Existential Woodchucks

"When I see the blind and wretched state of woodchucks, when I survey the whole universe in its deadness, and each chuck left to himself with no light, as though lost in this corner of the universe without knowing who put him there, what he has to do, or what will become of him when he dies, incapable of knowing anything, I am moved to terror, like a woodchuck transported in his sleep to some terrifying desert island, who wakes up quite lost, with no means of escape. Then I marvel that so wretched a state does not drive chucks to despair."  Blaise Pascal
"There is much in being that woodchucks cannot master. There is but little that comes to be known. What is known remains inexact, what is mastered insecure."                                                Martin Heidegger
“Thus it amounts to the same thing whether one gets drunk alone or is a leader of nations.” Jean-Paul Sartre
“I can't go on, I'll go on.” Samuel Beckett

Some Stuff I Saw Recently on British Television

Recent circumstances have conspired to allow for an unexpected and prolonged review of British television.  The following addresses some of the current highlights now screening in the UK.  British citizens might want to skip this post as they may well find it highly a). boring in its obviousness or b). offensive in its ignorance of local custom.

Many in America only know British TV through the feeble gatekeepers that are BBC-America, a network that seems to subsist entirely on Top Gear, Dr. Who, and the Graham Norton Show.  Others only know the Edwardian porn that ends up on PBS.  A few more Anglophiles may know such workhorses as EastEnders and Coronation Street (both still going strong--on one of these two, a tram or a pram either just crashed or blew up or something, so if you haven't tuned in for awhile you might want to check and see what's up). 

These are all fine programs, but they have little to do with the truly gobsmacking schlock that British TV produces so effortlessly.  There is a lot of crap on American TV, obviously, but none of the U.S. shows have the same feel for the medium as do the British series.  Yes, various branches of the BBC, ITV, and other venues put much time and attention into high quality drama, but they also generate hours of chatty and delightfully disposable television, series that are more about amiably killing a little time than demanding riveted attention or cultish adoration.  It's a bit of relief, quite frankly.  

Keep in mind that what the British allow Americans to see on Tv is like what the Columbians allow Americans to snort in cocaine--a fine product cut many times over by horse tranquilizers and talcum powder.  In fact, there are some programs on British television that might very well kill the unsuspecting American viewer, especially if s/he is expecting something along the lines of Downton Abbey.


I saw this on Channel 4. Now you've seen it too.
Case in point--Channel 4's Embarrassing Bodies: Live from the Clinic.  Here distressed citizens can Skype their embarrassing bits live on national television so that two physicians (at least they claim to be physicians) can give them a quick diagnosis and a possible program of treatment.  "How bad can that be?" wonder those who have had the FCC sheltering their sensibilities for 80 years.  "It's just people asking about nose jobs or diet regimens, right?"  I have just two words to disabuse you of that notion: anal fistula.  Yes, on British television, it is absolutely okay to broadcast--live and in HD--an oozing, weeping, bloody anal fistula. This "embarrassment" is such a crowd-pleaser in fact, that I saw two such fistulas in back-to-back episodes.  

You might be asking why any sane person would unveil a bloody anal fistula on television.  That's the genius of Embarrassing Bodies--it walks the narrow line dividing "freak show" and "public health campaign."  In other words, it's educational!  And as the show repeatedly reminds the viewer, "There's no shame, we're all the same."  It's an admirable sentiment.  Still, it's a bit startling to see a 17-year-old girl reveal the infected ingrown hairs on her labia, only to have one of the physicians comment, "Well I can see you've begun your menses, so we'll leave it there, shall we?" Twenty years ago, an aficionado of teen menses porn had to know a guy who knew a guy who knew about a one-armed man in a certain alley in Kyoto where such a sight might be arranged for a few thousand dollars.  Now it's on the TV!

Other segments are more traditionally educational though no less naughty, as when the lady doctor on the show did a taped segment interviewing some teenage lads about the hazards of coitus interruptus (that hazard would be a baby, btw).  To make her point, the physician invited one of the boys to retire to another room for a quick wank, instructing him to spray his ejaculate (as best he could) in equal spurts across three specimen cups.  Why?  She wanted to demonstrate to the boys that the first spurt not only contains the most sperm, but also the most aggressive and determined of the ovum-busters.  Lesson learned for the lads--pulling out is not a plan. 


Slightly less astounding but no less entertaining is a panel show called Celebrity Juice.  This has been on since 2008, apparently, but this was the first I had seen of it.  Celebrity Juice is a particularly raunchy example of a staple in British television--the panel/chat/gameshow.  This format is on every channel in the U.K, and consists of a loquacious host with a colorful personality asking questions or assigning tasks to a couple of panel teams sitting on either side.  In the USA, NBC has recently attempted this genre in the wrist-slashingly awful Hollywood Game Night, a program that mistakenly thinks viewers actually want to see celebrities playing stupid parlor games  (as if anyone wants to watch Lisa Kudrow or Tom Arnold pantomiming the titles of Tom Cruise movies).   

The British chat-panels center more on a seemingly endless roster of minor celebrities who are famous primarily for appearing on television, either as a "presenter" or as a regular panelist on one of these programs.  Imagine a world of Carson Dalys and Ryan Secrests moving from program to program every night of the week.  Actually, that's not a fair comparison.  To be on the British chat-panels, one has to be quick-witted and amusing--most of the contestants are people who make a living by improvising on TV/Radio everyday.  As most Americans know, however, the talents of Daly and Secrest remain completely unknown--perhaps dormant, but maybe even wholly non-existent. 


