Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Why Jaws Is the Greatest Film of All Time

You're probably expecting me to say "Because it's about fucking sharks," but it's so much deeper than that.

See, in 1935, the Council of Nine met in Rivendell (a small cafe in Pasadena) to discuss the future of the film industry. The Council included such revered filmmakers as Cecil B. Demille and David O. Selznick, as well as total assholes trying to be all counter-culture by having no middle initial, like Orson Welles. Howard Hughes couldn't make it due to a previous engagement with complete insanity, but sent a jar of urine to represent the interests of psychotic multi-millionaires in his stead. These illustrious names were gathered together in response to a looming threat to the art of film: the Ring of Profits.

Hollywood had been laboring under the oppressive Hays Code for years already. It was a compromise they had been forced to make, but they had underestimated the heartbreaking cost of censorship. They had expected the Puritanical restrictions to fade away as viewers demanded better films, more challenging films, or at least more titties. With enough pressure from audiences, the studios would be forced to reconsider asinine limitations on cleavage width when faced with the cold reality of a bottom line. Eventually the people would rise up with their pocket books, in support of great cinematic art.

Only they didn't. Audiences soon revealed themselves to be more interested in a cartoon mouse than in Of Mice and Men. They preferred watching a waddling man with a Hitler 'stache and a bowler getting run over by a runaway cart to seeing Jean Valjean lifting that cart off its victim. And above all else, they demonstrated their ravenous desire for the empty, saccharine puppy-love of a musical fairy tale over the raw passion of a once-in-a-century romance.

And that was it. The Ring of Profits had fallen into the wrong hands, and all was lost for Truth and Beauty in the art of film. The Council of Nine knew this, and so they drafted a secret agreement with the studios, hoping against hope that, somehow, on occasion, great films would slip past the studio guards, until the day when filmmaking became affordable enough for people like Robert Rodriguez and Kevin Smith to be able to say "Fuck the studios, I'm doing this in my god-damned backyard with a camcorder and finger puppets."

There are few who know the full contents of the Council's agreement with the studios, but much can be deduced from observing the history of film. They clearly prescribed a number of plot requirements. This is why in any action or war film, the funny guy dies; why in any love story, only the best friend can die; and of course the most damaging plot requirement of all: the requisite love interest.

It doesn't matter if the film is a documentary about Cheese Puffs, there has to be some sort of romance going on in there somewhere. You can't just go into space with 2 other people and not fall in love with at least 1 of them. And let's be honest, who among us has taken a purely platonic road trip with our college buddies?

Which brings us to what makes Jaws so completely bad-ass: there is absolutely no love interest in the story whatsoever. And it would have been so easy to add one, wouldn't it? You had the skinny dipping couple at the beginning, you had heroes who could have had girlfriends or sexy personal assistants, you had an entire town full of attractive young beach goers to pair up willy nilly. But all that romantic crap would have gotten in the way of valuable shark time, so Spielberg was like "Fuck it."

Keep in mind too that Jaws isn't based on some real-life story the writers had to pretend to be true to; it's based on a novel. A novel that had a fucking love interest side-plot. That's right, in the book, police chief Brody's wife fucks the oceanographer Hooper, adding a layer of bullshit tension between two of the heroes fighting the Great White. But again Spielberg, in a ballsy move that proved he not only had taste and vision in his pre-Crystal Skull days, but also testicles bigger than anyone else in Hollywood, gave the middle finger to superfluous romance and opted instead for, you guessed it, more shark attacks.

The result was the unquestioned greatest water-based thriller of all time, the invention of the PG-13 rating and, in this writer's humble opinion, one of the greatest films of the 20th century, particularly in terms of pacing, tension-building, and just getting down to god-damned business with the shark hunting.

