Wedding Ingratiation Tips

I went to a wedding this weekend at which I only knew my girlfriend and her immediate family; it’s why I haven’t written anything since Friday.  I felt I needed to make a positive impression on the bride, Emily’s (she would be my girlfriend) former neighbor and one of her oldest friends.  It worked, so I have some incredibly specific advice in easily digestible bullet point form.

1.  Imply your grooming is all about looking nice and not for opportunistic, superstitious reasons.

On dermatologist’s orders — long story short: razor burn is significantly worse for me than the average man — I’ve had a beard for the last year and a half, only shaving it once in that time because I royally screwed up trimming it.  Before we left for St. Louis Friday, I took an extra few minutes in the bathroom and emerged with a hairless face.  I looked five years younger and clean as a whistle.

What nobody at the wedding needed to know is that I mostly did it for hockey.

The Chicago Blackhawks’ final regular season game coincided with Saturday’s ceremony, and it is NHL tradition for players and fans to grow beards for as long as the team remains alive in the hunt for the Stanley Cup.  But you have to start fresh; no cheating.  I took the opportunity to score points with strangers by doing something I planned for months to do anyway.  It made it extra special when I realized the Hawks would likely (and Sunday’s games’ results bore this out) play the St. Louis Blues in the first round, and my superstition took place in a room surrounded by Blues fans.  They have received enough support from the baseball gods in that town, so my covert call to the hockey gods to continue my favorite team’s run of success shouldn’t be too much to ask.

2.  Don’t be too creeped out by the pop-up town where the wedding takes place.

New Town, St. Charles, Missouri, is an unnerving place.  It’s beautiful, with European-style canals, a town square designed for foot traffic (including a comic book store, which I greatly appreciated), and gorgeous brownstones everywhere.  But there’s something amiss about it.

It appears out of nowhere in the middle of a giant field.  Everyone is pleasant, too pleasant.  Children ride their bikes and laugh without being snotty bastards to the people in their way.

New Town feels like a 19th century utopia town.  The idea is to pull for each other and be self-reliant, a mark of perfection the rest of us lowly degenerates on the outside must strive to be, just as Sir Thomas More intended it.  Lucky for those of us at the wedding, we visited the place before it devolved into bickering and bitter strikes over the disgust at having to do everything for the “benevolent” overlord who created the town.  Disaster narrowly averted.

3.  Prepare yourself so as to avoid complaining about physical pain.

My dress shoes look nice.  They shine, they fit well enough, and I look good wearing them.  They also hurt like the Dickens if I wear them too long because the heels are razor thin.  I once walked a mile to a job interview in them and my heels bled and scabbed for weeks.  Why women wear shoes that do this to them regularly, I cannot comprehend.

There is a simple solution: insulation.  I need to wear more than nylon dress socks.  I tossed on my thick cotton Haynes socks and slid the dress blacks over them.  The bright white shone through the black, but my feet didn’t bleed.  I did not complain, and all was well.

4.  Dance.

I am not good at dancing, but I am good at looking dumb.  People like this.  Always do it.

5.  Make silly faces at the flower girl(s).

This wedding had co-flower girls, two cousins a couple months apart in age.  They were adorable, giggling their way down the aisle.  They spent the better part of the reception hopping, running in circles, and laughing in delight.

They also chose me as their antagonist for the night.  Every time I looked at them, they stuck their tongues out, hid, or obstinately crossed their arms.  No matter how hard I tried, they would not give me high fives.  I think it was all in good fun, or maybe I’m a monstrous goon.  Either way, I started mirroring their defiance, and they had fun playing the goofy face game with me on the dance floor.  By the end of the night, with one flower girl in tears of exhaustion, I finally tapped her on the shoulder and leveled with her.

“I’ve been trying to get a high five from you all night.  It made me sad when you ran away,” I said.

Through sniffles, she lifted her hand and wound back before giving me her best high five.  The games had not been for naught.  I had succeeded.

I think people liked me.

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Streaming Choices: Barbarella (1968)

In Streaming Choices, I take a quick glance at the world of cinema available on Netflix Instant, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime, and other streaming services.

