Saturday, April 23, 2005

Generic Post Meme

Via everybody.

Golly, I sure don't update this too often, on account of all the school. I wrote a story, but no one will understand it and all the editors hate me. Here's a reference to a book that I think you should read, except secretly I hope you won't because then I'll feel smarter than you. Here's a reference to a TV show that I think you're too snobby to watch except secretly I hope you do so we can trade action figures. Hurried protestation that I am not a geek. Enigmatic/meaningless comment with vague moralistic undertones. Rambling journey to full stop.

This has been a generic post. Now go update your livejournal/blog/journalscape page/moveable type/tortoise shell diary with a generic post that reflects its general tenor.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Interview Meme

Questions via Hannah:

The Rules:

1. Leave me a comment saying, "Interview me."

2. I will respond by asking you five questions. I get to pick the questions.

3. You will update your livejournal/website with the answers to the questions and leave the answers as comments here (or at least provide a pointer to your site).

4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.

5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

The questions:

1. I think I've asked you this before. But for all the nice people: flight or invisibility?

What can you really do with invisibility besides sneak around? Locker rooms and bank vaults would get boring after a while. So, flight. And warm flying-type clothes.

2. Could you win a cage match to defend your right to be a Dave? If not, what would we be calling you instead?

I can take Dave Foley, no problem. He's little. Letterman's big; I'll wait for him and Duchovny to sort each other out, then step in and clean up. It would be my pleasure to kick Dave Matthews' no-talent ass. Dave Attell--depends on how drunk he is. Dave Barry would try to distract me with witticisms, so the first order of business would be to kick his teeth out. Bowie and Byrne might be a threat together; best toss David Cross into the midst and let them fight it out.

Short answer? I'm a scrapper, and I'm quick. I'll wear them out. Else they can call me Bjorn.

3. Got milk?

Wouldn't you like to be a pepper too?

4. What is the full list of people-who-make-movies-not-worth-watching, and what are their individual sins? Alternately, whatever portion of said list can be typed without inducing carpal tunnel.

Full list not possible. Short list, with exceptions:

Steven Spielberg: overrated hack with delusions of David Lean. Sins: Close Encounters, E.T., the middle third of Saving Private Ryan. Exceptions: anything Indiana Jones, Schindler's List, the parts of Amistad without Matthew McConaughey.

Julianne Moore: talent vaccum with mysterious ability to hypnotize critics and otherwise astute film conoisseurs. Sins: creating talent vacuum in such otherwise great films as Short Cuts, Boogie Nights, Magnolia and The Big Lebowski. Exceptions: none.

Kim Basinger: blonde mannequin with all the emotive faculties of a block of Formica. Sins: everything but L.A. Confidential. Exceptions: see sins.

Tom Cruise: Scientology-obsessed frat boy. Sins: Too many to list. Exceptions: Rain Man, Magnolia.

Russell Crowe: one-note walking ego with all the range of a tuning fork. Sins/Exceptions: see Kim Basinger.

Tom Hanks: Everyman comedian who left sense of humor with magic vending machine in Big. Sins: being Everyman in every film since Big, including aw-shucks decent family guy hitman in Road to Perdition, aw-shucks decent family guy astronaut in Apollo 13, aw-shucks decent mentally challenged family guy vet in Forrest Gump and aw-shucks decent family guy soldier in Saving Private Ryan. Exceptions: Toy Story, his decent family guy AIDS patient in Philadelphia.

Keanu Reeves: boy born with no brain but gifted with ability to mimic human speech. Sins: existing. Exception: the Bill and Ted movies.

Lawrence Fishburne: self-important schlub who appears to believe that one must become boring to be taken seriously. Sins: the Matrix atrocities, changing name from Larry. Exceptions: King of New York, Apocalypse Now, Boyz n the Hood, marrying Gina Torres.

John Travolta: Scientologist with unhappily resurrected career. Sins: almost everything. Exceptions: Get Shorty, "Welcome Back, Kotter," the scenes in Pulp Fiction when he's with Samuel L.

George Lucas: unmitigated bastard. Sins: THX-1138, having Greedo shoot first, not being assassinated in 1989. Exceptions: edited out of existence.

