Thursday, January 25, 2007

Luxury bathroom fixtures with apologies to Georgia O'Keefe

Earlier this month, the New York Times reaffirmed their bourgeois leanings when they wrote on the allure of luxury penthouse apartments in Manhattan which I, and the other multi-millionaires of the metropolitan area, found rather droll. In fact, we voted it "most droll news item of January" but it was not until I actually deigned to read the piece that I realized these penthouses were being sold to nouveau riche Wall Street investors eager to purchase these aeries of high society.

These pretenders to polite society, however, are not opposed to inflicting their lack of class on the luxury properties which the recent Times article on luxury bathroom pieces shows neatly. I'll leave you to consider the atrocities of opulence and offer the Times my congratulations for avoiding the phrase "golden shower" in their write-up on these cisterns of splendor...





Caligula would be proud!
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Monday, January 22, 2007

Not all Star Wars merchandise is kid-friendly

This may come as a surprise to three of you out there but underneath this smooth, quasi-metro sexual exterior beats the hardened, sunlight-fearing heart of a geek. I am shamelessly obsessed with Battlestar Galactica to the point that while sitting in a swanky bar, I may sometime stare off wistfully in the direction of a bleached blonde clutching her ubiquitous Coach wristlet and wonder not how many drinks it would take to get her back to my car but rather how many drinks it would take to have her call me "Gaius" in bed.

It's a problem, I know, but a problem that- having admitted- I may be able to one day overcome. Which is more than I can say for the people who spend $200 tracking down this horrifying collectible...

Apparently this fully-licensed atrocity has a bit of a cult following... which may sound odd, until you realize the demographic that you're dealing with. I own two freaking lightsabres, and have plans to purchase more, but the types of fans who dream up Porkins tribute sites and think that owning this homoerotc tape dispenser scare the living ewoks out of me. You don't just sell an item like this, you inflict it upon your fellow man
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Friday, January 19, 2007

Mmm, forbidden latte....

Four decades ago, Mao and his flunkies rid China of its former Imperial culture and established their revolutionary headquarters in The Forbidden City... the very epicenter of the Chinese Empire since the Ming dynasty proving that when you've got the guns it all makes sense. It is small wonder, then, that the average Chinese citizen feels a surge of pride and loyalty towards The Forbidden City, but recently those feelings are approaching fevered levels.

What could have initiated this cultural resurgence? Are the Chinese struggling to define themselves in the growing global market which is forcing them-as a culture- to reconcile a burgeoning free market economy with their totalitarian Communist government which they paid for in blood? Is Olympic fever sweeping the nation into a nostalgic sense of nationalism a year early? No, my friends, the Chinese have stoked the fires of righteous indignation to wage a cultural war against the most overt champion for the decadent, corrupt west...

...Starbuck's.

During my time in the PRC, I learned that the Chinese all but worshiped Starbuck's and was- quickly and painfully- made aware that paying 45rmb for a frappuchino (which is comparable to the cost in the US, but equivalent to an opulent dinner in China) is a great way to identify yourself as a easy mark for hawkers in the street. Thus, it doesn't really make sense to tread that the Chinese would be incensed with state-approved truculence and demand the destruction of a beloved Western status symbol.

What distinguishes this particular Starbuck's from the others in China is that it, much like Mao, has set up camp inside the walls of the Forbidden City and the Chinese feel that it is detracting from the sanctity of the city itself. I can understand the outcry of the Chinese on this issue, but given the deplorable state of preservation that they currently afford their expansive World Heritage Site, I think that their reaction is nothing short of hypocritical. Considering that 35 years ago the people were more than content to destroy priceless, millennia-old artifacts in the name of "cultural progress" and now complain that a popular coffeeshop is cheapening their heritage seems slightly duplicitous.

If, perhaps, the Chinese people played it smooth and simply boycotted the Starbuck's in question, there would likely be no need to formally oust it as the grinding wheels of capitalism would crush it for them. And on the topic of playing things smooth, I would like to take a moment to point out the very definition of the word "smooth" as recently defined by P.Diddy at the Golden Globes...

...and what golden globes they are. Mercy!
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Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Only Revolutions Review : I could never walk away from you.


This post is a long time coming, and very much overdue, but I felt that I should a quick and dirty review of the most recent work by my favorite author- Mark Z. Danielewski- Only Revolutions, if any of you are interested in picking it up.

