Monthly Archives: September 2004

touché!

9/30/04

I’m not going to bother apologizing for doing what every other blogger is doing, I’m just going to come right out and mention a few things about the presidential debate.

Actually, that sentence ends up doing what it says it isn’t going to do. That’s not as easy as it looks.

So if you look at all of the various online polls, every single one of them (except for some fucked-up place in Oklahoma) has Kerry winning the debate by a landslide. Now, online polls are about as accurate as the thermometer I made out of a gum wrapper for 3rd grade science class, which was able to tell “hot” and “cold.” But sometimes that’s enough.

I tried watching the debate tonight as a Republican. For minutes at a time, I would transport myself into another body who desperately wanted Bush to win, just to see how I felt about “my guy.” It’s a little like watching Dook play basketball and being impressed; sickening, but worth trying as a Buddhist exercise.

I gave Kerry no benefit of the doubt, sat back, and really tried to create this alternate personality. And suddenly I realized I was getting embarrassed and feeling sorry for the President. Clearly, when Lehrer asked him 2-minute questions, he barely had enough to say for 90 seconds. When he would begin his answers with these long, blank stares into existential nothingness, I craved for him to get his act together. By the time he said “Don’t forget Poland!” I began to sweat.

Indeed, when laid bare, it felt like his Iraq policy was so ill-thought-out that my alternative-reality Republican self was in panic mode. After a while, it was too painful, and I just went back to rooting for Kerry again. George Bush continued to look like a character deserving of a long, long break. Obviously, pretending to be the leader of America has been excruciatingly hard. Nobody could fake that role for four years and not be exhausted – people on Broadway usually quit after two.

Tessa thought that Kerry should have painted the picture of “nuclear proliferation” more clearly, invoking the image of an American town flattened by a terrorist bomb. Initially, so did I, but then I realized how brilliant Kerry was being: if he had been remotely scary, he could have only driven voters to Bush. His reservation worked wonders.

Kerry exuded confidence and never searched for words. And most brilliantly, he didn’t react with hostility to Bush’s monk-like recitation of the “flip-flop-mixed-messages” incantation – in fact, Kerry didn’t react at all. It was as if this bugaboo had no staying power when Kerry was actually in the room. Who knows if that will continue to be true, but Bush’s attacks were like submarine torpedoes: they don’t explode if the enemy is too close.

Perhaps it’s just a case of the Wizard of Oz; there’s only so long this Administration could have hid Bush’s true nature. Perhaps when you polish a turd long enough, some event will lay bare the truth of the turd. Could it possibly be that Kerry is just smarter and more qualified to be President? I’m not trying to be Pollyanna, but is it remotely possible that we just reached a point where the lies and spin fell away and the two men were revealed for what they were?

Do I think millions of voters were swayed by this debate? No. Did anybody in Texas, California, Alabama or New York change their mind? No. Did the crucial 3,824 voters in Florida suddenly understand they could vote for John Kerry as President? Yes.

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Chopes wanted me to model my Bush is a Punk-Ass Chimp T-shirt, but then got all self-aware

je m’accuse

9/29/04

I am sorry for throwing that clod of dirt at Sean while Grandma was staying with us, and also for the straight-ahead punch to the face. I was seeing red, I was so full of rage. I’m sorry Grandma called us the worst thing she ever said: “simpletons.”

I am sorry for that rock I threw at Becky Thistle on Fairview Drive in Cedar Rapids when we were 8. She and her friends had been making fun of me all day long, but it was no excuse. I threw it from a hundred yards away, but I knew the second it went up in the air that it was going to land on her head. I had to apologize to her parents while they were swabbing her scalp in the bathtub.

I am sorry to my senior prom date for not driving her home. I thought we had all gone just as friends, but even a friend wants to feel special on prom night. I just didn’t get it.

I’m sorry to Kent when I was seven, when he surprised me and I accidentally threw my new silver dollar at his front teeth.

I’m sorry that I discovered Michelle’s dead kitten in the trash, where Dad had thrown it away, and showed it to her. I still have the vision of that kitten’s closed eyes even twenty-five years later.

I’m sorry for being such a pent-up homophobe in prep school. I don’t think I actually disliked gays, I just didn’t know any of them. Turns out all my friends eventually came out. I can see why everyone avoided me during the transition period.