Recent hilarity on "Celebrity Juice"
Celebrity Juice is hosted by a character named "Keith Lemon" (the alter ego of a comedian named Leigh Francis). He is assisted by two ITV presenters, Fearne Cotton and Holly Willoughby, who lead two teams of guest celebs through an obstacle course of low comedy and bawdy pranks.  Highlights that I witnessed included two women flicking each other in the forehead until one of them forced the other to spill a plate of baked beans balanced on the head; a contestant invited to sniff and identify stains on a bed sheet (strawberry jam, some variety of shit, and bull semen, if you care); a blindfolded man told that he was sticking his big toe in Holly Willoughby's vagina when in fact he was inserting it inside a whole fryer chicken; a host of Britain's Got Talent invited to "motorboat" the enormous breasts of an elderly woman; another guest made to lick marmalade from the naval of an elderly man; two women with pens in their mouths attempting to draw penises on one another's foreheads; and host Lemon asking a seemingly well-known brother and sister singing duo if they had ever shagged.  Throughout these contests, Lemon frequently inserts his two big catch-phrases:  "Bang Tidy!" and "Potato!"  

Not everything on British TV is this delightfully crude, of course.  I spent a perfectly tranquil twenty minutes with BBC1 watching a barn owl harvest voles from a meadow while the host, standing nearby with his binoculars, whispered over-and-over again, "marvelous ...marvelous... what a privilege."  And there are many formats currently in vogue on both sides of the Atlantic--houses to be flipped; deadbeat dads to be DNA-tested; amateur gourmets meals to be cooked. 

Perhaps the most striking difference between British and U.S. TV at the moment is that the U.K. still treats television as television.  "On-Demand" and streaming formats are the future in the U.K. as well, obviously, but the actual channels--BBC, ITV, Channel Four, etc--still do their best to engage in some form of cohesive address (no doubt with all the political difficulties attending any illusion of consensus broadcasting).  As a nation state, the United Kingdom may well be as fictional as the United States at this point, but it still maintains some of the broadcast protocols of currency and orality that give the programming a temporal order rapidly evaporating in the USA.  Much of the evening fare in the U.K. has a casual, conversational feel to it that favors dipping-in over DVR-ing.  There are the big "quality" series, shot on film in limited episode runs, but these feel like presentations that emerge from the larger live address of the network itself.  In other words, whereas shows in the USA now simply appear in their designated slots (often for the purpose of recording), British television still has a sense of presenting its program to the viewer (hence the uniquely British occupation of being a "presenter").  


In the USA, for example, the McFarland empire of Family Guy and American Dad has colonized four or five different channels (Fox, Cartoon network, syndication, TBS).  The programs unfurl rather unceremoniously--they just happen to be what's on at the moment.  These series are also currently running late-night on BBC3.  But on the Beeb, there is still enough devotion to the art of broadcasting that someone, somewhere, actually goes to the trouble of writing original continuity to introduce each and every episode (along with such real American stinkers like Two and a Half-Men, 2 Broke Girls, and The Big Bang Theory).  In other words, an announcer takes a few seconds to preview whatever hijinx Sheldon, Peter, or Charlie are about to get into, as if the episode itself was actually unique, substantial, and a scheduled event of some kind rather than yet more interchangeable product coming down the boredom pipe.  

Sure, it's the same program in the U.K. as in the U.S., but at least in the U.K., someone is paid to appear enthusiastic about whatever is coming up next.  Given the collective depression of network identity in the U.S., it's a nice change of pace.  

Science-Fictiony Writing in "Beyond the Sealed World" (1965)

Select prose from Beyond the Sealed World (1965) by Rena Vale

"Daly 1444 moved cautiously on his sponge pallet."

"Was he not pledged to mate with Calinda 1066, the most desirable and influential female in all the world of Science?"

"One of them drew a nozzle from his belt and played a paralyzing ray over the girl's twitching form."

"'I come now to the name of Daly 1444, the promising young scientist who has given Civilization the delightful Fragarian flavor, formerly known as Strawberries and Cream.'"

"'The banishment spool!' Claude whispered in surprise."

"His organs had rebelled against what was called rabbit stew, but he had been able to ingest some quail broth."

"He had not considered it beneath the dignity of an official of the Useless Center to visit a public Recreation Hall and to exchange signals with the first receptive female of sturdy hips and oversized mammary glands who entered."

"He began to dress, noting that the organ of which he was unduly proud had become engorged. He whistled air through wide-spaced teeth. Did he dare?"

"'Brugo make big feast for buzzards with Corn People.'"

"'That shall be the name of this tasty fat grain.'"

"'Jerome excited an endocrine indicator and rather than betray us, he threw himself in an induction oven.'"

"'Your current is deranged, Daly.'"

"'Paralyze the pariahs with your nozzle.'"

"'I am your love, Prince Daly! she shrilled. 'You promised my father you would marry with me, and I gave myself to you when you squeezed my naked teats!"

"As if to emphasize his statement the sirens of zero blasted, their goose-like whonks echoing through the center, adding a note of doom."


Rena Vale (1898–1983) was a writer who was a scriptwriter for Universal Studios in Hollywood from 1926 to 1930 and in the 1930s was an investigator for a U.S. House of Representatives committee that later became the House Committee on Un-American Activities. (wiki)




I Have Questions for Godzilla


1. What's in it for Godzilla?

2. Did the filmmakers forget that killing Bryan Cranston so early in the movie would leave a sucking void on the human investment front? 

