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whats on the tee vee

A dreamily short entry tonight, and thank God for it, since I feel like I’ve been recapping this show for twenty years now. I’m not sure what tonight is supposed to accomplish, but then I am reminded that (a) this is the final night of Hollywood Week, where Idol treats everyone like discarded Kleenex, and (b) it has indeed been six years since a woman won the competition. Will that be rectified tonight? Of course not, silly, there are still six billion episodes to go before they pick a winner. But we will lose a bunch of people, which is lucky for me, because I can barely even remember my parents’ names anymore.

Tonight, Mariah Carey is wearing a red dress from a 1980s low-budget comedy; Keith Urban is in his usual cheap ‘graphics’ tee; Nicki Minaj is a Private First Class stationed at Fort Bazonga; and Randy Jackson is wearing the same thing Randy always wears in my mind, which is a dunce cap reading “POTATO CHIPS”. Angela Miller is first up, and takes the big risk of choosing to sing her own material — a song about “being separated from your baggage”, which all of us who have flown commercial airlines can relate to. It’s really not that great a song, but it’s pretty damn amazing for a kid her age to have that kind of piano and compositional skills, so she earns a standing O from the judges. I wouldn’t buy the thing, but there’s a lot of people who would, so that makes her a contender. She’s also immediately the kid-or-animal that no one wants to follow, but Candice Glover buckles down and singles “This Girl is On Fire” like a girl who is actually on fire, and also has purple hair. She can’t help but fade a bit next to Angela, but she still absolutely smokes the vocal, and that counts for a lot. Finally, Janelle Arthur, the least annoying of the country-fried crooners, delivers pretty nicely, and all of them make it through.

So far, the most interesting contestant in season 12 is Zoanette Johnson, the human grenade, tearing people apart with shards of filthy charisma and inconsistent nail polish. Tonight, she goes into full Chaka Khan mode, drumming her way through a self-penned number with murderously bad lyrics; it’s an explosive mess, but she exudes that crazy James Brown force-of-nature charismatic insanity that just kills me. She makes it through, as does master of the power bomb Jet Hermano, but Kiara Lanier gets sent packing. Shubha Vedula sucks up to Mariah, but actually makes her cover slightly more interesting by adding some grit to the out-of-control melisma. Juliana Chahayed, who I don’t think we’ve ever seen before, baby-bops through a Fleetwood Mac song. Finally, Kez Ban sings an original song while prettied up in a hotcha outfit chosen for her by the all-purpose Zoanette, but her voice is still shot, she seems narcotized, and her guitar playing is kind of crap, probably from handling all that fire. She gets sent back home, but at the last minute, Ryan Toothpaste offers her a job as a boom mic operator, after which she is savagely beaten by union reps.

In the next round, we learn that Ashlee Feliciano has dragged her family along to watch her auditions, so it will be extra fun when she fails. Claiming illness, she starts out all loosey-goosey and then completely falls apart on the falsetto, crashing loudly on each note like a drunk falling off the end of your couch and onto your end table. So long, Ashlee. Randy is bummed out because everyone is so serious. Ha ha, it’s almost as if their entire careers are on the line because of the arbitrary judgment of an ex-Journey bass player! I guess he wants more songs about hot dogs or something, and he lets Melinda Adeni’s perky performance get a free pass even though she’s not very good. Cree Harrison: “sob story genuine authenticity sincerity performer heart superstar before our eyes”, according to Nicki Minaj. I may have fallen asleep at this point, because Cree’s alleged star power is still invisible to me. Serena-Joi Crowe and hyper-freaky human mood swing Janel Stinney also get their walking papers.

It turns out that Randy is bad at math, so in order to get to a fat 42 contestants for the actual competitive rounds, we have to lose a bunch more people. Lauren, Holly and Marie all get tossed for no reason; I’m not sure who any of them are, but now I never have to find out. There’s still one left to lose, so bottle-blonde Stephanie Schimel and trout-mushed Rachel Hale have to sing themselves on or off of the show. Stephanie does an unimpressive but competent version of that Phillip Phillips song they play when someone on a prime time soap opera is sad, and Rachel sounds exactly like she always has on every other song she’s done, but she’s the one who gets to stay. Back to selling discounted peignoirs at the mall for you, Stephanie. Next, the guys have to be winnowed down because Randy thinks twenty-four is the highest number; we lose Peter Garrett, the kid who looks like a lesbian who works at Pottery Barn, as well as Marvin Calderon, Devin Jones, Kenny Harrison, Will White, Tony Foster, David Leathers, and a bunch of other people I can’t remember hearing in the first place. In the end, it comes down to a showdown between Adam “Sings Like a Girl” Sanders and Josh “Nondescript” Holliday. Adam knows his shit musically, but he’s also a jerk, and he blows it by pulling a Kurt Hummel and requesting a song that, even dropped down an octave, is out of his vocal range. Josh wants to sing gospel songs to a God that has ill equipped him to do such a thing, but he still sounds better than hearing Adam’s voice crack, so he stays, and also splits his pants, which seems to excite Keith Urban a little more than it should.

Next week, we finally move on to the actual voting rounds and individual performances, so I better haul ass and figure out all these peoples’ names. Be there or grow hair!


whats on the tee vee

It’s LADY WEEK in Hollywood! That means lots of crying, although let’s be honest, the guys were a pretty weepy lot this time around, too. After a boring recap of last week’s nonsense (lines of ten in single performance, followed by extra-brutal group round), we experience a strong push for the ladies; Idol seems determined to at least pretend they’re not going to just hand over the win to another honky dude with a Yamaha guitar. I’m not sure what good this assurance does, since they don’t have any control over how the votes go…do they? Anyway, we are also assured that there’s an overabundance of girls this year, so the cuts are going to be a total bloodbath except instead of being fed to lions everybody will just have to go home. Ryan Toothpaste assures us that we will have both “some of the greatest performances in Idol‘s history”, which turns out to be a rather titanic overstatement even for size queen Ryan, and “more drama that we’ve ever seen”. No, Idol! No more drama for you! You’ve had enough and we’re cutting you off before you start dancing on top of the bar.

As we kick off day one of the gals with a hilariously sexist montage of giggling and screaming, we are introduced once again to our panel of judges: Mariah Carey, in a semi-tasteful Little Black Dress variant; Nicki Minaj, done up beatnik-style; Randy Jackson, beamed down from Star Fleet’s Televised Singing Competition Division; and Keith Urban, who is once again showing off his pectoral tattoo and making me wish more and more that the chestburster from Alien would eat its way out of him. Ryan Toothpaste guarantees cat-fighting, but I think he means the boring TV kind and not the fun porn kind. The girls of Line One include Angela Miller, who makes it through despite overselling her GIRL POWER WHOO! shtick and San Antonio’s own mariachista Victoria Acosta; unfortunately, early-round anorexic sob story Mariah Pulice doesn’t move on, and must head home to continue not not eating. I wish I felt worse about it, but her outfit is terrible. We also lose some other women, including black-eyed blonde fruit salad Ashlee Smith, seal-clapping newlywed Ann Defani, someone named Sarah Reticchio who I can’t remember ever seeing before, and a bunch of other people so important that Idol can’t be bothered to tell us their names. I’m sure they’re all just wonderful.

In the next line, Idol, apparently hoping that the lightning that is Carrie Underwood will strike twice, pairs up giant-mouthed smiling machine Rachel Hale and blonde charmer Janelle Arthur. The latter blows the former away, but I hate them both, so of course they make it through. (Nicki thinks Rachel is “relatable” — she is not — and “accessible”, which I guess means “boring”.) The rest of their group washes out, except a few others who don’t have names because they aren’t country singers. The “females”, as Ryan calls them to distinguish them from his own species, are tense as can be considering that the stakes are so low. FOR ME! There’s another winner montage, none of whom are identified, so here is what I can report about them: nothing. They probably all have vaginas, but you never know about the Iron Curtain athl…wait, this isn’t the Olympics.

“It’s a tense scene backstage”, we are informed by Ryan over a montage of people clutching Jesus pieces. Candice Glover busts out another boffo pile of melisma and makes it through; Megan Miller, decked out in bike shorts and the puffy shirt from Seinfeld, is off the crutches, but she’s also off the show. Despite the claim that this is the greatest group of female singers ever, Idol doesn’t trust us much to find out; despite the absurdly overlong two-hour runtime, the line auditions are rushed through at a rapid clip, so we hardly get a chance to hear any of them. Isabelle, who lost her last name somewhere between New York and L.A., sings a version of “Summertime” that is all over the place — it seems like a train wreck to me, but the judges let her through, so what do I know? After years of being in lockstep with Simon Cowell, I find myself completely unable to predict exactly what the hell these judges want; even Nicki, who often seems to be voting the straight Contrarian ticket, baffles me at times. They allow teams that completely fuck up and forget all the lyrics to move on, while groups that were much better get eliminated. Fortunes have probably been lost betting on my advice, though, so if you’re a betting sort, stay football fields away from my instincts about this show.

Idol is making a big deal about how “quirky” and “eccentric” Kez Ban, the Carolingian carnival artist, is, because she likes to do wacky stuff like eat, sleep, and not sing garbage songs. She’s also got a cold or something and has been cheering for all the people she likes, and her voice is shot to shit, meaning she can’t hit any of the crystalline high notes in “Be My Baby”, so I’m pretty positive that she’s doomed, especially when the rest of her group fucks off to practice without her. Amazingly, though, they all get through, so they can make fun of Kez Ban another day. She also insists on having fun, which seems to infuriate all the people who work for Idol, for whom the show is unending drudgery. She’s accompanied by Brianna Oakley, who is the girl who was “bullied” for her superior fame and talent, which I think we can all relate to if we are insufferable nerds, as well as Melinda Ademi and Ashely Feliciano, whoever they are.

As group rounds begin, I am informed of the existence of an American Idol app, which, no thank you. I can just picture dying in the remote forest and that’s what’s on my fucking iPod instead of a compass. The group featuring Isabelle, Erin, Lauren and human tornado Zoanette (who is wearing a huge LOVE ME necklace that looks like it could cut ham slices) clash over song choice, as she is overwhelmed by the country-singing Caucasians; Brandy Neeley, Cree Harrison, and season 11 washout Britney Kellogg all fall under the wicked control-freak spell of the unstoppable Haley Davis. After much handwringing by the gay vocal coach, everyone grabs a half-hour of sleep and we’re treated to an adorable montage of how the gals all have to get made up and purty before leaving their hotel rooms. Oh, females! Ryan Toothpaste, who hires olive-skinned Mediterranean boys to do all that sort of thing for him, informs us that an unprecedented number of ladies are writing the lyrics to their songs on their arms, because these songs are just that complicated. I blame this on the absence of quality henna artists in small-town America.

The Swagettes are the first group to perform, consisting of Candice Glover, Kamaria Ousley (in an alarming pair of Loverboy tights), Melinda Ademi, and Denise Jackson. They “managed to avoid the drama” of group round by acting like normal human beings, and perform a deeply confused version of “Hit ‘Em Up Style”, which nonetheless gets them all through to the next round. Nicki has switched to her blonde wig and a tacky appliquéd ball cap; Mariah is in another of her Norma Desmond gowns; Keith is wearing a Six Dollar Tees rejected design; and Randy is missing in action. What else does Randy have to do? Clean out the fryers? Anyway, Raisin’ Cain (Morgan Leigh Boberg, Lauren Mink, Brandy Hotard, and someone else whose name I was too distracted by the thought of my own mortality to catch)is next, line-dancing through a song called “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” which is not by Kay Kyser and His Orchestra. They all make it through, because it’s just that kind of year, I guess, but they do prompt Nicki to do an amusing Southern accent.

Almost Famous (domineering gang boss Savannah “Emotion Lotion” Votion, Liza Weiss, Daysia Hall and the frighteningly named J’Leigh Chauvin) lives up to its name, wearing way too much fake leopard print and doing the first, but not the last, terrible version of Gotye’s overworked “Somebody I Used to Know”. When Daysia is the only one who makes it through, Savannah throws a hissy fit, blubbing that she did all the choreography and song choice and harmony while Daysia forgot the lyrics; it apparently has not occurred to her that Daysia moved on because she is talented and charismatic, and the other three are flavorless white girls with mediocre voices. Meanwhile, the Dramatics (Janel Stinney, Christable Clack, Kriss “Dope” Mincey, and someone who was not identified due to the fact that her neon pants had subsumed her identity) are hobbled by Janel throwing what I can only characterize as a hoovering diz-fit. (Kriss characterizes it far more kindly than I would, saying “Janel is overzealous to the point that she is compromising her vocal health”. Someone’s going to shine come peer review!) She melts down over nothing in particular, ignores everyone, and twice walks out on her group, setting a pretty solid precedent for Freak/Villain of S12, and caps it off by completely forgetting all the words to the song and making it through anyway, thanks to some bewildering lobbying by Nicki Minaj. She throws a pity party for herself saying “sometimes I feel like I don’t fit in”, but really, that’s just because she’s a selfish, neurotic egomaniac. Anyway, they all make it through, and something is definitely happening here. This could be the Gleiwitz Incident of Idol Season 12. Then there’s a parade of losers from which only Shubha Vedula, Sarina-Joi Crowe, and Aubrey Cleland emerge unscathed.

The next group up is Urban Hue, and I would like to talk about who names these groups. They’re so depressingly on-the-nose that I suspect the hands of the producers, but there is also the even worse possibility that the contestants think them up themselves. I mean, for Christ’s sake, Zoanette’s group is named “The Poo Snaps”. Anyway, Urban Hue is Kiara Lanier, Tenna Torres, Jet Hermano (who is surely stealing the name of a professional wrestler somewhere) and Seretha Guinn, the lady with the cute kid named London. This decision makes even less sense and Nicki’s decision-making is just bewildering; Seretha is perfectly fine and gets sent home, while Kiara, who was scattered and forgot the lyrics, stayed in. She has no choice but to go home and “continue to have a happy life”. After a commercial that implies that if you don’t buy a Subaru, you want your children to die in a horrible fiery crash, Randy returns from whatever food-related errand he was on, wearing a purple XXXXXL tee and…you know what? I don’t get paid for this so I refuse to have an opinion about whatever pleatherette abomination Randy Jackson is duded up in for group round. Let’s move on.

Zoanette Johnson, carnal monolith and star of the Poo Snaps, gets to be filmed snoring on a bus because, I don’t know, Idol is racist probably. The rest of the group is Erin Christine, Lauren Bettes, and Isabelle, but who cares? Can any of them hold the dirty clientele of a strip club in 1974 Kansas City spellbound in the palm of their hands? I think not. Lauren gets sent home and nobody cares. Handsome Women stars Courtney Calle, Liz Bills, Alisha Dixon and Israeli superstar Shira Gavrielov, and they’re a bloody wreck; Liz is the only one who makes it through after their demolition of that fucking Gotye song, and she honestly doesn’t deserve it either. Shira, on the other hand, decides to stomp back on the stage, occupying it like so much Palestine and demanding that the judges explain why they didn’t let her through even though she once had a #1 hit in Tel Aviv. This is all highly amusing.

4U (Alex Delaney, Kalli Therinae, Holly Miller, and platinum-damaged lingerie clerk Stephanie Schimel) switched their song at the last minute, going from “Total Eclipse of the Heart” to, you guessed it, fucking goddamn Gotye. He’s gonna be able to buy a new boat on tonight’s royalties alone. Following a night of inexplicable decisions, Stephanie, who was mediocre at best and forgot a bunch of the words, makes it through; even she can’t figure it out: “Why did they let me through? I totally botched that thing.” Oh, Idol. Are you at your worst when you make no sense, or your best? I really can’t tell anymore. But this segment does have Nicki raising another laugh by putting on a goofy face and mocking all the dipshits who wrote the lyrics on their hands. Can’t stay mad at no Nicki Minaj.  At some point “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” happens again and we haven’t seen the last of Brandy Neeley, but by then I’m riding the high of the show being almost over.

Tomorrow: more of the ladies, because this show has to be on all the time or else I might actually get something done.


For the Home Team

out at home

Pitchers and catchers have reported to spring training, and that can only mean one thing:  six months of manic-depressive obsessing over baseball!  But not everyone is like me, hardened like a Turk’s brass knuckle by years of following the sport.  How does a newcomer know what team to root for?  Luckily for you, I’ve compiled this guide to the 30 Major League Baseball teams, based on consultation with Ken Burns, ESPN, and several old white men with malfunctioning prostates who have written books on the subject.  Happy reading, and happy rooting!


  • Are they a New York team?  Yes!
  • Why should I care?  Greatest team ever, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, 9/11.
  • Avoid discussing:  Any Steinbrenner.


  • Are they a New York team?  They used to be.
  • Why should I care?  Greatest team ever, Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Vin Scully, the warming sepia-toned glow of Ebbets Field .
  • Avoid discussing:  Events occurring after the 6th inning of any given game.


  • Are they a New York team?  Sort of.
  • Why should I care?  Greatest team ever, Ted Williams, Carl Yasztremski, Carlton Fisk, Green Monster.
  • Avoid discussing:  How the team used to lose all the time.


  • Are they a New York team?  They used to be.
  • Why should I care?  “The Giants win the pennant!”, the abomination that is the designated hitter rule, other pre-San Francisco events.
  • Avoid discussing:  Barry Bonds.


  • Are they a New York team?  Yes!
  • Why should I care?  “Miracle Mets”, “Subway Series”, Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Mookie Wilson probably.
  • Avoid discussing:  How the team is pretty terrible.


  • Are they a New York team?  No.
  • Why should I care?  Shitty beer, ivy, Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, not winning a World Series for 200 years is “lovable”.
  • Avoid discussing:  Sammy Sosa.


  • Are they a New York team?  No.
  • Why should I care?  Greatest team ever, Stan Musial, the relentless enthusiasm of Bob Costas.
  • Avoid discussing:  Mark McGwire.


  • Are they a New York team?  No.
  • Why should I care?  Oldest professional ball club, “Big Red Machine”, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan (the ballplayer).
  • Avoid discussing:  Pete Rose; Joe Morgan (the sportscaster).


  • Are they a New York team?  New York-adjacent.
  • Why should I care?  Earl Weaver, Cal Ripken Jr., various Robinsons.
  • Avoid discussing:  The last decade.


  • Are they a New York team?  No, but see Boston Red Sox.
  • Why should I care?  Greatest team ever, Hank Aaron, assortment of melvins in the 1990s with good pitching arms.
  • Avoid discussing:  The “tomahawk chop”; the word “choke”.


  • Are they a New York team?  No.
  • Why should I care?  Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, disco, “We Are Family”.
  • Avoid discussing:  How the national media will never, ever pay attention to you.


  • Are they a New York team?  No.
  • Why should I care?  The 1970s, facial hair, SABRmetrics.
  • Avoid discussing:  Earthquakes.


  • Are they a New York team?  No.
  • Why should I care?  Bob Feller, Major League, David Justice (maybe).
  • Avoid discussing:  How the logo is a racist cartoon.


  • Are they a New York team?  Strangely, yes.
  • Why should I care?  Your inside-the-Beltway connections will be impressed by your season tickets.
  • Avoid discussing:  Performance of previous Washington franchises.


  • Are they a New York team?  No.
  • Why should I care?  Ichiro Suzuki, Jay Buhner, Ken Griffey Jr., team is owned by creators of Super Mario Brothers.
  • Avoid discussing:  baseball.


  • Are they a New York team?  No.
  • Why should I care?  Randy Johnson, Luis Gonzalez, Curt Schilling (though be careful with this one).
  • Avoid discussing:  Byung-Hyun Kim.