In a world where even films about the founding of a company whose founder is still alive and able to call "shenanigans!" (and not just call it but post it on the Facebook wall he fucking invented where it can be read by all of humanity) connect everything in the plot to some empty romance the writers extracted entirely from their own asses, it's indescribably refreshing to come across a film that gives it to you straight. No dopey romance that wouldn't last through the end of the credits, no unsurprising dick move by the jilted ex, no stopping in the middle of the peak action sequence to kiss the girl. Nothing that makes you think the film should be subtitled Jaws: and some other stuff no one really cares about.

It's called Jaws, and that's exactly what you get. Thank you, Mr. Spielberg. Now for God's sake, please retire before you find some way to fuck it up.

Respectfully yours,

S. Misanthrope

Monday, December 27, 2010

Threatdown #1: Trees

Trees are the most evil things in existence, for the simple reason that they are everywhere and that, given the chance, they will kill you.

True, they don't get the chance all that often, being inanimate objects (or so we are told). Most of the time they just drop sticky stuff on your car and leave it at that. Some lure children into their seemingly sturdy branches, only to chuckle (in a way that sounds a good deal like rustling leaves but isn't) at the broken bones that ensue. Occasionally trees will take it a step further, sacrificing limbs in their ongoing war against windshields. A few bolder ones go completely kamikaze in their efforts to cause property damage.

The "crash and smash" strategy of warfare historically favored by trees is not too difficult for humans to counter, but recently trees have revealed a far more sinister mode of attack. They are capable not only of smacking us on the head, but of the invasion of our very bodies.

That's right: trees have indeed sent their spores into the bodies of humans, where they have taken root and caused hemorrhaging. Like most totally fucked up things, this was first documented in Russa where (I am not kidding), a fir tree grew *inside a man's lung*, complete with root system and foliage. As in the space race, the United States lagged the Soviets but was eager to one-up them by boasting a man with a pea sprout growing inside him. This is doubly disturbing as we humans generally believe that we totally own things like peas that we not only eat but also fucking invented. Add to this the fact that geckos have been found inside chicken eggs, and it's enough to make anyone go pro-ana.

Of course, we are the fools for inviting these monsters into our very homes. You may as well keep a baby saber-tooth tiger in your living room as a ficus. We romanticize trees to no end, be it in great works of literature (in real life, Treebeard would eat those hobbits) or in disturbing children's poems (the smartest thing the boy in "The Giving Tree" did was to chop that fucker down).

A few others out there have seen the danger posed by these sylvan specters and tried to warn us. Allstate has cautioned not only against live trees waiting to collapse on your car, but also of seemingly-benign Christmas trees ready to slip off someone's roof while on the interstate to cause a ten-car pileup (a menace even I had not considered). The Little Prince, while seemingly a whimsical novella for children, is actually a timeless treatise on the dire tree threat which challenges the dangerous but common delusion that there is "plenty of room on this planet for both humans and trees.".

The fact is, we've been warned. When the Tree-pocalypse goes down, we'll have no one to blame but ourselves.

So remember, when they want you to see this:

Or this:

Or this:

You  should be seeing this:

Most sincerely,

S. Misanthrope

How Wishing Works

Some people seem to be confused on this topic lately, so I thought I'd be helpful and clarify the issue. Good will toward men and all.

So, I have a tendency to say things like "I wish babies weren't allowed in public," or "I wish there were no trees," and certain idiots nice people who are probably just confused due to not being fully recovered from their recent lobotomies that removed their entire rational faculty tend to respond with comments like "You were a baby once, too, you know," and "If there were no trees, you'd have no air to breathe, so you should be grateful for them and love them like they were your own baby-kitten hybrid creation of perpetual neediness and love." To which I usually reply with an elegant "Please shut your god-damned face, you simpering nematode."

But since it's Christmas (Happy Day 3, everyone! I'm sure I don't have to explain that the 12 days of Christmas actually come *after* Christmas, not before as Christmas countdowns on television would have you believe. Surely my dear readers are intelligent enough to realize that, if the wise men had to follow a star that would appear when the Christ child was born, they couldn't have begun their 12 day journey until Christmas Day at the earliest, and would therefore not have arrived at the manger until January 5th. I'm sure I don't need to tell you all that.), I will be generous.