Rating: One and a half stars (out of five)

Camp is a tool filmmakers have at their disposal when they want to show something craven about society.  It’s a purposeful way of going over the top, to get in the audience’s face in an accusatory fashion, to confront them about the behavior they’re complicit in by being part of civilization.  Drag queens make us question beauty standards for women.  John Waters — sometimes with the help of the purest drag queen of them all, Divine — makes us think about the way we treat the “other.”

Camp is also my least favorite kind of comedy.  Even when done well, its in-your-face aspects are grating, loud, and it’s hardly ever as revelatory as it purports itself to be.  It’s a prank that screams its way to a feature length it can’t sustain.  When camp is done poorly, it makes something already tough to sit through into a slog that requires a full week of stopping and starting to watch an hour and 40 minute movie.

Which is what I did with Barbarella (although allergies and Benadryl played a part), a movie that tries to be big and outrageous about the women’s liberation movement gaining steam at the time, but which invariably takes every opportunity to go cutesy instead of confrontational.

Everything about Barbarella is small, a sense that is only heightened by its poor decision to go with the 2.33:1 aspect ratio.  The anamorphic lens is a stylistic choice to expand the scope of a film, used to brilliant effect in Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns, with their European cliffs and vistas.  It needs a big canvas to be properly implemented.  Barbarella does not provide that canvas.  Its sets and props are all so plasticky, with nary an outdoor shot in sight.  In this way, the anamorphic lens only showcases the lack of scale director Roger Vadim was working with.  A return to the Academy Ratio (1.33:1) would have added a retro charm to accompany the film’s Ed Wood-esque special effects, and it would have masked some of the set design’s insufficiencies.

That smallness extends to the story, or at least its telling.  Barbarella, played by a seemingly (and rightfully) confused Jane Fonda, is sent by the president of Earth into the cosmos to find Durand Durand, an Earth astronaut who has created a weapon of mass destruction.  She is supposed to use any means necessary to find him and bring him back, which means her body. It’s a mess.  What should have been an A to B, cause-effect narrative becomes a jumble of vignettes about a sexy lady in space encountering wacky creatures to do it with, including a blind angel.  Each scene break features an excuse to put Fonda in a different lascivious costume, too.

Barbarella could have been the basis for a seriocomic exploration of the way society treated women at the time (and in many ways, still treats them) and in how women could give themselves more agency.  In some ways, Barbarella uses her body to get what she needs, which could be considered a sly way of empowering her and women at large, but it’s a limited and sad notion.  Vadim may have thought he was showing an enlightened, independent woman because she was openly sexual, but every cinematic choice belies this.  She is a tool of the future Earth’s government, operating on an assignment to please a man (the president), and her only way to accomplish her goal is to give physical pleasure to everyone she meets.  She doesn’t get to display her brain, she has nothing in the way of wit or charm, and she’s an empty vacuous creature who doesn’t make a choice of her own throughout the picture.  It all seems like a too personal attempt by Vadim to show off what was “his” to the world.  In turn, the movie is all crummy style with a substance completely opposite of what it’s selling.

Barbarella is available on Netflix Instant, if you want to watch an example of how to totally undermine the message you want to send.

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Streaming Choices: The Frozen North (1922)

In Streaming Choices, I take a quick glance at the world of cinema available on Netflix Instant, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime, and other streaming services.

Rating: Three and a half stars (out of five)

Buster Keaton was a master of understatement.  Everything he did, he kept his face as close to straight as possible.  His facial acting was measured as a matter of degrees, unlike his chief contemporaries, Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin.  Their goofball plasticity added to their charm, whereas Keaton gained his by being the king of deadpan without having to actually speak.

Keaton both plays up and subverts that deadpan quality in his short The Frozen North, which he co-directed with Eddie Cline in 1922, right before his run of classic feature comedies throughout the rest of the ’20s.

At the “last stop on the subway,” a snowed in backwater town in the middle of nowhere, Keaton proves himself to be a rather malicious fellow unlike any other in his oeuvre.  His bumbling remains, however, as he attempts to rob a casino using a cardboard cutout of the town’s public enemy number one as his wingman.