3. Wouldn't it be easier to go AROUND Las Vegas?

4. How did Ford Brody find his son at the end?

5. Dr. Ishiro Serizawa is a specialist in what, exactly?

6. Is Godzilla such an "alpha predator" that he doesn't even need to eat what he kills?  

7. Is Godzilla just a homicidal asshole?

8. Was there another cut with Ford Brody having to decide between snipping the red or blue wire?

9. When the MUTO surprise attacks the train carrying the nuke, how did the military lose track of where that MUTO was? 

10. Why should I be rooting for the Brody family over the MUTO family?

11. Can Sally Hawkins sue? 


12. There are two MUTO pods at the beginning, but the female MUTO lays a billion eggs in that trench, so what's up with the MUTO reproductive cycle?

13. Again, does Godzilla simply kill for sport?

14. All in all, would this attack make the real estate values in San Francisco go up or down?

15. Wouldn't the task of opening Bryan Cranston's 1999 floppy drives be even more daunting than nuking a MUTO?

16. Why, exactly, are all the reptoids heading to San Francisco with a flower in their scales?

17.  Was the Japanese boy sidekick a clever red herring or just shitty writing?

18. Where the hell was Godzilla when all those monsters were sneaking through the cracks in Pacific Rim?


19. Where the hell was Godzilla when all those aliens were blowing up Hawaii in Battleship?

20. Where the hell was Godzilla when they were shooting Grace of Monaco? 




"Game of Thrones" Might Kill You


Despite my best efforts, the audience for HBO's Game of Thrones continues to grow.  Over the past two seasons, I've done my best to shame all responsible adults into rethinking their attachment to this faux-medieval malarkey, first here and then here.  But to no avail.  As season three begins this week, "Thronies" show no sign of relenting in their effort to further imperil an already moronic culture with even more toxic levels of regressive fantasizing. 

I can only make one final attempt to convince Game of Thrones fans to cease and desist before it is too late.   Below are actual case histories, gathered from regional press coverage and psychiatric journals, that demonstrate just what a terrible influence Game of Thrones is having on the culture at large.  After reviewing these true accounts of the series' harmful impact on its viewers, it is my sincere hope that all people of taste and intelligence will stand together to wipe out the scourge of "fantasy"--in print, on film, on TV--once and for all.  Thank you.

1. Roy Tolcheck (42) Tampa Bay, Florida

Co-workers first began to worry about Roy Tolcheck when he brought in the "diorama."

Barbie's severed head.
"Roy dressed up this Ken doll in some kind of weird chain-metal," recalls Sarah Vallens, a fellow accountant at Terra Rock and Gravel.  "That wasn't too bad, except the Ken doll was holding up a decapitated Barbie head in its hand.  And it was really grisly. He had painted all of these little strands of dental floss to hang out the bottom of her neck like veins and tendrils and such.  It was really gross."

When HR manager Ken Bakerson asked Roy about the display, he explained that it depicted a key scene from his favorite TV show, HBO's Game of Thrones.  "A place where they have honor," Roy added, "not like here at Terra Mock and Grovel." 

Bakerson asked Tolcheck to remove the display by the end of the day and to also refrain from calling the company "Mock and Grovel."

"Roy took an early lunch," remembers Vallens, "and when he got back, everyone acted like nothing had happened.  Still, we were concerned."

Two weeks later Roy brought in another diorama. "This time it was two Barbie dolls wearing only fur vests, really going to town on each other," remembers Vallens.  "He had them on this chunk of foam rubber that he had cut and painted to look like a giant slab of rock, and there were these little maces and jousting javelins on the floor under them."
 
Bakerson was less patient during their second confrontation.  "I told him to 'cut the shit.'  You know this isn't appropriate in an office environment. What the hell is wrong with you?"

Tolcheck agreed to remove the offensive display immediately, but oddly, he first circulated through the office demanding that his co-workers stroke the little fur vests on the two Barbie dolls. "They were very soft and realistic," recalls data processor Gus Zeitman.  "He seemed really proud of the craftsmanship."

In the days that followed, Bakerson began the necessary paper work for a formal reprimand and possible dismissal.  But in the end there was no need.  After Tolchek missed an entire week of work without notifying his employer, Bakerson called the police to check on their troubled employee. 

They found Tolchek dead at the bottom of the staircase in his condo, his neck cut at the jugular vein.

"We thought for sure it was a suicide," said Detective Harry Coupland, the first investigator on the scene.  "But in the end the coroner ruled it an accident."

"Mr. Tolcheck had apparently been running down the stairs in some homemade medieval pantaloons when he tripped and landed on his broadsword.  He was knocked unconscious by the fall and bled out on the carpet."

Finding Tocheck's exsanguinated body was disturbing, certainly, but even this did not prepare authorities for the weird spectacle in Tolcheck's basement.

Condemned
Coupland again: "He had made his own little guillotine. Apparently he was using it to mete out justice to local animals that he believed had wronged him in some way."

Authorities found nine small animal cages stacked in three rows of three against the back wall of the basement.  At the top of the cages, Tolcheck had fashioned his own crude coat-of-arms cut from balsa wood with the motto Ludus Thronis ("Game of Thrones" in Latin) written in red magic-marker.

By the time authorities arrived, only two animals remained on Tolcheck's "Death Row."  A corpulent raccoon dozed in a cage affixed with a note card reading, "Judged guilty for repeated and wanton mischief in the Kingdom's trash cans."  Inside another cage was a shoebox, taped shut and punched with air holes.  Inside the box was a small field mouse, condemned for "pillaging the Kingdom's last box of Devil Dogs." 

"It was a pretty weird sight," Coupland recalls.  "And then we found the tannery." 

In the back of the basement, Tolcheck had been drying several cat and dog pelts--the apparent source of the realistic detail in his dioramas. 

