Archive for January, 2008

We Gave Science Fiction One Last Chance; the Environmentalists Ruined It

January 31, 2008

We gave science fiction one last chance this weekend with a viewing of Danny Boyle’s Sunshine. One would think that given my appreciation of comic books that I’d be a big fan of science fiction. False. The problem for me is the allegory problem. Growing up, I found the overarching cold war allegory written into sci fi to be hokey and predictable, to say the least. Annalee Newitz has written a persuasive post over at i09 arguing that since 9/11 there’s been a change in science fiction – now we’re obsessed with the desert (terrorism); the security state (terrorism); the destruction of New York (terrorism/who cares?/go ahead/please). As interesting as it ever got was Star Trek: Deep Space 9, aka, The Food Court on the Edge of the Galaxy. I loved that show, even when… no especially when Avery Brooks hammed it up. The episodes actually comprised a fun, complex, exploration of Clinton era politics, the aborted Israeli decolonization of Palestine, capitalism, secularism v. religion, all coupled to the explosive melodrama of a food court. Quark would always get up to such shenanigans when his replicator broke. With Deep Space 9, there wasn’t a sense that an allegory was being used just because producers were afraid of expressing their point of view, which, aside from the market need to produce blockbusters every year, often seems to be the point of these productions. Apologies to Fredric Jameson, but science fiction is really not very interesting.

In Sunshine, the sun is going out. This is even worse than the cold war or 9/11. It’s an environmentalist allegory. Environmentalism is hypochondria taken to the infinite power. Every environmentalist I’ve ever met has been a nearly deranged germ-a-phobe, which is why, I suppose, environmental friendly toilet-paper is an especially vexing question for the movement. They want to just use their hands but they just can’t!

Anyway, someone forgot to tell Danny Boyle that the sun is a renewable resource. I genuinely loved Boyle’s 28 Days Later. Sure, there’s no such thing as zombies (another environmental allegory), but I could suspend my disbelief there. With Sunshine, it was impossible. The sun is not going out, and even if it were going out, no, sorry, but the people of earth would not be sending astronauts (the crew of the Icarus) to the sun to reignite it with a nuclear bomb. That is beyond stupid.

Chris Evans, master of his craft

Oh, did you think I was going to do a deep analysis of this film? How the hell would I do that? There’s no there there. Chris Evans is one of the worst actors working today. Clearly he’s trying to expand his acting range, but this role this seems to be a step down from the richness of London, where he gave one of the best dramatic speeches ever delivered by a leading man:

So we’re in an argument, I keep pushing her. I was pushing her, and I was like, “How big is he?” you know, “How big is he?” and she was like, “Let’s not make an issue out of it, Syd,” and I said, “No, fuck that! Tell me how big he is!” And she says, “10 1/2 inches.” Yeah, you believe that shit? […] But it really fucked with me, you know, it fucked with my head, knowing that this guy is in LA with the only woman I love, fucking her with 10 1/2 inches! I’m chasing her around like a little fucking puppy dog, doing anything and everything I can to get her back! AND IT CRUSHED ME! IT STILL FUCKING CRUSHES ME!

Unfortunately, science fiction does not lend itself to powerful speeches about impotence or 10 1/2 inch dicks, which is another tick in the minus column.

It should go without saying that following a long sci fi tradition, the minorities, of course, die first. I think the order goes Japanese guy, Indian guy, White guy (the spoiler), Chinese Woman, and then the other white people (no black people).

The end of the film is implausible and incoherent. One of the many things I can’t stand about science fiction is the necessity for memorizing the ship lay-out in order to understand the plot. This was beautifully mined for laughs in the great Star Trek parody, Galaxy Quest, but unfortunately with Sunshine the film is cut in such a way that you would seriously have to have had looked up the specs for their ship online to figure out where the nuclear doo-hickey was before going out to see the movie. Since Boyle dispensed with the ship tour in order to cut the length of it, passive viewers such as myself had to suffer through the last fifteen minutes and pretend like we knew what was going on. I seriously thought everyone was dead and the movie was over at least three times. I wish I had been right the first time.

Harsh? Sure, maybe. But we answer, you can never be too harsh when it comes to science fiction.