I’m sorry for being such a priapic jackass from 1992-1999.

I’m sorry about the way I behaved at both internet jobs, especially the last one. Some of the people at those companies were rock stars in their fields, and didn’t deserve my attitude.

I am sorry for all the times I talked shit or divulged secrets just to impress the people around me. I’m sorry I wasn’t such a great big brother, or even Big Bro.

I am trying just to be a worker among workers.

h.e. double hockey-sticks

9/28/04

We went to see the real-live Hollywood Hell House and it really stacks up to the original. For those of you who haven’t seen the documentary ten times like I have, a young Baptist pastor named Keenan Roberts dreamt up an alternative to haunted houses for the month of October: he called it “Hell House,” and it featured different rooms that re-enacted the ways you could go to hell. Abortion, heavy metal, homosexuality, even the RU-486 pill is not spared.

The documentary is brilliant, cataloguing throngs of kids lining up to see a room sprayed with fetal blood, and Roberts, who seems to be having WAY too good a time portraying Lucifer. It’s a chilling journey into the reptilian hindbrain of American religion.

Roberts sells “kits” allowing you produce your own Hell House, and over 3,000 of them have flourished in the last few years. Through a bit of trickery, some Hollywood types got their hands on a kit, and followed every direction, word for word, right down to the music cues and script.

Among the high(low)lights: in one room a kid listens to some rock’n’roll and then blows away his entire classroom with a .357 magnum. In another, a woman has a botched abortion and tries to grab the unborn fetus from the doctor. In the best scene, a man with AIDS – pockmarked and covered in sores – is eaten in his hospital bed by a giant monster. And lastly, after descending into Hell itself, you meet a Hasidic Jew who is being ground into meat – and then you are granted audience with Lucifer himself.

Satan has been alternately played by Bill Maher and other luminaries, but our performance featured my hero Dave Thomas from SCTV. Naturally, he gets zapped by Jesus (sometimes played by Andy Richter) and then you escape Hell via The Son of God and his angels. From there, it’s off to the Friendship Hall for Christian music and donut holes!

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above: two “Christers” dance to the religious boogie-woogie

below: the donut holes were excellent

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Needless to say, the whole thing is very funny, but also deeply disturbing. Tessa didn’t quite understand the purpose of the performance, but I think I get it. Sure, we’re in Hollywood, and the proceedings are positively dripping with irony and ain’t-rednecks-stupid humor, but the show is also hinting at the excruciatingly dark underbelly of modern America.

When you watch the documentary, you see small kids go through Hell House, having the ever-loving SHIT scared out of them. By the time they get to “Jesus,” they’re ready to crawl back into the womb. There are endless interviews with vacant-eyed teenagers describing Hell with the brainwashed monotone of the recently-hypnotized. And there are THOUSANDS of kids that have gone through this thing without the slightest bit of irony.

What Hollywood Hell House has done, consciously or not, is to show the unbelievable chasm between the Red States and the Blue States in America. The purveyors and patrons of normal Hell Houses are comforted by Bush’s moral certitude and thinly-veiled Christian supremacy. The Blue States look at something like “Hell House” on the Sundance Channel and giggle uncontrollably at all the mullets.

But what we all miss is this: it is NOT OKAY for kids to grow up thinking fags go to hell. It is TOTALLY UNCOOL for people to believe that Jews get churned into hamburger meat in the afterlife. In one Hell House scene, a girl is raped at a “rave,” taunted by Lucifer because her dad had molested her, and then goes to Hell BECAUSE SHE COMMITS SUICIDE.

It’s fucking sick, the whole thing, and everyone should go see it. Hollywood Hell House is mostly wink-wink nudge-nudge, but they are also providing a public service. By giving “Hell House” a wider audience, they are also forcing you to take it seriously on its own terms, importing a piece of a Red State for you to experience, like Fedexing barbeque from a distant pit.

Even living in an outrage-resistant world, “Hell House” is deeply deserving your attention and scorn. This is what we’re up against, and it makes you wonder if this country is big enough for all of us.

