Monday, December 11, 2006

Chapter the Fourth: in which a Man, having seen a Moving-picture, is himself moved to issue his own Judgment upon it.

"Give us this day our daily bread"
-The "Our Father" prayer

This week, another admission: I despise social documentaries. Jesus is it good to get that pressure off the windsacks. Oh sure, I’ll go see documentaries with my friends and agree that yes the director was almost lyrical in her framing of shots and oh definitely the human subjects developed a very natural and conversational rapport with the camera and these are all lies, LIES. If I have ever gone to see such a documentary with you, and we have talked about it afterwards in generally positive terms, I was lying to you. Through my teeth. I am so sorry.

Here is what I really think: Social documentaries are insufferable, manipulatively edited moral vehicles. They are secular sermons gussied up and masquerading as reporting, bolstered by the weighty claims to real representation that the medium of film offers. Ooooh I hates ‘em.

Now, one last admission: I just saw a remarkable documentary. It is called Unser täglich Brot (Our Daily Bread), from Austrian director Nikolaus Geyrhalter.
It aims to do nothing more, it claims, than to depict the harvesting, mining, production, and processing of food in the European Union. As my town’s gnarled and dedicated film-swami stood before the theater audience and introduced the movie, praising it for its neutrality and its pretension only to report, I sneered my special sneer reserved for social documentaries and snacked upon my Haribo gummy candy with increasingly hateful intensity. The film started. I took in the long, extended shots of chicken factories, row-crop fields, slaughterhouses, salt mines, and sorting plants, waiting—just waiting—for the director to expose the plight of the immigrant rutabaga-picker or the moral vileness of the charnel house. But such revelations never really came. Sure, the work of the harvesters and factory workers was tedious, and factory farming / slaughtering can be gruesome. But there were no interviews, no exposés, no veneer yanked away to reveal a consciousness-altering reality. Just shots of people carrying out a task and then a few brief glimpses of them on a smoke break.
For like an hour and a half.
The film simply put into belabored detail what most of us already suspected about its subject—picking tomatoes all day is real boring, immigrants do it because Europeans don’t want to, slaughtering pigs is nasty and bloody, and so on and so forth. Oh wait I lied again, the film did reveal a few things—salt mining is far, far radder than any of us could ever have known, and chicken rearing gives rise to a few moments of unintended but inspired hilarity, usually involving confused chickens in various stages of maturity being shot out of cannons and sucked into huge vacuums.
I guess if I had to ascribe some motive to Unser täglich Brot, it’d be a Marxist one, the film focusing as it does (and really, really focusing) on the modes of production. But we are nitpicking now. What I want to tell you all, my friends, because I think my friends are the only ones who read this site, is that I have seen the first social documentary that did exactly what its name suggests: document.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

O, To be a Turk in Pants

"Was für Hose ist die?"
-Austrians. Scared, bewildered Austrians.

I risk losing the friendship of my Austrian acquaintances with the following admission but I must declare it: I am actually pretty down with Turks in Austria. I am talking, of course, about Turkish males (they don’t see fit to let the women out that often). As with most things in life, it comes down to pants. For it is the Turks and I who alienate ourselves, strangers in a strange land, from the hegemonic cultural mode: the Culture of Fine-Pants. The Teutonic men of Austria are not to be found wearing anything but the finest pantwear—blue jeans and slacks of a very distinctive and conservative cut, be it a Sunday jaunt with the family, a quick trip to the Tobacconist, or a grocery run.

Not so swarthy and unwelcome children of Islam, not so Kevin! No, the Turks, me and the Turks, we take the Wrench of Anarchy and heave it into the well-oiled machine of Austrian society by daring to wear Leisure-Pants. Leisure-Pants! A day of strenuous errands? Hold on, let me put on my sport-pants. Heading to the bar? One moment, I gotta put on my hot-pants. Ah, we’re gonna take a walk in the hills on a sunny day? Just a sec, I must throw on my short-pants. It is no coincidence that when I pass a Turk on the streets of my little provincial town, we lower our guard and give each other the man-nod. Indeed we have just held a dialogue of the most transcendent sublimity, if not a dialectic (our dialectic would only progress thusly: “thesis – thesis – thesis”; that is, “Leisure-Pants. Leisure-Pants? Leisure-Pants!). What we are both saying, and saying only with our pants, may be translated into Mulkeenian English as “Hey. I see what you’re doing. And I like it.”

