Friday, April 29, 2011

The real reason Superman is renouncing his US citizenship? Copyright law.

My new When Falls the Coliseum piece deals with the news that Superman is renouncing his US citizenship. A small sample:

In the most recent issue of Action Comics, the fictional superhero character Superman, who flies around in a blue leotard with red underwear on the outside and a big red cape, renounces his US citizenship.
The key scene takes place in "The Incident," a short story in Action Comics #900 written by David S. Goyer with art by Miguel Sepulveda. In it, Superman consults with the President's national security advisor, who is incensed that Superman appeared in Tehran to non-violently support the protesters demonstrating against the Iranian regime, no doubt an analogue for the recent real-life protests in the Middle East. However, since Superman is viewed as an American icon in the DC Universe as well as our own, the Iranian government has construed his actions as the will of the American President, and indeed, an act of war.

Superman made his first appearance in the first issue of Action Comics in 1938. Since that time, the United States government has rounded up and jailed people because of their Japanese heritage, dropped atomic bombs on Japan, knowingly infected Guatemalans with STDs to study their effects, fought against the civil rights of its own black citizens, entered the Vietnam war based on the "Gulf of Tonkin" lie, used chemical warfare against the Vietnamese, provided millions of dollars to Middle Eastern dictators in the name of "stability," and fought a "war on drugs" that allows government agents to break into peoples' homes and is directly causing the deaths of tens of thousands of people all over the world every year. Our current president has engaged the United States in yet another war in the Middle East, and claims to have the power to kill US citizens without a trial. And that's just off the top of my head.

But now... now Superman has had enough. Now Superman wants to renounce his citizenship.

First of all, big deal. Is "Superman" even a US citizen? Does he have some citizenship papers that say "Superman is a United States citizen"? When he travels, does he have to show a passport and go through airport security checkpoints? Is his alter ego, Clark Kent, going to renounce his citizenship?

Second, he's giving his big important citizenship renunciation statement to the United Nations? This is the organization that had Libya on its Human Rights Council. This is the organization whose "peacekeepers" have raped women and children. Again, this is only off the top of my head -- you can probably come up with more if you look (I'm too depressed right now).

Superman could look. He's Superman. But what's he done about that? Nothing.

Read it all here.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

England's got bigger problems than that whole "royal" wedding thing

For some reason, American press outlets and internet destinations have been trying to get us interested in the "royal" wedding of that large-toothed balding young scion of privilege and unearned wealth to that young, attractive "non-aristocratic" but still wealthy woman. Oh, how romantic. Will their love survive?

What dress will she wear?
Congratulations, Kate Middleton, for keeping your wedding dress the royal wedding's biggest mystery and talking point.

With just two days to go, the world still knows next to nothing about what Prince William's bride will wear to mark her transition from commoner to princess.
Complaining about using terms like "commoner" and "princess" when describing a human being is like complaining about the number of people at Disneyland. So I won't do it. In England, they have a "royal family" that lives off the largesse of the citizens and owns a great deal of land. Queen Elizabeth is possibly the wealthiest person on earth.
Queen Elizabeth II, head of state of the United Kingdom and of 31 other states and territories, is the legal owner of about 6,600 million acres of land, one sixth of the earth’s non ocean surface.

She is the only person on earth who owns whole countries, and who owns countries that are not her own domestic territory. This land ownership is separate from her role as head of state and is different from other monarchies where no such claim is made – Norway, Belgium, Denmark etc.

The value of her land holding. £17,600,000,000,000 (approx).

This makes her the richest individual on earth.
If that is the case, then one might understand why the wedding of her grandson might be a subject of such interest. In fact, I'll bet her family's every move is newsworthy, correct?
Photographs of Prince William playing a game of soccer with friends two days before the royal wedding have reopened a privacy debate that dates back to the death of his mother, Princess Diana.

Ever since Diana was killed in a car accident in 1997 after being chased by a paparazzi pack, British newspapers have shied away from publishing pictures of William and his brother, Harry, aside from official occasions.

However, the Daily Telegraph printed a grainy image in its Thursday edition of William taking part in a relaxed soccer match in London’s Battersea Park. The Sun also includes shots of the Prince playing and leaving the park.

The source of the images is unclear -- they appear to be taken with a long lens -- but the real issue is that the papers printed printed them at all. The British press has had countless intimate photos of the royals in its keeping in recent years, but has refrained from publishing them in keeping with an agreement struck with the Royal Family in the wake of Diana’s death.
The grandchildren of the largest landowner in the world are off-limits to the press? These are grown men who live off these holdings, and British taxpayers. And the press has a deal with them that they're not to be touched? Holy crap is England in trouble.

Public figures who stand to inherit "one sixth of the earth’s non ocean surface" are untouchable by the press? Come on.

