Blog Archives

Short Film: ‘2084’

Remember: You must conform.

Better yet: Doughnut thing. (Watch for explanation.)

Good news: Experts agree the future of Atlantis is bright

Lower_Level_Aquarium_Atlantis_Hotel

From John Michael Greer, for the recent April 1 day of foolery, here’s one of the most entertaining — and insightful — pieces of satire you’re likely to read this year. Note his use of a rather delightful name-coding, which runs throughout. And don’t worry: Nacil Buper, Grand Priestess of the Temple of the Night, who is mentioned in the excerpt below, isn’t singled out for an unfair solo slamming. Later in the piece Tarc Omed, the Hierophant of the Priests of the Sun, receives equal treatment. So does the average Atlantean citizen-on-the-street. All are weighed and found wanting for their heedlessness in ignoring the warning signs associated with continued worship of the Lord of Evil, Mu-Elortep.

If you’re like most Atlanteans these days, you’ve heard all sorts of unnerving claims about the future of our continent. Some people are even saying that recent earth tremors are harbingers of a cataclysm that will plunge Atlantis to the bottom of the sea. Those old prophecies from the sacred scrolls of the Sun Temple have had the dust blown off them again, adding to the stew of rumors.

So is there anything to it? Should you be worried about the future of Atlantis?

Not according to the experts. I visited some of the most widely respected hierarchs here in the City of the Golden Gates yesterday to ask them about the rumors, and they assured me that there’s no reason to take the latest round of alarmist claims at all seriously.

***

My first stop was the temple complex of black orichalcum just outside the Palace of the Ten Kings, where Nacil Buper, Grand Priestess of the Temple of Night, took time out of her busy schedule to meet with me. I asked her what she thought about the rumors of imminent catastrophe. “Complete and utter nonsense,” she replied briskly. “There are always people who want to insist that the end is nigh, and they can always find something to use to justify that sort of thing. Remember a few years ago, when everyone was running around insisting that the end of the Forty-First Grand Cycle of Time was going to bring the destruction of the world? This is more of the same silliness.”

Just at that moment, the floor shook beneath us, and I asked her about the earth tremors, pointing out that those seem to be more frequent than they were just a few years back.

“Atlantis has always had earthquakes,” the Grand Priestess reminded me, gesturing with her scepter of human bone. “There are natural cycles affecting their frequency, and there’s no proof that they’re more frequent because of anything human beings are doing. In fact, I’m far from convinced that they’re any more frequent than they used to be. There are serious questions about whether the priests of the Sun Temple have been fiddling with their data, you know.”

“And the claim from those old prophecies that offering human sacrifices to Mu-Elortep, Lord of Evil, might have something to do with it?” I asked.

“That’s the most outrageous kind of nonsense,” the Grand Priestess replied. “Atlanteans have been worshipping the Lord of Evil for more than a century and a half. It’s one of the foundations of our society and our way of life, and we should be increasing the number of offerings to Mu-Elortep as rapidly as we can, not listening to crazies from the fringe who insist that there’s something wrong with slaughtering people for the greater glory of the Lord of Evil. We can’t do without Mu-Elortep, not if we’re going to restore Atlantis to full prosperity and its rightful place in the world order, and if that means sacrifices have to be made — and it does — then sacrifices need to be made.”

MORE: “Atlantis Won’t Sink, Experts Agree

Image by Jerrye and Roy Klotz MD [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Matthew McConaughey and the Lincoln MKZ: Existential Crisis

I watched. I listened. I laughed (out loud). And I was strangely mesmerized, as I suspect you may be, too. This parodix remix and transformation of director Nicolas Winding Refn’s McConaughified commercial for the Lincoln MKZ, courtesy of Auralnauts, amplifies the ad campaign’s channeling of McConaughey’s True Detective-inspired chain of dark, stream-of-consciousness ramblings to surreal proportions. And it’s pretty perfect.

How did I get here? Why did I order this water? There’s perfectly good water falling from the sky. What if this is the End of Days? I bet I can move this glass with my mind.

