Thursday, November 30, 2006

All I want for Christmas

(and my birthday, which falls shortly after Christmas)

  • The tea stains off my two front teeth.
  • Elvis Costello cd's, including "My Aim is True," "Get Happy!" "Imperial Bedroom," "Trust," and "The Delivery Man."
  • The final Harry Potter book to come out so I can gloat when most of my predictions about it are true.
  • Good mental health.
  • A scarf.
  • Whatever the best Jay-Z cd is.
  • All the white evangelicals to realize how inherently racist it is to wish for a return to America's glory days of the pre-1950s.
  • For said evangelicals to realize how inherently silly it is to believe that God guides American history and that He/She/It speaks directly to them.
  • A good Hold Steady cd.
  • The ability to eat the apples I buy and not forget about them, letting them rot into softness next to the stove.
  • Nothing pony-related. (Take heed, bro and sister-in-law.)
  • An academy award for Borat.
  • More email, less junk email.
  • A new pair of jeans.
  • Less back pain.
  • Really stylish hair, but just for about a month.
  • Underwear. Well, only from my wife.
  • Functional government.
  • Funnier running jokes.
  • A new laptop.
  • A working knowledge of a foreign language.
  • Cable television without the addiction to bad television.
  • Funkytown's football team to make it to the NFL playoffs. (This would be funnier if they weren't an NFL team.)
  • Bill Maher to realize that a comedian wearing a suit is still merely a comedian.
  • For said comedian to realize that his one-liners aren't that great, that few comedians use one-liners anymore, that smirking when you reach the one-liner doesn't make it funny.
  • To ease up a bit on people like Bill Maher and direct my energy elsewhere. Like Deadspin.
  • Coffee, without the shakes.
Updated again
  • A one-credit course for all incoming undergraduates on how to use the fucking bathroom, including the normalcy of using a urinal, the good reasons not to pee on the seat, and how to flush.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Hey Douchebag! "Hitchens Hearts Borat" Edition

(Warning: Borat spoilers ahead)

If Christopher Hitchens were to dine with a Southern, Christian family that lived on Secession Drive, how long do you think he’d last before being asked to leave? I ask because Hitchens has written an odd, scattershot essay about Borat for Slate. That means it’s time for another installment of “Hey Douchebag!

Ever the contrarian (or reactionary, I can’t decide which), Hitchens doesn’t like Borat. But it’s where Hitchens begins that signals just how off his piece is: he makes a lot of hay about a bad summary of the movie in a review in The New Statesman (subscriber only). He begins with the bad table-of-contents listing (not likely to have been written by the reviewer), “Sacha Baron Cohen’s exposure of crass Americana.” Like any headline, that one does an injustice to both the movie and the review. Neither the film nor Ryan Gilbey, the reviewer in question, is interested solely in “crass Americana.” Hitchens, of course, cannot deny the volume or variety of American crassness in the movie (the homophobe who tells Borat to shave his mustache because he looks like a Muslim and terrorist; the frat boys who extol bad behavior with women, then go on to support slavery; the Pentacostals who speak in tongues and “save” Borat; the incredibly long line of people waiting with books, magazines, and life-sized reproductions of Pamela Anderson’s character in Barb Wire, who all want their memorabilia signed by her). Given how troubling the acknowledgement of so much crassness would be to his thesis, he ignores it.

Gilbey’s offending paragraph is, as Hitchens points out, inaccurate, especially in Gilbey’s odd (though not entirely inaccurate) use of the word “compliance” to describe how storeowners respond to Borat. But instead of acknowledging that Borat receives at times compliance and at times resistance (though it’s actually no surprise that a gun owner wouldn’t sell a “Kazakh” a gun with a camera trained on him), Hitchens focuses on “the discovery that Americans are almost pedantic in their hospitality and politesse.” He then catalogs the good manners of those who come into contact with Borat and acknowledges the normalcy of those who threaten Borat on the subway. But here’s what Hitchens (and many other reviewers) have missed: Borat isn’t just satirizing the “attitude of painfully maintained open-mindedness and multiculturalism that is really being unmasked and satirized by our man from the 'stan” (Hitchens) or “crass Americana”: he’s also (and maybe most importantly) exposing how Americans use decorum and politesse to obscure their narrowmindedness (and worse).

Let’s take the example of the formal dinner Borat attends in Birmingham, which Hitchens returns to as a prime example of the pedantic hospitality and politesse of Americans. We’re introduced to the diners by way of a street sign, the above-mentioned Secession Drive. On this street that stands as a stark reminder of the South’s enduring legacy of the Civil War, they tolerate his behavior admirably. (It’s worth noting they knew they were on camera and signed waivers.) But they speak to him and of him in the most condescending way. When Borat compliments a woman on her “erotic physique,” the pastor in the group says with the slow nod of patronizing, “That’s correct. That’s a very good observation.” And when Borat is out of the room, a woman speaks of how easy it would be to “Americanize” Borat. Hitchens summarizes that moment as when they “agree what a nice young American he might make,” a summary that elides just how patronizing that moment is.

Borat’s vulgarity and crassness escalates in each scene not to elicit the vulgarity and crassness of some Americans (though he succeeds in that), it escalates to show how we mask our crassness. That’s why scenes such as “The Running of the Jew” matter so much as counterpoint—many Americans imagine that we’ve moved well beyond crass racism, jingoism, and prejudice. The counterpoint of Borat’s crassness with the disturbing (and sometimes easily pierced) masks of Americans is what the movie is really all about.

That, and the opportunity to hear a fat man yell, “Eat my asshole!”

Sunday, November 05, 2006

NFL Officiating Officially Sucks

In an era when any play in a football game has at least four camera angles, bad officiating simply should not have a role in deciding games. A few weeks ago against Tampa Bay, Cincinnati got screwed on a phantom roughing the passer call on Robert Geathers, and today, on Cincinnati's last-chance drive against Baltimore, officials failed to call an obvious 4th down pass interference that would have kept the drive alive. Would Cincinnati have won today's game? Not necessarily, but they should be 5-3 (the Tampa game) and could be 6-2 if they'd had a shot on their last drive. The cameras were in the right place to see, but not the officials.


A plea to sportswriters everywhere:

Stop using the phrase "perfect storm." Any time a couple of circumstances lead to an outcome, a sportswriter (or, in the case of Randy Cross, an announcer) will call it a "perfect storm." And each time they do, I get the sense that they're using it because they think it makes them sound smart. But now it's become a sports cliche. Go ahead, use Google to see how often ESPN's writers use it, or Sports Illustrated's, or the writers aggregated through Yahoo Sports.


I love the Sports Gal

As I've mentioned elsewhere, Bill Simmons has long since lost his edge, but at least his football picks are worth reading for his wife's brief columns. She's funny, and unlike her hubby, she doesn't labor the jokes she makes, she just makes them and moves on. Also, she's out-picking him so far this NFL season. I'm rooting for her.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

It is futile to resist

Olive wants you to call for change.

If you don't, she'll take away your frisbee.

Call For Change