Sex, Science Fiction, and Arcade Fire

In all of my years of watching movies, I have come across few filmmakers as perplexing as avant-garde sensation Peter Greenaway. For those who don’t know, he was very famous in art-house circles in the 80s and 90s, making films with rich, elaborate visual schemes and lush scores by his then-friend and collaborator, Michael Nyman. His films were famously provocative, featuring explicit sex and violence that, rather than helping his characters find a solution to their problems, usually just degraded them further. Greenaway really doesn’t seem to like people very much, so when he made a film about Rembrandt starring Martin Freeman as the emotionally volatile painter that was almost a straight-up biopic, it was something of a marvel. Nightwatching is not a perfect film. It has too many side characters and in places is simply muddled. But it has something that Greenaway had never seemed to care about before: emotional weight. Rembrandt is temperamental and argumentative, yet somehow sympathetic, perhaps because he sometimes seems to wish he know how to be anything else. It’s not Greenaway’s best film (that might also be his most famous, the shocking The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover, which is available on Netflix Instant), but it’s the only one I’ve ever wanted to rewatch. As one smartass said, Greenaway’s formula is, “First develop a tableau of exquisitely rendered and achingly beautiful design which suggests that the works and artifices of humanity are transcendent. Then smear shit all over it.” With Nightwatching, that’s not quite true.

I think I’ve figured out why spending time with my family can be so stressful: for the very simple reason that it’s hard to get “me time” (how I hate that phrase). Instead of boiling pasta for dinner, I have to eat steak and salad and make conversation for forty-five minutes. Sometimes, that’s a relief, as I eat alone most nights and occupy my mind by watching or reading stuff on the internet while I chew. But during the holidays, it comes in such a concentrated burst that it can be almost as difficult as spending all that time alone during the year. It doesn’t help that my friends are, by and large, still a bit difficult to get a hold of. I get it–they’re busy with jobs, school, family, and whatever else. Then again, what relieves that stress better than spending time with old friends? They may all have perfectly valid excuses as to why they can’t see me, but the result is still that I’m sitting at home alone watching old movies on Netflix.

I don’t think anything is more hurtful to another human being than refusing to acknowledge them. It’s essentially saying they don’t exist. You’re not allowing them to pass zero, to actually have their own mark on the world. My father said (although he isn’t the first), “90% of success is showing up.” I still don’t know what the other 10% is, but I am pretty good at showing up. I’m reliable. I return phone calls, emails, texts, and so on as quickly as I can. Truth be told, there’s only so much patience I can have with people who say, “Oh, sorry I didn’t respond to your invite. I was busy.” Fuck you. What’s more important, your job or me? If you answered “my job”, then fuck off. I’ll still be here after you quit/get fired or laid off. And amazingly, I’ve managed to hold down plenty of jobs myself while still finding time for friends. Granted, I have only, like, four of them (friends, not jobs), but still, I make time. And I’m not judgmental, except of people who try to pretend that the thing I’m making a big deal out of isn’t a big deal. I’m making a big deal out of it, therefore it’s a big deal. Did you get that? Good. Moving on…

I saw Les Miserables a couple days ago. I’m not the biggest musical theater person, but I think it’s kind of sad that so many people (guys, mostly) avoid them on the grounds that they aren’t, I don’t know, manly enough. Les Miserables, as anyone who has seen it will tell you, has a little of something for everyone: love, redemption, historical drama, shootouts, and dick jokes. The music is some of the most beautiful stuff ever written in any genre, and if you aren’t moved to tears by any of it, then frankly, I don’t think you have a heart. That said, I did feel a little uncomfortable during Marius’ scenes. Generally, I’m not given to swooning like a teenage girl, but Eddie Redmayne is just…so…pretty. As an added bonus, he brought out Marius’ revolutionary side as well, convincingly portraying a man who, when faced with the choice of following his political ideals or running off with the girl he loves, chooses the ideals. He’s actually kind of a badass.

From Savage Grace, which I haven't seen, but will shortly.

From Savage Grace, which I haven’t seen, but will shortly.

Most people think they value honesty, but react defensively when faced with the real thing. It’s been my experience that the truth, once you finally accept it, really isn’t that painful. So you think my cooking/singing/writing/whatever is lame, huh? Well, who gives a shit? I don’t ask other people for their opinions very often. I like to let other people decide whether what they have to say is worth hearing. I hate most things, don’t give a shit about others, and begrudgingly tolerate a few. But those few ultimately select themselves. I just keep trying new shit until something sticks.

