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.

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