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

rapper Medaphoar's notepad

This perfect text is the work of K. Carranza. It is the greatest single piece of mail I have ever received.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

A Canticle for Leibowitz

“The Monks
waited. It mattered not at all to them that the knowledge they saved was useless, that much of it was not really knowledge now, was as inscrutable to the monks in some instances as it would be to an illiterate wild-boy from the hills; this knowledge was empty of content, its subject matter long since gone. Still, such knowledge had a symbolic structure that was peculiar to itself, and at least the symbol-interplay could be observed. To observe the way a knowledge-system is knit together is to learn at least a minimum knowledge-of-knowledge, until someday – someday, or some century – an Integrator would come and things would be fitted together again. So time mattered not at all.”
- W
alter M. Miller, Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz, pp. 66

Miller's Science Fiction classic, A Canticle for Leibowitz, imagines the centuries and millenia following the near-total destruction of human civilization. Decimated After nuclear holocaust, there occurrs a great populist backlash against all knowledge and technology. Blaming the apocalypse and the desecration of the Earth on science and learning, the survivors carry out massive book burnings in an age that comes to be known as the great ‘Simplification.’ The only keepers of human history and the written word are the monks of the order of Saint Leibowitz, safeguarding any and all recovered documents, from blueprints to textbooks to shopping lists, through written copy and memorization.

Pictured above is the book cover (left) as well as a
photograph of my book report from sixth grade, a fully rendered movie poster for a hypothetical film based on the novel (right). This poster is a wonderfully telling artifact of my strengths and weaknesses as a young man, a revelatory relic on par with the tattered document it depicts – the sacred shopping list of Saint Leibowitz.

I am proud that in planning this feature film, I gave little thought to cost constraints. The movie’s budget is comically boundless and the ensemble cast is really something to behold. Just look at that lineup of Hollywood heavy-hitters: Danny Glover, Jeff Bridges, Mel Brooks, Kurt Russell, Tom H
anks, Ossie Davis, Maggie Smith, Burgess Meredith, all under the direction of the legendary Terry Gilliam. I myself am named as the producer while my father, Patrick, gets the nod as executive producer. What is the meaning of this?

The teaser media excerpts raise several puzzling questions. These quotes are either plain statement of objective fact (NYT, LAT), starry-eyed praise for the film’s provocation of ‘thoughts’ (Newsweek, GMA), or absurdly hyperbolic declarations that explode the prevailing order of film criticism (Siskel and Ebert). The personification of Newsweek and the LA Times promotes a special flavor of cognitive dissonance in yet another peculiar turn. All of this may or may not be knowledge. I feel like an illiterate wild boy from the hills.

Its age and its relevance long-since forgotten, this poster is an inscrutable, jumbled, mash-up of empty signifiers. I can't be sure of its meaning, but I record this information faithfully in anti
cipation of the day when it will once again make sense.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Valet Lit, Installment 2

“The most fantastic parking-lot attendant in the world, he can back a car forty miles an hour into a tight squeeze and stop at the wall, jump out, race among fenders, leap into another car, circle it fifty miles an hour in a narrow space, back swiftly into tight spot, hump, snap the car with the emergency so that you see it bounce as he flies out; then clear to the ticket shack, sprinting like a track star, hand a ticket, leap into a newly arrived car before the owner’s half out, leap literally under him as he steps out, start the car with the door flapping, and roar off to the next available spot, arc, pop in, brake, out, run; working like that without pause eight hours a night, evening rush hours and after-theater rush hours, in greasy wino pants with a frayed fur-lined jacket and beat shoes that flap.”
- Jack Kerouac, On The Road

Like Dean Moriarty, the most fantastic parking-lot attendant in the world, this passage may be the most fantastic published work of American Valet literature to date. Moriarty's deft automotive maneuvers dominate his own physical and textual environments; Sal Paradise is hypnotized by this display of spatial genius. Bereft of language that can keep up with Dean, Paradise's description devolves into a pure, primitive mimesis. Struggling to catch his breath, Paradise either carelessly or expertly repeats himself - 'door flapping,' and 'beat shoes that flap' - but perhaps that's just Kerouac's edit-free, benzedrine-fueled style.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Valet Lit, Installment 1

"Suddenly at someone’s parting – but markedly crisp – suggestion, I found myself stationed at the curb, directly at the mouth of the canvas canopy, attending to helping people into cars.
How I had been singled out to fill this post deserves some small speculation. So far as I know, the unidentified, middle-aged man of action who had picked me for the job hadn’t a glimmer of a notion that I was the bridegrooms brother. Therefore, it seems logical that I was singled out for other, less poetic reasons. The year was 1942. I was twenty-three, and newly drafted into the Army. It strikes me that it was solely my age, my uniform, and the unmistakably serviceable, olive-drab aura about me that had left no doubt concerning my eligibility to fill in as doorman.
I was not only twenty-three, but a conspicuously retarded twenty-three. I remember loading people into cars without any degree of competence whatever. On the contrary, I went about it with a certain disingenuous, cadetlike semblance of single-mindedness, of adherence to duty. After a few minutes, in fact, I became all too aware that I was catering to the needs of a predominantly older, shorter, fleshier generation, and my performance as an arm taker and door closer took on an even more thoroughly bogus puissance. I began to conduct myself like an exceptionally adroit, wholly engaging young giant with a cough.
But the heat of the afternoon was, to say the least, oppressive, and the compensations of my office must have seemed to me increasingly tokenless. Abruptly, though the crowd of “immediate family” seemed scarcely to have begun to thin out, I myself lunged into one of the freshly loaded cars, just as it started to draw away from the curb. In doing it, I hit my head a very audible (perhaps retributive) crack on the roof. One of the occupants of the car was none other than my whispering acquaintance, Helen Silsburn, and she started to offer me her unqualified sympathy. The crack had evidently resounded throughout the car. But at twenty-three I was the sort of young man who responds to all public injury of his person, short of a fractured skull, by giving out a hollow, subnormal-sounding laugh."
- J.D. Salinger, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters

This is the first installment of what will become a short series dedicated to showcasing the unsung canon of Valet Literature. Having worked these past four months as a Valet myself, I have found that the profession is not without its own romance, however tragic. Ironically, Salinger's assiduous protagonist turns out to be most in need of escort.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Regardyng the divers Delytes and Pleasoures of the "Nintendo"

"Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start"
-Controller input sequence to start the NES game 'Contra' with 30 lives

I don't play video games much anymore. But I'll be god-damned if I didn't just play the HELL out of the Nintendo Entertainment System when I was little. Displays of nostalgia for the NES are very much in vogue now, and more than a little played out, which is understandable I guess: the NES is a halcyon trademark of our generation. These tributes can range from insufferable impromptu (young men at a party who do not know each other scatting the theme music from Super Mario Brothers in heinous chorus and not stopping after one round, but rather segueing into the underworld theme, only to abandon the group-sing awkwardly when they realize that their enterprise is untenable), to oddly touching disclosure (steak-and-potatoes, salt-of-the-earth, Red-State men freely admitting to paradigm-shaking crises of gender and power upon realizing that the bounty hunter from Metroid was... a Lady). But February 2006 marked the 20-year anniversary of the release of the Nintendo in the U.S., and seeing this news gets one to thinking about one’s relationship to this dated, beloved game machine and its games…

Play Action Football – Objective judging standards, common sense, and the liberal Vintage Video Game Review Media will tell you that this game featured an “unusual isometric, top-down diagonal perspective”, with “8 teams to choose from”, and that the game had an “NFLPA (Players Association) license but not an NFL license”. They will also tell you “This game is decent, but limited, especially when compared to Tecmo Super Bowl.” Unfortunately, this is all horseshit liberal spin. Fortunately, you are in a no-spin zone. The only thing you need to know about this game is this: Counter Option. You just hand the rock off to your fullback, have a buddy seal a lane with a sweet block, maybe give a little shimmy-shake when you hit the hole, kick it out towards a sideline, and take that baby all the way to Chinatown. Game-maker, knee-breaker.

Mega Man 2 – This game was sweet, and there is no disputing it. However, often lost amidst the hoo-ha surrounding this game’s seditious and misleading cover art (Mega Man’s safety visor is UP! Mega Man—where’s your head at, dogg?), inpiring and specifically vague opening sequence ("In the year 200x), great tunes, and top-flight level and boss design was surely one of the most disturbing game tropes ever conceived of: the old pick-off-members-of-a- team-of-foes-one-by-one-and-use- their-vanquished- comrades’-powers-to-slay-them maneuver. This is horrible. This is like a murderer killing your grandma, and then stabbing your uncle to death with grandma’s antique letter opener, and then offing your brother with your uncle’s favorite rotary saw, and then pounding you with… surely you understand. This was horrible.

