Saturday, November 29, 1997

Fun with Fascism

Fascism has operatic narrative. Self-hate turned to hate of other. You, the noble Whatever, have been cheated of your birthright by the evil Whosis Clan, who stabbed you in the back and betrayed you. You are godlike, pure, superior, moral and righteous before God -- and you've been driven into the dirt. Your enemy is heartless, godless, lowborn, base and subhuman -- and they sit on the thrones of power. Now, your noble blood cries out. You must destroy them and reclaim the destiny that is rightfully yours.

It occurs to me this is basically it. The bastards keep changing the labels, but that's what's in the can.

Also occurs to me this is also the core narrative of various Islamic fundamentalists.

And the basis of American talk radio.

Friday, November 28, 1997

Starship Troopers

Caught Starship Troopers with my cousin -- CJ's belated birthday present. (Thanks man, not your fault the movie sucked.) What a fucking travesty.

A) Robert A. Heinlein's novel was a novel of cool tech. Director Paul Verhoeven threw all that hard SF brilliance away in his filmed adaptation.

No powersuits.

No fucking powersuits????

Some nice CGI, some nice action sequences. But no power suits. Basically, that's the core technological extrapolation of Heinlein's book. These cats and kittens were the Mobile Infantry. Based on his postulated tech -- the power suits -- they combined the functions of air force, infantry and a tank battalion. Based on such capability, how would battle tactics change? Great question. Heinlein's book came up with some great postulations -- which Verhoeven shitcanned in exchange for a conventional, dumbass monster fight in space that we've already seen in a thousand other movies. A cheap idea rendered with ridiculously expensive CGI is still a cheap idea.

On top of that, Heinlein's concept of the powersuit spawned every Japanese anime wetdream from Mobile Suit Gundam to Patlabor to Neon Genesis Evangelion. Heinlein's vision was the granddaddy of them all -- and this was the chance to realize it.

B) Heinlein's novel was a novel of ideas. Verhoeven didn't simply throw out those ideas; he attacks them. Starship Troopers the movie is a dishonest, ugly, strawman caricature of Starship Troopers the book.

Verhoeven shoehorned Heinlein's novel into his own leftist worldview. In Verhoeven's movie, the world of Starship Troopers is a fascist society. That's NOT what Heinlein was saying, goddamnit. Heinlein's novel was a thought experiment postulating a society in which citizenship, in addition to offering benefits, came with obligations. In said society, you couldn't be a free rider and vote. If you wanted to be a citizen, you had to put your ass on the line -- which, occasionally, meant going to war. What would such a society look like? How would its ethics change? Smart questions. Verhoeven ignored them, and made a ham-handed anti-fascist parable instead. Hey, I'm sorry the Nazis invaded his fucking country, but that's not Heinlein's fault.

Verhoeven once said that fascism is a society organized according to military principles. I think that's wrong. Will try to figure out what fascism is in another post.

For now, all I can say is: SF is literature for smart people. SF in film is a different story.

Hollywood keeps grinding out shitty adaptations of great books -- mostly shitty adaptations of Philip K. Dick books, but he's not alone.

Why do directors like Verhoeven keep making stupid movies out of smart books?

Make your own stupid movie.

Nobody's stopping you.

Friday, November 14, 1997

AWA 1997 Day #1

OK, so here I am at Anime Weekend Atlanta with son Andrew (aka "Drew") and cousin Chris (aka "Chris.")

Son Drew screwing around in the gameroom. Flies 1000 miles or whatever to play games he can play at home. Fine. Let the convention begin.

Chris and I go into the Century Ballroom where they're having their Invocation Ritual. Huge crowd, all packed in Black-Hole-of-Calcutta style.

Up on stage, some dude with a beard who looks like the lead in "Clerks" takes the lectern drinking one microbrewed beer after another, a big screen behind him. Funny guy; good stage presence. ("Only 40 shoplifting days 'til Christmas!" he shouts: Audience laughs. He shifts to whiskey and shouts: "Jack Daniels is your friend!" -- and the Audience laughs again.)

This Lord of Misrule shucks, jives and reels about for ten minutes or so -- and then we begin the ceremony proper -- a reiteration of the Three Prime Directives of the AWA Convention. We start with the ritual burning of a Magic card --"Magic: the Gathering" being the name of one of the more popular role-playing games (or RPGs, to use the nadsat).

The screen flashes NO MAGIC.

The audience hoots and howls -- "Burn! Burn! Burn!" -- flame consumes the card and the magic is gone.

Next they show a clip of some crappy old guy in a crappy old cape from a crappy old vampire flick. NO VAMPIRES! says the screen.

More hoots and howls. Then a slide of some dork in a Klingon outfit.

Caption reads: NO FUCKING KLINGONS!

And that brings down the roof; the crowd all shouting, stomping, screaming and bloodlust.

Saturday, November 1, 1997

Future Suck

Here's the comedy routine I gave at that place last night on the anniversary of Orson Welles' War of the Worlds radio broadcast. Bizarre audience responses included.

Enjoy.

