Friday, February 9, 2007

How InconvenientWhile other people suffer the woes and bristles of a harsh Midwestern U.S. winter—the kind where older people actually expire in the shining, blue-cold elements—we’ve been basking in the warm post–An Inconvenient Truth weather of the carbon emission-rich East Coast. Shirtsleeves and Tevas, ladies and gentlemen—that’s the been the uniform during early morning outdoor calisthenics here in Disquieting Modern Trends Plaza, all done to the live strum of Jimmy Buffett, who we’ve recently hired as our lobby security and corporate greeter, mainly on the condition that he stop writing mystery books set in the Caribbean and featuring thinly cloaked characters who drink many margaritas while unraveling murders.1 The truly wealthy still jet off to St. Bart’s for January, but we just rev the engines of our Hummers a little more if we want to go swimming on a particular January afternoon. 2

Perry ComoBut even with the weather queerly toasty, it has been undeniable that we were in the throes of The Holiday Season. Much has been written, of course, about how the Great U.S. Selling Machine starts cranking up for Christmas (via Thanksgiving) pretty much the day after Halloween, with Perry Como decking the halls from mid-November through 12/25, and we’re not here to repeat all that.3Rather, what we’ve been noticing is how the “holiday season” now extends not just further back into the year but out into the new year, virally bleeding toward March like the bird flu that we’ve all forgotten about for a while.

New Year’s Day, of course. Then Martin Luther King’s birthday lurks just a couple weeks around the corner, projecting a general atmosphere of three-day-weekendness. Each weekend offers testosterone-taming playoff football that mesmerizes with excessive consumption of onion dip, nachos and Budweiser, which leads directly to the actual secular Christmas of the year, Super Bowl Sunday—a day on which patriotic folk get themselves a good six-hour dose of Madden/Buck/Aikman/Theisman/Bradshaw/etc., even though the game does not start until well after sundown, causing the barrage of post-S.B. TV show premières to begin in the vicinity of 11 p.m. The point of all which is just to say: Super Bowl Monday might as well be a national holiday for most workers, whether they show up to the office or not, what with the man-hours obviously spent napping, popping aspirins, or just pretending to talk about the commercials in the coffee room.

By the dawn of February, of course, you’re welcome to fix your eyes on a Valentine’s Day date, and then maybe Presidents’ Day for another long weekend. Interspersed with all this are the kinds of celebrations that Americans are best at—awards shows: The Golden Globes on January 15th; The Grammys on February 11th; The Oscars on February 25th. Each event is another reason for partying, betting, drinking, and thinking less well of the great American experiment.

The point being: from October 31 until at least the end of February, the U.S. public is subject to a single gigantic celebration. The mega-holiday we favor. But small details of what increasingly happens during these raging four months of joy—ouch.

Gift CardThe Growing Preponderance of Gift Cards
They’re cute, they’re shiny, they often have funny little pictures on them. And they’re not cash. The gift card is everyone’s favorite solution to the gift-giving problem. But, as everyone now knows, 4 a huge percentage of gift cards are never redeemed. Mainly, it seems, by us. (They’re small, friends. We’re pretty sure we lose most of them before we even leave your house at the end of that holiday party. You might want to check the cushions of your couch.) Folks buy them because: (a) they do not know what to get their friends and family in a world increasingly characterized by immediate gratification of all urges such that no desire goes unfulfilled for more than a week if at all possible, and (b) cash seems too crass and impersonal. But, people, we’re telling you—a couple twenties may not express your intimate connection to what makes us tick, but they do mean that we’re eating, like, five Wendy’s Jalapeño Double Cheddar melts before the week is out.5Talk about some “happy returns.”

