Humor and Satire– Shmatire!

Tag Archives: Perpetual Post

Howard and I discussed the advent of 3D TV in this week’s Perpetual Post. There’s also a delightful discussion of Valentine’s Day and a review of HBO’s Temple Grandin.  Check it out!

We took on the Super Bowl over at the Perpetual Post this week. Find other view points here! (But mine is the rightest one).

MOLLY SCHOEMANN: I tend to forget about the ‘Super Bowl’ part of Super Bowl Parties until I walk in the door, and by then it’s too late; I’ve got a beer in each hand and my face in a bowl of bean dip and it would be too awkward to back out the door again. So every year, someone I know invites me to a Super Bowl Party, and like a Peanuts character, all I hear is “I’m having a wuh-wah-wuh Party this weekend, you should come!” So I always do, and I always suffer.

Part of the problem is that Super Bowl Parties are deceptively titled. The ‘Super Bowl’ part of the phrase is a tarted-up euphemism for watching football that is easily glossed-over. If people instead invited me to, ‘Come over to my place and watch some football,” as they do sometimes, I would do what I usually do and laugh in their faces. I don’t do “watch football”. Football bores me to tears. Any time I ‘watch football’, what I’m actually doing is marveling briefly at the glint of shiny spandex on giant undulating male buttocks and thighs, and then sinking into a coma. Watching football crushes my gentle spirit, scores a touchdown on my will to live and does a victory dance in the barren end zone of my soul.

But the thing is, I LOVE parties. And I understand that they come in many shapes and sizes, although as a rule, most of them involve snacks and drinks. I personally am fairly liberal when it comes to my definition of what constitutes a party. In fact, you could invite me to your “Watch Me Do My Taxes Party”, and as long as you promise nachos, I will probably show up with a noisemaker. But a Super Bowl Party is a nationally-recognized event that does not meet even my generous requirements of a party, and that is a tragic thing indeed. In this way, the Super Bowl Party is my Trojan horse. It betrays me on a yearly basis.

True, Super Bowl parties usually deliver on the food and booze. That is one thing they have going for them. They also have lots of yelling, which is sometimes fun. But they almost always lack sparkling conversation. Most conversations I have at Super Bowl Parties go something like this:

Me: “So what do you do for fun?”
Person sitting to my left: “Well, sometimes I like to EEUUEUAARRRGGGHH GO GO GO WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! RUNNNN!!!”
Me: “Oh…sorry. Let me wait until commercials are on.”
Me, Later: “So, what kind of dip is th—“
Everyone around me: “Shhhhh! Commercials!”
Me: “This party sucks.”

May I add, that any party whose highlight for some involves watching commercials is frankly a sad affair.

Sometimes I wonder if I am not the only one out there who is suckered year after year into spending four hours of my Sunday night drinking Miller Lite and stealthily picking the peanuts out of the Chex Party Mix. When I look around at most Super Bowl Parties, I like to imagine that not everyone there is swooning over field goals and eagerly anticipating the half-time show. There must be others like me—maybe there are even quite a few of us. A covert army of nonbelievers hovering over the Doritos and masking our yawns with suspiciously ill-timed and half-hearted cheers. If only there were some way we could band together and create our own celebrations, far from the mind-numbing infographics and repetitive trumpety theme music of the blaring, omnipotent football game.

Except…Sunday evening is kind of a terrible time to bother having a competing party. Maybe next year they’ll hold the Super Bowl at a more convenient time. Let’s wait and see. And in the meantime, I’ll console myself with beer and maybe a few more hot wings. I guess things could be worse.

I took on Facebook one last time in this week’s Perpetual Post. See Akie’s response as soon as it’s up on Monday at midnight.

I think I know what it must have felt like for the people who hated television when it was in its infant stages. They probably recognized that this was the direction in which the world was headed, and that this new phenomenon was only going to become more and more popular. But that knowledge didn’t stop them from hating it, and from feeling sad as they watched it become more omnipresent every day.

It’s hard for me to put my finger on exactly what it is I don’t like about Facebook. I think a large part of the problem is that every time I visited the site when I was a member, I got the distinct feeling that I was indulging some sort of guilty pleasure. And not a fun, silly guilty pleasure, like watching a Lifetime made-for-TV movie or eating an entire plate full of hot wings. I love that kind of guilty pleasure, but this felt different. It was a dirty, wrong kind of pleasure, like stepping on a worm on the sidewalk or cutting someone off in traffic.