The crew of the Icarus may have been “the last best hope for mankind,” but to me they were the last, worst, thing to happen to science fiction. I think my genius cat, George, summed it up best with his yawn:

This is what George thinks of your sci fi

My Encounter With Catherine A. MacKinnon

January 29, 2008

Seven, or maybe eight, years ago, I met Catherine MacKinnon at a Gender Studies “brown bag” lunch at the local university. It was the sort of event designed to allow people in the Humanities, the Law School, Social Work, the Social Sciences and often even the Real Sciences to mingle more casually than a formal workshop setting. Someone invited MacKinnon because she was teaching a class that year, though no faculty dared show up lest they lose their 90s pro-porn street cred. I have a theory that in the 90s, it was required that every academic feminist write at least one essay about how she enjoys watching gay porn while wearing Calvin Klein Boxer shorts. It’s still only a theory because I haven’t finished reading all the feminist articles about how awesome gay porn is. This investment in the Calvin Klein-Boxer shorts archive held many faculty back from an interesting encounter.

As it was, MacKinnon showed up to be greeted by a room full of women with the only men being Chamberlain and myself. She had this kind of ravaged beauty, as if she had once been beyond stunning but it had been burnt away by an intense rage. After the anger, what was left was an even more dignified grace. She spoke calmly, even sweetly, and the collected presentation of her thoughts belied how insane the contents of her speech were. I wrote earlier that I was sympathetic to her anti-porn position, but I wrote this out of an abstract admiration of some of the qualities I saw in her argument. They hearken back to things John Locke says about the social contract; about a contract being void if any party willingly agrees to willfully harm himself in the deal. My sympathy for that position comes from a real-life conviction that sometimes we harm ourselves without knowing it, and occasionally it takes an outside intervention to show that. I am not convinced, however, that this translates to pornography. The argument itself, stripped of her rhetoric, is what I found so interesting.

This was different. MacKinnon told us she was outlining an extension of her ‘Marxist’ social theory on gender to gays and lesbians. I thought, “this could really be interesting” and began to nod in advance. A murmer went around the room. Then she launched it to it. She told us that she subscribes to the belief that more young boys have been molested by their fathers, older brothers, uncles, or some guy, than actually recall their abuse (she was once married to Jeffrey Masson for a while, so this shouldn’t have been a surprise); the statistic she gave out was absurd, like 90% of boys were being molested. These young boys go on to repress their memories, and are thereby inaugurated into a gender system that encourages them to seek revenge for this abuse on women. Where’s the gay? She insisted that gay men handle this abuse better than straight men do, because “at least they don’t rape women. They just rape each other.” She seemed very pleased with the gays, turning to smile at me. How it referred to lesbians, I forget. Something equally stupid and offensive, I’m sure. I remember straight women being the worst of the bunch, next to the rapists, because they didn’t just go out and become lesbians to get away from rape.

Like I said, she presented herself with grace and delivered this material in a soft-spoken voice but with enough of a tremor in her features so that you thought twice about challenging her in case she would leap across the room and tear out your throat with her teeth. What was most crazy was that all the young lesbians and straight/bi feminists were eating this shit up with a spoon. Some of them had tears in their eyes! I wanted to challenge some of the assumptions about childhood abuse and fantasy that she’d taken from Masson’s book, Assault on Truth, so I began to raise my hand. Chamberlain gave me a look and subtly shook his head “no.” He was a little more intimidated by the atmosphere in the room than I. I caught up with him, though, when a bookish undergraduate raised her hand and asked, “It seems that this is a chicken or egg situation. How do you know that it was the abuse of young boys that first led to the system of gender repression, or if it was the system of gender repression that causes the boys to be abused in the first place?” MacKinnon smiled and answered, “I’ve always believed that if you break all the eggs, there will be no more chickens.”

Both Chamberlain and I instinctively crossed our legs.

Betty Crocker or Queen Elizabeth?