Golden Globe AwardThe Increasing Mainstreaming of the Golden Globe Award
We think the essential moral / aesthetic bankruptcy of the Golden Globe Awards has been pretty well documented: they’re voted on by about 17 goofballs who write about American movies and TV for papers like The Budapest Sun or Buenos Aires Herald6. But what really gets us is the fact that the G.G.s are now taken super-seriously by everyone except the people who are actually involved. The statues look like they are made of papier-mâché, the venue looks sort of like the ballroom at a Ramada Inn somewhere outside of Pittsburgh, and they don’t even have Bill Conti conducting one of those cool awards show orchestras in the pit. 7 But there it is—in primetime on one of the networks. Then there’s the fact that the Globes are the awards show equivalent of interspecies mating: what with Actual Movie Stars hobnobbing with TV chuckleheads like that My Name Is Earl guy.8 Stick to your own kind, stay with your own kind, Maria. Until the day comes when this unnatural collision of classes produces something startling (we’re thinking, like: Rainn Wilson [Dwight from NBC’s The Office] making out with Angelina Jolie on camera while Brad Pitt is up on stage accepting an award for yet another complicated movie that no one goes to see, set in some foreign land and involving the drug trade or maybe issues of economic development), we’d just as well see our celebrities separated into their appropriate cages like the orangutans and marmosets that they properly are.

The Frightening Collision of Rival New Year’s Eve Shows Now That THE BIG DOG’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve Is Very Nearly (Merely) Mortal
O.K., listen: as much as we’d like to be the kind of people who spend New Year’s Eve on a party ship in the South Pacific with our Monte Carlo–based bankers or dancing naked, champagne-soaked, in Jay-Z’s penthouse suite, the truth is we’re just like you—hanging around some party thrown by a coworker’s brother-in-law, staring at the insufficiently cooled bottles of Korbel and wondering if anyone will notice when we sneak off to the guest room with one all to ourselves. And, ‘fcourse, watching breathless TV coverage of “America’s Greatest Party” in Times Square.9

Dick ClarkBut just a few years ago, you could watch this dumbass coverage the only way it was meant to be watch—as anchored by America’s Oldest Teenager, the robotic yet cheerfully soulful American Bandstand-erific Dick Clark. As long as Mr. Clark still ruled the night with perfectly coifed hair and a resonant baritone, the other networks dared not challenge him. Who would? But now that Dick has ceded his anchor spot to—?!???—American Idol’s pencil-weenied doofus, Ryan Seacrest, every network is trotting out its own low-def imitation of the New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. The pathetic attempts to recreate Dick Clark’s timelessly dated enthusiasm collide in the airwaves like ping-pong balls flying down a bowling lane. The truth remains: Dick Clark continues to have his thumb on the pulse of America’s youth, and we will brook no shit w/r/t him. Respect will be paid—to him, and to Little Richard, and to James Brown above all. 10 Which is why we—more than ever—wanted to just give Ryan Seacrest the biggest wedgie when he headed up to Dick’s booth a little after midnight for what, we are sure, was supposed to be the passing of the mantle. Never has Ryan looked so awkward. Where-oh-where was the glibness, the sure-tongued-ness we assume still must be the D.J.’s stock-in-trade even in this era of digital punch-in? We cringed at his awkward smile and pregnant pause, his refusal to understand what the moment called for: a big hug. Give Dick Clark a hug, Ryan. Thank him for creating the market that has given you a career. Kiss the ring, but more than that: give him a hug. Shed a genuine tear of humility and joy. And say thank you. But NO, he would not render; he was all wooden prose, hollow laughs, and shifty eyes looking for the card that tell him what to do next. For SHAME. We could so do Seacrest’s job. We could do it TONIGHT. Better than him. What a wanker. 11

People Talking About How College Football Bowl System Should Be Different
Here’s how much we know about college football: Thhhhfffffffppppt. Zippy. Conference rivalries, Big Ten, Pac Twelve, who cares? During the holidays, it’s nice to put on The Tube and see some big oafs tossing around the ol’ pigskin. We kinda like those teams where the players have varying numbers of stars or asterisks or whatever on their helmets, kind of like WWII pilots putting checkmarks on their fuselages for every Nip Zero they downed Yeah, man—football is war, and pass us another beer. But listening to people who actually care about this stuff—and listening to them argue about the “B.C.S. System” or about whether Boise State should have gotten a chance to play Ohio State … shoot us now. College football used to be a local concern, the kind of charming sport that no longer existed at the pro level. You had some uncle who always rooted for Notre Dame even though he’d never been to Indiana. But now … . We know it’s too late to stop these “schools” from turning these “student”-athletes into chattel with future knee injuries, but we’ve been hoping to at least not have to care.