  • Are they a New York team?  No.
  • Why should I care?  Ty Cobb.
  • Avoid discussing:  Ty Cobb.


  • Are they a New York team?  Absolutely not.
  • Why should I care?  you enjoy sausage races or are Bud Selig.
  • Avoid discussing:  the American League.


  • Are they a New York team?  No.
  • Why should I care?  Gene Autry, Disney, banging plastic sticks together,monkeys, waterfalls.
  • Avoid discussing:  the team’s ridiculous name.


  • Are they a New York team?  No.
  • Why should I care?  George Brett, Dan Quisenberry.
  • Avoid discussing:  victory.


  • Are they a New York team?  They are the opposite of a New York team.
  • Why should I care?  Rod Carew, Harmon Killebrew, Kirby Puckett, being reminded that it is very cold in Minneapolis.
  • Avoid discussing:  how the old stadium had walls made out of plastic trash bags.


  • Are they a New York team?  Only for retirees.
  • Why should I care?  you are Cuban-American.
  • Avoid discussing:  Jeffrey Loria.


  • Are they a New York team?  No.
  • Why should I care?  you enjoy inspiring stories of people who stopped taking massive amounts of drugs.
  • Avoid discussing:  George W. Bush.


  • Are they a New York team?  No.
  • Why should I care?  astronauts are neat.
  • Avoid discussing:  Enron.


  • Are they a New York team?  No.
  • Why should I care?  you do not enjoy baseball.
  • Avoid discussing:  your team’s alleged ‘rivalry’ with the Miami Marlins.


  • Are they a New York team?  Surprisingly, they are New York-adjacent.
  • Why should I care?  information not available
  • Avoid discussing:  information not available


  • Are they a New York team?  They’re barely even a Chicago team.
  • Why should I care?  you should not, because they did a very bad thing 94 years ago and we can never forgive them.
  • Avoid discussing:  2005.


  • Are they a New York team?  No.
  • Why should I care?  you should not, because all the accomplishments of this team, even ones involving pitching or which take place during away games, are due to the altitude at Coors Field.
  • Avoid discussing:  the team’s garish uniforms.


  • Are they a New York team?  They are a team from the New York of Canada.
  • Why should I care?  you should not, because this team is from Canada.
  • Avoid discussing:  Canada.


  • Are they a New York team?  Technically, they are not even a Major League Baseball team.
  • Why should I care?  there is literally no reason for anyone to care about the San Diego Padres.
  • Avoid discussing:  the possibility of relegation.


life of the mind

(from the Irish Times‘ ‘Cruiskeen Lawn’ column)

You must keep this strictly under your hat but I received an invitation to be in attendance at 86 St Stephen’s Green last Thursday evening to hear a ‘paper’ on…guess?…’The Function and Scope of Criticism’.  It interests me as a scientist that there is to be found today in this humble island a young man who is anxious to explain this matter to me and it will be a regret to me, always, that a malignant destiny decreed that on that evening I should be elsewhere.  I feel rather tired but surely if one explains concisely the function of criticism, one has also defined its scope; if it be the function of the Slieve Gullion to draw passenger trains to Belfast, it it necessary to add that this engine should not sell race-cards in Dublin on Baldoyle days?

Again, I must ask you to regard what I say as private and confidential.  The document I have received says No Press References and one must not (if only out of deference to the distinguished Knight who is among the signatories) outrage this most understandable desire for secrecy.  You see, these bodies are about something far more hush-hush than jet-propulsion.  They are (this is quite incredible but I swear it so help me) — they are interested in…Art! (!!!!!!)

Well well.  Wasn’t it a shame, Paud, that they kept it from you until now, that they didn’t tel you about it, that you have to fly into back rooms in your hundreds to have it explained to you!  Poor poor Paud.  

These people, disdaining extraordinary water, call themselves ‘Common Ground’.  With gigantic presumption they begin by calling me ‘Dear Sir’ and then continue as follows:

‘As you are probably already aware, some few years ago, a group of persons interested in literature decided to meet about once a month to hear a paper read by one of their numbers.  A discussion followed each paper and much benefit and enjoyment was derived by those present.’

‘As you are probably already aware’ is surely effrontery of an unusual order.  As well say, ‘as you are probably already aware, my sister had a pimple on her nose four months ago’.  Why should it be assumed that a schoolgirl’s pimple is a matter necessarily within the public’s knowledge?  Why should anybody know about the rebel back-room conclaves of  ’a group of persons interested in literature’ — least of all My Most Equitable Gaelic Palatinity? (????)  And if they are s0 interested in literature, why don’t they learn to be literate?  How could one be aware of something without being already aware of it?  Could this ‘group’ be otherwise than a group ‘of persons’?  Could  a group of black-faced mountain sheep be interested in literature?  Could…could a group of asses be interested in literature?  Could the benefit and enjoyment (sic) that was derived (very eclectic word ‘derived’ in that context) be derived by those not present?  ’Literature’ how are you!

‘Arising out of the experience of those concerned with Common Ground in its early stage, it was thought advisable recently to widen its scope.  Henceforth Common Ground will be designed primarily to be of help to Catholics interested in literature, art, learning, and in social and political theory…’

Don’t go away — keep reading.  The English alone is marvellous.  (I feel awful.)

‘A series of lectures have been planned for the coming twelve months.  Widely different topics have been tentatively chosen for treatment.  The Function and Scope of Criticism; Political Thought in Ireland — Past and Future; The Irish Social Order; The Scope and Content of Irish Culture.  It was thought advisable to have three papers at successive meetings from different lecturers on each of these subjects, each dealing with a particular aspect of the matter.  The views put forward by the lecturers, together with the opinions expressed by the subsequent speakers, should prove stimulating and beneficial to all concerned.’

Wouldn’t it be terrible if a (subsequent) speaker put forward views instead of expressing opinions?  ’To all concerned’ is superb.

I cannot recall in recent months a more virulent eruption of paddyism. 


The Health of the Clear Sky

tune in tokyo

Suicide, as a tactic of war, seems to hold a particular horror for us.  Because it is so seemingly foreign to the West (although, really, it bears little distinction from the kind of hopeless charges entirely common to the era of modern warfare), we tend to cite it as a fundamental difference between forces.  The suicide bomber is a particularly egregious example of this, and leads some of our more hysterical observers to wonder how there can ever be peace with a people who seemingly do not value their own lives; in the Second World War, too, we seemed more able to understand the Germans, even though their hands controlled the horrendous machinery of genocide, than we did the Japanese, who threw themselves incautiously into the hail of certain death rather than be taken prisoner.  As recently as 2007, Ken Burns’ documentary The War reflected this view that Japan produced a culture of unthinkable aliens, men who were not quite men devoted to an ideal of robotic suicide in the name of honor.

The truth is rather more muddled.  It is no easy thing, even in the oppressive insanity of war, to convince men to engage in acts of mass suicide.  No culture has ever cultivated a generation so devoid of the basic instincts of self-preservation that they will voluntarily snuff out their own lives en mass; and it will come as no surprise to those who have made a closer study of the dynamics of class and power that arguing a man into an act of self-destruction requires the constant pressure of an authoritarian culture.  Regardless of the nobility and seeming hopelessness of their cause, suicide bombers are made, not born; it is not their blood, but deliberate and vicious calculation, selection and training — almost always by those who face no immediate risk themselves — that creates them.  And, too, in the case of the kamikaze pilots and banzai soldiers, it was a relentless and brutal process of manipulation, propaganda, and systematic distortion and cruelty that made so many Japanese men go to their inevitable death long after their country’s position in the Second World War became untenable.   And even then, it was no easy task to force these men to die.  The enlisted men who bore the horrible brunt of this policy no more wanted to die then than you or I do today.

This is the most valuable lesson contained in the grim, beautiful, terrible book Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, written and drawn by Shigeru Mizuki in 1973.  Mizuki is one of the most popular and beloved manga creators in Japan, but this is the first of his works to be given an English-language edition, in late 2011 by Drawn & Quarterly.  (It’s a mystery why it took so long for such a towering figure’s work to appear in America, but it’s a useful reminder that we will never exhaust the culture the world has to offer us.)  The story of a battalion of Japanese soldiers stationed on a remote island in what is now Papua New Guinea in the waning days of WWII, it is a book saturated with realism both horrific and banal, and Mizuki knows of what he speaks:  he was stationed on that very island, and its story — of the gradual disintegration of his outfit and its eventual destruction via a senseless and ineffective suicide charge — is his own story.  Though he survived the charge, he did so with the loss of one of his arms, and a case of malaria that almost killed him, depicted in the story with supreme irony:  after his company receives the order to charge to their inevitable death, the soldier Maruyama (a stand-in for Mizuki himself), thirsty and deprived, drinks water from a brackish pool.  Another soldier warns him that he’ll catch amoebic dysentery, to which he scornfully replies:  ”Who cares?”

The story follows Maruyama’s battalion from its surreally ordinary beginnings, as the men idle around a tropical island waiting to receive their marching orders, with nothing much to do but visit the single prostitute assigned to the entire company (a song she sings lamenting her cruel treatment and hopeless situation will later be sung by the men themselves as they prepare to die).  Once they are sent to the island of New Britain, we are treated to the everyday frustrations and joys of the under-equipped grunt:  a bit of extra pork one night, a chance to piss in the commander’s bath the next, and constant humiliation and abuse at the hands of the sergeant, a violent, unpredictable martinet.  Even before the enemy arrives, death is everywhere:  one soldier is crushed by a falling tree while helping build the army’s base; another dies overnight of dengue fever; a third falls off a boat and is chewed in half by alligators; a fourth, starving thanks to the meagre rations, chokes to death on a fish he’s caught.  But when the Americans and British arrive — in a reversal of the typical Western war story, they are enigmatic, distant shapes, whose faces we almost never see — death becomes much more immediate, and infinitely more terrifying.

While Sgt. Honda — eventually killed by accident by one of his own men while patrolling the perimeter of the camp — is shown as an abusive, petty tyrant, it is the men at the top of the chain of command who are truly monstrous.  We see immediately that none of the rank and file, from the grunts hobbling through the muck and constant rain to the field officers who have a first-hand appreciation of the costs of war — believe in the policy of gyokusai, or “honorable suicide”, where it is one’s duty to the country to become a “shattered jade”; it is, rather, a calculated policy by the generals and politicians to exert control over a military and populace who were beginning to see the warmongering of their leaders as the sham that it was.  Everyone in the lower ranks questions the wisdom of the suicide charge; the enlisted men, who are well aware that their homeland is being bombed daily by Allied forces, wonder what the point of throwing their lives away can be when the entire empire is on the verge of collapse, and the front-line officers make the more strategic argument that expending hundreds of lives in a pointless charge is far less effective than staying alive and harrying the enemy for months or years with guerrilla warfare.

But the die has been cast; the decision has been made; the big lie cannot be rescinded so late in the game.  The top men are shown to be cynically enforcing the idea of gyokusai for purely propagandistic reasons, while those in the middle — like the nervous and inexperienced Major Tadokoro, the battalion commander — are drunk on that same propaganda, insisting on expending the lives of their men like so much toilet paper in the name of emulating some long-ago legend of battle.  And so it is that Maruyama and his men are chewed up  and obliterated by the superior firepower of the Allies, and their commanders die a tawdry death on the nearby beach, tearfully gutting themselves before being shot in the back of the head by their seconds.  The result is one of the most devastating condemnations of warfare and its myriad abuses against human dignity ever crafted.  The whole notion of a “noble” suicide is portrayed as a sick joke played on the helpless by the powerful.  In another gut-wrenching irony, the most decent character in the story — the humane medic Dr. Ishiyama — also commits suicide:  after being abused and pilloried for protesting that the suicide charge is a grotesque waste of human potential, the gyokusai is a strategic disaster, and the Army is “the most diseased thing humanity has ever seen”, he takes his own life rather than be further beaten and insulted for his “stupid nonsense”.

It’s easy to see why Mizuki is such a highly praised cartoonist; he deploys visual imagery to a startling effect in Onwards Towards Our Noble Deaths, shaping patterns that only become clear as the story develops.  It is not uncommon for manga artists to mix cartoonish figure drawing with photorealistic backgrounds, but I have seen few who use the technique with as much skill and effectiveness as Mizuki does here.  His American soldiers are phantoms, shadowy harbingers of death; the only time we clearly see one’s face is immediately before he kills Maruyama, the sole survivor of the suicide charge.  The Japanese are broadly drawn cartoons, with angular, caricatured faces and loping gaits, which makes it all the more devastating when they are ripped to pieces by the machines of war.  His beautiful realism he saves for two things:  the natural surroundings of the island jungles, still gorgeous to look at despite the idiotic intrusion of violent humanity; and the bodies of dead men, who, once robbed of life, can now no longer cause the world any harm, and thus become part of nature.   It works perfectly, and in conjunction with his deft use of lettering to project sounds and environmental factors, only enhances the power of the story.

Almost seventy years later, having reached the age of 91, Mizuki is still fresh with rage over the callous wasting of his comrades’ lives, underscoring how unnatural the goykusai philsophy truly was.  The massive casualties and complete lack of impact caused by the suicide charges never dissuaded the brass from using them; in fact, when the Battle of Peleliu was over, having cost the lives of over 10,000 Japanese troops, and with less than 20 surviving the constant banzai attacks, it was not condemned as a meaningless slaughter, but held up as the ideal for how all Japanese soldiers should be willing to die for the homeland.  From that point forward, even as the war situation deteriorated, the military dictatorship pushed the propaganda that it was shameful to live in the aftermath of a losing battle; this madness, strongly opposed both at home and in the field, doubtless edged the U.S. closer to using the atomic bomb.  ”In our military,” Mizuki says in his afterword, “soldiers and socks were consumables.  But when it came to death, it turns out we were humans after all…whenever I write a story about the war, I can’t help the blind rage that surges up in me.”  That rage resulted in the creation of one of the most simple, straightforward and effective condemnation of the waste of human potential by war that’s ever been crafted.


There Auteur Be a Law

filthy rotten commie

Auteur theory has been taking it on the chin lately.

Never especially strong in this country — as opposed to Europe, where it has even been allowed to influence matters of copyright, in a shockingly communistic example of art being given primacy over commerce — it’s really taken a beating in the new New Hollywood, where franchising has taken precedence over storytelling, sequels are a built-in contract requirement, and even the remake has been superseded by the ‘re-imagining’.  Even in the glory days of the 1970s, when the rise of maverick filmmakers bucked against the studio system and managed to create movies that were both commercially and artistically successful to a degree hard to imagine today, restrictive costs and limited resources gave studios a degree of power that necessarily checked that of the visionary filmmaker; in the following decade, the overreaching ambition of the likes of Michael Cimino and Francis Ford Coppola helped scuttle the small gains in the direction of auteurism that Hollywood ever managed to achieve, and now, 30 years on, you might as well wait for a silent movie than a film entirely under the control of its director.  The Coen Brothers are virtually the only big-picture practitioners of the approach, and for their troubles they are labeled chilly, remote stylists as often as not.

With studios ever mindful of cost and insistent on the constant reification of moneymaking properties, there is as little continuity of content in film today as there is in mainstream comic books — and therein lies a lesson.  After decades of being botched, mishandled and underestimated by Hollywood, comic book heroes finally appeared in film, in a number of skillfully executed vehicles in the late 1990s; the following decade was something of a golden age for the genre, followed by the inevitable overexposure and curdling.  The rise of ‘geek culture’ as a dominant expression in this decade has had any number of deleterious effects, from the proliferation of the sub-adult as the norm in storytelling to the replacement of analysis with enthusiasm as a measure of a film’s success, but it has also played up the increasing ambiguities of what we mean when we talk about who is the owner of a character, a story, a work of art.

This question, only now peeking its way into media like film and television, has been raging for decades in the world of comics.  (Even the one arena where the notion of an author should be clear-cut — the medium of literature — has been infected by big-money issues, as risk-averse publisher revivify old properties in new hands, exercise ruthless control of copyright, and encourage profitable authors to franchise their characters, their ideas, and even their names in the pursuit of ‘branding’.)  Comics — especially mainstream ones — are a study in the paradoxes of auteurism.  It cannot be denied that the big-name publishers have long engaged in brutal suppression of the very idea of creator’s rights; ever since Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster signed away Superman in exchange for a handful of magic beans, writers and artists have been routinely getting rooked out of the fruits of their labors.  From an economic standpoint, the medium is as exploitative as it can get away with being.  Artistically, though, comics have also proven that the person who creates a character is not always the best person to tell that character’s story.  There are innumerable examples; had the right of refusal stayed with the creators of Superman and Batman, we might have been denied some of the most brilliant interpretations of those characters.  Comic heroes, with their long histories, collaborative nature, generational appeal, and iconic qualities, are vibrant proof that stories of great critical and popular appeal can be told by people who had nothing to do with creating the material on which they’re based.

Of course, this also plays into the muddle that exists between auteurism and ownership.  In Europe, as noted, these issues are intertwined, despite the collaborative nature of media like film and television; but in America, predictably, big-money interests have kept them separated by an iron curtain of law.  Even the small advances made in the arena of fair use are guarded by razor-sharp restrictions; we are entirely comfortable with the idea of generations of professional heirs, children and grandchildren who grow fat off the cash of artistic labor to which they have contributed not a drop of sweat or a flash of thought, but the idea that we might have the right to make art from a character so culturally ubiquitous that we have been exposed to it daily our entire lives is strictly verboten.  Being born with a certain name entitles you to make money as long as you live off an idea you had nothing to do with in some media, but creating a character in another that makes a corporations tens of millions of dollars doesn’t buy you the right to ever use that character again.  A combination of ignorance, short-sightedness, greed, indifference and deliberate obfuscation has left us with a terribly unfair and inconsistent concept both of who owns the rights and profits to an artistic creation, and who should be considered its author.  The result has been a financial and creative cluster-fuck of galactic proportions.

Only recently, this cluster-fuck has come to visit the world of television.  Always consumed by commercialism, and artistically disreputable almost on the level of comic books, television has never once been considered a medium where the hired guns who put together its programming have any rights whatsoever to their labor.  (They’re barely even considered creators on even the basest level, as we learned during the writer’s strike a few years back; indeed, on some types of ‘unscripted’ shows, writers are legally not treated as writers, even though the action on screen is guided by words that they write.)  But as we enter what many believe to be a golden age of quality drama and comedy on television, longtime assumptions about the rights and privileges of the creator are being challenged — and the bosses are once again responding by buying new rules and regulations that keep them firmly in control of someone else’s labor.

At every point where auteurs place their creative imprimatur on their work, owners — in the person of studios, production companies, and even advertisers — rush to erase it.  At a time when television shows of quality are much more often the product of an individual writer or director’s vision instead of the dashed-off high-concept idea of a producer, the ‘created by’ credit gains more and more respect; but the bosses have ensured that it means nothing more than money.  They have also introduced the concept of the ‘show-runner’, which seems to indicate what it really should be — the person whose artistic vision binds the disparate elements that make up the collaborative process of making a television show together — but in practical terms often means little more than the guy who wrangles the writers.  Some shows, of course, are more auteurish than others, but the process by which these titles are defined has nothing to do with creative control, and everything to do with money.

This, of course, brings us to our case in point:  the long-awaited return of beloved cult comedy Community, without the presence of its creator/former ‘show-runner’/beating heart, writer/director Dan Harmon.  According to conventional wisdom, which usually becomes conventional through the medium of money and the power of critical laziness, Harmon was unceremoniously jettisoned from the show he created for two reasons:  his inability to get along with a washed-up has-been universally reviled by the rest of Hollywood, and the fact that he was the first creative person in the history of art to have a difficult personality.  His real crime, unsurprisingly, was a financial one:  he created a brilliant television show with a fiercely loyal audience that was not popular enough to make a profit, but was just popular enough to allow it to creep towards the big-money goal of syndication.  For this failing, he got ousted in the shabbiest manner possible by the bosses, and had the further bad taste not to just shut up about it and collect his ‘creator’-credit payoff, but to point out publicly how shamefully he was treated. This won him few friends, because nobody likes to be reminded that ‘creative’ work is just as dominated by the money men as any other field, let alone their culpability in that process.

