Saturday, March 29th 2003

The Ugly American
posted @ 10:00 am in [ ]
As anti-American sentiment grows, all this lumping-together of all 300 million of us is really getting on my nerves. We can separate ourselves from the C student in front of the cameras who doesn’t understand what the hell he’s saying and claims to have been elected President, why can’t the rest of the world? “America” is not doing this to you, okay? It’s just one rich jerk and his buddies.

In fact, this seems to be a common scenario with Americans in other countries, and I think it’s the basis for the very skewed view of us abroad. Some rich ass with an American passport walks into a restaurant in a foreign country, proceeds to embarass his hosts, be rude to the waiter, and behave as if he had been fed out of a trough all his life. Geopolitically, some rich ass steals an election, and proceeds to try to colonize a vulnerable country in an unstable region so he and his buddies and family can control a source of cheap oil for the next 50 years or so, and generally behaves like a jerk.

The thing that most folks in other countries who have had some experience of this brand of American don’t realize is that that’s not typical of us at all. Most of us are polite, friendly, and only interested in violence in the movies. We might use the wrong fork, but that’s only because we usually only get one at home and we’re not sure what the other ones are all about. But we’re game. We get exposed to people who are different from us every day, and most of us are up for trying things a different way just to see what it’s like. We don’t even get embarassed if we’re awkward about it the first time.

Also, as someone who is very well domestically traveled, I have to say that at home, Americans are sweethearts. They’re itching to share what’s intersting about where they live with anyone who happens through. If you’re from out of town, you have *got* to try this pie and see that curiosity or beautiful landmark. And while we’re driving through, if there is any possible way we’ll have time to do it, we *do* try this pie and see that thing, because we’re curious about other places and folks, too. I have met so many Americans in my travels who would give a complete stranger the shirt off their backs, I couldn’t understand where the sterotype came from.

And then I left the North American landmass for the first time. I went to Aruba on my honeymoon. There were a lot of folks there who never left the resort grounds. There were others who did and were loud and drunk and obnoxious. There was one family that made me want to tell people I was Canadian, all drunk, teenage son and father singing dirty songs at the top of their lungs, mom encouraging them and shrieking with laughter. It began to become clear to me. These weren’t the kind of folks I met while driving around through 38 states, who were friendly and curious and liked to try new things and share what was special about where they were with others. These were the kind of folks I didn’t like to share subway cars with or be at the next table from in a restaurant. There aren’t that many of them, but hell if they don’t all travel and behave like themselves wherever they go.

So why don’t folks in other countries know about the majority of us? I think it’s because when you live on a giant landmass with ocean on either end, travel to foreign countries is expensive. The folks you love to meet while traveling and remember for the rest of your life are regular Americans: waitresses and truck drivers and farmers and teachers and regular hardworking folks with regular jobs. These folks often don’t go abroad more than once in their lives, because they can’t afford it and they don’t know anybody there. The ones who seem to travel most for pleasure (theirs, not ours) are those with brand new money. They don’t know how to behave in a nice restaurant here either, and they figure that just because they can afford to pay the check, they should be welcomed no matter what they do. They’re obnoxious and just bought a ton of horrible leather furniture. They’re also a pretty small percentage of the population.

Unfortunately, these folks are also more memorable than those of us who speak the language, know which fork to use, and politely ask directions, and they got there first. All I can really say to the rest of the world is that before you decide that’s who we are, come see us here at home. You have got try this pie.

Saturday, March 22nd 2003

SMACKDOWN! Yoda vs. Gandalf
posted @ 9:07 am in [ ]
Over the last few weeks, my husband Phillip and I have had a running gag about who would win in a fight: Yoda or Gandalf. While I can’t imagine what two such moral equivalents would possibly have to fight about, I admit I am nonetheless intrigued. Gandalf of course has size on his side, and is good with both sword and magic staff. Yoda, on the other hand, jumps around while he’s fighting like a bush baby on a double-espresso. Judge him by his size, will you? Of course, he said that when he was still a puppet, placidly dislodging X-wing fighters from swamps, and not a computer-generated mirage who mugs like he’s having a bowel movement every time he practices a little telekinesis.

So Yoda vs. Gandalf SMACKDOWN! goes something like this: In this corner, wearing tasteful neutral-colored flowing robes, standing six-foot-nine, weighing 220 pounds, the Mofo of Middle Earth, the Grim Reaper of Gondor, GANDALF THE GREEEEY! In this corner, also wearing tasteful neutral-colored flowing robes, standing two-foot-four, weighing 46 pounds, the Diva of Dagoba, the Jumpin’ Jedi, YODAAAAA!

Whaddya think? Who walks away with the belt?