Best Celebrity Death Drive-By

January 28, 2008

Sareeta and I often contemplate one day taking vows and becoming an ‘Academic Power Couple’ in a marriage of convenience. As we were instant messaging today, I complained about my new Ambien prescription; explaining how I feel grateful that I am finally sleeping the full night but wondered if the chemical might be “bigger than me.” I know my way around chemicals, so it’s surprising to feel intimidated. This tangent led, of course, to a discussion of Heath Ledger [some feelings of sadness were felt] and naturally we discussed how she had to navigate around the crowds massing outside the apartment where he died.

“Oh, that’s nothing,” I wrote back. “Imagine trying to park near OJ’s house after he murdered his wife!” Ali, Lauren and I used to get pasta just down the street on Bundy at Viva la Pasta (disgusting; now closed).

We began to contemplate the phenomenon of the Celebrity Death Drive-By.

Obviously, the ultimate Celebrity Death Drive-By was Princess Diana. That’s a gimmie. Dat and I once got caught in traffic on Wilshire, next to the British Consulate. Her mourners packed the sidewalk, massing out into the street. Dat could not contain himself (being unsentimental and in a hurry), but I remember how it was a rare Los Angeles moment seeing as the people in their cars didn’t just drive over the mourners blocking their way. It was … touching.

And I remember, oh God, the whole Nixon funeral being a huge bitch to traverse.

What is your best Celebrity Death Drive-By?

Click Here to Find Me

January 27, 2008

You want to torture ZORA?
Send us your fantasy and we will make it real.


Olivier Assayas gets the spirit of the modern American teenager better than most when, in the epilogue of his film Demonlover, he depicts a teenage boy in a UCLA t-shirt using his father’s stolen credit card to dictate superhero latex fantasies on the Hellfire Club website (linked to from the fictitious ). Earlier we see Wonder Woman strapped to bed springs in the midst of her tortures, and this time it will be Storm. Wonder Woman and Storm are unsurprising symbols to find in this film – current long, circular, tortuous, and rarely levelheaded debates between socially conscious comics bloggers notwithstanding – as the pornutopic imagination that spawned Wonder Woman in the first place originally imagined her as a character in threat of constant bondage. Moreover, Storm started off as an African “Goddess,” but in a late eighties make-over by fan favorite perv, Chris Claremont, she came into her own as a leather-bound, mohawked, fetish figure (for more, see his magnum opus, Storm of the Arena — the comic run that definitively proved, for a few minutes, Fredric Wertham right). Strength brought low by a design flaw in character,* tragic hubris, blah blah blah, whatever.

“Wonder Woman” strapped to a bed prior to electro-torture.
The text flashing across the screen:
Click Here to Find Me

is a little more complicated than some story about either flawed will or indomitable wills. Comic properties are only glanced at here. More important are hard-core sex sites on the internet and pornographic animé. Assayas gets it right because his film is a thoughtful attempt to figure what exactly America, France, and Japan’s respective places are in a the global economy of fantasy. It’s a prescient movie which prefigured many of the debates that broke out in 2007 and 2008 over gendered representations in pop art, including uncannily assimilating recent discussions about anime, porn and hentai.
But back in 2002 when this film appeared at Cannes to be largely ignored or stared at blankly, the place of fantasy, free time, credit, pornography and exploitation hadn’t lined up yet in a way that would allow people to make sense of it. The response at the premier was tepid indifference. Reportedly, the movie was a beautiful thing about ugly events that reviewers did not find legible. This was not like when Assayas mined France’s film history by sampling from Les Vampires for Irma Vep (1996). None of the materials depicted in Demonlover is second nature to any one culture.

Elise Lipskey corporate sabotages herself
with many fug blouses in this film.

Demonlover is a thriller, featuring the corporate sabotage of Diane de Monx (Connie Neilsen) as she attempts to sour a three-way deal between French businessman Henri-Pierre Volf (Jean-Baptiste Malartre) and TokyoAnime, as well as potential American distributors at on behalf of her secret American bosses at Mangatronics. Diane drugs and ambushes her opponents and wars in-house with her assistant, Elise Lipsky (Chloe Sevigny) while flirting with Hervé Le Millinec (Charles Berling). Diane quickly finds herself in over her head as her place gets trashed, she ends up in a murderous cat-fight with Gina Gershon, is eventually raped and finds herself sent off to be tortured at a rape camp. Heavy stuff!