Community made its return this week after endless delays, in the hands of two new ‘show-runners’ the network felt would be able to sustain the tenor made possible by the efforts of a man who poured his entire being into the creation.  Advance copies of episodes made available to critics seem to indicate that, shockingly, that will not be the case, and that a quality television show is something a bit more than the aggregate of its individual talents.  I wouldn’t know, myself; I made a decision when I found out how badly Harmon was treated that the first three seasons — nicely culminated by Harmon himself, who was smart enough to read the writing on the wall — would be plenty for me, and that there was plenty of other good art in the world that would fill the void left by a show that intentionally let out its own blood.  Community actually did better in the ratings, a fact which can and will be made to do whatever trick people want it to do, but whatever happens to the show down the road in terms of commercial success, creatively, it’s likely to prove what that handful of people who cared in the first place said was going to happen.  Some art creates a template upon which all sorts of successful interpretations may be impressed; other art creates an outline so distinct and fully formed that only one person can fill it in.

Neither is more valid than the other.  But both prove one thing:  the notion of an auteur, the idea that a creator leaves an indelible mark on a creation, is one that is not always consistent but is always present, and it demands consideration on an artistic level, not just a financial one.  We’re unlikely to witness any sea change in this current era of blockbuster films, studio ‘properties’, and character brand-building; and even less so, as critics and journalists increasingly become publicists, and ordinary people habituate themselves into tolerating ‘where are they now’ articles on the stars of a franchise less than ten years old but which already suffers under a studio-mandated re-imagining. But if we want to keep what is vivid and alive from becoming stagnant and shallow, we might want to again look to Europe, and admit that a creator who is given a stake in his creation is the difference between a soldier who will die for what he believes and a mercenary who will leave the battlefield when the chance for profit starts to die out.


Because We Failed

mmmmm delicious



As you know, you have been tried and found guilty by a jury of your peers on counts of breaking and entering, second-degree robbery, criminal fraud, and five counts of incitement to riot — rocking, shocking, screaming, shouting, and turning a party out.  The reign of food-related terror by the gang we once feared as the “Fat Boys” is over, and it falls to me to pronounce sentence.

Your attorney, Mr. Walker, has pled for leniency on a number of grounds, which I hope now to address.  Frankly, gentlemen, his plea is not without merit; there were, indeed, exigent circumstances, unusual factors, and simple bad luck involved in this case, and all of them worked against you.  However, it must also be said that were you not engaged in criminal acts — and, if I may be blunt, if you were more in control of your appetites — there would be no need for us all to be here today, and you would not now be dressed in striped jumpsuits, with your ankles chained to comically oversized iron balls.

Let us first take up your case, Mr. Morales.  You have expressed regret for your crime, but is your regret sincere?  To begin with, there is nothing wrong with wanting a midnight snack.  It has happened to all of us at one time or another.  But instead of heading for a nearby bodega, or simply phoning in an order for delivery, you found a pizza restaurant that was closed and broke down the door with a shotgun, like some kind of violent maniac.  Mr. Morales, your file indicates that you are a native New Yorker — surely you are aware that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of restaurants, including a number of fine pizzerias, that are open past midnight on the island of Manhattan!  Even if the food in this establishment was that good, surely you could have foregone armed entry and just found a different place to eat.  And while it may be so that you have sufficient table manners to have put your stolen goods on a plate before eating them, it scarcely does you credit that you literally fell asleep with a face full of cold pizza.  For shame, sir.

Mr. Wimbley, your case is particularly frustrating.  Your plea for sympathy, I must confess, fell on deaf ears; I do not consider simply being hungry at lunchtime to be “the worst case of any MC”.  While it is your bad luck that you happen to have chosen the only Burger King franchise in existence where you receive your food before your bill — and I agree with you that it is “kind of strange” – that is no excuse for refusing to pay.  It is, honestly, impossible to believe that you were “shocked” by the concept of being asked to pay for food you ate at a restaurant, especially given your weight; and your attempt to claim diplomatic immunity is particularly laughable, as “King of the Slops” is merely a self-granted title, and not an actual position of sovereignty.  Normally, the so-called ‘dine-and-dash’, or, in your case, dine, boast, and then slowly waddle out, is not actually a crime, but in light of your arrogance and the astounding fact that you ate seventeen Whoppers without even thinking about it, I am inclined to accept the verdict of guilt on the charge of criminal fraud.

Mr. Robinson.  Yes, you, standing in the middle.  It particularly pains me to pass sentence, as I know you to be a good boy from a good family — and beyond that, a talented boy who is very outstanding; I might even say unique.  But you knew that your time was through, and you rocked all these good people just the same, regardless of whether they were homeboys or innocent young homegirls.  So degraded were you that you became something less than a man and more like a machine, a sort of human beat box.  Tragic is the only word for it.

Now look at you, gentlemen: sitting here alone, looking at the wall.  You thought you were cool and slick, driving the streets in a big car, gainfully employed as hospital orderlies:  and now you stand on the verge of losing your freedom, your mothers crying because they felt you were better.  In light of these facts, I have no choice but to sentence you to jail, without no bail, at the Lincoln Correctional Facility, where you will break rocks with a big, heavy hammer.  Bailiff, stick ‘em.



whats on the tee vee

American Idol keeps happening and I seem powerless to prevent it. It has become an eternal force of torment in my life, like gravity and speed humps. I try to extricate myself from its clutches but it drags me down again and again. It has happened for three hours so far this week. Think about that. The show is basically 90% commercials and it still manages to last longer than the First World War.

Anyway, apparently there is still another round of dude-winnowing yet to take place in this interminable Hollywood dystopia, so let’s go ahead and deal with it. After a montage of yesterday’s washouts (including Frankie Ford hollering “THEY WILL NOT DENY ME!” like he was gunning for the throne of Siluria), we are informed that the men will be singing a solo round to whittle them down from an army of 43 to to a still-bloated 28. Ryan Toothpaste emphasizes that this is the most important day yet, which he must be as sick as saying as I am hearing it. Paul Jolley is first and he is being a wimpy crybaby, which my darling heartless Nicki Minaj, dressed like she is headed to a P-Funk audition in 1979, zeros in on right away. (Mariah Carey is wearing another Glitter-gown, Randy Jackson is your headwaiter at the Too Much Lavender Café, and Keith Urban is oh who cares.) He says he wants it really bad, sings a mediocre song, and melts into a puddle of twitch-goo when Nicki tells him to man up and be a professional. Lazaro the Stutterer has finally eschewed pink and purple tops in favor of eye-cramping turquoise; Curtis Finch of the Churchy Inch kills it once again, and is becoming an early favorite in my eyes. They all make it through in Group 1, and I discover my neck hurts.

Everyone is emotional — sorry, “experiences a storm of anxiety”, thank you Ryan Toothpaste. Group 2 features preternaturally confident, pointy-headed Devin Velez, who sings a singing-school version of “What a Wonderful World”, I mean it’s all textbook. But it’s impressive compared to some of the other doo-dads, like the mile-a-minute Cortez. Gurpreet Singh Sarin kills it on “Georgia on My Mind”, establishing himself as this season’s Anoop with a little bit more swing. Mateo Fernandes, the beloved hobbit, gets a little too cutesy with his banter, and sings a way-too-obvious song with Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger”, and Nicki performs her Lord High Executioner act by telling him he’s leaning a little too heavily on his bit. Another sob story bites the dust! So long, kid, see you in New Zealand. Unfortunately, snotty Andrew from SATX also cruises through, ensuring another week I have to deal with his trifling ass.

Big Nick Mathis wants to make a better life for his kids, so you know he’s doomed. He’s a little pitchy and off key; it’s not terrible, but it’s not worse than a lot of the guys who got through already; then again, the judges are being extremely harsh, and Keith “3 AM in the Morning” Urban says he was not “chasing the dream, but chasing the song”. Whatever you say, you dingus. The good news is that Papa Peachez is unbelievably awful! He sings a shitty song terribly, blames his group for his own failure to sing well, has no enthusiasm, calls the other Idol contestants “puppets”, and mopes around saying “I don’t like singing other peoples’ songs”, as if he didn’t know what the concept of the show was when he tried out. Nicki properly sprays venom all over him, and he gets sent home, thus ensuring that one of my greatest dreams will come true: I never have to type the words “Papa Peachez” ever again!

Nick Boddington is a leftover from season 11. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: fuck these washouts. There are 300 million people in this country; go be on The Voice or something. Charlie Askew Syndrome comes out after doing some jumping jacks (“It’s what Bono used to do”), and goddamn if he isn’t charming as hell. His vocals are only okay, but he puts loads of personality in his performance, makes the judges swoon, and even gets off a great line — Nicki says “I am obsessed with you”, and he immediately retorts “Baby, I could say the same thing.” Way to go, you freaky little kid! My man Burnell Taylor, who is making the most of his wardrobe budget, is really selling his soft smooth voice; he’s got legs, this one. Micah Johnson, the Navy man whose dentist whacked his mouth into Speech Impediment Town, surprisingly doesn’t make it; picking a Randy Travis song probably wasn’t the best move for him. Nate Tao, S’ani, and ROCKER GABE BROWN also don’t make it through, thus depriving me of the use of all-caps yelling. Then, just to twist the knife, the judges pull the remaining winners on stage to remind them that eight of them will get axed next week for no particular reason. You crazy heart-stabbing bastards.

Next week: GIRLS! To sing a pop song! GIRLS To cry and yell shit! GIRLS GIRLS! GIRLS!


whats on the tee vee

Hello again, hopeless Idol junkies!

We’ve finally reached the brutal and systematic destruction of the human spirit that is the Hollywood round, which means that soon, praise be to Allah, I will only be recapping this show once per week. I know there’s the results show to contend with, but an hour per week of Ryan Toothpaste fakeouts, cheeseball top 40 cameos, dead-eyed odes to mid-size Ford sedans, and reminders that Taylor Hicks is still alive is far too much for my rickety constitution.

This week, it’s the fellas, who seem like a pretty fulsome bunch this time around. As standing rumor has it that Idol is attempting to foil another Guitar-Playing Caucasian Dreamboat victory, we might see a bit of diversity for once, or we might just see a bunch of no-talent clods who will wash away like so many “GO SPORTS TEAM” inscriptions by stick in sand. After a montage of how these lazy shits can’t wake up in time to get a free trip to Los Angeles, we get some illegal camera-phone footage while everyone else is obeying the sage advice of their stews. Ryan calls this round “guy vs. guy”; there but for the grace of “on” goes the show he really wants to star in. You wanted the golden ticket, you numb-nuts, now you’re going to get ironically punished by the donut-grease-soaked Willie Wonka that is Randy Jackson.

Speaking of our lovable panel of martinet tune-spinners, Mariah Carey has come wearing a turquoise evening gown she no doubt meant for the Best Actress acceptance speech for Glitter that never came; Keith Urban is decked out in his usual Millers-Outpost-body-model ensemble; Nicki Minaj has on a blonde wig and a dress made of magical gold dust that gives her fanny the ability to stick out for two feet; and Randy is channeling Michael Jackson in his “why bother to change clothes, everyone is just going to laugh at me anyway” phase. The initial round is “a cappella sudden death”, four words that should be paired together more often, and the contestants’ families are brought in for that extra touch of humiliation that makes Idol such a treat.

Micah Johnson, the guy whose shitty dentist gave him a speech impediment, is in the first round of guys; it’s revealed that he’s in the Navy, where I’m sure no one ever makes fun of him. They try to play up the drama with Micah, but he’s a mortal lock; also passing on to the next round are Nate Tao, Gurpreet Singh Sarin (a.k.a. “The Turbanator”), and, of course, ROCKER GABE BROWN. Impy-chimpy Karl Skinner arrives on set hyper-caffeinated to the point of vibrating himself to death, and he does a good job of promoting the Coca-Cola corporation and its fine line of products, but his James-Brown-with-a-spastic-colon act wears thinner every time I see it. Thankfully, the judges agree, and he is sent packing, as is Dustin Watts, the hunky firefighter that Nicki Minaj liked until she found a vibrator or something. Calvin Peters also washes out, but lucky for him, he is a fucking doctor.

Some zero named Cortez Shaw sings the famous Whitty Hutton song “I Will Always Sing At the Top of My Lungs” and makes the judges’ faces break from trying to maintain a polite smile. Nicki hates him (“I was disgusted”), as does Randy (“You ain’t Whitney”), but Mariah likes him because she has a vested interest in maintaining the preeminence of melisma, so he makes it through. Curtis Finch Jr. does a fine job because he has one of those religious sinecure gigs; I wish I still believed in God so I could sing well. Lazaro, the guy whose stutter is the Idol sob story of all time, makes it through until audiences get sick of hearing him try to muscle through words that start with L, as do a bunch of other guys I’ve never heard of. Nicki does the cruelest fakeout of all time, telling a Hawaiian kid who confessed to being tired that “we’re sending you home where you can really catch up on your sleep”, rendering him as stunned as a chicken whacked with a mallet until she says j/k. I’m not sure why Brian Rittenberry didn’t get through; maybe it was because of his driving cap, which he wore because why be different from every other fat guy who sings?

And now it’s time for GROUP ROUND! GROUP ROUND, where someone else’s shitty performance can sink you like a mephitic stone! GROUP ROUND, where if one person has a crap attitude, everyone’s dreams of a lifetime are washed down the sewer like so much rummy vom! And as if it weren’t all horrid enough, this time, corpselike producer Nigel Lythgoe forces everyone into arbitrary broad-comedy groups instead of letting people choose their own. Why not just hit everyone with machetes, Idol? Anyway, Lazaro makes a big hit with his group, because in addition to his stutter, he is Cuban and doesn’t speak English very well, and doesn’t know any of the songs. Your next American Idol, everyone! The groups are picked for maximum lowbrow hilarity: super-gay guys with big hulking dude-bros (including one group named “Country Queen”, are you fucking kidding me), ROCKER GABE BROWN with the hobbit guy, and so forth. Andy from San Antonio, who sings like a girl, seems pretty awful; the Army guy who’s stuck with the queeniest duo in the competition, resists their glitter-and-choreography wiles and threatens physical violence (“I’m gonna fuckin’ break someone”), but no one is broken, because I never get what I want.

ROCKER GABE BROWN and the hobbit (coming soon to the WB) kill it during their audition with Queen’s “Somebody to Love”, easily the highlight of the night so far. A nutritious breakfast is important, kids. A group of dudes I’ve never seen before make a slaughterhouse of “I’ll Be There”, but they let all but the guy who sang the flattest through. Who will sing flat now? Probably everyone! Charlie “Aspie” Askew is teamed up with a couple of big ol’ crooners who help him out when he has a case of the whim-whams; one of ‘em gets off a good line, saying he wants to be on “American Idol, not American Airlines”. They get through easy peasy Alyce Beasley. Has anyone noticed that Keith has a habit of singing out loud along with the contestants? This sort of defeats the purpose of being a judge, there, Aussie boy.

Micah Johnson is in a group called “The Four Tones”. Don’t strain anything thinking up a name, there, guys. Anyway, they sing “Hold On I’m Comin’” in straight-up old soul style and get though right away. A multi-culti aggregation called Young Love — Elijah Lau, Nate Tau, Cortez Shaw, and a Joey Ramone impersonator named Zach Birnbaum — also make it through doing “Some Kind of Wonderful”, but a group of five guys who look like they should be playing drums in a bad Quiet Riot cover band wash out, as do a gang of dude-bros who all fuck up the lyrics. “B-Side” includes the Turbanator, a kid who looks like a college lesbian, and someone with radial burst-grenade hair; they also forget the lyrics and are terrible, but Nicki bails them out, swayed by their charm and calling them “my favorite group”. I’m beginning to suspect that Nicki is just deliberately fucking with the system, which would be so great. Idol tries to play the ‘bad subtitle’ game in this segment, but they apparently don’t get that it’s supposed to be funny.

“Last Minute” does a One Direction song and does it horribly, prompting Nicki to say they were all equally bad, which, honestly, is over-generous. They all get sent home, which is fine with me, because I didn’t know any of their names and couldn’t tell them apart. Another group, consisting of two guys named Devin and two guys not named Devin, decides to go a cappella, and while they don’t seem particularly terrible, one of the non-Devins gets his walking papers. “Mo Flo” features my man Burnell Taylor, who’s on the nod and draws the ire of the vocal coach, but he still gets through. “Super 55″ is the group with Lazaro; Ryan Toothpaste, betraying a lack of understanding of what words mean, sys they are “hoping they do not become a statistic”. The other dudes think Lazaro is holding them back, even though he’s the best singer among them; they both wash out and clearly hate the fuck out of him, with one of them leaving him with the world’s most backhanded compliment and claiming credit for his success. I guess you’ll just have to settle for being white and not having a crippling speech disorder, pal.

The next group is “Queen Country”, which shuffles through the most weak-ass rendition of a song I’ve never heard of that I’ve ever heard. This is the group with ultra-queeny outer space man JDA and “Big Sarge” Trevor Blakney. After yelling at everybody else, he forgets the fucking lyrics, what a goddamn turd. He says he’s never failed at anything, although he has clearly failed to find a good barber and pass up the meatball buffet. “DKSK” consists of all the Idol tweeners, and they sing a Billy Joel song, so I don’t know what happened with them because I had a hate blackout. Ha ha, just kidding! What actually happens is that Caden, the dying kid, gets sent home to die in a blaze of non-glory, as a reminder of what a joke the sob story segments are. “Oz” features Frankie Ford, Andy Sanders, Papa Peachez, and Charles Allen, all of whom I hate and wish would die in some kind of gangland slaying. Frankie cries a lot, Andy is unpleasant, Charles lumbers around, and Papa Peachez acts like you would expect a guy named Papa Peachez would act; all of them suck on stage except for Charles, and even he is a lumbering oaf. Anyway, Frankie goes home and the guy whose name I am so tired of typing does not, and what time is it, does the sun still shine, has all molecular motion in the universe ceased.

Join us tomorrow when the ladies go through all this nonsense! It might be even more exciting and horrible because women are emotional and like to undermine and destroy each other, or wait hold on it turns out I am incredibly sexist!


I’m Sorry

i made myself sad

So sorry.  Please accept my apology.

When I referred to myself as an “internet dreamboat”, I mean to say “internet steamboat”.  The reference was to my weight.

I am not the nephew of the Sultan of Krumnail.  That is not an actual location, but just a word I made up.

My service in the United States Marine Corps was exaggerated.  I actually worked for six months at Marine Land Jumbo Subs, which is located in the United States.

I do not actually own a car.  I have one of those motorized scooters with a shopping basket on the front that I call a car.

When I said “marriage is not that big a deal to me”, I should have said “the fact that I have repeatedly engaged in multiple” beforehand.

My income actually is in six figures, if you allow for a decimal point to indicate pocket change.

I was the governor of Colorado for several years, but only in a dream.  The dream took place in Illinois.

When I said “I fought my way up from the mean streets”, I was referring to Double Dragon.

I did not invent the compact disc, but to be fair, it was pretty stupid of you to believe that.

“I came over on the Mayflower” was mostly accurate, except for the word “over”.

That time we were taking the word association test, and you said “lion”, and I said “Detroit”, I lied.  The first word that actually came to my head was “delicious”.

