Monday, October 27, 2008

An Otherwise Harmless Story About Can Openers and Consumerism

You may or may not know this, but I really love can openers. In the history of tool invention, the can opener in its modern form (with bottle opener and nut cracker) is the third best invention after the printing press and television on the internet. Right now, my favorite show is Life and their best episode is "Not for Nothing," where a murder takes place during a simulated prison experiment. The binary established is simple. Prisoners and guards, Us and Them.

Unless you're doing that ridiculous raw foods thing, you probably need a can opener. More importantly, I need a can opener. I've pined for a can opener when I was on the road. I've summered in the desert, and my can-opener-forgetfulness made it that much clearer why deserts are often used to symbolized the desperate hearts of the abandoned. (or something.) In a fit of my own internalized desperation, I bought the first complex machine called "can opener" I could find and immediately realized I should have been more specific.

1. Assumption: All can openers can open cans. (C)
2. Assumption: My can opener cannot open cans.(~C)
C&~C (1,2 &I)

So I went to Bed, Bath, & Beyond last week, determined to find a functioning can opener. To be honest, I wanted to find a high-functioning can opener, one of those jobbies that didn't cut through the top but around the side because, well, they actually had one of those at Kroger but I didn't buy it because I hate them and maybe that's how I was stuck with the Can Opener Sham from Everyday Living,1 and balance out my karmic debt for dissing the weird can openers. Then I saw something from my past. Among a thousand peelers, can openers and assorted other tools was a Swing-A-Way Can Opener.

The Swing-A-Way Can Opener is something I want to protect. My parents, and grandparents, have had these for at least twenty years. Not bought, but had. As in "not needed to replace." On top of that, it was half the price of the "good grip can opener.2"
But I'm very excited these things are still extant, so I don't have to steal my parents or go through the frustration of buying another shoddy can opener. To celebrate my ownership of the Swing-A-Way Can Opener, I've made a pot roast and marinara sauce. Great Ideas.
On a completely unrelated note, I watched a short movie on the way Asian women are presented on film. I would say it was presented in an inventive way. Asian women were reenacting certain landmark roles performed by other Asian women. (specifically Anna May Wong in The Thief of Bagdad, Nancy Kwon in The World of Suzie Wong, and Lucy Liu in Charlie's Angels) The film, which I will heretofore refer to as a documentary, isn't narrated. The impersonators talk about the impersonated, reenact the impersonateds' roles, and then invert the roles either by playing them with less happiness or aggressiveness, and then talk about the role they played. There is also a scene where each of the impersonators simply walk down the street imitating they're impersonateds' characters.
Honestly, I have little problem with the documentary. It's unobtrusive in what it shows me and by having the actresses discussing their roles, it seems to emphasize this unobtrusive track.
But there's this picture. Each of the impersonators hold it up and talk about it and it shows all three of them dressed up as their impersonated, in chronological order from 1920 (Anna May Wong) to 2000. (Lucy Liu) And the role, as far as what the viewer sees is Nancy Kwon in the middle, in a dress like the one she wore in "The World of Suzie Wong," implying an openness but it's an openness exclusive to sexuality. To Nancy Kwon's left is Anna May Wong with her arms crossed over her stomach in a guarded position. To Kwon's right is Lucy Liu, body square against the camera, dressed like a dominatrix with a riding crop over her shoulder.
So I inferred a teleology in the sexualization of Asian women, from submissive to aggressive, which can probably be said about all women, even Diane Keaton, (i.e. Godfather pt. 1 > Baby Boom) and minorities. And maybe I'm making an inference which is way from left field but I don't think I'm ignoring anything. I'm merely asserting that I'd prefer some sort of sign post.
There was also a conversation about a film maker who has been focusing on post-9/11 Arab-Americans and no one looked at me. There was no experience of "oh, you mean Arab like me."
From here I was going to go on about how frequently I am perceived as Italian, Mexican, Black, or Russian. (just once. I was swimming.) Then I was going to venture into a larger point about perception and seeing what we want to see. I was going to illustrate this point with a story about a shirt I'd seen about with the words (and numbers) "50% White 44% Arab 6% Black 100% Red" superimposed over Barack Obama's face and how this shirt, despite its overflowing assholeness, walks a weird line between ignorant and informed. North Africans, for instance, are often described as African-Arabs because of a lot of different things that happened a thousand years ago and maybe you don't care about them. There was a rumination over what it meant to be an Arab. Sub-Saharan Africans, (Kenyans included) are a different matter re: Arabicness. My sister actually described this (the description and the segue) in degrees of inarticulation and I started to think that dialectics were so much like action figures, but she was actually pretty good at articulating marginality. What makes me (her) inherently interesting, but also inherently anomolous? What makes whites so... plain? Why do we need so many adjectives?
But I got bored trying to weigh my experience as the Other (strangely increased the last few years) against the inevitable amorality of perception. I decided the end of the world was more interesting.