Is this movie sexist? It’s hard to judge that when you’re looking at how abstract concepts about gender materialize, and even harder when you’re looking at this process in a movie. In the tradition of Barbaralla, this is a French ‘sploitation movie. So, yeah, probably it is. Still, what’s interesting about this movie is as technology advances — as the global economy becomes increasingly interdependent such that no one nation produces, manages and disseminates at the same time — the gendered stereotype of the rape-ready female body persists. Sketch art, cartooning, etc are methods of essentializing relations between people, refining them as one would refine perfume so that, for example, gender relations translate fluidly between Japan’s TokyoAnime’s 3-D labs, to the French board room (why are French corporate offices so much more stylish than American ones?) and down to teenage American boys’ bedrooms, eventually landing in Mexico-based white slavery camps. The question of child porn comes up in the plot only in terms of liability.

The French demand guarantees that none of the animations they buy can be based on drawings using under-age models. When the Japanese object that their images are not of under-age girls, they are forced to explain that representations of pubic hair are illegal in Japan. The French find this difficult to believe, but aren’t motivated by ethical concerns. They make it quite clear that they want as little information as possible, only legal guarantees that would void the deal should allegations of under-age models ever be proved.

Elise unwinds with her PS2. Ditches blouse.

There is what one might call a ‘feminist’ thesis to the film, though a controversial one. Basically, it holds that at one end of the international division of labor, there sits a bored sado-masochistic American teenage consumer living off his parent’s credit. At the other end is an exploited, often tortured female body performing manual labor. That’s kind of an extension of the MacKinnon anti-porn position, for which I have quite a bit of sympathy even if I am ambivalent about some of its assumptions. In my opinion, where her argument falters is that she has a difficult time expressing exactly what a material harm might be outside of a simple tort.

Coda: Thanks to Joss Whedon, we can now enjoy…

You’ve come a long way baby. (Astonishing X-Men #23)

* Connie Nielsen on her character Diane: “C’est quelqu’un qui prend des choix auxquelles elle n’est vraiment pas prepare, ni emotionellement, ni physiquement. Elle n’a pas la force, au fait, de sa propre choix. Et, elle decouvre ca un peu tard.”

The Two Worst 20th Century Influences on the English Language

January 25, 2008

Caleb — one who has known me longer than most of the rest of you — once described me as the kind of person who sits in a corner and bangs his head against a cement wall. I think that’s the most accurate short-hand for my behavior ever to come out of anyone’s mouth. It’s the only good explanation of why I still sometimes read The New Yorker.

I. The New Yorker. To wit,

How precious. Every New Yorker article has the same opening, scene-setting on some brownstone on some numbered street or cozy Ivy League town that its imagined readership would find familiar, or would like to find familiar. In this case, that dump New Haven. It’s enough to drive me insane. The New Yorker specializes in the third-person–zany-quirky-anecdote school of American writing.

One sub-zero Chicago Winter night, in an art-deco Evanston apartment, sucking on an ambien and lolling around in the bathtub, darknessatnoon got hit in the head with a block of cement. He had been reading one of his favorite authors — Jim Knipfel, blind, brain-damaged, writer for the New York Press — whom his path had yet to cross since they didn’t live in the same borough, not even the same city, actually, when he noticed Knipfel ending one of the trade-mark punk, picaresque, chapters of Slackjaw in the cozy fauxronic New Yorker style.

darknessatnoon proceeded to choke on his ambien, partially drowned in the tub, and, upon being revived in the ambulance, was rushed to Northwestern Memorial Hospital where attending physicians diagnosed him with a concussion and discovered a history of similarly traumatic head injuries.