Listen up, because I am only going to say this once. Ready?

Wishing doesn't change anything.

There are absolutely no circumstances under which the expression of my desire for human procreation to be relegated to a Matrix-like facility would lead to any actual changes to the world. Merely articulating my wish, however ardent and sincere, that people with pizza nipples be required by law to wear shirts at all times, or that gingers be forbidden from breeding so that the giant evolutionary mistake that is freckles might one day be eliminated from the gene pool has no affect on reality. I really, truly wish it did, but there again, my wishing is irrelevant.

I think it funny, by the way, that everyone is quick to realize this when the tables are turned. When someone wishes they had wealth or fame, most people are ready to remind them that if wishes were horses, there'd be a lot of shit in the streets. Wish for something reasonable, and everyone easily recalls the cause and effect principle of the universe whereby your mind does not have the power to control or alter reality. But make one small remark about midget chain gangs being extremely useful for farming baby carrots (to them it's like farming normal-sized carrots), and suddenly the fabric of reality is urgently threatened by your every flight of fancy.

Now you've been warned. I'm so overwhelmed by Christmas Spirit at the moment, I'm giving everyone who pulled this crap on me in 2010 a Get-Off-The-Stupid-List-Free card, but don't expect me to be so generous in 2011. I expect us to learn from our mistakes. We've got 5 days left to figure this out. Maybe practice in front of a mirror. Try phrases like "I wish that every time an orphan caroler misses the high note in 'O Holy Night', their head would explode," or "I wish Eugene Levy's eyebrows would be forced to fight each other in a caged fight to the death, and I hope the left one wins."

And do let me know if any of your wishes spontaneously come true, because I really would like to be rid of babies and trees.

Ho, ho, ho,

S. Misanthrope

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

And an agoraphobic new year!

S. Misanthrope

Friday, December 10, 2010

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Guilt is Good

One of the hazards of ascribing to a certain philosophy that shall remain nameless is that you tend to spend about as much time defending against your supposed defenders as you do against your attackers. That's what happens when you redefine words like "selfishness" and "integrity", and you can't go ten minutes without using the adjective "metaphysical.'

A great example of this problem is the "self-esteem" movement of the 90s. Or maybe before the 90s, I don't really know. But I definitely noticed it in the 90s when my 3rd grade teacher told me there was no wrong way to spell "indubitibly", squiggly red line be damned. Thanks to her, I have almost zero spelling skills and an uncanny ability to believe that I am right about everything.

As a ----ist, I am a huge fan of self-esteem. Like, the hugest. You might say I consider it a non-optional value even. But I am also a huge, huge enemy of the self-esteem movement. Similarly I am generally an enemy of guilt, at least guilt of the Judeo-Christian or other unearned variety. I don't want anyone to feel guilty for existing, or using fossil fuels, or exhaling greenhouse gasses. I don't even want you to feel guilty for walking past the bell-ringing Santa Claus or being annoyed when your bus has to stop for an extra 45 seconds to let a wheelchair board. Overall I would probably reduce global guilt levels by 95% or more.

The supposed supporters of "self-esteem", however, want to wipe guilt from the human emotional spectrum. They don't want you to feel any guilt at all about anything ever, which is a big problem, because sometimes guilt is exactly what you should feel. Guilt is a normal, healthy emotional response when you do something wrong, specifically when you take some action that undermines your values, or fail to take some action that promotes them. It's the accumulation of the regret, remorse, and disappointment that comes from acting against your goals, and its purpose is to get you back on track. Removing the ability to feel guilt makes about as much sense as removing the ability to feel pain. Just ask a naked mole rat how well that works out.

I recently read an article in a magazine that pretends to offer up intellectual content as well as pictures of shoes. The article was about a trio of supposedly influential female bloggers I've never heard of who write about diet and exercise. They basically run a lot, eat small amounts of South Beach-approved foods, and document it all online. Whether this is meant to inspire or shame lesser beings who occasionally eat french fries and have been known to skip the gym is unclear, but basically it's your standard, run-of-the-mill diet and exercise journal, just made public instead of shamefully hidden.