The Outsider

I suppose it’s natural to feel like an outsider. We’ve all been there at some point or another. I just hate it when people try to spin that as a positive. “It’s our differences that make us unique!” True, but it’s also our differences that make us get passed over for jobs and promotions and shit just because there’s something about us that rubs people the wrong way. There is an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called “The Outcast”, and while it’s a little heavy-handed, it’s powerful stuff. Intended as an allegory about prejudice against LGBT people, it features the Enterprise visiting a planet inhabited by a race known as the J’naii–people who have no concept of sexuality or gender (all played by vaguely androgynous women.) When Ryker falls in love with one of them, she decides that she is female, only to be shipped off to some medical facility that will “cure” her of her “ailment”. Ryker sneaks down to the planet to rescue her, but she has already undergone therapy and decided that she no longer is female, and since the Prime Directive forbids interfering with alien cultures (one of the few times that the characters abide by it rather than finding a way around it), the Enterprise leaves with Ryker’s heart broken and a “Sometimes, life just sucks” message. Apparently, Ryker insisted that the J’naii he falls in love be male, but producers shot that down–fairly, as Ryker was, by all indications, straight rather than bisexual. It would have been earth-shattering to show two men kissing on prime time TV in the early 90s. It’s still not very common.

Seriously, he tried to bang every woman--human or alien--that the Enterprise crew encountered.

Seriously, he tried to bang every woman–human or alien–that the Enterprise crew encountered.

“The Outcast” is, as I have said, a ballsy hour of TV. It’s also on-the-nose, especially in a speech in which the female J’naii says, “What we do is no different from what you do.” (Gee, that sounds familiar…) I’m here to talk about Daniel Day-Lewis. Has he ever been in a comedy? Honestly, I think he’s a great actor, but something about the way that everyone else can’t stop slobbering all over his dick drives me up the wall. Maybe he could do something lightweight, but doesn’t want to. When you think about it, that’s actually worse than sucking at comedy, as it means that he simply has no interest in lightening up. I didn’t much care for Gangs of New York or There Will Be Blood because both were poorly-structured, jagged, messy enterprises that mistook “intense” for “good”. I’ve made that point before, but something about Day-Lewis’ Method style seems to cause everyone to raise him head and shoulders above every other actor on the planet. And don’t get me wrong–when I finally get around to seeing Lincoln, I suspect I’ll like it. But what he does is no different from what everyone else does.

Speaking of a lack of variation, I’m getting bored with Quentin Tarantino. I disliked Kill Bill, didn’t see Grindhouse, and had very mixed feelings about Inglourious Basterds. I liked almost everything he did in the 90s, but apparently, he was frustrated that Jackie Brown didn’t do as well as he’d hoped (I think it’s an underrated gem), and so retreated into doing what, for him, is safe: hyper-violent revenge fantasies. And like revenge itself, Basterds is entertaining on a very shallow level but left me curiously unsatisfied. I don’t think the long, drawn-out dialogue scenes (especially the one in the underground bar) are anywhere near as tense as the film’s fans would have me believe, and ultimately, so much of the film feels like Tarantino is being cool just for the sake of being cool. He’s not an auteur so much as a brand.

He wore the eyepatch because he was losing his sight, but I'm just going to pretend that he was secretly a pirate.

He wore the eyepatch because he was losing his eyesight, but I’m just going to pretend that he was secretly a pirate.

The tricky part about being an artist is that you have to develop your own style without becoming trapped within it. Most great writers are ones whose work can be immediately distinguished from any other’s. Read me one line of Joyce, Hemingway, or McCarthy, and I’ll recognize it as theirs. Some might argue that those guys occasionally disappeared up their own assholes. I read the first page of Finnegans Wake once and had to put it down so that my head would stop hurting. As some random Internet commenter said, it’s like the final boss in the video game of literature, a work so dense and multilayered  that you could quite literally write a whole book breaking down the meanings within each carefully crafted sentence. A well-read friend of mine tried it and had to put it down. There is only so much wordplay and obscure humor that one can pack into one’s writing before it starts to feel like showing off. Joyce was a genius. I hope he didn’t let that get him down.