II. George Orwell

A few years back, I was an editorial intern at a ‘cutting edge’ theory journal. I used to say it was ‘theoretically a journal.’ Imagine the magazine scenes from High Art to get a good sense of the publication’s atmosphere of haute-pretentiousness, which the manuscript editor would try to downplay by blaring the Mekons on the stereo while the rest of us were trying to concentrate/read/gossip. While working there, I’d get my hands on bootleg drafts of essays that we wanted to publish, but which would be snatched away to one of the other two or three similar competitor publications (think an October, or a Critical Inquiry, or along the lines of Representations). The staff would quietly circulate copies of those essays while snickering at our editor-in-chief, XYZ, as he fumed at being scooped. One of the best pieces amounted to calling George Orwell a fascist. The author of this essay has been (unfairly) lambasted in the mainstream press for being impenetrable and evasive in his prose (Not really, though. He’s just a little on the lyrical side and deals with concepts a little too complex for journalistic summary). The prose here, however, was clear and direct. It attacked George Orwell’s pernicious, mean-spirited, little essay “Politics and the English Language” as being of it’s time. Meaning that the essay’s demand for a cleansing of the English language, written in 1946, was born of an age – a year – of ethnic cleansing. It was one of the most amazing rhetorical turns I’ve ever seen, aligning Orwell with the totalitarians – a guy who was so fond of calling other people totalitarians. I half remember the author of this essay pointing out Orwell’s own fascism as a point of praise, a literary quality, and knowing the author as I do, I’m not sure whether he meant it ironically or not. For some reason, I can’t find the essay anywhere and wonder if it was ever published.

Orwell himself writes that “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms…”I’m sorry, I thought we called a gap between one real and declared meaning IRONY, which is … you know … the great stylistic engine of Animal Farm (a book whose heavy-handedness gestures toward meaning could only escape the mentally retarded) or 1984, which I like to call Phillip K. Dick-lite. I’m not going to go so far as to steal from the eloquent Tucker Stone and steadfastly claim that George Orwell’s hands were made of blow jobs, even though everything he wrote did suck. Rather, it’s the haughty, snotty, Journalism school influence of his most famous essay that kills me. Every time I see that essay referenced as a rhetorical bludgeon against anyone who doesn’t write everything like they’re writing for the front page of a newspaper, it’s like the concrete wall bangs me in the head.

Items III & IV on this list would respectively be the Iowa School of Writing (it doesn’t matter if you graduated from Irvine Creative Writing — I’m looking at you Chabon — because the category is metaphorical) and Chris Claremont. As my friend Mark puts it, Iowa “exists simply as a mechanism for creating production units (which euphemistically get called “writers”) to meet the market demand for middlebrow aestheticism. Or alternatively you could think of it as the arts equivalent of a Walgreen’s middle management course.” V. might be the New York Times book review section, which has a greater influence and readership than Chris Claremont, but Claremont’s following is far more rabid, brain-dead and vicious than you might first expect whereas the Times is made to be tossed in the trash or left behind on a subway seat.

Also, I apologize for my sparse posting. I have stuff in the works. Winter just makes darknessatnoon really lazy at noon.

Mexican Existential Blues

January 22, 2008

Today I bought soup for lunch. As I paid, the teller asked me “Who are you today, sir?”

Lost in thought and out of it, I answered honestly with a shrug. “I actually don’t know.”

When I left I realized that she was asking me how I was doing. It was her accent that had thrown me off.

I often feel guilty (usually every day) for not taking Spanish in high school, but we were speaking English so I doubt it would have helped me in these circumstances.

P.S. I really enjoy this image from Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. A gang member has to explain 911. The catastrophe has never looked sexier.

Minimum John

January 21, 2008

What behaviors are your friends referencing when they snicker and mutter ‘Minimum John’ after you turn your back and head to the bathroom every time the check comes? Cheap, lazy, friends are kind of awesome in their brazenness. One of Ali‘s closest friends — his former roommate — was our template for Minimum John. I spent my teen years and much of my 20s in the vicinity of John. This is the list compiled on a now ancient laptop, years ago, of characteristic examples of the minimal effort John expends in life.

A) He would never offer to pay for anything but he would always ask that you spot him for lunch because I don’t want to break a ten.’

B) His excuse for not putting the toilet seat down when Ali’s wife would request it: “It’s not my fault. There’s something about this house that makes me forget to put the toilet seat down.”

C) Even though he was broke, he once quit a temp job ‘on principle‘ after being ordered not to wear headphones while on the job.

D) During his late twenties, when his girlfriend would broach the subject of having a child together, he would answer “I don’t want to have a child. I am a child.” When he was in his late thirties, he would declare “I don’t want to have children. I’m too much of an artist. Artists can’t have children.”