The author's disdain for these women is palpable. It practically drips off the page. It hints that these women's habits are unhealthy, possibly bordering on anorexia. One of them runs ten miles per day and eats a salad for dinner, for a total daily caloric intake of 1200 calories, if her blog is to be believed. Another "indulges" in a "brownie" made of black beans and sour cream for "dessert."

And your point? I mean, that sounds kind of lame and it's certainly not the lifestyle for me, but that doesn't prove it's an invalid choice. The author does get a quick quote from some doctor claiming that 1200 calories are not quite enough for someone so active, but he doesn't outright call it "unhealthy" nor does he recommend milkshakes as a better diet option than pseudo-brownies.

No, the real problem, according to the article, is that blogs like these might make readers feel guilty for eating an entire bag of Tootsie Rolls and watching the dust collect on their treadmill. And the author has a point. Who are these bloggers to be dedicated, driven, and successful? Who are they to flaunt their progress, making the rest of us feel inferior by contrast?

I'm beyond fed up with complaints about our culture's "impossible" standards of beauty. What does that even mean? Are we expecting women to have two heads and breathe underwater? Does the Miss America Pageant require prehensile tails? That would be fantastic, but no.

Standards are standards because they are hard to reach, but that doesn't mean they are impossible, as evidenced by the many seasons of ANTM and the fact that models are not robots. And P.S., it is not always about health. It's not even mostly about health. Very few of us find our lives immediately threatened by what we eat (or don't eat). For most of us, it's about looking good naked. For a few of us, it's about looking good on camera, which is in many ways more difficult.

That's really all we need to be concerned about in the modern world. We don't need to run from mastodons or fight cave bears anymore (paleo dieters, I'm looking at you). We just need to look pretty. Or not, honestly. Whatever you want, just don't expect Vogue to run photos of your love handles.

So there are some blogs out there helping more women get tiny little stick figures. More power to them, I say. If that's what you value, get to it. And if you fuck it up by eating donuts for breakfast, wallow in your well-earned guilt.

If anyone should understand this, by the way, it should be the magazine that only features women over 5' 9" and under 120 lbs. on its illustrious pages. But who are we kidding? Hypocrisy is the new black.

Ever yours,

S. Misanthrope

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Stupid of the Week #6: This One Study I Did in College

True story:

The best thing about being an undergrad is the easy money from studies, especially the psych studies where you don't actually have to do anything. I once participated in a study at the University of Chicago where they flashed words at you on a computer screen and you had to classify the word as "good" or "bad." The words were always obvious things, like "joy" or "arsenic."

Between words, they flashed a screen in black and white pixels that, according to the script at the beginning, was just meaningless filler that didn't represent anything. Sometimes it did indeed appear meaningless, but as the study went on, an image started to appear. To me it looked for all the world like the Raisin Bran sun.

If you don't recognize this, I'm sorry your childhood sucked.

Seeing even the vague, pixelated impression of that happy sun before me, gleefully pouring not one but TWO scoops of raisins into every box, I was struck suddenly with an overwhelming feeling of benevolence toward the universe. Pure joy radiated from every pore. I loved everything. Everything was good.

The computer screen flashed the word "cockroach" at me right then, and I reflexively pressed the "good" button, my one error in the entire study.

When I finished the program, the lab administrator came in to interview me. She asked if I saw anything in the supposed nonsense image that appeared between words.

"Yes," I said, "I saw a happy sun."

"Uh, what?"

"A happy sun. You know, like the Raisin Bran sun," I held up my hands with my elbows jutting out like I was holding two scoopers. The admin just stared at me as though I had just told her I was a dragon. Eventually she asked:

"So, did you see a face?"

"Well, yes, it couldn't very well be a happy sun if it didn't have a face, could it?"