My role in the downfall of the Soviet Union was largely limited to buying expensive tennis shoes.

I did not have a special kind of LASIK surgery called STAN STASIK surgery which gave me the power of the heart punch.

I was not, as I stated at various times, the fifth, seventh, ninth, or sixteenth Beatle.

In fact, many people other than me can prevent forest fires.

I actually do have a thirty-three-inch penis.  It just doesn’t belong to me.

The “Etc.” in “Mailboxes Etc.” does not stand for my initials.  Also, my initials are not ETC.

I cannot actually dance the Charleston, although I once danced the hokey-pokey in Charleston.

My nickname in high school was not “Radivarius”.

I cannot do the Japanese Tea Ceremony, the Balinese Dagger Dance, or the Kentucky Shuffle Fuck.  Some of those may not even be real things.

While I was a teenage communist, I was not the Prime Minister of the Supreme Soviet of Glendale, AZ.

I am not Eddie Van Halen’s “role model”.  In fact, I have been legally enjoined from making that claim.

The relationship I have with Bill Gates may be slightly different in my mind than it is in reality.

Every sentence I have ever spoken containing the word “piledriver” has been a lie.

I did not actually dance the hokey-pokey in Charleston.


whats on the tee vee

It’s the last audition round before we move on to Hollywood, and thank God for it. Speaking of God, this evening’s show comes to us from Oklahoma City, where Texas goes to die; the hopefuls are lined up by 5:18 AM, because there is nothing else to do there. The episode leads in with a montage of people chasing their hats, but I think Miller’s Crossing taught us everything we need to know about that phenomenon. There’s the usual montage of the judges emerging from limousines with sour-faced security guards; I really wish they’d dispense with these. I mean, I get it — I know what this show is about. But for Christ’s sake, times are hard. Anyway, Mariah Carey is wearing a glitter disco top from Plato’s Retreat circa 1979; Randy Jackson sports one of those jackets they give you at a restaurant if you show up in something that doesn’t measure up to the dress code; Keith Urban has simply stopped trying; and Nicki Minaj is dressed like the world’s most stylish Foot Locker employee.

Karl Skinner of Joplin, Missouri is the first contestant, a DJ Qualls like-a-look who got in via the Small Town bus tour; he strongly resembles the kind of person you usually meat on buses or at bus stations. He is a “pizza chef”. At first he sings a James Brown song and it is some nonsense, but when he picks up his guitar and sings some of his own material, it sounds vastly better — actually, it’s a shocking turnaround that you almost never see in the early goings. The gang lets him through and suggests that he might be the new Ryan Seacrest, which is ridiculous, because everyone knows that when we need a new Ryan Seacrest, we just get one from the cloning vats where the original was developed. After a montage of me snoring, we get Nate Tao, whose parents are deaf; he makes the sensible observation that they were concerned about him auditioning, because if he sucks, they wouldn’t know enough to tell thin.

The next contestant is (a) named Hailie (b) a horse trainer and (c) a ventriloquist. That’s all that need to be said about her.

A montage informs us of how nice Oklahomans are, which might come as a surprise to anyone who knew Richard Lee McNair, Joe Schillaci or Donald Eugene Webb. This leads into the appearance of she-hulk Zoanette Johnson, a terrifying creature in a gold jacket and an Alley Oop vest who shakes her ass in front of the camera for ten minutes and then sings the national anthem, badly. Obama’s America, everybody. Zoanette is pretty great, though, in terms of being a crazy shook-up freakazoid; when the judges are deciding, she’s all “Hurry up, y’all, I gots a lunch date.” This makes me love her at once, but I’m also kind of afraid she might die.

Another crying montage. Grow up, people, it’s just a televised singing competition. This ends up in Anastacia Freeman, crying her over-mascara’d eyes out, boo hoo. The judges hate her, which is hard to figure; she’s not great, and she flips and howls all over the place, but she’s not substantially worse than several other people they let through. The real fun comes when she explains how God, through his servant Phillip Phillips, commanded her to go on American Idol; there’s a cheesy “dramatization” of this, which, I mean, I don’t even know what to think. Yeah, it’s dumb, but it’s not any less dumb than a bunch of other Jesus shit they let past on this show without a snotty comment. Anyway, who cares, she’s done, and on her way home she throws a fit in which she claims, among other things, that she’s heard Nicki Minaj worships the devil. Gosh, I wish that were true.

Caden Stevenson is a 16-year-old kid in a 12-year-old kid’s body. He’s the big sob story of the night: he is “inspiring” because he has cystic fibrosis. I wonder if he will get in, ha ha! His story depresses me beyond belief; at one point, when he gets on, he says “God put me in a position to make this happen. Yes, he did, Caden, by giving you a terminal disease when you were only a child! Thanks, God! Anyway, he is hella charming, I’ll be sad when he washes out which I guess is the point or something. To emphasize how seriously Idol takes these misery goats, immediately after Caden, we are treated to a drag act starring Steven Tyler in a dress and huge fake boobs that honk when he touches them. Time for suicide!

Join me next week, or don’t.


American Idol: Season 12, Episode 5

whats on the tee vee

Oh, boy! Tonight is the San Antonio episode, and because I have psychic powers, I predict: (a) Alamo (b) Riverwalk (c) those giant boots at North Star Mall (d) cracks about how everything is bigger in Texas, possibly accompanying footage of a fat guy. Sure enough, all these things come true in five seconds! (The fat guy is Randy Jackson, eating a cinnamon roll the size of an ottoman. The auditions take place at the “legendary Sunset Station”, which is a good deal less legendary than they make it out to be. Let’s not waste any more time on the preliminaries; I have to live here, folks.

Randy’s outfit tonight is studded leather armor (+3 Armor Class, -1 check penalty, 15% arcane spell failure chance); Keith Urban has his usual man-whore shirt on; Mariah Carey sports a feathered vest she got at Björk’s moving sale; and Nicki Minaj looks terrifyingly normal in a white sweater and Marcia Brady hair. First up is Vince Powell, a “praise leader” who resembles Urkel with some kind of genetic damage. Being a “praise leader” is a job that people have now, I guess. He is another drooling Mariah Carey fan, and sings “Rock Me Baby” with a sort of mid-tier competence and too many runs. It’s hard enough to muster any interest in Vince, but when I find out that he’s another “returning contestant”, I go to the kitchen for a taquito, because seriously, fuck these guys. This show should be like the Marines: if you wash out, you have to go join the Coast Guard, a.k.a. The Voice.

Derek and David Bacerott are a couple of dude-bro knuckleheads who audition together, never a good idea. They think they are great, even though they are terrible enough to be a joke act, but the surprise comes when they actually start getting pissy with the judges, trying to get a pass to Hollywood through the sheer strength of their Axe-bathed douchebaggery. Can they actually argue their way onto Idol? Nope! But they do instigate a fun contest between Nicki and Mariah to see who can tell them to shut up in the most efficient manner. Their excuse for being cruddy is that “We gotta make money, and life gets in the way.” Back to being cologned-up San Antonio ballaz for you, D&D!

Savannah Votion (EMOTION LOTION!) is a single mom with mental issues and some clothes she stole from 1991 Courtney Love. “This means the word to me,” she says three hundred times. She keeps staring off in the distance, like she is expecting the mothership from Independence Day to appear on the horizon. Then we get a “Parade of Nonsense” montage of terrible singers, including Ricky Jo Garcia singing a permanently damaged version of “And I Am Telling You”, before Cristabel Clack arrives with a haircut from a late-’80s new wave dog food commercial with the purple stripey top to match. Guess what Cristabel is? That’s right: she’s a “worship leader”! What are these jobs? How do you get them? What has happened to America? Anyway, she sings an Alicia Keys song and is good if not great, but she’s got style, charisma and earrings that are going to come to life and devour us all. Keith makes a clever observation about her phrasing, but it is blotted out by Mariah, who does a little dance and appears to be drunk! Oh, Paula Abdul. We all miss you.

Ann Difani is a big-mouthed freakazoid whose identity is build around Arkansas Razorbacks football. Hey, at least she’s not out there serial-killing people or whatnot. She is a grad student in, I will bet two American dollars, either communications or sports medicine. I can’t really say why, but I have an instant dislike for Ani and her husband, who suffers from a blandular disorder; she is too thin, too enthusiastic, and she does that kind of clapping where you hold your hands about three feet apart and then slowly make your palms barely touch while you smile until it looks like your face will fall off. She sings Faith Hill in a very Faith Hill kind of way. Mariah does another of her “YOU WANT TO SING COUNTRY SONGS, RIGHT?” bits, but this time Nicki doesn’t set the building on fire; I just sit there and stew in my hate.

Nicki’s hair has become black, and she is wearing some of Prince’s leftovers. Next up is all-girl mariachi singer, thus marking the first time all season that I have had any musical interest in a contestant. Unfortunately, she sings “Big Girls Don’t Cry” by Britney Spears, because good God why. She’s also wearing bike shorts. The judges make her sing something in Spanish (Randy: “Sing us a little marrotchey”), and she immediately lights up and her voice goes from good to great. Then there’s another montage of wash-outs: Stefan Jones is the second Urkel look-alike of the night; Ongela Clark Farouey is so bad I actually get a ringing in my ears from her pitchy howling; and then there is someone with a bad wig and a dirty face whose name I didn’t catch because I was crying.

Next up: Papa Peachez. “How did you get the name Papa Peachez?”, asks Ryan Toothpaste. “Well, I work with homeless people in Jackson, Mississippi,” he replies, instantly winning the 2013 Award for Not Actually Answering The Question. Papa Peachez is painfully gay with an emo haircut at least 17 years out of date, and describes himself with no concern for accuracy as “a little white boy, but inside I’m a big black woman”. He is “super quirky” and doesn’t “like” covers, so he sings an original song that is the worst thing I have ever heard. His voice is impressive if you have never heard an actual blues singer, even a white one, and when the judges let him through (with a caveat from Keith that he is, ahem, “so theatrical that I can’t find you in it”), I think I might die. Oh, well. Everybody loves a clown.

Sanni M’Mairura is a 16-year-old pan-African kid from Pearland who wears oversized clothes, and, in keeping with tonight’s theme of made-up religious occupations, is an “outreach choreographer”. I have been unemployed for two years. Anyway, Sanni is talented, charismatic and appealing as hell, and he’s got charm coming out my bleeding ulcer. Ryan speaks to his parents and calls him “your boy”. Good job there, Ryan. Nicki calls him a variety of snack foods, and he gets tons of praise from Randy, who has changed into a uniform held together by the Hero of the Beach medal he won from the People’s Republic of Brohams. I can’t deny Sanni’s appeal, but I’m just getting a little tired of the churchies. Let’s get some backwards Hill Country trash buckets up there.

The last contestant in San Antone is Adam Sanders, another Mariah-loving gaybro, pear-shaped, accompanied by a coterie of hags, and rocking Anton Chigur’s haircut from No Country for Old Men. He’s got a crazy good voice for a girl, but HE IS A MAN! There are hairs on his face! What is going on here, my perceptions have been shattered, what’s next a lady in trousers, etc., etc. He probably won’t last long, because America will go predictably hibbety-bibbety over a boy who sounds like a girl, but he does bring a moment of enjoyment when he forces Mariah to claim she is too young to remember Etta James. After him, it’s off to Long Beach, to board the Queen Mary, which, unfortunately, does not run aground, get attacked by pirates, or become boarded by British separatists from Orange County. It also kind of takes the edge off of “you’re going to Hollywood” when that means “drive a half-hour north”.

Ryan brags about being the first to arrive in his shiny new FORD!; Randy is wearing a carpet-salesman jacket; Keith is wearing a car-salesman jacket; Mariah Carey is late; and Nicki Minaj is at the American Music Awards, whatever that is. This segment of the show, in addition to some shitty animation and a movie parody even worse than the Western parody they did in San Antonio, features an overload of sob stories. So I must once again register my extreme dislike of how Idol tries to play it both ways: they pat themselves on the back for letting them through and wallow in their highly mediated misery, but don’t say a word when they get dumped in the Hollywood round or soon after. Bah, is what I have to say about that.

First up in the LB is teen desi Shubha Vedula, wearing a kameez top and some kind of scary ninja boots. She sings “Something’s Got a Hold on Me”, and her voice is all over the place, but in a good way, and I love everything she says. Damn pantheists. Randy makes fun of her name because he is awful. Next up is Brian Martinez, who instantly makes this the gayest episode of all time: he was discovered in a men’s bathroom by a self-identified “producer“. Whose name was JOHN. Brian is a nervous, tweaked-out mess who looks like he just accidentally murdered someone and is worried that the fuzz is waiting outside; he sings a Phil Collins song about mice or something and is very, very bad. “This wasn’t a good experience for me,” he says. What are you doing, Idol.

Matt Farmer has a daughter named Cadence, even though he got his nuts blown off in the war. Oh, no, wait! He had brain damage and it was supposed to make him sterile, but Cadence was born anyhow. We don’t get a look at Matt’s mailman. Everyone “appreciates your service”, Matt, even Keith Urban, who is a foreign national. I immediately hate Matt despite his cute kid, because he sings “A Change is Gonna Come”, which, as I have mentioned for the last 12 years, is not a song for white people to sing. Also, he shouts it. Of course, he gets through, because he is a handsome white war veteran with an adorable toddler, but I wish he would get hit by lighting. Then Stephanie Sanson, a purple-haired girl in a band called You Only Live Once, comes and does a deathcore scream at everyone while making unacceptable finger motions. Boo! Mariah implies that Stephanie is not a proper young lady.

Finally, Nicki arrives, accompanied by some hulking bodyguards and wearing an outfit composed of the skins of several endangered species. Jesaiah Baer, a teenager who stole Daryl Dragon’s hat, comes in to sing, but someone — I suspect that dirty purple-haired ragamuffin — trips the fire alarm and everyone has to go away so the QM‘s insurance rates don’t go up. It turns out that Randy’s busted Sodexo lunch burst into flames, thus ensuring he will be in a foul mood for the duration. Jesaiah gets to sing again, though, and she’s got some fun jazzy rhythms and cool phrasing, boatloads of charisma, and an accent I can’t pin down. Good for her. After that, there’s a montage of bad singers and a bit about how the Queen Mary is haunted or something; I can’t remember the details because I slipped into a hate coma.

Micah Johnson has been making music “ever since I came out of my mom”. If you say so, Micah. Some hack doctor gave him a speech impediment while taking his tonsils out, so he really doesn’t need to be on this show, since — I’m hoping at least — he got a massive payout from a medical malpractice suit. Anyway, he doesn’t have the impediment when he sings, which, as I have mentioned before, is perfectly normal, but it’s a miracle if you are dumb, which the panel is (Randy calls the phenomenon, with his usual tact, “a fakeout”. Still, Micah is pretty damn good; he says excitedly that “life as I know it is gonna be very different”. Maybe not! A ten-year-old sings “Valerie” and says she will be the winner of American Idol in five years; why not just give it to her now and free up my winter 2018 viewing schedule?

Then Kimberly Rachel Hale appears, singing “People Get Ready” exactly the way you would expect an extremely peppy white girl with three names from rural Arkansas would. She’s a total snooze, but there’s been a shortage of pretty white girls on this episode, so the judges goob all over her and give her a ticket up the I-10. Nicki: “You didn’t try to do too much”. And how! Mariah momentarily slips into her outer space persona: “I am really enjoying you as an entity.” Next up is Brianna Oakley, and her sob story is that she was bullied. This could be juicy, but it turns out that she was on the Maury Povich show as one of the “most talented kids of 2009″ (in other words, she’s a ringer), and after that people picked on her. Speaking as someone who was pretty severely bullied through most of high school, I don’t think “I got hassled because I am so talented and famous” quite resonates as much as Idol thinks it does, but she’s fine, good voice, pain is not a contest, whatever.  I guess having to be anywhere in the vicinity of Maury Povich is trauma enough.

Finally, there is Matheus Fernandes, who is a hobbit. What’s the big deal? People love hobbits! At least he makes a better case for having been bullied than Brianna Oakley. He has a tiny little cardigan and a great big bursting heart; I wonder if he can sing, gosh! If nothing else, it will stop him from saying the word “bro”. His song choice is “A Change is Gonna Come”, and you know what, fuck it, I’m done trying to argue about why this song should be hands off, but he also shouts it and makes up ‘special’ lyrics name-checking the judges. I feel zero guilt about making fun of this dude.

I think tomorrow night is Oklahoma City; I’m not sure, because my DVR switched over to The Americans, but nothing interesting has ever happened in the last few minutes of the audition episodes of Idol. But join me anyway, won’t you? I promise 100% fewer weeping hobbits!


The Most Beautiful Fraud: Stray Dog

video madness

Akira Kurosawa’s films have become something of a sticky wicket for me.  He’s obviously one of the greats of cinema, and at his best he’s nearly untouchable, but with some of his most lionized films, familiarity has bred, if not contempt, at least discomfort.  The more I watch them, the more I notice little patterns and habits, which analysis — or over-analysis — turns into flaws.  I’ve never really bought into the criticism, common in Japan, that he valorizes the elite; his focus on competent authority figures strikes me as more an obsession with professionalism, a la Howard Hawks, than it does any kind of statement on class or politics.  But other factors are harder to ignore.  His often glacial pace, with a few exceptions (particularly Ran) lack the weighty elegance of Yasujiro Ozu’s, and can come across less as someone attempting to set a contemplative mood and more someone in love with his own eye.  Likewise, his determination to emphasize his humanist message can often lead to underscoring scenes with an awfully heavy hand.

In an attempt to come to terms with these criticism, as well as to recapture what it is that I loved about the man in the first place, I recently decided to plunge into his early filmography, with which I was largely unfamiliar.  The only pre-Rashomon film I can recall seeing is a barely-remembered college screening of The Judo Saga.  So as a corrective, I decided to start with some of his ’40s material, and given my particular tastes, I thought Stray Dog would be a good place to start.  Set just a few years after the war, it stars a young, hatchet-faced Toshiro Mifune as a rookie murder police whose Colt pistol is lifted off of him on the subway, sending him on a manic chase to recover it as it is used in an escalating series of crimes.

Stray Dog was one of several attempts by Kurosawa to work in the noir idiom — or, more precisely here, the police procedural.  His self-identified model for the story was the work of Georges Simonon, and he also cited Jules Dassin’s The Naked City — a pure, straightforward cops-on-the-job number with fewer of Dassin’s usual bleak swaths of desperation and rudderless morality — but for me, it’s a film that plays more Italian than French.  It works in a more neo-realist mode than in the deeply humanist, borderline didactic style than his later films, abetted greatly by some solid, naturalistic performances and most especially by Asakazu Nakai’s unromantic cinematography.  Kurosawa, Nakai, and assistant director Ishiro Honda yank us headlong into a post-war Tokyo that is anything but the sprawling, gaudy, neon-lit metropolis of Seijun Suzuki; it’s a desolate, shabby, bombed-out wreck, with urban centers that look like desert villages, and busy streets that kick up dust under the director’s beloved weather-streaked skies.

This actually works strongly in the film’s favor; the lack of grandeur not only reduces the scope and prevents Kurosawa from getting carried away with historical conceits, but also allows him to narrow his focus onto the psychological tensions of the characters.  He’s usually at his best when he maintains his idol Dostoyevsky’s observant perceptions of human behavior, while avoiding flat-footed attempts to recreate Dostoyevsky’s grand narratives of redemption.  Here, the immediacy of the war and the tightened circumstances it inflicts on everyone are inescapable, not only in the landscape, but in the behavior of the primaries.  Mifune’s police detective is impossibly rigid, rulebound, stiff and obedient; his station as a recent military veteran is impossible to miss, while his superior, played by Takashi Shimura, gets a load of his yes-sir-right-away-sir rap and immediately admonishes him:  ”Lighten up.  This isn’t the army.”  Shimura’s exasperated realist and Mifune’s nervy, gung-ho idealist form two points of a pyramid that terminates with Isao Kimura, playing another thorny, desperate veteran, scrambling just like like Mifune but on the opposite side of the law.

