured, scripted role-play and carefully edited video game footage. It seems to me like a new form of expression, one whose implications are interesting to consider as the format invents itself.


Many of life’s most perplexing problems were pondered by yours truly while he played Battletoads and listened to the Dead Kennedys during my junior high school years. Most video games, especially those made before the twenty-first century, are little more than sequential patterns that behave predictably. The first few times you play a game, it’s a matter of discerning these patterns and then anticipating their pitfalls on the next go ’round. By the time you’ve played a game a few dozen times, you’re barely even looking at the screen as the muscles in your hands react to pure timed memory, particularly on the first levels of game that often get played again and again. And it was in these zen moments, playing world 1-2 of Super Mario Bros. for the umpteenth time, that I would ruminate on my life’s deepest issues: at that point, mainly girls and acne. My mind would wander and I would consider events that had happen at school, or concoct complicated dramas involving myself and school crushes. Playing video games becomes a therapeutic, meditative experience at this point, an experience separate from the goal-oriented task of, well, achieving that game’s goals.


Thanks to online video outlets like YouTube and twitch, gamers can now share these intimate thoughts with the world at large. Many of these videos are interesting thematic juxtapositions, as people talk frankly about something like bullying or depression while blowing opposing players’ heads off with a 10mm submachine gun. By adding this layer of soundtrack–their voices–to gameplay, there is created a unique piece of media, presenting elements of watching video games and listening to talk radio, but providing the full extent of neither. Often, the commentary is about events in the game, but it always spirals into any number of subjects on which the commentator wishes to expound. Watching how they play certain games and listening to them speak about particular subjects give the (perhaps illusory) effect of getting to know the person, in ways you might not know someone you merely have lunch with now and again. How people play games and complete puzzles is one of the factors in making psychological and psychiatric diagnoses, and in this way, these viewers of these videos become armchair therapists, offering their support (or derision) in commentary and public responses.


Not all commentators free associate, however, some role-play or even create elaborate dramas that are acted out within the framework of a game. This takes a few different forms: sometimes, the commentary is live and the player assumes the role of an in-game character. Other times, video game footage is carefully edited to present a scene that is voiced-over. In any case, episodes run about ten to twenty minutes in length and are uploaded around once per week (with a potential for higher frequency of episodes in the instances involving live commentary). A YouTube video game commentator will juggle three our four different “shows” at a time, either by playing through a few different games simultaneously, or by acting out different roles in one game, or they’ll do a little of both. Minecraft is a game that is very popular among video game commentators, for two reasons: Mojang, Ltd., the company that owns the game, has given express consent for video of its game to be uploaded to the internet. But the second reason is because Minecraft is a game that is what you make of it, and since everyone plays it differently, there’s merit in watching how disparate people deal with it. Some Minecraft players concentrate on the building aspect, others are more into adventuring. I wrote an essay about Minecraft, so I won’t go into detail about its many facets here, except to say that there are many.


I became clued in to the potential of this new form of entertainment while watching a series by a UK group that call themselves the Yogscast. What began as a normal Minecraft series, featuring two relatively funny guys figuring out how to play the game, subtly became a massive, fantastical drama, rich with a dozen fully-realized locations and a limitless cast of characters that could rival any daytime soap opera. Using various game mechanics and modifications, they’re able to display and exploit the best aspects of the game, making for a show that is as entertaining as it is tutorial (well, perhaps a bit more entertaining than tutorial). Based on their wildly popular YouTube channel, the Yogscast have created a little cottage industry all their own, with a legion of devoted fans who line up at conventions for a glimpse of their heroes in three-dimensional glory. It’s brilliant, I think, and the possibilities for this format are wide open. As computer graphics get better and actual, human actors more annoying, we will probably see more and more cartoon programming, where the only things actors lend are their voices. There’s every reason to think that these cartoons will increasingly be representations of popular video game characters, probably opening a bar together or moving in with their auntie and uncle in Bel Air, or some stupid thing like that.