"Right. So, this face, did it look like any particular race to you?"

"What are you talking about? The sun doesn't have a race. He shines on us all equally and distributes copious amounts of raisins to people of all colors."

"Ok, so no race then," she muttered as she made notes on her clipboard that clearly said "exclude this crazy person's data from the study."

After a minute or so, it dawned on me. Broad nose. Large lips. Heavy brow. What my pure, innocent, color-blind psyche had interpreted as a playful cartoon celestial body was supposed to be a black man.


Not this:

Instead of seeing a happy sun and mistakenly identifying cockroaches as good things, I was supposed to see a black man and miscategorize butterflies and rainbows as bad because of my subliminal racist tendencies. Oh. I see.

Interestingly enough, we actually all are subliminally racist in a similar way literally at birth. Showing a newborn infant the face of a black person automatically triggers the fear center of their brain. But the response is not to noses, lips and foreheads, it's to color. If you painted a white person's face black and showed that to the infant, it would react the same way. It also doesn't matter if the baby is black or white. Our baby brains are wired to think "dark = scary."

Of course it is grossly unfair to classify such a reaction as racism. This innate response probably has more to do with infants being able to see dark things more clearly. But it is interesting nonetheless, in an "oh, huh" kind of way.

So then I left the study and found myself unexpectedly face to face with my then-nemesis. We immediately drew weapons and fired.

But that's a story for another day.

Nighty night,

S. Misanthrope

Friday, December 3, 2010

Stupid of the Week #5: "Magic"

No, not the card game, though that game is absurdly simple. I mean, really, the Pokemon card game is more mathematically challenging. What I'm bitching about today is the use of the word "magic," specifically in technology-related advertising.

With the Christmas holiday upon us, we can of course expect an uptick in the number of things magic is given credit for. That $3,000 swing set in the backyard that Daddy worked overtime for three months to buy and spent all night Christmas Eve assembling is from "Santa." The cookies on the kitchen counter in the morning, the ones that Mommy woke up at 4am to bake, were left by "elves." The pile of crap your neighbor's dog left on your lawn is "reindeer droppings."

The holiday season is the traditional time set aside to fuck with your child's ability to comprehend reality. It's much easier to convince someone to believe in God if they already believe in a fat man who can fit down a chimney. And when's the last time Jehovah gave you a new bike in exchange for cookies and good behavior? Santa Claus is way cooler than Jesus, and has better fashion sense. Grown men should not wear sandals.

The point is, magic has its place, and that place is in the month of December and in the lies that we tell children. It does not belong in the general vocabulary as a catch-all way to explain away the interactions of electrons and magnetic fields that ultimately lead to computers and other gadgets.

I first noticed the inappropriate use of the term "magic" in a Palm Pre commercial, in which the narrator drones "What happens out here [meaning on Facebook], *magically* updates in here [I suppose this means in your address book on your phone]."

Like, seriously? "We're not the iPhone, but we're close!" would be a better tag line than that. Whatever cool software it is that makes this interface possible, it's not "magic," it's technology. Technology that Palm Pre developed and is now trying to sell. And their big selling point is that their phone is *magic*? Does it run on wishes and fairydust?

At first I thought this might be an isolated incident. A company desperate for a way to lure customers away from the iPhone mistakenly appealed to mysticism. I mean, we are talking about marketing people, here. Not exactly the brightest bulbs in the box. I'm sorry, I mean "magic glowglobes."

But alas, it wasn't long before Apple itself ran a similar ad, touting the "magic" of the iPad. Apple, the tech company for tech people. The guardians of geek heaven. Unless they have wizards on their payroll now, any claims to magical properties should be considered outright fraud.

Still, two points make a line, not a pattern, right? Oh wait, there's also Droid, Motorola, Sony, Microsoft...the list of companies who have publicly attributed the unique abilities of their products to other-worldy forces goes on. It would seem our world is just bursting at the seams with magic. I guess that explains why Radioshack always felt a bit like Diagon Alley to me.

