Monday, August 29, 2011

Meet The 2012 GOP Candidates

With the GOP presidential campaign in full swing, it's a good time to look at the front-runners in more detail. Who best represents the Republican voters? Who has the best chance of beating Obama in the general election? Let's take a look at the contenders!

Newt Gingrich
Campaign Slogan: "Yes I Can!"
Platform: To recapture that 90's magic
Pros: Led the Republican Revolution of 1994
Cons: Took a 12-year hiatus from politics to go on a shopping spree
Campaign song: Breakfast At Tiffany's by Deep Blue Something

John Huntsman
Campaign Slogan: "Someone You Know Has Heard of Me!"
Pros: Meets all necessary requirements to run for president
Cons: [citation needed]
Campaign song: Nowhere Man by The Beatles

Sarah Palin
Campaign Slogan: "Together We Can Show The World What Makes America--A Really Great Nation Nation That I Love And Whose Hardworking Real People Make It So Awesome--Such A Wonderful Place To Celebrate Life, Grow Business, And Exercise Our God-Given Freedoms, Don'cha Know!"
Platform: Is a thing you stand on, right?
Pros: Charismatic Tea-Party candidate, lock on the dirty-old-man demographic
Cons: Will resign in 2014 to pursue book deal and show on Fox News
Campaign song: Still Crazy After All These Years by Paul Simon

Rick Perry
Campaign Slogan: "Because Fuck Science, That's Why!"
Platform: To rid America of domestic terrorism in the form of teachers, scientists, economists, and politicians
Pros: Straight-talking Texas governor with a proven track record on job-creation
Cons: Thinks America should secede from the EU
Campaign song: Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd

Mitt Romney
Campaign Slogan: "Klaatu Barada Nikto!"
Platform: All hail the mighty Xenu
Pros: Successful track record as governor of Massachusetts
Cons: Might be a liberal in disguise
Campaign song: Bitches Ain't Shit by Dr. Dre

Michele Bachman
Campaign Slogan: "Or Else It Gets The Hose Again!"
Platform: Find the Blue Fairy and someday become a real boy
Pros: Charismatic Tea-Party candidate, Googly-eyes have appeal with children
Cons: Born in the Uncanny Valley, citizenship in question
Campaign song: The Rainbow Connection by Kermit the Frog

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Tori Amos and Euro-American Cultural Differences

I think people underestimate the differences between American and European culture, and I think this difference is no better exemplified than in the videos for Tori Amos' Cornflake Girl. It's kind of an arty song to begin with, a piano-driven female-sung pop song in an era dominated by scruffy men with guitars.

The American Version

Take a look for yourself.

It's... well, pretty typical of 90's entertainment. 20-something women in trendy clothing (and remember that the post-new-wave-alt-grunge 90's look was very sort-of-bad-on-purpose). It's a girl-power thing on a sound stage that's supposed to look like a desert and/or deserted playground. Quick cuts, nothing that approaches a narrative, a stew made from a cowboy, and Tori inexplicably plays a piano solo on her chest around the 3:10 mark. She also mugs to the camera a lot. Like, a lot. My assumption is that the director would have rather cast Juliet Lewis, but was stuck with Tori (it being a Tori Amos video, after all) who nonetheless did her best to be accommodating.

The European Version a freaking mind trip.

Tori Amos - Cornflake Girl by djoik

It opens with Tori sprawled on the floor, shot through a window and prominently featuring a mechanical bird. From there it morphs into an abstract impressionist film about a tornado that has sucked up flaming houses, eskimos, and a girl in ug-boots and a straight jacket who promptly gets caught in a spider web, and proceeds to get weirder from there.

It's definitely artsy. It's more than that, it looks like someone ate a bunch of symbolism and then shat imagery all over the film and set it to music. It is a garbled incomprehensible mess, but a slower, more deliberate incomprehensible mess.

The Moral of the Story

I don't know. Something about globalization. You figure it out.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Dexter's Shifting Moral Center

This started with an off-hand remark on Facebook about the how Showtime series Dexter seemed to have lost its moral center in the fifth season. It blossomed into a discussion, and is now getting the full essay treatment. Massive spoilers ahead.