5. Why is a raven like a writing desk?

Neither looks good in an evening gown.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Swedish Chef Recites the Gettysburg Address

Fuoor scure-a und sefee yeers egu oooor fezeers bruooght furt oon thees cunteenent, a noo neshun, cunceeefed in Leeberty, und dedeeceted tu zee prupuseeshun thet ell mee ere-a creeted iqooel. Noo ve-a ere-a ingeged in a greet ceefil ver, testeeng vhezeer thet neshun, oor uny neshun su cunceeefed und su dedeeceted, cun lung indoore-a. Ve-a ere-a met oon a greet bettle-a-feeeld ooff thet ver. Hurty flurty schnipp schnipp! Ve-a hefe-a cume-a tu dedeecete-a a purshun ooff thet feeeld, es a feenel resteeng plece-a fur thuse-a vhu here-a gefe-a zeeur leefes thet thet neshun meeght leefe-a. It is eltugezeer feetting und pruper thet ve-a shuoold du thees. Um gesh dee bork, bork! Boot, in a lerger sense-a, ve-a cun nut dedeecete-a -- ve-a cun nut cunsecrete-a -- ve-a cun nut helloo -- thees gruoond. Bork bork bork! Zee brefe-a mee, leefing und deed, vhu strooggled here-a, hefe-a cunsecreted it, fer ebufe-a oooor puur pooer tu edd oor detrect. Um de hur de hur de hur. Zee vurld veell leettle-a nute-a, nur lung remember vhet ve-a sey here-a, boot it cun nefer furget vhet zeey deed here-a. It is fur us zee leefing, rezeer, tu be-a dedeeceted here-a tu zee unffeenished vurk vheech zeey vhu fuooght here-a hefe-a thoos fer su nubly edfunced. Bork bork bork! It is rezeer fur us tu be-a here-a dedeeceted tu zee greet tesk remeeening beffure-a us -- thet frum zeese-a hunured deed ve-a teke-a increesed defushun tu thet coose-a fur vheech zeey gefe-a zee lest fooll meesoore-a ooff defushun -- thet ve-a here-a heeghly resulfe-a thet zeese-a deed shell nut hefe-a deeed in feeen -- thet thees neshun, under Gud, shell hefe-a a noo burt ooff freedum -- und thet gufernment ooff zee peuple-a, by zee peuple-a, fur zee peuple-a, shell nut pereesh frum zee iert.

Via the Dialectizer.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Miracle Update

I went to see the miracle. As pilgrimages go, it was pretty lightweight, and I'm not expecting any indulgences. The divine hand of god was not in evidence, unless it was helping me navigate across the lanes of clogged and impatient traffic.

I counted two city police cars, one state police, a DOT truck and an unmarked sedan of unknown affiliation. That, and a few dozen fellow pilgrims gathered around the northeast underside of the underpass (which, by the way, stinks to high heaven, although not as bad as the Webster underpass where all the homeless guys camp--funny how the miracle didn't manifest itself over there).

There are barricades around the "image," but people were stepping through them one at a time to kiss their hands, touch them to the "image" and then make the sign of the cross. Several of them brought small children along. The kids can't get that close to the "image," though, because there is a ton of stuff around the base of it; at least fifty botanica candles (many with the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe), flowers (roses, lilies, etc.), a framed pieta, a black-and-white photograph of a woman who is presumable someone's mother or grandmother, etc. People have written around the image as well, and posted things as well. An announcement in Spanish for a local weekly mass lies over the satanic graffiti which you might have seen in some of the photos.

For every person who was standing and contemplating the "image," there were two or three passing through to take a picture. For these people, clearly, this was not about the experience but about marking the fact that they were there, that they saw it, whatever they may think it is. Some had camera-phones, some had small disposable cameras, and one gentleman had an array of photographic equipment strapped to his waist.

There was no group praying or singing. It was difficult to tell the proportion of gawkers to believers. The crowd was overwhelmingly Hispanic, but it's difficult to ascribe much significance to that since I live in an overwhelmingly Hispanic and Catholic area of Chicago.

I have no pictures, seeing as how I have no camera, digital or otherwise. But it looks about the same as the Trib picture did; like a big rounded blob. I'm sure there will be more pictures on the web.

I didn't feel anything, but I was happy not to find the circus atmosphere that I was expecting. One man was selling Peanut M&M's at a respectful distance from the blob, but they were for his son's school. Mostly people seemed curious and open and respectful.

At the same time I was checking out the miracle, a bunch of men from a rigid hierarchical theocracy were deciding on a new leader. I wonder if that new leader will respect and honor the beliefs of the Catholic faithful in all their strangeness and skepticism, or if he will simply take advantage of them. Will he be a blob or an image of his god on earth? The problem is, there is no one answer. It changes depending on your beliefs and your position on issues and on where you stand when you look at the whole mess.