Not only did it feel like a bad guilty pleasure, but it also felt kind of like walking down a high-school corridor, lined with lockers and filled with frenetic teenagers. Suddenly, you were back in a world in which it was ok to make snap judgments, to snoop around and find dirt on people and then talk about it; to base your opinions of others on superficial criteria. Suddenly, I felt like I was in an adolescent echo chamber, and none of the echoes were particularly worthwhile, and many were simply cries for attention. This may not be everyone’s experience with Facebook, but can you see why I wanted out?

Even if your Facebook friends really are your actual friends, which I think is dubious for many, the types of exchanges the website fosters are the social equivalent of Cheetos; tasty at first, but also dry, artificial, and not particularly nourishing. Don’t think so? Here’s a typical Facebook exchange, re-imagined as an actual face-to-face conversation between three people:

Bob: “I am a fan of Cheese.”

Jill: “I like this.”

Pete: “I have given Bob a pretend Rum and Coke.”

Bob: “On Saturday I am going to this party.”

Is this where technology has brought us? Is this how far we’ve come? I think people probably had more interesting conversations with telegraphs.

Facebook’s utter ubiquity is also a large part of the driving force behind its popularity. After all, how could something be bad or harmful if everyone is using it? You might be wasting hours of your sweet young life on Facebook every day, but so is everyone else, so it must be ok. You might question the usefulness of giving someone a flower that doesn’t exist for them to plant in their virtual Facebook garden, but that’s just what people are doing these days, so it must have some validity.

I am also astounded by the way in which Facebook manages to make us look at data through the wrong end of a telescope. The notion of saving the rainforest is reduced to a vehicle to get people to download applications which enable them to plant more worthless virtual flowers. You join the cause to fight world hunger with the same level of interest and concentration you use while taking a test to find out what kind of Pirate you would be. Things that matter in the real world are reduced to empty, baseless concepts.

On the flip side, trivial information is given the star treatment and insignificant facts are trumpeted to the skies. On Facebook, commenting that you are sleepy, or in the mood for a muffin, or that you partied way too hard last weekend, is expected—and is bound to be recognized and commented on by numerous people. Terse, staccato snippets of conversation rule the day, and all the while, the amount of useful information we are really learning about each other, and our actual closeness to one another, continues to stagnate.

Human beings love drama; they love gossip, they love secrets and allies and conflicts. Facebook provides them with all of those things, and more—but at a price. It sets the stage for a living, breathing soap opera, and in return, it gives our lives the same amount of depth, dignity and meaning as you would find on an episode of General Hospital. Devotees to the site, I’m sure, would like to tell me that I don’t have to be a member of Facebook if I hate it so much, and they’re right. I just wish more people would question exactly why they do choose to be members.

Early this week I took part in a discourse on the subject of film remakes.  My view is below– you can find the rest here.

The act of remaking a film, whether it’s Bonnie and Clyde or Ghost Rider, implies that the original film can be improved upon in some way. While this may be true of a film like Ghost Rider (although actually, I doubt it, because you likely can’t make a silk purse out of a poorly executed Nicholas Cage vehicle), I can’t comprehend the mindset of any filmmaker or producer who watches Miracle on 34th Street and thinks, “Huh, I could do a better job.” What I can comprehend (and deplore) is the mindset of the producer who watches Miracle on 34th Street and thinks, “Do this in color, replace Natalie Wood with that kid from Mrs. Doubtfire and release it on Thanksgiving, and there’ll be a miracle in my bank account.” Thus it is not only the hubris of remaking a classic which bothers me, but also the inherent greed behind it.

I also don’t buy the excuse that many a lazy filmmaker has used to explain why they decided to remake a particular classic—that they’re making a modern, ‘updated’ version of the film, for the current generation. Who gets to decide that a certain classic film needs to be updated? It’s a cinematic masterpiece, not a damn Wikipedia page. And what exactly makes this generation different from any other generation that enjoyed the original animated version of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas? Was Dr. Seuss’s sweet, simple story made more enjoyable by the addition of Jim Carrey, mugging away in frightening greenface? I think not. Is there some reason that this generation won’t appreciate Gene Wilder’s creepy, eccentric Willy Wonka? Give this generation some credit. They may have been raised watching Lizzie McGuire, but that doesn’t mean they’ll mistake Hilary Duff for a real actress.