He barely escapes from his bungled robbery and heads home to see a man and woman canoodling on the couch.  In the most darkly comedic turn of any Keaton film, he impulsively shoots them both before a dialogue card appears.  “I’ve made a mistake.  This isn’t my house, or my wife,” as he jolts out the door.

Let’s examine that for a second.  Buster Keaton, whose cinematic career revolved around stunts and derring do in service of finding safety — think the hurricane sequence in Steamboat Bill Jr. or his attempts to save his beloved in The General — shoots two people in cold blood.  And he brushes it off with a wickedly funny line about mistaken identity, heightened further by his utter dismissal of moral culpability.  The minimalist facial acting remains the same, but this time, he shades it with just enough of a hint of mischievous evil to unsettle the audience.

Another tool in his repertoire here is the setting.  Until his later big budget epics, Keaton was content to use the greater Los Angeles area for all it was worth in his shorts and early features.  They were often dusty, rocky pictures, but here the snow is stark.  It pops at the audience.  It makes them think, “Buster Keaton doesn’t belong here.”  But there he is all the same, using a cane that keeps sinking in the snow, being flummoxed at how to cut into the lake for ice fishing, being the victim of a rooftop avalanche.

Keaton’s patented befuddlement remains throughout the short as his and Cline’s camera stays static and nonjudgemental despite the horrific things his character does to others.  This is all for a reason.  We’re supposed to be concerned about what’s happened to the nice guy with the stone face who makes those wonderful falls.

The short’s punchline ending both reassures the audience of Keaton’s general “good guy”-ness while hinting at the darkness inside all people.  It’s a great conceit only diminished by the film’s incomplete nature, which makes some of the middle parts a bit confusing.  We don’t get the full story of his numerous relationships with the town’s women, the chases feel a little disjointed, and the stunts lack much of the kooky inventiveness of his later work; save for a great sequence of tug-of-war with an Inuit ice fisherman.  Overall, though, the greatness outweighs the bad (which isn’t Keaton’s fault, anyway), and The Frozen North is a speedy 17-minute romp that offers more than just completism for his greatest era.

The Frozen North is available on YouTube, embedded below.


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An Ode to the Perfect Parking Job

Last night I performed the ultimate feat of urban living.  I worked late into the evening because I’m a terrible procrastinator who does not plan well.  My girlfriend and I live on the far north side of Chicago, a wretched hive of cars and villainy (re: potholes).  If you don’t beat your neighbors home before rush hour, you’re out of luck.  As 10 p.m. rolled around and I was just turning on our block, I knew my parking choices would be limited to some second-rate places, like the morning rush-restricted lane (no thanks, 6 a.m. alarm clock) or the block that a week ago featured gunshots I had to call into 9-1-1.

Things looked grim.  I inched my way down the street, letting each gap of more than a couple feet enter the realm of possibility.  My 2009 Chevrolet Impala, Reginald VelJohnson, is not the nimblest of beasts.  Rather, he is ungainly and difficult to maneuver under the best circumstances.

Dud after dud after fire hydrant, nothing presented itself.  I sensed another long night of searching for some kindly real estate large enough to fit Reginald would be on the docket.

But wait, a glimmer of hope.  I saw a spot, one that would have normally resigned me to defeat, between two darkened cousins of Reginald, black and blue Chevys, parked tantalizingly far enough apart to dream on.  I pulled along the cars and put my car in park in the middle of the street.  I needed a closer view.

Using my hands as the world’s least reliable rulers, I measured the distance between them and deduced I would have just enough room to squeeze in.

“Maybe,” I said aloud, uncaring about what the neighbor walking his dogs would think of the guy walking around his still running car, talking to himself.  I returned to the driver’s seat and steeled myself for the most skillful driving I had ever attempted.  I adjusted the driver’s side mirror to properly gauge my distance from the curb.  I turned down the volume of the close game between the Cubs and Pirates that was going down to the wire.  I did not want any distractions.