"In a way it's fortunate he stopped himself before we had to stop him," reflected the Detective. "Nut jobs like that almost always escalate to hunting and killing humans.  I blame Game of Thrones."


Krissy Ronson (15) Yazoo City, Mississippi

Sitting in the shadows of her kitchen in Yazoo City, Mississippi, Angela Ronson is crying.  Her daughter, Krissy, has been missing for three months, and with each passing day her return seems more and more unlikely.

"If we could go back in time, I'd make sure Krissy never saw a second of that goddamn show," sobs Mrs. Ronson.  That "goddam show" is Games of Thrones, the HBO series Ronson blames for turning her impressionable daughter into a witch, perhaps even a thrall of Satan.

"My husband and I didn't really think it through when we let her watch the show with us.  At first we couldn't even tell if she understood it, but by the second season some dark force had obviously come over her.  It's all she talked about."

Krissy's love of Game of Thrones proved to be a gateway to an interest in magic, witchcraft, and other forms of mystical horseshit.  On the night of Krissy's 13th birthday, the Ronsons found an old suitcase under Krissy's bed.  "It was full of tarot cards and books on Wicca," remembers Mrs. Ronson.  "Her father made her throw it all out--He wouldn't abide any devil stuff in the house."

But this only made Krissy pursue her occult interests in private.  Through the fall of 2012, relations in the Ronson family became increasingly strained as Krissy worked to perfect her "white magic."

"I can conjure a unicorn," she announced one morning at breakfast.  "After she left for school, her father and I just sat down and cried for an hour," Mrs. Ronson remembers. 

Mr. Ronson's photo of the backyard pentagram.
And then on October 30, 2012, Walpurgis, Mr. and Mrs. Ronson sat in their living room watching television.  "We heard a bloodcurdling scream in the back yard. We both ran out back and that's when we saw it."

What the Ronsons saw was a pentagram burning in their grass.  In the middle, mysteriously untouched by the flames, was Krissy's backpack-- still full of her magic books and witchy totems. 

But Krissy was nowhere to be seen.  She has not been seen since.

Mr. Ronson believes he knows where she is.  "She's with Lucifer now, the dark Lord. And we'll never see her again...all because of that stupid TV show where everyone talks in old-timey English about bullshit that never happened anyway."

A broken man, Mr. Ronson pauses beneath the tree where Krissy disappeared. "We should have made her watch Mad Men instead. Worst thing there she's giving hand jobs to strangers at the movie theater...but at least she'd still be alive."

In the kitchen, Angela Ronson bursts into tears once more.


Colby Gunderson (22) Kenosha, Wisconsin

The "summer of thrones" had been magical for Colby and his new girlfriend Chelsea, at least for the first few weeks.

They met on Memorial Day at Six Flags Great America, both standing in line to buy cotton candy for their little sisters. Five hours later, at closing time, Chelsea invited Colby to drive up to her parent's house in Peewaukee that weekend to start watching Game of Thrones.  

Chelsea loved Game of Thrones and knew Colby would love it too.  The plan was to watch two episodes each Saturday until they were both ready for the third season in 2013.  They decided 8pm Saturday would be their standing Thrones "date night," enough time for Chelsea to freshen up after her shift at the Waukesha Taco Bell and for Colby to drive up from his auto-detailing job in Kenosha. 

Inadvertently soaked in motor oil.
By the July 4th holiday, Colby was in love.  "She opened me up to all kinds of new things. And she didn't even get mad when my brother Chuck threw the Anne McCaffrey novel she lent me into an old bucket of motor oil."

By the beginning of August, however, Colby sensed something was wrong. Chelsea seemed distant, almost embarrassed to have Colby showing up on her doorstep each Saturday night.  Colby sensed it was because Chelsea was already thinking of the fall when she'd return to the UW-Green Bay for her sophomore year.

"Gotta do something big," Chuck told him one night, flushing out an engine block in the Gunderson back yard. "College girl like that. Soon as she's back up in Green Bay, she'll dump you for sure unless you do something real big. Got to give her a reason to remember you."

Driving back to Kenosha after a particularly awkward Thrones double-feature, Colby had an epiphany.

He would give her a dragon.

But how?

Colby's first attempt at a dragon was a complete disaster.  Taking his own good idea a little too literally, he had convinced himself that an iguana might provide a suitable foundation for the mythical flying lizard.   With a little latex and paint, he reasoned, he could fashion some fairly convincing dragon wings.  But a trip to the Pet World in nearby Gurnee Mills put an end to that plan.

"Iguanas are like two hundred bucks," Colby recalls.

The Gecko: a cheaper lizard than the Iguana.
A Gecko, on the other hand, was well within Colby's price range.  Soon he was back at his kitchen table in Kenosha fashioning a pair of wings.

"They were pretty good.  I made a frame and a little harness out of pipe cleaners and then stretched some green latex over them.  The little bastard could wriggle out of it in a couple minutes, but for a little while he really looked like a dragon--and that's all I needed."  

Saturday, August 11: Colby is on the Interstate heading to Peewaukee, his "dragon" in a small cigar box on the passenger seat.  But tragedy strikes when he stops at a Shell station on the south side of Milwaukee.

"I left a Gatorade bottle on top of the box, but I guess he found a way out while I was pumping gas.  When I came back from the cashier, I saw him darting across the concrete and into the weeds."

Inside the car, only the bent pipe-cleaners remained.

"I felt bummed for the little guy.  I remember thinking if somebody didn't find him quick, there's no way he was going to make it through the winter."

That night's Throne date was even worse than the week before.  Not only did Chelsea seem distant, she also started taking about "Ryan."

