Coincidentally, I was recently reminded that it is canon in the history of DC Comics’ fictional universe that “The Man Who Defeated the Justice Society [of America],” that is, the government bureaucrat who forced the world’s first superhero team (including Wonder Woman, the Atom, etc.) to break up for decades by pressuring them, in his capacity as a member of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, to reveal their secret identities, was none other than Richard Nixon (identified by his distinctive profile though not by name). Given that the Justice Society formed in the first place at the behest of Franklin Roosevelt, I’d say it’s safe to say that even superhero comics are part of the liberal media conspiracy, as I may one day explain in a two-page letter to the New York Times, depending on how my investments fare.
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Punk singer Tibbie X argues that gentrification is a blessing, while acrophobic tall-building-hater Aliza Faragher tells her to get out of town.
Wednesday, August 1, at 8pm (free admission, cash bar, beloved a.c.).
Basement level of Lolita Bar at 266 Broome St. at the corner of Allen St. on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, one block south and three west of the Delancey St. F, J, M, Z subway stop.
I, Todd Seavey, shall host (AND THIS TIME WE DRINK IN HONOR OF MY BIRTHDAY) and Michel Evanchik will moderate.
The Case Against Jersey City
One town, by the way, that could perhaps use an influx of more “elite” residents is Jersey City, where dwells my girlfriend, Koli (you can read her recent comments about feminism below my “Brief Statement of Principles”). I’m not saying Koli isn’t part of the elite, but her mayor, Jerramiah Healy, by contrast, was arrested for drunkenly brawling with cops outside a bar. Healy says he was merely intervening in a fight between other patrons, but the fact that cops felt obliged to mace him — something one does to the mayor only on rare occasions — makes me wonder.
As if that weren’t enough, Jersey City is also sometimes said to have been part of the inspiration for crime-filled Gotham City from Batman comic books (though Gotham City’s name comes from a nickname for nearby — and way cooler — New York City).
And just days ago, an abandoned rocket launcher was found on a lawn in JC, causing some alarm. The big fear, of course, is Middle Eastern terrorists, but I can think of at least one Canadian worth questioning — Bruce Cockburn. I think Cockburn looks a little like a cross between Reason editor Brian Doherty and World Party lead singer Karl Wallinger, which makes a certain amount of political sense.
The Case for More 80s Music Videos
But if all that seems too political (and I notice a link to a Ron Paul video on the World Party page, coincidentally), try watching this decidedly fluffier 80s video instead — the only duet, to my knowledge, by Falco and Brigitte Nielsen. Maybe it is possible for something to be too 80s, absurd as that may sound.
Then again, I miss having Road Warrior-type goons in every other video — and on that front, let me note that I am probably the only person on the planet whose favorite Tina Turner song is the other song — not “We Don’t Need Another Hero” — that she did for the third Mad Max movie: “One of the Living” — and clearly I’m being objective (not just picking it because it was in a timeless, fantastic sci-fi movie) or else I would have picked the one song she did with the Fixx. Having recently concluded I can do a decent Geddy Lee in karaoke, it may next be time to add Tina’s “One of the Living” to the repertoire — and I mean without becoming a drag queen. As for the Fixx, repeated attempts have convinced me they don’t work well for karaoke purposes, but then, do bar crowds really want to see me acting like this onstage? And I may not have the thumbs for it anyway.
Speaking of Music and the Gentry
It is fitting perhaps, though an astonishing surprise, that a member of my favorite eighteenth-century-themed novelty rock band, the Upper Crust (you must hear “Highfalutin’” — not that I’m saying I don’t love such numbers as “Let Them Eat Rock” and “Rabble Rouser”) — whose whereabouts I was investigating online — has become the head of the history library at my college, Brown. You wouldn’t think mild-looking history Ph.D. and librarian Edward L. Widmer was also “Lord Rockingham” of the Upper Crust, but so it is (I have rarely been so pleased by rock band onstage banter as I was hearing one of his bandmates saying, “I must second Lord Rockingham’s diatribe”).