I shifted to reverse and made the cut.  So far, so good.  Oh crap, the blue one is right there.  “No way will I get this,” I thought.  But I cut the wheel the other way and straightened.  Now I found myself wedged at an awkward angle that resembled a capitalized Z.

“Oh boy,” I said.  I twisted the wheel and reversed an inch.  I twisted again and tapped the gas forward.


“Disaster!” I thought.  My eyes darted around.  Gone was Mr. Judgmental Dog Walker, and nobody else saw.  My hands gripped the wheel again and I dug in for the long haul.

The tires squeaked as they shifted on the damp pavement.  I had a beads of sweat from concentrating so hard.  Forward, stop, turn, backward, stop, turn, forward, stop.  This went on for 20 minutes.  But eventually, the job was done.  Reginald was nestled safely, with maybe an inch and a half total between his bumpers and theirs.

Car front park job

Car Back park job 2Now, I better hope my neighbors go to work in the morning, because there’s no way I’ll get out of there.

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Read Me at the TV Addict

Daniel Malen at the TV Addict graciously gave me a chance this week to write about Bob’s Burgers, a show I love dearly.  I found the connections between eldest daughter Tina Belcher and the current problems facing my generation.  It is the first of hopefully many things I write for the website as I march towards making this writing thing a career.  Go check it out and read other great TV Addict content.

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Guardians of the Galaxy on a Big Screen: Why the Shrugs?

Last weekend, Captain America: The Winter Soldier hit theaters and proved to be the best Marvel movie yet.  It takes the exceptional character work of other series standouts like Iron Man 3 and The Avengers (read about my recent rewatch here) and incorporates a visual style and impeccable sense of action, courtesy of regular Community helmers Anthony and Joe Russo, that has been missing from the Marvel house style; they don’t overlight every scene and let the moral ambiguities of the governmental overreach themes trickle down into the visual aspects of the film.  The violence is appropriate given the stakes, too, which is, perhaps not pleasant, but important to show the human costs of such endeavors.  But these things are all more or less what I expected from a series that hasn’t made a less than good movie in years.

What surprised me was the tepid reaction Guardians of the Galaxy‘s trailer got before the feature.  It’s the big Marvel release for this summer, and while it features characters most of the general public does not know — even as a kid who grew up reading Marvel comics voraciously, I never encountered the Guardians in print, which should tell you a little something about their obscurity — but at this point the goodwill built up by the perpetually expanding appreciation (and quality) of Marvel’s movies would make one think audiences would be primed and giddy for anything they throw at us.

And yet, after this trailer played, I heard what amounted to a mass shrug.  There was a bit of nervous laughter and pockets of genuine buzz, but I felt like the only person who couldn’t contain my excitement.  It didn’t matter that I’d already seen the trailer numerous times online; the big screen immersed me more fully.  I couldn’t grasp why everyone wasn’t gaga for it.  After all, it seemingly checks every box on what I think people want in summer movies, especially space operas.  It introduces weird new multicolored characters to get to know, played by some tremendously entertaining actors (Chris Pratt looks to make a seamless transition from hilarious ensemble player on Parks and Recreation to the modern iteration of Kurt Russell here, plus two-time Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper plays a talking, homicidal raccoon), in a fantastical setting nobody’s seen onscreen, directed by a filmmaker, James Gunn, with a whacky, often humorously twisted sensibility.  It’s a movie that looks to revel in its silliness while providing the action-adventure people expect from comic book movies.

Even from the trailer, you can see a film dripping with personality.  Gunn’s previous movie, Super, deconstructed the superhero genre — particularly the Batman myth — and took it to some dark places.  Marvel hired him to play in the sandbox, but from a different angle.  Space operas — Star WarsJohn CarterFirefly — rely on a brand of romanticism that does more than border on goofy.  It’s funny to see humans jumping 50 feet in the air or giant anthropomorphic dogs shooting lasers.  Gunn recognizes this and imbues this trailer with nods to the satire he’ll use to lovingly roll around in the world of sci-fi shoot ’em ups he grew up watching.