Colby remembers the evening bitterly. "Ryan was some dude in her graphic design class.  Suddenly she's telling me how talented Ryan is, and how funny Ryan is, and on and on.  Like I need to drive ninety minutes round trip to hear how fucking great this Ryan asshole is."

Colby knew he only had one chance left. 

Colby in costume, just before driving to Waukesha
"It was Chuck's idea. He had a friend who used to play in a Kiss cover band down in Rockford.  He was so sure how everything worked, I just let him get all the stuff and put it together."

The plan: Colby, dressed as a dragon, would surprise Chelsea at the end of her shift at Taco Bell.

After making sure Chelsea was working the drive-thru window, Chuck and Colby would drive up to the menu.  As Chuck placed a fake order, Colby would get out of the car and prepare his costume.

"I didn't really have time to make a special dragon suit," remembers Colby. "So I just rented this Godzilla Halloween costume instead."

Saturday, August 18, 2012: The plan is proceeding perfectly.  With the decoy Nachos Belle Grande ordered, Colby exits from the passenger side and makes his way to the drive-thru window.

He stops briefly to prepare a final detail. Inside his dragon head is a small section of quarter-inch PVC piping. Colby inserts a dollop of paraffin into the pipe opening and flicks his lighter.

This dragon will breathe fire.

But something goes wrong, horribly wrong.

"I meant to shoot the fire from my mouth before Chelsea opened the window," Colby recalls. "But for some reason it took a while to ignite.  So just when Chelsea swings the window open, whoosh!"

Luckily, the flames miss Chelsea.  Colby also remains uninjured from the mishap. 

But the errant flame arcs across the kitchen and ignites a leaky pilot light on one of the Taco Bell stoves.  Soon a nearby closet used to store paper napkins and burrito wrappers is engulfed in flames.  Patrons flee as the building becomes a raging conflagration.

Three months later, Colby and his brother Chuck sit in their back yard nursing a couple of beers.

"At least no one got hurt," Colby says, his head hung low.  "But the Taco Bell was a total loss.  And I'm getting sued by Pepsico, so there's that."

"I told you not to blow through the tube so hard," his brother adds.

"Go fuck yourself, Chuck," says Colby. 

"'Summer of thrones,'" he adds, almost in a whisper.  "I am such an idiot."
August 18, 2012: The Waukesha Taco Bell burns to the ground, ignited by a man pretending to be a dragon.





Surface, Sociopaths, and Spring Breakers



In a fair world, or at least one less crippled by stupidity and mediocrity, James Franco's "Look at my shit" speech from Spring Breakers (2013) would be one of the scenes featured in the Academy's "Best Picture" clip-reel at next year's Oscars.  Just imagine how amazing it would be to see Ron Howard, Ryan Gosling, or some other safely bankable Hollywood functionary forced to take the stage and read an Academy staff writer's impression of what Spring Breakers is about:

"In a chilling performance, James Franco captures the essence of evil as he seduces four young girls into a life of crime..."

"James Franco is terrifying as the local crime kingpin who turns an innocent rite of passage into a nightmarish ordeal."

All of this would be bullshit, of course, but probably as close as Hollywood could come to getting a moralistic bead on this movie's unapologetic nihilism.  But it would all be worth it to see the lights in the Kodak theater go dark so that TV America could witness the corn-rowed, grill-bedazzled "Alien" (James Franco) inventorying the contents of his sick St. Pete bedroom:

This is the fuckin' American dream. This is my fuckin' dream, y'all!

All this sheeyit! Look at my sheeyit!

I got … I got SHORTS! Every fuckin' color.

I got designer T-shirts!

I got gold bullets. Motherfuckin' VAM-pires.

I got Scarface. On repeat. SCARFACE ON REPEAT. Constant, y'all!

I got Escape! Calvin Klein Escape! Mix it up with Calvin Klein Be. Smell nice? I SMELL NICE!

That ain't a fuckin' bed; that's a fuckin' art piece. My fuckin' spaceship! U.S.S. Enterprise on this shit. I go to different planets on this motherfucker! Me and my fuckin' Franklins here, we take off. TAKE OFF!

Look at my shit. Look at my shit! I got my blue Kool-Aid.

I got my fuckin' NUN-CHUCKS.

I got shurikens; I got different flavors.

I got them sais. Look at that shit, I got sais. I got blades!

Look at my sheeyit! This ain't nuttin', I got ROOMS of this shit!

I got my dark tannin' oil … lay out by the pool, put on my dark tanning oil …

I got machine guns … Look at this, look at this motherfucker here! Look at this motherfucker! Huh? A fucking army up in this shit!"

This will never happen, of course, because Hollywood will be too busy auto-fellating itself with the historical import, social relevance, and quality competence of another Lincoln or Argo.  Meanwhile,  Harmony Korine's sublimely ugly and mean-spirited takedown of American awesomeness will likely go unnoticed, a film that in its own way says, "yeah, Lincoln was a great guy for passing the 13th Amendment and Argo is the story of some very heroic patriots, but in the end, nothing could stop America's manifestly obscene destiny to become a nightmare of beer funnels, breast implants, blow, and Skrillex.

Incredibly, not from the film SPRING BREAKERS
There are so many things to admire in Spring Breakers. Dear God, the opening-- Topless coeds reclining in crablike submission before a line of frat guys dousing the tit-line in beer drizzled from cock-level, all to the throbbing beats of a "brostep" soundtrack (and what is Skrillex, after all, if not the sound of a giant throbbing dick?  Rockers used to just sing about how awesome it was to have a penis.  With Skrillex, it's as if contact microphones have been buried deep within the corpus spongeium to capture the slow-motion sonic spasms of penile ejaculation).  Truly, the opening five minutes of Spring Breakers is the most terrifyingly apocalyptic marriage of sound and image since A-bomb met "We'll Meet Again" in Dr. Strangelove. 

