Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The "Avatar" Live Diary

This has been a long time coming, in part because the DVD took forever to come out and in part because my Netflix account has been straining to manage a busy throughput of pornography. I'm just kidding; Netflix (remarkably) doesn't offer any kind of adult content. Which begs the question: why doesn't Netflix offer any kind of adult content? I don't care what the real answer is; I just know that if they opened it up, CEO Reed Hastings would wake up the next morning with piles of cash stacked on palettes in his driveway. It wouldn't have been delivered by anyone; it wouldn't even have been income from Netflix. It would have been a natural phenomenon--if someone leveraged porn across such a large mainstream service, money would just accrete via Newtonian laws of gravity and physics.

Avatar is a bit different from the other movies I've tackled with running diaries: not only is it actually a good movie, but I've already seen it prior to this writing. I suspect this will improve the product. Let's get going; this is a long one, and I've had the DVD menu's video/music loop going for 15 solid minutes now. Surprisingly, the only thing I really hate is the menu UI. For shame, Mr. Cameron.

0:01 Exposition GO. "I was in the VA hospital, with a big hole blown through the middle of my life...and also my spine, because my legs don't work." Also, his brother was murdered "by a guy with a gun for the paper in his wallet." Sam Worthington thinks of events in simple terms.

0:03 Six years in cryo-sleep makes sense in the context of real space travel, but wouldn't it make quality talent hard to find? Oh wait, the military guys say "The pay is good...VERY good." Sam Worthington is now sold. What use a bunch of money is on a God-forsaken jungle planet, I don't know. Especially when it'll be 15 years (travel included) before you get to spend any of it. Interstellar travel is really a bummer when you think about it.

0:05 "One life ends...another begins." Sam Worthington and his brother both managed to get themselves shot in completely different ways in rapid succession. His brother didn't even shot in combat! They are lousy soldiers, the Jakesullys.

0:06 "They can fix a spinal if you've got the money...but not on vet benefits. Not in this economy." The VA is a government organization and thus operates pretty independently of economic concerns. Seeing as Jake got shot in combat, I'm pretty sure they'd pony up.

0:09 Sweet, the big intimidating speech from the big intimidating soldier. I'm not sure if they got a real actor to play him, or whether he's a CGI character straight out of Gears of War. Cartoon scar and all.

0:11 Our hero is introduced to a plucky crew of half-characters. Their half-stories will mature into half-subplots, then everything will get abandoned halfway through the movie. I don't blame you, Mr. Cameron. This movie probably should have been 4 hours long.

0:14 Shipping scientists back and forth between Pandora and Earth seems really inconvenient. By the time these Avatar program guys get out to Pandora, they've missed out on six years of research. Having an ignorant marine like Jake Sully on board shouldn't be a big downgrade, because in a ridiculously fast-moving field like xenobiology your knowledge is invalidated by the trip.

0:16 Unobtainium! We don't know what it's used for or why it's valuable, but we know it's awesome. We also know what Giovanni Ribisi apparently has $30 million of desk ornamentation. He's come a long way from The Mod Squad. Claire Danes, not so much. And she was so pretty.

0:18 "Maybe I got tired of doctors telling me what I couldn't do." Follow that up with a seething look perfected by the kid who played Ryan on The O.C.. Eat it, Sigourney Weaver. You a bitch.

0:19 It dawns on me that the Na'vi, for all their physical prowess, must have really small genitals. They go through some amazing contortions and wear really tiny clothes and never once does a ball pop out. "But Tony, maybe Na'vi don't even have junk like humans." Oh really? Well, every other fucking thing about them just says "blue person." Tiny dicks. Be aware.

0:21 Blue Sigourney Weaver tosses Blue Sam Worthington a big plant pod and he just sinks his teeth into it. Delicious fruit! Good thing that was edible, because you didn't ask and you certainly don't know shit about alien botany. The Gears of War guy even TOLD you that everything on Pandora is a lethal hazard, and you're just eating the first plant you see. Suppose that's poisonous and your avatar just drops dead. Oops.

0:23 Sam Worthington walks in on Gears of War guy liftin' weights and spittin' tough guy cliches. "They could fix me up if I rotated back, make me pretty again, but you know what? I kinda like it." Also, that would take at least 12 years of space flight, by which time Mr. Gears would be pushing 60. He gets in a few parting cliches, complete with some air boxing in his mech. More on the mechs later. I have many important thoughts to share.

0:27 Sorry, I got caught up watching the gunship fly over Pandora. There's nothing I can say about the big exterior shots in this movie. They're amazing and everyone knows it. Michelle Rodriguez ably plays the exact same character as Pvt. Vasquez in Aliens. Did you know the actress playing Vasquez wasn't even Mexican? She's Jewish. Amazing.

0:31 Blue Sam Worthington runs into a big rhino thingy in the jungle. Given that Pandora is a low-gravity moon and the Na'vi are appropriately gangly, where does this giant thick-boned monster come from? And how could a whole herd of them operate in a dense jungle like this? On a savanna, maybe.

0:33 Big scary predator, as we run the gamut of Interesting Pandoran Wildlife. Life all Pandoran wildlife, it is oblivious to gunfire. Maybe the marines' shipment of Guns that Actually Work is still on the six-year journey from Earth.

0:35 First appearance of Blue Zoe Saldana (who's just Zoe Saldana, since there's no non-blue version of her). This is a weird character, because Zoe Saldana is unbelievably hot...but her character isn't as hot, because she's full Na'vi and has their facial structure. All in all, she's 92% as hot as Krista from the movie Ferngully. Which, if you weren't aware, has a nearly identical plot to "Avatar."

0:37 Blue Sam Worthington fights off a pack of space hyenas, attractively rendered by the Unreal 3 engine. The shot where one of them gets lit up in slow motion by firelight shows its seams pretty badly. Zoe Saldana makes a big deal out of finishing one hyena off, though she just killed five of them.

0:39 Blue Sam keeps running his mouth at Zoe Saldana, though she's an alien who has no idea how to speak English. Oh hey, turns out she speaks pretty fluent English. You're smarter than you look, Blue Sam.

0:42 Mysterious jungle jellyfish! They show up at critical plot junctures to totally change the minds of the Na'vi. They are ignorant savages, so the simplest natural displays can sway them. Okay, now the jungle jellies are all over Blue Sam like a shirt. That seems like magic. The Na'vi are also smarter than they look.

0:45 we're introduced to Tsu'tey, whose name I will probably have to keep typing out. His relationship with Zoe Saldana is never clear. Are they siblings? Are they supposed to be mated one day? And why does Blue Sam insist on making human gestures at aliens? They don't understand.

0:48 A really nice touch as Zoe Saldana complains at her mother--equal parts cute and petulant. Just reminding you that this movie doesn't actually suck.