But seriously now: every time I see an appeal to magic in an ad for something that isn't legitimately magical, like Disneyland or Etch-A-Sketch, I feel like some creepy old man is trying to get me to trade my cow for magic beans. Haven't we all heard this story before? It doesn't end with a golden goose.

Ads like these are insulting to the intelligence of their target audience. Not quite as insulting as the plot of Avatar or a Thomas Kinkade painting, but close. And if there's one thing I know is true about Americans, it's that we won't buy things from people who insult our intelligence.

Oh wait.

Never mind.

Wishing you lots of holiday magic!

S. Misanthrope

2010: A Year in Review

 I realize the year has not quite come to an end yet, but the way things have been going, I think it's best to quit while we're only ten thousand light years behind.

The Good Things that Happened in 2010

1. Daniel Radcliffe once again spent most of the year naked, but this time with Hermione instead of a horse, which is a significant improvement. And yes, he's totally old enough for this to be a good thing.

Unfortunately, I could only locate a photo of the horse which, due to U.S. equine pornography laws, cannot be reposted here. Instead, please enjoy this photo of Angelina "I've Already Done That" Jolie:

Have fun explaining that to your six children.

2. A brilliant combination of good writing, witty dialog, and a British accent somehow made this guy sexy:

No, seriously. Check this out:


3. Cuddy also spent most of the year naked.

And it's about time, you saucy minx.

Aaand that's pretty much it for the good things. Notice anything they all have in common? That's right, they are all completely fictional. The only good things that happened this year happened in the magical world of sci fi/fantasty/medical drama. Everything else sucked.

Bad Things that Happened in 2010 

1. Natural Disasters - get 'em while they're hot! Or cold, as the case may be. Crazy ice volcanoes, Chilean earthquakes, Haitian earthquakes. Luckily all these things happened in places nobody cares about, yet they somehow managed to cause a combined GAZILLION dollars in damage. Of course that's nothing compared to:

2. Man-Made Disasters - primarily Deepwater Horizon, racking up a supposed Eleventy Bagillion dollars in economic damages. Ouch. All this, and it's not even 2012 yet. Speaking of which...

3. The Movie 2012 - came out (technically in 2009 but I wasn't blogging back then) and although I didn't see it because the title doesn't even start with a letter let alone the letter "s", I know enough to know that it ruined the boyish innocence of John Cusack as surely as Philip Seymour Hoffman ruined mine. Not cool.

4. Sarah Palin - seems to have rebounded big time. There must be some brains under that hair, because the switch from politics to reality TV was absolutely brilliant. Obama may be the first president to succeed more as a pop culture icon than as president, but his power pales in comparison to Snookie's.

Rumor has it, the Palins are just getting started. We can expect more dancing, shooting, canoeing, shooting, camping, shooting, flannel, shooting, trapper hats and moose, not to mention exciting updates from the Russian front and more sexy flight attendant outfits in 2011, followed by a government coup in 2012.

There will be no stopping her this time. Our only real chance at avoiding a future Palin presidency is to run Danica Patrick against her (the NASCAR lobby is huge). The primaries would be tough, tougher even than the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Things would get pretty dirty, and there'd be some nasty mud-slinging, too, especially during the "Mud Wrestling for Middle America" caucus.

Be honest. Who would you vote for? This:

Or this:

I'm getting ahead of myself a bit here. But then, in other respects we are way behind. For instance:

5. 2010: Odyssey Not-So-Much - Absolutely nothing whatsoever from any Arthur C. Clark novel has come true yet. Not one damn thing. The Blue Danube does not resound throughout space. The Chinese haven't discovered any evil plant monsters living beneath Europa's ice. Obelisks are thin on the ground. The only robot that's ever threatened my life was that singing Christmas tree at Macy's. All I want is one teensy weensy alien threat to exterminate all life. Is that so much to ask? Come on, it's the future already!

Well, maybe next year.

Love always,

S. Misanthrope