There is also the beautiful deflation of the particularly American and particularly pathetic fantasy that one can "reinvent" oneself by going someplace warmer with more sunshine (as Nathanial West's Homer Simpson discovers, the only difference between being miserable in Nebraska and miserable in Hollywood is that Hollywood adds the additional misery of thinking one should be happier because they are no longer in Nebraska).  Thus the film's dreamlike mantra from Alien/Franco, "Spring Break foe-evah, y'all," as if a life of perpetual intoxication, fucking, and sun-drenched beach-balling wouldn't eventually become its own version of hell (or at least a gateway to terrible, terrible chaffing). In a particularly nasty running commentary, Faith (Selena Gomez) waxes rhapsodic about how she has finally "found herself" during the trip to Florida, that "self" being a drunken sloth motivated primarily by a reluctance to go back to college and do something useful in life.

There is also the subtle formal play, where each significant scene comes together slowly through audio repetition and a gradual elaboration of the space.  Spring Breakers is experimental enough to leave some spatio-temporal (and thus narrative) relations in ambiguity, and yet it is narratively cohesive enough to dangle two successive genre hooks ("Spring Break" film to "Crime Caper" movie) that end up frustrating any viewer actually expecting either of these genres to play out.

"Spring break bitch"
As an educator, I also appreciated the irony of the girls ignoring a lecture on the black civil rights movement to express, in ink, their desire for spring break cock, and then embarking on an adventure that culminates with two of them slaughtering the African-American drug-workers who have made their week of weed and coke-fueled fornication possible.  Circle of white-privileged life, that.

Spring Breakers' most impressive move, however, is its mid-point switcheroo, that moment when the power dynamic shifts to reveal the film's ultimate destination--a merciless examination of a millennial soullessness that believes itself entitled to endless sensory agitation and ever-escalating plateaus of pleasure. 

Love, power, terror, all of the above
When the foursome first meet Franco as sleazy bondsman, Korine deftly exploits America's intense investment in white teenage girls (especially blonds) to generate an extended sequence of sexual menace.  Ass, grass, or gas, right?  Nothing's free. Alien will get his bail money back one way or another.  The situation becomes even more charged when "whigger" Alien takes his four bikini-clad guests to the pool hall in the black gangsta section of St. Petersberg.  Those girls are going to get raped, thinks every white middle-class person in the audience (even though the drunk fratfucks back at the beach are a much better bet for sexual battery).  Being semi-nude in front of black men is so troubling for Faith, it actually makes her the first to defect.  Later, Cotty (Rachel Korine) takes a bullet to the arm, making her the second to get out of dirty Dodge.  But that leaves two, Candy (Vanessa Hudgens) and Brit (Ashley Benson).  Before you know it, they have Alien fellating his own loaded handguns, leading to a powerful epiphany--white college girls who feel entitled to the powers and pleasures that are their birthright are much more fearsomely evil than any bumbling, dumbass, drug-dealing, whigger, wannabe rapper like Alien.

Alien sings Spears
All of which makes the film's Britney Spears interlude all the more haunting, Alien expressing his "sensitive side" in a tableau of tragic kitsch, playing Spears ballad "Everytime" on a white piano outside by the pool. 

Everytime I try to fly I fall
Without my wings
I feel so small
I guess I need you baby
And everytime I see
You're in my dreams
I see your face
It's haunting me
I guess I need you baby


It is a moment of mass-elite pornography, a charged image of just how shitty the world has become in a scant ten years, made all the more poignant in that Alien appears so genuinely moved by this treacle.   
The new alien order.
And this is perhaps the film's biggest surprise.  Alien, the drug-dealing playa who preys on America's teenage tourists, ends up being an almost tragic figure of quaint nostalgia.  The real "aliens" are Candy and Brit, emblematic of a new social order of normative sociopathy, a world where the blocks, neuroses, and repressions of the Freudian unconscious have all finally evaporated. Alien became a criminal because he was poor and needed the money. And he at least feels a little bad about having to murder his old mentor, Archie.  Not so Candy and Brit.  They'll do it for money. For drugs. For revenge. For orgasms. For notoriety. For the fuck of it. For the intense pleasure that comes with exercising a type of violent sexual power (an orgy rehearsed earlier in a Quik Stop parking lot). They are pure surface in search of pure surface stimulation and they are the future.

In many ways, Spring Breakers is even more courageous than Korine's previous and still most notorious exercise in outrage, Gummo (1997).  Whether Korine was sincere or not, Gummo at least feigned some sympathy for those trapped in the hell of the white rural underclass.  The community's poverty and lack of education gave the viewer some cover for trying to understand why exactly some poor souls might find it awesome to pour gasoline on a cat and light it on fire.  But Spring Breakers is propelled by pure contempt.  It really seems to hate the world it is depicting.  And that's okay.  Certain subjects demand contempt.

Fuck you I am awesome.
Moreover, the film's vérité cast of actual spring breakers mirrors this contempt back to the camera whenever it gets the chance.  The story is disturbing, to be sure, and its politics a bit dicey perhaps. But nothing is more unsettling than the repeated B-Roll of various spring breakers in their aviator shades, swaying drunkenly while presenting genitals engorged with blood, cocaine, and Red Bull, flipping the bird to no one in particular in an abstract gesture of "fuck you-ness."  Who is this bird directed at? Perhaps it is some unseen person or force who would dare challenge the flipper's right to perpetual stimulation and an attending sense of free-floating awesomeness.  Or maybe, in the new sociopathy, pleasure itself becomes increasingly contingent on radiating contempt at those around you, those who might challenge or even take away your right to perpetual stimulation and free-floating awesomeness.
 