[blog title]

9/27/04

This work we’re doing is making me look much harder at the TITLES of things, especially TV shows. I’ve grown weary of the Name of the Protagonist title, which is why I never watched “Becker” or “Murphy Brown” and why I think “Kevin Hill” could have had a more electrifying moniker. I mean, it’s one thing is your name is “Veronica Mars,” “Punky Brewster,” or “Marcus Welby, M.D.” but “Kevin Hill” tells me nothing.

I appreciate a good muscular title, preferably two syllables or less, that drop-kicks your point home. “M*A*S*H,” “Taxi,” “Cheers,” even “Lost.” They didn’t call it “Sydney Bristow,” they called it “Alias.” They didn’t call it “Jack Bauer,” they used the numbers “24.”

People bemoan the spinoff-crazy “Law and Order,” “Law and Order: SVU,” “Law and Order: CI” and the many CSI’s lying about, but to me, it’s nice and informative. What they are really saying is Chex, Wheat Chex, Rice Chex and even Crispix. Same crunchiness with a slightly different flavor.

Slightly-complicated titles are okay, as long as they’re good: “Saved by the Bell,” “WKRP in Cincinatti,” “Malcolm in the Middle,” “3rd Rock From the Sun” all get the point across.

My least favorite title ever? “Designing Women.”

*horff*

small wonder

9/26/04

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Let me tell you a little bit about dreaming up a television show. I mean, nobody else is going to tell you, right?

I don’t pretend to know everything, and there’s tons of political machinations that I’ll leave out, but this is what I’ve learned in the months since our trip in March, distilled into bite-size nuggets ensuring easy digestion.

Okay, so say you have an idea. Um, maybe something like “female cop goes undercover as a cell mate in a women’s prison.” (Actually, that’s pretty good. Don’t use that one.) As an individual writer or as a team, you have to hone your pitch about this idea until you think it’s virtually flawless. This is hard for most writers, who became writers because they were terrible in front of people, but you’re just going to have to suck it up and make sure your fly’s zipped.

In order to be taken seriously, you need to get a meeting with somebody who has power. The only way to get that meeting is to have had something successful (a well-reviewed play, a published book) that can be easily referenced, or write a kick-ass “spec script” of some existing TV show that proves you can construct good television. Hell, even people that have written books and huge plays might eventually have to write a spec script.

You’ll have to choose your spec script wisely. Write a show that is currently running, and is close to the show you want to make. Thus, with your women’s prison idea, you might want to write a “Shield” or “CSI: New York” or some strong female stuff from “The Wire.” DO NOT write a “Raymond” or a “Joey.” Or a “Punky Brewster.”

Obviously, this is hard with “episodic” shows like “The Shield,” but do your best to make a one-off episode that can stand on its own. Now set up a meeting with the People With More Power Than You by getting them to read your spec script. These people might be agents, or small production companies. The only way in that door is through friends; you can grow old waiting for people to respond to cold submissions, even if your spec is the best thing since “Anna Karenina.”

Why bother? Well, a network won’t take you (or your pitch) seriously unless you seem to have a lot of momentum and gravity. One of the only ways to do this is to partner up with a production company with a proven track record, preferably a company that currently has a show on television, although that’s not entirely necessary.

So say you get in the door with a production company that is a “pod” for the networks. That means they have a fairly exclusive deal with a particular network, granting you access to that world. Something like J.J. Abrams’ company, for instance, who developed “Alias” for ABC and is now doing “Lost,” also for ABC. That doesn’t mean his pod can’t take ideas to Fox or Showtime, but it’s easier for them to stick to their bread and butter.

You’ll have a meeting with these production companies and pitch your women’s prison idea. Three of them will yawn, but say the fourth likes it, and they have a deal with the F/X Network. They will sign on to your idea, then you AND them will pitch it at a big meeting with the head honchos at F/X. If F/X likes it, they will ask you to write the pilot. Remember, because of Writer’s Guild rules, you’re not allowed to write one sentence of the pilot until then.

Say they love your pilot script “Anna of Cell Block Q.” You and your production company will then shoot the pilot in late winter/early spring (called “pilot season” for actors flocking to LA).