At least one stereotype about Kurosawa is cut to ribbons here:  the knock that he can’t write interesting roles for women can’t survive a collision with the brassy, tough-talking showgirl played by Keiko Awaji.  Scornful of the police, protective of her own circle, and barking her hardboiled dialogue with maximum slangy contempt, she’s the equal of any contemporary femme fatale in Western crime drama.  She also hates to be dependent or obliged to anyone, and she’s ready to walk away at a moment’s notice.  It’s a terrific character, and instantly one of the most fascinating women in Kurosawa’s filmography.   Awaji, who’s still with us after appearing in a handful of Hollywood movies, has plenty of fun with it as well, decked out in scandalous outfits and throwing shade at Mifune every time he says something she perceives as patronizing or threatening.

For all its considerable strengths — and this will probably need repeat viewings, but for me, it surpasses The Bad Sleep Well and rivals High and Low among Kurosawa’s modern crime dramas – Stray Dog is far from perfect.  It’s tight, but not particularly lean; there’s a lot of padding in the scenes where Mifune, in barely-needed drag as a homeless casualty of war, wanders through low-life Tokyo.  (Another, where Mifune and Shimura pursue their prey to a baseball game, has so much goofy on-field footage that it seems like Kurosawa and his crew where just having a good time at the ballpark instead of working on a movie.)  Some of its imagery is a bit too on-the-nose, as well.  Kurosawa himself disliked the film; he seemed puzzled by its warm reception, and considered it a failed experiment.

Terrence Rafferty, the ex-New Yorker critic who penned the essay that appears in the Criterion edition of Stray Dog, thinks it’s a good thing that the movie failed in its attempt to emulate Simenon, as Kurosawa was (sniff) a maturing artist who was “outgrowing his influences”, and was “destined to become more than a reliable genre craftsman”.   I agree with Rafferty’s assessment that Stray Dog may be Kurosawa’s first great film, but not at his dismissive waving away of its structure and composition; surely history has taught us that a miniature masterpiece can contain just as many profound insights into human nature, if not more, than big sprawling epics that are statements instead of films.  Kurosawa’s reflection of Tokyo as a chaotic, sprawling reflection of the costs of war, and the slow disintegration of Mifune into a there-but-for-fortune-go-I perspective, are as powerful in Stray Dog‘s simple realism, if not more so, than any of the grand pronouncements of his later work.  He may not have been destined to create films like this, but it’s nice to know that he could, and did.


it says here...

Expressing these class tentions, there was a tradition of plebeian anti-clericalism and irreligion.  To go no further back, the Lollards carried a popular version of John Wyclif’s heresies into the sixteenth century.  Lollard influence survived in a popular materialist skepticism which makes one feel appreciably nearer to the age of Voltaire than is normal in the 16th century.  A carpenter in 1491 rejected transubstantiation, baptism, confession, and said men would not be damed for sin; in 1512 a Wakefield man said ‘that if a calf were upon the altar, I would rather worship that than the holy sacrament.  The date was past that God determined him to be in form of bread.’  The clergy, an earlier Lollard had declared, were worse than Judas, who sold Christ for thirty pence, while priests sold masses for a halfpenny.  The commons, said another, ‘would never be until they had stricken off all the priests’ heads.’  There was a saying in the country, a north Yorkshireman pleaded in 1542, ‘that a man might lift up his heart and confess himself to God Almighty and needed not to be confessed at a priest’.  A shearman of Dewsbury elaborated on this point:  he would not confess is offenses with a woman to a priest, ‘for the priest would be as ready within two or three days after to use her as he’.  

Such men tended to be called Anabaptists or Familists by their enemies.  These names — familiar enough on the continent — were very loosely applied in England:  most of our evidence comes from hostile accounts in the church courts.  The essential doctrine of Anabaptism was that infants should not be baptized.  Acceptance of baptism — reception into the church — should be the voluntary act of an adult.  This clearly subverted the concept of a national church to which ever English man and woman belonged:  it envisaged instead the formation of voluntary congregations by those who believed themselves to be the elect.  An Anabaptist much logically object to the payment of tithes, the ten per cent of everyone’s earnings which, in theory at least, went to support the ministers of the state church.  Many Anabaptists refused to swear oaths, since they objected to a religious ceremony being used for secular judicial purposes; others rejected war and military service.  Still more were alleged to carry egalitarianism to the extent of denying a right to private property.  The name came to be used in a general pejorative sense to describe those who were believed to oppose the existing social and political order.

Familists, members of the Family of Love, can be defined a little more precisely.  They were followers of Henry Niclaes, born in Münster in 1502, who taught that heaven and hell were to be found in this world.  Niclaes was alleged to have been a collaborator of Thomas Münzer in insurrection at Amsterdam.  The Puritan divine John Knewstub said of him:  ’H.N. turns religion upside down.  He buildeth heaven here on earth; he maketh God man and man God.’  Like Francis Bacon, Familists believed that men and women might recapture on earth the state of innocence which existed before the Fall:  their enemies said they claimed to attain the perfection of Christ.  They held their property in common, believed that all things come in nature, and that only the spirit of God within the believer can properly understand Scripture.  They turned the Bible into allegories, even the Fall of Man, complained William Perkins.  Familism was spread in England by Christopher Vittels, an itinerant joiner of Dutch origin.  In the 1750s English Familists were noted to be wayfaring traders, or ‘cowherds, clothiers and such-like mean people’.  They believed in principle that ministers should be itinerants, like the Apostles.  They were increasing daily by1759, numerous in the dicese of ELy in 1584, also in East Anglia and the north of England.  They were particularly difficult for the ecclesiastical authorities to root out because — like many Lollards before them — they were ready to recant when caught, but not to give up their opinions.  The Family of the Mount held even more subversive views.  They were alleged to reject prayer, to deny the resurrection of the body.  They questioned whether any heaven or hell existed apart from this life:  heaven was when men laugh and are merry, hell was sorrow, grief, and pain.

The opening words of Bishop Cooper’s Admonition to the People of England (1589) speak of ‘the loathsome contempt, hatred and disdain that the most part of men in these days bear towards the ministers of the church of God’.  He attributed such views especially to the common people, who ‘have conceived an heathenish contempt of religion and a disdainful loathing of the ministers thereof’.  ’The ministers of the world,’ Archbishop Sandys confirmed, ‘are become contemptible in the eyes of the bases sort of people’.  In 1606 a man was presented to the church courts for saying that he would rather trust a thief than a priest, a lawyer or a Welshman.

‘If we maintain things that are established,’ complained Richard Hooker, ‘we have to strive with a number of heavy prejudices deeply rooted in the hearts of men, who think that herein we serve the time and seek the favor of the present state because thereby we either hold or seek preferment.’  Thomas Brightman in 1615 confirmed that hostility to the hierarchy ‘is now favored much of the people and multitude’.  We recall the oatmeal-maker who, on trial before the High Commission in April 1630, said that he would never take of his hat to bishops.  ’But you will to Privy Councillors’, he was urged.  ’Then as you are Privy Councillors,’ quoth he, ‘I put off my hat; but as you are the rags of the beast, lo!  I put it on again.’  Joan Hoby of Colnbrook, Buckinghamshire, said four years later that she ‘did not care a pin nor a fart for my Lord’s Grace of Canterbury, and she did hope that she should live long enough to see him hanged.’  (Laud was in fact executed eleven years later, but we do not know whether Joan Hoby was still alive then.)

(Christopher Hill, from The World Turned Upside Down:  Radical Ideas During the English Revolution.)


Mel Gibson Knows Kuh-Razee

now let me tell you what *i* think

Parker, the amoral and ultra-efficient criminal featured in 24 novels by Donald Westlake, has been kicked around Hollywood almost as much as he’s been kicked around in his books.  He was luckiest in his earliest and latest adaptations; Point Blank, the 1967 film that adapted Parker’s debut in The Hunter, was only the second and still the best on-screen version of the character, with a grim-faced portrayal by Lee Marvin and directed with a stark, chilly rhythm by John Boorman.  And recently, just before Westlake kicked the bucket, comics artist Darwyn Cooke completed the first of what would become an ongoing series of adaptations of the Parker novels, and they, too, nicely capture the cool noir grace notes of the source material.

In between, though, there were an awful lot of mediocrities cranked out of Hollywood purporting to bring us the stories of the determined, if unlucky, heist man.  Due to one of those innumerable legal niceties that keep Los Angeles entertainment lawyers in sports cars, the character had to be given a different name on screen, and in Brian Helgeland’s 1999 adaptation of The Hunter entitled Payback, Mel Gibson portrays him as “Porter”.  The plot follows a somewhat faithful read of the novel, with all the familiar names in place and a similar set-up, but the devil is in the details, and as with most second-rate thrillers adapted from good books, this one gets them mostly wrong.

The film has a promising start, with Parker undergoing back-alley surgery following a near-fatal shooting and slowly crawling his way back out of the gutter, gaining just enough respectability to begin his campaign of revenge after his wife and his partner in a heist betray him and leave him for dead.  This entire sequence has a tense energy we never really see again, and it’s also the only time Chris Boardman and Moe Jaffe’s score sounds like a legit piece of noir film music and not something that they couldn’t find a use for in the latest Law & Order:  SVU.  (It’s also a bit hard to tell when, exactly, the film is meant to take place; most cues, from the automobiles to the clothes to the by-the-numbers soundtrack, suggest a setting contemporary to Payback‘s 1999 release date, but no one has a computer, credit card technology seems stuck in the 1970s, and there are no cell phones — indeed, one major plot point at the end of the movie involves a car phone and an indoor land line, and both of them are rotary dials!)

Payback has tonal problems all over the place.  Helgeland, in the first place, doesn’t seem to know whether the thing is supposed to be a dark revenge thriller or an Elmore Leonard-esque mob comedy, populated with colorful characters with a sinister side; Gibson plays the scenes where he’s being beaten and tortured like he’s auditioning for an open slot with the Three Stooges, and James Coburn seems to have gotten hold of a script with “wacky” written extensively in the notes.  Other times, though, the film seems to be going for a straightforward adaptation of the source, and this uncertainty about how it wants us to react at any given moment really starts to hobble the film, especially when it gets really violent.

There isn’t much sense to be made of the plot, either.  The Hunter relies for its powerful effect on a straight-faced identification with the notion that Parker is a cold-blooded enough son of a bitch to lay waste to everything in his path just to get the (stolen) money that is owed him, and Boorman correctly figured that could only be accomplished by making him an existential cypher, a serpent who’d rather gorge himself on something that will choke him than go hungry.  Helgeland’s Porter, on the other hand, is so flippant and short, with a collection of sympathies and tics that stand in for a forceful personality, that his behavior in pursuit of $70,000 just seems ridiculous.  A subplot involving the Tong serves only as an excuse for the movie’s silliest action scene, a flashback early on fills in some story details but is as awkwardly wedged into the overall structure as the clumsy voice-overs, and another subplot with a pair of crooked cops not only wastes two decent character actors in Bill Duke and Jack Conley, but is also resolved so easily, and so stupidly, that it shouldn’t have been in the movie at all.  None of this accomplishes anything but pull focus away from Porter’s  singularity of purpose, and makes the whole movie seem scattered.

Wasting Duke and Conley seems like an even greater crime when you consider that good acting is at a premium in Payback.  Gibson, for all his hamming it up, isn’t bad enough to be a distraction, but almost the entire remainder of the cast is a disaster.  Kris Kristofferson appears late in the film to effectively balance out Coburn’s overbaked goofiness, but Gregg Henry is ridiculously over the top as Gibson’s ex-partner; Jon Glover isn’t on screen long enough to make any difference; William Devane is in full-blown TV movie mode; and Lucy Liu, playing a criminal dominatrix, delivers the most offensive yellowface this side of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Maria Bello plays the female lead/romantic interest, but she and Gibson have a charisma rating in the negative teens; they both seem bored with the whole arrangement and eager to move on to the next scene.  I can’t blame them.

The internet informs me that an alternate “director’s cut” of Payback exists, consisting of Helgeland’s ideal version of the film, which went unreleased due to him being fired late in the production and replaced with Paul Abascal.  Reading the summary, it sounds like a mild improvement, but I’m guessing it’s more mild than improvement.  This wasn’t really a movie that seemed to be suffering because of reshoots or a betrayal of the director’s vision; it just seemed like kind of a third-rate movie.  Nothing in Helgeland’s filmography suggests that he’s capable of genius, so I doubt a more improved version of Payback would be all that worthwhile, and replacing Kris Kristofferson, who delivers one of the only passable performances on screen with Sally Kellerman would be a mistake on the level of, well, replacing anyone with Sally Kellerman.

Seen as homework for the upcoming Parker, with Jason Statham as the title character, Payback may shine by comparison.  Parker is directed by the appropriately named Taylor Hackford, a perpetual underachiever who will be hugely overpraised when he dies because he directed a lot of moneymaking films in the ’80s and ’90s; and while it’s got a much better cast (including Michael Chiklis, Clifton Collins Jr., Wendell Pierce, and Jennifer Lopez’s hiney), the trailers promise maximum stupidity as well as a profound misunderstanding of who Parker is and what he does.  Taken on its own, it seems like a curious attempt to bridge the action hero tropes of the ’80s and ’90s with the coming nihilistic revenge pictures of the 2010s — and a somewhat depressing reminder that we had this figured out as long ago as 1967.


All ‘Fessed Up and Nowhere to Go

i feel mysterious today

This is the kind of entry I hate to write — not only because I know nobody’s listening, but because it’s about issues that I fear that there may be no solution to, or at least not the starkly delineated solution that people who think they’ve figured it out seem to think there is.  We are supposed to know the right way to act, the right direction in which to step, wherever we stand on the political spectrum; if we are unable to realize change, it is not because we do not have a solution, but because forces are arrayed against us, keeping us from putting it into place.  And it is true that I, too, think I’ve got it sussed most of the time, but the older I get, the more I relate to Casy in The Grapes of Wrath, explaining how he’d lost the calling:  ”I got nothing to preach no more, that’s all.  I ain’t so sure of things…a preacher got to know.  I don’t.  I got to ask.”

I was lucky enough to have been born in 1969  – a year after the most world-shaking period of the latter half of the century — and raised in a time when a great many of the painful prejudices of the past were being, if not wiped away, at least questioned, analyzed, and provoked.  The old and ugly was not being overthrown (it still hasn’t been), but it was growing nervous; the men with their hands on the throats of the world were used not only to getting their way, but doing so without impertinence.  Now, everywhere the bosses turned, someone was getting in their faces and asking them to justify their behavior.  We were (and still are) engaged in one of the most important process of human thought:  that of questioning things, of analyzing and reorganizing them, and giving them new names based upon what we had learned.

The burden of traditional male roles, still so heavy when I was born, has been lightened, and the notion that homosexuality is a sin punishable by death is now no longer universally accepted; indeed, it is now a surprising thing, relegated to backwards-seeming African despotisms, and encouraged only by fanatical religious zealots.  We have advanced enough to call racism an infamy, even if few of us are willing to admit our complicity in it.  We now invoke words of great power and great shame — colonialism, imperialism, privilege — upon what was once considered to be nothing more than seizing our natural birthright, and if we have not fully come to terms with these things, we have at least developed a new way of talking about them.  The idea that one group has an inherent and eternal superiority over another has hardly been eliminated, but it has become uncomfortable to champion in too loud a voice.  All these things represent a progress that is frustratingly slow, but exceedingly fine.

And now, we hear from some quarters, we are living in something called a “rape culture”.  According to the knee-jerk, privileged worldview of the men’s rights crowd, I ought to take instant offense at the phrase.  But after hundreds of years of rape being ignored, excused or minimized by the men who run the world, and thousands of years before that of rape being barely recognized as a concept, I figure we’ve just come around to another example of seeing things clearly and giving them the names they deserve.  The self-identified “nice guys” who have never sexually assaulted anyone don’t get to exempt themselves from having to contribute to solving the problem of rape, any more than the millions of southerners who supported the Confederacy get a free pass just because they didn’t personally own slaves.  The problem of rape, regardless of your feelings about the phrase “rape culture” and your own culpability, is a real one — and, even more, it is a manifestation of the unequal status that is still forced upon women in what is still a male-dominated society.

Then, there is this — an essay that has been met with great praise in some quarters, but with which I find myself having decidedly mixed feelings.  Of course, the author is right to feel the way that she feels, and she, along with far too many women of my personal acquaintance, have made it painfully clear what it is like to live in fear, or at the very least in sadness and stress, at how the simplest walk around the neighborhood can turn into a gauntlet of harassment.  It also fills me with one of the worst sensations:  that of helplessness, of frustration.  It makes me almost understand the defensive, hostile reaction of the MR creeps; because at least they’re in control of their reactions.  I just flail around helplessly, consumed with shame, not knowing what to do.  It makes no difference that I have never engaged in that kind of oppressive objectification; I swim in the same polluted waters.

But it’s also an essay that seems to be preaching to the choir.  The final paragraph, where the author lists the many ways women must invent uncomfortable coping strategies to avoid street harassment and asks the men who hassled her if they want to be that guy, seems a bit naïve; certainly that is the goal, certainly that is the question, certainly that is the struggle.  But the answer, were she to pose the question to those men in person instead of in the more welcoming surrounds of her own blog, would likely have been shut up, bitch.  It’s applying a progressive shine of reason to something too old and ugly to bear the treatment.  I’m reminded of the widely propagated posters and infographics that deliver a message along the lines of “don’t teach women self-defense; teach men not to rape”.  It’s a wonderful sentiment, not to be disagreed with, and certainly a society where men are taught from childhood to respect women and recognize sexual boundaries is one we should forever strive for.  But we’re a long way from getting there, and in the meantime, there are a lot of men who will rape.  Asking them why their parents didn’t teach them not to is going to prove a lot less effective than giving them a face full of phenacyl chloride.

This is where I’d normally try to synthesize all of these thoughts into a conclusion, but I can’t.  All I see is a problem that I’m part of, and a solution that means not only real political action, but constant and personal self-appraisal of ourselves and our cultural standards.  Feeling helpless doesn’t mean being helpless, but we can’t figure out what to do in our heads.  We have to talk to the people we don’t want to talk to about the subjects we don’t want to breach.  We have to let go of our own defensive reaction that a problem of society is a personal accusation; and we should know who our allies are, and who our real enemies are.  We have to come up with the right words and ideas to envision the equality of women as we know it ought to be, but we also have to bear down and do the uglier work of dealing with the inequality of women as it currently is.  We have to stop being so sure we already know the answers, because the person who thinks he’s got all the answers is the one who doesn’t care what happens to people who don’t agree with those answers.


whats on the tee vee

This evening poised quite a theological conundrum. On the one hand, American Idol is only an hour long, which seems to be evidence that God loves me and wants me to be happy. On the other hand, the reason American Idol is only an hour long is that Glee is back, which is an equally convincing argument that God hates me and wants me to suffer. I guess we’ll just have to split the difference and go with “there is no God”.