Perhaps Sofia Coppola's semi-companion piece, The Bling Ring, will provide further illumination on this issue.

Spring break foe-evah, y'all. 






Insidious Lighting Schemes

What are things like in the afterlife?

Mystics, philosophers, and theologians have debated this for centuries, but as yet have little to show for it.  For a while great hope was put on a tunnel of light leading to a lost childhood pet, but most now recognize this to be a defensive form of sentimentality triggered by oxygen deprivation.

Happily, a recent motion picture has decided to advance the ball on these metaphysical debates, demonstrating once again that the cinema is the only truly useful machine for imagining what we imagine things that are unimaginable might be like.

The movie in question is Insidious (2010), part of the recently resurgent cycle of supernatural horror films now haunting the world's cineplexes and Netflix queues.

This ghost is grainy and hard to see, thus probably "real."
Insidious itself begins with a rather existential question of film-making: How does one make a "fictional" supernatural horror picture after the Paranormal Activity series has so thoroughly rewritten the genre's reality-effects in the video language of actuality and surveillance?  The Paranormal Activity films are a symbolic homecoming for ghosts everywhere, a recognition that any ghost caught on film is fundamentally a trick, a lie, ink in water, a special effect, whereas ghosts caught in the apparently casual sweep of electronic surveillance cameras are the real deal (part of the genius of the PA series is its integration of boring duration in ghost hunting--the ghosts do not magically appear as soon as the Second A.D. hits the clapboard, but instead must be "revealed" by fast-forwarding through hours of "tape" and/or data streams--labor that we are allowed to witness on screen).

During the first half of Insidious, it appears the filmmakers will simply capitulate to copying Paranormal Activity, albeit on better film stock.  There's a family.  There's a house.  There's a vibe.  Things happen.  It's effective as far as young photogenic families menaced by fake ghouls and staged demons go, but after Paranormal Activity, the viewer is left thinking: "Is that all there is to a haunting?  Is that all there is?"

As a momentary misdirect, Insidious moves the action to another house (thus speaking to the true horror of middle-class existence--the family must sell their house "short" just to get away from whatever is bumming out Mom. Here the ghosts become a surrogate for toxic mold or the new neighbors next door unpacking their jet-skis and confederate flags).  Needless to say, the demon brigade follows them to the new home and before we know it the family's young son has lapsed into a mysterious coma.

Here the filmmakers put in a call to Poltergeist to secure a psychic-investigator who will be tasked with the narrative responsibility of explaining just what the hell is going on and what might be done about it.  In a nice bit of bonus surrealism, our psychic house-cleaner does her best work while wearing a gas-mask rigged with contact mikes, allowing for a refreshing new take on the obligatory seance scene.

We are told the son is not in a coma, but has instead allowed his "astral body" to wander away during a dream.  The prospects of a vacant meat-bag are so tempting to the wayward ghosties that they are now hovering around the boy's body in the hopes of taking up occupancy. Meanwhile, the boy's "astral body" (or "soul" to the none-psi crowd) is being held captive in "The Further," a sort of limbo where ghosts and demons hang around looking for trouble.  What a mess!

"Be right back, kid. Promise me you won't touch that candle."
As the world awaits a new Pope, perhaps this is a good time to explore a certain contradiction in Catholic doctrine. If you are an aficionado of popular kitchen art, no doubt you are familiar with the "Guardian angel" genre.  These paintings feature luminous angels trailing after small children, quietly and invisibly making sure little Jack and Jill don't fall into a ravine or ride their bike into traffic or drown in a lake trying to catch a frog. It's comforting, I suppose, and as plausible an explanation as any other for how every child doesn't at some point end up at the bottom of a well.  But Catholics, as I understand it, also believe in demonic possession.  So the dilemma is this:  Where exactly is this guardian angel when the demons are milling around looking for a good body to invade?  Are they on break?  Changing shifts? Do they become so caught up in making sure a reasonably coordinated child can make it across a rickety bridge that they get blind-sided by Blejudicis, prince demon of sassy backtalk and gumball smacking?

Insidious does not necessarily subscribe to Catholic theology; still, it is a very unfair universe in my opinion when a little kid can inadvertently wander around through astral projection, get astral-kidnapped by a demon, and thereby endanger the lease on his terrestrial meat-body.  If there are demons capable of doing this, then those things in the universe that are not demons--angels, sprites, astral social-workers--should really come up with a better plan for astral childcare.

Must....get....married.
Given that this kid's Guardian angel has apparently taken a powder, it falls on Dad to rescue his son from "The Further."  As it turns out, Dad was also a bit of an astral-wanderer when he was a kid and almost lost his body to the famous Miss Havisham from Dickens' Great Expectations. Here we gain some insight into how men think about how women think about marriage--so devastating is a missed opportunity at holy matrimony that a spurned bride has little choice but to wander through eternity in her trousseau. Not her graduation gown, mind you, nor a lab coat or power pantsuit, but her trousseau.  This is because every woman, no matter what else she accomplishes in life, is primarily motivated by marriage.

At any rate, the decision is made.  Dad will astral-wander his way into "The Further" to find his son.