Notre Dame de l'Expressway

You may have seen this on BoingBoing. (More coverage at the Chicago Tribune's site, along with a photo which shows the head-scratching image in all its glory--registration required to view some content.) That's right, the Virgin Mary (or a blob with a passing resemblance thereto) has manifested herself beneath the Kennedy Expressway, about six blocks from my house. I saw a brief mention of it on the news yesterday afternoon, but it was the tail end of the report and I didn't see what location they were actually talking about. So last night around 8 I head out on my way to O'Hare to pick up Marianne, and I run smack into VirginFest05: Conclave This!

It took me about ten minutes to move four blocks. There was actually more foot traffic than there were cars, since the cops have put up barricades to prevent people from parking there. Under normal circumstances the area is an accident investigation site, but they haven't been able to use it for that, obviously. They're hardly able to use it at all; this morning I went to the Y, and on the way back I ended up having to detour pretty widely around the area, since the traffic snarl had extended back another four blocks. I didn't get close enough today to see if the cops and the city vans and the news trucks are all still there.

This is a nutty Catholic thing, and I can say that because I'm lapsed. I mean, the grilled cheese Madonna was a better likeness. Not that I necessarily think that everyone who's walking over there to check it out is a fervent believer; I'd imagine that plenty of them are just trying to figure out what all the fuss is about. Me, I'm just sort of flummoxed. Does this really constitute a miracle? Is the lameness of this "manifestation" a symptom of the barreness of our modern spiritual and imaginative lives? And did Ms. Delgado pass her culinary school final?

I may just have to walk over there today.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Kill Your Cultural Snobbery

I like TV. There! I said it. When I am tired of studying or writing or running around or whatever it is I'm doing, I like to watch. I don't think it inhibits my ability to create. On the contrary, there are plenty of shows that have helped me understand storytelling on a deeper level, and helped shape my personal storytelling aesthetic. The Monkees, for one. Sesame Street and Scooby-Doo were a couple more, early on. Certainly I've watched a fair amount of garbage in my life (CHiPs comes to mind), but selective TV-watching (with the help of Netflix for the cable-impaired) has really taught me a lot about story and character arcs and how, when things are working right, they mesh together into one graceful continuum.

I remember well how Bryan Cholfin's guidelines for Crank! used to exhort submitters to kill their televisions, that it would destroy their ability to tell a story, etc. And I'll grant that perhaps my attention span has suffered from my viewing habits. I have little patience for extended debate on any subject. I start to fidget after about 45 minutes of class. It's likely that too much of my brain space is taken up with memories of St. Elsewhere (which needs to come out on DVD, dammit). But overall, I think I've come out ahead.

I came across a meme on favorite TV shows, asking participants to post a list of 10 favorite shows and characters, and a reason why the characters are favorites. I was thinking about it and I realized that my favorite characters share some interesting traits.

The list:

1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Willow
2. Angel - Wesley
3. Farscape - Aeryn Sun
4. Twin Peaks - FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper
5. Homicide: Life on the Street - Detective Meldrick Lewis
6. Oz - Kareem Said
7. Lost - Sayid
8. Popular - Mary Cherry
9. Xena: Warrior Princess - Xena
10. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - Captain Benjamin Sisko

It's too difficult to pick out a favorite on The Sopranos, because so few of the characters are actually very likeable. I would almost say Paulie, because Paulie is funny, but he's also a mean fucking bastard with a propensity to murder people for no reason. Ditto Silvio, who's one of the more level-headed characters but also a cold-blooded killer.

No reality shows; although there's plenty of drama and some great characters on the Amazing Race or Survivor, there is no plot, just editing.

The analysis:

Six of the above have committed murder. Two of them solve murders. There are six men and four women on the list; the murderers are equally distributed among each gender, while the crime-solvers are both men. Of the men, two are white, three are black, and one is Iraqi. The women are all portrayed by white actresses (although one is an alien) and all but one have at least implied lesbian tendencies. Four are based on the west coast, two on the east, one on a living ship, one on an island of unknown location, one on a space station near Bajor and one in Ancient Greece.

What characteristics do they share? The primary one is that they are driven, often to the point of madness; they have goals, in other words, and they pursue them with greater or lesser degrees of ruthlessness. Willow, Wesley, Cooper, Meldrick, Xena, and Sisko are your basic Defenders of Good, with agendas colored by their affiliations and backgrounds. Cooper, Meldrick and Sisko, for example, are sanctioned by a state or other organization. Cooper is also endearingly nuts (perhaps); I'll never forget the first time I saw him start telling Sheriff Truman, Andy, Hawk, and Lucy about his Tibetan meditation approach to solving Laura Palmer's murder. That, and his gleeful appreciation of everything from Douglas Firs to "damn fine coffee," gives added dimension to a character who has a better handle on what's going on in the woods than anyone else will ever have, including David Lynch. Meldrick is probably the most "normal" person on this list, but it is his commitment to his own moral code which makes him a particular favorite. He sees his profession as a calling, not just a job. That, his humor, his hat, and the simple Meldrick-ness of him, make him a standout on a show full of great personalities. Out in space, Sisko is also driven by a strong sense of justice, but he's a little crazier than Meldrick. He's by far the most whacked-out of all the leads of the various Star Trek shows, a far cry from the genteel Picard (he was created as a foil to Locutus, after all) and even more unpredictable than Kirk. Plus, he likes baseball, so that's another point.