I originally thought that tonight’s episode was taking place in the wonderful city of New Orleans. Why did I think that? Because the internet is a liar and not to be trusted. It turns out that in fact, these auditions will be transpiring in Baton Rogue, which, it is pointed with a curiously boisterous pride, is where Randy Jackson was born — that is to say, it is “the home of the Dawg”. I am not down with this thing where we call Randy “Dawg” all the time, because the perfectly good word “buffoon” is just sitting there waiting for us. Randy’s makeup is done by self-professed “beauty school dropout” Mariah Carey, and wardrobe equips him with a shirt made out of a soiled Wonder Bread bag. Keith Urban is showing off his chest tattoo in a way that would get him called slutty if he were a woman, and Nicki Minaj has become the leader of a marching band comprised entirely of Oompa-Loompas.

Our first contestant is former Miss Red Stick Megan Miller, who sports a ’70s-style headband and a blue leg brace, which does not match her temple-prostitute clothes. She does have some vocal talent, though, and tons of charm; she puts plenty of sass into her performance, and even sings into her crutch as if it were a microphone, prompting Nicki to say that “you used it; it didn’t use you”. Okay then. Charlie Askew is next, and he is suffering from what his parents call “Charlie Askew Syndrome”, known to the rest of the world, at least for now, as Asperger’s. For some reason, Idol decides that he is charming and admirable and inspiring, which might come as news to the five hundred other obviously autistic people they have made cruel sport of this season alone. Initially, the panel is kind of mean to this bird-calling, Little-Rock based man-child, but then he sings the entirely too on-the-nose “Nature Boy” by ur-hobbit Eden Ahbez, and everyone loves him. Keith calls Charlie’s voice “not of a gender”, which he assures us is meant to be a compliment. The whole thing has a fun aura of ‘let’s see how uncomfortable everyone can be’, and the judges all call Charlie “mysterious”, which I think is like when you call a black guy “articulate”.

Maddie Assel is a nominated local who triggers an embarrassing montage of New Orleans’ shittiest tourist traps. She sings “Oh! Darling” by low-budget Liverpudlian trad combo ‘The Beatles’ in that jazzy, breathy, up-and-down sound that sometimes works on this show, but more importantly, she’s the kind of mousy girl who turns out to be super-hot in all your favorite Disney Family Channel shows. That means she will “improve”, or at least look different, which the judges always love. Keith pays another backhanded compliment by asking Maddie what her influences are and then saying she doesn’t sound like any of them.

After a commercial break in which a Russian woman claims America’s capitalist system made her fat but Weight Watchers gave her “the butt”, we see a cheap, shitty True Blood montage in which bad singers are compared to hog callers and which may be the crummiest, laziest thing Idol has ever done. Then Paul Jolley arrives. He is a handsome, slightly twinky fellow whose own personal idol, his grandfather, recently died. “I want to be half the man he was,” Paul says, betraying no false ambition; he then reveals the old man was an Army First Sergeant, meaning, I assume, that he wants to be a Half Sergeant. He sings a Rascal Flatts song. Stop happening, Rascal Flatts. Still, it’s a lock for this guy and his turquoise shirt, who are off to Hollywood.

Tonight’s high-larious comedy contestant is a tubby homosexual with dexedrine instead of blood named Chris Barthel. Nicki decides to call him “Mushroom”, after which he has a small heart attack. Calvin Peters, a doctor who deals in the muscular-skeletal issues of disabled people, is all “fuck you sick-ass bitches” and decides to be on a televised singing competition instead. He sings a Maxwell song and Mariah decides she wants to make the sex with him. Then we get a montage of successful auditions with slightly awkward names, including Breanna Steer and Danielle Hotard. Finally, Nicki gets her own chance to start riding some dick when coon-ass fireman hunk Dustin Watts arrives. He sings a Garth Brooks song that gives Nicki the feelings; Keith eyeballs him like he’s the competition. Dustin is boring, but at least he’s polite. He heads back to the fire station to announce to his buddies that he’s made it to Hollywood; they all high-five him, then they head off together on a firefighting call AND DUSTIN IS KILLED, oh no! That’s just a joke, folks, work with me here.

I’m a total chump for Katrina survivor stories, and Burnell Taylor’s is a heartbreaker. His family lost everything in the storm, and he’s never been able to get a job, and is unemployed and living with relatives at 19. It’s a story that hits pretty close to home; when Ryan Toothpaste asks him how he overcomes something like that, he says, bluntly, “It ain’t happenin’. You just have to live with it.” He even comes into the audition looking like he’s down to his last outfit, in a plain white tee and a truly unfortunate pair of mint green shorts, but once he opens his mouth, it’s all over. He’s got a simply gorgeous tone, beautiful control, and a thick gospel vibe that is far and away the best I’ve heard from any of the male contestants so far. Keith says his voice could convert an atheist; Mariah can’t stop crying; and he gets the most ringing endorsement of the season from the judges, to which he reacts with refreshing humility and gratitude instead of entitlement: “I’m speechless,” is all he can get out, “but I’m thankful.” If this kid doesn’t go deep, I just don’t know what.

Next week, Idol chronicles a trip to my home of San Antonio, for auditions I wanted to go to but was probably too drunk. Another thing I have in common with Paula Abdul. Join me, why don’t you?


whats on the tee vee

Tonight promises to be a volatile episode of American Idol, if that combination of words makes sense in the English language, because this is the infamous Nicki Minaj Meltdown audition. Yes, we’re stranded in Charlotte-town, North Kakalaka, home of the North American Car Racing Car Sports Car Association. You can tell, because they give Ryan Toothpaste a bunch of NASCAR-related catchphrases to say, so the hicks will know he’s a man of the people:  ”Kick it into overdrive! Start your engines! Fatal pile-up!” You are so gifted, Ryan. We get some B-roll of Ryan allegedly driving a pace car, after which he is declared the “RACE WINNER”, and gets a plastic toy to play with.

Anyway, those who have been paying attention to the big personnel changeover know that it was during the Charlotte auditions that Nicki Minaj threw a major hissy-fit, reading Mariah Carey the riot act and storming off the set. Idol swore they would not exploit this in order to drum up interest, and I admit that they didn’t, except when they did. After some ominous teasers, we get to see the judges in all their finery: Randy Jackson, resplendent in his cut-rate self-branded Big Man tees; Keith Urban, reminding us of his existence when we can hear him breathing; Mariah Carey, doing her finest Norma Desmond impersonation; and Nicki herself, in a rose-colored wig, decked out like a Japanese holographic newsreader.

The first Idol hopeful is Naomi “Omi” Morris, who spent all of her money on drugstore makeup and was thus forced to design her own clothing, including heels she can’t walk in and an armored Red Sonja bustier that looks like someone from Gallhammer should be wearing it. She sings the most off-key version of “Respect” ever attempted, as Aretha Franklin makes advance plans to turn over in her grave. Mariah gives her the “but you’re so pretty” brush-off, which hasn’t worked on anyone since the first time Paula Abdul tried it way back in season 1. As she runs off crying through the giant pillars filled with re-agent that decorate the set, the seeds of the great meltdown are planted as Mariah makes some dangerous remarks about Nicki’s breast size.

Next up is the beloved-by-Idol-producers “let’s make fun of someone who’s severely autistic” segment, this time around featuring one Joel Nemoyer, who resembles Kenneth from 30 Rock if he were kept in a dungeon for sixteen years. Joel, who is wearing a wooden cross around his neck in case of a vampire uprising, thinks it’s a special accomplishment to be able to sing better while lying on his back, instead of something that everyone can do. He tells Nicki she looks like cotton candy, then bellows out a tune, after which Randy hurts his feelings by staring at him as if he has just crawled up through the ground from the deepest pits of Hell. He then has a brain seizure like if you had put a paper grocery back over his head, and it’s off to the races with Speed Zoom Ryan.

Brian Rittenberry is a big fat hulk with a big fat kid and a wife who had a big fat tumor. He spiels his sob story about how he didn’t know how he’s explain to his five-year-old that mommy was going to Heaven, but then she short-circuits his chances when it turns out his wife didn’t die after all. Brian sings “Let It Be” by the obscure skiffle group the Beatles, with his vocal attack portending a guaranteed showdown with ROCKER GABE BROWN. Keith Urban says he “has a light about him”. He’s not Jesus, Keith, he’s just a fat guy on a singing competition. Brian’s wife gets rewarded for to being dead by getting to make out with Keith; Ryan Toothpaste goes into the-lady-doth-protest-too-much mode when Keith jokingly suggests that they make out as well. Keith then scolds Mariah for not keeping up, but she ignores him, probably because she is having a victorious showdown in her mind with all the critics who hated Glitter.

Jimmy Smith, a garbage-disposal version of Sammy Hagar, also likes Keith Urban. Doesn’t anybody on this show like Nicki Minaj? Hmmmmm. (For that matter, doesn’t anyone go “Man, you rocked the shit out of the bassline on ‘Girl Can’t Help It’” to Randy?) He sings a Rascal Flatts song that I don’t recognize because I don’t hang around in gas stations, but he does passably well. Mariah gives him a “yup”, further demonstrating her mastery of accents, and then, as they break for lunch (Keith gets almost as aggressive when he’s hungry as Randy does), Jimmy makes a very weird remark about how he didn’t think he’d be able to get Nicki “on board” with his average country crooning, and Keith makes a comment about “missing out” on Billie Holiday, and there’s just a whole weird racial thing going on.

There is some Scotty McCreery on this show, and some Scotty McCreery is too much Scotty McCreery. Next up is a cowboy-hatted monstrosity named Matthew Muse, who seems to be stricken with acromegaly. He, too, loves Keith Urban and wears a Jesus piece, but adds a seriously psychotic laugh to the mix. Matthew opens his spiel by saying “I’m honored to be sitting among you”, even though he is not sitting. He does that thing where you sort of physically act out the lyrics to the song, which Mariah finds boring but I think is the most interesting thing that has happened so far on this Dullsville episode. Since his singing sucks, Nicki decides to use him as some sort of sex mannequin, and he dances around while the Idol producers put a yugga-dugga banjo on the soundtrack to remind us of how he’s a dumb hillbilly.

Our next ‘Idol Small Town Tour’ segment takes us down south to meet Isabel Gonzalez, the pride of Alpharetta, Georgia. Randy hops on a school bus and says “That’s right, the Dawg is on a school bus”, which actually sounds kind of sad, like they sent him back to learn how to spell or something. Isabel looks like she’s about ten years old, but she’s cute and exuberant and has great pipes and knows Sam Cooke songs. She’s an obvious ringer and might even be a dark horse in this race; everyone loves her, and when she gets her golden ticket, her family attacks her with chemicals. Nicki says she looks like a young Phoebe Cates, prompting millions of Idol watchers to go “Who?”. Then we get Sarina-Joi Crowe, a sassy little whelp with long-ass melismatic runs; Na’chelle Fullins-Lavelle, who does a crazy Yma Sumac-style octave hop; and Haley Davis, who looks and sounds exactly like every other girl named Haley in North America.

Our first clue as to what the big Nicki outburst might have really been about comes in the form of Taisha Bethea, an African-American girl who’s in the unfortunately named band “Carson”. She is wearing jeggings, but it’s hard to hold that against her, because she’s a pretty sharp singer. Her thing, you see, is that she’s a “rock singer — let’s make that happen”, but she also happens to enjoy country music (her first song choice is “Folsom Prison Blues”) and soul. Now, of course, it is perfectly ordinary for a person to like more than one style of music. But Keith, Mariah, and Randy — all over 40 years old and not, in their own careers, marked by a particular diversity of style — are all like WHUUUUUUUT when a girl in an indie-style rock band sings a country song, and they pester her to cram herself in one box or another. Nicki, on the other hand, who is relatively young and whose own style is completely predicated on the blending and mixing of soul, pop, and hip-hop, finds absolutely nothing odd about a girl, even — gasp! — an African-American girl, who shows an interest in non-black music. This will become very important in the next segment.

The next contestant is a Summer Cunningham, a generic-looking blonde with a generic-sounding voice who does a generic version of “Stand By Me”. When the judges ask her what kind of singer she wants to be, she says that she’s “done the country thing” and wants to move on to a more soulful style; just as they did when a black girl wanted to sing rock and country, the whole panel save Nicki flips out when a white girl wants to sing soul music. Nicki busts out her English accent and throws Randy some shine, but to no avail; Keith, in particular, gets his knickers in a knot over the “country thing” remark and compares himself to a brain surgeon. Mariah and Randy both badger her into saying she wants to sing country, because they want her to sing country; this is where Nicki starts to get (appropriately, to me) pissy and ask them why they want to keep putting people in compartments that they may not be comfortable in. This makes Mariah all defensive, and she accuses Nicki of not caring about anything but fashion; Randy, in particular, won’t fuckin’ shut up about his “30 years of experience” in the biz, and how he’s just trying to help by making people sing in a way they don’t want to sing. It’s here that Nicki storms off, but it’s pretty hard to see her as the villain.

We then get a little montage of the press coverage over her shit-fit (although they leave out the TMZ clip where she’s cussing like she was in GoodFellas), and when we return, we get a montage of happy contestants to assure us that all is well in Idol-land. Fuck you, tabloids, this montage seems to say; we are allowed to be dicks, because we make dozens of people happy for a very short period before crushing their dreams. We are also treated to some footage of Nicki, who judging by her outfit has used the time off from the show to join the LSD Air Force, engaging in her favorite habit of giving all the guys funny nicknames and calling all the women “ladybug”. The first post-spat contestant is Brandy Alexandria Hamilton, whose name is such a minefield of references that Nicki calls her “honey pie” instead; she sings an Etta James song with a good voice and a ton of personality. Randy says she “is being true to herself”, which I don’t know how he knows that since he just met her three minutes ago, and Mariah says she was “pippity-pow A+”.

Ashley Smith is kind of like what Nicki Minaj might be like if she — well, I guess I can’t think of what chain of circumstance might have led to that outcome, but I promise you it happened in some alternate universe, maybe the one where Roxxon Oil got Nelson Rockefeller elected president with the Serpent Crown. She sings Carrie Underwood’s “Cowboy Casanova” and is actually pretty great; the whole panel completely forgets that yesterday they drove Nicki screaming from the room when another black girl sang a country song, and call her “effervescent”, a word they only seem to use to describe fat people. Janelle Arthur of Oliver Springs, Tennessee, who is a fitness instructor because that is a job now that adults can have, is pretty good, but there are so many girl country singers who sound like that. It’s become utterly generic, like all the girls who do the characterless Whitney runs. Still, Keith, who is wearing a deeply goofy-looking duck hunting t-shirt, loves her, so she gets through to Hollywood.

After a parade of shitty singers, the less said about which the better, is big ol’ bouncer Rodney Barber, a.k.a. “The Voice of Charlotte”. Rodney is a street busker who seems high as a kite, but I instantly love his funky soul-man voice, his attitude, and his potential; but there’s something else: I normally can’t stand sob stories. But Rodney helps the homeless, because he himself was homeless just a few years ago. The reason why this works for me is that he uses his misfortune to aid other people, to relate to them and help them deal with their circumstances, instead of to reflect on his own sorrow. I hate to get too heavy here, because it’s Idol, but learn a lesson, folks. Keith gets to leave early again because his movie star wife is winning an award, the fuckin’ punk.

Candice Glover was on season 11 — I remember her singing with the creepily super-talented Jessica Sanchez — but I guess there must have been some technicality that let her come back. It’s hard for me to give a shit, despite the fact that she’s got a sterling voice, because she’s already been on the show, and if she was that great, she would have won, right? But Nicki loves her: “I want to skin you and wear you”, she says, making this manage to sound adorable instead of horrifying. Ja’bria Barber is next and I don’t care about anything except the fact that she and her family like to go frog-giggin’. “Girl, you got a little spunk in you,” says Randy, and whoops, there’s the horrifying after all. Brad Harris has brain damage from smashing his head into things, and naturally the Idol producers think he’s hilarious. Finally, a woman with a pretty fucking cute kid named London gives Nicki, who she calls Dun Dun and says is her best friend, a stuffed pink bear. Nicki basks in this precious tot’s adoration while Mariah sulks, thus imparting this week’s lesson: throw a massive fit and you will be rewarded, as it should be.

Join me tomorrow night, won’t you, when these idiots gunk up New Orleans, one of my favorite cities in the world? It’s a date.


Let the Valiant Fighters Go

the one with your name on it

For reasons I don’t enjoy being yelled at enough to go into, the subject of violence has been much on the minds of my fellow Americans the last few months.  The current way of thinking seems to be that certain types of violence exist as a sort of protected category, and that the best way to deal with them is to focus our attentions on the proximate cause, in the form of firearms that hold 11 rounds in a clip rather than 10.  A cynic, were any to be found lurking around this very serious subject, might detect the hand of magical thinking stirring the rhetoric of both sides.

But then, as Barbara Holland pointed out in her wonderful 2005 book Gentlemen’s Blood:  A History of Dueling, “blood is magical”.  The history of organized murder, which reaches back to a time when law as we know it scarcely existed, suggests that the desire to spill the blood of one’s fellows may not, in fact, be something new under the sun, and that our current fretful attitude towards it may have more to do with its having been placed in the hands of amateurs than with the actual taking of lives.  In the genteel days of dueling, after all, the ability to fight well, or even to afford the tools of killing, was largely restricted to the upper classes, as opposed to our current sorry state of affairs, when any angry plebeian with a week’s salary to spend can acquire an instrument of death.

Holland’s book, written in a breezy, almost whimsical style that seems largely at peace with the fact that murder is as much a component of the human male’s genetic profile as pattern baldness, the urge to procreate, and prostate cancer, is chock-full of surprising revelations about the history of the duel.  The endless proliferation of cheap handguns may have made it easier for one man to kill another over minor offenses like being cut off in traffic or treading on an expensive sneaker, but only the lack of a formal structure and a set of (largely arbitrary) rules makes the process any different from the days when a gentleman might run another through with three feet of cold steel over the shape of his nose, or his tendency to talk out of turn.

So accustomed are we to the notion of the rule of law, and so much have we alienated ourselves from the belief that might makes right (though, of course, might still makes its presence felt everywhere we look), that we forget that for thousands of years, it was considered perfectly acceptable to settle matters not only of honor, but of justice, by a trial of arms.  Remedies for civil and criminal injuries were sought by suiting up, grabbing the nearest implement of destruction, and having at it, and if you were the one left alive, there would no longer be any question of who held the moral high ground.  Should you be incapable, due to age, infirmity, or the lack of a Y chromosome, of taking arms in your own defense, you had the prerogative of hiring some bloodthirsty lout to make your argument for you, and this additional level of abstraction was rarely, if ever, questioned.

Any who might argue that our modern era, with its easy death at the barrel of a gun, has outbloodied the civilized days of the duel would be wise to reconsider; the slicing of heads and splitting of sides conducted over the quaint concepts of “truth, honor, freedome, and curtesie” cost a shocking number of lives.  Holland notes that in France, over 10,000 men were butchered in duels over a twenty-year period from 1590 to 1610 — a potent enough number by itself, but even more so when one realizes that the population of that nation was a third of what it is today.  One particular nobleman, the Chevalier d’Andrieux, racked up a staggering death toll of 72 before he reached his thirtieth year; and yet the idea of doing anything to restrict this behavior was unthinkable.  Voltaire once challenged a nobleman to a duel, and was agog when he was instead clapped in the cooler; he considered it an affront not only to himself, but to dueling itself, that integral aspect of the very character of the nation.