Fallout 3 is now on my computer. I don't know how it happened. It seemed like one minute I was watching the advertisement and the next I'd downloaded the Steam client and the installer. I'm keeping my head. "Remember, you can save anywhere." It is a practical mantra.

My M.O. for the written word remains functional. "Question everything." Video games almost always have a twist. Fallout has never been an exception. The mysterious Enclave turns out to be the U.S. gov't in Fallout 2, President Richardson at the helm. Now I'm tracking my dad across the Washington D.C. wasteland. Apparently dad has some pet project involving water purification (Project Purity) but I know and he knows that water can be purified with a Water Chip. Water Chips are running gags from the first and second Fallout. Your under-the-gun quest in Falout is to get a Water Chip. You find 100 Water Chips in Vault City in Fallout 2. Now, in Fallout 3, there is a flyer urging me to perform regular maintenance on my Water Chip, courtesy Vault-Tec. Half the holo-tapes I get from pops are possibly from before I was born and one is definitely from ten seconds to ten minutes before I was conceived, so despite chronological signposts, I'm really just along for the ride.
A pretty good subtext for election day, I think. Sometime before January, we'll know who is going to be inaugurated. About half the people in the country will be upset. About half the people in the country will think Canada has never looked so cozy. That half will have to rationalize that its okay. A lot can happen in four years.

Four years ago, Charlton Heston was still alive. "New Orleans" was synonymous with "Las Vegas," not "Colossal Government Rotten Egg." People ask me "who did you vote for?" (The NERVE!) I tell them "I wrote 'mom and dad' in." I'm waiting for that one person who screeches "Yeah! Me too!" Ideally, that one person represents 300 million people, because I really think it would be cool if every mom and dad in america suddenly occupied the executive branch. Screw vetting. The only qualification for the presidency is raising a child or that simple perception. Momma Leone's is a restaurant in NYC right? Everyone there is now president. Managed to intermingle gamete cells with a member of the opposite sex? Good job. $250,000 a year for the both of you. Adopted a child? Congratulations, you are now the most qualified person within the executive branch.
Yes, this would probably make the office collapse.
At least the electoral college.
Or maybe someone who had legally changed their name to mom would be shocked to find themselves in the White House, working with dad, trying to work out the strange power dynamic of the reimagined branch.

Fallout 3 starts with a video in a blown out bus. The Ink Spots' "I don't want to set the World on Fire" is playing on a tube radio. The 1950's get to live for another hundred years in Fallout history through a couple different means beyond the atomic bomb ending the world. Shortly after World War II, the timelines split. America lumps the states into a few Commonwealths. China invades Alaska. America annexes Canada. And because "war, war never changes," actions which are meant to represent a refusal to be intimidated necessitate an escalation of nuclear proportions. The end of the world doesn't just wipe the bulk of humanity out, it crystallizes culture.

So what's with the end of the world? The world is kind of beautiful and yet there are enough science fiction novels, comics, and movies that deal with surviving its figurative or literal demise that some itinerant formalist could carve out a sub-genre of science fiction post-apocalyptia. In Brian K. Vaughn's Y: The Last Man all the men but Yorrick suddenly die and shockingly nothing changes, except women figure out cloning really, really fast. Fail-Safe, Dr. Stangelove, & Red Alert all tell more or less the same story, and juxtaposed against Seven Days in May the viewer can't help but decide that the 60's wanted them to know that nuclear holocaust was inevitable because everyone with ICBMs thought everyone else with ICBMs was shady. 28 Days Later lets you wake up with Jim and explore a London that's been filled with the worst zombies from the set of all possible zombies.3 Fast and they make you into a zombie in seconds. Bad news and good news, yes. Maybe they're not zombie zombies, but they're not you or anyone like you. And when you do find people like you they've all gone insane. Despite fucking with the cornerstone of zombie films, 28 Days Later finds home away from terror, in isolation, and inside people who are otherwise, as previously established, insane. The map changes, the people stay the same. The scene adds stress and they're forced into desperation. Anxiety is communicated into the future and dispersed.
So I'm not worried. It's winter. I'm growing a beard regardless of what happens.
1Vengeance is MINE!
2That only baffled me a little. I suppose there's a marginal portion of consumers that open, like, fifty cans a day. And maybe a smaller portion of this marginal portion are interested in steel or rubber options. Actually, "good" is an inherently good thing to have in your can opener, or any other product for that matter. I wish I'd thought of it.
3also, 28 Days Later has three seconds of the desexualized, guilt-free penis you've always wanted to see in film.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