E) When he and my cousin were roommates, he wouldn’t buy toilet paper or paper towels. Finally, he did shell out for them once and never let anyone forget about those six rolls, behaving as if he had purchased a year’s supply.

F) Often reminded people of the time he once worked out in high school. “If I bothered to work out, I’d be really strong.”

G) When John would “borrow”Ali’s shampoo, he would replace it with water so the shampoo bottle seemed just as full as it was before. He didn’t think anyone would notice the diluted watery shampoo.

H) Self-pity at maximum, refers to self as “Poor John.”

I mentioned the concept of Minimum John at work the other day, and a hush fell over the bullpen. Suddenly everyone started talking at once about their friends (often referring to one another), spitting out vitriolic accounts of the other’s cheapness. Some of them lost it so completely that they couldn’t speak in complete sentences and their sputtering stories made no sense. I emailed a few friends to ask about their Minimum John experiences and I received long accounts about people who do nothing for themselves yet who expect their friends to pick up the slack. I will say this: pretty much everyone I asked copped to some Minimum John behavior, though no one I know really compares to the original. Dat and I discussed some infamous ‘Minimum John’ behavior this weekend, however, I’m afraid that were I to relate those anecdotes to the public I would permanently alienate some of my regular readers.

I always liked the original Minimum John who is out there temping somewhere (New Jersey or some similar hell, I think). We’d go to bookstores together and he’d give me definitive opinions on authors he’d never read; opinions based on what he’d read about in the Weekly or based on the back covers of their books. I recall that he was once breathtakingly eloquent about (the back covers of) Edward Said’s books. He did master a musical instrument, which was the keyboard — not too complicated. Still, he is a talented keyboardist. Wherever John is now, I wish him well and hope he’s got a solid ten stashed in his pocket.

‘Minimum John’ needs to enter the American lexicon, so please include it in your active vocabulary. If you have any ‘Minimum John’ stories, post them in the comments. Stories about the original John are especially welcome.

Out of Sorts

January 20, 2008

On the bus yesterday, I made plans. I called the book store to reserve a copy of Freud’s case study of Dora at the front counter since I’d long ago lost mine. I set up dinner to catch up with my friend Jeff. I called to arrange a haircut with Mimi. The owner of the hair place told me that Mimi wasn’t available at 10:00 in the morning like I wanted. The CTA keeps the speakers on the bus at an incredible volume, so I missed part of what she said. I only heard “9:30.” I said yes and then hung up.

Today I am a wreck. My body feels incredibly disorganized. Apparently, I hadn’t made an appointment with Mimi. Mimi wouldn’t be in for another half an hour, and then she’d have a customer. Steve would be cutting my hair, which he hadn’t done for, I don’t know, almost ten years? Apparently, Steve’s boyfriend had left him on Christmas a couple of years ago. Steve wanted to throw out the boyfriend’s fishing kit, but was afraid and couldn’t do it: “He’s incredibly vindictive. You don’t cross that one.” Steve told me that he hates paying expensive heating bills, so last winter he moved into the guest room. It’s much smaller than the master bedroom, and a lot darker. “A lot darker. I moved in meaning to leave it in the Spring, but it suits me now and I never moved out.”

I left in a daze and even the well below zero temperature couldn’t brace me. My hair wasn’t bad, but everything was off. Mimi and I entertain one another. We never endure awkward conversations and I don’t ever need to tell her how I want my hair cut. I think I’ve used her almost without exception for about nine years, subtracting the year I lived in SF, the year I lived on the other side of town with an ex (going to the place where he got his hair cut) and the first year I moved to town when I’d switch from cutter to cutter to find one with whom I’d click. Yesterday I was reading a chapter on phantoms from The Shell and the Kernel by Nicholas Abraham and Maria Torok. It brought up an incident where the analyst realizes that the patient wasn’t really speaking of his own problems or neurosis, but rather voicing an obsession of his father’s. Another voice was speaking through the patient; the phantom occurs when you absorb someone else’s story. I have a pathological tendency to do this — my sense of self can be often be fungible –, and even though I’ve known all day that I’m not really depressed because of my own problems, I can’t seem to shake it. I feel cross-eyed and unable to focus. I feel overwhelmed by the small, black, furry creatures who keep waking up to stumble over to me in order to “mark” their ownership of my book, my nose, my glasses with their cheeks.

