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The Journal of Literary Satire | Hastily Written & Slopilly Edited
Wednesday, December 14, 2005   |    Disquieting Modern Trends

Disquieting Modern Trends: Back to Basics Edition

by Will Layman & Chris Osmond

Have you missed us? We missed you.

But the combination of several high-level natural disasters and a sudden hankering to spend October watching old Planet of the Apes movies while sucking down banana daiquiris put the ol’ Disquieting Modern Trends Hooptie (See D.M.T: “White-Hot, Legal-Eagle, Point-Counterpoint Edition”) in the garage for a mess o’ weeks. Did we use our down time well? You betcha: a complete piston lube, several waxings, and one complete fluid replacement later and we feel fresh as daisies. Cranky, detail-obsessed, easily annoyed daisies—but daisies still.

Give us a sniff. See?

While we watched our minions labor late into the night with unwieldy metaphorical torque wrenches as the moderate temperatures of autumn became the scrotum-shrinking freeze of December, we strung up hammocks along the rafters and asked the big question: Why is the modern world so needlessly annoying?

Not that the old days were pleasant. No, no—don’t get us wrong. We wouldn’t want to live in pre-rock ’n’ roll America any more than we would want to live in the Middle Ages. A land of plenty that does not include at least seven different diet cola choices simply wouldn’t suit our demanding sensibilities.

But that does not diminish our annoyance with the petty and pointless trends that mark Being Alive Today. We are ecstatically pro-today, but vociferously anti- … well, that’s why you read the column: to find out what annoys us. RIGHT NOW. We have explored some byways of complaint lately, some high-concept suburbs of reader participation, but it’s time for retrenching in the simple task that has always rewarded us so handsomely. So, let’s get this eight-cylinder beast back on the highway of complaint and investigate several of today’s Disquieting Modern Trends.

SnitchHarry Potter—Just Not Getting Any?
The Harry Potter franchise is now essentially bulletproof—a cultural craze that has ten-year-olds reading 800-page books. Who’s going to get niggling about that, particularly at this late stage in the game? Well, there are the religious nuts who believe that Potter-mania is a front for Satanism, … and there’s us. Our problem in nutshell: Why isn’t Harry getting any? I mean this is a kid who goes to a coed boarding school and owns a freakin’ invisibility cloak.1 Not to mention that he is the star and leading scorer of the school’s Quidditch2team, the winner of the Tri-Wizard Tournament, and a dude with a totally boss lightning-shaped scar on his forehead—better than a tattoo! There is no way this kid doesn’t score left and right in an environment where the coolest competition has the last name “Weasley.” We don’t get it, and it causes us to question the value of a society unaware that fame plus magical ability plus a British accent equals booty. J. K. Rowling, we suggest that you spend at least a year reading James Bond books before writing that last Potter tome. And let Harry drive an Aston-Martin, maybe, O.K.? Or meet a suggestively named supervixen?3

Coach K and Backwards HatFrat Boys Who Wear Backwards Baseball Caps
We assume you have seen these chuckleheads walking around town in packs or maybe dining at the local Cheesecake Factory.4 They are big-chinned Alpha Kappa Deltas or at least aspire to so be someday—strapping college-hoops fans who can spell the name “Krzyzewski” and have a pyramid of Bud Lite cans proudly stacked on a mantle somewhere. They prefer The Family Guy to The Simpsons because, well, they really don’t always get The Simpsons.

Dudes, here’s the thing: the backwards baseball cap makes you look like Charlie Brown’s hapless catcher, Schroeder. If you must wear the cap5, then please wear it facing forward as God and Joltin’ Joe intended that it be worn. The brim should be forward, shading the eyes and nose from sun. The logo will be forward. If you’re wearing one of those cheapies with the plastic adjustment strap in the back, it won’t be creating a gruesome indentation on your forehead. You’ll be less likely mistaken for a prematurely bald guy in the wrong light, and you’ll help to rid the land of the beastly musical backcap phenomenon that calls himself “Gavin DeGraw.”6 The advantages of the forward cap are legion, including distancing yourself that much more from the long-ago discredited “trucker cap” phenomenon popularized by the MILF-happy Ashton Kutcher.7But what makes the popularity of the backcap so utterly disheartening and disquieting is simply this: that women have not spontaneously extinguished it by denying sweet rubbies to any dude who sports it. Ladies?