While I most vocally take issue with remakes of classic films, I also would never condone a film remake of a bad movie like Xanadu—the original was such an epic, transcendently bad film, that a remake would undoubtedly fall short. Still, I wished Xanadu well in its transformation from screen to stage, partly because I was curious to see whether a terrible movie might make a decent musical. In fact, I have nothing against turning a film into a musical, since it involves a conversion into a completely different artistic genre, which requires a lot of hard work and a meaningful vision. It also means that someone watched the movie and said, ‘This would work well as a musical,’ and not, ‘This would work well as another movie, made by me.’

The remake frenzy has hit an all-time low with the currently-in-production remake of the cult documentary film, Grey Gardens. We now have Drew Barrymore, of Charlie’s Angels fame, cast to play Little Edie Beale, the star of Grey Gardens, who was played in the original film by, well, Little Edie Beale. Ladies and gentlemen, what kind of a cosmic joke is it to remake a documentary, and cast actors to play actual people who originally played themselves? In any event, I’m not laughing.

Grey Gardens sacrilege aside, my main issue with film remakes is the idea that even a well-loved classic film, which has earned critical acclaim, gained devoted fans and shaped countless lives through viewings over the years, is still not safe from tampering. This does not appear to happen in the world of fiction. Any fool can read As I Lay Dying and think, ‘I bet a sassy talking pig would really liven this story up’, but their vision will never be realized. For whatever reason, unlike classic films, classic literature is inviolate. I guess I should be grateful for that small favor.

The newest issue of the Perpetual Post is up at midnight on Tuesday.  My argument this week defends A-Rod’s choice to inject steroids he received from his cousin.  Find it and the opposing view here.

Blood is thicker than steroidy water.

Many years ago during a visit with family, my great-uncle told us he’d like to make dinner for everyone.  On the menu?  An extremely spicy stir-fry dish.  My mother pulled me aside for a brief discussion prior to the meal.  At the time, I was a notoriously picky eater, and she was worried that I would embarrass her at the table in front of our relatives.

“Listen to me,” she hissed.  “I don’t care what he makes; I don’t care if you don’t like it.  YOU.  WILL.  EAT.  IT.  No matter what.  Understand?”  I understood.  And at dinner, I choked the meal down politely, although my mouth was on fire.  It’s a well-known if unspoken rule that you should be on your best behavior around extended family, particularly if you don’t see them often.  If they give you a birthday present you’ll never use, take you to see a movie you hate, or recommend that you ingest an unidentified substance, who are you to rock the boat?  They’re family!

It is thus not difficult for me to appreciate why A-Rod allowed his cousin to inject him with an unidentified substance-he was clearly being polite.  To refuse the offer would have been unconscionably rude, not to mention weak, because it would have meant missing out on strength-building steroids.  At the very least, Rodriguez would have risked being grounded.

Without a doubt, Alex Rodriguez found himself in a complicated situation with this particular cousin.  Still, I understand why he did what he did.  Some questions have no easy answers, particularly questions that start with, “Do you want to hit the ball further?  Here, give me your butt.”

Really, what was he supposed to say to his cousin that fateful day and then twice a week for three years after that?  “What are you injecting into my ass?”  Or perhaps, “Some substances are banned by the Major League Baseball Players Association and my career could be ruined if I’m discovered using them, so maybe this is a bad idea?”  How would THAT have sounded?  Imagine the lack of trust-in his own flesh and blood!-that such a reaction would have implied?  It would have broken his mother’s heart to know that she raised the kind of son who would look a gift syringe full of mystery liquid-gift in the mouth.

Why don’t we also insist that Alex tells his Grandma Ethel that he actually hates her Noodle Kugel?  How about we make him tell his Aunt Janet that he never wears the snowflake sweater she knitted him for Christmas?  How about that?  When it comes to standing up to family, where do we draw the line?  Alex didn’t know-but can we really blame him?