0:50 Jake Sully returns, temporarily not blue! They never make it clear how much sleep people need when they're doing this stuff. Jake is "sleeping" while he's in the avatar...but the avatar needs to sleep too. Does this operation require 12-16 man-hours of sleep per day? If so, why aren't the avatar pilots put to sleep immediately when their avatars crash, to minimize downtime? Also, we get a nice shot of a resentful Dorky Scientist, jealous at Jake's success. This is an interesting subplot, but don't worry--it'll vanish completely in about an hour.

0:52 Here we learn the real source of the conflict: the native village is built on top of a giant unobtainium deposit. Neat! I don't recall exactly, but I believe they leave this as a pure coincidence. Sinister Executive states, "If there's one thing shareholders hate more than bad press, it's a bad quarterly statement." Well, seeing as it would take years for a communicade to reach Earth and even more years for the actual ore to reach Earth, aren't we dealing with long-term issues exclusively? Whatever. They want this stuff and are willing to resort to a reasonable amount of evil to get it. Not too much evil, though.

0:53 Sigourney Weaver says explicitly that Zoe Saldana and Tsu'tey are supposed to be a mated pair and rule the clan eventually. But they're brother and sister, right? I can think of at least two things that are wrong with this arrangement. Also, more resentment from the nerdy scientist. Whatever.

0:57 "We're gonna need accurate scans on every column," speaking about the structure of the big tree. "Roger that," Jake responds. With what shall he scan them, dear Leader? He's using a borrowed loincloth. It's even more embarrassing than the time I had to borrow a short-sleeved dress shirt for a wedding.

0:58 The legendary floating mountains of Pandora! That's really cool! There's nothing to support them; neither stone nor physics. I'm sorry, but if you have floating mountains in a sci fi movie I expect an explanation. It doesn't have to be good--we'll set a Geordi LaForge engineering idea as the baseline of acceptable nonsense.

0:59 The whole "flying on big lizards" thing is cool, but I question the goggles. What exactly is the point of eye protection made of twigs? A bug could still hit you right in the eyeball and disrupt zahelu or whatever.

1:01 "The days are becoming a blur." This means it's time for a slowed-down, narrated montage. You gotta have a montage. Even Rocky had a montage. We also hear, "Norm's attitude is improving." Say goodbye to your subplot, Dorky Scientist. It was fun.

1:02 Oh man, triumphant music rears its head in the montage! We must be getting close. After a bit it gets soft and tender, as Blue Sam and Zoe do fun things together. She shows him a helicopter lizard: the most useless animal on Pandora. Then Sigourney Weaver puts him to bed, which works because his legs weigh about 15 lbs. combined. Blue Sam and Zoe end up cheek to cheek while she instructs him on archery--and suddenly, we're feeling something. When did that happen? When did the Na'vi become real people, just like us? Wow. And finally, after Blue Sam makes a fuss about killing some stupid animal, Zoe knows he's achieved Supreme Intergalactic Oneness. Like in Ace Ventura 2.

1:06 Blue Sam climbs the floating mountains. As he does, stones break away...and fall? What the fuck? Also, the majestic floating mountains are dotted with majestic FALLING WATER. Giant stone mountains can float, but water? Get out of here, you clown.

1:09 Blue Sam makes his way among the flying lizards, across rocks suspiciously lacking in flying lizard guano. Maybe it's like the rocks, and just floats out of their scaly sphincters.

1:11 Blue Sam's efforts to tame his flying lizard reminded me of the horse-breaking missions in Red Dead Redemption, only if you got to fuck the horse when you were done. Come to think of it, that might have actually made RDR worth playing.

1:13 Blue Same is now Jakesully. He banged his first dragon, so he's officially more than just the blue version of a non-blue person.

1:16 We are introduced to Turuk, the super-dangerous predator of flying lizards. Why, on a planet filled with solo flying lizards and other flying things, would a predator go after a lizard with an armed Na'vi aboard? It's smarter and more dangerous than anything else in the sky.

1:18 "It's hard to believe it's only been three months, and I barely remember my old life." Well, you certainly remember your old accent; these voice-overs make Sam Worthington's mouth go all funny and Australian.

1:20 Mr. Gears, once a big proponent of this project, has apparently decided he's against it. Not sure when this happened; maybe around the time Dorky Scientist decided to abandon his beef with Jake and Sigourney Weaver stopped being interesting.

1:22 Aww snap, the scene in the purple trees with Retard Helicopter Lizards flying everywhere and giving themselves motion sickness. It's nice and pretty and Jakesully gets to bang Zoe Saldana. Though she's apparently supposed to mate with Tsu'tey, she really doesn't hesitate at all. She's pretty much begging for it the whole scene and nobody seems to consider this taboo. All the conflict and duality in Jake's character is compressed into a whispered-to-himself "What are you doing, Jake?" after banging Zoe. Good talk, self.

1:26 Jake almost dies because he's eating oatmeal. A real tragedy, since oatmeal is great for your heart. It also makes you wonder why a guy who's about to spend 12 hours unconscious (and has no legs to begin with) needs a hearty meal.

1:27 The giant excavating machines are STRAIGHT out of Ferngully. There is no Tim Curry pouring like liquid sex out of the smokestacks, but, uhh...Giovanni Ribisi looks nice in that shirt. The Na'vi are caught completely by surprise by these machines, though we know they've been chugging for three months. These guys suck at being attuned to nature.

1:29 Jake and Zoe get in some trouble for banging. Tsu'tey is upset, but nobody else seems too scandalized. See why I said there was some ambiguity here? Not much of a tradition. Also, the Australian accent is in full effect when Jake gets upset.

1:32 Jakesully broke a camera on a tractor, so now he's an enemy of the state. To be fair, he and Sigourney Weaver are really not making this easy on the corporate guys. These folks need a bone thrown their way. They want unobtainium, and you should figure out a way for them to get some of it. Compromise! Work it out. Giovanni Ribisi yells, "they're just goddamned trees!" Sigourney Weaver disagrees. Who'll be proven right???

1:36 He's kinda mean, but Giovanni has a point. I actually like the guy and wish his character was more important. He's not a bad guy, but he's got a job to do and somebody else would do it if not him. The entire Pandora settlement is financed by this metal, and he needs more of it. And since it's called "unobtainium," it's probably hard to find.

1:39 The flying human armada, especially the big ship, is pretty awesome. James Cameron has a true gift for Space Marine aesthetic. If they ever make a StarCraft movie, he needs to direct it and we cannot have a discussion about this unless the discussion is an attempt to define the length, width and breadth of this idea's awesomeness.