As for Ms. Middleton, at least one palace guard has a low opinion of her, which he expressed in a semi-literate rant on facebook.
Reilly reportedly wrote, "hur and william drove past me on friday n all a got was a sh*tty wave while she looked the opposite way from me, stupid stuck up cow am a not good enough for them! posh b**** am totally with u on this 1 who reely gives a f*** about hur".
It seems a bit daft for a young man to be so hurt and offended over the lack of enthusiasm of Ms. Middleton's wave. But then again, this is a country in which people can be arrested for performing a classic disco song.
A PUB singer is set to be quizzed by cops tonight after he was accused of "racism" for belting out the chart hit Kung Fu Fighting as two Chinese people walked past.
Simon said: "We were performing Kung Fu Fighting, as we do during all our sets. People of all races were loving it. Chinese people have never been offended by it before.

"But this lad walking past with his mum called us w*****s and did the hand sign before taking a picture on his mobile phone.

"We hadn't even seen them when we started the song. He must have phoned the police.

"They phoned me when I was in a Chinese restaurant that night. They arranged to meet me and I was arrested.

"I thought it was a joke but they were serious. They seemed pretty amazed but said the law is the law and it was their duty. It's political correctness gone potty."
(Link via reason.)

If you can be arrested for performing a classic song in a pub, then it's no wonder that a 19 year old man might be offended by the slightness of Ms. Middleton's wave. In fact, Ms. Middleton should probably approach each member of the palace guard each time she sees them, and address them, by name, with pleasantries. Everyone must take care to avoid causing even the slightest perception of offense to everyone else, no matter how sensitive.

As for that suspended palace guard, he also made some anti-Semitic and racist comments on his facebook page. Real racist comments, not a performing "Kung Fu Fighting" in a pub type of thing.

But anyway, seriously, what do you think Kate Middleton's dress will look like?

I hope she wears this to her wedding.

Photo via this site, which notes,
[T]he total bill for the royal wedding on Friday is somewhere in the neighborhood of $34 million dollars. Yikes!
$32 million of that is apparently for security. Congratulations, England -- it's like a fairy tale come to life!

UPDATE @ 12:30 PM PST: I can't believe I forgot to embed the song:

My bad.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Is Lady Gaga a jerk and a plagiarist, or just a jerk?

The great "Weird Al" Yankovic has a devastating and effective parody of Lady Gaga, written after her latest bit of corporate tedium, "Born This Way," entitled "Perform This Way." Here is the clip:

If you're anything like me, and I hope for your sake you are, you have listened to this song about ten times today. It's probably Mr. Yankovic's best song since "White & Nerdy." It has everything you look for in a parody -- it is a biting examination of the original work, it effectively critiques the creator of that work, and the phenomenon of fakery that surrounds her.

Ms. Gaga, apparently, does not like it. On his blog, Mr. Yankovic has laid out the ordeal he went through in creating this magnificent piece that surpasses anything Ms. Gaga has ever done. He pitched the idea to Ms. Gaga's management -- she's so cutting edge she has management -- and:
We eventually got a response from the Gaga camp: she would need to “hear it” before she would approve it.
I was right in the middle of my Australian tour and I didn’t have a whole lot of free time, but I cranked day and night until I had a set of finished lyrics.

We send the lyrics to Lady Gaga and wait on figurative pins and needles for her to give us the go-ahead. After a few days, we get our answer: “She actually needs to hear it. Otherwise the answer is no.”
Mr. Yankovic cut short his family vacation to actually record the song so that Ms. Gaga could hear it, because he "decided [he] would faithfully jump through as many hoops as Gaga deemed necessary."

And then after sending the finished song to Ms. Gaga, she declined to give her approval for Mr. Yankovic to include the song on his latest CD. So, the egomaniac basically strung him along for weeks, and then crushed him. Because he is a basically good-natured guy:
My parodies have always fallen under what the courts call “fair use,” and this one was no different, legally allowing me to record and release it without permission. But it has always been my personal policy to get the consent of the original artist before including my parodies on any album, so of course I will respect Gaga’s wishes.
Being as he creates parody, which is protected speech, Mr. Yankovic doesn't actually need to get the permission of the "artist" he's parodying. But he does it out of respect for them. Ms. Gaga used that to mess with Mr. Yankovic.

A little later in the day, TMZ reported that Ms. Gaga "didn't reject Weird Al Yankovic":
Weird Al ripped into Gaga on his blog this morning -- claiming the egg-encased pop star strung him along for weeks while he tried to get her approval for his parody "Perform This Way" ... and ultimately rejected the proposal.

But sources extremely close to the singer tell us, "There must have been a misunderstanding because [Gaga] is in no way trying to block the release of the parody."

According to sources, "She's busy touring and hasn't heard the song yet. Her manager hasn't had a chance to play it for her yet" -- adding, "She's a huge Weird Al fan."
You will note that the "sources extremely close to the singer" told TMZ that Ms. Gaga was "in no way trying to block release of the parody." That's big of her, considering she could not in any way block the release of the parody, being as it is legally protected fair use, as Mr. Yankovic pointed out. And Mr. Yankovic had by that time already released the song on YouTube.

