Archive for April, 2012

This is me trying to be tactful
April 30, 2012

I rarely waste your time with tidbits from my personal life, but every once in a while something genuinely entertaining does occur within my bubble of self-absorption, and I think this is one of those times. So, presented uncut, my disgruntled email to a professor over a group lesson plan project:

(I know, I know – the “everyone’s dumb but me” theme is a familiar one. But in this case, it’s actually true.)

Professor –

I’m not sure if there’s a way to say this without it coming off as whining/throwing other students under the bus, but as I’m sitting here trying to assemble my group’s lesson plan for tomorrow into something that’s actually presentable, I feel it has to be said: I’m pretty much alone on this project. I’m dealing with group members whose contributions are, at various turns:

– incoherently formatted (eg. white text on a white background.) (I’m not joking. I don’t even know how he typed it.)

– grammatically incorrect on every conceivable level (when Cliff is an English major!)

– intellectually bankrupt/offensive (apparently feminism has single-handedly destroyed the stability of the American family; who knew?)

So it’s left for me to try to expand generic points, correct the wrong ones, interpret the vaguely incoherent ones, line edit (literally – just about every line I’m working with has something glaringly wrong with it) and pretty much use broken parts to make something that works. I realize this is rant-ish and harshly worded, but I’m genuinely annoyed about it, and I think it should be known when the inner-workings of a group are this dysfunctional. These aren’t small problems I can correct with a tweak/suggestion or two – they’re foundational requisites that just plain aren’t there. Pluralization isn’t a fancy add-on, and visible text isn’t an extra luxury.

Candidly, every part of this lesson that didn’t originate with me is deficient in some way, and I’m not a good enough miracle worker to pull the whole thing off; nor should I have to be. So at a certain point I just included their work verbatim in the lesson plan (this will be glaringly obvious) and left their individual PowerPoints as is. If my grade suffers then so be it, I suppose, though I hope it doesn’t. I just feel I’ve done more than my fair share of work on this.

I’m hesitant to even send this email, and I’m sorry it’s long-winded and rambling, but I’m just frustrated beyond belief. I mean, I’m ridiculously far from perfect, but I’m a lot better than all this.

Think that’s hard on my fellow students? I left out the part where one blatantly plagiarized misogynistic material from some random student’s paper he found on the Internet. Compared to what I could’ve said, I’m the angel of fucking mercy.

Finally, it bears repeating:

White text.

On a white background.

You just can’t make this shit up.

Stupid critic undercuts own argument
April 24, 2012

New York magazine on HBO’s new political satire Veep, a behind the scenes look at the day to day bullshittery of a fictional vice president and her staff:

It’s all rather weightless: just your usual sitcom-style misunderstandings and bruised egos and “complications ensue,” with no sense that anything larger is at stake.

followed almost immediately by:

Veep doesn’t say or add up to much—which, in a way, suggests it’s the right satire for a political era marked by stupid feuds, inertia, and superficiality.

Um… yes. That’s the whole damned point. In a political era soaked in incompetence, stained with infighting and, above all, defined by the inability to simply get anything done, where else should a political satire aim its barbs? The sad, hilarious spectacle of the VP and her team tripping over themselves trying to figure out how best to defuse “Retardgate” (you have to watch) is sitcomy and without a sense that anything larger is at stake because there isn’t.

Veep is the brainchild of Armando Ianucci, the man behind same-vein productions The Thick of It and In the Loop. Though I can’t help but be slightly disappointed at the 100% transplanted framework Veep features from those previous stellar efforts (they’re all basically darkly humorous/evil versions of The West Wing) there’s no denying the approach’s relevance. In fact, for better or worse, it’s never fit better.

Oh, and it’s funny. There is also that.

The feckless banality of John Grisham
April 17, 2012

Having experienced only a small sliver of this man’s prodigious body of work, I still think I’m squarely in safe territory when I say that, as an author, John Grisham’s greatest accomplishment is his resemblance to Dennis Hopper. His writing, however, is shit.

As I said, until a day ago I wasn’t at all acquainted with Grisham and his bibliography of bestselling novels. It’s not that I’ve actively avoided them, so much as it was an utter lack of interest in confirming my not at all unreasonable assumption that the man’s words were as frivolous and disposable as, perhaps, an “origin story” one will sometimes find on the back label of certain food or drink products that vie for a more personal relationship with their consumers.

But then I heard the premise of a new book called Calico Joe, and I was intrigued: a young, can’t-miss prospect for the Chicago Cubs has his career suddenly and cruelly ended by one pitch, a beanball from a washed-up and frustrated New York Mets pitcher. This was to be my first encounter with the words of John Grisham, and if there is a merciful deity of any sort roaming the cosmos it will be my last.

It’s not just that the book is bad. Oh, it is, to be sure – the characters are broad cliches, their dialogue flat, the sentences comprising and surrounding both simplistic. But what goaded me so, to the point where I gave up two-thirds of the way through, is its sheer laziness. Calico Joe is paint-by-numbers writing boiled down to a watery primordial soup of simplicity.