Friday, March 21st 2003

Quinn Martin Rocks!
posted @ 5:17 pm in [ ]
Now, you might think I have several good rants about America’s Brand New War, and you’d be right. But I’m not going to talk about my feelings about colonization for the sake of cheap oil today. If you want to get depressed, have a few beers and watch the war on videophone. No, today I’m going to talk about one of the great movers and shakers of television and some of his finer products.

I love Quinn Martin Productions. You may not know who Quinn Martin is, but you know his work: The Streets of San Francisco, Hawaii Five-O, Cannon, Barnaby Jones… the list goes on. All those 60s and 70s crime dramas worth a damn, they’re all Quinn Martin productions. I adore them. If I’m flipping through channels and find one, I’m finished looking. The only thing that trumps a Quinn Martin production is Columbo.

Quinn Martin had a vision. He wanted detective shows set in different major American cities, each with a certain style but its own flair, and they all had that trademark QM structure with four acts and an Epilog. There’s something about the vision that absolutely fascinates me, and it’s not just nostalgic kitch. I love the way each series had a certain kind of localized grittiness, like Dragnet meets City Confidential. I love the way the characters wore polyester and were sure they looked good, sort of like when you’re on the dance floor and you start to believe you look good, so you do. I *really* love the cool theme songs.

I also love that Quinn Martin was so cutting edge for his time. Despite the often hilarious scripts, he took on important issues of the day. His stuff was at least as cool as Miami Vice was a decade or two later. McGarrett always had groovy new techno-gadgets at his disposal. Cannon had a car phone, a curly-corded handset that came out of his armrest or something. Michael Douglas just had Karl Malden to go get the car while he ran after the perp, but he could shoot at him from behind his wideass shield of a tie. And what did the milk-guzzling Barnaby Jones have? Just Lee Merriweather, but that was probably plenty.

There’s also something very viscerally appealing to me beyond my intense enjoyment of the *style* of it all. There’s something so sweet, so innocent about the stuff that people on those shows were worried about. I mean, who is afraid of hippies anymore? The characters all looked wistfully back to the simpler times of the 50s and earlier, commenting on how complicated things had become. This is likely because Quinn Martin had a blistering conservative right-wing social agenda, which to me, just makes his delightful products that much more hilarious.

Maybe what I find most appealing about it is how comforting that is. Perhaps in the next generation, during those trying times, we’ll all look back on this as a society and laugh. Or maybe it’s just that anyone who can swagger with self-important authority while wearing a plaid polyester sports jacket is worthy of some admiration, and those shows were full of guys like that. Anyway, they don’t make ‘em like that anymore. Sure beats the hell out of war by videophone. Even George Jetson, first television character to have video conferencing, would rather see Dano book ‘em.

Thursday, March 13th 2003

Protected: The Hypothetical Dominatrix
posted @ 12:39 pm in [ - ]

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Saturday, March 1st 2003

Harry and Matilda: The Resolution
posted @ 12:32 pm in [ - ]
Harry and Matilda went to the movies. They saw Tres Heures du Merdre like Harry wanted, and he did do some funny voices, although they weren’t quite as funny as Matilda had hoped. Matilda had a nice time with Harry, and after the movie ended and they went home, she found she really missed Harry being around.

The sad part was, Harry had initially made Matilda feel pretty special, and once they got to the movie, Matilda felt more like Harry had just wanted her to come along so he didn’t have to go alone, and not because of anything particularly special about her. It took a lot of time and money and work for her to get to that movie, and in the end, all his coaxing and encouragement and funny voices seemed pretty empty.

Harry is a really special person who, because of his particular damage, can’t get out of his own way long enough to let what is wonderful about him shine through, or to be free and happy for himself. Matilda only saw little flashes of it, but enjoyed what she got. She wishes he were capable of being that person all the time. So Matilda feels pretty compassionate toward Harry despite the fact that he did exactly the sort of thing to her that causes her freaky damage in the first place, and he did it knowing what that damage was. For all the things Matilda enjoys about Harry, he is in some ways still a selfish little boy and not interested in being the man he could be (and is for a few minutes at a time). There were times when he even seemed to be jealous of her, or like he wanted to be more of a rival than a friend. Matilda chose not to try to get him to see Explosions Are Forever. He still has no idea what kind of opportunity he blew.

Matilda has no regrets, however. She had a great time, she got answers to the questions she needed answered, and she never would have showed up for the great time for less than what Harry had promised. Part of her still lives in the happy moments during that afternoon in the movie theater, and always will.

As for my trip to Vienna, it was really wonderful. It’s a beautiful city, I felt both at home and constantly exposed to wonderful novelty, I enjoyed the conference, and best of all, I got the guy I needed for my dissertation committee. Now the only thing holding up my process is my own time, work, and discipline. I expect to gas on more about that later. Right now, I have some research to do…