(I will have to explain more fully in October why invoking history in order to mock it for pop purposes is quintessentially Brown — that’s when I plan to begin my forty-week-long overview of the past twenty years of my politico-philosophical development, and that means entering Brown at the beginning and writing a book manuscript at the end, one that will resolve all outstanding political conflicts, including the ones mentioned in those Koli comments linked above. Stay tuned.)
Would that Brown always attracted people (like me) with a great fondness for the eighteenth century, with its combination of pomp and rationalism — and would that more rock bands would mix elements of punk and the Enlightenment (at least Adam Ant gets the idea, as in this, my favorite rock video of all time — would, finally, that I could live in this video).
Brown, Red, and Green
Instead, Brown often produces progressives and revolutionaries, including (from my era) organizing secretary of the Communist Party USA, Libero Della Piana — who was quoted recently in the New York Post, ironically enough, talking about how the West 23rd St. New York City hq of the Communist Party of New York State has become a highly valuable rental property (“Reds Earn Green,” as the Post puts it). Maybe the economy is unjust.
An ex-girlfriend of mine mentioned that she once played Monopoly with Libero back when he was at Brown (her best friend was Libero’s girlfriend at the time, as it happens), so maybe that was a portent of real estate deals to come (for other odd real estate stories, check out Diary of a Real Estate Rookie by Alison Rogers, who just happens to be married to DC Comics’ Ivan Cohen).
Seavey: Since 1631
My own (very extended) family’s claim to land in America, by the way, apparently dates back to 1631 — which, coincidentally, I have just learned was the date when William Seavey arrived in New England (where my parents, energetic ninetysomething paternal grandmother, and other relatives live today), a mere eleven years after the Pilgrims (though on this, the 400th anniversary of the founding of the explicitly capitalist settlement of Jamestown, it may be time to end once and for all this fawning devotion to those Johnny-come-latelies of 1620, the Pilgrims). William was charged with building the first church in Plymouth (prayer meetings before that having taken place in homes), apparently, and if he’d known he’d have an atheist descendant four hundred years later, he probably would have wanted that descendant put in the stocks.
But the upshot of this bit of historical trivia is that if gentrification is determined to be bad at our debate next week, and thus longtime residents have a moral right to keep out newcomers, I’m going to have to politely ask that you all get the hell out of my family’s neighborhood (except for the few of you reading this who are Native Americans, Mayflower family members, or descendants of Sasquatch).
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Underdog’s transformation, from a severely mild-mannered, mopey, humble — and rhyming — being in the original animated series into the non-rhyming, wisecracking cynic seen in the ads for the new live action/computer-animated movie, is offensive, though, not merely because it’s a betrayal of the original character (after all, isn’t Underdog too low as source material to worry about degrading?) but because it’s a glaring example of how knee-jerk cynicism is the only way Hollywood (and perhaps the broader culture) can imagine “updating” things these days. (This must be how an ex-girlfriend of mine felt about the TV-movie Muppets Wizard of Oz turning Dorothy into a fame-obsessed brat played by the singer Ashanti, in contrast to a warm-hearted girl who simply wanted to go home in the beloved original film — though I enjoyed seeing Gonzo as the Tin Man.) I suppose I should be grateful the new Underdog isn’t rhyming, since they’d probably turn him into a gangsta rapper, at which point they might as well just cast Poochie in the role. He’s got an in-your-face attitude, after all.
To give you some idea how detached I feel from most of pop culture — despite my frequent references to subsets of it — keep in mind that I stopped watching sitcoms (with a few rare exceptions) when I decided that one show I’d been watching had gotten too insult-oriented in its comedy, and that hostile, uncivil show was…Cheers, and it was about twenty years ago. Obviously, I had little idea what lay ahead: twenty years of watching the entire population convulsed on cue by nervous, mechanical, and unsatisfying laughter every time some jerk quickly retorts with a third-grade put down along the lines of “You mean like your face?” Make it stop. Make it stop. And more importantly, make real people stop imitating the sitcom characters in everyday conversation. This will come as a shock to most people living in the twenty-first century, but: being insulting really does not make you superior and arguably makes you worse. Try to wrap your mind around that now novel (but once obvious) concept.