So why is this not something everyone is jumping out of their seats to reserve tickets for?  On the latest Badass Digest Podcast, Devin Faraci mentioned (I’m paraphrasing because as of this writing, the website is down) how audiences tend to not connect to movies that are knowingly eccentric.  I think there’s a lot of truth to that, but it’s not cut and dried.  People paradoxically long for both familiarity (think classic rock radio) and surprise.  Sometimes undeservedly, we love things from the past that made us happy in the moment, but they don’t necessarily stand up to sober, aged scrutiny.  I think that’s what Faraci is getting at, because people don’t like to have the shortfalls of things they love pointed out to them, and that’s what happens in movies that are knowingly goofy.  These new films, so the thought process (created by me) goes, take tropes from the earnest classics people love and nod to how these tropes are a bit fluffy and unimportant to humanity.

But that’s not always the case in this brand of film.  Everything I’ve seen and read about Guardians of the Galaxy reminds me of another silly sci-fi flick, Galaxy Quest.  That was a picture loved everything about Star Trek: The Original Series, especially the silly fight scenes and hammy performances.  The filmmakers behind that movie didn’t want to make fun of that stuff, they wanted more of it.  They had no derision for the less than stellar moments of the show; everything was celebrated.  The same seems to be happening for Guardians.  Gunn and company appear to love the weirdness of comic book stories and characters.  Everything they’ve released to this point makes me think they want this oddball charm to really shine, and they’re savvy enough to understand that it’s okay to be funny.


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Carlos Villanueva Shows Travis Wood How It’s Done

Yesterday I wrote about my disappointment in Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Travis Wood’s decision to get rid of most of his formerly lush beard.  Today’s Cubs starter, Carlos Villanueva, knows exactly what to do in the facial hair department.

This is a picture from early last season, a time in which Villanueva would pitch well as a swing man between the bullpen and starting rotation.  His performance tailed off as the year continued, as his beard and mustache became less distinct.

And there he was earlier today, taking the mound with his pristine twisted mustache, triangular soul patch, and thick chin strap underpinning it all.

In just about any other life situation, I’d think Villanueva’s fussy sculpting would be silly and unnecessary.  But in baseball, with its longstanding love for unconventional facial hair — Rollie Fingers, “Old Hoss” Radbourn, Jayson Werth — I love it.  Their team-wide beard growing contest made it easier to root for the Boston Red Sox last year’s World Series.  I didn’t need much (anything) to give me reason to root for whoever played the St. Louis Cardinals in that series, but the Red Sox gave me something fun to latch onto.

And in what will be a lost year for the Cubs, stupid things unrelated to the team’s performance are what fans like I need to follow.  I love baseball, even of the bad variety, but that badness still grates the longer I’m exposed to it.  Villanueva’s beard, if such a simplified term is worthy be used to describe its glory, lends that levity necessary to break up the annoyance at constant miscues, lack of hitting with runners in scoring position, bullpen implosions, and eventually, the constant pushing out of valuable players for prospects who could be years away from entertaining me.

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Travis Wood’s Biggest Opening Day Mistake

The Chicago Cubs lost their home opener to the Philadelphia Phillies, 7-2 yesterday.  Travis Wood, the Cubs’ lone All Star in 2013, started the game and took the tough luck loss, due to a Chase Utley home run and later the bullpen’s fragility.

But make no mistakes about where to place your vitriol.  Regardless of his strong start and other factors unrelated to his performance, the loss was all Wood’s fault.  Take, for instance, the last few seconds of this video of his first pitch, and the first at Wrigley Field in its 100th season.  Notice anything?  I sure did.

His beard, perhaps the 2013 Chicago Cubs’ greatest asset, has been cropped into a frazzled goatee.  Take a look at what once was.

Now it’s a shadow, a nothingness devoid of (agreeable) personality.

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 10.45.51 PMWood looked like a prospector in 2013.  He projected an image of gruffness, the visage of a grizzled man who loves lifting heavy objects, big tires, and whiskey.  Now he looks like he should be hanging out on the set of Justified.