I’m listening to Adele as I write this. Her kind of music isn’t really my cup of tea, but I’ll concede that she has a good voice and a refreshingly brusque attitude when it comes to shit like breaking up. Too many female artists sing almost exclusively about men, whereas she sounds like she’s trying really hard to think about something else, but the raw emotions are making it just a little bit difficult. I know the feeling. Artists have to challenge themselves. The irony is that sometimes they do that by embracing something that feels comfortable at first, but gets pricklier and pricklier the deeper they go.

The People vs. Robot King

This is not going to be one of my whinier posts, despite what the title would lead you to believe. I don’t have anyone in my life. I don’t mean that I don’t have friends or family, only that I often find myself having an argument in which I’m the only one to stick up for my position. I got into an argument on Facebook (where else?) with an opinionated friend and her frankly overbearing boyfriend over Breaking Bad, and while I can’t say that I was surprised that the two of them dogpiled on top of me, I was somewhat annoyed that no matter what I do, I always seem to be cast in the role of the mouthy asshole. Honestly, I’m not that difficult of a human being. But when two or more people argue with one person, they act as a tag team. One starts spewing one kind of bullshit, and when I call that person out on it, they withdraw and the other one starts spewing a new kind of bullshit, and on and on. It’s like Whack-a-Mole, but with assholes instead of rodents. I suppose I should expect that when I go onto someone else’s page and argue with them. Then again, why do they post controversial shit if they don’t want to get called out on it? I’m not even a big fan of Breaking Bad; I just think anyone who says the show is repetitive, boring, and predictable is clearly going out of their way to stir shit up. And what pissed off my friend more than anything was that she succeeded.

Let’s talk about Doctor Who. It’s been weeks since I’ve mentioned it, and I think that’s because I haven’t been as obsessed with it lately as I normally am. Part of what marks a good cultural phenomenon is its ability to stir up interest in stuff only tangentially related to what made it popular in the first place. Twilight started out as a series of (shitty) novels, then became a blockbuster film series, along with board games and lots of other idiotic nonsense. Star Trek was only one TV show at first, then became two, three, four, and five (or six, if you count The Animated Series), along with a series of films, video games, comics, and other shit. Doctor Who is a big enough deal to me that I’ve sunk quite a lot of money into the extended universe, and since there’s no limit to the number of stories that can be told about a centuries-old alien with a machine that can take him anywhere in space and time, it’s no surprise that there’s a long line of “audio adventures” (basically radio plays) that feature not only the Doctors themselves reprising their roles from the TV series, but some of the supporting actors in their own spinoff series. They’re not all good, but the best are every bit as good as the high points of the TV show(s) (and are written by many of the same writers), and since I tend not to take the audio adventures as seriously as the stuff that I can watch. It’s comfort food, really. I can listen to this stuff at the gym and while doing chores. The problem is that since it’s a far more specialized area of interest than the TV show, finding people who are into it as well is difficult. (Keep in mind that I don’t even like many of my fellow Whovians to begin with.) Oh, there’s a community all right. I’ve found one or two helpful-looking websites. It just takes a while to find my way.

Benedict Cumberbatch is in the new Star Trek movie. It's just fun to say his name, that's all.

Benedict Cumberbatch is in the new Star Trek movie. It’s just fun to say his name, that’s all.

As I write this, I’m spending the holiday with my family. It’s nice, although it can get tiring after a while. I’m not going to say anymore about that for now…

Going on vacation is tricky. You spend all semester (or season, or whatever) waiting to have a few weeks (a month, in my case) off, but once it begins, you wonder what to do with yourself. I used to feel self-conscious about wiling away an entire morning reading the comments section on one of my favorite websites, although these days I recognize that everyone needs time to do useless bullshit. It’s not that useless anyway, and I’m usually more prepared to do productive shit later on. Still, it’s easy to feel lethargic. All these books to read and movies to see, and where to begin? The hardest part always is getting started.

Something really annoying just happened. I got a call from a debt collection agency claiming that I owed them $800 for a car I’d scraped back in April. The dude whose car I’d scraped had said something to the effect of, “It’s a rental car, and it’s insured, so don’t worry about it.” But when he returned the car, he just gave the agency my phone number and said I’d take care of it. For some reason, it took them months to track me down. If I’d paid for it back in April, my father would have had to cover it, as I was flat broke at the time, but since I have a little bit of money in my pocket (thanks to all of the fucking student loans I’ve taken out), I paid for it. Sometimes I really hate being responsible. Honestly, I probably could have just sped away and gotten away with it. Now I’m being punished (effectively) for doing the right thing. I think I’ll go murder some orphans to assuage my anger.