"Just Remember: Half the Shit You Worry about doesn't Happen Anyway." John Kelly, High School Teacher, Vietnam Veteran, & African American

If I were a woman, I would just change my status on Facebook to "Elise Beter1 says, 'Bitch, we could all see your hair. You didn't have to tell us about it." and that's all that would be said about the transformative "do" my professor got Wednesday or Tuesday.
If I were a man, I'd be less anxious about emasculation caused by ruminating over hairstyles and doing so in a semi-public forum. 2
But I am what I am, so I merely wonder if it's better to let the visual "speak" for itself or say something quasi-self-depreciating like "I got this haircut and this real job and neither of them are parted on the right side. If I fidget a bit then you can ignore the hand motions." Hypothetically, "For the next two minutes, comments regarding the awesomeness of my haircut are no longer taboo" was also an option, but it wasn't the route I would have taken. I prefer to work through understatements and the occasional explicit declaration for contrast but, with exceptional aesthetic decisions, rules seem to defy themselves.

The Plastic Brain
I don't understand the purpose of regret. Or at least how regret has come to exist from an evolutionary perspective. Perhaps the existence of regret is proof of intelligent design. My initial impulse is to say that regret is sadness deferred. Pain is a sensible evolutionary response to bad decisions. Pain remembered is nostalgia. Nostalgia seems reasonable. I can wrap my head around nostalgia as an intellectual response to pain, that knowledge of pain creates nostalgia and if not for nostalgia then pain is meaningless/just an alarm system. Without our memories, we would just be specialized goldfish flopping about in a new environment. It would appear obvious that sadness and regret are merely pain and nostalgia for the emotional set, but I'm not happy with that.
Humans are pleasure-seeking things. Or beings if you don't want to be a thing. And you can call pleasure food, shelter, companionship, and warmth if you want. We're willing to suffer pain to get these things and, I don't care what Hobbes says, if we could get enough of all of them we'd never leave our shelters except to kidnap plumbers from their infinitely stocked shelters because spoilage, I hate to admit it, Mr. Hobbes, applies to everything.
But why is happiness so complex? Or why has it been made so complex. It's occurred to me this is not an evolutionary response but a, I dare say, psychological response. The mind creates these concepts of Happiness, Sadness, and Regret, most likely in that order. My inevitable conclusion is that we should all have lobotomies. Or perhaps we should focus less on why we were sad when we could have been happy and how that happened. So your earth-moving, I-read-this-and-here's-my-revelation moment is:
Regret is a stupid invention.
I'm glad I wrote it out.
You should be glad you read it.

College is for the Fauna
I dropped out of college.3 Fable 3 came out Wednesday. I want to buy it and play it at least three times, which I suspect will take a week of my life or one month were I still enrolled in classes. Also, I'm anticipating the release of FALLOUT 3 which is, to be perfectly honest, the only post-apocalyptic video game franchise that matters. Compounding the excitement I'm feeling about Fallout and it's release is the fact that it's being developed by Bethesda Studios, which also developed the Elder Scrolls series of RPGs.. (Fallout is a series of post-apocalyptic RPGs) To be brief, this game will either be really good or heartbreakingly bad and several other someones will be very angry about it. 4