1:43 Michelle Rodriquez (not a Jew!) bails out of the attack in the most futile gesture of civil disobedience ever. Zero lives saved, zero trees saved and a bunch of other Marines pissed off. Still, her character couldn't stay credible and open fire. You get a pass, Mr. Cameron.

1:44 The Great Tree finally falls, and...well, aside from a lot of crushed blue people, nothing really happened. The world wasn't destroyed. The big "network" appears to soldier on. There was no greater calamity here. So, uhh...I guess Giovanni Ribisi was right! It was just a big tree. Moving on.

1:48 Michelle Rodriguez rescues the good guys, throwing out a "tree-hugging traitors" line to bait the guard. Apparently nobody, including the angry Marines on her gunship, noticed her bugging out in the previous scene. Making her civil disobedience all the more futile.

1:50 Mr. Gears earns his Total Badass merit badge by running out in the funky atmosphere to shoot at the good guys. He mortally wounds Sigourney Weaver, whose most interesting line of the past hour has been "Oh, shit!" Aside: I really like the fact that the Pandora atmosphere is unbreathable to humans. This is a nice element of realism: a non-toxic atmosphere with the wrong balance of gases for human survival.

1:55 Was Sam Worthington drunk when he recorded these voice-overs, or was his dialect coach sick that day?

1:55 Jakesully captures Turuk to become the second biggest badass in the universe: Turuk Mak'to. The biggest badass is Kurak Mak'to, and that is such an inside joke that I won't even explain it. There are like three people on the planet who MIGHT laugh.

1:58 Tsu'tey is the chief of this particular Na'vi tribe after his father's does he have to marry his mother? Does he have other options? I don't know the answers. I do know that Sigourney Weaver's "I'm not really naked" vine wrap looks absolutely ridiculous. If she can't wear clothes, why bother at all? Old ladies with bullet holes in them aren't sexy. I kid; Sigourney Weaver is always hot. In any event, she dies and it's sad.

2:02 Big speech by Jakesully. Stirring stuff. But it turns out that Tsu'tey (doing the translation) is a really lousy public speaker and butchers his delivery, so the Na'vi get lost. The moment is rescued by Jake jumping on his Turuk; the babes love that. A brief montage follows, where Jake skips the awkward translated speeches and just shows them his ride. And Na'vi across Pandora agree that his ride is the most pimpingest of all flying lizard mounts, so they join his crusade. We talking pimpin' since been pimpin' since been pimpin' etc. etc.

2:06 Mr. Gears delivers a counter-speech where he prepares to blow up the tree of ancestors or whatever. The first tree going down didn't do a whole lot; why will this be different? It's even more specialer?

2:11 Final battle is ramping up. Mechs have been deployed. Let's talk about mechs. These ones are cool and realistic in several ways, but they make the crucial (usually Japanese) mistake of giving mechs hands. Nobody would ever build a mech with hands, and then build special guns to be held and fired by those hands. That just doubles the number of things that could break or go wrong. Any real mech would have weapons built in, or at the very least attached to modular hardpoints. I have spent a lot of time thinking about mechs and you need to respect that.

2:14 Not sure why, in a jungle setting, you have to rush the line of human marines (using guns) with your own line of horsey-riders with bows and arrows. The guys in the air came from above and behind--that might be a good idea.

2:16 Thrilling aerial chase/battle scene with Jakesully and Michelle Rodriguez (in a badass war-painted gunship). I kind of wonder where Jake's original lizard mount went when he upgraded to Turuk. The critter can't find another rider; it had to be heartbroken, or as heartbroken as a cold-blooded animal can be. It's like somebody who dates an American Idol contestant--you're just gonna get upgraded and it sucks.

2:18 Tsu'tey dies. Bullets...his only weakness! Incidentally, he'd jumped off his lizard into the back of the Carry-All. Donald Rumsfeld could have plotted a better exit strategy.

2:21 In their darkest hour, the Na'vi are bailed out by the forest goddess Eywa and her animal minions. Best surprise comeback since those suits of armor beat the Nazis in Bedknobs and Broomsticks. What's the Greek term for a forest goddess? Deus ex machina?

2:23 Dorky Scientist pulls on a mask, grabs a gun and runs out into the jungle. They needed to get him out of the scene so Jake and Mr. Gears can get a 1v1. We'll see him again at the end of the movie.

2:24 Jakesully stumbles while riding the giant mega-gunship and has to grab a missile to hold on. I really wanted them to launch the missile so he could ride it like the third level of Contra 3. Meanwhile, the gunship blows up and Mr. Gears is alone in a mech.

2:27 Zoe Saldana, riding a big predatory thing from earlier in the movie, disarms the mech and breaks its gun. Maybe the gun should be attached to the mech, so these things don't happen? Nah.

2:29 Jake has missed two killing blows on Mr. Gears now, but Zoe Saldana finishes him. Not since Kobe Bryant in Game 7 has such a poor performance been bailed out for a win.

2:32 White Jake and Blue Zoe are together, and for the first time we notice the fundamental weirdness of their relationship. She's twice his size and blue and weird. Human beings would NOT be attracted to Na'vi under typical circumstances, so it's good they both met as blue folks. Zoe's trying to be really nice here, but all she can think of is "Oh my god, what the hell is wrong with your legs?" Invalid Na'vi get dropped off the top of the Big Tree.

2:34 Jake lets Turuk go and presumably returns to slumming it up on his old mount. They kick the humans off the planet, including a chastened Giovanni Ribisi. I'm sure the humans will slink off, defeated, and never return to the ridiculous economic bounty of which they've already invested countless billions. Conflict resolved. And Jake gets his own ridiculous leaf shorts to ease his transition to full-time Blue Person. It works because he wasn't already dying; Eywa sees right through that shit and she's not going to give you a pass just because you were hilarious in Galaxy Quest. Eyes open, credits roll.

Looking back on this diary, I feel a little bad. It's a good movie and it's still moving and satisfying on the third viewing. The payoffs still work. Cameron created the first work of Serious Science Fiction in a long time, though I'm sure nobody will take the hint and we'll spend the next decade saddled with poorly-shot shit heaps featuring vampires and werewolves. Eclipse comes out today, and the action shots in the trailers are enough to make me cringe. It's awful and it pains me that modern technology is not being put to work making better movies. Criticize James Cameron all you want, but he's doing things that nobody else is willing to do. I imagined a Cameron-directed Dune and now I have to take a cold shower. For reference, the picture below is an example of what happens when people who aren't James Cameron try to make serious sci fi epics. Thanks always for reading.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Anelka don't like people playin' on his phone

I'll admit I didn't envision two back-to-back World Cup posts. Had it not been for a family trip to Yosemite last week, there might have been a buffer post--about what, I don't know. You would have seen a late Thursday post about...I dunno, Cthulhu or something. He might have been eating a video game or playing Norse-themed heavy metal. Like the four chords that comprise all of rock music, this blog is about making art out of a few simple components. But the South African events of the past week have been too awesome to pass over. The extent to which nations' collective personalities are played out in their national soccer teams is remarkable.