The band“Bands” That Are Really Just One Guy Who Gave Himself a Band Name
Hey, man—everybody wants to be in a band, right? That’s why you learn to play “Smoke on the Water” on your brother’s Mexican Strat in the first place. And if you’re willing to hang out in a basement with a bunch of guys who claim that their music is utterly unlike anything that has ever graced the planet then—by gum—you can be in a band! But the recent trend toward individual singer-songwriters or simple duos adopting deeply pretentious band names is sapping our belief that the American public knows what it’s about. The “band” Iron and Wine, for example, is really just this dude with a honkin’-big beard, Samuel Beam. The cat plucks an acoustic guitar and lays down a highly evocative baritone rumble: he is a “singer-songwriter,” not a band. The “band” Bright Eyes is really just Conor Oberst, a kid from Omaha who churns out angsty pop like Garrison Keillor churns out Lutheran jokes.8 Are the White Stripes a band or a guy whose ex-wife likes to play drums? 9

Oh how things were simpler in the past! Don’t you think that Billy Joel would rather have been known as “The Lanced Boil”? Imagine if Simon and Garfunkel could have been called “Tempura Cirrhosis.” But no. They had the guts and the daring to put themselves out there. If the new “Dashboard Confessional” album sucks, what does Chris Carrabba care? We see these cowardly bogus bands and see only the weakness and soft underbelly of Generation Y. At least when baby-boomer stars took fake names like “Bob Dylan” they were making cool literary allusions. Pretty much our view is: Conor Oberst, Sam Beam, and the like: meet us in front of the saloon at midnight so we can have Joni Mitchell kick your asses.

When the Little Light inside the Car Doesn’t Turn Off as Soon as the Door Is Closed but Instead Fades Dramatically after Eight Seconds
When we first saw this, we loved it. It was like the lights going down before the overture, making driving an event in that very precious Volkswagen way. But now it just bugs us, playing on our obsessive-compulsive nature. Man, we have to stop and watch that light EVERY TIME we get out of the Hooptie to make sure it goes off, no matter how cold, wet, or late it makes us.10All of this stands as simply the proverbial iceberg tip regarding ways in which modern cars are just too damn clever for their own good. How about those mini-vans where all the seats can folded into the undercarriage when, previously, you had to haul them into your garage in a hernia-inducing, obscenity-shouting festival of annoyance? I mean, those bastard seats used to take up a significant portion of our garage, and now they essentially vanish into thin air? Or the heating and cooling systems that maintain different temperatures on the driver and passenger sides —what, is there some impermeable yet invisible barrier that keeps the molecules from mixing together in new cars? We find these things disquieting because we suspect that they are lies or—in the alternative—proof that we no longer understand contemporary existence. In either case, mounting disquietude can be sharply detected.

Music on the Radio, Generally
During the holidays we’re like anyone else—cruising the highways of this great land (and of New Jersey), visiting our families, and trying to find a party where a woman named “Zsa Zsa” will do things with eggnog that are banned below the Mason-Dixon line.11 As we cruise, we pop on the radio in the hopes of catching a string of tender pop morsels—whatever heavily-compressed surface-glittery funkfest has recently been marketed to the American teen in hopes of stimulating his need to feel cool. Yet lately it seems that the only things we hear are: “Morning Zoo” shows; Bill O’Reilly’s Radio Factor; and pop-music programming that is more racially segregated than Johannesburg in the 70s. Is there really any doubt that a radio dial chock-a-block with Smokey Robinson, the Pretenders, and Michael Jackson (black/white/tan; male/female/mutant) is America at its jumbled best? The prospect of “radio” shifting over to thousands of satellite channels, each one programmed for a single block of a single city so that advertising can more accurately shoot us up with message (not to mention that half of these channels will be programmed by the increasingly irritating Howard Stern12) can only be seen as a triumph of bureaucracy. We prefer “Tears of a Clown.”

Eva!Eva Longoria, Overexposed
To be clear: we like a hot little Latin(a) number as much as the next guys. Terri Hatcher gives us no wood, and that other blonde who was naked in the N.F.L./T.O. ad seems like some plastic surgery resident’s final exam, and Felicity Huffman (how we love to say it—FelIIIcity HUUUUFFman) receives awkward MILF-y creds for sure13. But Eva—and the other statuesque and frigid redhead, what’s her name?— seem a cut above, like the cheerleaders who never looked at you in high school. We recognize this dynamic and find it comfortable and reassuring, reminding us at it does of the wasted promise of our youth (see D.M.T.: “Cry in Your Beer for the Lost Promise of Your Youth or the Impending Irrelevance of Your Dotage Edition”). Thus, we are fully in favor of Eva capitalizing on her fifteen nanoseconds of fame with as many Good Housekeeping covers as her publicist can squeeze in.