Mormons: Morons, or More “On?”

26 Jan

Growing up in New York City, I didn’t get the opportunity to interact with a lot of Mormons. In fact, until I was in my late twenties, I encountered exactly zero Mormons, at least to my knowledge. I was aware of Mormonism, however, through a series of awesome commercials that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would run on Saturday mornings during my cartoon time. When I was very young, I thought they were another of the morning’s public service announcements, like the one where a bunch of sock puppets warned you not to take your mother’s Sucrets. By the time I was nine years old, I realized that I was actually being pitched to by a religion, and a Christian one at that. It didn’t really bother me, except that religion was cutting into my personal Saturday time, when everyone knows that church and evangelical television programs belong on Sunday.


My first exposure to actual tenets of the Mormon religion–besides their famous and salacious allowance for polygamy–was from watching the movie Plan 10 From Outer Space. This remains on the list of weirdest movies I have ever seen, and I could spend this entire essay trying to explain the plot. Pertinent to this piece were some of the facts about Mormonism as presented in the movie: that God came from a planet called Kolob, and every Mormon gets his own planet in the afterlife. It was starting to sound more like science-fiction than spirituality. A couple of years later, I started dating someone who had a copy of the Book of Mormon, which I promptly borrowed and read and never returned.


I truly think that every literate person should read the Book of Mormon, because it is one of the funniest and most insane books ever written. If you’re like I was, you probably think the book is full of a bunch of new age baloney and pseudo-holy mumbo jumbo that isn’t worth your time. But you’d be wrong. The Book of Mormon is the unbelievable and ludicrous story about Jews living in America during biblical times, how they warred among themselves, and how a faction of the Jews named the Lamanites angered God were turned into red-skinned Native Americans as punishment. The book claims that, during the three days between Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and his resurrection, he zipped over to what would become America and imparted some sage wisdom to its multitude. I mean, that just blows my mind. That means the Book of Mormon is partially an account of Jesus’ “lost weekend.”


In 2003, I read Jon Krakauer’s wonderful book Under the Banner of Heaven. It’s a compelling, well-written account of the history of Mormonism interspersed with a more current story about a Mormon woman murdered by her brothers. The book is really about a Mormon sect that is not part of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints–that would be the “official” Mormon church, but like any religion there are lots of splinter groups with their own ideas. Some of them still practice polygamy and engage in incest as proscribed by scripture, and Under the Banner of Heaven makes clear that these practitioners comprise the smallest portion of Mormons. In fact, they would not even resonate as Mormons as we know them. Turns out that the ones practicing incest and killing their wives were a far cry from the short-sleeved, starched shirt missionaries with precise haircuts and shit-eating grins that one would normally associate with Mormonism. I still came away with the notion that Mormons are a strange, backwards people, well worthy of my ridicule.


It was around this time that I actually met a guy who was Mormon, the idea of which tickled me to no end. Imagine my disappointment when he didn’t try to explain that the Garden of Eden was in Jackson, Missouri, didn’t tell me about Heavenly Father’s plan to give me my own, personal planet in the afterlife. He was, annoyingly, a very pleasant, polite person that liked a lot of the same comic books that I do. I plied him about his faith, and he pretty well pulled my card: “You’ve read the Book of Mormon,” he said, “you know what we’re about. If that doesn’t appeal to you, then fine. It doesn’t make me want to stop talking about Batman.” I was very embarrassed. Here I was, hoping to meet a kooky, wacky Mormon that would regale me with ridiculous stories about Jesus visiting America, all along I was the nut job hovering around, pressuring him to say something that I could laugh at. It occurred to me that practically every creed and belief sounds like complete bullshit when you voice it aloud: “I believe that the universe was spontaneously created and that the invisible air around us actually contains tiny particles whose structure and movement matches that of our solar system.” Weirdo. I lost touch with this Mormon friend a while ago–he lost touch with me, actually, probably because I was such a pain in the ass about his church. But I resolved from then on to judge people by the things they do, not by my regard for their beliefs.


