Monday, February 21, 2005

Hey, again, folks.

We really don’t mean to rain on the sunny parade that 2005 has already become, what with burgeoning democracy and compassion abroad and unprecedented goodwill here in the U.S. of A between Republicans and Democrats, evangelicals and normal people, maniacal homophobes and the rest of us.

Really, we wanted to do as we were told: to sit back with a lukewarm can of Coors Lite, take in a bracing new episode of Joey, and then vigorously refrain from tapping our heels while listening to a Josh Groban CD.


As much as we like to drown the complexities of life in a meal consisting mainly of the Silver Bullet, there are certain trends in contemporary America that make it impossible for us to sit on our hands. Under current conditions, we roll out of bed hungry for justice or, failing that, at least one of the violent forms of pointless revenge. Grrrr.

Here we continue our list of the disturbing, the infuriating, the nail-on-the-chalkboardesque—the latest creeping mildew on the otherwise spotless bathroom wall that is our glorious American experiment. In short: more disquieting modern trends.

Fairly-Priced, No Haggle Car Dealerships
There’s never a bad time to shop for a car in America, what with End-of-Model-Year Close-outs, New-Model Specials, Presidents Day Blow-Outs, and 24-Month Zero-A.P.R. Financing. When it’s time for a new set of wheels, we spend a week prepping like an all-pro N.F.L. noseguard—steak for breakfast, three-a-day workouts and an absolute ban on all activities that could result in an orgasm (including the consumption of Mounds bars and window-shopping for flat-panel TVs)—so that we greet the Pontiac salesman on equal terms: as an angry, aggressive, untrustworthy-but-smiling dickwad. But something has changed. Suddenly the exhaust-choked highways of America are dotted with “friendly” car dealerships, Saturn showrooms swathed in George Winston music and reasonable prices for cars that actually work. Where’s the sport? Where’s the fun? Remember kicking the tires of the car you were gonna buy? Doesn’t it seem wrong that there is no longer a chance that a tire will fall off or, at least, make a sound not unlike the one your ex-wife used to make when you suggested a evening of “fun”? Really, what’s the union coming to if you can’t get triple-fucked on a LeBaron by a dude in polyester blend named Hal?

Holiday Music Performed in Cool, Cutting-Edge Styles
Well, the big end-of-year holidays are long behind us, but some recent holiday-related trends are still scratching our metaphoric corneas. We know it’s common for people to complain about the Christmas carols starting too early, but we disagree. We love those stupid songs and, in fact, we feel it’s wrong for radio stations to cut them off at the stroke of midnight on December 26th. It’s not at all unusual for us to be in the backyard a week or two after Christmas, picking off squirrels with our new cross-bow while whistling “Little Drummer Boy.”

That said, we’re absolutely done with hearing superhip new versions of the old classics. Spend a half hour in The Gap (if you must), and you’ll hear, say, a trip-hop “Let It Snow” or a heavy-dub “Silent Night.” We all cry foul, and compellingly so, when a traditional pop singer like Mel Torme records a rock album. We should be equally upset when Ludacris tries his hand at “O Holy Night.” It’s only fair to leave that stuff to Andy Williams and Perry Como, forbidden as they are from covering “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

Claiming The O.C. Is Actually Good
Do you like The O.C.? Cool either way, as far as we’re concerned, but DO NOT try to make the claim it is actually good. We have no beef with The O.C. and although we do not watch The O.C. 1, we suspect it is just the kind of high-endorphin empty-calorie thing we would like very much. We in no way eschew lowbrow pop culture; indeed, its rapacious consumption is all that gets us out of our crusty sheets some mornings. But we recently heard a TV critic snarkily proclaim that he not only liked it but also thought it was one of “the best things on TV.” He said this with the “Oh, I really surprised you there, didn’t I?” tone that highbrow critics use when they want to confer some intellectual heft to something they like for their own secretly crass reasons2. This is like making some elaborate nutritional claim for the Krispy Kreme doughnut—total bullshit that any four-year-old can see through even with a booger hanging off his index finger. Hey, kids, it’s cool to like something for superficial reasons—the people are good looking, there’s some cool music, and it’s a soap opera. We watched Dallas and Falcon Crest in our youth, and we understand. Making some lame stab at O.C. “significance” (particularly if this cheesy rationalization includes the word “zeitgeist”) will only make it clearer that you are ashamed of your own appetites. As far as we’re concerned, you should proudly watch The O.C. while eating a half dozen Krispy Kremes. You got a better idea?

