Tuesday, December 5, 2006

We have been rather moribund lately. Languorous and lazy, we—like food-addled Thanksgivers on the couch watching football, counting our blessings rather than our calories. Like a great dirigible lazing in its mooring above the Illinois countryside1, it seems the updraft of cultural excess and folderol was just sufficient to buffet us slightly, make us tug gently against the lines, but never really break free. Democrats take both Houses? Fine. Rachael Ray on every Nabisco box in the universe? It’s about time … O.K. Tar Heels upset Ohio State in spirited second-half play unseen since the era of Dean Smith? 2 Of course. God’s in His heaven, all’s right with the world, Roy Williams for president.

It seemed, for a moment, that we would never write again—that in our hazy contentment we might be forced to let our staff go and give up the lease here at Disquieting Modern Trends Plaza.

Alas and thank goodness: it was not to last.

CapnCrunchbox.jpgBare Disquietude
For then it happened. Lazily eating our Monday morning Cap’n Crunch athwart our laptops, we were awakened. Behold, Britney Spears.

Post K-Fed3 and feeling itchy for a little monkey scratching, the pop-songstress-turned-white-trash-mama decided to hit the town for a week of carousing with Paris Hilton—a bender more avidly covered than Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. And, like the famed rodent, its epicenter concerned the peeking forth of a fabled creature whose exercises have seismic consequences for the rest of the world.

Britney Spears’s vagina.

britney-spears-upskirt.jpgMore specifically: her labia. Seen from above, and, on a different night, from behind. Hairless, presumably shaved, Ms. Spears seemingly a strong-boned adult in every physiological sense. Verifiably abundant, healthy, fleshy. And exposed in a calculated publicity stunt whose industry term of art is the “upskirt photo”4, that she learned at the skinny elbow of Ms. Hilton, the undisputed master of this arcane art and its go-to girl as certainly as Pai Mei is the fellow you need to teach you the five-point palm exploding heart technique5.

Now, we don’t have to tell you that this event sent us reeling and flew our fingers into an excited flutter on our laptop keys. But not for why you think. Oh no, loyal readers. We don’t really want to see Britney’s cha cha. Previous G.G.W.6 perambulations to the contrary, we are really sort of over seeing naked girls in the media, and certainly we are over the sort of pubescent slavering that sent us to our friend’s father’s garage to look at the Swedish nudie mags he kept behind the folded-up Ping Pong table.7

But we have serious and complex takes on the offending cha-cha itself, its placement, and its rhetorical/hermeneutic implications. Serious and lengthy takes. Thus, we persevere:

The Ease of Photographing the Cha-Cha
First, this: the cha-cha is sacred. We understand that the continual “coarsening of the culture” had, ultimately, to result in this. We realize that the desperate need to sell-sell-SELL was never planning to honor any imaginary line that we or anyone else might draw in the socio-sexual sand. AND we realize that we—as lascivious C-List Blogebrities with a history of reveling in sensual sensationalism—have even facilitated the descent we here deplore. But we naïvely thought that even those seeking to exploit the cha-cha’s “special status” would do so with the kind of indirection and greasy suggestion that the cha-cha’s rich history as “bad girl” cipher so merits. If t’were us who were advising Ms. Spears in her comeback efforts, we would have advised sticking to the ground game for a while longer—the teasing possibility of a FedEx-auteured sex tape, letting her babies drive the Beemer, that kind of thing—before throwing the bomb. And even then, you’d think that another Madonna kiss on TV or maybe a wardrobe malfunction would be the kind of escalation you’d want. What, friends, has become of the nipple? Is it really so insignificant now?

baberuthsluggingtheshitouto.jpgBut the cha-cha photos (Have you been waiting for us to give you the link, dear reader? Where is your initiative?) are blatantly staged. This is the modern day equivalent of a Babe Ruth home run—as if Ms. Spears had stepped up to the plate, pointed to her micromini with the bat, then swung for the fences. Did Britney know for sure that there were paparazzi ready to snap her picture? Kids, she was riding in a limo with Paris Hilton. The paparazzi were just the truck drivers delivering the product to your local supermarket. Fresh as early morning dew. Do we have some sense that an indelible line in paparazzi-baiting has been forever crossed? Well, do you?

Like using an ace to beat a three, like amputating over a hangnail, like hiring Meryl Streep for a walk-on part in the middle-school musical—deliberately exposing a former Mouseketeer’s cha-cha in order to revive a career in pop music is vintage overkill. Which, as the very place where our culture currently lives, is instantly itself a trivial act, propio-neutralized by its own outrage.