A couple of weeks ago, I saw The Book of Mormon on Broadway. I’m a fan of Matt Stone and Trey Parker, and really enjoyed the episode of South Park which details a basic history of Mormonism. The musical was hilarious, too, and if you’re not shy of some seriously blue language, you should check it out. However, the play ends implying that working together and helping each other are the real major tenets of Mormonism, not the stuff about golden plates and multiple wives. The important things are the values that they espouse, because everyone believes in some retarded-sounding shit whether they know it or not. The episode of South Park dealing with Mormonism ends in much the same way. Many people I’ve known say that they respect religious scripture and spirituality, but reject churches as inherently corrupt. Mormonism kind of turns that idea on its ear, a religion based on scripture that sounds like a load of donkey loafs, but realized in a church that actually fosters community, family, and good works. You really can’t hate on that.

Could It Be…Satan?!

14 Nov

My brother was a big fan of Dungeons & Dragons, but I never got into the stuff. Truthfully, I was a few years too young for it even in 1985, when the craze for role-playing games was dying out. The whole thing seemed too complicated to me, a lot of charts and weird-looking dice, and I was never into the fantasy genre. Still, you couldn’t get away from Dungeons & Dragons and a few other similar games in the early 80s. Their popularity seemed to grow alongside the mounting hysteria surrounding these games’ connection to teenage depression and the occult. My brother often quoted a most likely false tale about a kid who was so obsessed with Dungeons & Dragons that when his character died while playing the game, the guy went home and committed suicide. My brother would grin with glee while telling this story, proud to be dabbling in something so dangerous and wicked.


I wasn’t raised a Christian, so I wasn’t told that God is an all-seeing, all-knowing vain asshole who requires my persistent patronage and adoration. But I did know that Satan was a force of evil, I was made aware of this by news reports of satanic ritual abuse and talk shows about satanic cults and pamphlets and magazine articles and movies all telling me that Satan was looking to steal my soul. Strangely, it never occurred to me that Satan was in an eternal struggle with God, I thought it was us versus Satan; either we let the devil make us bad people, or we decide to be good. The punishment for siding with Satan would be eternal damnation and torture, but the reward for being good would simply be death. Mind you, this is something I determined when I was nine years old. I can only imagine what kinds of berserk shit I’d have been thinking had I been raised a Catholic like my friends and specifically told what tortures lie in store for me should I ponder upon a bosom.


The fear generated by the belief in a worldwide Satanic conspiracy during that time was unbelievable. Satan was everywhere: in our music, in our television shows, in our board games. He preyed mainly on standoffish adolescents and cooing infants, though he wasn’t above the occasional demonic possession of a retiree. Stories about massive cult blood orgies and ritual sacrifice of kidnapped children began popping up, each instance awakening the repressed memories of former members or victims of these cults, their flashbacks recorded while under deep hypnosis on a therapist’s couch. These satanic organizations comprised a highly organized network of devoutly evil people who had infiltrated every town, every suburb, every neighborhood. The most insidious thing about it was that anyone could be a secret satanist: your teacher, the bus driver, even members of your very own church could be paying lip service to God while shitting on a crucifix in their spare time. The main concern were those targeted by the prince of darkness: children. And so a lot of corny shit was justified to insulate the average child from inducement into evil by way of Black Sabbath records and fantasy board games.


No one considers themselves a bad person. We always do what we think is right, which pretty much justifies any act. The guy killing prostitutes at the suggestion of the voices in his head is only doing what he thinks is right. It’s a lot more palatable to believe that the fucked up stuff we do to one another is beyond our control, all manipulated by hoary forces and complex machinations that work incessantly to foster your poor choices. Demon bullies, essentially, or comic book super villains that are committed to evil for evil’s sake. Growing up, my Christian pals told me that God had given all of us free will, which boiled down to the freedom to choose between believing in Christ the messiah or eternal hell fires. This struck me as odd since it implies that our natural state is to be bad, that we have to work to get into God’s graces or we can relax and act naturally for a free trip to Hades. I figured that after all this time, that many billions of souls condemned to hell had to have figured out a loophole. I mean if there’s anything the human race excels at, it’s justifying and even reveling in its own laziness.


