The Friday Hot Sheet

The world is a big place. The story used to be that in ancient times every four years the entire world would shut down to participate in the Olympic games. All conflicts, wars, or disputes of any kind would be suspended in deference to the games, so that the same warriors and statesmen who fought so passionately for their freedoms and ways of life would be able to go and compete for their nation's honor in in friendly competition against the rest of the world.

Of course when you dig a little deeper what you realize is that "the whole world" was actually just the seven city states and surrounding kingdoms around the capital city of Athens, Greece -- largely considered to be the heart of civilization and culture at the time.

So the fact that the World Cup soccer tournament is reported to have the attention of so much of the world's media (even if American popular interest is minimal at best) despite the oil spill in the gulf, growing tensions between Israel and Iran, and the national horror that is the Spaghetti-o's recall actually seems a lot more in line with how the world's sorta always been when you think about it.

The bad week you had -- the work stress, the ennui, the rising bills and the shrinking free time, in a lot of ways it's an island in a bigger storm. And yet, it's your island. We experience things first-hand, even though we're aware of events all around us.
Maybe that's why the world gets so tense sometimes.
Because in a lot of ways we are fully capable of creating our own problems and solutions, and yet we're still always being affected by things outside of ourselves, by the actions of other people -- whether they be selfless or manipulative.

I would love it if a soccer tournament or an Olympic festival or the NBA finals could snap everyone out of their collective fogs and bring us all together for a little while, but the simple truth is that as much as we might like those things to be unifying, the world is simply too large for that kind of unity to be forced through some sporting event.

Fortunately, we have the Internet. Sure it's loaded with porn, spam, and reactionary a-holes, but is there anyone anywhere in this whole big world who wasn't shocked, appalled, and yet strangely compelled to learn more about the baby who smokes cigarettes?
Seriously, what the hell?
That is why I'm suggesting that every four years we get a think tank of teenagers whacked out on energy drinks and prescription drugs to release a stupid meme every year that the entire world will stop and check out for a few minutes. Nations will come together to huddle around the computer screen of that one guy who never does any real work and forget their troubles for a few minutes. Wars will pause. Oil will stop flowing. Hatred will be forgotten and forgiven as well all take a second to remember our shared humanity on this tiny planet in a remote corner of the galaxy --
As we all come together and enjoy the brilliance that is Cat Rave.
So before a bunch of pussies with glow sticks bring world peace -- here are this week’s risers and fallers, and the buzz as it looks from here:
How do you know if you've really made it as a writer? Is it when you get things published, or when an editor calls you back to do more work for them based off the interest in your previous work? As many of you might know, a rant I originally published on this blog about what I saw as a trend of hypocrisy in the vegan community was recently published in Folio Weekly magazine here in Jacksonville. I had to edit the story down quite a bit to fit their requirements, and the editors themselves made a few changes to the text (as editors will always do) -- but the spirit of the thing stayed largely intact. I got a handful of compliments and well wishes from friends and family (which was awesome), but it wasn't until this week that I truly got a sense for how many people actually read my story and were affected by it.

Because this week, there were not one -- but two angry letters to the editor of Folio Weekly deriding my story. That's right friends, Jacksonville vegans were pissed -- and they took to their emails to call me out on it. They called me uninformed, said my writing was rambling and pointless, and one guy even went as far as to say that my article was "A total waste of a Backpage."
It. Was. Awesome.
I've had work published in Folio before, and even had one or two complimentary letters to the editor show up in following issues -- but in all my years of getting stuff published (which is admittedly not as much as I would like to have) I've never garnered printed evidence that I actually pissed off the people I was attacking. I mean sure, I've had plenty of derisive commentary and heated discussions flare up in the comment sections of this blog (discussions and arguments that I thoroughly enjoy being a part of, btw) -- but there's something really cool about seeing unsolicited venom from strangers directed back at me -- especially when it's in the letters to the editor section, which Folio usually reserves for letting dissenting opinions ramble on in order to point out just how reactionary and easily agitated many people actually are, no matter how much they try to convince you that they're not.

The NBA Finals People ask me from time to time why I still bother with Twitter. What's the appeal? And while I don't deny that there are times when the micro-blogging social network can be a distraction, there are other times when it's the most fun you can have when you're supposed to be doing something else. They haven't come up with the right buzzword for it yet (thank god) but every now and then Twitter will sort of collectively get swept up in something and just become this nearly real-time snark fest of people sharing in an event -- enjoying it, making fun of it, breaking off into tangential side conversations about it -- all without the complication of their voices getting in the way of the actual event.