Buddhism has a lot of resonance to me. Aside from the fact that I want to buy lots of crap, I'm a total Buddhist.

My essential Buddhist revelation is: there is no greater happiness than the happiness you imagine before you open the present.

That was my experience as a kid. I'd be in some department store. I'd see this box -- it'd be the Admiral Nimitz -- this plastic aircraft carrier inside. On the outside, you'd see this lurid cutaway drawing of sailors murdering each other and shit blowing up. Through the shrinkwrap, you could see all these tiny little plastic guys all stacked up inside like black people on slave ships; there'd be these little windows where you'd get little glimpses of this huge, wonderful plastic aircraft carrier that was perfect in every detail -- it was like an illustration in the Hare Krishna Bible, it looked like a religious thing to me. And my parents would get it for Christmas or sumpin. I'd open it up, and then minute I opened it up, it'd turn into a piece of crap. Before the box is open -- hallelujah. Open -- shit. Closed: ahhh. Open: crap. Instantly. If there was only some way I could play with the present before I opened the box, I might have some fun with it. No.

So, you're fucked up if you open the box -- but you're also fucked up if you never open the box. Because you always imagine. What if, what if, what if....

The only other thing I really ever wanted as a child -- goddamnit, I'm getting this shit off my chest, I need therapy! The one thing I always wanted and never got...

What I wanted was a Mister Snowman Snowcone Machine. I don't know if y'all are familiar with this -- it was a Hasbro toy. He resembled a clock -- one of those round alarm clocks -- except he had a head with a top hat. He had a white plastic cylindrical body. His abdominal cavity was glass. You could see into his guts where he would make crushed snowcone flavored-ice. I think you'd put all the stuff in his hat and turn a crank and out of some orifice -- I don't know what -- snowcone slush would emerge. AND I KNEW that if I had a fucking Mister Snowman Snowcone Machine, my life would be perfect. I'd be like Mayor LaGuardia, rule the neighborhood.

(bad Italian accent) Hey-- you wanna some Italian ice? You comma to me. I make you the Italian ice -- you remember the favor. Hey, I do you the favor, you do for me someday. I make you the ice! I make you the big ice!

I would rule the neighborhood. But my father wouldn't get it. He knew it was a piece of crap...

DAD: (tough no-BS voict) That's a piece of crap!

ME: (begging, hysterical) PLEASE!

DAD: No.

ME: PLEASE, DAD, PLEEEEASSEEE.

DAD: No, by God -- NO. I am not getting you that goddamn Mister Snowman Snowcone Machine!

ME: IT'S THE ONLY THING I WANT FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE!

DAD: NO! I am not getting you that piece of crap -- and that's final! You want a goddamn snowcone? Get some ice outta the fridge and make yer own snowcone. Defrost the fridge and make a snowcone at the same goddamn time!

ME: Dad PLEASE. I WANNA MISTER SNOWMAN SNOWCONE MACHINE!

DAD: No discussion.

And that was it. I could grovel all I wanted...

He wouldn't buy it for me. Dad had lived! He'd opened up enough boxes! He'd been burned before. He knew it was a piece of crap...

If I had gotten it, I'd've opened the box -- bang! Piece of crap. Then I wouldn't want it anymore...

But I never opened the box.

So now, to this day, I still dream of getting a Mister Snowman Snowcone machine....

My other chief childhood trauma of unfulfilled desire was the Ice Cream Man, may his soul rot in hell forever! Mister Softee, OK? The truck had an image of this face that was an ice cream cone -- an ice cream cone head with eyes and a swirl on top. Where's the brain cavity? In the ice cream? The cone itself? That frightened me. I didn't understand the evolutionary mechanism...

I had a problem with anthropomorphic characters as a child, especially the ones that wanted you to eat them. Hi! I'm Chucky the Chicken! Eat me! You know -- and Charley the Tuna. He's a suicidal anthropomorphic tuna fish who looks like Phil Silvers. I always wanted to talk him out of it. No! Don't do it, Charlie! They're going to cut you up, it's not Hollywood, they're going to eat you! No! No, Charley! No, no, don't, don't! You don't understand! I wanted to save him. Poor Charley the Tuna!

But the Mister Softee truck would go around the neighborhood. And he'd play "Sunday Afternoon" ...

A YOUNG WOMAN walks up out of the audience.

ME: Howdy...

YOUNG WOMAN: I think you really need this. (she hugs me) I'm sorry you had an unhappy childhood...

ME: Thank you, thank you. I need support. Thank you.

(She walks back down)

So it'd play the song...Sunday Afternoon...the Little Rascals theme. (whistling theme) And I had like dog ears. I knew when that ice cream truck was within a one mile radius of my house. I never actually saw the ice cream truck stop for any kid at any time. I think the guy was like a sadist who hated children. (Sadist voice) Fuck those goddamn kids! I'm gonna drive 'em crazy! I'm gonna drive around the neighborhood in an ice cream truck and never stop! Ahahahaha...

So I'd be out there...

I hear him! He's in the neighborhood somewhere!