France: Vive la revolution!
French forward (they are called "strikers" in soccer to pad the sport's record number of awkward synonyms) Nicolas Anelka was kicked off France's national team after mouthing off to coaches behind closed doors. This is weird enough--in America even "beloved" athletes like Magic Johnson routinely get their coaches fired and nobody cries foul--but then the entire team responded by boycotting practice (awkward soccer synonym [ASS]: "training"). Now the squad is in total crisis, with the President of France holding his Sports Minister in South Africa to broker a peace. I have a couple thoughts here:
**What the hell is a Sports Minister? Apparently in France this is a real job supported by tax dollars (ASS: "Euros"). In America, a Sports Minister is one of those guys who delivers the opening prayer at the start of a NASCAR race. "Dear God, please protect these mighty athletes as they turn left over and over. Let their ankles not cramp up while pushing the gas pedal. And most of all, God, we ask You to hide our Caribbean romps with sexy boys, lest everyone discover what awful hypocrites we are, Amen."
**This whole situation could really be shot by Dave Chappelle for "When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong." In this case, Anelka could have kept his mouth shut and taken his share of blame for a disappointing French squad. He kept it real. His coach could have written the explosion off as an in-the-moment emotional outburst; but he kept it real and sent the mecontent back home. His teammates could have swallowed the whole unpleasant episode and re-purposed their anger towards--I don't know, maybe the big international soccer tournament they came to play in? But no; they, too, kept it real. This may be a shitty soccer team, but damned if they aren't the most Real motherfuckers in the tournament. Their first-round exit will be just as real.

Bottom line: the French are just too good, as a people, at keeping things real. They are so eager to let the perfect be the enemy of the good that they've never kept a government for more than 80 years without cutting somebody's head off. There are strikes and boycotts (ASS: "stand-ups" and "disbuyings") on a daily basis. The team is just reflecting the culture from which it derives. It so happens that the culture is full of confrontational douchebags. But the origin of the word "douche" tells you everything you need to know about that.

England: Oh my God, we're all doomed
England hasn't won a World Cup since 1960. The preceding sentence is the single most important thing to remember about the English soccer team, the English people and the entire English nation until the Cup is over. It's all they think about; not even the Cup itself, but the fact that they haven't won in fifty years. English soccer fans are so traumatized that, like Boston fans of decades past and Cleveland fans of decades present and future, they destroy their own chances. Whenever anything goes amiss for England, the fans get a look: Oh God, we're doomed. The players get the same look, because they grew up as fans. They know the history. They know they're doomed too. And because of that, they tighten up and fail and under-achieve. They are so convinced they'll let themselves down that they can't help but deliver on that one promise, if nothing else. Contrast this to the USA team, who only seems to get fired up by giving up early goals. Having grown up on insipid American sports movies, which promote the scrappy never-say-die underdog and actually conflates giving up an early lead with moral rectitude. If you were winning at the start, you'd be the evil black-clad Norway team and Coach Bombay is NOT HAVING THAT. Our guys don't take leads very well, but at least they don't utterly collapse when shit goes wrong.

So the team is in trouble, facing elimination if they don't win against Slovenia (national motto: "All our women are either REALLY hot or REALLY ugly"). They know it; everyone knows it. And characteristic of the English people, they are busy working themselves into a giant neurotic knot because of it. The knot can't be un-worked because...why? Oh right, because (characteristic of the English) they can't even bring themselves to talk about it. Team leaders called a closed meeting after the disastrous 0-0 tie with Algeria, but their overbearing Italian coach wouldn't even let the players speak. That is how conflicts are resolved. If an Englishman loses a thumb in an accident, I assume he waits until he has a headache so he can go into the hospital and ask for some Aspirin. Don't want to bother the doctors about all that blood. And I don't want to read too much into this, but why in hell is an Italian coaching the English national team? Do you think that at the Empire's height an Englishman would have let an Italian tell him how to do anything? This is a civilization in decay.

Sadly, England is all about under-achievement. And I can't blame them. This is a people who were told in 1940, with their empire in collapse and their homeland under attack by a massive and intractable foe they'd allowed to thrive, that should their civilization endure another thousand years "this was their finest hour." Way to set the bar low, Winston. It's like when Nick regales us with stories of his athletic prowess in the 8th grade. Is that really how you want to frame the narrative?

North Korea: Wait, we have to go back?
I always thought it was funny that both North and South Korea managed to qualify for the World Cup. Doesn't it reflect kinda poorly on the South Koreans? Those guys don't even have food, and they do just as well as you. Maybe a little less StarCraft, a little more jogging? Hmm? I kid, I kid; North Korean soccer players probably have access to both food and shoes while the World Cup season is going on. The real question is, where do these players come from? I don't know if the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (out of four words in the country's name, three are lies. I assume North Korea is truthfully located in Korea) has its own pro league, though I can't imagine the games are very competitive. I picture two squads; the Pyongyang Chosen of the Dear Leader and the DMZ Capitalist Pigdogs. They have something of a Harlem Globetrotters-Washington Generals dynamic, reinforced by the fact that all members of the Pigdogs except for the goalie are executed before every game.

The North Korean squad hasn't acquitted itself very well in international competition. Players have expressed shock and astonishment at the other players, "who stand nearly as tall off the ground as the Dear Leader himself," and the rowdy fans "who are allowed to stand and make all kinds of distracting noise." The prevalence of night games has also contributed to the players' discomfort, as most have never played under electric lights and get freaked out by multiple shadows they cast on the field (ASS: "pitch"). Frankly, they may just be suffering from a lack of moral support; North Korean soccer fans are notorious for traveling poorly.

It's hard to gauge the mood inside the DPRK camp, what with all the razor wire. But the players seem determined to soldier on. "It is crucial that we make the elimination round," stated defender (ASS: "backer") Park Kae-Soon. "I think we are allowed to stay here as long as there are games to play. We want to play more games." The mood has to be somber after today's 7-0 thrashing at the hands (that turn of phrase really doesn't work for soccer) of Portugal. Even athletes from the tiniest nations have a lot of pride, but there can't be a good vibe when you know everyone's going to be executed. The good news: maybe the Head Coach/Chief Political Officer can argue that losing at a game of capitalist oppression is winning at class struggle. I just hope he can sell the Dear Leader on it.

I'll leave you with an animated GIF that captures how most Americans feel about the tournament's physicality. This is courtesy of my friend Adrian, who cares more about soccer than any fat American has a right to. Some of these flopping motherfuckers are starting to make baseball players look tough.

