“Wish in one hand and shit in the other and see which one fills up first” was a saying that my late grandfather frequently used, mainly to deflate the unrealistic, cartoon-like, magical balloons that would float out of the dreamy heads of his young children. Such a phrase comes to mind (or goes hand in hand if you prefer) when thinking about John Derbyshire’s terrific new(now a year old) book, “We Are Doomed, Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism.”
Like many other young contraricons, I first became acquainted with the writings of John Derbyshire sometime around 2002-2003 via Andrew Sullivan’s blog. Andrew Sullivan achieved fame as an HIV positive, gay, conservative (who is still to this day HIV positive and gay, but no longer seems reliably conservative.) Sullivan used to have a “John Derbyshire Award” on his site for “egregious and outlandish comments on gays, women and minorities.” This award ironically had the effect of propelling Derb further into the limelight… and I’ve often wondered just how many others discovered John Derbyshire through Sullivan’s cheapjack attacks on him and subsequently went on to admire Derb and ditch Sully. It’s really a testament to Derbyshire’s writing that he can emerge through the negatively tinted prism he’s almost always presented through and make you think “Gee, I actually think I like this guy more than I care for the people who are talking trash about him.”
I had the unique experience of reading “We Are Doomed” while recovering from scrotum surgery last year. I was high on vicodin and my wound was draining at the time, yet I found the book somewhat comforting. I’m not going to give a complete rehash of every chapter, but Derb’s basic premise is that the prospects for any kind of meaningful conservatism are bleak, and things will only get much worse in our lifetimes. The idea being that only through a stoic acceptance of this and other inescapable truths can conservatives begin to muster the intellectual honesty required to face the issues of our time(but we’re still likely to lose anyway.) Probably the standout chapter of the book is “Culture: Pooped Out” which chronicles the deterioration of pop culture in Western Civilization. As a prime example, he revisits the film “Saturday Night Fever” which he hails as “one of the dozen or so best movies of all time.”
His original review of the film can be found here.
Can we really have gone downhill from disco? Downhill? From disco? I would add something here about pop music, except that I haven’t voluntarily listened to any for a couple decades. The main story seems to be one of fragmentation. The last time I really paid much attention, there was rock, R&B, soft rock, folk, jazz, and lounge singers. Nowadays, well…What are “Techno,” “Electro,” “Chillout,” and “House”? What’s the difference between “Emo” and “Screamo”? I remember Reggae, but what’s “Ragga”? How do “Nu Metal,” “Black Metal,” “Alternative Metal,” and “Death Metal” differ? Does anybody know? Would having a degree in metallurgy help? Is this like having forty-five different kinds of breakfast cereal that all taste the same?
I can certainly identify with this. I haven’t watched much television since about the early 2000′s, and even then I restricted myself to reruns of shows like “M*A*S*H*”(which seemed to air at least 10 times a day.) My TV is not even rigged to be able to watch basic channels(rabbit ear antennas don’t even work anymore…it’s all digital now.) Occasionally I get roped into watching television for a few minutes at a friends house waiting for them to get ready…or at the insistence of someone that I’m dating(I sat through an entire season of Project Runway on Bravo with my ex-girlfriend.) To me, most modern tv shows resemble the television programs depicted in dystopian future films like “The Running Man.” Remember “Climbing for Dollars?” It doesn’t seem too far removed from programs like “Fear Factor” or UFC and MMA fighting. In any case, Derb’s “Downhill from Disco?” ponderings are similar to my own recent assertion that there’s nothing on tv today that even rises to the level of campy late 70′s shows like “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century”(one of my favorites.) “The Rockford Files” and “Charlie’s Angels” are far superior than anything that’s on tv today…and these are the cheesy 70′s we’re talking about, which speaks nothing of even much greater shows of the 60′s like the highly imaginative “Twilight Zone” and “The Fugitive.” Indeed, one of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes, “The 7th is Made up of Phantoms” would cause an uproar if it aired in today’s world of pc revisionism.