In a way, A-Rod’s choice was admirable-he chose to follow his family over following the regulations which governed the sport that rewarded him with an extremely successful career.  A-Rod knew which side he wanted to be on.  After all, you don’t spend Christmas with the Major League Baseball Players Association.  And do you think they give a damn about your vacation slides?  In a world where it sometimes seems like people will do anything to get ahead, thank you, Alex Rodriguez, for reminding us that family should come first.

(The latest issue of the Perpetual Post is up at Midnight on Monday.  Here’s a sneak peak at my anti-mall article.  Read both sides of the story here.)

I’ve been trying to figure out a way to express my intense dislike of malls without coming off looking like a huge snob, and I have to admit, I’m having some trouble.  I just really hate chain stores, pregnant teenagers and food courts, and that pretty much runs the gamut of the mall experience in a nutshell.

I’d like to think that my anti-mall stance comes from a place of self-preservation rather than elitism.  It’s not that I think I’m too good for the mall; it’s that for some reason I lack the means to protect myself from the mall.  I let the mall get to me too easily.  The mall oozes over my brain like melted cheese over a hot pretzel.  I am powerless to stop it, and so I do my best to avoid exposure.

I have always been a little oversensitive– prone, since childhood, to bouts of melancholy that often seem to come out of nowhere.  These depressive spells can be triggered by the most seemingly insignificant details– and somehow, malls are always swarming with such details.  A woman in her fifties trying on pink stretch pants at Hot Topic.  A dead-eyed teenage employee slumped behind the counter of a cell phone kiosk.  A store that sells only baseball caps.  Most normal, well-adjusted people will witness such depressing occurrences and move on without giving them another thought.  But not me.  I’ll spend five minutes watching a teenage father, in headphones, trying to quiet a screaming baby by feeding it chicken nuggets, and I’m ready to tear my hair out at the miserable agony of life.  And then I’m ready to have some chicken nuggets.

Needless to say, I am not a popular mall companion.  No one usually asks me to go to the mall with them more than once.  I feel bad about this to a certain extent.  I wish I could be the fun friend who says things like, “Hey, check out that cute security guard!  Let’s get curly fries.”  Instead, I trail gloomily behind you like Eeyore, mocking the “Just Nightgowns” store and sneering at all of the slow, obese children.  I can’t blame my friends for leaving me at home.  Who wants to browse Forever 21 with Droopy Dog?  What’s pleasant about wandering through Crabtree & Evelyn with a Chekov character?

Part of the problem may be the lack of mall exposure in my youth.  Growing up in Manhattan, there was a dearth of malls.  We had big department stores that took up a whole city block, like Macys and Bloomingdales, but that wasn’t really the same.  Mom took me to get my first training bra at Macy’s.  Groups of teenagers didn’t hang out at Macy’s all day and make eyes at each other across the Home Goods and Bedding aisles.  Macy’s was not cool.

As teenagers, we had to find other ways to entertain ourselves, and these included going outside between stores while we shopped.  Sure, it was cold in the winter, hot in the summer, and when it was raining out we got rained on, but we also experienced sunlight and breathed in fresh air (well, Manhattan fresh), and avoided food courts.  And somehow, I recall encountering fewer massive people in motorized wheelchairs and underage parents walloping their ratty children for spilling their Big Gulps.

We hung out at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, too, which was kind of like a mall in a way, except it was closer to George Romero’s version of a mall in Dawn of the Dead.  That is to say, every third person in Port Authority would just as soon stab you as look at you, for various reasons.  But, you know, there were shops and restaurants, and a bowling alley, and an ever-present urine smell.  I always kind of liked Port Authority Bus Terminal, actually.  Maybe it’s because there, the feeling of sadness and desperation is not hidden like it is in most malls.  It’s out in the open; even palpable.  The sense of danger and despair, the commerce and the crowds, the ugliness and the monotony and the meaningless passage of empty hours; all in plain sight.  Maybe I don’t hate malls after all– as long as they’re done right.

(In case you missed it, here’s my defense of the life-saving GPS system, as originally published in the Perpetual Post.  Read Ted’s rebuttal here.)