The Passing of Téa Leoni from National-Level Consciousness
We know it’s hard to recall it now, but there was once a time when people didn’t get famous by getting married on TV while eating puréed cockroaches. Think back, if you can, maybe 7 or 8 years, to the days of scripted TV, Madonna without the Kaballah, actresses who did not also release albums/get married to dancers/write children’s books, and so on. In that hazy celebrity past, it was enough to be a brazen blonde bombshell, land a couple decent roles and then marry X-Files star David Duchovny.

We will be frank: Actress Téa Leoni gave us a gargantuan woody back then, and she still does today. She of the sharp features and feline grace3 once coaxed this reaction from many, but then a series of questionable career choices and just plain old celebrity burn-out turned her into a figure of only cult-level obsession. If we were giving her career advice, of course, the first thing we’d tell her is to engineer a messy divorce from Mr. Has-Been and start dating, like, Topher Grace from That 70s Show (as simply starring in the box-office flop Spanglish isn’t going to cut it). But the truth is, we like her the way she is. What we find so eerily disquieting is that no one else, apparently, feels the same. Fine. More for us (and, we guess, for David Duchovny).

The Bill Murray-ization of Adam Sandler
Speaking of Spanglish: Adam Sandler, what the fuck? We are very sophisticated people, and we are fully capable of asking our date to wear some nerdy Lisa Loeb/Velma glasses, put on a tight black turtleneck, grab our hand and stroll with us to the art-house theater for an espresso and an Almodóvar flick. But every ecological system requires balance: hence the fart joke. Mountain lions hunt with cold compassion; earthworms slither on the ground, just waiting to be torn from the earth and turned into robin-poo. We thus assert that it is a rule of nature that Adam Sandler should make stupid movies.

The Waterboy and Billy Madison are classics of a sort, and we are not embarrassed still to find “The Hannukah Song” funny. We consider his uncredited appearance as “The Bongo Player” in Rob Schneider’s Hot Chick to be the cinematic highlight of 2002 and infinitely preferable to his starring role in the artistically ambitious Punch-Drunk Love. But even there, Paul Thomas Anderson had the sense to cast Sandler as an awkward and spasmodic dork. In Spanglish, however, Sandler is a “good guy.” He’s sympathetic. He’s real. Only James L. Brooks, the man who perpetrated the artistic crime called Terms of Endearment, could do this to American culture. Fuck—at least he didn’t give Sandler terminal cancer.

We’ve already lost Bill Murray to this disquieting trend (and we confess to fearing that, someday, Pauly Shore will be cast in Hamlet), but there may yet be a way save Happy Gilmore.

Next installment: Why you must NOT get a ringtone of the U2 song “Vertigo.”

1 We do not watch The O.C. for two reasons. First, we have children to raise and wives to argue with and cranky Internet bitchfests to pen and thus do not have the kind of crazy disposable time that allows America’s youth to indulge in this lavishly produced Peter Gallagher vehicle. Second, when we make time for TV it is usually for shows either (a) are even more deplorably low-brow than The O.C., or (b) consistently reaffirm our own worldview by being so cynical and wise-ass that our wives make us watch them in the basement, which is to say, Curb Your Enthusiasm. We would add The Sopranos to this list of exceptions but for the fact that only Will has HBO and, more importantly, The Sopranos is only broadcast every third decade, and even then only during solar-eclipse weeks.

2The best example of this we can think of is the rash of books and academic papers that emerged five to ten years ago proclaiming Madonna to be a brilliant postmodern artist whose subversive appropriation of the media language of exploitation was not actually cheap exploitation but rather a form of empowering self-exploitation with Derrida-ian and Lacanian implications. Our reaction to this the academic industry of Madonna Studies is: have you heard the fake Irish accent she’s sporting these days?, and what was wrong with just thinking “Borderline” was a great song sung by a sexy woman making a buck?

3 Born, we might note, Elizabeth Téa Pantaleoni, making her marginally cooler still. We know her ass is big as a truck since the twins. We call that “voluptuous.” In French she would be called La Renard and have only her cunning to protect her. Shine on, you crazy Téa.

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