Of course, we’ve been down this path before.  Wood surprised everyone last year at the All Star Game by appearing clean shaven to the media.  It was a bad idea then and it’s a bad idea now.  He changed things up to look presentable for the national stage, but he was foolish to choose this path.  He had been extraordinary, but opted instead for plain.

It matters because, for all the importance of mechanics, health, mindset, and preparedness, getting in the head of your opponent can give you the slightest advantage you need.  When a guy who looks like he’s seen some rough times throws a hard object at 90 miles per hour near your body, it makes you focus just a little bit more.  You’re more alert, but also more on edge.  “Will he try to hurt me just for fun?” the batter thinks, worried about the hungry looking caveman 60 feet and six inches away.

This is only partly in jest.  Of course, Wood’s natural gifts combined with some good luck (if his 4.50 xFIP is to be believed) last year and he broke out as a legitimate middle of the rotation threat for the Cubs going forward into their expected window of contention.  It’s mostly due to gained experience, confidence, and working with a catcher, Welington Castillo, who seems to have a good sense of sequencing.

But the beard’s cool, too.  Grow it back, Travis.  The Cubs — and my fantasy baseball team — depend on you.

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Streaming Choices: Tales of the Night (2011)

In Streaming Choices, I take a quick glance at the world of cinema available on Netflix Instant, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime, and other streaming services.

Rating: Four and a half stars (out of five)

Storytelling is inherent in humanity.  We all need to make sense of the world, to order things, to imbue meaning into our actions and those of others.  That comes across in tales large, small, and in between.  For some reason, though, it seems the biggest, broadest stories — myths and fairy tales — last longest.  It is likely there were ancient mumblecore adherents, telling the tiniest narratives possible about small victories and inane insults of their Greek villages or Roman kitchens, but history has swallowed them for any number of reasons.

We’re left with the grand chronicles featuring familiar names like Hercules, Achilles, or Moses.  This results from the fundamental, overwhelming universality of their stories.  They intentionally lack details specific to the characters and situations that would make them more “real.”  They have few idiosyncrasies to tie them to the time in which they were written.  They feature lessons about people — struggling with the pull of diametrically opposed poles, doing everything in one’s power to find love, standing up for the oppressed.  They also have strict rules in place to limit the characters’ options; gods, nature, the rules of warfare, and more keep the protagonists from doing all they, and we, would like to do.  These are stories about everyone and everything, and anyone can project themselves and those they know into the archetypes they follow as they read or listen along.

French animation director Michel Ocelot has internalized these notions.  Unlike the universal myth makers of the past, though, he has modern technology and the visual components it affords him.  He makes beautiful use of it, particularly in 2011’s Tales of the Night.  

The film uses a simple framing device — three friends hang out in an old theater to write and act out adventures of mythic characters, like princesses, wolves, dragons, and magical drummers from cultures around the world.  It’s a cute, agreeable setup that would be a delightful lark in itself if that’s all it had going for it.  But Ocelot has bigger things on his mind.

Take the character designs, for instance.  Their distinct personalities come through in the wonderful voice work of Julien Beramis, Marine Griset, and Yves Bersacq [Writer’s note: Forgive me if the English accents of the version I watched were not played by those very French-sounding actors, for they are the only ones listed on the film’s IMDb page.].  But they are animated in a silhouette style that never falters, except for the occasional incorporation of their eyes.  Ocelot is telling his audience, “Go ahead.  They are you.  Join in!”

And so we do.  We collaborate with Ocelot and his actors by fully realizing who these characters are with our minds; we provide the visual connection ourselves.  They build the bridge but they don’t push us to the other side.  We must do it ourselves.  That is a form of ultimate trust and lack of condescension towards an audience.

Ocelot situates his shadow archetypes in a vibrant world not unlike the stained glass windows of the world’s most gorgeous cathedrals.  The ornate detail of every “set” is immense, while tipping occasionally into surrealism.  The bright pinks, purples, and oranges of the king’s chambers in the story of the Boy’s adventure to the Caribbean afterlife (without having died first) bring to mind the dream sequences of Akira Kurosawa’s Kagemusha.  The golden temples of the dragon tale put you directly into a vast South American empire.