Friday, June 11, 2010


The 2010 World Cup's inaugural weekend is complete. The games so far have been of varying quality, without any real shockers or barn-burners as far as I can tell. I'm not entirely sure what would constitute a "barn-burner" in soccer terms. More than three shot attempts that had a realistic chance of going in? Any game that actually ends with a decision one way or the other? It's possible we had an amazing epic game already, and I watched the whole thing without realizing it.

Like many American children, I played soccer for a little while. Like most American children, I eventually picked a "real" sport focused on that. In my case, the "real sport" was...swimming. Not too flattering to the Beautiful Game, but she's no spiteful mistress. She took me back as long as I agreed to get up at 7:00am on weekend mornings to watch the World Cup. And I did it, because I want to put my best foot forward and make this relationship work. And what do I hear when I turn, at 7:06, to the broadcast?


It's like every game is being played inside a giant beehive. The noise comes from cheap plastic trumpets called vuvuzelas, which grow naturally on various trees and shrubs in sub-Saharan Africa. It's true; you can just pick them off the vine and (after a brief drying period) start annoying the shit out of your neighbors. Many of the continent's political crises can be traced back to vuvuzelas. The Ivory Coast (home of Chelsea star Didier Drogba, who wears the same flashy Nike cleats that I use for Ultimate) is currently fighting a bitter civil war that started when vuvuzelas were permitted in their legislature. Hours later, the opposition party had decamped to a jungle stronghold and everything turned to shit. Even now, UN peacekeepers are trying to get the sides to lay down their obnoxious fucking trumpets and come to the negotiating table. As a compromise, kazoos will be provided to the warring parties.

Every single human being who's watched a World Cup broadcast hates these things. Maybe not the African fans, but how many TVs are there in Africa? That's right, I said it. I'm all for cultural sensitivity and the fan experience, but this is ridiculous. If you're running the World Cup, how could you decide that the needs of 30k trumpeting assholes at your live event trump the TV distribution to the whole goddamn World? These are the most-watched broadcasts on the planet. Is it really that hard to ban giant plastic trumpets from the games?

I have heard an argument for cultural sensitivity; this is, it has been said, how African fans like to watch their games. I respect this argument, but there are a couple obvious problems with it:
1) How much of a tradition is this, really? The wikipedia article states that the stupid things weren't even popular in South Africa until the '90s. So they have the cultural legitimacy of parachute pants.
2) Not all cultural products deserve respect. Japanese wood prints have existed for a thousand years and are inextricably linked with Japan. However, starting in the 19th century an entire tentacle-rape wood print industry (women having sex with octopi and whatnot) sprang up. We need to respect one of these things and not the other. You figure it out.
3) As noted in the article linked above, this isn't even a South African tradition. It originated in Mexico, which should surprise nobody. Mexican culture places a premium on cacophonous noise for its own sake; this is why they adore fireworks 365 days a year and have the loudest weddings ever. Related story: on Sunday I went to my sister's college graduation. The vast majority of students received a faint smattering of applause from family members when their names were called--everyone had been asked to keep it low-key until the ceremony was over. However, whenever a student with a Hispanic surname was called an EXPLOSION of noise followed. Not only did the student's family scream--not only did they bring noisemaking maracas and other devices--but there were 20 people making noise at a time.

You can't fool us, South Africa. The world wouldn't tolerate mariachi music piped into the stadium and they should demand an end to the vuvuzelas. You ended one of the most insidious regimes of the 20th century without a shot fired, and you're willing to sell all that national respect for a cheap plastic horn that, in addition to irritating the shit out of spectators, also spreads disease by spraying saliva out of a meter-long cannon all over the crowd? I was trying all weekend to think of a silver lining, and came up with this: in big set-piece moments when they get REALLY loud, the horns are kinda epic. They are vaguely reminiscent of an orchestral trumpet section. But only if the entire section consisted of 10,000 imbeciles who'd only been handed their instruments that morning and had never met each other. And if their instruments could only play B-flat. Speaking of which, isn't anyone worried that a World Cup crowd will eventually produce a massive coordinated Brown Note and cause the entire world to shit themselves? I'm worried. We'll wrap this affair up with a quick soccer Q and A, since I have done lots of research and am massively knowledgeable.

What's up with the players escorting children onto the field?
In modern soccer, this tradition goes back to the early English Premiere League. Under-privileged children are selected by charitable organizations to be escorted. The idea is to raise money and awareness for good causes and to do something nice for the kids. The tradition actually reaches back further, though; to ancient Greece, where the first organized soccer matches were played. In those days, young boys were escorted onto the field by patron players. It wasn't so much a charitable gesture as declaring the stakes of a wager.

What's up with the big USA-England game? Did we own those limey fucks?
It wasn't really that big, given that they played only one pool-play game and probably won't see each other in the elimination rounds. It was more a psychological test for both sides. But it wasn't a fair test. See, if we'd lost it would have been no problem. A bummer, nothing more. But if the English had lost...holy shit, it would have been a disaster over there. An English soccer fan is similar to an Ohio pro sports fan (any sport, any team): a broken, neurotic husk who's just waiting for his team to shoot themselves in the foot. The 2008 film Doomsday was actually set in a near-future England just after a major World Cup collapse. Harrowing stuff.

Why are teams in the World Cup allowed to tie?
This is just you being an American jerk. The World Cup has a stage of pool play, where teams play each other in a round-robin format and accumulate "points" based off results. So whether or not you declare a winner and loser in each pool game, the top two teams move on while the bottom two don't. Just shut up and enjoy the games, because when elimination comes you'll have the winners and losers you want.

Why does everyone hate Italy?
The Italians would tell you that everyone hates them because they're the defending champions and they're the best. One of these things is true. In fact, everyone hates the Italian team because they are douchebags. They flop like a mixture of Vladi Divac circa 2001 and Derek Fisher circa 2010. They are known for their defense, and routinely employ it to secure 0-0 ties (why risk losing if you don't have to win??). Essentially, they are that friend everyone had at 12 years old who played every video game exclusively to win. No amount of "Dude, don't be a fag" and "Dude, stop playing like a bitch" would persuade him, because he didn't understand what he was doing wrong. You eventually had to drop him from your friend circle, and then you watched him go to Princeton and get into investment banking. And you nodded soberly, because the Self-Important Fuck gene is bred deep. That's the Italian team, only they also grow long greasy hair and awful beards. It took just over 30 seconds of World Cup play for the first Italian player to take a cartoonish dive. I bestow upon them the most dire curse that can be leveled at an Italian Catholic: fuck you, and I hope black people marry into your family.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Dork Olympics

If you know me well, you know I'm extremely competitive. If you don't know me well, you know I'm extremely competitive from reading the last sentence. So we're covered on that front. I bark at teammates, talk trash at opponents and generally make myself insufferable. And woe betide you should you ever enter the Smash ring with The Pika. Two men enter, one psychotic static-charged mouse leaves. But because I'm so competitive, I find myself measuring my own abilities against my peers' in every arena. Particularly when it comes to dorkery, something you may not be serious about but which I hold in the highest regard. Anyone can point to something and say "that's fucking dorky" (ex: your roommate buys special video-game glasses, then doesn't wear them while he plays his PS3 because they're "for PC games only." Second ex: coughing up for a lifetime subscription to either a porn site or Lord of the Rings Online, because "over years it makes a lot of sense") but dorkery is damn hard to quantify. This is a problem requiring my special attention. As a solution, I propose the inaugural Dork Olympics!