It’s easy to mock the tiny GPS unit. There it sits, mounted on your dashboard, waiting patiently to tell you to turn left in one-tenth of a mile. Oblivious to your snappy retorts and obscene innuendoes; like a humorless Dudley-Do Right, it is the ultimate straight man in your traveling comedy team.

Despite their usefulness, it has been argued that GPS units represent a scary step in the direction of computers becoming increasingly bossy and commanding. I can understand this concern, although I fail to see the downside of any technology that brings our society closer to the utopian vision shown in the world of Knight Rider. Perhaps if GPS units were a little hipper, a little sassier—a little more like sidekicks and less like schoolmarms, they would find greater acceptance in mainstream commuting society.

I will grant that the voice technology for these devices might benefit from some streamlining. While fancier models give you several options, even those merely allow you to choose whether you prefer a dry, mechanical male or a prissy, annoyed female voice to tell you that you’ve missed your exit. (Sometimes, for kicks, when I am only a block or so away from my house and don’t really need directions, I will switch GPS to the Spanish Language version and listen to it tell me sharply to “hacer un U-Turn”.) As it is, what these gadgets lack in personality, they make up for in Global Positioning.

I would also like to point out that if you decide not to listen to your GPS unit, it isn’t as though it forces you into an electronic game grid where you must play gladiator-style Jai-Alai to the death with Jeff Bridges. (That model isn’t set to enter stores until spring of 2009.) In fact, its inexhaustible, judgment-free robot patience is a big part of what makes my GPS so helpful to me. I appreciate its tireless efforts to recalculate my route when I am driving erratically in circles because I can’t figure out what it’s telling me to do. A human companion would have thrown his hands up long ago and stuffed me in the trunk, but GPS will never do that. Its only concern is getting me where I want to go, and it also doesn’t have hands. I am additionally grateful that my many driving mistakes and misadventures remain our little secret. It is one thing to get hopelessly lost with an out-of-town guest; you can’t turn those off and leave them in the car at the end of the trip. I highly doubt that my GPS complains about me to anyone else who drives my car. I would feel betrayed to learn that it was telling others, “Prepare to turn left in two miles. Molly ALWAYS manages to miss this one. Honestly, can she even dress herself?”

My dear GPS, I will follow you to the ends of the earth, as long as you can estimate how many minutes it will take me to get there. Your knowledge of local roads and awareness of where I am at all times thrills me to my befuddled core. You are the sunshine of my commute, the apple of my dashboard.

Perhaps I should provide a little more background to explain why I am singing the praises of this device. I am not technically disabled…except perhaps in the literal sense of the word. I have the navigational ability (and self-preservation instincts) of a drunk wind-up toy. You know those people who have a lousy sense of direction and get lost all the time? If you took all of those people, and combined them into one completely incompetent, perpetually lost person, and then put a bag over that person’s head, spun them around three times, screamed in their ear with a megaphone and then dropped them off in the middle of the desert—that would approximate my condition every time I open my front door. My sense of direction often seems more like a badly disguised death wish.

Upon learning that I was moving to a new state where driving was the only way to really get anywhere in less than two days, my friends and family were concerned. My lifespan in North Carolina, if left to my own devices to find my way around, was estimated at two weeks. Fortunately, my parents’ parting gift to me was a small, unassuming GPS unit. It was a wonderful gift. Thanks to GPS, I am drunk with navigational power, and high on estimated arrival times. It is the only reason I am here today, writing this piece. (That, and because it threatened to run over my dog in three-tenths of a mile if I didn’t; but I digress). I only wish the good people at GPS could make a model that told you which way was front. I would buy two.

For the latest installment of the Perpetual Post, I wrote a defense of the reality-television genius that is So You Think You Can Dance, vs the falseness of American Idol.  Read the other side of the story, and the newest issue of the PP here.

So You Think You Can Dance proves that people still do things on tv for reasons other than fame and fortune.

I was not immediately sold on the concept of So You Think You Can Dance. The inexplicable popularity of American Idol had left me wary of this type of cheesy, ‘call-in-to-vote for your favorite contestant’ variety show. The snide British judge, the wince-worthy audition episodes; I’d seen it all before, and I knew it wasn’t my thing.