And yet we only see Eva. And we see Eva EVERYWHERE. She flogs hair-care products, canned meats, lint removers, and adjustable-rate mortgages. We find her overexposed and would like to offer her some friendly advice. Whither from here, O Eva? Whither shall you sprightly dash, when the flashbulbs are silent and talk show hosts go dark? Will you execute a reverse double pike Stephanopoulos14 and get a color commentary gig on ABC news? Perhaps launch your own fragrance, available at more upscale Golden Corrals across the country? Or be the first to release the catty tell-all book on how far up your costars shave? All we are saying is to lay off the photo shoots for at least two days of tactical planning. Temperance! Abstinence! Circumspection! We are happy to conference with you on these and other topics, collect, whenever it suits you, or we could have you out to D.M.T. Plaza for a little high level back-and-forth and melon-ball massages. The cabana is free until February.15

Next Edition: Physical aging. Now that it’s happening to us, we stand appalled by it.

1 In the normal course of a Potter tale, written or filmed, Harry seems mainly to use this extraordinarily useful piece of broadcloth only to sneak down to Hagrid’s hut. Now, we mean no disrespect to either Robbie Coltrane or the gay population, but we shudder to think that Harry is hauling his little British wiggler all the way out of the castle to that smelly hut just to dig on Hagrid‘s barbarian action. We’d be considerably happier if Harry were gay, frankly, as that would at least explain his weirdly closeted vibe. But, alas, he simply reminds us of ourselves back in high school: a smart-ass kid with too few smooth moves and a whole pot of complexly textured guilt.
2 While we’re at it, let us simply get this out, once and for all: Quidditch makes no sense whatsoever. You score only two ways: ten points for throwing a huge “quaffle” through a defended hoop or 150 points for capturing the little “snitch”—which capture immediately ends the game. Now, we have read all the books, and the notion that a team would ever have a 15 goal, 150 point lead is unheard of. Therefore, everything about the game is irrelevant other than catching the fucking snitch, since those 150 game-ending points are always enough to win. What the—? We honestly don’t understand how the most identifiable set-piece in the entire Potter franchise could be so utterly devoid of competitive logic, and we would really like to see a worldwide movement in which little Potterheads in their round, black specs knock on the door of what assume is J. K. Rowling’s billion-pound British estate to demand a better sport, and now.
3 The naming of vixens in the tradition of James Bond’s “Pussy Galore” should be a niche-marketed party game manufactured by Hasbro. Inspired by Austin Powers’s divine “Ivana Humpalot,” we submit this list for your approval and invite you to come up with your own coinages. Food for vixen thought:
  • LeTeesha Tuchyerbum
  • Mary Knobpolisher
  • Yurgonna Slurpituplikewatermelonslushy
  • Wetasa Sloppyjo

