I tend to bemoan list-making, when I'm asked to do so. And yet, here I am compiling not just a Top 10 singles/albums/movies/moments/boys that made me swoon of the past year, but a 'cross-the-board, mixed-media uber-list of my favorite things about 2008. Maybe it's that I'm getting older (like, monumentally so), maybe it's that I'm getting easier to amuse, or maybe it's just that 2008 was brimming with noteworthy pop culture, but whatever the case (even though I think it's more the latter than anything), something's telling me to organize my year in entertainment into a countdown. So that's what I'm doing this week: 10 items per day, except for Friday, which will carry the Top 4 (and maybe a few things I hated about this year, as well). A lot of what shows up shouldn't be surprising, but I'm also going to take the opportunity to cover some stuff I loved but never got around to writing about or felt that my take didn't deviate enough from popular opinion to warrant sharing. It maybe still doesn't, but hey, hindsight's 20/20 so I'm gonna hold onto that, just like I expect you to hold onto that grain of salt you should always take with lists in general and me specifically. Because if 2008 has taught me anything, it's that the more things change, the more comfort there is to be taken in cliches.
Actually, I already knew that before 2008, but whatever.
When some kid on the bus told a second-grade me that there was no Santa Claus, I refused to believe him. I also refused to believe my father, who backed up the kid's claim later that night. I refused to believe him despite the fact that he was the authority as the stand-in for a fake man who, in turn, was a stand-in for Jesus, I guess? To help kids make sense of the reason everyone puts their lives on hold during the last two weeks of every year? Or something?
I didn't carry resentment after coming to terms with life's evaporating magic, but it might have been my first taste of existential angst. What the fuck was the point of it all if there was no Santa, and what the fuck was the point of the mass deception parents inflict on their children as a matter of culture, I wondered (in probably less wordy, but no less profane terms). The Santa thing still doesn't make sense to me. It seems like something we do to uphold the divide between young and middle years, just for the sake of organizing and having a little less chaos (like magic!) in our lives. Childhood, after all, is a construct, at least if you agree with Neil Postman, and I'm inclined to. I asked the only sister of mine who has a kid if she was going to lie to him about Santa and she said she was, "because it's fun." That seems like as good of a reason as any. If you're too old to play with toys, get a kid and play with them.
Plus, you know, Santa's a symbol of capitalism, and while I enjoy the fruits of the system (until the depression!), celebrating it with a mythological figure is like putting whipped cream on whole milk or using liquid soap to wash your bar of Dial or giving trophies to rich famous people for doing what has caused their fame and fortune. It's just excessive to the point of, well, pointlessness.
Because I feel like Santa Claus and his frigid bitch of a wife need to be taken down a notch or two, I really love Silent Night, Deadly Night, the 1984 slasher flick that finds a dude in a Santa suit on a murderous rampage, caused by an inability to get over his parents' death (at the hands of another dude in a Santa suit). Unpon release, the movie caused outrage in bored mothers across the country, who I guess, under it all, felt like their charade was being threatened? Their protests eventually led to the commercial being yanked from the airwaves and the flick being pulled from theaters. Aligning with their point of view, Siskel and Ebert did a very good job of summing up the ire with their condescending capsule review (complete with "Shame on you"s!) that ran a few weeks after SNDN hit theaters:
I can't figure out what's better: Siskel saying the profits of this movie are "blood money," which probably means one could make a FORTUNE from selling a coat made out of the Easter Bunny (if only we could catch the fucker!) or Ebert's parting morality: "I would like to hear [the creators] explain to their children and their grandchildren that it's only a movie." As if that discussion is so much harder than the "There is no Santa Claus" one! If we didn't lie as a society in the first place, the fucking movie couldn't have been made! Who's unfair?
So yeah, even though Silent Night, Deadly Night isn't particularly smart or clever or overtly deviant from the slasher format (besides the costumes), for its implicit attack on the status quo alone, it's a worthy entry in the genre and fine holiday viewing. It's also scary as hell at some points. When I put in this movie last year late one night, this early scene scared me so much that I had to turn it off and resume watching during the day:
I hate how Grandpa looks at the kid at the 1:15 mark! Even just reviewing it to get that timecode made me shudder. (My pussiness grows by the day, I'm realizing.) I also like how hilarious everything that follows is. Particularly, "Santa Clawwwwsh." This guy is going for Oscar in a movie that cost less than the metal in the statue.
Also, the ending is, in the words of one YouTube poster, EPIC:
Society-skeptical question at its core? Clippable crazy old man? Epic ending? I mean, how more Internet-ready could this thing be? Clearly this shit was ahead of its time. And on a more serious note, this type of wake-up call that questions our values as a whole is good for us, even if we ultimately refuse to accept it. I'd go as far as calling it a gift.
