Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Haim Saban: Ay Yi-Yi-Yi Yi !!!

I have been waiting over three years for a scandal involving the Israeli-American neoconservative billionaire Haim Saban, the man who made a fortune single-handedly bringing Japan's Super Sentai craze to the U.S. (re-dubbed Power Rangers). I am also thankful this scandal is funny.

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

My Pandora Radio Keeps Confusing Talking Heads And Faith Hill

Friday, April 24, 2009

On The Boston Globe's Big Picture Blog

[Via the Awl]
Each year, the New York Times presents in-house awards, called the Punch Awards, to recognize great contributions from the staff. This year they quite rightly recognize the inventor of The Big Picture, the genius Boston Globe-hosted photography weblog. Unfortunately, the owners of the Times are forced to note that staffer Alan Taylor (a software engineer) “developed and promoted the blog largely on his own time.” Perhaps in the future the newspaper company will encourage the development of their most successful products on, say, staff time.

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Why Orwell Chose To Be Poor

Part something-or-other in an ongoing series wherein I read things about great authors whose late-20's were not exactly financially successful — largely to comfort myself with delusions of being in good company.

From a recent New Yorker review of Orwell's "Down and Out in Paris and London" by some guy:

That’s a long time to be poor and living as hard as Orwell did. It suggests more seriousness of purpose and staying power than some comments would grant him. It’s true that he came from some rung of the English middle class (“lower upper middle” he once called it, subcategory military), but it wasn’t a social world that leant itself to sponging off your parents. His decision to become poor was just that, but it wasn’t a joyride that he could easily have gotten off once under way, and it carried psychological as well as financial dangers. So why did he do it?

Orwell’s explanation, given a few years later in “The Road to Wigan Pier” (which is a far more sociological and political book, about the unemployed poor in northern England), connects the experience to his years as an imperial cop in Burma:

I was conscious of an immense weight of guilt that I had got to expiate. I suppose that sounds exaggerated; but if you do for five years a job that you thoroughly disapprove of, you will probably feel the same…I felt that I had got to escape not merely from imperialism but from every form of man’s dominion over man. I wanted to submerge myself, to get right down among the oppressed; to be one of them and on their side against their tyrants. And, chiefly because I had had to think everything out in solitude, I had carried my hatred of oppression to extraordinary lengths. At that time failure seemed to me to be the only virtue. Every suspicion of self-advancement, even to “succeed” in life to the extent of making a few hundreds a year, seemed to me spiritually ugly, a species of bullying.
[Via The New Yorker]

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009


On The Plastic Jesus Scene From Cool Hand Luke

There was a period when the two middle brothers in my family would sing this around the house a lot. Then my dad would sing it to himself while doing dishes. The Newman performance that inspired this fad in my immediate family is pretty cathartic and suitably ambiguous.

I, for one, can't tell if Newman's weepy banjo playing is actually meant to transform the Jesus statue's glow-in-the-dark plasticity and the Madonna's rhinestones from the mild parody songwriters Ed Rush and George Cromarty had intended into a poignant contemporary analog for the cheap poverty and humility Christianity is notorious for.

Ultimately, I know I'll have to rewatch the whole movie (which I haven't done maybe since high school) to know for sure. However, what I want to think is that this is just a perfect encapsulation of how useful even empty rituals and religious trinkets can be when you are down in the dumps.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Joke Dissection 1.03 [Web Exclusive for Sit Down, Shut Up]

A lot of the humor in this piece comes from the obvious gulf between the emotion that's intended to be conveyed and the one that's plainly visible through body language (something the animation department for Sit Down, Shut Up is going to have to figure out how to simulate for these two voice actors post-haste).

By now, everyone who is a Will Arnett fan is aware of what he's doing here: contrasting his gravelly, leading-man voice and general belligerence against his blatantly insecure physical presence and general stupidity. It is the man's bread and butter.

So, instead, I want to focus on Jason Bateman's performance and some of his contributions to the straight man archetype. Namely: focused, measured and self-serving rage under a gossamer onion-cloth of feigned politeness; the ridiculous extremes of his insincerity, like his repeated suggestion that, maybe, the embarrassing details he's disclosing about Arnett should be run by him and possibly cut; the conspiratorial half wink when he says, "You have to keep your eye on" Arnett's various hair pieces ...

I'm sure there are previous examples of this unreliable straight man routine (Oliver Hardy's blame-skirting moments comes to mind). However, what's interesting about Jason Bateman's anal retentive, unhappy and vindictive straight man is that he always comes across as superficially well-adjusted and successful. He's like a life-long eagle scout going through a bitter mid-life realization that working hard and following the rules hasn't gotten him where he wants to be.

(Actually, thinking about the long fallow period in the middle of his career arch, I wonder to what extent this is the comic archetype he was born to play.)

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Tote Bag Of My Self-Deprecating Dreams

Getting Sold By Academic Criticism

I am a sucker for long-winded (but precise!) scholarship.

So, I've decided to write down a recent example I happened to have thoroughly enjoyed from Tony Sharpe's biography of poet Wallace Stevens:
This poem ["The Comedian as the Letter C"] was indeed the accomplishment of an extremist in the exercise, an act almost of aesthetic terrorism in a society whose post-puritan recrudescence had recently (1919) introduced Prohibition. It was also, as I have tried to suggest, a repudiation of several of the precious tenants of literary Modernism, in its unorthodoxy with regard to location and locution — no wonder Stevens and Hemingway came to blows! Although the heightened consciousness of the materiality of his linguistic medium might link Steven's poem to radical experimenters such as [Gertrude] Stein, the willed anachronism of its lexicon, and the old-fashionedness of its blank verse and the basic narrative shape, suggest a more traditionalist poetics. It is almost as if the poem had been expressly designed to appeal to nobody at all[...]
Post-puritan recrudescence! The willed anachronism of its lexicon! Complex ideas wrought more complex through the wit of formal linguistic expression! God, I miss the ivory tower

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Joke Dissection 1.02 [The Simpsons]

As someone for whom The Simpsons was expressly forbidden during the show's heyday, I am pretty agnostic on the whole issue of the later seasons' lack of quality.

This 19th season clip is a case in point, because I think it's a great example of how to steal a joke:

Now, this magnet gag is at least as old as the 1957 Bugs Bunny cartoon Bugsy and Mugsy, but the fact that it has a Looney Tunes precursor actually makes it more plausible, and kind of endearing, for a 10-year-old like Bart to actually attempt it.

More importantly, it affords some great character-based one liners. "It's not funny; these movements are involuntary."

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Can I Has This Michael Jackson Portrait?

Wow, This Really Hit The Spot Today

Monday, April 13, 2009

Joke Dissection 1.00 [30 Rock]

When Liz Lemon's bridge-and-tunnel ex-boyfriend, Dennis Duffy, calls her dummy, it's funny—but it's also brilliant.

It provides a radically concise exposition of how a comedy writer could ever have loved him in the first place. (I think they also liked eating food in bed.)

Also, like her other more recent ex—Jon Hamm as Dr. Drew Baird—Dennis has clearly been living it up in the bubble.

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Ellis vs. Predator

Friday, April 10, 2009

Confrontational Dorkiness

Never has "white guy dancing" been done with such a defiant, "Fuck you!"

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