Archive for the 'Pop Culture' Category

Weed whackers

A musical composition of mine was featured on the most recent episode of the Showtime television show “Weeds.” I actually saw the episode last night, and also watched some additional Showtime shows. Judging from the shows I saw and advertisements for other shows on the network, Showtime seems to have carved out a nice little niche by presenting near pornography as intellectual entertainment. There’s shots of naked people, sexual situations, and all-out cursing but it’s done with a kind of Woody Allen finesse.

I find this little disturbing. If I just sit around watching pornography, I’m a sicko. But if I watch pornography on Showtime, I’m an intellectual. I can say, “I’m not really watching these two people having sex for any kind of lurid reason, rather I’m appreciating the rich commentary it offers on the development of Western culture in the 21st century. Ho hum.”

Here’s the tune, one that I’ve featured on these pages before:
Piano piece in G min by Wil Forbis

Cruising… on a Sunday afternoon

So, the news of the hour is, of course, that Katie Holmes is divorcing Tom Cruise. And part of the reason for the breakup seems to be that Tom is a raving lunatic Scientologist.

Now, like all right-thinking people, I think Scientologists are nuts. As such, I should be happy to see Cruise’s marriage and career fail.

But, I gotta tell you, I saw the new hard rock comedy/musical “Rock of Ages” yesterday and thought Cruise’s performance was pure genius. He plays a misanthropic mega rock star who’s lost all grip on reality but he does it with a brilliant wink at the audience.

This reminded me of the other great Cruise performance of recent years, that of misanthropic media executive Les Grossman in “Tropic Thunder.” I went youtubing, looking for a good sample of his role in that movie. The best I could come up with was some guy filming his television while the movie was playing. Nonetheless, it’s not bad.

So, yeah, Cruise is okay in my book.

Great minds…

Astute readers of Acid Logic have probably noted that I’ve been doing some writing on the horror author H.P. Lovecraft. As such, I’ve been reading materials other people have written on him, some of which collect his own commentary, and I can’t help but notice that so many of Lovecraft’s rants mirror my own thoughts. For example, here’s Lovecraft on the entertainment seeking general public.

Bourgeois capitalism gave artistic excellence & sincerity a death-blow by enthroning cheap amusement-value at the expense of that intrinsic excellence which only cultivated, non-acquisitive persons of assured position can enjoy. The determinant market for written, pictorial, musical, dramatic, decorative, architectural, & other heretofore aesthetic material ceased to be a small circle of truly educated persons, but became a substantially larger circle of mixed origin numerically dominated by crude, half-educated clods whose systematically perverted ideals (worship of low cunning, material acquisition, cheap comfort & smoothness, worldly success, ostentation, speed, intrinsic magnitude, surface glitter, &c.) prevented them from ever achieving the tastes and perspectives of the gentlefolk whose dress & speech & external manners they so assiduously mimicked. This herd of acquisitive boors brought up from the shop & the counting-house a complete set of artificial attitudes, oversimplifications, & mawkish sentimentalities which no sincere art or literature could gratify – & they so outnumbered the remaining educated gentlefolk that most of the purveying agencies became at once reoriented to them. Literature & art lost most of their market; & writing, painting, drama, &c. became engulfed more & more in the domain of amusement enterprises. (SL 5.397-98)

I’ve made similar comments, though using about 80% less adjectives, about the modern general public and their taste for morally simple stories, or childishly predictable music. I’m generally a defender of capitalism, but there’s no doubt that by giving voice to the common rabble (in the sense of giving them purchasing power) you’re dooming the appeal of the kinds of intellectually superior products both Lovecraft and I offer. He’s quite right that the “educated gentlefolk” who might appreciate the subtle nuance of my Acid logic writing, or my artfully produced music, are drowned out by the “acquisitive boors” and “half educated clods.” (I would argue that presuming they are even half educated is erring in kindness.)

Generally speaking, I think Lovecraft had a general disdain for pop culture; there I would probably part ways with him, though my fondness for pop culture is driven by an interest in the glittering oddities one can find within it, not the whole kit and caboodle.

It’s worth noting I interviewed the author who wrote the Lovecraft bio these quotes are drawn from.

Mike Daisey takes heat

Many people know that monologuist Mike Daisey is an acquaintance of mine and that he even wrote the cover blurb to my Acid Logic book. You also might know that he’s been in some hot water recently; it’s been revealed that parts of his spoken word performance piece damning Apple Computers for using mistreated Chinese labor are untrue. This op-ed piece has a good overview of the story and its ethical dilemma.