I'll begin by saying that I was flat-out annoyed by the book. Somewhere in its 360 (or is that 720?) pages is an extremely engrossing narrative, but it is next to impossible to follow due to the gimmicky formatting which favors style over substance. the book is not intended to be read in a traditional manner; after reading 8 pages from one side of the story, the reader is supposed flip the book and read 8 pages from the other (n.b. each cover of the book represents half of the narrative told by each of the protagonists- Sam and Hailey- and the two stories run, concurrently (or is that concordantly?) from their respective front to back). A glimpse at the page layout should remove any confusion from my rather lacking description, but not- unfortunately- from the reader's experience.

This is forgiven in time as Danielewski's writing and choice of word play (complex enough to satisfy enough the most exacting etymologists) is as clever and sharp as it was in his seminal work, House of Leaves, if not better. And after a few chapters, some readers will enjoy this aspect of the book as they look for correlated words, phrases, and related etymologies between the corresponding halves of the protagonists' mutual tale.

Sentence structure is cleverly rearranged in each corresponding 8-page installment of a protagonist's story, while the focus and content of each chapter grows more similar in style and scope as the story approaches the middle of the narrative. As the two characters move away from this period of concordance (his word, not mine), the narratives once again diverge until they are almost completely at odd with one another.

For those who won't enjoy this aspect of the story, there is more bad news ahead. Danielewski included a rather bizarre- and in my decidedly less-than-humble opinion, unnecessary- 200 year timeline of world history in the gutter of the pages... which is an entirely appropriate place for it to reside. Readers will scrutinize this timeline for hidden meaning, codes, and/or context and will find nothing of value in it save for the subtle reference to the birthday of his sister- singer, artist and lyricist, Poe- and a thumping distraction from the flow of the narrative.

The gimmick of the timeline is that although the protagonists (who, I should mention, are perpetually, somewhat magically, 16-years-old) are together throughout the whole of the story, they are constantly separated by a period of 100 years*, a gap which- despite the touching and prosaically powerful middle 8 pages of concordance, when their narratives "meet"- is never closed... or even explained. In order to contextualize their allochronicity, Danielewski inserted the timeline in the narrative, focusing on the major news events of the arbitrary year on which a page takes place.

Try reading your favorite book with Billy Joel's We Didn't Start the Fire blaring out of speakers and inch from your head and you might have a rough idea of how distracting this timeline was to the development of the story.

Which, finally, brings us to the touted plot itself. Two sixteen-year-olds, very much in love, cavorting through the annals of American history in, "...an ever-rotating fleet of cars" (which, by the way, is a completely irrelevant detail to the story. Because it is mentioned by every single review of the book, I've decided, as such, to include here for a sense of completeness), unfettered by any thoughts that do not immediately concern themselves.

At face value, it's an extremely intriguing- and deceptively simple- plot device which all of us can, hopefully, relate to. Further, I can't think of a better way to ground an otherwise high-concept book in something more simple than a love story between two 16-year-olds. Much like the rest of the book, however, the author falters in the execution of the plot as he has his semi-omnipotent narrators inexplicably run out of money and take jobs in a diner for, oh, 150 pages of the book. While that is perhaps the most likely outcome for their tawdry love affair if it occurred in the real world (and didn't end with one, or both, of them turning tricks in a bus station for spare change and breath mints), it makes for a jarring and unwelcome dose of banal reality in an otherwise fantastic story.

Would Lord of the Rings be anywhere near as popular as it is if Gandalf had to take a few years off to raise funds for the war effort against Sauron? The two lovers in Only Revolutions, Hailey and Sam, can literally call down the wrath of nature and bring the naked energies of love and hatred to bear on each other and all that they meet. And yet somehow they are stymied by an empty bank account? To say that it is unconvincing is being generous. By the time you read page 100 or so of their time in the diner, languishing under the cruel comments and advances of a waiter whose ethnicity varies between Italian and Greek, depending on the narrator, you'll be wondering what allure there is to the rest of the book.

The answer is, unfortunately, not all that much. The requisite Danielewski touches and references are present throughout the entire book. For the first half of the book when Sam makes reference to an animal, or Hailey makes reference to a plant, the name of the fauna or flora, the name is in bold after meeting at concordance in the middle of the text this feature inexplicably inverts itself.