The Ease of Discovering the Photo of the Cha-Cha
You have always been able to see an anonymous cha-cha without too much trouble beyond a willingness to Google a euphemism therefor. Celebrity cha-cha used to be available with just a few more clicks. But it still wasn’t anything that you could access on a Web site that wasn’t blocked by your employer. The Britney chacharino, however, was practically handed us by Tom Brokaw.

eric-sevareid.jpgWe first found the story on Slate.com—practically the Eric Sevareid of the Internet.8 And there was the link. Of course we clicked on it, and: bang! if memory serves: it went directly to the cha-cha. In fewer steps than it takes to microwave a bag of popcorn we had full NC-17 access to the photos in question. Quoi?

Put aside morality and propriety—that’s been out the window since some time in the mid-90s when the U.S. Congress held hearings because of a semen-stained dress. We just think that you should have to work harder for cha-cha at this level. What of the work ethic in this country? What are we teaching our children?

The Cha-Cha Not as an End in Itself but—Can It Be?—As Merely a Loss Leader for Some New TV Show
sommersonne-peter-gabriel-s.jpgWe also speculate that the whole thing may be part of a multi-billion dollar investment by FX networks to further promote the Courteney Cox Arquette vehicle Dirt, which better be something pretty damn special after the thousands of ads they’ve been lading Nip/ Tuck with since July, let us tell you, buster. (Dirt, BTW, is about a tabloid newspaper. See Footnote 3, supra.) Seriously, these ads have higher production values than a Tony Snow “news conference” and C.C.A.’s blatant nose and brow work combined. It better be great. We fear it won’t be. But at least Peter Gabriel is finally getting some royalty sugar, his first since “Shock the Monkey” was lifted for an ill-advised interactive exhibit at the North Carolina Zoo in 1989. (No, it wasn’t. Sorry, North Carolina Zoo.)

The One-Fell-Swoop Destruction of Our Once-Cherished Pleasure in the Shiny, Surface-Conscious Pop That Ms. Spears Stood For
britneyhitme.jpgBack when other hipper-than-thou cats like us were getting swept in by various indie-rock bands or alt-country acts—back in the late 1998, that is—we were first on the Britney bandwagon—admittedly falling off briefly for a little Spice Girls thing, but then right back on. If you think it was merely because of the Catholic schoolgirl video for “… Baby One More Time”, then you just don’t know us very well. It is a sturdily made pop song by any standard9, and we thrilled to the notion that some good old-fashioned pop music was being made by a group that didn’t (a) have a number in the name of the band10, or (b) didn’t consist of five or six castrated dudes. No embarrassment in enjoying the surface, folks, and we did.

But what was great about Britney’s first two albums is now and forever turned horrible, of course. The li’l Mouseketeer was but a pretty and fragile vase into which her producers could place a slick bouquet of pop flowers, and much of the fun was in knowing that Britney was indeed not the artist at all. Her innocence was not a joke as much as it was a fact—causing the kind of smile that you get when you see a little kid wear a three-piece suit. And the minute B.S. started to assert her own adulthood, you it was time to consider buying, say, the new Hilary Duff album. The latest —this bold public display of not only the cha-cha but also Britney’s caesarian scar—is nothing if not as assertion that she is NOT innocent and probably never was, placing a hairline crack in our lifetime devotion to crackling bright pop music, which crack — like B.S.’s descent into bathos itself—seems to grow wider exponentially the more we think about it all.

This is rough going, here, emotionally. We are becoming flustered. So we are going to stop now, let our indulgent reader take a knee and catch his breath. Really, we will. But first, and last, a personal aside:

The Souring of Our Affection for Cheap Titillation, Which Affection Used to Be Considerable, We’ll Admit It
At the end of the day, we feel strangely cheapened by the whole interlude, personally deflated and world-weary in the sort of why-bother, heel-of-hand-to-forehead way that Sheryl Crow.11 seems to reference in “You’re an Original”:

Got you in a pose
That everybody knows
We thought you had something special.