Lest I sound like a typical clean-up-the-filth-on-TV guy, let me add that one of the reasons I could never take politicians’ crusades against TV and movie decadence seriously is that they so rarely attack the things people are likely to imitate — such as banter they find funny — preferring instead to attack things virtually no one will imitate, such as decapitating cyborgs from the future, but then, political efforts to quantify these problems are always ham-handed, as I was reminded once back in the 90s when a congressional report listed the most-offensive and least-offensive shows on television, and the list, compiled using very objective criteria such as counting the number of intentionally-inflicted injuries and gunshots on each show, ended up declaring Star Trek: The Next Generation one of the most wholesome shows and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine one of the most offensive, though any fan knows that the two shows had virtually the same underlying ethos, as have all manifestations of Star Trek. Sometimes the phasers just get used more.
Context matters in art, I realize, so people should not judge shows, as Congress did in that study, by simply counting nipples or explosions, and I would certainly not make some pronouncement as sweeping as “All insult comedy is bad” (witness Triumph), but I’ll happily say “Most insult comedy is all too easy and much too coarsening to be worth wasting one’s precious finite life on.” A trickier question is what to think about boxing, which is, after all, a crowd cheering on two guys punching each other in the face. On that I have no strong opinion, though I know it’s not my idea of a good time — or is it, given my fondness for superhero stories, which are largely concerned with guys in costumes assaulting each other? Perhaps I should attend the event that (past Lolita Bar debater) Stephen Davis is organizing tonight, where you can be regaled by a speaker who went fifteen rounds with the legendary Muhammad Ali.
If you ask him a question, please be polite for a change.
Saturday, July 14, 2007
Many people simply refuse to accept the world as described by science, convinced that a fully material world would somehow be less satisfying than one full of ghosts, gods, or psychic powers. A particularly thickheaded strain of conservative even goes so far as to suggest that a world of molecules and electromagnetism could not be a world with art and love and minds in it (though it certainly appears we live in such a universe). One book I read recently is a reminder that the world described by science is thoroughly strange and exciting, not that the universe is under some obligation to entertain you, as some people who believe in the supernatural appear inclined to think (and to think they call materialist atheists self-centered!).
I Am a Strange Loop by Douglas Hofstadter is the antidote to the sort of reductionist anti-reductionist arguments that say that meat and molecules can’t lead to self-awareness, laughter, and joy (such as Dinesh D’Souza’s vicious, vile, petty, and obscenely-timed argument that atheists can’t meaningfully respond to horrors such as the massacre at Virginia Tech [where, as it happens, my girlfriend Koli was an undergrad two decades ago]). While most of the human race has for millennia envisioned mind and body as two completely different substances (able thereby to intuitively grasp the otherwise unsettling fact that a person is gone even when a dead body remains), Hofstadter, quite reasonably I think, suggests that minds are better thought of as complex patterns — self-reflexive (thus looplike) ones — in the atoms of our brains, much as a traffic jam is a higher-order phenomenon composed of cars or Hamlet is a complex pattern made up of what would seem like mundane words taken individually.
We have no rational reason to believe that the sensation of being conscious is anything more than what it feels like to be such a self-reflexive pattern — and intriguingly, this raises the possibility (perhaps oversold a bit by Hofstadter) that in a very real sense your mind exists a little bit inside the minds of others who come to know you very well and thereby think like you, adopting your mental patterns.