Seasons 1 - 4

Dexter is about the quintessential antihero--a serial killer trying to make the world a better place. To make the titular character work as a protagonist, the series relies on a sort of twisted morality by which an evil person can do good. Dexter is broken, sure, but the justice system is also broken, and he can satisfy his bloodlust while cleaning up after other people's mistakes. Now it may seem odd to talk about a show like Dexter as having a moral center, but really that's what the show's been about since Day One. The first season, in it's entirety, is about Dexter trying to reconcile the fact that he is a serial killer with his obligation to be a contributing member of society. This conflict ultimately externalizes with Dexter being forced to choose between his biological brother (a serial killer) and his adoptive sister (a cop).

Throughout, Dexter is defined by the way he straddles this line between needing to be a killer and wanting to be a normal person. Starting with Season 2, we see him start to wobble on this line. Now he has to choose what kind of relationship he wants to be in: Lila is the evil, Rita is the good. In Season 3, it's about friendship: Miguel is the evil, his old friends are the good. In each instance, he flirts with the evil, things get out of hand, and Dexter has to destroy the monster he helped create. Now it's worth noting that starting with Season 2, the series is no longer tied to any of the literary canon that guided the first season. And at that same point, the series began to make Dexter less and less of an antihero and more and more of a sympathetic hero. On the one hand, we see get to see new outward variations on Dexter's internal conflict. On the other, we've lost part of what made him so interesting: Dexter always new that he wasn't redeemable. But as long as he held onto his code, he could stay safe.

The apple cart got royally upset in Season 4, the strongest in the series in my opinion. Dexter has someone to study: the Trinity Killer, who somehow manages to balance being a husband and father with being a serial killer. He is the epitome of everything Dexter aspires to be: rather than walk the line between good and evil, Trinity embraces both. Dexter thinks he can do this as well, but as the season progresses, Dexter's delicately balanced illusion slowly disintegrates. The more he studies Trinity, the more we sees that Trinity is barely hanging on. He isn't, in fact, a loving father and husband, and he is unable to control his psychotic urges. But Dexter doesn't want to see that; instead, he continues to make compromises. Ultimately, he throws out the code, allowing the evil in him to run rampant. He actively disrupts the police investigation into the Trinity murders in order to kill the man himself, and Rita's death is a direct consequence of that action.

So, to recap, the moral center of the show had been that Dexter couldn't help being a monster, but as long as he followed his own rules, he could be a member of polite society. When he ignored the code, he was punished. If he had killed Trinity immediately rather than trying to study and emulate him, Rita would not have died. If he had let the investigation proceed unhindered, Trinity would have been captured, and Rita would not have died. The show stayed true to the clear, if twisted, morality that governs its antihero. And Dexter is violently reminded that he will never be normal. And now he knows it, and now he's saddled with a family that he doesn't have time for, but he can't get rid of them because he has to keep up appearances. The end of Season 4 set us up to explore a very dark place.

And then in Season 5 the writers were like "fuck it".

Season 5

Having now seen the entire fifth season, I can take some solace in knowing that Dexter ended up where he should have at the end of Season 4... more or less. But the moral tone shift (absent of consequence, no less) is astounding. Dexter kills a random dude in a bathroom and... well... nothing happens. It's totally forgotten about, except that the memory of his dead surrogate father gives him a big thumbs-up for showing some emotion. He throws out the code entirely, bringing in a protege, improvising kill rooms, leaving bodies around all willy-nilly. It would be one thing if we were following the fallout as he slowly reverted to the monster, but throughout the fifth season, Dexter becomes more and more of a sympathetic hero.

This is a problem. We can accept Dexter as a vigilante killer precisely because he's not a sympathetic hero! Rather, he's a force of nature, and we're lucky that he's on our side. But now, Dexter is just a guy, right? He's just trying to be a good dad, and stuff. But that means that when he kills, we can't root for him any longer. So the counterbalance that, the criminals Dexter is pursuing have committed acts of unspeakable horror.