You can see every checkpoint Grisham’s making sure to steer through in order to maintain cold, technical coherence in his plot (1. Estranged father is dying. 2. Son has important thing to accomplish before he dies. 3. Goes to small town and encounters old folks with country wisdom. etc)

You can feel how every insipid nickname (Calico Joe, The Kid) shamelessly strives to instill affection for cutout characters who have earned none.

You can throw up at the audaciously cliche and indolently written character beats (“Needless to say, we do not get together at Christmas and exchange gifts by the fire.”) What? What families actually do this outside of Norman Rockwell paintings? What authors actually write like this, outside of airport bookstores and checkout line displays?

John Grisham does, apparently. He also writes with the graceless style and static form of an imperceptive ten year old, which I suppose explains his staggering popularity with a public whose own writing and intellectual capabilities rarely clear even so low a bar as that. Fitting, then. With his content farm-esque production and the callow disengagement of his mentality, John Grisham’s words are lasting monuments to that particular concoction of capitalist reverence, ignorant languidness and manufactured nostalgia that we call Americana. He is truly a writer of his time.

And his time fucking sucks.

The best 6 innings ever pitched
April 16, 2012

apparently belong to Cincinnati Reds reliever Aroldis Chapman:

Not gonna go into an explanation of FIP (here, if you’re interested) but if you’re already familiar with it then your eyes are doing this right now.

The British are coming!
April 9, 2012

When it comes to gutbusting gluttony America is, well, fuck yeah. One of the ways we’ve achieved this is through tireless innovation; we’re constantly coming up with new and exciting ways to cram unhealthy shit inside other unhealthy shit in an effort to achieve maximum calories per square inch. And while we’ve certainly produced some fascinating results, an old enemy has just reminded us that we must not rest on our laurels. British Pizza Hut has launched a culinary Sputnik: hotdogs in pizza crust.

Let us set aside for now our anger at the outrageous treason of a venerable American crap-peddler crossing the pond and gifting the Brits with this undeniably novel pairing. Let us instead take this time to pause, collect ourselves, and ask How can we keep America on top? Because I don’t know about you, but an America where we’re outdone in that most glorious of American traditions, shoveling ungodly amounts of unholy food concoctions down our gullets is not the America I grew up in, and it is not the America I want to die from heart disease in. Christ, it’s bad enough already, what with that colored boy in the White House…

Anyway, here are a few of my ideas:

1. Chocolate covered pretzels with chocolate on the inside as well. Because why not?

2. The complete eradication of milk, to be replaced in any and all instances by heavy cream.

3. Canned fruits floating in corn syrup, not water. I particularly like this one – now when some killjoy paternal figure suggests you “just have a piece of fruit” for dessert, the joke’s on them!

4. Deep fried oil. I’m not quite sure of how the physics here would work, but I’m sure it’s possible.

5. Chewable butter with a gum-like consistency. To be used as an alternative to gum; because, you know, fuck having to spit things out.

Random Excellent Item of the Day
April 9, 2012

Trailer for Titanic 3D, with special additions by George Lucas, JJ Abrams and Michael Bay.

Kinda shooting fish in a barrel, but funny nonetheless. The exploding plates and people especially crack me up.

Newsroom
April 1, 2012

Apropos of Keith Olbermann losing his show (again) (sorry, Keith, I wrote you a nice sendoff last time, but you’re not getting another one), here’s the first trailer for Newsroom, Aaron Sorkin’s second stab at dramedizing the shenanigans and brow-furrowing that go on backstage at fictional recreations of shows Olbermann’s hosted.

I read the pilot teleplay last summer, and, candidly, it was pretty damn bad. You know how you can immediately tell in a bad movie when someone’s just trying so hard to channel the unique voice of a writer like, say, Quentin Tarantino, and their miserable failure to do so makes you cringe in transpersonal embarrassment? That’s how it felt reading the original draft of Untitled Aaron Sorkin Cable News Project as it was known at the time – like it was written by a mediocre Sorkin imitator.

And that’s why this trailer is such a pleasant surprise. Maybe it’s just well-cut, or maybe Jeff Daniels is so awesomely awesome that he can single-handedly turn piss into Utopias, but that trailer promises a show that’s clipped, funny and features that special kind of liberal wish fulfillment that only Sorkin at his best can pull off so satisfyingly: seeing someone stand up and say what’s in dire need of saying, distilling it into a blistering soliloquy that’s concise and incisive, not to have it save the world and make everything better in the blink of an eye, but to see it change one mind, affirm one wavering spirit.

Or piss tons of people off. That’s worthwhile, too.

College student: “Can you say why America is the greatest country in the world?”

Jeff “Olbermann” Daniels: “It’s not the greatest country in the world. That’s my answer. You, sorority girl – just in case you accidentally wander into a voting booth one day, there’s some things you should know: we’re 7th in literacy, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, 3rd in median household income, number 4 in labor force and number 4 in exports. Now, none of this is the fault of a 20 year-old college student, but when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.”

Sounds like someone I know.