Say F/X honchos watch the pilot and adore it. They order 13 episodes (1/2 a season) of “Anna of Cell Block Q” and air them in the fall. Say they get decent ratings. Then they order the rest of the season. Say that does well. Then they order Season 2, then 3, then you reach the magical episode 100, and it begins syndication, and then you buy an island off the coast of Belize and your great-grandchildren’s descendants are rich beyond their wildest dreams.

Note that “Anna of Cell Block Q” also has about fifteen crossroads where it can be cancelled and you’ll go back to drinking Jaegermeister alone. Understand also that many shows didn’t take this road at all and still became hits. Our beloved Jen C. might think I’m on the crack for even attempting to explain this.

Tessa and I are somewhere on a different road, running vaguely parallel to all that delightful madness above. I won’t say where, because you never jinx your crushes, but hopefully we can work our way to our own personal women’s prison in the next few years.

GO ANNA OF CELL BLOCK Q!!!

john query

9/23/04

It’s almost 2 in the morning and I have a meeting in a matter of hours, but before the weekend starts, I’d like to ask everyone a question. My brother Sean just posted the other blogs he reads every day, and it prompted me to think of mine:

First off, everyone in my family, which means Sean, Michelle and Kent’s links at left. Also my nephew Sean Patrick (Kent’s son) who rocks.

Then my friends:

The Budster, whose words of wisdom I’ve trusted since I was 18

Carla, whose love for music is greater than most musicians I know

Mac Rogers and Dan Kois, Carolina grads from Sean’s generation who have taken their talents and done New York the absolute right way

Peter and Steven, my favorite Canadians (except for the band Loverboy)

And then some politics:

Kos, who has taken the mantle from all comers

Lisa Rein, who is always Josephine-on-the-spot with Daily Show videos and other mpegs determined to bring down our monkey president

Electoral-Vote so I can dare to dream

…and then it’s off to the races, too many other links to mention. But my question is this: what blogs do you read daily? And if I may be so bold, what brought you here?

get your lumbar pillows ready

9/22/04

There were a shitload of season premieres on television tonight, and believe me, if you’d collared me two years ago and told me that I’d be psyched about the Fall 2004 TV season, I would have fainted.

Actually, no. I was in such a paralytic state of anxiety-fueled depression that I would have a) been super-psyched that I’d lived that long, and b) utterly relieved to hear that I could care about something like television once again.

But I digress. Lots of shows came out tonight that were shaped or performed by some great people, and since I consider my faithful readers friends, by the transitive property, they’re basically your friends too. So here are the following shows you should be psyched about:

1. Veronica Mars – My high school buddy Dan Etheridge helped bring this one to the screen, and it’s really quite wonderful. The lead actress (Kristin Bell) is offhandedly talented the same way Claire Danes was in “My So-Called Life.” I’m still a bit lost on the plot, which concerns her detective dad and clearing her family name at a vendetta-filled high school, but I’m along for the ride.

2. Lost – We saw a rough cut of this show about four months ago, but I’ll repeat what I said then: top 5 pilots ever. Unfortunately, last night’s pilot only did the first hour (the version we saw was two) and the coolest stuff happens next week. But J.J. Abrams’ (Alias, Felicity) company has pulled off a miracle: I’m dying to know what happens. Plus, they were very nice to me and Tessa, so root for them.

3. Kevin Hill – We haven’t seen this yet, but it’s been getting great reviews, and it co-stars Patrick Breen, a New York actor who may be one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. Totally home-team-pulling for this one.

4. CSI: New York – As far as I can tell, this show is going have a lot of Gary Sinise brooding and not getting enough sleep, but watch out for Eddie Cahill (Rachel’s assistant/boyfriend on “Friends,” also the goalie in “Miracle”) who is playing the young cop heavy who gets to intimidate possible suspects. Eddie is all-world and gets to fuck with a bad guy in the pilot!

5. Law & Order – I miss Jerry Orbach, but you have to pull for Jesse Martin. Jury is still out on Dennis Farina – can he deliver the first-act zinger like Orbach?

“Her babysitting days are over.”

“Maybe he should lay off the horseradish.”