So, this is the new moral center of the show: "Revenge is a-okay by us!" And it's not just the revenge killings. Dexter kills an ex-cop, a crime that will go unsolved because the guy was trying to turn in Dexter for committing murder--which is a totally justifiable thing for a normal person to do! Deb catches Dexter in the act of cleaning up after a kill, but she lets him go (without knowing who he is) because she knows that he was just killing for revenge after a particularly heinous crime. Familial problems? Those go away after a few episodes thanks to a super-nanny and grandparents. Dexter spends practically no time being a father, but he spends an awful lot of time being a B-movie action hero, killing haphazardly and for revenge. In fact, in the moment in the show that's supposed to demonstrate him being a good father to Aster, he does so by beating up her friend's step-father. Haphazardly. For revenge.

And, oh yeah, what about the Fuentes brothers? The season starts out with two Tony-Montana-caliber hoodlums, one of whom eventually gets killed. The other... is never mentioned again. He just evaporates.

I don't want to say that I didn't enjoy Season 5 at all, because I did. It's still a fairly smart show with compelling characters and a nice hook, but this season just wreaks of lazy writing. The moral center, whole character arcs, and an entire antagonist were lost in the shuffle while the creative team abandoned introspection for moxie. Considering the show's origins as a philosophical exploration of the nature and purpose of evil... I'm a little disappointed.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I'm A Horrible Father And That's Okay

I love babies and babies love me; this has been true since I was about ten years old. I've spent my entire adult life looking forward to fatherhood, and it's finally here in the form of my three-week-old son, Malcolm. So, how am I doing?

I'm effing miserable. Sort of. It's complicated. Let me explain.

My Son Doesn't Seem To Like Me Very Much

I love babies and babies love me, but it turns out that the babies that love me aren't newborns. I'm used to babies that can laugh and hold their heads up; newborns are potted plants that need to be watered and repotted every two hours. Mal doesn't interact. Hell, he can barely see and noises just startle him. He is physically incapable of smiling at something that he likes. This is the absolute best I can hope for: that the child will be distracted long enough to not hate life enough to scream about it. When he looks at me, I don't see recognition. When I joke and make goofy faces... I get a blank stare. He is completely unimpressed with me.

Perhaps he's figured out...

I Don't Seem To Like Him Very Much Either

Supposedly when a man has a child, it's the greatest feeling ever. I've heard this from many people, and I've come to the conclusion that it's a vicious lie. There was no instantaneous and overwhelming sense of love. In fact, when Mal was born I was beside myself wondering what was wrong because I had no feelings for him whatsoever. I was exhausted, yes, and my wife was a bit of a wreck so I was trying to help her. Thankfully after a day or so I started to get attached to the little guy, which may be because...

I Am Terrified Of Killing My Child

Funny story: last weekend I was visiting with some family and my sister was holding Mal while sitting in the dining room with our mother and some aunts and our grandmother and a cousin. Mal started to fuss and I ran in from the other room to take him. My sister looked up at me and reminded me that nearly every person at the table had given birth to a child and that I needed to calm the hell down. Which was true.

Oh, but it gets worse. I'm kind of a worrier already, but with Mal I find myself inventing things to fret about. Is he eating enough? Is he eating too much? Is he pooping regularly enough? Is he breathing right at this very second? Are his feet too cold? Is his scalp supposed to be that color? Is it a problem that one of his nipples seems to be larger than the other? I would have the pediatrician's emergency phone number memorized if I didn't constantly have my wife telling me that everything's fine and I need to calm the hell down and that I'm doing a good job, which she has to do regularly because...

I Really Suck At This

When Abby and I were planning the family, we always assumed that after she delivered the baby she would hand it off to me. See, my wife is a bit... surly. Even when she was pregnant, her maternal instinct was present, but it was running in a very low gear. But not me! Remember, I love babies and babies love me. Abby worried that she might not bond with the child, but I assured her that she'd be a great mother and I'd be a great father and it would all work out just great. And guess what? Abby's not just a great mother, she's an incredible mother. She's patient with the child in ways she's never been with anyone. And she's really good with him: she's running errands with him, doing laundry, washing dishes. She's doing the chores that I used to do, and all while taking care of a child. Hell, she's even lost all of her pregnancy weight already. I was totally right about her.

