Monthly Archives: July 2009

i’m the piece of shit the world revolves around

7/12/09

The current cultural buzzword – in case you haven’t been paying attention to the internets – is NARCISSIST. Specifically, Narcissist Personality Disorder… who has it, whether or not it’s ruining your love life, whether it is viral, and of course, the hand-wringing about today’s kids being the most self-obsessed twits since the Roman Senate.

You’ve got articles like this one from CNN, and this one from the Daily Beast, both featuring stock photos of a twentysomething chick looking at themselves in the mirror, and both getting some pretty basic things wrong about what narcissism really is.

Both blame “the Oprah school of thought”, which states “you must love yourself before anyone else will,” but in my book, true narcissists actually fucking hate themselves. This self-loathing may be deeply buried far too close to the core of their spinal column to ever visit, but this constant need for affirmation, the vampiric energy suck, and the inability to show empathy all come from a person with a humongous vacuum in their heart where their self-regard usually lies. People who truly love themselves, in an uncomplicated, calm way, would be at peace – the direct opposite of a narcissist, who destroys relationships, family reunions and other people’s cars like Led Zeppelin destroyed hotel rooms.

The Daily Beast quotes a therapist saying “Everything from feminism to 12-step recovery to religion has become about ‘I was weak, now I’m strong, go screw yourself'”… which has to be the most ill-conjured piece of buckshot conjecture I’ve ever heard on the subject. 12-step recovery, to take one example, is a diagnostic list of steps AWAY from narcissism and towards humility; as they say, “be a worker among workers.”

And all of these articles (I’ve read them in Slate, Salon, the NYT, etc.) claim Twitter and Facebook as the gateway drug for Gen Y and Z’s rampant self-involvement, as if millions of kids actually think their tweets are “Important”. Didn’t these Gen X writers learn anything from their bizarre peers? Twitter is actually the younger generations’ foray into parallelism, the state of paradox where one can spend all day crafting little missives, putting intense man-hours into something meant to be constantly dismissed.

I’ve read many of your Twitter posts and Facebook updates, my friends, and I take them in the spirit they were written: not as narcissistic proclamations to the heavens, but as quixotic, casual, first drafts of a thought to be hammered out later – or not. I just don’t buy Twitter, texting and online lugubriousness to be a portal for narcissism – I can’t imagine any narcissist getting his money’s worth.

True narcissism, like true sex or love addiction, is actually pretty disastrous – and thankfully, pretty rare. We’ve all read the descriptions of Narcissist Personality Disorder and thought “wow, that NAILS me!” but nobody with real narcissism has the ability to step outside themselves long enough to make that comment. Therapists have long said that there are two kinds of people in this world: those that tend towards being neurotic, and those that tend towards narcissism, and narcissists are fucking impossible to treat. In fact, they make the therapists themselves want to stop being therapists.

Narcissism is caused primarily by one’s parents, typically by denying some basic sense of well-being to the child, forcing the kid to compensate in more and more destructive ways. Later in life, they are natural divorcers, pathological liars, and could be pitied if they didn’t piss you off every goddamn day.

Look, I’d wager these articles are really trying to decipher these things: why younger people are waiting so long to get married, what’s causing the overwhelming emphasis on beauty, and why most guys in America drift through their 20s and 30s in a state of retarded adolescence, constitutionally incapable of maintaining interest in relationships and living lives of bizarre self-satisfaction.

All of these things have explanations, but they aren’t narcissism. We already misuse “nonplussed”, “penultimate” and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle – it’d be a pity to waste such a great word like “narcissism” on things so utterly pedestrian.

when you’re a jet you’re a jet all the way

7/9/09

Okay, enough screwing around. Let’s get to why we’re really all here: to discuss the current state of “So You Think You Can Dance”.

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Ade’s jump on Thursday night… jesus h. unbelievable

If you haven’t been watching it, which includes me for the first four seasons, you’re doing yourself an immense disservice. This is no “American Idol”, “Big Brother” or “The Amazing Race”. This is a self-contained dance competition that will leave even a culture-less rube gasping for air after a brilliant move – if you don’t cry at some point during each episode, you’re made of clay. And this is coming from a guy with acidic sarcasm running through his veins, having avoided every “reality” show since they were invented.

“So You Think You Can Dance” may not effectuate the kind of cultural seismic activity “American Idol” does, but that’s because people relate more primally to “Idol”. It is possible to be an accidentally fantastic singer (see Boyle, Susan) and viewers can privately fulfill their own dreams to be discovered, no matter their age, weight or circumstance. SYTYCD offers no such dream: these contestants have physical skills you will never have, and they’ve labored harder in their artistic pursuit than you can possible fathom. If anything, it’s closer to the Olympics than any other show.