 

Video: Weird Al exposes the conspiracy (or its theorists) in ‘Foil’

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Okay, so I’m coming late to the party, since everybody with an Internet connection has now shared this video in the five days since it was released. But “Weird Al” Yankovic has been a musical companion to me since I was in junior high, and lately he’s blowing the roof off with some of his cleverest stuff ever.

Case in point: the video for his new song “Foil,” from his new album Mandatory Fun. It’s a parody of Lorde’s “Royals.” And for those who are either cognizant of or — Adam Weishaupt help us — actual believers in the mass of conspiracy theorizing that has overtaken American popular culture and public discourse in recent years — including the Illuminati craze in the hip hop world — it is a veritable revelation of satirical sanity.

Or maybe it’s actually disinformation put out by the hidden masters of the New World Order!? (For some piquant observations in this vein, scan the comments that accompany the video at YouTube — if the have the heart.)

Video: Christopher Walken can’t stop dancing

Yes, I talk a lot about the damnability of the Internet’s inbuilt capacity for destructive distraction, but damn, sometimes the whole thing is hugely useful for circulating a dose of pure fun. And if this mashup of nearly 70 movies featuring a vigorously dancing Christopher Walken, set to a very familiar and appropriate song, isn’t pure fun, then I don’t know what is. It also integrates a smattering of archetypal Walkenisms — various verbal intonations, facial expressions, and bits of body language — that any consumer of movie and media culture in the past 40 years will find familiar. (Note: Beware a few faint, fleeting moments of NSFW imagery.)

Kudos to Ben Craw, video editor at The Huffington Post, for this wonderfully conceived and created slice of entertainment. You can see a full list of the movies he used here.

Lost in translation: Disastrous foreign renderings of American brand names and ad slogans

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During my undergraduate days, I learned from one of my communication professors that the Coca-Cola company ran into an unexpected complication during their initial incursions into Chinese markets when the very name of the product caused mass confusion. Apparently, the syllables “ko-ka-ko-la” are nonsensical in Mandarin, where they can be taken to mean, roughly, “bite the wax tadpole.” (It was just a few years P.I. — Pre-Internet — when I first learned this factoid. Today, there’s a well-sourced Snopes article about it.) In the same vein, this professor passed along the info, which I’ve since seen verified elsewhere, that the Jolly Green Giant brand had trouble in Saudi Arabia because its name lost all of that endearing jolliness when translated into Arabic, and came out meaning something closer to “Intimidating Green Ogre.”

This was all brought to mind yesterday by a passage in an article at Pacific Standard that had me literally laughing out loud even as it I was relishing the delicious irony that’s evident in the fact that the world of corporate marketing and advertising, which long ago sold its soul to the demons of emotional propaganda, has found itself repeatedly stymied by the inherently idiomatic and connotative nature of the very  language it seeks to exploit and manipulate for emotional-economic ends.

There’s also something intrinsically diverting about the news that the Pepsi company inadvertently aligned itself with Taiwanese shamanism:

For all of the research they put into expansion abroad, even with concessions to the local markets, not all American exports are guaranteed hits. Wendy’s closed all of its Japanese outposts in 2009, but returned two years later with a new local partner and a wasabi avocado burger. In 2011, Panda Express announced, all jokes aside, that it was expanding into China, but hasn’t said much about it since then. In his book Brand Failures, Matthew Haig gathered examples of bad luck ruining a corporation’s best-laid plans for global domination: how Vicks’ expansion was stymied because its name sounds like “fuck” in German; how Coors’ old slogan “turn it loose” fell flat in Spain because it translated as “you will suffer from diarrhea”; and how Pepsi promised more than its elixir could deliver when it burst into Taiwan with the slogan, “Come alive with the Pepsi generation,” which translated locally as “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead.”

Full article: “The World’s Weird America: How Some of Our Most Popular Products Are Seen Overseas

Image by greefus groinks (Flickr) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons, edited for use here

Calvin, Hobbes, and Bill Watterson’s advice on creating a soul-satisfying life

I spent many years reading/reveling in Calvin and Hobbes, both live (so to speak) in the newspaper comics section during its original run from 1985 to 1995 and then later in the many book-length collections. This still ranks among my most cherished literary and artistic experiences. The strip was not only hilarious but frequently brilliant, both artistically and philosophically, and the characters as well as the overall vibe and mood became enduring mental companions for me.