Naturally, this sort of thing was only acceptable for the toffs.  The lower classes were little more than toiling apes; it might have been bad form to kill one for no reason, but it wasn’t something you’d really get into much trouble over.  Commoners, on the other hand, were no more allowed to duel than then were allowed to make laws; they could be thrown in prison merely for fighting, and of one of them even began to approach the valiant d’Andrieux’s heroic body count, he would have an appointment made for him at the headsman’s with all haste.  The only time it was acceptable for the peasantry to kill one another was in a war duly authorized by the authorities, and even then, if they were to accidentally dispatch an enemy nobleman, they would likely be severely punished rather than rewarded.  Mustn’t give the plebes any ideas about murdering their betters, after all; officers of the same army could safely off one another in a duel — indeed, in the Russian military, it was a serious crime to refuse to answer a challenge — but an enlisted man who thought to do the same would be up against the wall in no time.

Endless vade mecums were thrown together in order to lend a patina of gentlemanly order to the art of honor killing.  Rules so abstruse and and detailed that they might come out of a rulebook for the sort of war games that eventually displaced them were assayed to make the duel seem like it was a highly civilized affair, and, indeed, why wouldn’t it be?  It was the best of society who engaged in dueling, after all.  In our own very proper and democratic republic, Andrew Jackson, a notoriously hot-tempered duelist, developed a reputation for cheating on his way to sending as many as 18 men to their graves.  Aaron Burr, of course, owns the distinction of being the only man to kill another in a duel while he was vice-president of the United States, having fatally gutshot founding father Alexander Hamilton in a political dispute; but most sources agree that both parties strictly followed the code duello and that the entire affair was therefore above board and indeed a point of pride for the bourgeoning democracy.  (Hamilton supplied the guns; they were the same ones that had caused the death of his own son, murdered in a duel not three years before.)

Holland died in 2010 of lung cancer; Gentleman’s Blood was one of the last books she wrote.  She was a chain smoker (hence her demise), an inveterate drinker who hoisted “a half-gallon of Scotch a week” at her remote Virginia cabin, and a cantankerous defender of the old vices of meat-eating, frank language, and fucking in an age increasingly characterized by the language of polite evasion.  She didn’t think much of the idea of ritualized murder, but she at least approached it with an ironic good humor.  New Orleans, she explains, was addicted to dueling; at its antebellum peak, City Park would witness more than a half-dozen fatal confrontations a day, and one cemetery was founded specifically to house the victims of a single aggressive southern gentleman. When she explains how the Crescent City experienced a profound medical crisis when two of its most prominent doctors killed one another in a duel, she does so with the heavy sigh and resigned twisted smile of someone telling a very dark, but very funny, joke.

When the tide finally turned for dueling, it was not because any restrictions had been placed on that mighty democratizing instrument, the personal firearm.  Dueling stopped (well, mostly; it still crops up from time to time, especially in South America) because people changed, and because the idea of honor didn’t seem too drastically important anymore, and because we rid ourselves — at least in theory — of the idea that different rules should apply to the rich and the poor, and because it suddenly seemed terribly unjust, not to mention distinctly silly, to settle disputes by a punctilious show of arms.  A simple and brutal problem resolved itself through a complex and often nebulous set of social and philosophical changes.  There may be a lesson in that; but Barbara Holland is dead.


Teach Us To Number Our Gags, O Lord

funny ha ha


1. Jackie Mason’s Sculpting with Chopped Liver

2. Someone’s in the Kitchen with U.S. Undersecretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero

3. Vincent Gallo’s Cooking for Faggots

4. My Hands Hurt with Jennifer Aniston

5. Journey to the Center of John Madden’s Unthinkable Gullet


1. 2Pac: The Lost Recordings

2. 2Pac: The Last Recordings

3. 2Pac: The Least Recordings

4. 2Pac: The Lust Recordings

5. 2Pac: The New Recordings


1. Fuzzy Toenail

2. Rob Zombie

3. Bloody Nipple

4. Non-Consensual Sex on the Beach

5. Screaming Neck Spasm


1. The Godfather Part III

2. The Godfather Part IV: The Funeral of Mary Corleone

3. The Godfather Part V: Avenging Dubstep Godfather

4. The Godfather Part VI: Enzo’s Revenge

5. The Godfather Part VII: Fredo vs. Jason


1. William Faulkner: wrote a Popeye short in 1938 entitled “If I Should Forsake Thee, O Sea Haggie”

2. Abigail Van Buren: guest-pencilled several issues of Blood Carnival for EC comics

3. Rush: were actually the Sex Pistols

4. Kurt Cobain: ghosted the introduction to the 1991 revised edition of Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking

5. Jesus: wrote early version of Ben-Hur as a vanity project


1. Everybody Loves Raymond

2. Everybody Loves Raymond Chandler

3. Everybody Loves Tyson Chandler

4. Everybody Loves Chandler Bing

5. Everybody Loves Bing Crosby or He Beats Them


1. …one twelve-thousandth of an hour of Alex Rodriguez’ time

2. …most of a Haitian baby

3. …a kid down at the playground to eat a wadded-up ball of aluminum foil

4. …six thousand shares of Zynga

5. …the words “a cup of coffee” written on a morning newspaper


1. The Museum of Contemporary Art

2. The Museum of Temporary Art

3. The Museum of Temporary Workers

4. The Museum of Temporary Insanity

5. The Museum of Pimp-o-rary Badassery


1. forcible sodomy

2. contracting scurvy

3. burying one’s life savings on a sand shoal off the Spanish Main

4. “timbers”, generally

5. being hanged by the British Navy


1. Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code

2. Dan Brown’s The Kandinsky Cypher

3. Dan Brown’s The Rockwell Enigma

4. Dan Brown’s The Kinkade Dilemma

5. Dan Brown’s The Dan Brown Quarterly Earnings Statement


whats on the tee vee

Last night’s Idol premiere took place in New York, and for me, it didn’t illicit much in the way of sympathy. It was filmed too long ago to get any endearing post-Sandy sob stories, so my overall impression was one of schadenfreude whenever someone would get sent packing: yeah! Take that, you stupid living-in-the-center-of-the-cultural-universe asshole! Back to Yaphank with you! Tonight’s show, however, comes to us from Chicago, my beloved home for 15 years — and the place where I lived when I first encountered a scrappy little televised singing competition called American Idol. Of course, the association between Idol and Chicago isn’t entirely pristine; the only winner to emerge from the area to date has been Mount Prospect-born paint salesman/man-boner Lee DeWyze. (It’s also the home of Claire Zulkey, America’s finest Idol recapper.) But the place still has many sweet connotations for me, which I felt confident Idol would honor, instead of just opting for the same three predictable songs and some cheap jokes about the “Windy City”.

But first, a few notes and corrections from last night:

1. I apparently spelled everyone’s name wrong. I am sorry about that, but not sorry enough to make a correction.

2. One of the most adorable things about the burbling Nicki Minaj/Mariah Carey feud is the way the former speaks in a fake British accent just to crawl straight up the latter’s ass. This led Mariah, at one point, to ‘retaliate’ by doing a British accent of her own; naturally, it was straight awful, but I think Mariah thought she was great because after all, she is an actress.

3. The more I think about Rozanna Shindelman, the more bizarre her parents seem to me. They were like every parody of a cartoon Yiddish couple Woody Allen has ever left out of a screenplay for being too broad. Her mother says things like “So beautiful, our daughter, like an angel she is”, and her dad looks like he works at a 19th-century pickle works; and that would be fine if either of them were older than 55, but they clearly are not. These people were born in the 1960s. Why do they act like extras from the original version of The Jazz Singer? We may never know.

4. I have been reliably informed that Mariah Carey might still be a nursing mother, which would explain the forbidding mystery of her tits. We’ll see. We’ll just see.

5. Finally, it turns out — and I missed this because I was busy teaching medically complex children how to sign “I LOVE YOU” to puppies, so don’t judge me — the girl who claimed she was fat even though she wasn’t fat used to be fatter. She is haunted by the ghosts of her vanished fat, like Europe was once stalked by the specter of Marxism. This explains her otherwise inexplicable terror of being judged as the resident fatty-pants, even though her pants are currently low-fat. I’m glad we got that cleared up.

We open tonight with a Price is Right fakeout, because this show loves cheap reversals like I like hot dinners. I see from the credits that producer Cécile Frot-Coutaz is still on board, which means the Best Name in Hollywood Award is sewn up for another year. Nicki Minaj is dressed up like an admiral in the leopard Sea Org, and we get “My Kind of Town” out of the way right from the get-go. The first contestant is Mackenzie Wasner of Tennessee, or, as I intend to call her, the Bright Orange Dork from Lipper’s Fork. Her dad has a job playing piano for Vince Gill, which may be why she has the tragic hair and errant makeup of someone on a trajectory towards amateur porn. She’s a real comer, though; Keith Urban loves her, and she can really sell the country stuff. She needs a little polish, but she could definitely go places, albeit not places I would want to accompany her. (I was just kidding about the amateur porn. Mackenzie says “oh my goodness” and is probably going to Heaven.)

Austin Earles, a lifetime shake machine cleaner with Johnny Bravo hair, is a write-off, but he gets Nicki started on a delightful new tactic for annoying Mariah: pretending she likes crap singers so Mariah will have to say something mean about them. I’m really starting to dig on Nicki. Next up is Kiara Lanier, a tall drink of water from the old home town who got to sing for Mister President Man; she initially pisses off Nicki for sucking up to Mariah (a common theme on this episode), but once she gets going, no one can stay mad at her because her voice is just killer. She’s got a soft and controlled tone, but she shapes like an old-school gospel singer, in that big rangy way, and she impresses me more for sheer poise and vocal talent than anyone we’ve seen so far. Kiara is the kind of singer who is better than everyone else but never wins, so 2013 could be the year of the Great Kiara Lanier Betrayal.

Stephanie Schmiel works at a lingerie store in Milwaukee, so there’s really no point in my describing her appearance. The male judges embarrass themselves because the word ‘lingerie’ makes them jump in the air and hit themselves in the head with dinosaur bones, but Mariah correctly sizes her up as “a pretty girl, but not star power, nothing extra”. She is mostly notable for the fact that she sets off a huge bitch-off between Nicki and Mariah which ends in a TKO for Ms. Superbad of Trinidad. Melissa Bush is a massage therapist who shows up in a wonderful Wonder Woman-disco tramp outfit; Nicki seems repelled at the possibility that she might be related to “former President George W. Bush”, which she enunciates as if she is about to send someone to the big house. Despite trying to bribe Randy with a t-shirt, Melissa is terrible; after she leaves, the boys say something dirty about her. We are not made privy to what it is, but it leads to an accusation by an improbably haughty Mariah that they are “vulgar”.

Apparently, there is a new and deeply misguided Idol “initiative” called the American Idol Small Town Tour, and it vomits forth a hearty lad in Wal-Mart jeans and Harpo Marx hair who shall henceforth be known as ROCKER GABE BROWN. He does that Joe-Cocker-in-a-wind-tunnel thing that passes for male rock vocals on this show, but lest anyone get too excited about that, let me remind you whose else that shtick belonged to: that’s right, the walking, talking, singing mistake that is Taylor Hicks. ROCKER GABE BROWN isn’t that bad, but there are two things that will likely keep him from being the token rock guy this year: he’s fat, and he can’t seem to tone it down. Nicki helpfully dubs him “Curly” instead of “Fatty”, but just in case we forget that he’s fat, the Idol cameramen helpfully shake the camera up and down when he runs out to announce he’s going to Hollywood.

Tonight’s featured ‘let’s laugh at people who are deep into the autism spectrum’ candidate is Kevin Nabity, a kung-fu tweaker junkie made of animated denim. His bo stick falls into Lake Michigan. Then Idol rips off the ‘bad lip-reading’ gag when he sings, because they want to prove for the 927,823rd time that they are really bad at humor. After Kevin we get a crying montage, because this show hates all that is decent in the human soul. Stay out of Iowa, Idol; it is not the place for you. Redeeming this segment slightly is the appearance of dowdy-shirted, mature-looking 15-year-old Isabelle Parrell, who duets on the beloved date-rape anthem “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with Keith Urban. I was prepared to hate Isabelle, but she’s got a solid voice and is pretty charming and composed for someone her age. Perhaps infuriated that he was forced to sing without being paid, Keith leaves Chicago to perform his Las Vegas saloon act.

With Keith gone, Nicki and Mariah grow ever colder and more distant, and hapless Randy is forced to stop thinking about cheeseburgers and assume the role of frank-speaking dick. We are exposed to a montage of pretty-boys meant to establish that Nicki Minaj has an active vagina, and it ends with Griffin Peterson. If Nicki plans to pull a Paula and get it on with one of the contestants, I think she’s barking up the wrong tree with Griffin; he is a Jesus-jumper and will not permit her to sully the divine purity of his God-gifted wingwang until they are married by a duly appointed Earthly representative of our Heavenly Father. (I’m not sure why there’s such a preponderance of these ‘praise music’ dingbats in Chicago; the only people I met there who believed in God were genetically Catholic.) Mariah lets Griffin get through to the next round, though, in an attempt to break Nicki’s spirit. Curtis Finch Jr., the next candidate, is a teacher from St. Louis who talks a good game but may be punching above his weight. By which I mean he is gay. No, wait, fat. Oh, I don’t even remember any more what cheap joke I was going for. Anyway, Randy blorps out that he has “crazy vocals”, which I cannot deny is true; he’s got that soaring gospel tone that I am a total chump for. Afterwards, Nicki ranks out Mariah so hard that Mariah resorts to her ‘angry mom’ voice.

This evening promises one sob story after another and Mariah Pulice’s is a pretty good one: she’s a recovering anorexic. She’s making progress, but let me tell you, young lady, blue fingernails are no substitute for a non-dysmorphic body image. She makes it through because Keith is not around to keep the panel in line, and she gets so completely hysterical at how great it is and how happy she is to have turned her life around and how this is the culmination of all her dreams and aspirations that it pains me to say that Idol is immediately going to stop talking about her when it turns out she’s not that great, so we don’t remember feeling so sorry for her. I am sorry to say this because anorexia is a serious issue but my job here is to be a capering clown and anyway, Idol hates Asian people. Good luck in Hollywood, Mariah (yeah, she probably just got through because of that name, if I’m being even more of an asshole); try to stay away from Umami Burger.

Day Two: “Sweet Home Chicago”: two for two on the zero-effort Chicago songs! Nicki has changed into a rhinestone-studded outer space brain surgeon suit, and a wig which I can’t even muster any comment about because I believe it to be a creature of myth which will be drawn to me if I speak its name. Next up: Brandy Neelly was adopted. Is this supposed to be a sob story? Jesus, I was adopted, and I am the living worst. Anyway, I’m not a huge fan of her voice or style (there’s far too many jean vests this year), but she does have a lot of personality, and that goes far on this show. Mariah thought her song choice was “A-plus-mazing”, and Nicki gives her “a thousand percent yes”, which is the yes of ten entire people. Josh Holiday, from the nowheresville of Celeste, Texas, is a “caregiver”. That has to mean gay, right? That’s what it means? Come on, kids, you can tell me, I’m hep! Anyway, he’s got fancy runs, but I don’t think he’ll go too deep, although he does inspire Nicki to use her fakey British accent again, and that’s just fine.

Courtney Williams is a belter in lime green pantaloons who leaves some notes hanging in the air for so long they’re probably still there four months later; she could be a fun one to watch. Ditto Andrew Jones, who soul-croons “Knock on Wood” and gets his tap on. Not so, though, with Clifton Duffin from the less-glamourous-than-it-sounds Country Club Hills; his gimmick is that his parents have never seen him sing, leading Nicki to call him a “secret squirrel”. He’s a little shouty, but not terrible; but the judges send him home. Mariah says she “enjoyed your journey” and his song “hit her heart”, but she doesn’t mean in an awesome, fatal, karate way. Ieisha Cotton is a stripper (sorry, “dancer”) who bears a striking resemblance to Shardene Innes from The Wire, only a worse singer, and I say that without ever having heard Shardene sing. Sorry, Ieisha, back to selling $95 bottles of flat champagne for you. Johnny Keyser is a hunk-papa from Florida who has that Wally Cleaver chunkhead thing going, and wears too much eyeliner; the vocals on his eminently Caucasian version of “Try a Little Tenderness” are okay, but he gets his golden ticket mostly on account of Nicki and Mariah like his abs.

The less said about the parade of the horribles in the Les Misérables parody, the better; the only thing worse that their singing is the jokey framing device Idol comes up with. Next up is Kez Ban, who is a “fire performer” — why do you keep making me learn all these stupid new words, Idol? She’s a hipster singer-songwriter type, on the older side (27!) and with that ‘I don’t really give a shit whether I’m on this show or not’ demeanor that can be fun for a while but quickly grows wearisome (c.f. Crystal Bowersox). She barely makes it through, but provides some entertainment, as she seems to represent the Idol crew’s first-ever encounter with irony. Ashely Curry is a musical theatre major from Flossmoor (WHAT WHAT), but she’s a little sketchy on the ‘musical’ part as she keeps belting out the loudest version of “Mama Knows Best” that has ever been made. Her voice sounds like someone running around your front yard swinging an axe in both hands. In a desperate attempt to keep her from singing any further, Mariah and Nicki suggest that they engage in an improvised acting scene, but thank God Ashley just starts hollering again and this does not happen.

Finally, they bring in Lazaro Arbos, who they’ve been hyping all night as the paragon of sob stories. Not only does it turn out that his big sob story is that he has a stutter, but he wears a bright purple satin bow tie and works as an ‘ice cream scooper’. It’s the biggest letdown imaginable given that they’ve been yapping for two hours about how inspirational and weep-worthy his story is. I thought at least he’d have cancer or an ugly baby or something. The judges express amazement at the actually quite commonplace phenomenon that he stutters when he talks but not when he sings. I know I am a terrible person, but not only did I find his story hugely less inspiring than I was obviously meant to, but, well, not to put too fine a point on it, but given what a tyrant Ryan Toothpaste is about getting the show in on time, I pretty much guarantee that we will never, ever hear from Lazaro again.

I hope you’ll join me next week for the Idol auditions in North Kakalaka. This was where the notorious TMZ-leaked gun battle between Mariah and Nicki took place, and where their deep, intense, cleansing hatred for one another really began. Will Idol sit on it, or exploit it for all it’s worth? Stay tuned!


American Idol: Season 12 Premiere!

whats on the tee vee

Oh, my dearests. If I told you how excited I was about the season premiere of American Idol, would you think less of me? If I told you that I plan on blogging about it for the rest of the season, would you stop reading this site? If I said you had a beautiful body, would you give me a hand-job? So many questions. So few answers.

With the caveat that I’ll be staying away from the recap shows (there are only so many clever things one can say about a bunch of fame-hungry teenagers pretending to be super into a Ford Focus), yes, I am so thrilled about AI starting up again that I’ll be writing about it in this space for the duration. While I have no expectations that we will get anything but another blandly handsome guitar-strumming non-entity who appeals to sheltered 13-year-old-girls again this year, it should be fun based on the major overhaul to the panel of judges.

Gone are ass-positive triple-threat Jennifer Lopez and desiccated Diane Warren repository Steven Tyler. In their place will be Mariah Carey, who will be filling the ‘overly emotional, mentally damaged mixed-race pop sensation’ slot; Nicki Minaj, a wondrous Trinidadian elf-thing who will be insufficiently able to assume Simon Cowell’s stern taskmaster role; and the deceptively named Keith Urban, a foreign-born country singer and professional Nicole Kidman impregnator who will be assisting gregarious human coin toss Randy Jackson in his role as a dumb oaf. It’s a combination of inexperience, indifference, and utter madness that’s sure to result in mirth.