The notion that evil forces are invested in making our comings and going as nefarious as possible is a scary one, but far scarier is the reality that there are no evil forces, that we hurt our loved ones and fall short of our potential because we are selfish, and small-minded, and hopelessly locked within our own skin. There is most likely no final reward, no waiting punishment, no foundation to the ideas of karma or cosmic balance or divine retribution. We’re a component of a universal design so complex so as to render us practically irrelevant, and whatever little squabbles we have with each other, no matter if we kiss or kill each other, our most important function is to exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen. Our lives are not significant enough to warrant speculation by demons and devils. Our best hope is that, along the way, we’ll get to roll the twenty-sided die a few times and end up with an extra bit of treasure or a Cloak of Wisdom or something.

Keeping Up With the Kardashians’ Mental Health

7 Nov

There’s a lot happening in the news lately: weather-related disasters, protests and police violence, skeleton thievery. The most important thing happening in the world–and perhaps the universe–right now is Kim Kardashian’s recent divorce from Kris Humphries after a whirlwindingly boring seventy-two day marriage. Kris’ courting of Kim, which was creepy (and not just because he has the same name as her mother), was covered on cable network E! along with their extravagant wedding ceremony that included a bridal gown with a train so long that it needed to be carried by an actual locomotive, and a reception where diamond-studded Rainbow Trout was served alongside a soup made entirely from platinum bars. Or something like that. I didn’t watch the wedding episode. I figure I can catch it one of the other ten zillion times it will be aired before the year is out.


Many people are saying that this marriage was a sham, that it was all set up as a publicity stunt and that perhaps Kim never intended to see it through. I am inclined to believe this, but only because the Kardashian family’s entire life is a publicity stunt. It’s not like the program Keeping Up With the Kardashians is about staying abreast of the exploits of fascinating people who perform feats and spectacles, no, Keeping Up With the Kardashians is a show about a fame-hungry rich people who are the subjects of a reality show. In this way, it’s the most “meta” of all reality television programs: a series chronicling people and their reactions to being in a series. Unfortunately, most of the show consists of the Kardashian girls loafing around on couches bemoaning the fact that no one takes them seriously. Okay, Kardashians: here is your soap box. Please expound on whatever pertinent topics are swimming around those curiously undersized heads of yours. What’s that? You’re starting new perfume and underwear brands? That’s fantastic! I’m sure glad I stopped staring at your boobs for thirty seconds so you could let me know.


It’s a sad existence, I think, to be famous for being rich and narcissistic. I have to assume that being rich is a major component, because there are plenty of narcissistic people around, and very few of them are famous. I can’t help but think of Ouroboros, the snake eating its own tail, in regards to the Kardashian family and all those celebrity types that are desperately trying to extend their fifteen minutes of fame into an hour. It’s bound to collapse eventually, though they’ll probably drag a line-faced, fifty year-old Kim Kardashian out on whatever’s the popular late night talk show in twenty years so she can say that she had no regrets. That’s important, not to have any regrets. Because if you were as shitty as the Kardashian family and you had to suffer regret every time you inconvenienced someone, you’d kill yourself.

For Sale: My Garbage

26 Aug

My girlfriend and I have been watching Pawn Stars on the History Channel, a program which claims to be “the most popular show on cable television.” I can believe it, the formula is pretty solid and each episode is reliable and satisfying like pre-packaged candy or masturbation. The premise is that a father and son own a successful pawn shop in Las Vegas where people bring in weird antiques and guns to exchange for cash. We learn a little about each item, often with the help of an eccentric freelance expert, and then there’s some wheeling and dealing until ultimately the seller lets it all ride on twenty-three black and loses every penny. Actually, we don’t see that part, but I assume it’s what happens. Why else would someone be selling a Civil War musket for two-hundred dollars if they didn’t have a debilitating gambling addiction? I suppose crystal meth could be playing a role here too.