You know what it's really like -- Being at a presentation at work or a boring class at school and passing notes or cutting up with your friends in the back of the class. Expect instead of a classroom it's a worldwide stage, and instead of your buddies it's scores of people all around the world. Or like making jokes during a movie.

Maybe not everybody enjoys that sort of snark, but what I'm finding more and more is that I do -- and it makes a lot of things (especially television) ten times more fun than their supposed hype or the actual way that these events turn out to be.

Take Game 7 of this year's NBA finals -- which was a sloppy mess of a game filled with bad shooting, silly turnovers, and stupid fouls -- all of which probably wouldn't have held my attention much at all except for the last 15 minutes or so where Ron Artest and Kobe Bryant basically outran the much older and seemingly less focused Boston Celtics on their way to the championship. The game itself was a snoozer, especially for those of us who didn't really have a dog in the fight -- but Twitter was alive with cracks on the players, the ref's, and anything else that caught people's eyes and made then laugh.

It's kinda like being at a sports bar or a private viewing party with just your friends, cutting up and having a good time with it. I know it might sound weird, but it sort of makes the whole experience more personal, and at least for me -- a lot more fun.

Drawn Together  You know what I really love, when you can tell people are really passionate about something and get to see them do it. That's why I love bands and artists that you can tell are totally pushing hard to make it.

This is also why I always get so annoyed at Hollywood studios, directors, and star actors that seemingly have no problem putting out the same half-assed tripe time and time again just because that's what people are used to them doing and having it somehow maintain their level of stardom or fame.

I mean seriously, just about the time you're starting to worry that it's just about time for another insipid family comedy full of bad cliche's and rehashed pop music soundtracks to come out from either Adam Sandler, Kevin James, or David Spade -- you come to find out that just they've all just thrown in the towel and teamed up for a film that enables them to basically collectively wank off together at some secluded location shoot with half a scripts worth of ideas for six weeks and then walk away with huge paychecks that will last them until they decide to do the sequel in a year so they can make room for Steve Carell and Tina Fey to get in on the money train.

So when you find something out there that actually gleams with the shine of love and fun from the people involved, it's hard not to get swept up into it.

I know a lot of people got their fill of Drawn Together when it was a poorly matched lead in for South Park during it's early glory days on Comedy Central. Let's be honest here -- compared to the fearless social commentary and gross-out power that Trey Parker and Matt Stone churned out week after week the sitcom-styled parody that was a reality show filled with stereotypical iconic cartoon characters stuck in a house together never really had a chance. It was like a little kid arm-wrestling Kimbo Slice.

But I loved it anyways, largely for the way it took shots at Hanna Barbera-era cartoon cliche's and contrived reality show dramas -- but also after a while because you started to realize that so many of the voice actors involved were the ones who were usually stuck doing much more tame and sterile kids characters having the chance to essentially cut loose to be as crass and rude as they could possibly be, and clearly having a blast doing it.

Then again, I'm fascinated by cartoon voice actors in general. Truth be told, it's a job I secretly would love to do. From what I can tell it's really all about who you know and sorta being in the right place at the right time (Tom Kenny -- the voice of Spongebob [and countless other characters] basically came to LA with his highschool buddy Bobcat Golthwait to see if they could make a name for themselves, and during the lean years took on cartoon voicework as a way to pay the bills. He's now one of the most sought-after voices in the industry).

So when you start to realize the collected cartoon character credits of Drawn Together regulars like eternal crush objects Cree Summer (oh Cree Summer -- the things I would do to you, and that's not even counting when I used to crush on you back when you were Freddie on A Different World) and Tara Strong (plus Adam Carolla, Jess Harnell, and James Arnold Taylor) -- who's names you might not recognize but if you've watched any amount of cartoons in the last 15 years you've heard more times than you probably even know -- make up half the cutesy kids and superheros and non-threatening Disney channel villains you or your kids grew up with -- the fact that they get to take on such subjects as racism, homophobia, deviant sexual appetites, and Christian cartoons starring computer-generated vegetables without having to be cute or kid-friendly about it starts to sound like a hell of a lot of fun.

Even though the original series was canceled years ago, a cult audience remains -- leading to the recent release of a Straight-to-DVD fan service sort of movie that I watched earlier this week. Was it the best thing ever? Nah, it was kinda silly and rude just for the sake of being silly and rude, just like all Drawn Together episodes tended to be -- but could you sorta see behind the animation and feel everyone having a great time playing around with the characters and being a part of a writing/directing/talent crew that clearly enjoys working together? Hell to the Yes.