The opening making-of sequence, where last year’s mistake, Phillip “Phillip” Phillips, sings a song that will someday be used in the montage scene of a WB post-apocalypse drama, is the last quiet moment of the night, because then Ryan Toothpaste starts giving us a bunch of depressing statistics about how there are more Mariah Carey records in existence than there were people killed in the Holocaust. The first episode takes place in New York, where a billion people show up to look at Keith Urban because their boutique beer store in Greenpoint was rendered unacceptably soggy during Hurricane Sandy. Now, because the captions on this show only show up for a picosecond and God made marijuana delicious, I missed some of the names here, but I ain’t Keith Sweat, so don’t sweat me. Let’s pause for a few seconds of fake bitchiness between Mariah and Nicki, which hopefully by the end of the season will blossom into genuine, soul-harrowing, unrehearsed hatred, and then it’s off to the races!

Our first no-hopeful is Mike, a goateed punching bag who does a freestyle rap about how cute Nicki’s face is. Nicki agrees that her face is cute, but she doesn’t need some cookie-dough honky telling her that, so he gets sent packing. After some more fake hostility as Nicki gets her wig steamed, next up is Tina Tennant, who once attended the terrifyingly named “Camp Mariah”, where I can assume that young children are taught melismatic runs in preparation for the fascist nightmare that is to come when Mariah Carey overthrows the government. She doesn’t know how to walk in heels, but Keith Urban thinks she has “patience and pace” (coming soon to the WB, with songs by Phillip Phillips), and she gets through. We are then favored with a montage of people who get through by singing songs Idol has failed to license, including one guy who looks like he became homeless after spending his rent money on afro picks.

Something is going on with Mariah Carey’s tits. I cannot say what it is, but it seems like it might reach a crisis point in the near future. As the judges sip from special jumbo-sized Coca-Cola cups, we are treated to a terrible performance by the little kid from the PSY video, who gets the ‘we are sad but we are laughing’ treatment and is condemned to a future of selling cell phone accessories. The second girl pretends that she is fat, when she probably weighs 130 pounds at the absolute max, but still finds it necessary, when she gets her golden ticket to Hollywood, to emit sounds of gratitude that people of “all shapes and sizes” can get on American Idol. Way to bravely cope with being maybe ten pounds overweight, lady. She went to Berklee, which prompts Mariah to claim that she went to “the school of fuckin’ life”.

The mortal lock of the night seems to be a dancing New Jerseyite in Loverboy pants who (a) sings a Bon Jovi song, (b) seems kind of gay and (c) lost a leg to cancer! Yes, he’s a cowboy, and on a steel stump he rides. He’s not even a bad singer, but this panel seems to be trying to establish a hard-ass reputation and they send him home. Sorry, cancer man. Next up is Jessica, a folky Staten Islander in a jean vest who “doesn’t want to define herself yet”, possibly because the best definition for her would be “mediocre singer”. She is sad to be kicked to the curb and makes some my-career-is-over noises, but Nicki drops some wisdom, saying “nothing is ever your only shot”. Then there is a commercial for Maybelline Dream Fresh BB Cream, which is one of many things I have needed explained to me today.

Shira is next; she had a number-one hit in Israel, which makes her sort of a ringer, but at any rate I am too blinded by anti-Semitism to give her a fair shake. As she croons away, all I can think of is the blood of my slaughtered Arab brethren, and also how I wish I had Pringles. Frankie from Brooklyn lives in a rough neighborhood, which they establish by filming him sitting in front of a computer surfing the internet. Way to get B-roll, American Idol directors. He tries to sing “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurythmics, but he’s way, way too high; this would get most people booted, but Nicki likes people from Brooklyn, and she’s in a good mood because she just Americansplained busking to Keith Urban. Frankie has pipes, if not an iota of control, and they let him through as everybody smiles. The background music switches to Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax”, because his name is Frankie and he is going to Hollywood and not because he enjoys gay bathhouse sex. Or not only for that reason.

Flash forward to the next day, and Nicki has changed into a wig made of spun lava, because she is the Queen of the Mole People. Our next contestant is Benjamin, a tubbo in a Thriller outfit, only it is made out of linoleum, and the greatest post-’80s Jheri curl since Pedro Martinez. The panel dumps him while putting on the same sad-serious face they did for cancer man, and he squeaks away into the lonely city after sitting forlornly on a stool while a PA tries to think of something to say to him. This is easily the most hilarious segment of Idol all season. Then a commercial instructs viewers to send a get-well card to the AFLAC duck, who would actually do that.

Roseanne Shindelman is the first hatchi-matchi candidate of the night, and her parents are a pair of stock characters from regional Yiddish theater circa 1924, because they actually say stuff like “So nice, she sings”. She’s all over the place, though, and the judges send her home in shame. She will show them all when she is America’s best-loved female cantor. After another montage of shitty, angry singers with damaged hair, we get South Jersey melon-farmer Sarah, who is just one blueberry patch away from being a mob princess. She shoots a bow and arrow, rides a tractor, and appeals mightily to Keith Urban, because they are both clearly the kinds of people who should never sing country songs. She has an adequate pop-goes-the-Nashville voice, but then she busts out rapping and is much better at it than she is at singing. Sadly, this is American Idol and not American Rapper, a great show I just made up in my head that stars Canibus and a talking jaguar. She touches off a debate during which Mariah and Nicki both start talking so fast that time starts moving backwards, and I don’t know if she made it through or not because all of a sudden there was a Civil War battle on my TV.

Then Randy wants to eat lunch, and you don’t stand between that guy and a craft table burrito unless you want your legs broke. After lunch comes Albert, who is from Rego Park, a.k.a. the least gangsta neighborhood in Queens; Albert is Chinese and, in addition to not being able to sing, can’t speak English very well. I’m not sure if they’re trying to recapture the lightning of William Hung or what, but I am 100% sure I ain’t down with the Asian-minstrel-show shit Idol is doing here. Brett is a Phila homeboy who looks like he should be working at the Boys’ Club keeping young fellows on the straight and narrow; before he gets tossed, they do a bunch of bullshit Inception fakeouts which make this segment the most aggressively annoying of the night.

Fashion-forward Sikh Gurpreet, a.k.a. “The Turbanator”, almost doesn’t get through because this panel hates everybody, especially Keith Urban, who seems to be opting for a personality-free Simon Cowell jawn. But wait! The final vote falls to Nicki, who gives him a pass to Hollywood! This should be fun, because not only will he get eaten alive there, but he will be subject to some excitingly misguided Islamophobic slurs from the fans. Finally, Ashlee Felciano, who comes from a family of 200,000 people and looks like a Cosby Kid, shows up. Her parents foster “medically complex children”, which is a thing I have to know about now, I guess. Anyway, apparently, if she doesn’t get on American Idol, an adorable sick toddler will die, but luckily for him she’s easily the best singer of the night and gets through. She says “Oh, my word” because she is the heroine of a novel written in 1892. There is a brief moment of panic when Keith Urban threatens to say something perceptive about her voice but then YAY RANDY JACKSON IS DANCING WITH CUTE KIDS WHO ARE “MEDICALLY COMPLEX”, HOORAY.

Tomorrow: Chicago. Join me as I cry real tears for my vanished youth in the old home town.


From E.S.L. to A/S/L

je suis plus trill


To Do and Say

  • TO THINK:  ”I have not been completely inundated with self-validation about _____.”
  • TO SAY:  ”Am I the only person in the world who thinks _____?”


  • TO THINK:  ”I am irrationally excited by the overly familiar.”
  • TO SAY:  ”Squeeee


  • TO THINK:  ”I do not know the facts.”
  • TO SAY:  ”I’m sorry, but those are just the facts.”


  • TO THINK:  ”I have insufficient information to have an informed opinion about _____.”
  • TO SAY:  ”The problem is that you’re focused on _____, when the real problem is _____”


  • TO THINK:  ”My job and/or home life is extremely unfulfilling.”
  • TO SAY:  ”This altered photograph of Gene Wilder as Willie Wonka should make my feelings on this matter clear.”


TO DO:  A woman has asked to be treated with a modicum of respect.  Explain why she is a dirty whore.

  • TO THINK:  ”It is really a matter of public health.”
  • TO SAY:  ”You are fat.”


  • TO THINK:  ”I cannot be bothered to articulate my thoughts on this issue, because I am playing Angry Birds.”
  • TO SAY:  ”Meh.”


  • TO THINK:  ”I am having an affair with your sister.”
  • TO SAY:  ”I think it’s sad that you can’t learn to trust other people.”


  • TO THINK:  ”I am desperately insecure.”
  • TO SAY:  ”I have just checked in as the new Mayor of _____.”


  • TO THINK:  ”Everyone is wrong but me.”
  • TO SAY:  ”There are extremists on both sides of this issue.”


TO DO:  Justify your own constant appropriation of other peoples’ work while scolding someone about creator’s rights.

  • TO THINK:  ”I cannot comfortably conceive of a person whose tastes are at variance with my own.”
  • TO SAY:  ”If you don’t like _____, I don’t think we can be friends.”


  • TO THINK:  ”I take offense at everything.”
  • TO SAY:  ”I take offense at that.”


  • TO THINK:  ”I am a dolt.”
  • TO SAY:  ”tl;dr”


  • TO THINK:  ”I find my own neuroses endlessly fascinating.”
  • TO SAY:  ”I guess I just don’t conform to your mainstream standards.”


  • TO THINK:  ”I am a huge asshole.”
  • TO SAY:  ”I am the moderator of a Men’s Rights forum.”


TO DO:  Oh, no, it’s raining!  Tell your friends in other parts of the country how they have no idea what bad weather is really like.

  • TO THINK:  ”I have no idea what is happening, what is happening, make things stop happening”
  • TO SAY:  ”Reply:  All”


  • TO THINK:  ”I think of other people primarily as marketing tools for my personal obsessions.”
  • TO SAY:  ”Please RT”


  • TO THINK:  ”I have just read the Wikipedia entry about _____.”
  • TO SAY:  ”Obviously, you don’t know anything about _____.”


  • TO THINK:  ”I did not write this.”
  • TO SAY:  ”This is problematic.”


  • TO THINK:  ”I am a hypocrite.”
  • TO SAY:  ”I am on the internet.”


TO DO:  Explain someone else’s joke to them.


FRONTERIZO: A Fiasco Playset

space geek

Hey, folks.  Do you know Fiasco?  You should:  Jason Morningstar‘s cleverly constructed, tonally perfect role-playing game (available from Bully Pulpit Games) is one of the greatest things going these days.  Built for 3-5 players, with minimal dice-rolling, few rules, and no game-master, it’s perfect if you enjoy dark, cynical crime movies, film noir, the work of the Coen Brothers, interactive storytelling, and having a fiendishly good time.

I’m a huge fan of the game, and because of Bully Pulpit’s admirably collaborative approach to the gaming world, it was only a matter of time before I tried my hand at writing my own “playset” — the scenario around which a game of Fiasco is built.  Not finding it well-addressed in the official or fan-made playsets I found on line, I decided mine would take place in the dangerous, unpredictable world of a decaying Mexican border town.  Playing “Fronterizo” should put you in mind of many bad-things-get-worse films set on the U.S./Mexico border, from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre to Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia to No Country for Old Men.

If you’re a Fiasco player and would like to give “Fronterizo” a try, I invite you to do so.  It’s free of charge and in the public domain, so you can get it for nothin’ and do whatever you want with it.  If you’re not a Fiasco player, head over to Bully Pulpit, reward Jason for writing such a great game by buying a copy, and then pick up “Fronterizo” as your first playset, why not?  Here’s the download link, which gets you a ZIP file containing both a Word and a PDF version:

Thanks for gaming, thanks for reading my stuff, and remember:  Estáte trucha; hay chivatos por todas partes.


cruising for a bruising

I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that being a witness to even the most electrifying events is no guarantee of recalling them accurately.  The men and women who survived the sinking of the Titanic disagreed as to exactly how the great ship went down, even though they all saw it at the same time; victims of great disasters and horrific crimes, who presumably have had the smallest memories burned into their cortices by trauma, will often give entirely different accounts.  On a lesser scale, our sporting press has always managed to wrest their own legendary interpretations out of events they personally witnessed, but those interpretations frequently bear no resemblance to what actually happened.  This essay on the Jack Dempsey/Georges Carpentier fight, written by H.L. Mencken, has thus always been a favorite of mine, illustrating both the tendency of storytellers to aggrandize their own narrative at the expense of the facts, as well as the unreliability of the eye-witness.  Neither factor has changed much since Mencken wrote about them, almost a hundred years ago.


The late herculean combat between Prof. Dempsey and Mons. Carpentier, in addition to all its other usufructs, also had some lessons in it for the psychologist — that is, if any psychologist can be found who is not an idiot.  One was a lesson in the ways and means whereby legends are made, that man may be kept misinformed and happy on this earth, and hence not too willing to go to Hell.  I allude specifically to a legend already in full credit throughout the length and breadth of Christendom, to wit, the legend that Carpentier gave Dempsey some fearful wallops in the second round of their joust, and came within a micromillimeter of knocking him out.  Loving the truth for its own sake, I now tell it simply and hopelessly.  No such wallops were actually delivered.  Dempsey was never in any more danger of being knocked out than I was, sitting there in the stand with a very pretty gal just behind me and five or six just in front.  

In brief, the whole story is apocryphal, bogus, hollow and null, imbecile, devoid of substance.  The gallant Frog himself, an honest as well as reckless man, has testified clearly that, by the time he came to the second round, he was already substantially done for, and hence quite incapable of doing any execution upon so solid an aurochs as Dempsey.  His true finish came, in fact, in the first round, when Dempsey, after one of Carpentier’s flashy rights, feinted to his head, caused him to duck, and then delivered a devastating depth-bomb upon the back of his neck.  This blow, says Carpentier, produced a general agglutination of his blood corpuscles, telescoped his vertebræ, and left him palsied and on the verge of Cheyne-Stokes breathing.  To say that any pug unaided by supernatural assistance, after such a colossal shock, could hit Von Dempsey hard enough to hurt him is to say that a Sunday-school superintendent could throw a hippopotamus.  Nevertheless, there stands the legend, and Christendom will probably believe it as firmly as it believes that Jonah swallowed the whale.  It has been printed multitudinously.  It has been cabled to all the four quarters of the earth.  It enters into the intellectual heritage of the human race*.  How is it to be accounted for?  What was the process of its genesis?

Having no belief in simple answers to the great problems of being and becoming, I attempt a somewhat complex one.  It may be conveniently boiled down to the following propositions:

(a) The sympathies of a majority of the intelligentsia present were with M. Carpentier, because (1) he was matched with a man plainly his superior, (2) he had come a long way to fight, (3) he was the challenger, (4) he was an ex-soldier, whereas his opponent had ducked the draft.

(b) He was (1) a Frenchman, and hence a beneficiary of the romantic air which hangs about all things French, particularly to Americans who question the constitutionality of Prohibition and the Mann Act; he was (2) of a certain modest social pretension, and hence palpably above Professor Dempsey, a low-brow.

(c) He was polite to newspaper reporters, the surest means to favorable public notice in America, whereas the oaf, Dempsey, was too much afraid of them to court them.

(d) He was a handsome fellow, and made love to all the sob-sisters.

(e) His style of fighting was open and graceful, and grounded itself upon active footwork and swinging blows that made a smack when they landed, and so struck the inexperienced as deft and effective.

All these advantages resided within M. Carpentier himself.  Now for a few lying outside him:

(a) The sporting reporters, despite their experience, often succumb to (e) above.  That is, they constantly overestimate the force and effect of spectacular blows, and as constantly underestimate the force and effect of short, close and apparently unplanned blows.

(b) They are all in favor of prize-fighting as a sport, and seek to make it appear fair, highly technical and romantic; hence their subconscious prejudice is against a capital fight that is one-sided and without dramatic moments.

(c) They are fond, like all the rest of us, of airing their technical knowledge, and so try to gild their reports with accounts of mysterious transactions that the boobery looked at but did not see.

(d) After they have predicted confidently that a given pug will give a good account of himself, they have to save their faces by describing him as doing it.

(e) They are, like all other human beings, sheep-like, and docilely accept any nonsense that is launched by a man who knowns how to impress them.

I could fish up other elements out of the hocus-pocus, but here are enough.  Boiled down, the thing simply amounts to this:  that Carpentier practiced a style of fighting that was more spectacular and attractive than Dempsey’s, both to the laiety present and to the experts; that he was much more popular than Dempsey, at least among the literati and the nobility and gentry; and that, in the face of his depressing defeat, all his partisans grasped eagerly at the apparent recovery he made in the second round — when, by his own confession, he was already quite out of it — and converted that apparent recovery into an onslaught which came within an ace of turning the tide for him.

But why did all the reporters and spectators agree upon the same fiction?  The answer is easily given:  all of them did not agree upon it.  Fully a half of them knew nothing about it when they left the stand; it was not until the next day that they began to help it along.  As for those who fell upon it at once, they did so for the simple reason that the second round presented the only practicable opportunity for arguing that Carpentier was in the fight at all, save perhaps as an unfortunate spectator.  If they didn’t say that he had come hear to knocking out Dempsey in that round, they couldn’t say it at all.  So they said it — and now every human being on this favorite planet of Heaven believes it, from remote missionaries on the Upper Amazon to lonely socialists in the catacombs of Leavenworth, and from the Hon. Warren Gamaliel Harding on his alabaster throne to the meanest Slovak in the bowels of the earth.  I  sweat and groan on this hot night to tell you the truth, but you will not believe me.  The preponderance of evidence is against me.  In six more days, no doubt, I’ll be with you, rid of my indigestible facts and stuffed with the bosh that soothes and nourishes man…Aye, why wait six days?  Tomorrow I’ll kiss the book, and purge my conscience.

Meanwhile, I take advantage of my hours of grace to state the ribald and immortal truth in plain terms, that an occasional misanthrope may be rejoiced.  Carpentier never for a single instant showed the slightest chance of knocking out Dempsey.  His fighting was prettier than Dempsey’s; his blows swung from the shoulder; he moved about gracefully; when he struct the spot he aimed at (which was very seldom), it was with a jaunty and charming air.  But he was half paralyzed by that clout on the posterior neck in the very first round, and thereafter his wallops were no more dangerous to Dempsey than so many cracks with a bag stuffed with liberty cabbage.  When, in the second round, he rushed in and delivered the two or three blows to the jaw that are alleged to have shaken up the ex-n0n-conscript, he got in exchange for them so rapid and so powerful a series of knocks that he came out of the round a solid mass of bruises from the latitude of McBurney’s point to the bulge of the frontal escarpment.

Nor did Dempsey, as they say, knock him out finally with a right to the jaw, or with a left to the jaw, or with any single blow to any other place.  Dempsey knocked him out by beating him steadily and fearfully, chiefly with short-arm jabs — to the jaw, to the nose, to the eyes, to the neck front and back, to the ears, to the arms, to the ribs, to the kishkas.  His collapse was gradual.  He died by inches.  In the end he simply dropped in his tracks, and was unable to get up again — perhaps the most scientifically and thoroughly beaten a man that ever fought in a championship mill.  It was, to my taste, almost the ideal fight.  There was absolutely no chance to talk of an accidental blow, or of a foul.  Carpentier fought bravely, and for the first minute or two, brilliantly.  But after that he went steadily down hill, and there was never a moment when the result was in doubt.  The spectators applauded the swinging blows and the agile footwork, but it was the relentless pummeling that won the fight.

Such are the facts.  I apologize for the Babylonian indecency of printing them.


*:  It even appears to this day on Wikipedia, thus forever ensuring its sacrosanct status as an unvarnished truth. — LP



flavored with age
Gun-totin', Chronic-smokin' Hearse Initiator
Ludic Log


Leonard Pierce is a freelance writer wandering around Texas with no sleep or sense of direction. If you give him money he will write something for you. If you are nice to him he may come to your house and get drunk.

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June 2014


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