The history lessons and deal-making are interspersed with comic relief and Subway sandwich shop product placement, and even if you aren’t interested in learning about a specific item, there’s always some other object of interest coming up in another minute or so. It’s like comfort television, something you can watch completely passively or engage with remotely. There aren’t any cliffhangers, no real dramatic or tense moments, and while the family that owns the pawn shop have the acting skills of a fruit tart, they appear to know their business and it’s nice to see folks expound on the past. Pawn Stars is the centerpiece of a kind of History Channel triumvirate of shows, bookended by American Pickers and American Restoration, all of them airing Monday nights in prime time. Taken all together, these three shows display a cross-section of this weird industry of collectibles and antiques, from trash to treasure. All that’s missing is American Foreclosure, about people who sell their valuables to the Pawn Stars because they lost their homes in the real estate bust.


American Restoration is also a pretty good show, and the title essentially says it all: it’s about a guy (in America) that restores junk to its original state. The program I don’t understand is American Pickers, about two guys who travel around to different hoarders’ junk piles and purchase their worn-out, rusty crap for resale. So they’ll pull up to some disheveled barn in the middle of fucking nowhere and sift through boxes of moldy newspapers and mason jars without lids on them, to find something like a beat up Stetson hat or a See N’ Say with the dial missing, and ask the owner how much he wants for it. And then the owner actually quotes a price! Here’s something this guy hasn’t seen since Jimmy Carter was president, it’s covered in dust and cobwebs and who knows what else, and he wants a hundred bucks for it. Am I missing something here? If someone were to come into my home, look in my garbage can, and ask me if I want to sell its contents, I’d probably let that person have them for free. And then I would never talk to that person again.


Almost certainly due to the popularity of Pawn Stars, there are a dozen or more shows on various channels about people who deal in junk. There’s Auction Hunters on Spike, which is about two guys who bid on defaulted storage units and then pore through mountainous garbage bags of clothing in order to hopefully find a nineteenth-century credenza. There’s Pawn Queens, Hardcore Pawn, there’s the Picker Sisters and Garbage Pickers, and there’s even a show depicting the auction side of this industry, actually showing the folks with too much money to hand that keep the junk wheel turning. Seems like every week, there’s another one of these shows, and considering the high rate of unemployment, the families unable to afford an adjustable mortgage that have lost their homes, and the states going bankrupt that pay civil employees in daffodils, I can’t help but feel as if television, in all of its wisdom, is trying to tell us something important.

I think television is telling us to sell our junk.


I see now why trickle-down economics hasn’t worked, it’s because we expected that the money rich people spent on necessities would be enough to perpetuate our core industries. That’s bullshit, everyone knows that rich people don’t actually buy milk or hire plumbers, the wealthy drink distilled yak piss and move to new mansions when their toilets are clogged. The best way to part a plutocrat from his money is to offer a dusty Howdy Doody doll for a thousand bucks. We’re worried about running out of natural resources, meanwhile many of us have neglected our most abundant resource: garbage. We’ve got cubic tons of the stuff. If I’d known that rich people wanted it so badly, I wouldn’t have stuffed it into plastic bags and sent it down my trash chute. I feel like I’ve been throwing away tens of thousands of dollars a year. So I’d like to appeal to the more financially comfortable members of my tremendous readership: my thrown-away crap is for sale. I’m willing to make a deal on anything. I’ll sell an orange rind for five bucks, an empty can of peas for ten. Everything is negotiable. I think I’ve got some vintage Band-Aids I’d be willing to sell for a song. As our Gross Domestic Product falls, it’s time we start turning our grossest domestic product into cold, clean cash. I’ll get my food and clothing the old-fashioned way, imported from overseas sweatshops and plantations where the workers can’t even afford a measly Robby the Robot figurine.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 386 other followers

%d bloggers like this: