Sunday, July 25, 2004

Charismatic Megafauna



Crikey! Is there anything worse than settling into a "nature" program featuring some terrific and exciting animals, only to discover that the animals in question are, at best, mere supporting players to the colorful antics and engineered mishaps of some obnoxious pseudo-naturalist host?

The sonorous, dignified intonations of David Attenborough used to get on my nerves, too, but now that I've suffered through the effusive inanities of Nigel Marven, The Kratt Brothers (pictured above), Steve Irwin--a.k.a. "The Crocodile Hunter"--and a host of similarly high-personality nature show upstarts, I've come to recognize him for the (inter)national treasure he is. At least David (the narrator and producer of such high-quality nature series as "Trials of Life" and the peerless "Blue Planet") knows when to get out of the frame, so we can actually watch the creatures in question. "The Crocodile Hunter" should be called "The Reptile Molester;" his show consists not of high-quality nature footage but of tiresome, croc- and snake-baiting stunts that reveal more about the psychological defects of a certain kind of thrill-seeking, attention-hogging human personality than anything about real animal behavior.

The Kratt Brothers' programs--like PBS's "Zaboomafoo"--are geared primarily to children, so they can be forgiven for their frequent bouts of camera-mugging and excruciatingly unfunny madcappery. (And when they aren't making cartoon-faces, they're also kind of hot.) What's Nigel Marven's excuse? At least Steve Irwin has contributed the word "crikey" to the field of obnoxious nature program hosting...Nigel Marven's catchphrase--I swear it's the only word he knows--is the far less interesting and entertaining "Fan-tastic!" Nigel Marven has earned himself a special place in Hell for participating in one of the worst nature films of all time, the execrable Sea Monsters, in which Nigel Marven "interacts" and "observes" the habitats and behaviors of marine creatures...that died 35 million odd years ago. It's an expensive C.G.I. fest like "Walking With Dinosaurs"--which I happen to love--only it's got this preposterous and intelligence-insulting structure of bogus naturalist observation. Nigel Marven blue-screens his entire shtick, pretending to get nearly attacked by diplodocii (I made that spelling up) and to conduct--wholly scripted, wholly animated--"experiments" on Carcharadon Megalodons "in the wild." Every fifteen minutes or so, the language of Marven's narration will tip off that the whole thing is an elaborate put-on--meaning he occasionally gets around to mentioning the trifling fact that all of these creatures are long extinct--but for the most part, the program attempts to maintain the illusion that aspects of these creatures existence is being discovered and documented by the intrepid Nigel. Like it wouldn't be more fun and interesting and edifying for us to see, "Walking with Dinosaurs"-style, these creatures just behaving and existing, as scientists have concluded they did? Do we need to see Marven fending them off with cattle-prods--the anachronisms are too numerous, pointless, and perverse to mention--to make it exciting? How dumb do they think we are?

The reason there is so much shit nature programming on TV right now is probably that there are too many nonstop outlets for it: Animal Planet, National Geographic channel, Discovery. That is, too many hours in the day. There is only so much great --or even just noteworthy--nature filmmaking out there, and so much airtime to fill. Steve Irwin and his ilk are useful to these networks because, as recurring hosts, they create a kind of brand loyalty to their programs--otherwise, people who like spiders would watch the program on spiders, but wouldn't bother to tune in next week when grizzly bears are the feature creature. Also, their misadventures can be used to stretch 3 minutes of interesting nature-footage to an hour-long block of infotainment.

And the idiots out there, myself included, will tune in. I've already begun my once-a-year "Shark Week" experience--or, if you will, depressathon--and, true to form, every program they've aired so far has been utter shit. The week kicked off with the story of a "shark attack", hyped in advertisements for its astonishing real-life footage. It turned out to be about a diver who allowed herself to drift out of sight of her dive boat into a shoal of Jacks--a fish that, as she must've known, sharks LOVE to eat--and who, having neglected to check her air gauge, ran out of air while surrounded by reef sharks. She went to the surface and proceeded to scream and thrash for help for what seemed like twenty minutes, letting the camera run the whole time. (Hence the thrilling, real-life footage). The sharks, sensing her distress, began to get closer to her. Eventually, she realized that if she stopped thrashing and screaming, the sharks would leave her alone. And they did. Thrilling!

All of this was scored and edited for maximum "terror", even though nothing in the least bit frightening even happened.

And still I watch.

Crikey.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Shitting in Public, Part II

I saw him again the other day. He was standing on the other side of the subway platform. I kind of stared him down for a moment and I'm pretty sure he recognized me.

He was dressed much better today: mid-priced jeans; a fancier T-shirt; shoes, not sneakers. Which means that he is definitely not homeless. Which means he absolutely had no excuse for doing what he did.

I had also just seen, on my walk to the subway, his little gift to the sidewalk. It was still there. So when I saw him, the memory of what he had done days before was still fresh in my head.

Excuse me while I vomit.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Shitting in Public

I'm sure you're like wha, no pictures? but trust me you're glad. I came this close to using some of the images I found on a google image search for "shit on a sidewalk" and "dogshit" and "did you mean: dog_shit." I thought it might add some punch to my story. But I don't want a picture of actual excrement up here at the top of the site. Would you?

Anyway, I would like to start off by saying that pissing in public is the apex of the cool. It's hippie, it's punk, it's earthy and urban, all at once. Fuck the past four mayors for not actually doing anything about the public bathroom shortage/crisis in NYC. Piss. Fuck the stores that oh so prominently place "Bathroom for CUSTOMERS ONLY" signs on their doors and windows. Piss. Fuck the establishment for making me feel pathetic and gross because I'm about to spray in my pants because I a) don't want to pay a dollar for a tasteless biscotti just to pee and b) because I'm too afraid to whip it out on the street and let it flow because I've heard the public urination law actually does get enforced. Apparently, frequently.

I should've just pissed.

Pissing in public is just plain badass, and it feels really good. It gives you deep shudders of urination pleasure like no other kind of peeing. I was at Veselka on 2nd the other day, and this guy, in broad daylight, just took it out and started peeing against the crosswalk sign. The street was crowded, there was a cop parked only half a block away, and he just took it out and let it rip. Awesome. And then he came in and bought a roll for breakfast. Without washing his hands first. Double awesome. It was pretty early in the day so it wasn't like one of those I'm-drunk-what-the-hell pissings in public. Super awesome.

But shitting in public--that is, in the street, in the park, behind a dumpster; basically anywheres that isn't in an actual toilet--is truly gross. I didn't know how gross I thought it was until I witnessed it myself. This morning. I was walking to the subway and I saw this fat guy crouched down around a corner. I thought from his posture that he was maybe changing out of running shorts or something, so I didn't slow down. I walked right past, as he hiked up his sweatpants--no wiping! sick!--and made his way back to the pizza parlor he had, apparently, come from. (Their bathroom, I know for a fact, is chronically out of order.) He even had the dignity to tuck his t-shirt into his sweatpants afterwards. And as I walked past, I couldn't resist turning...and seeing...and smelling...oh christ, it was awful.

I have three questions for Sir Shits-a-Lot.
1)Why, if you aren't homeless, would you shit on the sidewalk just like that?
2)Why, having gone out to that corner with the express purpose of dumping right there on the curb, didn't you bring some nappikins or baby wipes?
3)Who the fuck do you expect is going to clean that gnarly mess up? Your mama?

I HATE YOU.

Oh yeah, and a fourth question: What the hell are you doing eating pizza at ten in the morning! Sick! It's no wonder you can't control your own bowels!

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The Love/Hate Affair is Over



It had occurred to me to bash iPods here before. But as a proud and adoring owner of an iPod myself, I thought it might be a bit hypocritical to use this forum to savage all iProducts and all iConsumers. To be perfectly honest, I didn't even mind being hypocritical, as long as I didn't get found out. Most certainly someone who knows me personally--that is, anyone who actually reads this b**g--would've thought to mention in the comments section that I was a dirty, two-faced liar and iPod owner.

But hah! My iPod broke the other day--from a measly 8 inch fall to the floor--so I can make fun of you all I want. iPods suck. (I miss you iPod). First of all, they are way too expensive. (Thanks Mom and Dad!) Second of all, they are ubiquitous in NYC. Which used to be annoying in a fun way, in that you could waste breath stopping to think or comment about their ubiquity. As in: "Look at how 60% of the people on this subway car are idiot idrones." But now the whole phenomenon has passed into the realm of the unworthy of mention. And that's just weird. We have this very specific--and expensive--consumer choice in plain sight all day long, broadcast directly from 1 in 3--the richer or more spoiled 1 in 3--of every individual we pass each day. It's gone from amusing dimestore sociology fodder to the stuff of dystopian nightmare. Everybody does it but NO ONE dares comment about it.

Plus, that ad campaign is nightmarish. Plus, even if I hadn't dropped it, the--essentially irreplaceable--battery would've died out of natural causes in a few months. Plus they're going to keep building better ones each consumer cycle, to make all of us who bought the early model--"What? You only have 40 MBs?"--feel stupid for not having waited. Plus as you can see even Celine fucking Dion has one now. Plus...

Fuck it. I'm going to the iPod store to see if they can fix this. I love you, Baby!

Friday, July 16, 2004

Privilege Chic


Uh-oh. Mom's in town. What to do? Where to take her?

Well, my mom's a pretty hip lady, so I usually take her to my favorite boutique-style vinyl store. She loves it! Turns out, she's totally down with the hipster lifestyle of me and my sister! Which is a good thing too, because she finances it!

I could even leave her alone for a few hours--I had to go downtown to replace my designer "haagen-daaz" purple t-shirt, cuz I dripped fish sauce on it last night at Nobu--and turns out she had a great time at the farmers' market. No one can say Mrs. Liddy Davenport doesn't know how to have a good time!

Mom, you rule!

Dad, don't think I've forgotten about you. I know you think my single-occupancy East Village duplex is kind of a dump, and that you wish I lived with my sister Tennessee on the Upper East Side, but as a part-time DJ at small New York nightclubs, it really pays for me to be closer to where the action is. So keep those checks coming, Pop. Love ya!

Thursday, July 15, 2004

The Magical Blacks



You know what movie I love? "Little Shop of Horrors." You know what my favorite part of "Little Shop of Horrors" is? (Except for the plant and Ellen Greene's hilariously breathy pronunciation of "Doctor", of course). Those Downtown doo-wop girls on the corner, singing and commenting on the crazy doings of the--white--cast of characters. But I always thought it was a bit problematic, even though I was only 9 or so when I first saw it. I mean, why is it that those three girls aren't granted characterhood? Why are they never even conceivable as potential food for Audrey II? Why is it that all they get to do is sing and dance?

Ultimately, Little Shop of Horrors is campy enough and stylized enough to get away with this borderline racist dynamic. But what the hell is "A Cinderella Story"'s excuse? Why is it that everytime Hollywood wants to hip up a square and uninspired romantic comedy, usually of the "urban and/or modern fairy tale" variety, they have to cast a black actor or actress in the role of "wisecracking, 'you-go-girl' best friend," "prophetic and wise homeless man," "sassy fairygodmother," etc.?

Think about it. How many movies have pulled this shit in the past twenty years? I don't have a figure offhand; I should've kept notes. But off the top of my head, there is: "It Could Happen to You" (Black homeless man narrating white lovers' story, directly addressing the audience about New York as the city of dreams), "Pretty Woman" (Black homeless man directly addressing audience about LA as city of dreams),"The Hudsucker Proxy" (Black man runs the clocktower; knows all; narrates the comic travails of the white--read actual--characters). These three--and there are others like it--are probably the most egregious. But there are also slightly more subtle variations on this: Whoopi Goldberg in "Ghost," Djimon Hounson in "In America," Morgan Freeman in "Bruce Almighty". Not to mention that eternal character of the savvy Black homeless man in disaster movies, who always--correctly--prophesizes the imminent disaster, seen most recently in "The Day After Tomorrow."

