Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Panda Meditation

Two words: Panda Cam

Check it out!

You will never get any work done on the computer again.

Friday, November 11, 2005

What is Your First Memory of Physical Pleasure?

Mine was when I was 3 or 4. I was at a parade with my parents. It was summertime, so it was most likely a 4th of July parade. From far off, I could hear the marching band approaching. My excitement began to grow. I loved the coordinated movement, the uniforms, the music. The sound begins to build; they are moving closer. The melody wafts over me. And then the rhythm enters my body and I become synchronized with it, propelled by it. And here comes the line of bass drums! Their beating FILLS THE CAVITY OF MY CHEST AND MY HEART ITSELF BECOMES A DRUM! I close my eyes, perhaps even cover my ears, a small smile on my face. I don't even need my ears, because I am listening with my whole body. It's exquisite, almost too much...almost too much... And then they are gone. The reverberations drain out of my body. I am slightly chagrined, hoping no one noticed my ecstasy.

There are more marching bands to come. I can hardly wait.

Topic of the Day

REM has created many exquisitely beautiful songs, but never a perfect album.


Thursday, November 10, 2005

An Ode to Home Box Office: Part Three, The Sopranos

So, to review: Still no HBO in my home.  

But you can’t avoid it. Everyone’s talking about what’s on HBO.  It seems the best shows are there. Not only can you swear and have sex on HBO, it seems you can also have well developed characters, deal with real-life issues, and oh, have great casts as well.  And because subscribers pay a shit-load of money for it, content is not sacrificed to the censorship of advertisers.

Once again, Netflix and the DVD player have saved me.  But sometimes, the wait for seasons to be released means that media critics and average people are discussing things that have happened while you’re still a season or two behind.  Am I bitterly referring to that New York Times article about a certain important development in season 5 of Six Feet Under while I was still waiting for season 4 to be released on DVD?  What do you think?

Now, while waiting for the aforementioned 5th and final season of Six Feet Under to become available, I have gotten hooked on The Sopranos.  Oh, I looked on from the sidelines for years as everyone and his uncle cheered Tony Soprano and his family.  “Big deal,” I thought.  Not that I don’t love a good gangster story.  I’m a huge Scorsese fan.  Turns out I was just a playa hater.

But now I am hooked.  Season one is under my belt, and we would have started season two yesterday, but for the broken DVD that came out of the Netflix sleeve.

Why do I love it so?  

Reason #1: James Gandolfini
It’s astonishing to watch this big lunk of a man express such subtle emotion and such depth.  Of course it helps that he has great writing and story development to work with (see #2).  His body and his face convey so much – I could just watch him forever.

Reason #2: Challenging traditional depictions of masculinity
OK, I admit I’m pushing it here.  Yes, The Sopranos does depict a subculture that is thoroughly a Boys Club, and is inherently sexist.  Tony and Co. routinely hang out in Silvio’s strip club, Badda Bing, where the topless dancers are literally backdrops to the action around them.  Tony has a mistress, comes on to his therapist, and visits call girls.  In one episode, Tony’s Uncle Junior, the Boss – in name only – of the New Jersey families has his authority challenged when gossip spreads that he orally pleasures his lady friend.  Evidently licking pussy means that you are one.

Despite all this, and more, the masculinity of The Sopranos differs greatly from that normally depicted in American pop culture.  One aspect of this is the Mediterranean culture that allows men to show affection for each other: to hug, kiss, and express their love and loyalty genuinely to each other with no specter of being accused of homosexuality. (Having seen only one season, I do not know if homophobia becomes an issue later in the series.)  We also see Tony cry more than once in a way that tells me he’s taken Rosey Greer’s song “It’s Alright to Cry” to heart.  Finally, to depict a mob boss as having panic attacks and needing psychiatric help challenges our notions of male power, laying bare the consequences of a culture that tells men that they must always be strong and “suck it up.”  In therapy, we see Tony struggle honestly with issues about his family. Particularly touching is a scene where he talks of wanting his son to be proud of him, yet wanting his son to have other options in his life.  

Reason #3: Beyond Stereotypes
Rudy Giuliani accused The Sopranos of giving Italian Americans a bad name.  I would contend, however, that the show in fact opens up possibilities of representation, rather than restricting them to stereotypes.  In fact, many secondary Italian characters in the show wrestle precisely with the notion of stereotypes.  Some echo the former New York Mayor, wanting nothing to do with Tony because he “gives us a bad name.”  Others fancy themselves superior to Tony, yet are like giddy children around him, treating him as an object of fascination.  In another scene, Christopher, not yet a “made man,” has an encounter with a “gangsta” rapper that puts him face to face with the appropriation of his culture.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say about The Sopranos as I watch more seasons (no spoilers, please!)  But for now, I eagerly await the next disc.

Thank you, HBO.