And here is the bonus material that promises at last to distinguish Insidious from Paranormal Activity. Bound as it is to the CCTV aesthetic, Paranormal Activity has no plausible way of venturing into the beyond.  While the films are tremendous at capturing the vaguely supernatural menace of an errant pool sweeper, they have no ontological authority to pierce the mortal veil and look across into the Other Side.  But a film camera, one unbound by static mounts and lo-fi imaging, portends a mystical journey into the great beyond.

Now here is something strange:  Gas-mask lady puts Dad in a chair to hypnotize him, thus making it easier for him to activate his wandering astral body.  This all goes smoothly, and soon Dad is out of his own body, looking back at himself in the chair (below).

So far so good.  It's a trick as old as Melies and executed well enough.  Dad has left his own building and is now ready to venture out into "the Further." But where and what, exactly, is "The Further" and how do we get there?

Astral-Dad begins his journey.  As his meat-body occupies the foreground in an hypnotic trance,
Astral-Dad walks behind the chair and toward the front door.  Note the small dot of light at the left side of the frame (below).


Astral-Dad gets to the door and reaches toward the light.  It appears to be a lantern.  It is a lantern.  Astral-Dad picks it up and proceeds outside into the blackness of "The Further" (below).

Here we have a question with both formal and metaphysical implications.  Put simply:  Where did this lantern come from? 

A thorough review of the footage leading up to this shot has determined that there is no "real" lantern sitting by the real door in the real world--this isn't a case of every material object in reality having an Astral-double in "The Further."  No, some Astral-somebody conveniently put this lantern by the door specifically for use in the Astral world.

Why is a lantern needed?  Turns out "The Further" is a dark, foggy place, or at least large swaths of it are.  Astral-Dad needs a lantern to see his way through the void.  More to the point, a lantern is needed to illuminate Astral-Dad so that we can see him wandering through said void.  We might say, then, that this Astral-lantern has both narrative and stylistic functions--it is an appropriately spooky light source for this spooky world, and necessary as a means of making this narrative space more suspenseful by confining it to a roving pool of light (in other universes, perhaps Astral-Dad takes a flashlight or some of those glowing rave-stick things).  Still...where did this lantern come from?   Within the diegesis, this lantern remains wholly unexplained and thus unmotivated.  It simply "materializes" (albeit immaterially) on the precipice that apparently separates the family living room from the great abyss outside.

What then, finally, does the afterlife look like--or at least that shitty enclave where ghosts and demons hang around waiting to squat someone's soul?   Below I have diagrammed Insidious' conception of "The Further" as best as I can reconstruct it from available textual evidence.  As you can see, "The Further" appears to consist of relatively in tact yet dim suburban homes separated by a great expanse of foggy black voidness.

It's just the type of world you might imagine would terrify nuclear-breeder types--family homes as fairly coherent sanctuaries surrounded by the spooky other-dimensionality of the dreaded world outside (one wonders, for example, if Astral-Dad could make a quick side-trip to Astral-Walmart or Astral-McDonalds--or is it really only detached housing that can stand up against the sucking void of limbo?)

No sooner has Astral-Dad left his current domicile than his circuitous wanderings bring him into contact with a kid in pajamas pointing at their old house.  This is where a former member of Gwar is holding the Astral-Son hostage.

Earlier in the movie we saw this demon invisibly stalking meat-dad, a moment immortalized in the .gif at left.  It remains unclear, however, exactly what this make-up is supposed to signify.  He's a hellish demon, I get that, but does his "fire-face" signify the effects of wandering around for centuries in "the Further" or is he simply an enthusiast of all things hellishly awesome?

I think the film privileges the second theory inasmuch as we eventually see this demon primping in front of a mirror, sharpening his nails on a whetstone while listening to "Tip Toe Through the Tulips."  He clearly has a flair for the dramatic.

Before Astral-Dad can have it out with fire demon, however, we first witness a little vignette that explains why the first house was so haunted.  Astral-Dad wanders into his old living room to see a family from the 1940s caught in an eternal hell-loop of repressed ironing that somehow leads to them all getting a shot-gun blast from the lead guitarist in that old Rrriot Girl video from the 1990s that ripped off Dr. Sardonicus.



Later, Astral-Dad sees the entire ironing/shotgun blast family at the top of the stairs, smiling eerily as an ensemble (below).

So there you have it.  Mystery solved. The afterlife is much like the real world.  In fact, the afterlife seems so much like the real world that one has to suspect both are shot on the same set, only in the afterlife all the key lights are knocked out and you have to use a lantern that some Astral-prop master leaves by the door.  Also, ghosts and demons live together in the same cosmic time/space, although the demons apparently have the freedom to walk around and do whatever they want while the ghosts are locked into some type of hellish dinner-theater gig for all eternity. 

Adjust your expectations accordingly.

Orphan Bong Spam

Whatever your choice, both can provide effective relief from nasal congestion and a dry cough. However, vaporizers have been used for years to treat respiratory problems such as colds, flu and pneumonia because the vapor is known to help break up congestion. In this fast moving world, smoking is more of a passion then habit.

Whatever your choice, both can provide effective relief from nasal congestion and a dry cough. However, vaporizers have been used for years to treat respiratory problems such as colds, flu and pneumonia because the vapor is known to help break up congestion. In this fast moving world, smoking is more of a passion then habit.

Also available in varying proportions of nicotine giving better control over the health hazards like cancer etc. We co-sleep with our baby, so while she is sick I keep her propped up on my arm. Also they don't need a lighter to light the cigarette.

The noise level of the horn is 82 decibels at 10 feet. Most dispensaries are set up so that the "bud room" is in the back of the building. In the US bong is considered slang and companies making glass water pipes can’t term it as bongs as they will be denied service. 
 
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