When word (and proof) of Aretha Franklin covering Mariah Carey's "Touch My Body" in concert made the rounds earlier this year, the Internet let out a collective giggle, since touching ReRe's body in its current state seems like a daunting task. I feel OK making that joke because Aretha seems to be in on it. In the clip above, she performs the song (forgetting the lyrics, of course, since she always does that with everything anymore) and at the tail end, wonders aloud what it all means: "Can somebody tell Mariah I can't sing that stuff? 'Wrestle me around?' 'Throw me on the floor?' I don't think so. You know, you'd have to go home if you come here with that. You'd have to get on up out of here."
I think that she knew this all along, and really, if there's anything that could make me love Aretha more than a cover of "Touch My Body," it's an examination by Aretha on how absurd it is for Aretha to be singing "Touch My Body." She's doing the work for us! It's live YouTube captured...on YouTube. [via Mariah Daily Journal]
Christmastime means a deluge of new music releases attempting to cash-in on the mass consumerism of the season. And this year, for me that means a stack of CDs (or, MP3s) that I want to talk about but haven't yet gotten around to. Combining the spirit of releasing with the spirit of giving, I've come up with a rough guide to seven recent high-profile R&B albums. Since the quietly diabolical Leona Lewis has reintroduced pop to the lame sensibilities of adult contemporary, I've tailored this guide to mothers: the question at the center of these capsules is, "Could you buy it for you mom?" The answers may dismay you.
Keyshia Cole, A Different Me
What is it?
Keyshia Cole’s egocentrism takes a turn for the sexier, at least according to this album's intro (with albums titled The Way It Is and Just Like You under her belt, at least she could never be faulted for thematic ambiguity). But saying she’s sexier here than before is like saying Spanx are sexier than girdles; while technically true, no one’s getting off either way. No, A Different Me isn’t Keyshia’s janet., but it is an opportunity for her to sound less pissy on tape, and she achieves that even without a grand announcement of "no more drama."
Yeah, it’s fucking great, her most consistently enjoyable album. Song-for-song it’s one of the strongest R&B albums of the year (up there with Ne-Yo’s Year of the Gentleman and Mariah’s E=MC²), though you couldn’t tell by the first single. The years-old “Playa Cardz Right” is the oddest choice for a lead R&B single since Jade’s similarly laconic “5-4-3-2 Yo! Time Is Up,” and Keyshia doesn’t even have the benefit of the pseudo-gimmick that is a countdown. Also, Jesus Christ, is 2Pac passé or what? He’s, like, twice dead now. Me is otherwise filled with stuff to keep her profile up through ’09 – it’s Viagra to Urban radio’s boner. The smooth electro of “Please Don’t Stop” sums up Ciara’s career in four minutes and soulfully, to boot. “Thought You Should Know” lovingly recalls the stripped down 808 ballads Jam & Lewis perfected with the S.O.S. Band. “You Complete Me” overcomes its Jerry Maguire-ness with gently futuristic drum programming, while “Beautiful Music” is the disco song of a very disco year. And I haven’t even mentioned my favorite track on melody alone, the My Life-caliber laid-back hip-hop soul of “No Other.” Flat-out beautiful stuff.
There are stumbles, however. “Oh-Oh Yeah-Yea” has about as much to say as its title suggests (it’s really an overlong interlude) and “This Is Us” is the single worst thing Keyshia will ever lend her voice to...if that is her voice (worst use of Autotune in an extremely Autotuned year, and she’s not flossing the robo-effect or anything). It’s her cleaned-up, acoustic bid for a major pop crossover and that she dives right into Wilson Phillips territory shows just how misguided a shot this is. Different is one thing; denial is another and this just is not Keyshia. It’s not that she should be condemned to a life in the hood, but she need not dabble in this dentist-office garbage.
Could you buy it for your mom?
If your mom is more a Yvonne, this is probably a little too electronic and contemporary. If she’s a Frankie, go for it. If you misspell your biological mother’s name like Keyshia does in the booklet (“Franky”), however, the best gift you could give to your mom is a spelling lesson for yourself.
Racism isn't funny, but Kristy McNichol's substitute-teacher hair is...
...(here's the back view:)...
...and reconciling those two truths is what Samuel Fuller's 1981 post-exploitation flick White Dog is all about. Well, it's about that and a white German Shepherd, who seems to have ripped a page from the Marlon Brando school of cotton usage...
...but also, and more importantly, who has been trained to attack black people. This nameless dog is anything but an invisible man -- he's the key to curing racism, the pet project of a black animal trainer who uses positive reinforcement as activism. As if the monster-movie-cum-social-commentary weren't enough of a meeting of high and low to make me swoon (and boy, did it!), it's all shrouded in silly b-movieness that makes White Dog compulsively watchable.