Regina King is an entertaining and vivid actress--she was pretty terrific as Cuba Gooding Jr's grasping NFL wife in "Jerry Maguire"--and I'm not calling her an Aunt Tammy for taking this role. Actors need whatever work they can get. But the producers and screenwriters who perpetuate this crap need to be called on it. Middlebrow, risk-averse racial humor has been a drag on movies ever since Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy paired up in "48 Hours"--and even that had some kind of edge to it, especially compared to current race-based comedy, like "White Chicks." Does Regina King have to play sassy best-friend/fairy godmother to Little Miss Whitey-White and her beau, Master Whitey Corngood McWhite? Should she have to? What impulse or idea are HW suits trying to flatter by having these happy second-fiddlers cheer on our whitey-white couplings and romantic wish-fulfillments?

Monday, July 12, 2004

When a Man Loves a Woman



Awww.

To help preserve the sanctity of George and Laura's institution, make sure to call your senators today! Say YES to the Federal Marriage Amendment!

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Counting Sheep

I finally got around to checking out the blog co-written by Josh Chafetz, the critic who poison-penned Thomas Frank in the Times a few weeks ago. Wowzer! Are these boys dull.


I decided to turn how boring their blog is into a kind of game, a test of endurance. If you can read this post, and then this post, and then--still with me?--this post, straight-through, without snoozing, snoring, or even yawning, I promise to mail you a quarter. For real. If you--honestly, now--can read this self-serious, dry-as-dust, new-generation, post-Sullivan conservative garbage without yawning--even tiny yawns count--I will put a quarter in the mail for you.

Just e-mail me your address with a formal-sounding statement to the effect of: "I hereby solemnly swear I read the entirety of these blog postings by the good people of oxblog without falling even briefly asleep and without yawning even a tiny little yawn. Now give me a quarter."

Can e-mails be notarized?

Nomatter. We will abide by a strict honor system. I trust you to be honest; you trust me to send you a quarter.

If you're a glutton for punishment, here's further proof of the snooze-factor of oxblog, their homepage tagline: "The off-the-cuff political commentary of Josh Chafetz, a 2001 Rhodes Scholar and graduate student in politics at Oxford, David Adesnik, a 2000 Rhodes Scholar and graduate student in international relations at Oxford currently residing in Cambridge, Mass., and Patrick Belton, a graduate student in international relations at Oxford."

Also of utter non-interest, David Adesnik chaffes at being called a humorless elitist here, offering up this astonishingly pompous and regal-sounding statement as a rejoinder to his critic: "Actually, no. Rhodes Scholars may be part of an elite, but 'elitism' refers to those who look down on the mass public. When push comes to shove, I've got a lot of faith in the aggregate rationality of the American public."

The "aggregate rationality," eh? Way to set us straight on the point of your humorless elitism, Davey. Of course, it would never occur to prigs like these that the reason they come off as humorless, self-serious elitists is not because they have Rhodes scholarships or because they are graduate students in something-or-other at Oxford, but because they plaster this information, prominently and frequently, all over their friggin' website! They probably thinks it makes them sound professional and accomplished. All it really does is make them sound like the credential-mongering respect-whores they are.


Postscript

OK, ok, I'll admit it. Sometimes oxblog has some interesting things to say. I found this tippy-top post quite illuminating.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

The Liberal Media



I've always been the first to complain about the New York Times Book Review's editorial policy of encouraging cuddly, anodyne, judgement-free criticism. But in the past three weeks I've seen two worthy books get savaged by morons and it's really ticked me off.