I was dead wrong about me. God help me I try, but I get so frustrated. I'm exasperated all the time, I can't soothe the child, I'm forgetting things, I'm shirking my chores. And then I feel guilty because Abby spends the entire day watching the kid and when she hands him off to me for the evening, I can't make him calm down and she has to take him back. I know that the first few months are survival mode, but I feel like I'm the only one struggling to survive. Seriously, there are days when I feel like my sole contribution to this family is my paycheck.

At least I have my hobbies, but not really because...

I Now Suck At Everything Else Too

I have many talents. I write music. I write stories. I write code. Not a whole lot of that has been happening lately. I've been writing music for the kid, and after three weeks I have a song and a half that I haven't memorized yet. I try to hammer out a chapter or two on some story idea in the evening, but I'm constantly losing my flow because I have to stop and feed the kid or change a diaper. My work has almost certainly been suffering. Hell, when a friend comes over, I can't even find anything to talk about other than the baby. I can't even have a beer and an intelligent conversation with my best friend because my brain is stuck in full-on baby mode. The only reason I've had time to read books is because you can hold a Kindle in one hand while feeding the baby in the other.

And it may never get better because...

There Is No Light At The End Of The Tunnel

This may be the hard part, but it's not like it ever gets easy. I still have teenagers to look forward to. Oh, and let's not forget whose son we're talking about here. Abby and I were both grade-school outcasts. My sister was cool. My brother was cool. I was never cool. God, when I think back about younger versions of myself... I was the kid who had emotional problems, who broke into tears on the bus because other kids teased him. I used to stay up nights crying to my mother about the stress of going to school the next day. If Mal turns out to be like me, I get to experience that bit of hell from the perspective of the impotent parent.

Also, I was kind of an annoying kid. The words that came out of my father's mouth most frequently were: "Stop trying to be funny all the time." I was that obnoxious. Remember the annoying kid in the first Might Ducks movie? The "swing batter batter kid"? This kid? He reminded people of me. People told me that I had to go see that movie so I could see the kid that reminded them of me, and he was that obnoxious little puke. So I can't wait to see how much Mal takes after his father.

So Is There Any Good News At All?

Sort of. It's complicated. Let me explain.

Apparently this is all fairly normal. Everybody's different, but apparently it's not that unusual for a new father to lose his mind. And my mind was only sort of tenuously there to begin with. Someday the baby will be the kind of baby that I can entertain and be entertained by. And then I can watch him while Abby super-mom's another newborn (because we are planning to have more than one). And I think there's a corollary to the Dunning-Kruger Effect going on. Maybe the reason I think I'm such a horrible parent is because I have some ridiculously high standards for what constitutes a decent one. Or something.

See, intellectually I know everything's fine, but I still can't shake the feeling that I'm a failure as a parent. And then I get to feel guilty about that. Because honestly...

I Have No Excuse To Complain

We're doing great. The baby's fine. Abby's fine. We even still have a social life. We've gone to a dinner party, a family gathering, and a book club meeting, all in the last three weeks. We go out to dinner every once in a while--the child is actually quite good with cars and restaurants. We are in a very stable financial situation and I've got fabulous job security. Let's face it, Abby and I are model parents. If I were to complain about my plight to a random person on the street, that person would be utterly justified in punching me in the face.

Look. I thought I was mentally prepared for parenthood, and I totally wasn't. It's like thinking you're ready to go skydiving because you've gone diving before. I'm figuring this all out as I go, and apparently that's pretty normal as well. So, absent a frame of reference, I can only assume that people are telling me the truth about how I'm doing fine, and the baby's healthy, and everything will be okay. And if I take a few deep breaths, I can stop freaking out, take a look at my son... or a picture, and remind myself that he's here because I wanted him to be here, and that I'm happy with that decision, and that the madness will eventually pass... or at least it will dull a bit. I take a look at my parents, who had three kids and are now sane. Mostly sane. I remind myself that even though I was an annoying kid, since I became an adult my father and I have become rather good friends.

So, I have that to look forward to.