They will be held over the first two weeks of March 2012. This gives us some time to prepare without losing the public's valuable attention (they will be riveted) to an excessive run-up time. As for the date, March nails the sweet spot in between the NFL season (when dorks are busy maintaining a half-dozen fantasy teams) and the baseball season (when dorks are busy maintaining a half-dozen fantasy teams with EVEN MORE STATS). And the Dork Olympics will obviously be held indoors anyway, so who gives a shit what the weather's like? You could hold the Games--capitalizing the G gives me goosebumps!--in Boston if you wanted to. That's saying something, seeing as the typical Massachusetts Spring day involves 30-degree temperature swings, sleet and 80% humidity.

The location will vary year-to-year. This is an annual event, in part because dorks are impatient but mostly because we'll need the money. Ain't no "NBC throws buckets of money down a well" TV contracts here, though ESPN will probably pony up a bid. They show bowling on ESPN, so clearly the suits know what sets pulses racing.

Opening ceremony: none. Dorks hate ceremonies. No true Dork Olympics would include any kind of formal preamble. For one thing, any event billed as a "ceremony" is probably something you can't wear shorts to. For another, a legitimate opening ceremony consists of marching and dancing and celebration. All of these things require substantial energy and some even cause you to sweat. Not happening. Though honestly, the activities in the (hypothetical) ceremony are beside the point. Dorks would never reach that stage in the planning process, because labor in the service of Appearance is anathema to the dork lifestyle. This is how the entire conversation would go:
"Should we have some kind of opening ceremony?"

EVENTS! A partial list...
Standing Hot Pocket: Competitors are given a single regulation Hot Pocket (Pepperoni Pizza flavor, as it precipitates the least diarrhea), fully wrapped, and a regulation microwave oven (700W). They must open the package, extract the food item and cardboard handling sleeve, and place the food item INSIDE the cardboard handling sleeve. From there, the Hot Pocket (Bolsillo Caliente on ESPN Deportes, the channel with the most unintentionally funny name on cable) must be inserted into the cardboard sleeve, placed inside the microwave and cooked. Specifics of sleeve placement, in-oven orientation and cooking duration are left up the athletes themselves; this is where the skill and training comes in. Total time limit: 5 minutes. Entrants are scored on a two-tier system: points awarded for preparation speed relative to other entrants, and a judge score. Impartial observers will both examine and sample the submissions. Their ballot aggregates three factors: Sleeve Placement, Crust Integrity and Even Cooking. Any ties will be adjudicated by a special run-off contest: boiling water. The tied entrants are given a fully-equipped kitchen and 15 minutes. There are no points awarded in this special round; if you can boil water, you win. "But Tony, what if two guys can boil water?" Let's cross that bridge when we come to it. I'm not worried.

Gaming: Single Player
There have to be at least two gaming events. I'm sure you understand, as gaming is central to dork culture. If you don't understand that, understand this: I could have written like 400 more words on Hot Pockets, and for you I didn't. I've split up the events into Single Player and Multiplayer, since there are distinct skill sets and I've put more thought into this than I should have. In Single Player, the game will be some form of platformer. Some latter-day Mario title would be best, since the old NES and SNES ones would confer an unfair advantage to dorks who grew up during their heyday. We are all familiar with these dorks; the cousins who got impatient when we played Mario because we didn't constantly hold down the Run button. I'm not running because I haven't memorized the whole goddamn level because my parents aren't awesome enough to let me have an NES, asshole.

The Single Player scoring system, like that of the Standing Hot Pocket event, is bifurcated. The player's performance in the game is one element of the score, and the other is his behavior while he plays. See, dorks have oddly twisted egos and while they lack the self-confidence to approach even a homely young lady, they are quite convinced that nothing bad that has ever happened in a video game is their fault. As they play the platformer and (inevitably, because this is the Dork Olympics and we'll make it hard) fail at the occasional jump, protests of I HIT THE FUCKING BUTTON and BULLSHIT will reverberate throughout the empty middle school gymnasium where we're holding these events. It doesn't matter that the dorks know they can score points by holding back the kvetch. They won't be able to help themselves because they reject, on a deep psychological level, any and all blame for these failures. When I worked on the same QA team as Rob, he would routinely shout these things while we worked on the game in a quiet room filled with our co-workers. This will work.

Gaming: Multiplayer
This event will proceed triathlon-style. Three games, to mix up the skill sets and to mitigate regional advantages (I'll explain in a minute). First game is Counter-Strike. It's gotta be; this is a universal fixture of dorkery and no dork made it out of high school without at least one month-long CS binge. For the competition we'll use the updated Counter-Strike: Source. Anyone complaining that 1.6 is better will be severely beaten and removed from the arena. That version is older than my car. I'd have somebody blow glass dust into my eyes if I wanted them to bleed. Since this is an individual event and CS is a team game, scores are simply kill counts. You shoot somebody, you get a point.

The second event is StarCraft 2. It will be out and beloved around the world by the time we host this event, so we're covered on that front. Entrants compete against all other entrants in a round-robin format (everybody plays each other once). This is why we need to eliminate regional advantages, by the way. If it was just StarCraft, the Koreans would win every time. Just Counter-Strike and white high schoolers dominate. If it were just The Sims, lactating housewives dominate. We need to keep it fresh. The winner of the StarCraft 2 portion will receive a child-care gift package from Huggies, so he can take it back home to Korea and feed his neglected starving children...whom he neglected and starved to play StarCraft. (Cue Elton John) It's the ciiiiirccllee of Korean liiiiiiifee.......

Final event: Soul Calibur 4. This Japanese fighting game has the benefit of being slow and easy enough for non-Asians to actually interpret what's on the screen. Also, the female characters are so "architecturally unsound" (if you get my drift) that some of them actually require scaffolding. I picture miniature construction workers hanging on for dear life as Ivy's Jovian melons sway to and fro. Fighting games are a good choice here because they play out mano-a-mano in a way that most games don't. When you defeat somebody in Soul Calibur, you have metaphorically placed your balls all over his face. It's a bit like dunking, but (again) without all the sweat and exercise.