And frankly, we see too much interest in college football as kind of unseemly and distracting from the greater gridiron goal: that of watching Tom Brady get that shell-shocked Marine look he had when the Colts were spanking up on the Patriots the other night. THAT was drama. Where the pro game is concerned, We Are Ready For Some Football.

And just in time. See you at the Super Bowl. Go Colts!12

Next Installment: We break down the Super Bowl for you. And we don’t mean the game.

1 We're painfully aware that we are trying to swing shut the barn door about a decade after the horse already vamoosed, but still: we take here a principled and knowingly symbolic stand against celebrities from one arena suddenly going all polymath on us and trying to make money using skills they don't have. Mr. Buffett's 400-page mystery novel, Where is Joe Merchant? A Novel Tale, is hardly the worst offender, to wit: Katie Couric's kids book, The Blue Ribbon Day; The Bacon Brothers rock band, featuring one of Kevin's six degrees; all acting gigs snared by pseudo-Sinatra crooner Harry Connick Jr.; models who suddenly become talk show hosts (Tyra! ); Arnold Schwarzenegger, en toto. You don't see us claiming that world-class Internet whining somehow qualifies us to appear in Calvin Klein ads, do you? It seems to us idiomatic that most people have only one significant talent, and that anyone who truly has more than one is morally obligated not to make the rest of us feel quite so bad about being across-the-board mediocre. (Exception: David Byrne, who somehow plays music, directs movies, writes books, and even practices TM in a manner that makes us not want to asphyxiate him from jealousy. Also: Lyle Lovett may act in movies provided he simply deadpans as himself, knowingly.) Most recently, we learned that the effortlessly good-looking and funny "Jim" from NBC's The Office, John Krasinski, is directing a movie based on David Foster Wallace's unfilmable book of pseudo-stories, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. This kind of hubris--not just the desire "to direct," but the temerity to direct an utterly weird book of irritating po-mo exercises in literary voice when, in fact, you already have the good fortune to be a humorous hunk on TV--is a backbreaker for all regular guys. And so, in our small way, we will pay off Buffett to symbolically stem a tide of heartache that is no longer avoidable.

2 No doubt, by the time you read this it will be frigid in New York, icy in D.C., and Boston will be buried under some kind of apocalyptic igloo avalanche that will rob those people of their smug joy in watching Tom Brady play football. What with Mother Nature demanding, natch, that karma be adjusted pronto, this is inevitable. The point remains that the freakishly warm "holiday season" felt absolutely like the shape of things to come, to the point where even your Fox News–watching friends don't sneer anymore when they see a Prius humming down the avenue without a sound.

3 Fact is, we love hearing all those Christmas songs during December. "Sleigh Ride," in our view, is about on the same level as one of Bartók’s lesser quartets, and that "neighing" part played by a muted trumpet at the end just gets us. Ho ho ho, all year long as far as we're concerned.

4 The New York Times recently reported that the unredeemed gift cards for Best Buy alone add up to something like $16 million every year, baby! (See Dubner and Levitt in The Times Magazine on January 7th, toots.) Therefore, we hereby announce the availability of Disquieting Modern Trends Gift Cards, on sale NOW which can be redeemed for solid bitch sessions in which we come to the cardholder's living room and complain about stuff for upwards of an hour. These cards are available in $25, $50, and $100 denominations, and our time goes for, like $50/hour per bald man. Buy several for your whole family! Or at least for your hot cousin Bridget.

5 Have you ever eaten one of these sculptures of cheesy deliciousness while driving? We have, and we'll tell you that the aerodynamics and vector physics involved in keeping the dripping spicy liquid cheddar from falling on your jeans and making it look like you were whacking off while making a run to the supermarket is the kind of mental workout that psychologists claim keeps you from developing premature Alzheimer's. You keep your knee on the steering wheel, the burger in you left hand, then you use your right to handle a three-pack of fries, with which the melting cheese can be scooped (or, heaven forbid, wiped) in midair, then consumed immediately. No calorie left behind.