My take so far is that, yeah, it sounds like Mike crossed some lines and I don’t buy his defense along the lines of, “I had to lie to tell a greater truth.” But this section from the op-ed got me thinking.

Daisey is great with his other persuasive tools — particularly his signature long pause that precedes a fact on which he wants you to linger, for maximum outrage. One such fact is that the sullen-looking Chinese factory guards carry . . .
. . . guns. It’s a sharp little moment, placing Daisey up against dangerous people who clearly have something to hide. Unfortunately that turned out to be . . .
. . . untrue.

Although Daisey still says he remembers guns, the evidence overwhelmingly is that there were none.

I’m prone to thinking Mike’s full of it and knows damn well they didn’t have guns. But I just read a recent Wired article on the fallibility of memory.

In the past decade, scientists have come to realize that our memories are not inert packets of data and they don’t remain constant. Even though every memory feels like an honest representation, that sense of authenticity is the biggest lie of all.

The scientists aren’t sure about this mechanism, and they have yet to analyze the data from the entire 10-year survey. But Phelps expects it to reveal that many details will be make-believe. “What’s most troubling, of course, is that these people have no idea their memories have changed this much,” she says. “The strength of the emotion makes them convinced it’s all true, even when it’s clearly not.”

Reconsolidation provides a mechanistic explanation for these errors. It’s why eyewitness testimony shouldn’t be trusted (even though it’s central to our justice system), why every memoir should be classified as fiction, and why it’s so disturbingly easy to implant false recollections. (The psychologist Elizabeth Loftus has repeatedly demonstrated that nearly a third of subjects can be tricked into claiming a made-up memory as their own. It takes only a single exposure to a new fiction for it to be reconsolidated as fact.)

Basically: memories can’t be trusted and should even be viewed with suspicion (just like Jews.) So maybe Daisey honestly did recall guns where there were none. And more to the point: we should be viewing every personal account with skepticism. Even our own.

Steven Seagal Sued

Here’s one of those stories that make you question reality.

Actor Steven Seagal and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office are facing a lawsuit for allegedly conducting an “improper” raid on a man’s home and driving a tank through his front gate, while filming an episode of the reality show Steven Seagal: Lawman.

Jesus Llovera has filed a civil lawsuit against Seagal and members of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office for a raid conducted in March, 2011, based on allegations that Llovera was involved in cockfighting. Llovera filed a claim over the incident last fall.

Now part of me is sympathetic to Seagal here. He’s a known lover of animals and if he has to bust up some guy’s property to take him in for cockfighting, well, I wouldn’t lose too much sleep over it. Unfortunately…

The Sheriff’s Office, which used “a tank, a bomb robot and 40 deputies,” according to the Arizona Republic, accidentally killed over 100 of Llovera’s roosters and his 11-month old dog during the course of the raid.

Death and Davy Jones

So, Monkees singer Davy Jones is dead. I’m reminded of an acidlogic article I wrote over a decade ago, called “The Devil and Davy Jones.

If I was to say whom my least favorite Monkee was, I’d have to say that is was Davy Jones. I mean, frankly, I detest all the Monkees, I think Danny Partridge could kick all their asses with one hand handcuffed to a transexual prostitute, but Davy was the lamest of the lame. That annoying optimistic grin, that nasaly limey accent, and that stupid, stupid fucking dance… like Axl Rose on valium or whatever medication they give Tourette’s patients.

It goes on from there…

Where’s the beef?

Last night I watched an episode of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” that kind of perturbed me. The plot was that these two little girls were killed in a fire and at the mid point of the show the cops had arrested the father for the crime. But then he made an emotional plea to one of the detectives (including trying to commit suicide in front of her) and the cops re-examined the case. They brought in a fire expert who concluded the deaths were accidental.

It was an interesting turn for a crime show because there was no real crime, but I found myself a little disappointed. “You mean there’s no murderer for me to hate?” I asked the television. Silence was its only reply, so I threw a bottle of brandy at it. I wanted a bad guy who could be defeated.

OK, so let me take a left turn here. I’ve often, when reading about neuroscience, or psychology, or philosophy, come across a fact that bedazzles me. I think to myself, “This is fascinating. Why doesn’t everyone know about this? Why isn’t everyone talking about this?” It’s a question(s) that really confounds me. I walk past people on the street talking about celebrity gossip, or office gossip, or what their stupid kids are doing, or what Mitt Romney is doing and I’m baffled how they can think those topics are important whereas, say, arguments against the existence of free will aren’t.