As a response to this, critics I’m sure would predictably point to modern shows like “The Wire” or “Arrested Development” as examples of so called high quality contemporary television. Indeed, the “The American Conservative” mentioned “The Wire” in it’s mildly critical review of Derb’s book. I don’t think “The Wire” is such a great show personally. In fact I would go as far as to say that I hate it. It’s typically phony sense of social high mindedness along with the repackaging of long ago discredited ideas, and the fact that it features ebonics and other aspects of modern ghetto and political culture that I go through great pains to avoid in my daily life…all make it unwatchably depressing for me. In particular it brings back annoying memories of what it’s like to ride the city bus, or of when I had to take driver’s ed at an urban public high school. Steve Sailer wrote an excellent review of “The Wire” last year, titled “It’s SO Authentic!”. Indeed, the touted authentic situational subject matter itself is what makes these shows so horrible. Plots related to sexual harassment, school shootings, outsourcing all serve as a reminder of everything one doesn’t like about contemporary culture and society. So how can you enjoy shows that prominently feature those “realities” of today’s world that you would prefer to see rolled back, or at the very least might be content to ignore?… as they are presented as part of permanent everyday life and entertainment, no less.
Downhill from disco? Downhill from “Buck Rogers?” I thought all cultural change and technological advancement was supposed to be progress! The 12th frame of R Crumb’s “Short History of America” (where he poses the question ‘What Next!?”) comes to mind.
The only complaint I have over “We Are Doomed” is that at around 300 some odd pages…it almost seems too short. A book with such a foreboding title, could have easily contained twice that many pages and stretched into the size one of Ayn Rand’s epic volumes. I certainly would have kept reading.
So, out of nowhere a friend(Director Steven Christopher Wallace) showed up at my house randomly and wanted me to go with him to Venue of Scottsdale to see some “magic show” or something. He had an extra ticket, and it was free so I went. Turned out it was Andrew W.K. someone whom I had never heard of(I am out of the loop as far as modern music, I listen to as little of it as I can get away with) but is apparently super famous. It was billed somewhat outrageously as “The Most Interesting Show in the World” (which brought to mind some of Nietzsche’s presumptuous titles like “Why I am So Wise,””Why I Write Such Good Books” etc) but in actuality was only interesting in that there was free beer. Not to mention everyone knows the most interesting show in the world was The Twilight Zone. When we got there, there was an illusionist called “The Great Merlini” who was in an underwater tank supposedly holding his breath for 20 minutes. I don’t quite know how he did it exactly, but I’m guessing it wasn’t the old fashioned way. This episode was followed by Andrew WK and his band complete with skanky looking dancing girls. Andrew WK has one of those annoying Michigan accents, similar to ICP, or one of those WWF wrestlers. The show is tacky, but not good tacky like old Las Vegas style or 70′s game shows. It was very entertaining in spite of it being completely nuked. The real stars of the show were the dancers, who performed some fairly dangerous maneuvers without much clothing and probably for not much money.
The highlight of the evening for me was when we were walking up toward the Venue there was a guy outside talking on the phone, and he was like “yeah there’s a lot of hipsters here. I see a couple of them walking in now.” My friend turned to me and said “Ha! Isn’t it funny how dudes can be balding
and in their 30′s and still be considered hipster?” Yep.
When I was in about 5th grade I got really into Greek Mythology…so much so that I began to tell people it was my religion, and it became sort of a “problem.” This intense phase was brought on by 3 distinct things: the cool looking artwork in D’aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths, fond memories of the original “Clash of the Titans” and a fascination with the Nintendo game “Kid Icarus.” But let all this talk of bizarre childhood obsessions stop there (for this entry anyway!) While I was going through my Greek myths era, my mother informed me of a book called “Chariots of the Gods” by Erich Von Daniken which claimed that ancient gods and goddesses were actually space aliens whose advanced technology was interpreted as supernatural power by primitive peoples. “This is heresy!” I thought to myself, and I remember actually not liking the idea of my gods not really being true gods, but merely creepy aliens.