6 Actual papers, these:; But what we want to know: how many Budapestians are dropping 50 forint on the Sun because they just have to know whether they want to see Little Miss Sunshine on Friday night? We can, however, picture Steve Carell dubbed over in Hungarian.

Panasonic!7 We like to think that the Golden Globe music comes from some guy in a headset pressing the "play" button one of those old Panasonic cassette players that we had in the mid-70s with the condenser mic built right in. We loved that thing. When you played some Three Dog Night taped right off the radio on that thing, the song actually sounded better. Jeremiah was a bullfrog, man.

8 Here it is: we don't get My Name Is Earl at all. Nor do we get The Naked Trucker and T-Bone Show. (See, somewhere in the voluminous D.M.T. archives, our previous failure to get and, indeed, our contempt for Larry the Cable Guy, no matter how many times Spike says "Git'er done!" to us and then laughs.) Call us Yankee élitist assholes if you will, the recent resurgence in Hee Haw humor strikes us as condescending and, mainly, not funny. We stopped laughing at this kind of stuff the minute we heard Jeff Foxworthy make his second "You know you're a redneck if . . ." joke. Plus--what's with the moustaches? Disquietude, thou name is "Moustache."

9 The centerpiece of this "party," as we all know, is the dropping of the ball. Can it be that it's just dawning on us now that running a monstrously--and monstrously ugly--glass globe down a pole until it turns green or red in 40,000 Westinghouse product-placement light bulbs is utterly not the same as "dropping" the thing. How cool would it be if that big glass ball were actually dropped from the top of a building in Times Square? Now that would be a great party. All the stupid hats and Jersey Girl smooches and lip-synched R&B performances in the world would not be cooler than that.

10 SURE he was a junkie, and an abuser, and an asshole. So WHAT. Those citizens who think these issues should dim our opinion of his accomplishments baffle as much as those who think that "character" should even bump the needle on who should be president. For the record: we want our president smart as hell, crafty, and EFFECTIVE. We don't want to know how he makes the sausage. Likewise, we want our monoliths of music long-lived and on the good foot. Hah! Maceo!

11 We also hereby note that the most satisfying moment of the night was midnight itself, and not just because we succeeded in bogarting the Jameson, and not just because a girl named Greta was aiding in the bogarting, and not just because Greta turned out to be older than one of us feared she was. No. Midnight was brilliant because Christina Aguilera had joined Ryan Seacrest up in his anchor-boy perch at the very dawn of the year, and when PeeweeCrest went in for the midnight smooch, Ms. Aguilera recoiled with the kind of gut-level repulsion that clearly originated in the reptilian sectors of her brain stem. Ryan's metrosexually glossed lips flapped toward a cheek but got nothing but air. Thank you, Christina. The non-kiss was almost as good as "Genie in a Bottle."

12 Why are we rooting for the Colts over the noble Bears? We'll tell you why. There is not one Chicago Bear who has a humorous TV commercial in heavy rotation. Peyton Manning, on the other hand, is endlessly emerging from cool Gatorade pods, or he's asking the supermarket stock boy to autograph his loaf of bread or he's telling the clumsy piano movers that the neighbors are not booing them. Hey! This guy is pretty funny! He's so likable! We think maybe he is our friend! Then we saw the one where is says he is trying to rid America of the scourge of lo-def TV. Or how 'bout the one where he wears the black wig and moustache? O Manning, Peyton, may you someday get a sitcom, marry our daughters, then visit us on your vacation and maybe fly us to Fiji for Thanksgiving where we can spend your endorsement money and admire your inevitable Super Bowl ring. Rex Grossman will not be marrying our daughters, you can be sure of that.

Neil Strauss: Updated Notes on The Game for Astronauts 1. Never take no for an answer. When faced with potential competition, especially in a dangerous A.L.T. (Astronaut Love Triangle), the A.F.C. (Average Frustrated Chump) will fold; but the P.U.A. (Pick-Up Artist)--man or woman--will try to annihilate the competition ...
Now That I'm an International Jewel Thief Greetings from the French Riviera.

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Potty Cam Mr. Josh Abraham, humble coëditor of this journal and director of the film American Standard, is featured in a short behind-the-scenes article in the Movies section of this week's New York Magazine, where he describes the challenges of shooting...

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