“And I thought my ex-wife was a clunker.”*

*not real Jerry Orbach lines

kid stays in the pitcher

9/21/04

It’s very easy to play a cynical game of “what care I?” once you get to Los Angeles, but you’ll find yourself turned into a little kid at some inopportune moments. We’ve had a lot of meetings on the lots of the big movie studios, and getting the name badge and a little free reign can make you wide-eyed and agog at the silver-screen magic

whiddly-whiddly!

9/20/04

You know what I miss? Songs about ROCK. I don’t mean songs THAT rock; we all can name five songs off the top of our heads that totally fucking rock. In fact, I’ll try it right now:

1. Kiss – “Detroit Rock City”

2. Jane’s Addiction – “Stop”

3. The Kinks – “All Day and All of the Night” (guitar solo)

4. Led Zeppelin – “Black Dog”

5. Archers of Loaf – “Sickfile”

Jesus, that was easy. Anyway, I’m talking about the songs that take on the issue of “rock” itself, and the myriad ways one can and can’t rock, and the proper environment to do so. Back in the ’70s, before I was really conscious about my own ability to rock, it was apparently a subject of much discourse.

Let’s not confuse this with Billy Joel’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me,” which is not about rock, it’s about “talking about rock” – an act far too removed to fit anywhere near the act of rocking.

The Who, in the song “Long Live Rock,” found themselves fit to proclaim “Rock is dead! Long live rock!” in the old-fashioned role as town crier for rock itself. Neither the Beatles nor the Rolling Stones ever had the gumption to make that kind of statement about rock, or even rocking.

Kiss expressed their interest in “rock[ing] all night and party[ing] every day,” which signaled their belief that partying and rocking were exclusive acts. This is corroborated by Sammy Hagar, who informed his listeners that there was “Only One Way to Rock,” which, frankly, I found a little limiting. He even said that 8:05 was the time to rock (I assume PM).

By far, the ballsiest song about the act of rocking was AC/DC’s “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)” – which, with the cannons firing at the end, has to be one of the greatest statements ever made. Assumedly, if you had to ask whether or not you were about to rock, you probably weren’t.

In regards to rocking, you knew who you were. I also salute those who are about to rock, or those who have been rocking for some time. ROCK and FUCKING ROLL!!!

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for the love of gosh

9/19/04

Look, I know I can get tiring. Every three days or so, I pipe up and angrily spew forth how much I loathe Republicans and how utterly dimwitted most Americans are, and I was planning on taking a break and just write about the Hollywood sunshine, the gorgeous bougainvilleas or how Tessa and I got to go into the Pacific Ocean.

But I just came across a poll that blindsided me yet again: 42% of Americans still believe that Saddam Hussein was directly responsible for carrying out the 9/11 attacks. That’s 123,071,580 people. This wasn’t a poll conducted in 2001, or even at the beginning of the war. This was TWO WEEKS AGO.

America, I’ve been patient with you. You rallied around that monkey we call a president for the months following Sept. 11, and I guess that was okay, because we were all scared. You supported him as he went to war against Iraq because he talked about a mushroom cloud and for a niggling instant, I got a little scared too. Hell, the fact that 79% of you believe in God is a little unsettling to my agnostic soul, but it’s none of my damned business.

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God

But this Hussein-9/11 connection is up there with “the Earth is flat” and “the stork brings babies.” What kind of Stone Age deductive processes have left you with the gullibility of a four-year-old? Do you also have trouble tying your shoes and long division? Do you need your closets checked every night for monsters?

WHAT THE BLISTERING FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU? Even Fox News doesn’t say that Hussein had anything to do with the attacks, so I know you didn’t get it from there. Colin Powell has come out and SAID there’s no connection. No Iraqi believes it. No Islamic militant believes it. Fuck, not even a member of Al Qaeda believes it. And yet, you fat redneck pieholes, shoving biggie fries down your gullet and cranking hate radio, all 123,071,580 of you believe it.

Which comes to one conclusion: you’re really racist. Brown people attacked us on 9/11, and Saddam ruled a bunch of brown people, so he must have done it. That’s pretty sickening logic, and not only is it bad for kids, but it’s a terrible diversion while we’re hunting the actual perpetrators. I have no love for Saddam, but I had no love for Idi Amin, and he didn’t plan 9/11 either.

Oh, to hell with all 123,071,580 of you. You disgust me. Hopefully, you’ll be too stupid to find a voting booth.