Willow, Wesley, and Xena are free agents in the Battle Against Evil, and the level of obsession that requires is what I find appealing. Willow's motivations are never deeply explored, but her rise from adorable nerd to bad-ass Wicca is meteoric and disturbing. I do think the power-drunk Willow storyline of Season Six is a weak point of the series, mainly because of the aforementioned motivation; in the absence of deeper analysis, Willow's moral code would appear to be the reason for her deep commitment to fighting evil--indeed, she often served as the moral center of the show in its early seasons. When she tosses this aside to seek revenge for her lover's death, the characterization crumbles. Wesley, on the other hand, has the sort of Deep Darkness in his past which makes for interesting characterization; true, the DD is eventually ascribed to (yawn) "Daddy Issues" which are left mercifully unplumbed, but in the uber-darkness of Season 4 Angel, Wesley shines as a man committed to fighting on without either friends or job satisfaction. His transformation from clueless milqutoast to stubbly dark knight is one of the more triumphant arcs of the Whedonverse, and Alexis Denisof does a wonderful job with it.

Xena is another character with a lot of darkness in her past; aside from Angel himself, she's probably the only mass-murdering character to have her own TV show. As a warlord Xena slaughtered thousands; in the series, she's trying to atone for that by fighting for good, but the darkness is never far behind. Sometimes it's personified, in characters like Callisto, the lone and insane survivor of one of Xena's raids. At other times it's more subtle--say, in the glee with which Xena approaches the inevitable violence. She enjoys kicking ass, and that's part of her problem. She's an addict, and even though she gets her fix by helping people, there's always a bit of doubt in the viewer's mind as to whether she might not flip back to the darkness again. Xena is very different from Aeryn Sun in this respect. Aeryn isn't addicted to violence, but it's all she's ever known. Once she sees that there are alternatives, she begins to wish to leave it behind--but the violence always finds her, and she is more than willing to fight back. She's a darker character than Xena in this respect--she takes no joy in killing, yet she does it repeatedly, to defend herself and the ones she loves. She does good, but more often than not it's incidental to her action, and not the intent (although her intentions are rarely evil, either). She fears that violence is her birthright and she will never escape it. But this fear is her own, and she doesn't care to share it with anyone, not even Crichton. She's every bit as scary as Ogami Itto, because once she's expelled by the Peacekeepers the only counsel she keeps is in her own head, and you never know when she might decide to cut loose anyone around her.

This leaves a prisoner, a castaway, and a high school student. Kareem Said serves as a fascinating examination of a man of deep faith, a man who teaches and exhorts but also fears and questions. He lives in a place where violence and degradation are the norm, and yet most of the time he manages to rise above it all, even to rise above the correctional system itself and make a political impact. Yet he feels his failures deeply, and is not content. He wants to effect deep and lasting change, but this lofty goal constantly conflicts with his need to be humble before his god. The other Sayid on my list is more of a cipher, and he may not stand out as my favorite character in the long run; there's enough going on on "Lost" that his status could change at any moment. But I like that he's not just slid into the "Professor" role of the castaways; he's a destroyer as well as a creator, a man trained to torture and break down humans as well as to repair and build machines. I'm not sure what I think about the Sayid/Shannon relationship, but I like that he has ghosts that he's trying to outrun. I doubt he will.

Finally, there's the odd character out here, the fabulous Mary Cherry from the highly underrated "Popular." Initially not much more than a wealthy girl who bought herself onto the cheerleading squad, by the end of Season 1 Mary Cherry had grown into an outlandish figure with a purposely exaggerated Southern accent, a purse which regularly produced items such as shovels and poison darts, and a tendency to score as "Serial Killer" on aptitude tests. Played with a genius bordering on madness by the mega-talented Leslie Grossman, Mary Cherry was obsessed with her own social status and the elusive approval of her mama (Cherry Cherry, played by Delta Burke). Both seasons of Popular are out on DVD now, and I guarantee you've never seen anything like Mary Cherry full-throttle.