Hofstadter addressed this idea most beautifully in an older book, Le Ton beau de Marot, in which he showed how some of the same questions about what constitutes an accurate replica come up in the translation of poetry, the efforts to create artificial intelligence, and the mingling of lovers’ minds. The book was made all the more poignant by the fact that his wife — with whom he shared love, wordgames, and talk of his work as an artificial intelligence researcher — died during its writing, leaving him wondering, for both personal and philosophical reasons, whether some tiny portion of his wife’s mind lives on in his, each time he laughs at something exactly as she would have or knows precisely what she would have said in a given situation.
It’s funny that D’Souza should dismiss such atheistic, materialist musings as useless in the face of tragedy and death, since it was precisely Le Ton beau de Marot I had in mind when delivering my maternal grandfather Earl Geer’s eulogy, reminding my assembled relatives that Grandpa had been a storyteller with a very distinctive personality and that in some sense he’d live on each time we imagined how he’d react to a situation and what he’d say (including a lot of low-key, mellowness-fostering axioms such as “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” a concept that helps keeps me in my usual non-frantic, contented, easily-pleased state of mind to this day). Grandpa Geer is one of only two people I promised shortly before their deaths to mention in my writing, and I expect I’ll have more to say about his eight decades living on the same old-fashioned farm when I address the important topic of tradition — and its sometimes-useful opposition to dynamic, unfettered progress — at greater length in the future (though I’ve alluded before to the fact that spending time on that farm as a child probably helps keep me sane by reminding me that there are rhythms to live by decidedly different from New York City’s).
Perhaps D’Souza’s thoughts when he reflects on his dead relatives are orders of magnitude more rich and satisfying than Hofstadter’s or my own, but somehow I doubt it — and I doubt we need recourse to invisible, supernatural substances (soulstuff? ectoplasm? ghosts?) to describe the real world. It’s complex enough as is.
P.S. The one other person to ask me to write something for him shortly before he died, by the way, was fellow Brown student Dan Shuster, who committed suicide in 1990 shortly after asking me to write a screenplay about a man as fed up with the modern world as Dan turned out to be who, in the imagined opening scene, finally snaps during a particularly bad traffic jam and goes on a shooting rampage for the rest of the film. I’m going to let myself off the hook on writing up that one, though, since a mere three years later Falling Down with Michael Douglas began exactly as Dan wanted — though Dan was basically a frustrated, angry Buddhist, while the Falling Down character was an expression of paleoconservative rage — long before most people had ever heard the term “paleoconservative” — right down to his objection to foreign trade and bland franchise stores, his loss of purpose after the Cold War, his flirtation with militia-style racism, and his resentment of encroaching New Age religiosity. Strange that the screenwriters had diagnosed a movement and turned it into a film so long before the impact of that movement (most visibly represented by Pat Buchanan) had really been felt on the national stage.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
One of last night’s panelists was L.B. Deyo, who hosts a similar debate series, sister to our own, down in Austin, TX. L.B. explained after the debate that another of his hosting duties in Austin recently — timed to coincide with the opening there of the giant-robot movie Transformers — was the emceeing of an appearance by Robosaurus, an actual, fire-breathing, car-rending-and-eating, mechanical, forty-foot-tall dinosaur. YouTube, thank goodness, has an amazing clip of Robosaurus doing its thing (this is much cooler than the car I saw transform into a big robot at a monster truck show in Madison Square Garden about fourteen years ago — that robot lectured the audience about the importance of avoiding unhealthy drug use and the creation of pollution, while it pumped thick, cough-inducing fumes into the enclosed Garden).
I mention Robosaurus not merely because it’s cool, nor even because it was the cause of AintItCool.com editor Harry Knowles declaring L.B. a “genus” [sic] after seeing his unique emcee skills, but because I think Robosaurus may be the key (at this troubling juncture) to winning the War on Terror. You see, my friend Meredith Kapushion (who created the blog Pieces of Flair) learned while traveling in the Middle East that the place is rife with nonsensical conspiracy theories, most of them dealing with the Jews and/or Americans, since Arabs tend to live under totalitarian regimes with state-run media they don’t trust but no reliable alternate sources of information. And one man she met (in Egypt, as I recall) told her he was concerned because he knew that “Americans are building dinosaurs to eat Arabs.” Really.