GamerOn the recommendation of a dear friend, I gave this film a look recently. You probably remember the commercials -- Gerard Butler in a movie where his action hero character is being controlled by a cocky teenager playing some sort of video game? The bad guy was Dexter's Michael C. Hall? The advertising made it seem sort of cliche and lame, like just another shoot-em-up with sort of a "the future is scary" plot twist. But it's actually a lot more than that -- or at least it wants to be.

Directed by Neveldine/Taylor, Hollywood's latest wunderkind pair that gave us the cult favorite Crank Series starring Jason Statham and wrote the script for the recently released Jonah Hex (which looks awful) -- Gamer is actually about a lot more than just a video game using live human soldiers. It's one of those movies that the studio clearly didn't know how to market, and they just went with the easiest angle they could think of -- "Hey look -- It's the guy from 300, but this time he's got a machine gun! Pew! Pew Pew!!

In actuality, Gamer goes for a very interesting statement about the direction many people are heading in where immersible video games like World of Warcraft, The Sims, and even lesser online shared gaming experiences like XBox Live or the Playstation Network could create a world where many people would welcome outside control of their lives if it meant they could be who they were online instead of who they actually are. Certainly not a new idea -- but an interesting take on it (although it's arguable if they actually succeeded in pulling the whole thing off when all's said and done).

I'm not saying that this is a change your life kind of film (the eventual way the action story takes over the allegory to me sort of steals the thunder from the overall effect, and a lot of the characters are too cartoon-y for the audience to sympathize with) -- but I love the energy of it all, and the suggestive environments and ideas that appear throughout (if you're willing to go a level deeper than just the surface story) offer an interesting take on our online culture. It's almost like I found the backstory a hundred times more interesting than the actual plot (save for all the jokes about the kind of people who play games like The Sims, a ton of incidental nudity, a great gag involving a bottle of vodka and a car's gas tank, and the appearance of the always fun to see Terry Crews) -- even if it's only for the implications of it all and the conversations that it eventually sparked.

Much like the Crank movies (which were fun, but too scattered when everything was said and done to be considered really great) Gamer kinda tries to do too much too early, and then has to sort of choose one path to finish up with. But if you go into it with an open mind and don't mind all the friggin' jump cuts and camera tricks, there's a fascinating world in there to look at -- especially if you happen to be a bit of a videogame fan already.

Story 3
On the one hand -- I didn't really need someone to make a third Toy Story movie. I was happy to be done with that world when they finished the second one. I like the characters fine enough, and at the time the animation was astounding -- but when you first heard about them going back to the well one more time it seemed a little unnecessary.

Part of this is that the films in the Toy Story franchise were essentially were my son's first overload films. Oh my god did he watch the hell out of those movies. Over and over we'd watch it. We'd act out scenes from it. We'd buy him toys from it. At first it seemed harmless and fun, and like a lot of young parents -- we made the mistake of letting his enjoyment of it, which translated into sort of a mental rest time for each of us (or an ideal time to fold laundry, do dishes, etc.) -- become sort of a drug that we all abused. And yet, even after seeing it what seems like a billion times in a row, I've still got a lot of love for the whole Toy Story universe.

So chances are my son and I (it's our weekend together) will go out to see this at some point in the next few days. It's gotten almost nothing but positive reviews, and as he gets older and starts to see things with a more critical eye I find that I really do enjoy catching the occasional flick with the boy in the theaters (even if it does cost an arm and a leg).

At the same time, enough is enough Pixar. Let this one go. There used to be a time back in the day when people looked forward to Shrek movies coming out. Lets not poison this particular well with that same sort of thinking, ok?
Besides, Andy's gone off to college now and left his toys behind -- it's not like
you have a lot of storyline options available at this point anyways, ..right?

[Listening to: N*E*R*D - "Everyone Nose (All the Girls Standing in the Line for the Bathroom)" ]


polkatronixx said…
Good for you Dan (with the whole Folio thing). Glad to see you getting more of your work published.

I remember that back page story you did about about child actors. It really seemed to resound with people.

I love the blog (and check it almost obsessively), but I think you ought to try hard to get published more (assuming you aren't trying already). I can see a book a la Chuck Klosterman's Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs coming from you (the format, maybe not the content).

On a not-quite-related note, I once wrote a letter to the editor (at Folio) complaining about a Tony Gancarski column in which he criticised gay rights or something (it's been years... I don't remember the details). But it caused a mini-firestorm when a Jax preacher/police officer wrote in and made a bunch of homophobic comments regarding my letter (because I compared the 60s civil rights struggle to the struggle for gay rights today). I think he ended up getting fired or reprimanded by the JSO.