So -- after shoplifting my mother's purse -- mining it for quarters -- OK, here's the liquor money, all right -- I'd go outside.

Nothing. The wind blowing. Mockingbirds. But I could hear him. Very faint. (whistling song) He's out there somewhere...

I'd be like working the lawn-perimiter. Totally alert. Watching the road.

Maybe he's coming from this way. Maybe that way.

I'm ready for you, Mister Softee. This time I'm ready.

Waiting for Mister Softee. Kinda like Waiting for Godot.

I'm out there in the middle of the lawn for hours sweating like this. Clutching my quarters. Then, after awhile -- I gotta go to the bathroom. Wrapping my knees together. Arrgghhh....finally I couldn't stand it. Gotta go...

I'd run inside -- and he'd roar down the street like LeMans -- ROARRRRRR -- I didn't even get to go to the bathroom -- he'd tear from one end of the street to the other ROARRRRRRGHHHHH -- I'd turn around screaming ahhhhhhhhh.....

He roars down to the end of the street -- and he turns. Oh god, oh god -- he's on Conrad! He's heading South. I'm running after him.

Stop you sonofabitch --

Then I remember myself...

(cute child voice) Oh please, mister! Stop! I've got a quarter!

Then...

STOP YOU FUCKING ASSHOLE STOP...

Please mister....

I'd be running....up one street, down the other. Screaming. Switching personalities.

Mister Icecreamman, meanwhile, is doing all the East-West streets in this one block. I'm chasing him -- having these middle class semi asthma attacks pantpantwheeze...then running again. Then he turns onto Brink and he's heading north. LeMans again. ROAARRRRR. No! Then he stops. I'm running....

Stop you fucker...pant, pant, gasp, gasp...

Stop...

Now he's turning onto Novus...nooo...gahhh...the last street in the subdivision! He's going west...outta the neighboorhood. I run up to Novus Street, and by the time I get there, he's just this dot at the end of the street. I watch him getting smaller and smaller and smaller -- then turning onto Tuttle...turning...turning right...AGGGGGGGGGGH.

And then he's gone...

it's OK. I went out for track in High School.

But the ice cream I imagined...was much better than anything he could've given me. But I still think he was a sick psychopath. In the middle of the night I'd hear him. (whistling tune) fighting the urge to run out. What I imagined was ---

ICE CREAM MAN: So little child...you're awake at two! You're a bad little child. You shouldn't be awake...come into my freezer of death! Ahahaha!

He'd grab you and throw you in with all these frozen child corpses and drive off...

(whistling tune)

The moral of this story is: don't trust the ice cream man...

No, the moral is the ice cream you don't eat tastes a whole lot better than the ice cream you do. There is no greater happiness than the happiness you imagine before you open the present. Present. Ice cream. Whatever...

Take the future, for example. Let's unwrap that and take that out of the box...

The future, oh wow. The future...

We're living in the future....

This is the fucking future.

Now.

(threatening metallic Martian voice) Inhabitants of Earth! We of the planet Mars give you this warning: for millenia we have monitored your world; we have found your species to be hostile and warlike. You are technological adults, but moral and ethical infants! For millenia we have ignored you -- but now you come to our world! Now we must warn you: do what you will with earth -- but come to Mars and be destroyed! We now return you to the program regularly scheduled for this time.

Anybody remember that? That was from a really cheesy science fiction movie from the 50s called the Angry Red Planet, as most of you erudite people should know, as you should also know (barking hypemaster voice) TONIGHT IS THE (now quiet -- thinking out oud..counting on fingers) 1939...1999... (shouting again) 60TH ANNIVERSAY minus one...OF THE FAMOUS WAR OF THE WORLDS BROADCAST (thinking again , unsure) by uh HG wrote it OK, the other one ORSON WELES, which went something like...

(bad Orson Welles imitation)

"It was the middle of the 20th century. People thought they owned the earth, but they didn't. People were being watched by bad aliens on Mars. The aliens were much smarter than people but they were cold-hearted. They envied the earth and wanted to take it away from people. Slowly but surely, they drew up their plans against us!"

Actually, the original was much, much longer -- but it was full of these long complicated sentences -- dependent clauses, metaphors, you name it -- so I had to dumb it down. We can't deal with that, nowadays. (reetard voice) Duhhh...I have no attention span! Duh, you have to say it one sentence or I will change the channel on you!

Yes master! Tell us your will, O sacred reetard! Perhaps there's a stupid person out there who doesn't understand us -- let's dumb it down some more!

Dumbing down is hard, I'll have you know. As an intelligent, educated aware human being it's an endless challenge to me to take my really brilliant ideas turn them into soundbites for the stupid fucking American public and their three-second attention span -- present company excepted, of course.

And what I really think we need to do is apply this dumbing down principle to religions. All religions should be required to state their essential premise in one sentence.

So Christianity -- "Accept God's unconditional love or burn in hell forever!"

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Praise the Lord!

Buddhism: "Life sucks -- get over it! OK?" Simple -- you don't have to go to college. It's simple!

Desire to be desireless.

Like I said, I Buddhism has a lotta resonance for me...

Good night.