Closing ceremonies: This will just be a party. Pizza and soda and free T-shirts. We'll have beer, too, because there will be European and Asian nerds. American dorks don't drink much because it triggers the I'm Breaking a Rule psychological response. In less repressed cultures dorks are less repressed too. Incidentally, this is an excellent reason to live abroad if you are an American dork. That, and people will think you're cool just because you're American. How little they know. The free T-shirts are really the glue that holds the closing ceremonies together, because dorks NEED free T-shirts. They need them because, as clothes wear out, they must be replaced by new clothes. You're not about to go out and buy clothes for yourself and your mom can't anticipate ALL your wardrobe needs, so free clothes are crucial to a balanced life of dorkery. Worst-case scenario, you can't get any free clothes after college and settle for ordering """""hilarious""""" gaming shirts online. I started out with "hilarious" in one set of quotes, but these shirts are such ass that I needed to keep adding them until achieving the desired effect.

So that's my big idea from the weekend--it took a little longer than I expected to hammer out the crucially important details, but you don't need to thank me for the effort. I does it all for yous adorables little goofballs. Polish your dork skills, because the inaugural competitors will probably have to be my personal friends. You'll all come, right? Did I mention the T-shirts already?

And finally, as a postscript, a track from the upcoming Parkway Drive album (released on Jun 29). It is my jam. Disclaimer: management takes no responsibility for whiplash or any other injuries suffered as a result of this song.

Friday, June 4, 2010

It's a Walking Eye!

The news media has been really focused on the Gulf of Mexico deep-water oil spill. I can see why. It's a serious environmental crisis, to be sure, and one that forces us to acknowledge some realities of our energy needs. Like, how many oil-covered birds are acceptable on a modern beach? Lefty environmental extremists will cry that birds must never be covered with petroleum; that even one oil-covered egret in the Mississippi Delta is too many. Leaving aside the lifestyle concerns of egrets (maybe they WANT to be covered in oil. Did you ask?), the appeal to the national news media seems endless. To begin with, I have to believe that many on the cable networks feel a certain kinship with the busted well known as Mississippi Valley 252. You can't ask Olbermann to look at a black hole spewing endless gallons of toxic bile and not feel a twinge of sympathy. That goes double for anyone at CNN, for whom a gushing hemophiliac wound represents more than a standard for broadcasting: it's a business model, too!

And finally, the leak is just good fun. It's the sort of crisis that lasts for a long time, leads to more B-roll of filthy dead wildlife than you could ever sell to a stock footage bank and (because the science is so wacky and poorly-understood) grants carte blanche to navel-gaze about the "narrative" it presents to "the nation." That's when you're not busy just making shit up, like Limbaugh's famous pronouncement that the oil was "just as natural as the water" and would "naturally disperse." I offer the following link to demonstrate that while petroleum has natural origins, it is far too sexy to be dismissed in cavalier fashion:

If there's anything we should have learned from the litany of attempted fixes to the leak, it's this: we are past Science and officially in the realm of Super-Science. Those unfamiliar with the distinction are welcome to view The Venture Bros. Essentially, Super-Science is what happens when science becomes completely disconnected from the normal parameters we're familiar with (cost, ethics, actual use to consumers). To put this in context, drilling for oil is science. Drilling for oil a mile under the ocean with diamond-saw-wielding robots is Super-Science. Outlandish plans to stop the underwater death geyser (many of them involving the aforementioned robots) have been even cooler than the original deep-sea drilling concept. Which is cool, yes, but what's the ultimate result? Just another ugly-ass oil rig.

Super-Science is all about the product, which is how we end up with Walking Eyes and other staples of retro adventure-novel awesomeness. Hell, the robots with the diamond saws are practically good enough on their own! They're no less threatening than the army of Mouser robots that Shredder built to roam the sewers. And when we're talking about TMNT, let's be very clear about something: we're talking about the cartoon. The movies are great in their own special way, but they were a product of a very special time in our nation's pop-culture history; a time before the unified front of Internet fandom could actually exert influence on a Hollywood director's decisions. The result? Vanilla Ice cameos and the image above, which is Dennis Hopper's official pic on the great heavenly Facebook website. I'm sure that's how he wanted to be remembered.

By this point, you may be thinking, "This oil spill is a giant disaster. How is this a positive for Super-Science?" It's neither positive nor negative; it's just an inevitable consequence. If you have people actively practicing Super-Science, there will necessarily be some disasters, accidents and mishaps. Some will be more severe than others; as bad as this seems for Gulf wildlife, what if BP had invented a dimensional gateway that allowed an alien (disguised as actor Jaye Davidson) to fly his pyramid spaceship to our planet and conquer us with his Egyptian-themed magic powers? These are the kinds of dangers we'll face moving forward, though the societal benefits of Super-Science shouldn't be understated. Supersonic aircraft! Steampunk-themed dirigibles flying over major cities! And lastly, entire meals contained in a single mysterious pill that may or may not have been made from people. The rise of superhero and supervillain organizations are possible, but Republican opposition to national unions may put everything on hold. For more information on the long-term consequences of Super-Science for American society, I'd again direct your attention to The Venture Bros., an animated series on Adult Swim that is also the funniest damned show on TV. Link to a solid clip here; those Adult Swim jerks are all like "we made this content so you're not allowed to embed it."

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

And yet it breathes

Having quit my job at EA (summary: it sucked) to write a book and do some part-time work, and having taken a week or so to coat my insides with an inch-thick layer of pot resin, this blog is resurrected. I've held off a little to wait for inspiration, but that's not really how the operation works. Writing is an activity that, at times, needs to be simplified. Like highboard diving (get on the board, keep walking until there's no more board) or pooping (sit on bowl, push), writing comes with inhibitions attached. At some point, you need to sit down and type. That is happening RIGHT NOW.

Downside of this approach: less-than-perfect narrative focus. Since we last sat together, I've had a couple minor adventures (lacking a sufficiently-cleft chin for Major Adventures, which--yes--must be capitalized) and played a lot of Bad Company 2. Let's talk about the adventures.

Sports Adventure! Went to my first MLB game: Giants vs. Astros with Tim Lincecum pitching. Baseball in person is better than baseball on TV, because there are more things to distract you. Between the giant glittery scoreboard, the pitching monitor, attractive women in tank tops and drunken screaming spherical fans (in the orange Giants jerseys they look like pumpkins!) there are a lot of things to take your mind off the fact that you are watching one of the more boring athletic events in human history. Thousands of years ago, Romans were having a better time than we are today at MLB games. Have the bullpen fight lions during the 7th inning stretch or something.