0504Huckabee-Colbert-ON.jpgWe will soldier on, yes, but it won’t be the same. Other off-putting modern trends have passed through this column—nigh hundreds, we suppose—but never one that was so definitely era-closing. The cha-cha is not sacred anymore. And we shed a tear for it. And swear—wondering in some self-abusive way about causality, the awful weight of the mantle we assumed lo these fourteen months ago—never to fall asleep at the D.M.T. watch again. Look what happens when we leave you alone for FIVE MINUTES. Never again. Like an eagle tenderly nuzzling her chicks—and like Stephen Colbert himself—we’ll be watching you.

nintendo_wii_1.jpg 1 In part, we confess, we have been frozen in a state of inactive anticipation, awaiting the release of an entertainment system of unparalleled power. No, we're not talking about the Sony PlayStation 3 or the Nintendo Wii. We've been running early prototypes of both these new gaming systems in the penthouse lounge at D.M.T. Plaza since late summer, having our Laotian game-fluffers research cheat-codes and run the early levels so that we can waltz in to defeat the games at the finish line in the time it takes to digest our late afternoon snacks. Rather, friends, we spent all of November anticipating the release of Against the Day, the latest mega-novel by post-modern papa, Thomas Pynchon. Againstheday_pynchonm.jpgThis kind of thing--a 1,085-page historical novel spanning the continents and dealing with matters of revenge, anarchy, magic, dynamite, vector mathematics, bestiality, and, yes, turn-of-the-century airships--is not for everyone, we know. We explain this to Tom when we hang with him over Japanese beers and peeled-starfruit sections, but he says "W-what do I care?" Right on, Tom. Your Chums of Chance will be floating over the first part of our winter, singling up their lines and gazing down at the U.S. disquietude from a Godlike distance, and we're all for it.

2 We assume at this point that the supremacy of UNC basketball is a national, not provincial, consensus, and that, fanned by multi-camera coverage of the Big Game, the Duke/U.N.C. rivalry is not only important to the rest of the world, but that pretty much everyone has also taken sides. Here at D.M.T., half of us, clearly, are pulling for the Tar Heels. But the other half, sadly, eschews college basketball by and large, preferring the lumbering behemoths, outsized salaries, and slim chance of bumping into Jack Nicholson of "the pro game". Much ink has already been spilled on this subject extracurricularly, so we’ll leave it there. But if you are listening, mark my words: we will see you in Atlanta in March--AND April.

jesusflipflopweeklyworldnew.jpg3 Among those things disquieting that you will read about in this column, friends, never will you find the U.S. tabloids. What they cover may sometimes disquiet us (or may not) but the tabloids themselves are a literary and moral balm for the soul. Like great mirrors held up to the lipid-intensive faces of curly-fry-loving fifteen-year-olds, The National Enquirer, Weekly World News, The Globe, The Star, The Sun, and The National Examiner (all, by the way, published by two empire-like publishing giants located in Boca Raton, Florida) simply show us what we are, what we have become, what we are slowly, inevitably becoming. And they serve not only The Truth--admittedly, not the "factual" truth, but the cultural truth, if ever there was one, of our national obsession with Very Pretty People, Very Rich People, and particularly with Very Rich Pretty People--but also the Language. The tabloids, seeking ever-snappier ways to talk about Leonardo DeCaprio and Katie Couric on the front page, seem to have a particular knack for punning abbreviations, lovingly noted in these pages previously (and rudely forc’d into a second, illicit act so cowardly we will not even designate to link to it lest we unintentionally increase its hit count). Our favorite, by far, is the new nickname for Britney's ex, Kevin Federline, formerly "K-Fed", now: FedEx. Lovely.

Bratz_dolls.jpg4 The phrase "upskirt photo" is one we have encountered previously in one place and one place only: pornography. We love this term, pornographically specific ("explicit," literally) and also smelling of stag films in the basement and Burma Shave. In a world where there appears to be no shortage of ladies who will shed their skirts, there is still some Victorian kink in the idea of peeking up a lady's hem to see her drawers, or whatever else one finds where her drawers should be. Yet in all press coverage to date of Ms. Spears's latest, er, revelation, "upskirt photo" has appeared with the reliability and wholesome, untroubled referential integrity of, say "peanut-butter sandwich." At what point did the U.S. media start assuming that insider porn terminology was known and acceptable to the general public? We suspect this can be attributed to the Barbie-empire-smashing success of those trampy Bratz dolls, and very soon we will have an incontrovertible paper trail in evidence of same. We have interns down at the Toys “R” Us as we type.