That said, every dancer has their flaws, their distinct personality, and the judging can be infuriatingly subjective. Let’s look at some of the issues, shall we?

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permanent judges Mary and Nigel at right

The Judges – Nigel Lythgoe and Mary Murphy are actually fantastic, whether or not you can deal with their personalities. Nigel’s an old-school Brit with decades of dance to back up his critique, and Mary is 50% batshit catchphrases, 50% stunningly incisive commentary. Those two are the soul of the show, but unfortunately, there’s always a revolving third judge who is generally full of shit.

Tyce was so mean to contestants in the first week that Nigel actually had to tell him to cool it – and even now, while more subdued, he doesn’t bring anything to the table beyond repeating “we need to see more” and “you really gotta BRING it” (which is one of my least favorite phrases in modern culture). He seems to grade contestants as rivals, not as dancers, and it’s very middle school.

Worse yet is Mia Michaels, who has no problem taking her personal issues out on contestants. She tried to get fan favorite Brandon booted off the show in the early going (leading Mary Murphy to start crying) and when he kicked ass and proved her wrong over the ensuing weeks, she came out with the old “I’m always toughest on the ones who show the most talent” canard – a disingenuous lie if there ever was one.

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Kayla vs. Karla – Karla was a Filipino contemporary-dance whiz; Kayla is a platinum blonde, sheet-white jazz specialist. When the call-in vote left them near the bottom and they had to dance solos to avoid elimination, it became clear that the judge’s fix was in.

Kayla’s solo was horrific, the kind of trying-too-hard spasmodic routine that should have been embarrassing. Karla stayed elegant… but was eliminated. The judges have made it clear they have this thing for the blonde Kayla, and it makes one wonder why they even bother with the solos if their minds are already made up. Is it just to kill time?

 

 

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Melissa the Ballet Dancer – I don’t mean this in a rude way, but there’s no way Melissa is 29 years old. I think it’s a deliberate obfuscation on the part of the producers or Melissa herself to make sure people still vote for her. I don’t have any proof of this, and I’d be happy to be shown otherwise… but if she’s older than 29, I think it would actually be inspiring to many folks not stuck in the Hollywood tradition of constantly eating ones own children.

 

 

The Mormon Problem – If you watched the show last night, you may have been stunned by Evan and Randi beating Phillip and Jeanine in the voting. If you have ever been to Randi’s home state of Utah, you wouldn’t be.

Phillip is liquid pleasure, a lightning-fast contortionist who manages to look like both Roland Orzabal from Tears For Fears and my brother Sean. And Jeanine is my favorite dancer in years and years. She came into the competition with no fanfare, and proceeded to kick ass in EVERY STYLE, despite the fact that she has an actual ass, actual thighs, actual boobs and studied the decisively un-showy discipline of lyrical dance and ballet. She is a motherfucking STAR.Phillip and Jeanine tackle the Broadway category

Then you’ve got Evan and Randi – both tiny, very affable, but somewhat limited. Evan is fantastic in musical theater and Broadway mode, and I will gladly line up to see him in a Gershwin revue. Randi gives it her all and is immensely talented, but… they just aren’t the stars, and the producers – as well as the judges – know it.

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Much is made of Evan’s popularity, but nobody seems to be stating the obvious: Randi is from Orem, Utah. Anyone not knowing the power of my cousins and the other 2.7 million residents of the Beehive State need only look at California’s disastrous Prop 8 outcome to see how Mormons can mobilize when needed.

Now that the judges have abdicated, and the contestants are picked solely by call-in vote, the producers have a problem. I can promise you that every single man, woman and child of telephone-dialing ability in Utah has (and will) vote for Randi until America does something about it. You guys should consider this a dry-run for 2012, when it’ll be the Mitt Romney Problem.

 

 

Can anything stop Janette and Brandon?   I can’t really say anything about these two, and I don’t want to try. Their tango on Thursday night may well be the most surgical and flawless two minutes you’ll ever see on network television. Watch the video if it’s still up. I’m pretty convinced these two will win this whole thing.

I hope these YouTube clips aren’t taken down by the lawyers – it’s also here

 

 

And yet…    This show rises above the others because something always happens that blindsides you out of complacency. I’m not a fan of Mia Michaels as a judge, so I wasn’t looking forward to her choreography. And I believed Kayla to be barely hanging on. And then, on Thursday night, Kayla and her much-maligned partner Kupono did a dance about “addiction” that, I don’t know, I can’t even write about it without tearing up.

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I could barely look at Tessa afterward, knowing what she has been through, what so many of her friends had been through, and what mine are going through right now. And the dancing… Kupono as the addiction, with his never-wavering smile of malevolence, Kayla in red shards of a dress, unable to escape, as he palpates her arms and holds her by the neck… After one embrace, he discards her into the air, where she spins and lands six feet away, collapsing into near death, then shooting back up, drawn back to him for more.