An Ode to Home Box Office: Part Two, Paradise Lost

OK, as I mentioned before, I’ve been cable-deprived most of my life.  And really, I’ve been just fine without it.  I even went without a TV – gasp! – for a number of years.  I remember the first time I saw (or for that matter heard of) The Real World. I was visiting my friend Martha, who at that time lived in one of those complexes where cable is included.  I saw the show, and was like, “hey, what happened to the videos on MTV?”  Ha ha!

So, I was doing fine.  But then HBO had to go and start producing original programming.  Not only that, it was good.  Anyway, that’s what people would say, but how would I know?  

Thank goodness for DVDs and Netflix, cuz now I can catch up on what all the cool people were watching years ago.  

Take for example Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills.  This documentary about the West Memphis Three aired on HBO in 1996.  It just became available on DVD a few weeks ago, and I got it right away.

Of course I’d heard about the West Memphis Three before, through friends and through bands like Pearl Jam who have done benefits for the West Memphis Three support fund.  I knew the basics: 3 teenagers accused of murdering 3 boys, 2 of them sentenced to life and one to death row.  The evidence?  The boys wore black clothing (this is even before Columbine and the so-called “Trenchcoat Mafia”), were fans of Metallica, and were thought to be “a little weird.”

Even though I knew the outlines of the case, the documentary blew me away. First of all, for only the third time that I can remember, I had to close my eyes during some scenes.  The filmmakers openly show the horrific, gruesome, shocking – I’m running out of adjectives here – murder scene, including graphic images of the murdered boys.  At first I thought this a sensationalist move, or an exploitative one. But the more I think about, the more I think they did it so as not to gloss over the seriousness of the case. Perhaps also as a way to explain the “satanic panic” that overcame the people of West Memphis after the murders, along with the absolute urgency to find the killer – any killer.  I’m still not sure it was necessary to show the images, but I’m beginning to understand why the filmmakers might have made the choice.

There are so many aspects to the case, so many egregious wrongs, that I won’t go into them here.  Check out the movie, and the follow up Revelations: Paradise Lost II which aired in 1999.  Visit the website and read for yourself.

An Ode to Home Box Office: Part One, the McGrails’ Basement

I never had cable growing up.  Let’s be honest, I wasn’t even allowed to watch most TV until 1980 when my parents got divorced.  If it wasn’t “educational,” my father wouldn’t let me see it.  So I missed all the joys of a 1970s childhood: CHiPs, the Hulk, Charlie’s Angels.  

After my parents got divorced, my TV horizons expanded greatly.  Dukes of Hazard! Fantasy Island! The Facts of Life! But it wasn’t enough for me.  

“Mom, why can’t we get cable?  Pretty please!  Everyone has it!”  

It was the early ‘80s.  MTV had just launched.  HBO was all the rage.  But in our house, 3 channels was evidently enough.  (In recent years my mother has relented and now has the deluxe cable package.  About 15 years too late for me, thank you very much!)

Thank god for the McGrails. They lived two houses down, and Carrie was my constant companion.  Together, we would memorize the HBO schedule for Fast Times at Ridgemont High.  As nonchalantly as possible, we would rush downstairs, and in the dark watch as much of it as we could before her father would inevitably discover us, and shoo us away from the forbidden R-rated movie.  It was not until I was an adult that I finally saw the entire movie from beginning to end.  It is, incidentally, one of my all time favorites.

This is how I saw all the, uh, seminal movies of my early adolescence: Porky’s, Bachelor Party, Risky Business.  In secret at the McGrails, or if I was really lucky, while babysitting.  But all of it on HBO.  

Soon videos came along and replaced the urgency of HBO for my teenage forbidden movie needs.  But those folks over at HBO are smart – they had other plans to lure me.

To be continued…

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Frickin' Clueless

This is an excerpt from MoveOn's post about the nomination of Samuel Alito:

This morning, with his administration growing weaker by the day, President Bush caved to pressure from the radical fringe of the Republican Party and nominated Samuel Alito to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court.

Wait a minute, wait a minute. Caved?!? Caved to pressure from the radical fringe?!?

Hello! Earth calling Eli and friends! Bush is part of the radical Christian right. These are his friends, and he's done nothing but kiss their asses since even before he stole the 2000 election.

But wait, it gets better:

Bush's ploy to woo the far-right could reshape the High Court for decades to come—but we don't have to let that happen.

Is MoveOn really this dumb? How could they not see that Bush has been serving the agenda of the far-right for the past five years? He's not wooing them, he's in their back pocket!

And talk about stating the obvious. OF COURSE ALITO - OR ANYONE ELSE BUSH NOMINATES FOR THAT MATTER - WILL CHANGE THE COURT FOR DECADES TO COME. As will John "but he's so nice" Roberts.

So how does MoveOn propose we stop this juggernaut? Sign a petition to our Senators. Remember them? The ones who won that "victory" where they "saved" the filibuster by promising never to use it? The ones who voted Roberts right on through? The ones who keep giving Bush whatever he wants?

Wake up people. Get out of the box. We're not going to turn the tide by emailing Senators. The system is broken. Stop fooling yourselves it can be fixed. Take the red pill. The world can't wait.


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