Life would be so much easier if everyone were as awesome as I am. And if you think that’s arrogant, go fuck yourself.

Hey Jude

St. Jude

See, the title of this post is “Hey Jude” because St. Jude is the patron saint of lost causes. I’m clever that way.

I’m in kind of a bad mood (big surprise, huh?). You see, I got the acceptance letter in February. The term was only 12 months long and began in May. So I immediately set about finding some way to pay the nearly $100K that this degree would cost me that didn’t involve loans. After months of searching, I settled upon taking out a shitload of loans as a means of funding my education. Now I’m two semesters into a three-semester program, and I have taken out enough loans to bury myself in debt for decades. I was really hoping this wouldn’t happen. But frankly, I haven’t had much time to look. My program moves at such a fast pace that I’ve been too busy failing my classes and getting kicked out of apartments to search for a scholarship. Now I’m on break, and am trying to find one that is available for this spring and has an application deadline that hasn’t passed already. As it turns out, there are a couple. As soon as the semester begins, I’ll probably also look for a work-study job as well to at least offset my expenses. At this point, I can’t help but feel like a lost cause. I’ve applied for some small-time scholarships before and in a few cases have been genuinely proud of what I turned it, but I haven’t gotten anything yet. Jimmy Stewart knows how I feel.

I think I’ve figured out what to look for in my next apartment. In the one I’m getting kicked out of at the end of the month, I was always bugged that my bed didn’t have a headboard. That might seem like a silly thing to complain about, but one thing that I’ve always enjoyed doing is reading in bed. Since the head of my bed did not touch the wall and I would have to rearrange the entire room to make it so, I could not brace a reading pillow against anything and comfortably sit up in bed. This made it difficult to spend a few minutes reading before turning the lights out and especially hard to turn on my computer and spend several hours dicking around on the internet on the morning when I woke up too jittery to go back to bed, but too tired to get up. That’s a pretty major part of my life right there, but I told myself it didn’t matter, that there were bigger things to worry about and that as long as I had a roof over my head, I shouldn’t complain. Remember how I said my string of failed living arrangements feels like a string of bad relationships? I guess I should learn that being able to sit up in bed is, as Tina Fey would say, a deal-breaker. Some people can’t date somebody who is too tall, unemployed, or who smokes. None of those destroy the prospect of a relationship for me. My needs are simple, but they have to be met.

I try not to be too picky, but maybe I should start being pickier. If I know what I want and don’t compromise, people will be more likely to take me seriously. My problem is that I always pick the wrong thing to compromise on. I recently received feedback on my final paper in a class that drove me insane all semester. The professor criticized me for not answering questions that I damn well did answer and not delving as deeply into a topic of which I think I showed a comprehensive understanding. Suddenly, I don’t feel so bad about failing all of my quizzes. It wasn’t my fault. I earned this, whatever “this” is.

Labels are not inherently evil. People must accept that. A name is a label. It can be dangerous to try to categorize people by their age/gender/skin color/sexual orientation, but sooner or later, a person must decide what groups they belong to, and figure out how exactly they’re going to deal with it. I’m so sick of hearing gay Republicans excuse their support of a blatantly homophobic party by saying that “being gay is only a small part of who I am”. That’s only true if you don’t try to isolate it. When you go around kissing up to people who want to strip you of your rights based on your sexuality, it becomes a very big part of who you are. If you really want your sexuality to feel like a small part of your personal identity, stop trying to isolate it from the rest of you. Log Cabin Republicans (basically gay Uncle Toms) often say that they’re more concerned with whether or not they have a job than with whether or not they can get married. I’m not. In 29 states, it’s legal to fire somebody just for being gay, so pretending that those two are completely separate is idiotic all by itself. And truth be told, I think the hard times in my life–when I have dealt with unemployment, financial difficulties, and borderline homelessness–would have been much more tolerable if I’d had someone to count on for support, cuddling, and yes, sex. It’s a loneliness that cuts deeper than just about anything else, and gay Republicans are some of the loneliest people in the world.

If you want to be who you are, you have to first figure out what you are. That’s not something that can be circumvented; the only solution is to move through it. If you’re doing it right, that will inform the person you’re trying to be. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go laugh at some dick jokes.