It was transcendent, plain and simple. And it was on Fox Television, in the middle of the summer. Our culture may be desiccated and cynical, but any moment like that, seen by nine million people, means we’ve got to be doing something right.

if the video here doesn’t work, try here

zurt!!!

7/7/09

Okay, so today’s CODE WORD question, should you choose to engage it, is this: how much caffeine do you ingest per day?

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don’t go down to doldrum

7/6/09

We are getting to the part of the summer where you will see a small-yet-notable dip in quality of pretty much everything you enjoy. The sandwiches at the deli are made with mayo that is about five minutes from expiring in the heat, and that word you’re looking for is no longer on the tip of your tongue; it melted away a few hours ago. Local news anchors are wearing their “who gives a fuck” suits, and the kids scooping ice cream are daydreaming, thus skimping on the Oreo bits.

The writing is not quite as sharp on your favorite television shows, even on fantastic programs like “The Daily Show”, which will temporarily dip into being merely “very funny”. At the ballet, the grandes jetés aren’t as high, and the oboe player is unconvinced his reed will work. Every job will either take 33% longer, or seem 33% longer, and usually both.

This is not because of any ennui or depression, it’s just the way people must pace themselves. Nobody wants to unfurl their best work in front of an audience that isn’t paying full attention. These are the days of Good Enough, of Nobody Will Notice, of spackle, duct tape and Half-assedry.

With that in mind, here is my blog entry: is this movie poster supposed to subliminally remind of us of the urban legend that John Dillinger had a 3-foot cock?

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a hundred and ten cornets close at hand

7/5/09

Since it’s just been the 4th of July, I’d like to go ahead and say it: I’m an elitist. I’m an arrogant, disdainful, sarcastic dilettante who believes that intellect beats “gut feeling” nine times out of ten (and the tenth time is a fluke). I say things like “God, that is so ‘The Ice Storm'” and “he’s in a C#-minor mood”.

I went to prep school. Then I went to a large Public Ivy and some of us made fun of the in-staters, at least the ones that kept their spittle collected in 2-liter bottles on a shelf in Hinton James dorm. I listened in the classes I liked, and then used that information later to make money.

I’m such a smartypants blowhard that I’m actually ashamed of my country more times than I’m proud of it. I find Sarah Palin to be utterly ghastly; a profoundly shallow, delusional twit with a criminal lack of curiosity about the world. I want to play Boggle and embarrass the holy fuck out of her. I want to play Scrabble just so I can make fun of the way she spells “poise” with a “z”.

I installed solar panels on our roof and drive a Prius, not so much for environmental reasons, but because it makes me feel smugly justified to extend my middle finger to Dick Cheney. My particular environmentalism is an act of revenge. Do you know what I listen to in my Prius? NPR. I attend with rapt attention to their “driveway moments” and have shed the occasional tear over “This American Life”.

I am white. I like the stuff white people like, especially those in my class and educational bracket. These include Macintosh computers, espresso pods with Irish Crème syrup, the Amazon Kindle, sweaters, and triple-paned glass windows with argon gas (to keep out the noise of a world gone mad). My tomatoes are organic; my oatmeal lumpy.

I think the second amendment is a crock of shit. I think people that spend their time crafting the Defense of Marriage Act are laboring in such Freudian denial that they absolutely have to be gay. I think all country music sounds the same, and leather cowboy hats make me instantly exhausted, the kind of fatigue that sets in after a Xanax (which I obtained legally).

I believe that Kentucky’s political choices are a blight to free thinkers everywhere. I also know that I used synecdoche in that last sentence and I’m also glad to teach you the difference between it and metonymy. In fact, my unchecked bloviating allows me to offer you pop quizzes in a multitude of categories at a millisecond’s notice.

I am a huge advocate of excellence in all things. I know the difference between someone who had a few lessons and someone who has spent hours honing their craft. I pity those who wasted their 20s and 30s being pretty and precious, as they pretty much have precious little left to offer. I also recognize the previous sentence doesn’t quite scan, but wish to keep the play-on-words for effect.

My opening advice is usually “you better fucking catch up, the rest of us are on page 37.” My wife made a joke about the 17th-century painter Peter Paul Rubens in the car last week, and I wanted to have sex with her in traffic. I quote Morrissey with abandon, yet love boobs.

And it is for this, the ability to be such a foofter, to be such a sanctimonious agnostic, to have such disgust for so many, and a short, odd list of heroes, that I love America. As others fight to keep my kind marginalized to the liberal fringes, I, in turn, fight to make sure that I’m always smarter than they are. They come after us with bibles and guns, but we pancake them with logic and stem cells.

May we all live together near the 37th parallel. You may shame me for my tastes, but only in the USA are we allowed such delicious complexity.