It eventually helped a bit to sit down and read Miranda July’s book of short stories, No One Belongs Here More Than You. I particularly liked the story “The Sister,” about two guys in their 60s who find one another through the prospect of one dating the other’s (non-existent) sister and with the aid of a tab of ecstasy. I feel like someone in the “bear” community you should adapt this into an arty film or a porn. I also enjoyed “It Was Romance,” about a bunch of ladies taking a seminar on romance. The stories in this book are about people living in and coping with a culture of emotional scarcity and creating functioning economies between themselves. It’s a good book even if no one is “pooping back and forth, forever.” From “It Was Romance”

I walked down the hall and saw that Theresa was sitting on the floor next to a chair. This is always a bad sign. It’s a slippery slope, and it’s best to just sit in chairs, to eat when hungry, to sleep and rise and work. But we have all been there. Chairs are for people, and you’re not sure if you are one.

I wish I’d been able to find some way of helping Steve clear his head, but we weren’t partners in a Romance seminar. He was cutting my hair, and I was a customer, and felt shitty/powerless next to his story.

Waitress, or Macaroni & Cheese Pie

January 14, 2008

I once dated a guy so neurotically jealous that I couldn’t send an email without him sneaking up behind me with an uneasy smile to try and nab a glimpse of the content from over my shoulder. I used to provoke him by minimizing my screen when I heard the quiet patter of his sneaky little steps, even if I was doing something totally public-sphere like just reading The New York Times Online, which was entertaining except then I’d later have to deal with jealous little fits and crying jags. Since he was not only jealous but an IT guy, I wouldn’t have put it beyond him to have programmed in a keystroke capturing hack on the computer. Don’t believe me? Here’s how he introduced his first “I love you” statement: “I had a dream last night that you slept with another man. I dreamt that I found him and killed him.”

“Uh huh? I’m glad I survived. So, is that your way of saying that you want to be monogamous?”

“Yes… I think I’m falling in love with you.”

I couldn’t help channeling Postcards From the Edge, and answered, “When will you know for sure?”*

I’ve seen some jealous, needy, codependent sickos in the movies, but nothing compared to this guy. Then, last week, I slid Waitress into the DVD player and encountered Earl (Jeremy Sisto). Holy shit! The thing about visible male need is that it’s simultaneously captivating and disgusting getting a chance to see the hard, definite, phallic body liquefy before your very eyes. Sisto melts twice in the film. The first time, when he discovers that his wife, Jenna (Kerri Russell), is pregnant, he breaks down and makes her swear never to love the baby more than she loves him (she is required to repeat her oaths to him word for word). And the second time when this weasly, possessive, little narcissist discovers that she’s been hiding money around the house, which she intends to use to escape their marriage. There’s something a little too satisfying in watching Kerri Russell trapped with this guy since, as the title character on Felicity, she mind-fucked so many male characters that a kind of vengeful equilibrium has been achieved by this film.

Jenna works at Joe’s House of Pies (Joe is played by Andy Griffith), where she works with Becky (Cheryl Hines) and Dawn (played by the tragically deceased Adrienne Shelly who also wrote and directed the film). Jenna’s one gift in life is a talent for making amazing looking pies that correspond to whatever mood she feels on a given day (“I don’t want Earl’s baby pie”). It’s the most delicious looking sublimation I’ve ever seen on screen, and the cinematographer lavishes so much attention on the pie preparation that it breaks my heart that the film wasn’t released in Smell-O-Vision, especially when we get to “I can’t have no affair because it’s wrong and I don’t want Earl to kill me pie … hold the banana.”