Still, when I learned that friends of mine were getting together each week to order takeout and watch what they referred to as “Silly Dance Show”, I began to join them—for the company and the food, I told myself. Not the sexy dancing or the tear-away pants. It only took a few viewings before I gave in to my skepticism, did a victory dance on my dignity, and fully embraced the spirit of So You Think You Can Dance. I soon found myself watching the weekly episodes with my eyes shining and my hands clasped together beneath my chin. Some of the most well-performed and choreographed dance numbers even gave me chills. I was hooked.

It wasn’t hard for me to figure out what it was that drew me to this show when American Idol had for so long failed to gain my loyalty. It wasn’t just that it featured dancing instead of singing, although that was certainly a factor. Not to badmouth singing; I know singing is hard, especially on stage in front of millions—but so is doing three back flips in a row, or fox-trotting in stilettos and a fringed bikini…and guess which of those I find more entertaining?

It’s true that if all you’re after is a fringed bikini, you might do just as well by watching Dancing with the Stars (or, come to think of it, the Winter Olympics). However, part of the appeal of SYTYCD is the humble roots of the contestants. They are not celebrities. Many have little to no formal training in dance, and yet they still manage to be strong competitors. Since the first rule of SYTYCD is that a dancer has to be able to pick up and become reasonably proficient in many different styles of dance with lightning speed, extreme proficiency in one discipline is not necessarily a formula for success in others. The process of discovering who has what it takes and who doesn’t is fascinating.  There’s a certain thrill in watching a montage where a guy whose background is in breakdancing learns ballroom, or in observing a trained ballerina’s first attempts at shimmying. While these contestants already have an enviable amount of rhythm and control over their own bodies (although to me, any amount of rhythm is enviable), it’s fascinating to discover whether this translates into a passable Charleston from a tap dancer, or a decent Worm from a student of modern dance– though I’ll be the first to admit that my standards for The Worm are all but unattainable. The challenges that these dancers take on, and their subsequent successes, can be thrilling.

Not only that, but unlike the winners of American Idol, the winners of SYTYCD are not promised any particular fame or fortune. Frequently, visits from past winners of the show reveal that their careers in dance were boosted only faintly from their participation on the show. (“Good to see everyone again! Since I won SYTYCD last year I’ve starred as a back-up dancing peanut in a Skippy commercial, and I have a small part in an upcoming PBS special about the history of Jazz Hands.”) An awareness of these less-than-mighty expectations fosters the appealing concept that these dancers are on the show simply because they love to dance. Who can resist that?

Even the title of So You Think You Can Dance, with its hokey bravado, manages to evoke a more playful, irreverent era in pop culture and entertainment than does the humorless title of American Idol, which oozes with mocking self-importance. Idol is ultimately putting one over on you. Pick your prepackaged Idol, America, from these limited options. But on So You Think You Can Dance, everyone is in on the joke. Things never get too serious; one can almost picture the cast of Grease circling each other in a dance hall, snapping their fingers in theatrical menace as they prepare to demonstrate their unrivaled prowess in the art of getting down. These dance contestants are covered in bruises, have dirty bare feet and are frequently dressed in acid-washed denim and sequins. They know how to keep things light.

Granted, I still don’t particularly enjoy the show’s initial ‘audition’ episodes, perhaps because I am not an authority on the subject of dance (despite my behavior on certain inebriated late nights when AC/DC comes on the jukebox at the bar). Also, while it’s pretty easy to tell the genuinely talented from the tragically misguided on American Idol auditions, a really great audition for So You Think You Can Dance looks suspiciously similar to a really terrible audition, particularly once you’ve had a few beers. “Oh man, that girl dances like my six year old niece when she thinks no one is watching,” I’ve commented on occasion, only to have the judges fall all over each other, post audition, to praise the girl and hand her a plane ticket to LA. I suppose that’s why I’m a fan instead of a judge. Watch a couple of episodes this next season, and see if you can’t say the same thing.

I have become involved with an exciting new journalistic endeavor, The Perpetual Post, which is the brainchild of Howard Megdal.  For this week’s issue I wrote a devil’s advocate-style article condemning the old-fashionedness of print material in favor of internet-style reading.

Read it, along with Ted Berg’s rebuttal, here.  Also, check out the rest of the issue.  If I do say so myself, it’s a darn good read.

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