Fast forward to a couple years ago, and as a dude who has seen a lot of Twilight Zone episodes, I began to get interested in the Ancient Astronaut Theory for all its imagination.So I finally picked up a copy of “Chariots of the Gods” to examine the “evidence” for myself.The crux of Von Daniken’s argument seems to be that many ancient civilizations had produced artifacts and monuments which were uniquely more advanced than the era from which they were were constructed, and therefore may have originated with the assistance of visitors from outer space. The obvious problem with this theory, is that in order for long-distance interplanetary space travel to occur, the aliens would have to be thousands if not millions of years more advanced than we are today. Thus, finding an artifact that appears a few hundred or thousand years ahead of it’s time in say 5000 BC, would not be sufficient. We would have to find artifacts that are well in advance of anything even in today’s current technology. Perhaps such objects do exist, and we are as yet still too dumb to recognize them (think of the monolith in 2001 A Space Odyssey.) But I doubt it. All of this would of course be highly insulting to the wisemen of the primitive civilizations who busted their (and their slaves’) asses to build and figure out these early breakthroughs in scientific achievement.
The book offers all sorts of other superficial and subjective “proof” such as ancient drawings which may or may not depict astronauts and vague biblical and mythological references to spacecrafts…all of which are obscure and open to interpretation. It’s somewhat telling when the most “compelling” evidence is all the least tangible stuff. To me, the only eerily curious thing in the book is how some ancient peoples seemed to have knowledge of how the Earth looked from an aerial view when no form of flight existed.
And here is where “Chariots of The Gods” finally shines. Whereas it flunks the evidence test badly, it does not fail to set the wheels of curiosity and imagination in motion. When Lowell claimed to have observed canals on Mars through his telescope (I have been to the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff a few times now) he turned out to be completely wrong. But such claims sparked wild interest in Mars, and among those who became interested spawned many other theories about Mars, which led to their scientific investigation and subsequently a deeper understanding of the red planet.
Such is exactly what Von Daniken achieves with his imaginative pseudoscientific ramblings. Based on the scant evidence he provides, it’s highly unlikely that we’ve ever been visited by beings from other planets. But it begs a deeper question, which is this: If small insects and micro organisms have little or no capacity to comprehend the world of higher intelligence lifeforms like humans, then what advanced lifeforms and fantastic realities out there do we as humans lack the capacity to understand, with our relatively primitive minds?
In other words, ants are to humans as humans are to ?
One of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes is called “5 Characters in Search of an Exit,” which tells the story of a group of people trapped in a giant room. They don’t know how they got there, who they are, or even what they are. And they spend their time trying trying to find a way out, in order to understand what they are. I won’t give away the ending, but one of them manages to climb out at the end, and it’s revealed who and what they are. They are a microcosm for us though. Perhaps if someday we travel far enough into space, and climb high enough into scientific understanding we may find ourselves on the tip of the tiny spoon of some gargantuan creature the size of which is larger than anything we can fathom at the present time, with our universe being but a mere morsel. Until then, I shall remain skeptically curious.
So I was fortunate enough to get my hands on an advance copy of Jonathan Sakas‘ (pronounced like “say kuss”) debut album, Albatross. He had previously released an EP Death of the Iceman. Jonathan has been around in the Phoenix music scene for years, and I recall seeing one of his bands play at Plaid in late 2006 era. He has only recently began to break out and make a name for himself.
Being somewhat of a minimalist, I knew immediately that I would like Jonathan Sakas’ Albatross when I saw that he used “one word” song titles for each track (Grapes, Oysters, Striker, etc) The songs themselves are not minimalist but rather extremely well polished, proficiently performed, professionally produced quasi-masterpieces.
A variety of synthesizers and other electronic instruments are made use of, with some guitar sounds thrown in here and there. My favorite track on the album is the first song “Striker,” which is peppy and catchy, as in will be sure to catch your attention. The other potential hits are “Porridge,” the third song and also “Marie” which has an excellent keyboard intro that seems to scream “instant pop phenomenon.” Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks so, as “Marie” was selected to be on the new Zia Records Compilation CD slated to come out in the near future. That’s quite a testament to the quality of the jam, given that there are a zillion established Phoenix bands and Albatross hasn’t even been released yet.