My first instinct, as a professional critic of unproven claims, was to think “We have to debunk these sorts of absurd claims!” But that may be a hopeless, never-ending task, especially without access to the state-run media of these squalid Middle-Eastern hellholes (if you can’t even convince brainy Western academics that democratic Israelis are to be preferred to their homicidally-deranged, propaganda-spewing, hate-fueled Muslim neighbors, who’ve been trying to kill or exile Jews since long before the U.N. started spitting out its chronic ritual denunciations of Israeli land grabs, what hope is there of mollifying the Arabs themselves?). Perhaps the path of least resistance, then, is to encourage belief in the conspiracy theories most conducive to our victory in the clash of civilizations. “Leak” to Al Jazeera footage of L.B., as eloquent a spokesman for American values as ever I have known, intoning about the might of the indomitable U.S. military, while behind him, Robosaurus does his thing, striking fear into enemy hearts and testifying in twisted steel and burning rubber to the true value of our superior civilization (I’m told Stephen Colbert has already praised Robosaurus, which is a start).
I suggested all this to L.B., and he courageously and patriotically offered to go my plan one better. Via e-mail, he said:
Leaking the video to Al Jazeera would be good. Better, by far, would be for me to ride Robosaurus right into the field of battle, roaring Arabic curses into the microphone. This is our nation’s last, best chance.
This is, if not the stuff of legend, at least the stuff of monster movies, and that reminds me that on another mighty-beast note, Lost co-creator (and creator of next year’s movie re-launch of Star Trek, with Matt Damon as Kirk, Adrien Brody as Spock, and Gary Sinise as McCoy [UPDATE 7/27/07: Nope, the guy who plays serial killer Sylar on Heroes will be Spock -- and a fine choice he is, though it suggests the earlier casting rumors should be ignored -- oh, and Leonard Nimoy is confirmed for a framing sequence, which I for one hope will confirm that in his old age he eventually helped the Vulcans and Romulans reunify, the way they would have if I'd gotten around to writing that Star Trek novel trilogy I once planned between jobs]) J.J. Abrams appears to be directing a Lovecraft-influenced giant-monster movie with a viral marketing campaign so coy that even the trailer (being shown prior to Transformers) does not give away the name of the movie — but it looks cool.
It also kicks off (on January 18, 2008) what will be the most nerd-blockbuster-packed year yet in human history (and I say this remembering full well how good 1999 and 2003 were). If all goes as scheduled, 2008 will bring to theatres — brace yourself — all of the following:
•Iron Man (starring Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow) 5/2
•The Day the Earth Stood Still 5/9
•Speed Racer (by the Wachowski Brothers of Matrix and V for Vendetta fame) 5/9
•The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (since they’re skipping The Horse and His Boy, this’ll be the last entry in the series before it starts turning into a really weird — but fun — cross between Christianity and a Salvador Dali painting, I might add) 5/16
•Indiana Jones and the City of the Gods (Indy vs. commies for ancient-astronaut artifacts) 5/22
•The Incredible Hulk (with Ed Norton replacing Eric Bana and Liv Tyler replacing Jennifer Connelly) 6/13
•Batman: The Dark Knight (with Maggie Gyllenhaal replacing Katie Holmes — not to mention Heath Ledger as the Joker and Thank You for Smoking star Aaron Eckhart perfectly cast as Two-Face) 7/18
•Hellboy II: The Golden Army (once more from the man who brought us Pan’s Labyrinth) 8/1
•Sherlock Holmes [summer]
•Whiteout (based on a great crime comic about a female cop in Antarctica) [summer]