His use of the transportive power of cinema and the literal visual depictions of character archetypes would suggest Ocelot believes in a world of unlimited possibilities.  But his stories each have the restrictive rules mentioned earlier.  The Boy in the Caribbean story is forced to search for seemingly unattainable objects and make impossible guesses by the king, lest he be executed.  The Boy’s fight with the South American dragon causes an ancient prophecy to inflict bedlam on the empire.  Ocelot subverts all these rules in clever ways, which again suggests an unlimited positivity to his outlook, but these characters still must follow these rules before they can overcome them.  The rules themselves never break, they just get worked around after being installed.  It’s a magical ode to working within society’s systems and finding ways around the periphery to make life work to your advantage.  Because that’s all we can do.

Tales of the Night is currently available on Netflix Instant.

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“Win [Something] for Having a Working Memory!”

Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 9.10.48 AM


Photos like this circulate around Facebook constantly.  They exist in a plane of shared experience, a collective nostalgia for things that do not matter.  Their mission would appear to be building community, a way of saying, “We’re not so different after all.”  But in effect, they don’t do that.  And this is a problem.

So let’s unpack these wildly popular Facebook posts a bit.  Every post in this category follows the same pattern, oftentimes the exact same wording: “LIKE and SHARE if you remember… [photo, usually of the Saved by the Bell cast for some reason].”  Thousands of people click the familiar blue thumbs up button and they post it to their homepage, which causes each post to then get more views from that homepage.  And it builds for a couple hours into a phenomenon of people replying to the photo with variations of, “Yes, I remember this common object, event, pop culture artifact, etc.  It was so great!”

But here’s the thing.  Recognition of something does not deserve a back pat.  You did nothing special.  Your brain made a connection to something you experienced in the past.  You are, in fact, doing something every healthy, functioning human being has done since the dawn of the species.

What are we saying when we repost these things?  It invariably goes back to “old is good, now is bad.” But that’s rarely, if ever, the case.  Take, for instance, the chair in the picture above, which I only used as a generic example.  There is someone claiming in the comments that these were “the best chairs ever.”  If you like them, that’s fine, but hyperbole doesn’t earn you extra points.  The nylon on these chairs frayed and would poke you.  They would rust and be impossible to open.  They would collapse if you sat back.  They are the height of triviality.

If they’re so useless, why do we see them daily on social media?  That’s plain when you look at the sources of the photos.  They almost never originate from a personal account.  It’s pop culture websites, sports teams, and anything else vaguely commercial enough to deserve a place on Facebook “Pages.”  The more people who look at the photos, “Like” them, and share to their friends, the more attention these companies will get for doing nothing.  They get traffic to their pages, which leads to their website, which leads to people buying a product because of a vague recollection of something that does not affect their life.  The photos make these commands without offering anything.  People extrapolate this to mean their memory will win a prize.  If it works on you, the prize is spending your money.  If it doesn’t work, there is literally no purpose whatsoever.

And this concerns me.  When we engage in this blind triviality, we give up some agency.  It might not be much, but it’s troubling nonetheless.  We’re bored at work, or in class, so we look to something, anything to get us out of our mental rut.  In comes this thing which harkens back to a time when you were doing something that isn’t the something you’re unhappy with in the moment, and it gives a glimmer of hope.  It makes you more dissatisfied with the present, which makes you want to escape more.  But escaping is rarely useful.  This is why I watch so many movies and write, and why people crochet, paint, work out, or whatever else.  These activities make us think about where we are, what we want to do; they teach (or at least attempt to teach) us something of value about the world.  We are creating something when we do them, building the neural connections these Facebook photos only look to lazily exploit.

And really, the present likely isn’t terrible.  It’s simply here.  If you’re unhappy with it, you should engage in what makes you unhappy, then work to fix it.  Apply for new jobs, work on a hobby, play with your kids.  Just stop blindly following commands from people you don’t know to do something that won’t change your situation.

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