There tends to be a stigma in Phoenix against acts that appear to take their music seriously. People look at you as if to say “Who does this guy think he is? Why doesn’t he have his shirt off and a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon in his hand like the rest of us?” It’s part of the ‘white trash chic’ mentality that plagues much of the Southwest. The reality is that Phoenix as a whole probably doesn’t take itself seriously enough. Jonathan Sakas represents just the kind of 21st century artistry this town desperately needs.
If Jonathan keeps at it and doesn’t get distracted by ordinary life prospects or seduced by constraining relationships, I foresee a future of national tours, sold out amphitheaters, New Times music awards, indie label deals and all around success. When Jonathan Sakas starts to hit the big time, remember you heard it here first.
Why did they have to remake “V”? Is nothing sacred? I hate remakes…. Can’t they come up with any new ideas? Apparently, exploitation is the new imagination.
I can remember vividly being in the living room at 1320 s. elm grove rd when “V” the original miniseries premiered in 1983. In those days, unless you happened to videotape something on beta, you would never be able to see it again. For much of my childhood I would think about “V” nostalgically and it was only in my memories that I could watch re-runs of tiny memorable highlights of it. You can imagine then how ecstatic I was when out of nowhere in the Summer of 1991, the cable channel WGN decided to re-run “V The Original Miniseries” as well as “V The Final Battle”. My 1991 self was sporting the Edward Furlong “Terminator 2″ sidepart haircut that was popular at the time, and I watched every episode with euphoric amazement. Of course, watching old stuff makes you sad too because it makes you think of things from that time period that are gone, and can only be gotten back artificially. So it’s like you can only bring 75% of the magical feeling back, which is good, but comes with a “glass 25% empty” sensation.
In a side note, The alien lady “Diana” from the original 80s version was one of my first childhood sexual fantasies:
p.s. During my Summer of 1991 viewing, I developed a crush on Faye Grant, who became an early adolescent sexual fantasy.
I need not say anymore than that.
Starring: Walter Matthau, Tatum O’Neal, Ben Piazza, Vic Morrow, Chris Barnes, Erin Blunt, Jackie Earle Haley, Joyce Van Patten, Brandon Cruz, Howard Culver
The success of this underdog comedy from director Michael Ritchie almost single-handedly spawned the kids’ sports film boom of the 1980s and 90′s. When beer-breathed ex-minor-league ball player and professional pool cleaner Walter Matthau agrees to coach a Los Angeles little league team, he soon finds he’s in over his head, having inherited an assortment of pint-sized peons and talentless losers. They play well-organized teams and lose by tremendous margins, and the parents threaten to disband the Bears to save the kids (and themselves) any further embarrassment. Matthau refuses, though, and brings in a pair of ringers: Amanda (Tatum O’Neal), his ex-girlfriend’s tomboy daughter, and Kelly (Jackie Earle Haley), a cigarette-smoking delinquent who happens to be a gifted athlete. With their help, the Bears manage to change their losing ways and qualify for the championship, where they face their arch-rivals.
I played a lot of youth sports as a kid: basketball, little league, tennis, softball, etc. From 1985-1992 i played in thousands of games, tournaments, matches, scrimmages, practices etc. I was never the star player on the team, but never the worst either. Always, i was the mediocre athlete, fiercely competitive and who played his heart out. I remember in 4th grade i was in the unique position of attending a school where there were no 5th grade boys. In order for the school to field a 5th grade basketball team they had to use us, the 4th graders. So basically we were 4th graders playing in the 5th grade basketball league. Well we were all excited when we finally got to play our first game, and i’ll never forget what happened when we showed up. The other team was older and twice our size and once they saw us outside the locker room, they started celebrating, screaming and high fiving each other, taunting us, as they knew we would obviously be no match for them. It was depressing and humiliating, but it was infuriating as well. We wanted badly to win and we played with everything we had and we beat them 18-16. The looks on the other teams’ faces after the game was a mix of shame and utter disbelief. As 4th grade kids in a 5th grade league, we went on that year to take 2nd place in the division(the team that took first really did deserve it as they were the best team and simply unbeatable).