Things of that nature, you know?
Criterion just released it on DVD. Ask for it for Christmas and enjoy it by the fireplace that day. Fine family fun!
My boyfriend has his resume on CareerBuilder and received the query captured below. You'll want to pay attention only to the highlighted "NOTE:" section.
For those who don't feel like clicking, it says, "Due the fraud activity an Administrative Assistant position is not allowed for 'Black Peoples', sorry." On one hand, what the fuck does that mean and how is it even possible? On the other, at least they cared enough to capitalize "Black." Sensitive!
I don’t know what’s more insane – that I finally reached the threshold of my tolerance for extreme imagery, or how it happened. I'm shocked at my shock, which is exponentially surprising, as I figured myself desensitized what with the hours I’ve spent watching the basest, incendiary shlock (of the fictitious sort, of course – I’m not speaking of images of real-life death and limbs ‘n things, as I’m not into that). I’ve written severaltimes, in fact, about appreciating extreme horror for being just that. It's not means to getting off, but of appreciating how far out people’s imaginations can go to freak us out. In general, I tend to revel in the extreme.
Maybe I was reveling too hard because I never foresaw a limit to what my imagine could handle. That’s why I became so excited when my sister mentioned Chunk Palahniuk’s Haunted this week, telling me that she read something in it that made her put the book down, and she's never done that before. This particular passage essentially scarred her, as she still has trouble processing it when her mind wanders around to it (you might even say she’s haunted by it, bwah ha ha).
I knew the book had that reputation, and this reminder came a few days before I had to get on the plane that took me back to New York today. I tracked down a Borders, bought it and got ready to be amused at what was going to pass for extreme literature. My smugness soon faded. Fewer than 20 pages into the book, which is kind of a series of short stories woven together in the framework of a novel, Palahniuk unveils “Guts,” an ode to masturbation gone awry. It was all fine for me – the mishaps with carrots, the sounding – until I reached the final act of the story, which details anal prolapse so precisely that it gave me a headache that felt like my intestine was coming out of my ear (add an "R" for empathy). I’d read a few lines, fret and wince, close the book and repeat. I finally got to a certain part that I’ll post in white so you have to highlight it to read it because I don’t want to put you through what I went through: (When the intestine of the “protagonist” is stuck at the bottom of a pool and he has to either detach it or drown, his solution is accompanied by: “If I told you how it tasted, you would never, ever again eat calamari.”). When I read those lines, I thought, “Oh my god, I might actually throw up just from reading words. Words!”
Or at least, I tried to think it because immediately, the suck-blow airplane drone was filling my ears like never before. “Why is that so loud?” I wondered. "Did the book drop out of my hands?" “Why are my eyes closed?” “Why can’t I open them?” It was then that I realized that I’d passed out. The next realization was that I’m a tremendous pussy. The final realization, as I was coming to, was that my body wasn’t through reacting to this and I had to get in the bathroom, now. I’d always kind of looked at airline barf bags with derision, but now I was clutching mine like the hand of a friend. It was as close to a support system that I had.
I didn’t throw up and I’m lucky enough to be able to fall asleep rather easily, so I put myself down for the remaining two hours I was in the air. Waking up, I still felt nauseated (and I can practically still taste the bile that crept up my throat, even hours later). I called my sister to tell her how vexed I was, and it turns out that “Guts” wasn’t even what disturbed her so deeply. She made it much further, I will not because, and I cannot stress this enough, I am apparently now a huge pussy. My little sister, whom I taunted with A Nightmare on Elm Street when she was, like, 3, is now tougher than I am.
But I’m not alone. In fact, I’m a cliché – the paperback edition of Haunted came published with a new afterward discussing the knack “Guts” has for making people faint. “I’d finish reading the story to the sound of ambulance sirens arriving outside.,” he writes. “If the store had large display windows, I’d finish with the red emergency lights washing across my face. If the store had sharp-edged, hard wooden shelves—even if I warned people about the story’s possible effect—some nights ended with clerks sponging up a puddle of blood below where a head had hit on its way down.” In all, Palahniuk had witnessed 73 people fainting by the time this edition was published in April 2006. Who knows how more have taken the plunge since then?
Palahniuk then writes about the effect of “Guts” speaking directly to the power of his trade. “If you want the freedom to go anywhere, talk about anything, then write books,” he says. I love a man who loves his medium. And even though his writing has irritated me several times in the past, I can’t help but feel kindred as a fellow extremeness enthusiast. The thing is that Palahniuk is triple-X. I thought I was hardcore, but I’m a hard-R at best.
I feel like a failure, and even worse: I feel old.