The distractions actually led to a phenomenon I didn't know was possible: losing track of the game at a live sporting event. If you watch baseball on TV, the tight home-plate shots and uninterrupted drone of John Miller's voice keep you invested in the play-by-play action. They force you to pay attention. Not so in person; in fact, you can easily get caught up looking at a cool sailboat in the Bay. When you look back at the field, five pitches and two attempted pickoffs have taken place. I figured they had to announce "STRIKE!" or "BALL!" every pitch. Not so. You can't even use the fans' reactions to judge a play, since they can't see anything either. Any friendly pitch within the same ZIP code as the batter ought to be called a strike unless it hits the ground before reaching the plate. And even then, you should call it a strike if the batter is an asshole. I will say that a home run, in person, is extremely exciting. We saw only one, but even that two-run shot in the second inning got my heart racing and was something special I hadn't anticipated. Certain things in life are just fundamentally different in person and no recorded experience can ever really match up. A Top 5, off the top of my head:
*A Great White Shark. Even the juvenile female they kept at the Monterey Aquarium for six months gave me chills. They are, for lack of a better phrase, perfect animals.
*MLB Home Run. Yeah, I just said it. Whatever.
*Niagara Falls. Go to the Canadian side; the New York side is filled with unsightly poor people and it smells funny. "That's the smell of quiet desperation, son!"
*Jared Leto. As a heterosexual male, I feel no shame in saying that you cannot take your eyes off Jared Leto in person. Rarely is a human face so constructed.
*Michaelangelo's David. You've seen a million pictures of this sculpture from every angle. I promise, nothing can prepare you to walk into the room in some Florentine cathedral where David is displayed. To start with, it's MUCH bigger than you think it is. From there, I default to the shark explanation. You just have to see it.

Best two surprises from the afternoon: a free burrito and a vicious sunburn. We bought horrible third-deck tickets but spent the game bouncing between unoccupied outfield bleacher seats--effectively granting ourselves a free upgrade to Business Class. However, our nosebleed seat section won a drawing for free Chipotle gift cards and we were able to use our crappy tickets to redeem them. They didn't even charge us for guacamole in those burritos. Fucking awesome. As for the sunburn, it was awesome because it wasn't mine. Rob, being extremely Irish and neither athletic nor outdoorsy, sat in direct sunlight for three hours. The burns were cracked and red and bubbling before we even left the park. No attempt to cover up or wear any sunscreen. I swear he smelled like bacon on Christmas morning.

Musical adventure! Dark Tranquility played Memorial Day evening in SF, and Nick was kind enough to go with me. I should point out that I do have friends; it's just that they, along with most other people of good taste, despise the music I love. DT was superb start to finish, and their rendition of "Terminus" to close out the set was life-altering. Despite being one of the bigger European death metal acts, DT plays small venues in the US and getting to see them at Slim's in SF was quite an experience. I enjoy large fired-up crowds as much as anyone, but I think I'd honestly rather be in a club of 300 psychotic fans than a theater with 5000 excited people. I spent most of the show three feet from the stage, and emerged covered in sweat and bruises. It was great, though I don't appreciate having to be a Mosh Pit Bulwark.

Quick explanation of the Mosh Pit Bulwark: in all metal shows, assholes will form circle pits that they use to slam together and hurt one another. Normal people on the edge of the pit are Bulwarks, preventing the pit from expanding and shoving idiots who run into the sides back into the middle. Being on the edge of a pit sucks because not only are you enduring collisions from sweaty drunken idiots on a regular basis--you are at risk, after enduring a particularly hard hit, of getting shoved yourself into the pit. And if you fall, you risk serious injury because pits never stop for falls any more. Time was, they always did and people inside the pits took each others' safety seriously. That no longer happens, and your average mosher is no better than an animal. On Monday, I spent most of the show in a pose that left my elbow presented to the pit. Anyone who touched me was getting a shot to the gut and kidneys. One woman in particular was shoving guys into the pit and trying to stir shit up. This sort of person, the kind who is eager to start things she has no intention of finishing, is a Cunt. She didn't react well to having the word thrown in her face, so I'm guessing she's new at this.

I did come away from the show with a quandary: why don't people like this? I mean the music, not the moshing. Having asked around, I get the impression that the lyrics and vocal style of metal are the big killers. We are conditioned by pop music to place vocals on a pedestal and treat them differently from other elements of the same song. In metal, this is less the case--though the familiar rock tropes of the chorus and the dynamic, exciting "frontman" are all in place. And by the way, DT's Mikael Stanne is a motherfucking bone fide rock star. It's the sort of thing you don't know about a frontman until you see him in person. If he'd hit a home run while onstage, that would have been really special. But why is such a talented, exciting and famous band playing 300-person shows in SF while Lady Gaga engorges stadia and corporate pocketbooks? While M.I.A does her own part to prove that talent and musical accomplishment are meaningless next to the power of vapid political statements and crude juxtaposition? My friend Alyssa wrote a piece for The Atlantic in Italics that discusses the idea in a different light. But from my own perspective, I don't understand why folks are so eager to swallow bombast and drama in the personas and fashion exploits of musicians (I suppose the proper term these days is "recording artist"), but so uncomfortable when those ideas get manifested in the songs themselves.

If I had to guess at an explanation, I'd say it's a question of baggage. Music is itself very light, and there are hordes of people who want nothing more from music than to shake their asses. Lady Gaga's outfits or M.I.A's faux populism are popular because they are "carry-on." They're small, they're light, they're easy to maneuver around and never become too inconvenient. Truly provocative statements--the kind that RATM made, for example--are real baggage. Powerful emotions like the mass catharsis you're likely to see at a metal concert (or a Christian Music bonfire, not to be confused with a Christian music Bonfire). They have to be considered, carefully packed, backed up with actions and baked into music, because otherwise you're just a big phony. But what if you could have just the trappings of rebellion, the spray-on makeup of provocation that gets washed off the minute you leave the stage? Now that's appealing. Fans with no interest in your agenda don't have to pay attention. Fans who want a little extra spice with their music can get it if they want it. This is youthful rebellion a la carte, and you'll forgive me for asserting that our society is worse-off for it. Genuine churn from the lowest age demographics is valuable and precious. Angst shouldn't be squandered, but as Rage themselves prophesied, "They got you thinking that what you need is what they sellin' / Make you think that buying is rebellin'."

But like the very pop music we've been discussing, this is all sound and fury signifying nothing. To even talk about Bene Gesserit street hooker Lady Gaga in a serious way lends her a credence she doesn't deserve. I wish there were some kind of higher philosophical purpose to her music--maybe by submitting to the Gom Jabbar for all nine minutes of the "Telephone" video, we could teach ourselves a thing or two about humanity.