All of my experiences in youth sports over the years led me to appreciate what an amazing film “The Bad News Bears” is. It captures so perfectly the essence of the politics, competition and emotions that go along with childhood athletics. A movie like “The Bad News Bears” could never be made in today’s politically correct society. Unlike the watered down, “Zoog Disney” kids culture of today, “Bad News Bears” shows kids as they really are. Awkward, self conscious, cruel and nasty. Do you think quotes like the following would have made the cut in modern kids films?
“What do you expect? All we got on this team are a bunch of j**s, sp**ks, n***ers, pansies, and a booger eating moron.”
In fact, the honesty of this film and the lessons it teaches is what appeals to me so deeply. If trying your best, playing fair, and just having fun is more important than winning at any cost, then you may in fact have to accept defeat. And perhaps life’s most important lesson, one I wish that I had learned long ago:
that by doing everything right, by putting your heart and soul into something that means so much to you and giving it your all, you still may not get the girl, you still are not guaranteed victory just by virtue of hopeful romanticism and having a heart of gold. So many modern films sellout on this point in order to score a cheap fairy tale ending. That’s precisely what makes “Bad News Bears” such a moving story of redemption, because it brings out the feeling of success against overwhelming odds, but also captures the heartbreak of working so hard and coming so close only to come up short with a lousy second place trophy in the end. Yet we remain hopeful romantics in spite of knowing the eventual outcome of all our efforts will probably just be a huge disappointment. “Just wait ’til next year”.
Starring: Katharine Ross, Paula Prentiss, Peter Masterson, Nanette Newman, Tina Louise
Directed by: Bryan Forbes
“Ira Levin’s scary novel about forced conformity in a small Connecticut town made for this compelling 1975 thriller. Katharine Ross stars as a city woman who moves with her husband to Stepford and is startled by how perpetually happy many of the local women seem to be. Her search for an answer reveals a plot to replace troublesome real wives with more accommodating fake ones (not unlike the alien takeover in Invasion of the Body Snatchers). The closer she gets to the truth, the more danger she faces–not to mention the likelihood that the men in town intend to replace her as well. Screenwriter William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) and director Bryan Forbes (King Rat) made this a taut, tense semiclassic with a healthy dose of satiric wit.”
This film is an absolute masterpiece. There’s no need to even bother going to see the awful remake.
It’s very easy for one to identify with the men in this movie. Early on we see as Katharine Ross’s husband works hard to provide for her and loves her deeply. Her character comes off as nagging, nitpicking, and unreasonable and though she loves him she complains constantly and is obsessed with her “goddamned picture taking”. She resents him for leaving the big city and wanting to settle down in a mansion in stepford. He gets invited to join the town’s “mens association” where it’s revealed to him that all the wives in the town have been killed and replaced by robots and he must do the same to his. He agrees reluctantly though none of this is shown in the film as everything is seen through the wife’s eyes. The rest of the film consists of Ross’s character trying to figure out what is going on in stepford, and even as she slowly puts together the clues of what happend to the wives she is ultimately unable to avoid sharing their fate.
I’ve often fantasized that I could have cloned versions of the girls I like only i’d “make them reasonable”. Yet what makes this film so poignant is how it illustrates that the annoying qualities of girls, that can make them so difficult and unaccommodating, are precisely what gives them their appeal. I may roll my eyes at a girl’s constant indecisiveness, or get aggravated when they don’t do what i want. I might think the things they’re into are lame, their hobbies pointless, their coldness heartbreaking….but in the end i just grin and bear it because the truth is that deep down I love them so fucking much for being human.
I’m pretty sure this movie is what created my affinity for girls who wear head scarves.