Super Mario Bros. 3
- Aside from being a truly fantastic game, it gave me some of my first glimpses into Older Boy Culture. OBC comprised the slang, habits, modes of interaction, and general lifestyle of my friend Chris McChesney’s older brother (also named Kevin) and his friend, about 3 or 4 years our senior. The four of us would spend long nights in the McChesney’s basement plowing through this game. Kevin and his friend would make adolescent jokes that were in retrospect not funny at all (their standby was calling Luigi “Loogy”, which absolutely killed them and which I am absolutely ashamed to have laughed at) and add real-world spice to their gameplay with brief and savage beatings of Chris and me, who honestly didn’t mind the tradeoff. It was just that fun to watch.

Legend of Zelda – Well this is the Big One for me. Inspired and eternal music, hateful beasties, generous cave-dwelling hermits, just straight explorin’, that shit-head Gannon… it all brings a tear to my eye. The friendship between my aforementioned oldest and dearest pal Chris McChesney and me was predicated, when we first met each other at ages 6 and 5, on two things: Cherry Kool-Aid and Zelda. I would sit and watch him, his brother Kevin, and his dad play this game in ways I never knew games could be played. They had in-game conferences for strategy during tight spots, specific roles to fulfill during the playing, colorful scale maps drawn by hand on graph paper—graph paper! It was fantastic. At some point Chris and I started playing together, and since then have beaten together nearly every single Zelda game that Nintendo has put out. So special.

Bubble Bobble - That theme song... those dinosaurs… their Bubbles, Bobbling all over the place... What was without a doubt one of the fruitiest concepts in all of Gaming somehow translated into an absolutely killer and addictive application. There is a theory currently circulating among the Intellectual Northeastern Elite—the idea has met with resistance on the West Coast and Middle Atlantic—that NES music was the zenith of video game music composition, and that this was caused by the very limitations of the NES system itself. Since the NES cartridges only had so much storage capacity, games with soundtracks were forced to loop just a small number of tiny music files—composed with only a limited number of sounds—over and over again. This meant that Nintendo would hire composers to create 30- to 60-second masterpieces of dramatic, fetching, memorable, perfect electric pop. Bubble Bobble is one of the more infamous examples. Think what you will of the theory, friend, but this much is certain: if you had the physical stamina, the mental acuity, the reflexes, or the Game Genie to make it through all 100 levels of Bubble Bobble, you were wise enough even as a young sapling to realize that what you just did, and how long it took you to do it, were probably not ok.

Guerilla War – Fernando Castro and Chachi Guevara stand on a beach loading unlimited bullets into their machine guns and unlimited grenades into their ammo belts. The jungle at the edge of the beach seethes with the menace of the enemy army awaiting them. Fernando turns to speak: "Chachi, are you prepared to take on the full military force of the maldito dictator king to free the working class of this island?" ", Fernando, but when the time comes, will you be ready to walk over glowing boxes with letters stamped on them and make full use of the ridiculous power-ups they contain?" "You know that I will be, amigo, but tell me this: do you realize that we will be saving hogtied captives in the same manner, gaining +1000 points for walking over them but –500 for shooting them in the face?” “In truth, I have devoted much thought to this. Come now, it is time to join the battle. When we are waging guerilla war, compay mío, and things appear to be at their direst, remember this: we have unlimited continues.” They lock arms and eyes briefly, fiercely, and plunge into the forest, guns screaming, liberation spilling from their pores.

Ice Hockey - It is my contention that this is the single greatest game ever put to chip. It is a taut, seamless, and elegant synthesis of Platonic metaphysics, Aristotelian ontology, Husserlian phenomenology, badass Old Testament minimalism, and ice hockey. In the simple world that it posits, there is no World but the Hockey Rink. There is no Universe but the Firmament of Floating Crowd Heads. There is no Time but the Match Clock. There is no Woman, and there are but four categories of Man: there is Goalie, Fat Man, Average Man, and Skinny Man. There are Soviet Russians. There is no fucking around. Good luck, cupcake.