1It is my suspicion that Elise is the female equivalent to Elliot. However, my mom decided I should be named Elliot while watching E.T.(Yes, I am really Elliot, like from E.T.) My mother, knowing I was an in utero girl, could have been compelled to name me Gertie Beter or Mary. Or lacking any serious compulsion to give me a new name, I could have been named Gladys after my father's grandmother. (Little known fact: It is only due to the maternity ward determination of my mother that my name is not Thomas N. Beter III) I'm sure there's a list of other names they had in mind...
2Best in Communication Redux: Bathroom Stall Graffiti (First floor McPhereson)- "Whatever! I'll grunt when I shit if I want to. You've decided to use a semi-public shitter and you're going to listen to every "plop" and "guh" I can muster, or you can get a taxi and GO HOME!" I often assert ridiculous things. For instance: Modern males live in a constant state of emasculation. But, you know, I feel entitled to statements like that with when we live in an anonymous world. Maybe Internet 2.0 changed that, but it still reflects a world of cars that cut you off, faceless corporate employment made possible by faceless government, and alienating anonymous images. And maybe it's a cycle. Maybe the environment of anonymity produces alienation and statements like the one reproduced above are inevitable, but it's my intuition that there's more. That there's something holding men back. (No not economically or socially, just, like, devolepmentally) I mean, media directed at men is great for reinforcing masculine gender roles. (Speaking of such, we should admit now that I have a bias. Action movies, comic books, and video games [at least the action-y ones] are for men. Monster wasn't, but look at how that ended. Wasn't an action movie either. Grindhouse?) So imagine men, with these articulated examples of masculinity like James Bond, Superman, and John McClane, (Casual Sex, Monogamy, and Serial Monogamy, if you prefer) experiencing these transient moments of manliness only to return to work or the world at large.
3Not really.
4 Okay, so here's the thing. Morrowind and Oblivion are these great games developed by Bethesda where the player gets to customize (seriously, from a lot of options) a character and make their character run all of this damn digital world. You can kill demons and talk to people and steal from those same people you can be a hero or a heel or whatever. There's a lot of shit to do. And if that sounds fun, you probably knew what I was talking about when I described the game as an RPG, but here's another thing: talking to characters in Morrowind and Oblivion is really, really repetitive because (a) there's a lot of characters to talk to(b) there are not a lot of voice actors and (c) there are not a lot of people writing dialogue. And aside from the hyper-violence and 1950's aesthetic of Fallout, what I really liked about the series was the humor. It was vulgar and morbid and obliquely socially critical. You could shovel shit and make $100. It was the easiest quest in the game. If you did it three times in a row you got a title "shit shoveler." No benefits. You weren't stronger or a better bullshitter, but people didn't run from you either.

Monday, October 20, 2008

I would go, but I'm giving a presentation on why margaret cho, and humor in general, works.

Writing Memoir
A Workshop led by Nicole Hollander, creator of the comic strip Sylvia, whose most recent book is Tales of Aging Gracefully from the Planet Denial.

2-4 p.m. October 21, 2008
Wexner Center Cartoon Research Library
Enrollment is limited to 10 students

Workshop participants will be asked to

  • introduce themselves and describe a line from a film or book that resonates strongly with them.
  • bring and read one paragraph from a favorite memoir.
  • write a one-page memoir before class about an item of clothing, shoes, or a haircut that changed a day or seems to express a pattern. Bring the essay to the workshop and be prepared to share it. [Optional: bring the item or a photograph of it with you to the workshop.]
  • as others read their memoirs, write a thought from each memoir that is striking OR make a sketch or doodle in response to the words. This is not a critique but a reaction to the feelings the memoir evokes.
  • write about a place, building, or room that carries a vivid memory of the past.
Enrollment in the workshop will be on a first-come, first-served basis. The workshop is free.
Co-sponsored by Project Narrative and the Cartoon Research Library. To register, e-mail Jim Phelan

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sometime you really do just have to say "what the fuck."

So whenever this extended adage about a plumber turns into a contriage1 that really leaves me waiting for a joke about the new cost, both moral and practical, of laying pipe...

Or whenever some girl in knee socks and short shorts sits outside my apartment and cries so I'll feel morally obligated to say "hey, is everything alright?" only to run further down the alley and into the adjacent apartment building...

Or whenever I suffer through the Astro-Stat class that already doesn't make any sense, only now it's cold AND confusing because apparently someone or some computer program is worried about a heatwave in October...

Or reading Shakespeare...

Or complimenting some dude on his shiny shirt, apparently for the sole purpose of prompting him to laugh at me...

Or when I suddenly feel inclined to explain things to friends and family with truth tables and sentence atoms...

Or figuring out, through trial and error, that Brown really does want my writing sample mailed to them and not submitted electronically, because their website will only accept one file per portion of application...

I think of you, Tom Cruise. I think of how you broke my heart and I cry.
1I am 99.9% sure I just made this word up.

Monday, October 6, 2008

I will say this Once.

There may be more than one way to skin a cat, but there is a single way to comb one out: The Exchange of Pain.

The Best in Communication:
Answering Machine Message: Hey baby, you want some sausage? Well that's too bad. The sausage is out and you're gonna hafta settle for the beep.

Out-of-context Text Message: So I'm screening my calls and if you want to talk to me or hang out you need to e-mail me before.

General Catch-All Question: (2 years running) What the Fuck?