Cheesecake Map4 Do they have this “Cheesecake Factory” near you? It spreads like an “upscale-casual” mold across the land, bringing overpriced fish tacos and pesto-chicken pizza to the farthest reaches of our union. Here is the list of the 20 states, as of December 2005, not containing a “Cheesecake Factory” restaurant: Idaho, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Nebraska, the Dakotas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, West Virginia, Delaware, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Alaska, and Michigan. Move to these places immediately (O.K., move to Michigan immediately) and do two things: keep the Cheesecake Factory out and vote for Democrats. We are begging you.
Chad Cordero, flat-brimmer5 And we are, goodness indeed, pro-cap. As men with mass-expanses of flesh where our hair should be, hats and caps are more than here fashion statements for us. We particularly endorse the cotton baseball cap with an “unconstructed front,” which means it doesn’t have that god-awful plastic fabric-stuff at the front which gives the cap the crested-front look that seems prevalent in real, actual-wool M.L. Baseball caps, which caps—when worn by bald men like us—are pretty much a rash just waiting to happen. The cap is that much better if the brim is carefully molded into a round shape approximating the arc-length of a sector with central angle of approximately 37 degrees, for you math geeks out there. As for the recent trend among M.L.B. players toward the totally flat-brimmed cap (most prominently sported by Washington Nationals ace reliever Chad Cordero), let us just called is trend of growing disquietude that we are tracking like weathermen in mid-January.
Gavin DeGraw6 Gavin DeGraw, for those not carefully monitoring the radio dial, is a 26-year-old hitmaker out of N.Y. who is one part Norah Jones, one part Dave Matthews, one part Ben Folds, and one part backcap-wearing frat boy. Hat-disposition choices aside, we’re very happy to note that he does not go by some bogus “band name” (See infra Rant on One-Man Bands). His “gently raspy, effortlessly emotive voice” (J Records P.R. copy) “carries a level of emotional depth that’s remarkable for one so young.” Which is to say, he is being handled by some serious adults who see money coming out of his 26-year-old pores every time he breaks a sweat.
7 The trucker cap is made exclusively of plastic, featuring webbing in the back and a poly-foam front that is the cancer-causing equivalent of wearing 47 cellphones on your forehead. Thankfully, it blipped through the pop-cultural landscape so quickly that even we—speedy with derision if ever anyone was—could not mock it. One of us thinks that Paris Hilton kind of made it work, but that comment led to a battle royale about Paris Hilton that we won’t burden you with.
8 We’d like to declare it a Disquieting Modern Trend that A Prairie Home Companion continues, week after week, with its “Guy Noir” bits and its bluegrass guest spots and its quaintly rambling monologues and its creepy sounds effects, but it strikes us that this is not a “modern” trend at all. Rather, we just don’t get A.P.H.C. at all, no matter how many clever humor bits Mr. Keillor has published in The New Yorker or how many hot Scandinavians he marries to the perpetual shame of his home state of Minnesota. We also know that this is a wholly unprovoked swipe at the mild-mannered and benign Mr. Keillor, and we are pretty ambivalent about it. Therefore, we pull our punch sheepishly, and conclude simply that, while we do not dispute that Mr. Keillor is an excellent craftsman, we are not in the market for what he is crafting. It doesn’t matter how well the gloves are made if you need some pants. We do find it disquieting, however, that we are unable to understand the distinction between National Public Radio (NPR) and Public Radio International (PRI), and American Public Media (APM), which syndicates A.P.H.C. NPR takes all the heat for creating precious, politically correct, folk music-drenched radio, yet we bet you can’t tell us which of these networks produces This American Life or Fresh Air. The same stations at the bottom of the dial broadcast all this smarty-pants stuff, so we say it should be produced by one group with one acronym, if only to make things easier for Fox News and talk radio hosts who want to make fun. And it would be a more accurate description of what we suspect is just the same cabal of thirteen homely people in corduroy who produce the whole megillah.
9 While we’re on this kick, we’d like to check our goth cred—a dubious cred to check if ever there was one—and point out that Nine Inch Nails may have been the first out of the gate on this “one-man-band” tip. Trent Reznor, however, is awesome and therefore earns his way out of our derision (a) because he pioneered this trend in recent times and therefore gets originality credit, and (b) because with an emphatically cool name like “Trent Reznor” it is plain that he is not using the faux band name simply for marketing purposes.
10 One of us also checks his keys in his pocket every ten minutes, no joke; five if sitting. This is the same one who once drove his car ten minutes with the emergency brake on and so now double checks that it is off intermittently when driving, every time. Cars maybe are not made for this guy; they offer a preponderance of things that might not work the right way the hundred-thousandth time, and we don’t like those odds.
11 Speaking of holiday parties, you know what we’ve had enough of? People bitching about fruitcake. The first comedian who noted that fruitcake is very dense and isn’t terribly popular had an O.K. bit. We suspect it was Seinfeld or the early Paul Reiser, and those guys are hereby allowed to do that joke in perpetuity. But everyone else: ENOUGH. Fruitcake is, admittedly, a minority taste. But so are truffles and caviar. What most people don’t understand is that fruitcake is properly prepared and ultimately served by being drenched in glowing pools of brandy or brown rum, thus making it, uh—pretty damn irresistible. You leave that bad boy in its wax-paper lined tin for a couple months and—trust us—you have the makings of a bouquet of fermentation and good times that will make the iPod you got your wife for the holiday seem like a minor pleasure. We are decidedly pro-fruitcake, the denser the better. Yum.
12 When Howard is talking to lesbians, complaining about the size of his penis or even just littering the radio landscape with nudity, we are sympathetic if not actually listening. But when he talks about his pioneering a new form of entertainment and about his need to regain his voice in a new medium, we think that he has become everything he used to make fun of. Howard: it’s over. You’re a millionaire dating a model. Enough. Do not pass GO, do not collect $200.
13 MILF: if you have to ask, you should never know.
14 Here we wish to flex our D.C. creds and note that—“inside the beltlway”—the term of art for this Clinton staff member was “George Snuffleupagus,” which was transmuted following the election débâcle of 2000 to “George Stuffinenvelopes.” We now believe he goes by “George, Lord of the Obvious.”
15 In February, Donald Fagen is booked for the traditional two-week “How do I communicate with the public without scanning like Travis Bickle (see D.M.T.: “The City So Nice We Complain about It Twice Edition”)?” rave-up that he schedules before the release of every new Steely Dan or solo album. No soliciting.

Will Layman & Chris Osmond are an old-fashioned comedy team in the tradition of Burns & Allen, Abbott & Costello, or Bush & Cheney. They cowrote the song "Jenny Bought Burritos," which is the only hit song about Mexican food that you've never heard.