Intriguingly, the journey of the two protagonists is physically represented by two included ribbons which serve as bookmarks: one green (Sam) and one yellow (Hailey). As you read through the first half of the books, the narratives (broken down into 8 page chapters) begin to become closer approximations of one another, with fewer details being changed between revolutions of the book. When the ribbons meet in the middle-that is to say, concordance- the text for the corresponding 8 pages of each protagonist are, for the first and only time, identical. As the ribbons move away from each other, toward their respective- and yet mutual- end, the narratives once again begin to diverge with the meanings and events relayed becoming increasingly distorted. While many fans have decried the inclusion of the ribbons as the most gimmicky formating trick included by the author, I personally found them to be the most enjoyable. ...mostly because there was nothing to distract from them and they served as a means of grounding the vicissitudes of distance (both physical and emotional) between the Sam and Hailey.

Overall, I would give the book a solid B with an A+++ for effort. If you choose to read it and opt to completely disregard the timeline in the gutter, you may well begin to hear the narrative start to sing as Danielewski's erudite wordplay imbues the story an energy more powerful than any of his formatting tweaks ever could. If you've never read Danielewski before, don't start with this one. House of Leaves is rightfully regarded as his best work, and there is nothing in Only Revolutions which could challenge it for that particular distinction.


*-In the most stunning capitulation to the Gen Ex crowd, Danielewski chooses the assassination of JFK as the starting point of Hailey's narrative and the ending point of Sam's. ...which is a curious choice as there cannot be any personal connection, given the fact that he was born roughly three years post facto.
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Friday, January 5, 2007

So shines a good deed in a weary world

I am shamelessly au currant!

Above is Wesley Autry. That grease stain you see on his hat is from where the 1 Train almost took his head off. Why was he almost decapitated by the a subway train, you might ask? Because he selflessly threw himself onto the body of an unconscious, convulsing stranger who had fallen onto the subway tracks in order to save his damn life. This man is, to put it mildly, a hero.

But the accolades which Wesley Autry received don't end at a paltry New York Times article, or the immense feeling of altruism that this man must feel before going to sleep. Donald Trump bequeathed $10,000 to Mr. Autry for his selfless rescue of 20-year-old film student Cameron Hollopeter.

While Trump's munificent gesture is quite touching, it should be noted that he spends more than that on a pair of gold-and-orphan-molar cufflinks. Mayor Bloomberg bestowed the heroic Autry with the honorific Bronze Star without once pausing to ask himself whether New York really needed another affectacious film student kicking around SoHo or not. When asked by Letterman how he felt about the gifts he received as a result of his heroism Mr. Autrey taciturnly replied that, "Good things happen when you do good."

...which sounds nice until you realize that "good" is an extremely subjective term. A good act for me, by way of comparison, is biting back a comment on an unfortunate case of muffintop witnessed in the local Starbuck's... an act which I totally did on Wednesday. Where's my bronze star, Bloomberg?
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Wednesday, January 3, 2007

"My version... begins with the death of a young boy- by lightning- while playing with scissors."

If you've ever had the good luck of being out with me during a morning of heavy drinking, you may remember one or two of my more invective and inventive rants about how musicals are the most base and pedestrian artform currently available to the cultural consumer. You also may remember me sobbing in my empty glass over the squandered potential of the League of Nations, but we should forget about that now focus on the bit about the musicals. Why, you might ask?
Because now, more than ever, I am prepared to defend that assertion. While Broadway seems all too willing to spread its aged legs for anything engineered by cultural cache cow Twyla Tharp, it has reached a new low this month as it openly welcomes Edward Scissorhands: the musical.

Technically it's more of a dance number than a musical, but one look at the video- from which the titular quote is directly drawn- should convince you that any musical based on a movie, with precious few exceptions, is a horrible idea doomed to a quick and embarrassing failure. I'm not a theatre critic, and since I couldn't find someone with a degree in Theatre Appreciation for this entry (and it wasn't for a lack of trying... I went to both local Quiznos!) you'll have to take it on faith when I predict that this puppy is going to suck harder than LeStat and Dance of the Vampires combined. There was a time when musicals were based on completely novel ideas, and were not shameless adaptations of cult classic films, and these were actually palatable offerings. The only redeeming grace about this tableau of terror is that the words "Andrew", "Lloyd", or "Weber" are in no way affiliated with the project . That and the fact that the writer seems to be so damned proud of himself for electrocuting a young boy on stage during the opening act which is actually kinda cool now that I think about it.

So, if I'm so quick to decry musicals as "low art" what, you might ask, do I think meets the exacting definition of art proper? What medium sufficiently captures the artist's struggle to give voice to a social issue which must be presented to the world, through the lens of his talents, lest it be forever ignored by the unawakened complacent citizens? In a word:
this.
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