Anyway, plot-blah-blah, Becky has a secret, Dawn has self-image issues but manages to find a husband, Andy Griffith is wise, ancient, crotchety, secretive, and Jenna falls in love with her OBGYN, Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion), eventually leaving her husband at the birth of the baby to go off on her own. For the length and breadth of the movie, Jenna is terrified at the prospect of motherhood, constantly facing visions of impending torture whenever she comes across one mother in particular with her brat of a son. I suppose I’d also find encounters like that intimidating, but the prospect of motherhood absolutely freaks Jenna out since she now perceives her life as completely ruined, stuck with Earl forever. Suspiciously, certain options are foreclosed to allow the plot to move along unimpeded, such as abortion which is shrugged off, as well as the possibility of just giving a bratty kid a benadryl so that the mom can go about her day — which is never broached.

I didn’t love this film as much as Dustin Rowles did, meaning this is one of the few occurrences when my opinion diverges from his. I think part of the problem is that Adrienne Shelly was channeling Hal Hartley (whose films I detest) in the script, so that the actors were often trying to say wise things to one another but aren’t actually playing wise people. Also, the characters’ little tics were a tad inhuman, like Dr. Pomatter who was making too much of an effort to play the dork. Finally, scenes were filmed claustrophobically, lending it a very American playhouse “Our Town” feeling. Everyone was so mid-western and the palette so mid-ranged — blond to light brunette (with few exceptions, such as Sisto) — that the cast began to combine into a dark blond colored mess, as if one was watching talking, walking, macaroni & cheese for two hours.
I think Cheryl Hines may have picked up on this and tried to make something of it in the DVD interview. She points out that for the film she had her hair colored and done up by her sister-in-law “since we wanted Becky to look like the kind of person whose hair was done up by her sister-in-law.” Hines is kind of a genius, and reportedly she’s been asked by Shelly’s husband to direct a script left behind when Shelly died. Since I felt that Hines was being held back in this film, and could have been more “on target” with her lines if she was simply allowed to do as usual and make them up as she goes along, I think a chance to direct the next movie will allow her to temper some of Shelly’s tendencies to cutesiness.

Re: cast interviews, someone also needs to warn Nathan Fillion that he has got to stop making such deeply sensitive comments about his films lest he risk being forever cast in Lifetime tee vee movie limbo. He played the nervous schmuck far too earnestly for this viewer’s taste. Fillion actually reminds me of an overenthusiastic barista from the nearby cafe, who always spends an extra ten minutes fussing over my cappuccino — making sure that every grain of coffee is perfectly ground and forms a perfect convex, and in the meantime tells me that by permitting him to use 2% milk I’m allowing him to practice his ‘art’ whereas the soy milk people don’t understand the ‘craft’ — but who then hands me the drink by thumping it down on the counter and shouting “16 oz cappuccino,” as if it’s at all appetizing or artful to know how much my fucking drink weighs! If you want to be a good actor, then just be a good actor and spare the audience the benefit of your deep insight.

What do I think of Waitress? I think it’s a fun time with faults that aren’t terribly alienating. I also think it’s sad that Adrienne Shelly was murdered. Not only was she adorable and talented, a new mother, but she would clearly have made some amazing films down the line. I also think that ‘Earl’ is an important cinematic creation, and though there are plenty of losers to choose from in the movies, few are creepy and familiar enough to start that spine tingling. If I hear from my spine at least once while watching a movie, then it’s worth recommending even with qualifications.

*He never actually had any reason to worry, even when I let him think he did. I loved that imbecile more than I think he was ever capable of understanding. What can I say? I’m a born codependent.

When the Lady Smiles

January 14, 2008

Another Golden Earring song. I don’t know what it is about this band that does it for me. It’s impossible to argue with the coordination of drum beats and choreography here. I declare their videos to be awesome even if the lead singer looks like a cleaned up version of a former friend of mine, a drugged out, bed-wetting, South African Victorianist who I refer to on this blog under the clever pseudonym of Chamberlain – minus his signature red jeans and yellow leather jacket, of course. But that’s neither here nor there.

I’m also starting to learn that Golden Earring is a fantastic primer on 80s critical theory but instead of being bored, the viewer is here permitted to rock out with the tragic price that he is deprived of some choice jargon. This video, like the last one I linked, has an extended exposition of “the female imago” (Lacan; “The Mirror Stage” essay), as well as a critique of psychiatry, psychoanalysis and window washing (Foucault; Birth of the Clinic), and a critique of public transportation (darknessatnoon; numerous posts on this blog).