A couple weeks ago, Josh Chafetz took down Thomas Frank's new book, "What's the Matter with Kansas." And in yesterday's section, Richard Brookhiser took a leak all over Hendrik Hertzberg's collection of essays, "Politics: Observations and Arguments."

I've read and admired Frank's book, and although I haven't read Hertzberg's collection yet, I've read enough of his columns for the New Yorker to know his book deserved more than the hatchet job it received in the Times. Worse, this was a hack hatchet job. It is one thing to let an obvious ideological opposite review someone's book--even one by a writer as estimable and honorable as Hertzberg--but another to be so editorially lax as to not require said critic to make some kind of caveat, some fair warning about where they're coming from. (Brookhiser is ID'd by the vague title of one of his books; it isn't mentioned that he's a Senior Editor at National Review). Brookhiser's judgement is summary, resolute; he doesn't appear to be intimidated by the fact that Hertzberg can write and think circles around him, because from his safe perch as a contributor to the Book Review he can be as selective as he wants in describing Hertzberg's book. Really, Brookhiser's argument, such as it is, hinges on one measly sentence from the whole of Hertzberg's book. If you've never read Hertzberg before, you'd have no idea that he is one of the two or three most eloquent, reasonable, and fundamentally decent of all liberal commentators. Even an enemy should be able to acknowledge this; a decent person might even feel compelled to.

The less said about the Chafetz piece the better. He'd have us consider Frank the Ann Coulter of the left. Last week I think Ted Rall was the Ann Coulter of the left. (Where would conservative bloggers and commentators like Chafetz and Andrew Sullivan be without good old, reliably stupid Ted Rall to offer up as a 'representative' example of left-wing inanity?) If we're moving in that direction, soon enough we're going to have to find some liberal Republicans to peg as the new Ann Coulter of the left.

Neither review bothers to argue substantively with the content of the books under discussion. Isn't there a word for that? Oh yeah: shit criticism. And isn't there a word for an editorial staff that allows shit criticism to grace its--incredibly influential, book-sale making-and-breaking--pages? Oh yeah: yellow-bellied journalism.

The New York Times needs to stop cowering and catering to its right-wing critics. Do its editors really think this charge will ever go away? Do they think these people will ever shut up? Then the editors must be dumber than I thought.

I won't even mention Michiko's insipid review of Bill Clinton's memoir....except to say that there is no writer alive who so proudly brandishes received ideas as their own freshly-minted insights. Ugh.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

The Distinctive Physiognomy of the Republican Male



I hate to say it, but it might be about time to rescue Cesare Lombroso's theories of physiognomy and social deviance from the junk heap of long-discredited pseudoscience. Sure, his work is now about as respected in the scientific community as phrenology, a related and contemporary phenomenon. And his theory--that criminality could be determined from facial bone structure and other physical characteristics--may have some eerie similarities to eugenics, and was essentially a way of demonizing people based not on crimes they actually committed but on crimes they might one day commit. Men with overbites will likely go on to rape someone...long noses and short eyebrows = potential child murderer. This is obviously bunk.

But as there is no denying that "gay face" is a very real and widespread phenomenon, so there is no denying that a whole lot of Republican males look, well, creepily samey. I'm not saying it's a bad thing. It isn't even exceptional ugliness that defines it, either, though, to be sure, they are all mostly quite ugly. It's almost indescribable, yet quite apparent even to the untrained eye. Which party does this man vote for, do you think?

It consists, I think, in a kind of physical obliviousness. These are all men who would fart loudly in a crowded elevator and pretend--even to themselves--that nothing at all out of the ordinary had just happened. These men look like they've never had a trauma-free bowel movement in their lives. They have uneasy, unpleasant faces; when they frown or look serious, you half expect them to keel over from either a massive coronary or the sheer eruptive force of a 30 pound fecal impaction. But then they smile,and you realize their brightest smiles are far worse and more nightmarish than even their grimmest, most constipated grimace.

This is all almost universally true, at least of the white ones.

Oh wait, even some black Republicans have it!

Wow, even the gay ones!

This thing is definitely genetic.