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And so it’s always a delight to read any news about the man behind the strip, Bill Watterson, not least because any and all such news is basically non-existent, in accordance with the utterly admirable design and intent of the man himself:

In the days of 4G wireless networks and Twitter, when virtually every moment of a person’s life can be tracked online and many people offer up that information freely, it’s a rare thing to come across a public figure who not only doesn’t buy into the idea of constant communication, but takes themselves in the opposite direction — completely out of the spotlight. The term “recluse” seems like a dirty word, a slur — “private” or “introverted” seem much fairer ways to describe someone than a word that suggests agoraphobia — but that’s how many would describe artists ranging from Emily Dickinson to Marcel Proust, Harper Lee to J.D. Salinger.

Some say that the “recluse” is an endangered species, but to my knowledge, there’s still one artist who is keeping the idea of the private public figure alive: Bill Watterson, writer and illustrator of the beloved comic strip Calvin and Hobbes.

. . . . “As happy as I was that the strip seemed to be catching on, I was not prepared for the resulting attention,” Watterson wrote in the introduction to The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, a 2012 compilation of all his work weighing in at more than 14 pounds. “Cartoonists are a very low grade of celebrity, but any amount of it is weird. Besides disliking the diminished privacy and the inhibiting quality of feeling watched, I valued my anonymous, boring life. In fact, I didn’t see how I could write honestly without it.”

Whereas others have relished such a spotlight, Watterson shrank from the publicity, sure that neither he nor his work would not survive what he saw as the curse of celebrity.

. . . . For all the journalists rejected, it’s easy for new ones to imagine that there must be someone able to break through Watterson’s solid exterior; it could be anyone! But Watterson, for one, has said most of what he seems to ever want to say.

— Liv Combe, “Searching for Calvin’s Dad,” Full Stop, April 4, 2013

The new burst of Watterson-centric attention represented by this article, which was also published at Salon, has been occasioned by the appearance of a new documentary film titled Dear Mr. Watterson that debuted, as it so happens, just yesterday at the Cleveland Film Festival:

Here’s a description of the film from its official Website:

Calvin & Hobbes dominated the Sunday comics in thousands of newspapers for over 10 years, having a profound effect on millions of readers across the globe.  When the strip’s creator, Bill Watterson, retired the strip on New Year’s Eve in 1995, devoted readers everywhere felt the void left by the departure of Calvin, Hobbes, and Watterson’s other cast of characters, and many fans would never find a satisfactory replacement.

It has now been more than a decade since the end of the Calvin & Hobbes era.  Bill Watterson has kept an extremely low profile during this time, living a very private life outside of Cleveland, Ohio.  Despite his quiet lifestyle, Mr. Watterson is remembered and appreciated daily by fans who still enjoy his amazing collection of work.

Mr. Watterson has inspired and influenced millions of people through Calvin & Hobbes.  Newspaper readership and book sales can be tracked and recorded, but the human impact he has had and the value of his art are perhaps impossible to measure.

This film is not a quest to find Bill Watterson, or to invade his privacy.  It is an exploration to discover why his “simple” comic strip made such an impact on so many readers in the 80s and 90s, and why it still means so much to us today.

For a glimpse of the genius of Watterson the man — aside from and in addition to the genius to Watterson the artist — I urge you to see the only (to date) college commencement speech he ever delivered. It was given to the 1990 graduating class at Watterson’s alma mater, Kenyon College, and it illuminates much about Watterson’s choice to remain personally outside the media spotlight while relentlessly fighting all attempts by the Borg-like machinery of the modern merchandising industry to capitalize on Calvin and Hobbes. It also offers deeply wise and insightful advice to the rest of us who are likewise obligated to live and work in this same cultural inferno of universal hype and hustling:

As my comic strip became popular, the pressure to capitalize on that popularity increased to the point where I was spending almost as much time screaming at executives as drawing. Cartoon merchandising is a $12 billion dollar a year industry and the syndicate understandably wanted a piece of that pie. But the more I thought about what they wanted to do with my creation, the more inconsistent it seemed with the reasons I draw cartoons. Selling out is usually more a matter of buying in. Sell out, and you’re really buying into someone else’s system of values, rules and rewards. The so-called “opportunity” I faced would have meant giving up my individual voice for that of a money-grubbing corporation. It would have meant my purpose in writing was to sell things, not say things. My pride in craft would be sacrificed to the efficiency of mass production and the work of assistants. Authorship would become committee decision. Creativity would become work for pay. Art would turn into commerce. In short, money was supposed to supply all the meaning I’d need. What the syndicate wanted to do, in other words, was turn my comic strip into everything calculated, empty and robotic that I hated about my old job. They would turn my characters into television hucksters and t-shirt sloganeers and deprive me of characters that actually expressed my own thoughts.

. . . Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential — as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth. You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.

To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble. Reading those turgid philosophers here in these remote stone buildings may not get you a job, but if those books have forced you to ask yourself questions about what makes life truthful, purposeful, meaningful, and redeeming, you have the Swiss Army Knife of mental tools, and it’s going to come in handy all the time.

— Bill Watterson, “”Some Thoughts on the Real World by One Who Glimpsed It and Fled,” Kenyon College Commence Speech, May 20, 1990

Denis Leary: Kiss My A$$ (’cause I’m American)

Everybody sing along! Especially us Americans. (Warning: NSFW language.)

The ultimate apocalypse: George Carlin envisions the way the world might end

As you know,  I’m very tuned into the doom meme, and I write and tweet a lot about past and current cultural variations on the fear and fascination of apocalypse. But I think I’ll never outdo George Carlin, who, in an absolutely brain-bending and jaw-dropping riff on the subject (see the video below), mounted the single most delirious, hilarious, and scandalous vision of The End that has ever been or will ever be articulated. What’s more, at the conclusion of it — and with a masterful control of tone — he brought it all down to a sudden and startling mood of melancholy, hope, and wistfulness. In short, it’s an amazing performance.

For the sake of introduction, here’s a transcription of how he starts:

I always hope that no matter how small the original problem is, it’s going to grow into bigger and bigger proportions and get completely out of control. And I’ll give you a concrete example. Let’s say a water main breaks in downtown Los Angeles, and it floods an electrical substation, knocking out all the traffic lights and tying up the entire city, and emergency vehicles can’t get through. And at the same time, one of those month-long global warming heat waves comes along, but there’s no air-conditioning, there’s no water for sanitation, so cholera, smallpox and dysentery break out and thousands of people start dying in the streets. But before they die, parasites eat their brains, and they go completely fucking crazy, and they storm the hospital, but the hospital can’t handle all the casualties, so these people rape all the nurses and set the hospital on fire. And the flames drive them even crazier, so they start stabbing social workers and garbage men. And a big wind comes along, and the entire city goes up in flames. And the people who are still healthy, they get mad at the sick people, and they start crucifying them, nailing them to crosses, trying on their underwear, shit like that. Then everybody smokes crack and PCP, and they march on city hall, where they burn the mayor at the stake, they strangle his wife, and take turns sodomizing the statue of Larry Flynt.

And at this point, it looks like pretty soon things are gonna start to get out of control.

And remember, that’s just the start.

Since it’s Carlin, be advised that, yes, of course, and as evidenced above, the language is totally NSFW.

Ultimate audition: One man plays every character in the history and future of science fiction

Thanks to an emailed link from my friend Don Webb (the Austin-based horror writer, writing teacher, and former High Priest of the Temple of Set), I kicked off my day with the funniest video I’ve seen since Funny or Die’s “Wax On, F*ck Off with Ralph Macchio.” I literally almost did the proverbial coffee spit-take all over my Dell laptop.

The video shows one Jacob Fleischer, who describes himself as “a huge science fiction fan” and “not an actor — professionally,” as he auditions, in just under three minutes, for “every character from every science fiction TV show or movie that has ever been made, or ever will be made.” In the accompanying text description at YouTube, he announces, “I am available to star in any upcoming science fiction blockbusters.”

If I were a producer, I’d hire him right now.