Now, there might be an obvious explanation for this difference of priorities between myself and the vast stinking masses of mankind. It’s possible I’m just intellectually superior to most people and their feeble brains can’t begin to comprehend my thoughts. Perhaps… but I think there’s something more.

I’ve always been baffled by sports. Why do people give a fuck about such a meaningless activity? I’m also baffled by people’s interest in the granular detail of politics. I mean, sure, I’m interested in who wins the presidential election, but why does anyone care about the Governor of Arizona yelling at Obama or some offhand comment Ron Paul makes. But, as I think about it, I get it. Sports and politics have conflict. It’s my team or side against the other bastards. We want to crush them, to DESTROY THEM!!! Humans are tribal creatures. But science has none of that. If you figure out what protein this gene programs for, it might have great ramifications, maybe cure some illness, but nobody really loses. The gene doesn’t care if you’ve figured it out. There’s no conflict.

That was the problem with that “Law & Order.” The was no loser. And the same is true with much of science.

(Obviously, the politics of science – scientists racing to beat each other to a Nobel Prize – has plenty of conflict, but that’s a different story.)

My heart belongs to Daddy

Wealthy Fla. man adopts adult girlfriend as his daughter.

A wealthy polo club owner in Florida has legally adopted his longtime adult girlfriend as his daughter in a legal maneuver that critics say is an attempt to shield his assets ahead of a civil lawsuit over a deadly car crash, The Palm Beach Post reports.

Goodman, founder of the International Polo Club Palm Beach, legally adopted Laruso Hutchins, 42, as his daughter on Oct. 13 in Miami-Dade County, according to court documents, the Post reports.

In a previous ruling, Kelley said a trust set up for Goodman’s two minor children could not be considered as part of his financial worth if a jury awarded damages to the Wilsons. According to the adoption papers, Hutchins is immediately entitled to at least a third of the trust’s assets as his legal daughter since she is over the age of 35, the Post reports.

On the down side, he can now be arrested for molestation if he has sex with her.

The sad state of Bill Mantlo

As a kid, I was a big fan of Marvel Comics, as any self respecting kid should be. In those days, Bill Mantlo was a writer for a number of Marvel titles; he was perhaps best known as the creative force behind a toy-based comic series called The Micronauts drawn by my favorite comic artist, Mike Golden. (Mantlo also did some work on Spider-Man, The Hulk, ROM, Howard the Duck and an obscure favorite of mine, The Human Fly.) I was nosing around on the web (not looking at porn) and came across this report on the very tragic turn Mantlo’s life has taken. He left comics, became a lawyer (that’s not the tragic part) and suffered a devastating brain injury in a hit and run accident. He now sounds barely functional and his brother has had a aggravating battle with insurance companies while trying to maintain Bill’s health. Sad stuff.

Bill is gaunt, almost skeletally so. His skin is pale and pasty, the product of getting very little time outside. His short hair is lank and unwashed. His teeth are yellow and have not been properly cleaned in some time. He turns 60 on Nov. 9, 2011, but he looks more like 80.
The victim of a closed-head brain injury from nearly 20 years before, Bill cannot move from his wheelchair to his bed without help, nor can he feed himself, go to the bathroom or conduct any other kind of normal physical activity unaided. He can move his arms, but the fine motor control in his hands is very poor. He needs someone else to put his glasses on for him, and when he wants to take them off, he can only drag his hands across his face and let the glasses clatter to the floor.

A nice appendage to the article is this collection of comic covers of some of Mantlo’s work. It really reminds me how much I enjoyed comics back in the day.

Accessory characters

One thing that has always interested me is the fact that movie directors, when pontificating on their work, will often discuss lesser characters, like the main villian’s third henchman, as if a lot of thought went into these characters. A director might say something like, “It was important to understand the motivation for Lightning Soldier Number 3. What was his motivation? I came up with a back story that he had been raised in a southern ghetto without a father figure and his life of crime had come naturally. I think [actor] Thomas Dobswell did and excellent job of bringing this to life in his 4.3 seconds of screen time.”

For a long time I was baffled by this. And, as a fiction writer, I was intimidated. Did I need to be developing a deep sense of character for my accessory players, many of whom come across as rather one dimensional anyway? Lately, I think the answer is no. Movie directors (and writers) are just being pretentious fuckwads on this subject.