altmandismayinghandgesture.jpg 5We don’t recall Lindsay Lohan seeking similar tutelage during her crazy, skinny, pre–I-know-enough-about-NPR-to-act-in- A-Prairie-Home-Companion-movie- and-I-am-credible-enough-professionally- to-have-a-personal-relationship- with-the-late-Robert-Altman freak-out, but she might have and we missed it; those were heady weeks around here, embroiled as we were in the continually watching Burger King commercials in an attempt to comprehend the glory of American advertising. (See D.M.T.: Post Super Bowl Death Knell of Advertising as We Know It and Desperate Call for Return to Core Values Edition.) And, yeah, also: Kill Bill, Vol. 2 is a really good movie; you don’t have to have seen 1, and you can watch it with your wife without untoward consequences beyond being asked "are all kung fu movies this dumb?" With few exceptions, we have found women immune to the genre of martial-arts films. If you, fair reader, are the woman who is the exception, drop us a line; we are meeting Christian Slater for a Sonny Chiba marathon next weekend and you can bounce with us.

6 We debated briefly whether this explanation for "G.G.W."--an abbreviation for the now utterly mainstream video series Girls Gone Wild which, we'd like to think we don' have to tell you, consists of college-aged girls lifting their tops and acting for the camera in utterly faux-lesbian make-out scenes--was necessary. Henceforth know: "G.G.W." is common parlance whether you like it or not.

7 True story: this guy was the dad of three lovely sisters and one son of our early acquaintance, who of course hipped us to this at a tender and malleable age. Thanks Mr. Adolfi! Owe you one!

8 Lest we be misunderstood, we want to note that we don't read much on the web that isn't pretty mainstream. The "blogging" world is alien to us--despite the fact that we have often been inaccurately referred to as "bloggers." As we understand it, "bloggers" are people who write stuff almost every day or at least way too often. We're sure it starts out sounding like a really good and fun idea--somebody with lots of opinions and without carpel tunnel syndrome figures they should grace the world with their wisdom. But before you know it they are blah-blah-blahing on their "blog" even when they have nothing to say. And so it devolves: inside jokes, fake outrage, complicated flame wars with other bloggers who also have nothing to say. We think the previous term for “blogging”--"typing"--served just fine. This is why the D.M.T. appears irregularly and without notice, like the raccoon that used to live in our attic. Think of us as raccoons if you must; just don't call us "bloggers". "Blogebrity," of course, is peachy-keen.

fountainsofwayne.jpg9 Don't take our word for it. No less accomplished a pair of songwriters than Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger, the guys from Fountains of Wayne, actually recorded the song because they dig it so much. Their version, in a vaguely mopey rock style and without all the flash and tingle of Britney's ABBA-rific version, demonstrates that the ditty is in fact a good song--and we sure as hell would rather listen to it than any dozen songs by, say, Will Oldham or Smog, whose cred-laced but soporific careers make us glad that we are too old to think that it is cool to be depressed all the time.

10 Did this trend ever make sense? Blink 182. Maroon 5. Seven Mary Three. We rest our case.

11We are heartened to see this rare return to the jaded bitterness we loved so much on Ms. Crow's 2nd (eponymous) and 3rd (The Globe Sessions) albums, in which she seemed so eager to shake the Laura-Ashley pop-princess appeal of her first single that every track oozed the grimy flesh and gritty guitars we imagine to be what L.A. is really like. Lately, though, she seems to have been advised by some well-compensated factotum that "the kids" is where the money really is, and in a bizarre maneuver has actually begun sounding--and appearing--younger, with indifferent production filled with Neptunes-like blips and squeaks of pop tunes that can only be called innocuous. We think this might be Kid Rock’s influence. We can blame Lance Armstrong (and his one, undoubtedly fabulous, testicle) for nothing.

cathyberbarian.jpgO Sheryl, why have you left us, we your aging and tubby fans, we who imagined you a Cathy Berberian stand-in whose roulades we could sing well into our impotence? 11a. The kids can’t love you like we love you; come back to your fans who actually buy your music rather than swapping it on Friendster. Let us grow old together.

11aWe will refer all requests for explication of Steely Dan references to the Steely Dan Dictionary, which while not exhaustive seems to fill an important gap in the literature, and we thank its proprietor for providing this valuable service. The gentleman, one Dan O’Malley, is apparently an Irishman, and the jocularity we associate with his people may explain the odd preponderance of gee-golly-wow exclamation points on a page devoted to explication of songs about junkies, whores, and has-beens, but we welcome the confederacy of Steely Dan fans wherever we may find it. Rock on, Mr. O’Malley.

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