I have never enjoyed shaving. For me, it’s always been something that I do more out of necessity than desire. I don’t think I’d look good with a full beard, although I might try growing a goatee someday. Lately, I’ve started taking my time. I’ve bought aftershave and am now using shaving soap instead of gel. It’s helping. The ritual now takes longer (especially when I shave against the grain), but it’s more satisfying. Some people prefer an electric razor. I will never understand that. I don’t rush through anything.
It took me almost two years to make it all the way through Infinite Jest. That, for those of you who don’t know, is David Foster Wallace’s magnum opus, an 1100-page, extremely dense and postmodern novel about a movie that is so wonderful that everyone who watches it dies out of sheer ecstasy. I started reading it all the way back in the summer of 2009, then put it aside that fall because it was starting to feel like a slog. When it picked it up again over a year later, I remembered not only what scene I’d been reading, but what page I’d been on. I guess I just have a mind for these things. There are a lot of great books out there that scare people away with their volume. Infinite Jest is really not that scary. It looks big, but it has a rhythm, and once you settle in, you’ll be amazed how quickly the pages fly by. Mark Twain once remarked that he’d need only two days to write a fifteen-page story, but fifteen days to write a two-page story. I know how he felt.
Epic fantasy is another matter. These days, Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones is the genre’s flagship series. I liked the first book a lot, but have yet to watch the show. It sounds like trashy fun. George R.R. Martin seems to have internalized the basic sentiment expressed by Pauline Kael when she said, “Films are so rarely great art that if we cannot appreciate great trash we may as well stop going.” The same goes for literature, and while it might sound dismissive to call George R.R. Martin’s work trash, it does have a certain sleazy feel to it. The most popular character is a perpetually horny dwarf who doesn’t seem to much care who wins or loses the game of thrones so long as he makes it out okay. Peter Dinklage must eat that sort of character for breakfast. I’m not sure what the P.C. term for people like him is anymore. “Little person” sounds so fucking stupid. Every time I hear it, I want to put on a baby voice and say, “Who’s a little person? Yes you are! Yes you are!” Of course, if you did that to Tyrion, he would most likely feed you your own testicles. I like to imagine that Dinklage would do that as well.
It’s quite easy to be snarky. Being witty is much harder. Shitty comedians take potshots at easy targets like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan. Sharper critics take aim at people who actually need to be knocked off of their pedestal. One target that still hasn’t quite been taken down enough pegs is Bono. We all admire his humanitarian work, and if you have any taste, you have to love his early work with U2. But that is a band whose imitators are just as often insufferable as they are enjoyable. Consider Green Day, who started out as a fun pop-punk band before Billy Joe Armstrong apparently became convinced that he was, well, the new Bono. For those of you who haven’t listened to it, let me spare you the agony: 21st Century Breakdown sucked a big, fat dick. “21 Guns” is not a bad song so much as an overplayed one, but the whole thing is proof positive that the more self-serious direction that the band seemed to be heading in with American Idiot was not a fluke. That album isn’t bad, but it seems a lot more revolutionary when you’re in high school than it does when you’re old enough to drink. As proof of how safe and gutless its commentary is, I submit the fact that my mother liked it. Need I say more?
Music has changed a lot over the years. It used to be that the top artists didn’t seem to care about much more than sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Now, they care about sex, drugs, and hip-hop. Okay, so it hasn’t changed that much. But am I the only one who feels like pop music has suffered a lot in the past few decades? A musician friend of mine observed that most modern artists seem afraid to show vulnerability, to risk it all. I agree. Most artists just like to posture. That is useless to me.
It occurs to me that I’ve gone for almost four whole posts without mentioning Doctor Who. That needs to change. The Doctor, like any genre hero, needs an arch-nemesis. Sherlock has Moriarty, James Bond has Blofeld, and so on. The whole point behind an arch-nemesis is that they take the hero’s best qualities and rotate them slightly so that they become a force for evil. (Bonus points if he delivers a speech beginning with, “We’re not so different…”) The Master is the Doctor’s nemesis, a fellow Time Lord who is every bit as brilliant as he is, but completely lacking in sympathy for anyone except himself. In the early days, he was played by Roger Delgado, whose silky charm made him sinister, imposing, and somehow charming. One of my favorite moments of his is a throwaway: after slipping through the Doctor’s clutches and commandeering a hovercraft, he waves goodbye, as if to say, “Let’s not kid ourselves. We’ll meet again.” Delgado was replaced by Anthony Ainley, who, at the behest of producer John Nathan-Turner, turned him into a hammy Snidely Whiplash type. After him, the character was revived briefly in the 90s by Eric Roberts, about whom the less said, the better. That brings us to the New Series incarnation, John Simm, who is essentially a Disney cartoon come to life. Some people think he’s brilliant. I think they’re idiots. The Master is subtle, although he has been known to revel in his own cleverness.
Someday, I’d like to be shaved with a straight razor. I might want to get a professional barber to do it, though, since it’s quite dangerous. It is also, I am assured, well worth the time for anyone who has the patience.