•Wolverine (starring Hugh Jackman and directed by the man behind Live Free or Die Hard and the Underworld movies — and the first Underworld movie has one of the most beautiful opening sequences in nerd-film history, I think, not to mention a lead character who’s clearly a rip-off of the vampire character also named Selene from the X-Men comics, but apparently Marvel doesn’t hold a grudge against him for it, nor perhaps against James Cameron for seemingly getting the plot of Terminator from the X-Men comics story “Days of Future Past” — but then, they’re in no position to complain, since the X-Men writer Chris Claremont clearly lifted a plotline about eyepatch-wearing gangleader Callisto lusting after, capturing, and crucifying Angel right out of the movie Barbarella, in which Anita Pallenberg plays the [at one point] eyepatch-wearing gangleader who crucifies Barbarella’s angel sidekick Pygar — what goes around comes around [UPDATE: Nope, now it appears Gavin Hood, director of the Oscar-winning film Tsotsi, will direct Wolverine.]) [summer]
•James Bond 22 (featuring the boyfriend-turned-terrorist mentioned in Casino Royale) 11/7
•Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (6 of 7 because by now you’ve seen 5 twice already) 11/21
•Star Trek (It makes sense to start over. Each series just stuck people on another ship that usually had the same name anyway.) 12/25
And I’m not even listing tons of other geek fare — which may also be good films but that given my personal predilections I will likely skip just because with a year this bountiful one has to draw the line somewhere — such as remakes, sequels, or adaptations of Get Smart, Horton Hears a Who, The Italian Job, Escape from New York, The Mummy, Death Race, Where the Wild Things Are, The Wolf Man, and so on. When will we find time to hold debates in bars, defeat terrorism, and elect another president?
P.S. Special thanks to Louise Julier and Jonathan Funke, who delivered last night’s projector (for Kevin Walsh’s building slides) in spite of getting in a fender-bender only minutes earlier — and big up yasself, girlfriend Koli, for supplying and operating the associated laptop.
Sunday, July 1, 2007
It was either attend this event or go to one of Al Gore’s 7/7/07 Live Earth concerts, but Jamaica’s a cheaper flight than going to the special concert area Gore’s reportedly set up in Antarctica, so I guess I’ll attend the wedding, perhaps pausing at some point Saturday to think about what a problem warm weather can be, what with the minuscule sea-level rises and people being forced to wear bikinis and everything. Like DC Comics, Al Gore does not use the word “crisis” lightly.
USE YOUR OWN JUDGMENT IN MY ABSENCE, AND ABOVE ALL, DON’T FREAK OUT, even if you’re a debater who has to cancel or someone with a projector who has to call the bar directly to ask about extension cords.
Some calming things you might want to do while I’m away drinking rum: (a) reflect on the true meaning of Independence Day, (b) see Live Free or Die Hard and ask yourself whether you would fight for freedom as effectively as Bruce Willis’s character does, or (c) see the Transformers movie (opening July 4) and ask yourself whether there’s any point fighting for anything when, inevitably, as L.B. Deyo will argue on the 9th, the robots are destined to win in the end…
…unless magic saves us, like in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (out on the 11th), but I’ll write a few articles and a couple blog entries when I get back from Jamaica about why that’s a lot less likely than the aforementioned robot revolution.
–JOHN CARNEY, lawyer, writer, and advocate of traditionalism
–KEVIN WALSH, building preservation advocate and Forgotten-NY.com editor
–L.B. DEYO, Jinx and Dionysium co-founder, Intergalactic Nemesis star (see it next week!), and prophet of the transformative cyborg future
Moderated by Michel Evanchik and hosted by me, Todd Seavey.
At: Lolita Bar, 266 Broome St., at the corner of Allen St. on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, one block south and three west of the Delancey St. F, J, M, Z subway stop. Free admission, cash bar, and an air conditioner.
SPECIAL PLEA: Is there anyone out there who can bring a computer and/or projector capable of showing a disc, which Walsh will bring, of PowerPoint slides of old buildings? The first volunteer who offers to do so and actually follows through drinks on me all night July 9.