The Ninja Dilemma

Fun fact: Ninjas wore dark blue, not black, as that is harder to see in low light.

Fun fact: Ninjas wore dark blue, not black, as that is harder to see in low light.

I went back and forth over whether to watch “Gangnam Style”. On one hand, it’s the Internet meme of the moment (and has been for some time) and the most-watched video on YouTube, and on the other hand, I’m not sure if I give a shit. I still remember the moment at which I first heard those words, as people on Facebook started posting pictures or whatnot that in some way mentioned “Gangnam Style”. My response was to post a status to the effect that I did not care what these words meant and knew only that a few days ago, I had never heard this bizarre phrase, and now, I had. Of course, it’s been parodied a million times since then, and I’ve heard the song in one or two places, but I still don’t really give a shit. It reminds me of the time when I first heard of this Justin Bieber character, and paused with my cursor over the link to the video for “Baby”. Perhaps it is helpful to maintain a certain level of pop culture awareness. Then again, I knew it was going to suck, so I didn’t watch it. This seems like a lot of effort to spend thinking about a silly four-minute K-Pop single, but there’s something larger at work here.

I read this article earlier and was bugged quite a lot. It’s by a writer I admire at one of my favorite websites, although I have to say that David Wong has always had a tendency to generalize. Here, he makes a lot of good points, but as always, he sort of glosses over some of the less convenient aspects of his topic, and seems uncharacteristically defensive towards the end. For those too lazy to click the link and read it, let me explain: Basically, David Wong (real name Jason Pargin) argues that you–yes, you–need to stop counting on your personality traits to get you through life and start actually getting shit done. A valuable message, but one that is easily perverted. Wong posts the scene from Glengarry Glen Ross in which Alec Baldwin delivers a profanity-laden “pep talk” to motivate insurance salesmen to start closing deals. It’s interesting that Wong cites this scene, as its message, essentially, is that if you want to get ahead, you have to stop caring about human decency and focus only on material goods. This movie is sometimes shown as a training video for actual insurance salesmen, or so I’ve heard. If you haven’t seen it, you should, as it’s one of the best films of the 90s. That said, I don’t think Baldwin’s beautifully delivered words are anywhere near as inspirational as Wong seems to think. If the only way to make it in insurance sales is to sell your soul, then get the fuck out of the business. I don’t want to be an amoral douchebag who cares only about his fancy car and watch, and if you do, then stay the fuck away from me.

It may be true that passively expecting people to come around to loving you for who you are is a waste of time, since the best way to get people to love you is to show them that you can live without their love (a bit of a catch-22, but not so hard to accept once you get used to it). There is something even a little bit sexist in the way that Wong claims that women don’t care if you’re a nice guy, only if you’ve got shit like a swell job and winning style. I know women who have had a great deal of trouble finding nice guys, but are surrounded by dickheads who expect their cocky bravado to make them wet. The article is almost Objectivist in its dismissal of people who don’t contribute, and really, who is David Wong to say that others don’t contribute? So you edit a popular website and have written one or two books. Big deal. You don’t heal the sick, and even if you did, that wouldn’t necessarily make you better than somebody who sits around all day eating junk food and watching reality TV. There is no more lazy and disingenuous line of argument than to try to preempt criticism by guessing what the other party will say. So you think I’m being mean? Well, you just can’t handle the truth! Yeah, that, or I have my own truth and think yours is bullshit. It’s not a bad article, but it really pissed me off, and truth be told, I think it’s kind of dangerous. Hell, next to that, “Gangnam Style” seems positively benign.

The world does not and should not operate as a market. I am not here to sell my goods and services, I am here to learn and to introduce a few new ideas of my own. By the same token, I do not expect others to, as one of my favorite douchebags accused Obama voters of doing, give me stuff. If you have something to contribute, sooner or later, it will work its way out of you. Don’t focus on doing things so much as just, you know, being honest about what you want. Unpleasant surprises happen a lot. Every now and then, the pleasant ones happen, too. You get better at preventing disaster as time goes by.

My housing situation has been the cause of a great deal of stress over the past year-and-a-half. I think it’s because bad things happen to me, and I rarely feel as if I have any agency. I’ll be sitting in my room, reading a magazine and minding my own business when ninjas burst through the window and start fucking shit up. I’m doing my best to fight off the ninjas. But don’t blame me if I get my ass kicked a few dozen times before I get the hang of it.