But Ms. Gaga looks like an even bigger jerk in all this, if she has surrounded herself with "people" who don't inform her of Mr. Yankovic's intentions, while at the same time jerking Mr. Yankovic around.

It's one thing if you don't appreciate Mr. Yankovic's unique and compelling satirical style. We all have our own taste. But if you don't want Mr. Yankovic to do a parody, at least have the courtesy to tell him that up front. Prince, for one, doesn't like Mr. Yankovic, and has never approved any of his songs for inclusion on any of Mr. Yankovic's records. It happens -- some people don't find it flattering to be the subject of such an enterprise.

And now, it appears that Ms. Gaga has given her "approval" of Mr. Yankovic's work:
Gaga’s manager has now admitted that he never forwarded my parody to Gaga – she had no idea at all. Even though we assumed that Gaga herself was the one making the decision (because, well, that’s what we were TOLD), he apparently made the decision completely on his own.

He’s sorry.

And Gaga loves the song.
Well, Ms. Gaga still looks like a jerk. Even worse, a stinker. Why would she retain the services of such a "manager"? That man is a creep who deliberately manipulated Mr. Yankovic, who was earnestly trying to accede to the wishes of a cretinous bastard who was acting, as Ms. Gaga herself might say, "retarded."

Oh, yes. Ms. Gaga used the word "retarded" to attack the claims that she might have stolen the tune for her song from Madonna's "Express Yourself." A lot of people think that Ms. Gaga's tune sounds suspiciously like Madonna's.

Madonna seems to have passive aggressively come out and said as much, herself:
For some strange reason that I can’t quite understand, Maddy seems intent on reminding us of how amazing her song Express Yourself is.
[M]aybe Madonna uploaded this clip in response to some of the criticism that Lady Gaga has been taking from pretty much everyone with ears that believe that her new single Born this Way sounds exactly like Madonna‘s Express Yourself.
Maybe Ms. Gaga was afraid that a parody of her song might expose its similarities to Madonna's. Then again, perhaps Ms. Gaga was doing a parody of Madonna's song -- in which case, it is protected as "fair use."

So, is Ms. Gaga a jerk and a plagiarist, or just a jerk? The answer is in Mr. Yankovic's lyrics:
I'm strange, weird, shocking, odd, bizarre
I'm Frankenstein, I'm Avatar
There's nothing too embarrassing
I'll honestly do anything
She is a publicity-seeking semi-talented, occasionally clever gimcrack, who insists she's "shocking." Anyone who is photographed giving the finger to the camera is the opposite of "shocking."

"Hope you won't think it's cliché if I go nude today"

Who's really to blame over that whole spoiling-Glee-on-twitter thing?

I gave up on "Glee" a long time ago, but apparently a lot of people still watch it. It is one of the highest rated programs on television right now. Getting a role on the show, even a small one, would be very exciting for a young performer. So exciting that said performer might actually want to tweet about it.
[A] rogue extra answered fan questions about the episode on Twitter the other day and spoiled the outcome of the heated prom race...

"K is PQ and Ka is PK," tweeted Nicole Crowther, a Los Angeles actress who worked as an extra on the show. The "K" she's referring to undoubtedly stands for Kurt, and the "Ka" stands for Karofsky -- meaning Kurt will be crowned prom queen and his closeted torturer will be crowned king.

A Tumblr user with some sort of connection to the show confirmed the news (the post has since been taken down), writing, "It's true. Karofsky wins Prom King and Kurt wins Prom Queen. And it is meant to be mean. But Kurt takes the moment and kicks its ass. It is a much better moment for Kurt than Karofsky."
Someone asked her to spoil the show for him/her. She obliged. I don't know why she did such a thing. It seems particularly dumb given the fact that she must have had some kind of language in her day player contract stating that she was not to reveal any insider information about the program, or she was at least not to reveal any plot details about the program. That is just basic contract stuff, right?

But according to a source close to the show, the standard SAG day-player contracts Glee uses don’t contain “NDA” (non-disclosure agreement) language providing for punishment when plot secrets are revealed. So while the studio and network might never hire a leaking extra again, the legal ramifications of spilling secrets are probably less serious.

The Screen Actor's Guild provides the contracts, apparently. And those contracts do not contain language protecting the productions from leaking "spoilers" (but you can't spoil something that's already rotten! ha!) by those actors. Those SAG actors.

Don't the producers of these programs read through the contracts they give to their own employees to sign? Perhaps the producers should take this as a "teachable moment," and learn from their mistake.

Or they could just be petty and vindictive:
In response, Glee co-creator Brad Falchuk quickly took to Twitter to slam Crowther, writing “hope you’re qualified to do something besides work in entertainment…Who are you to spoil something talented people have spent months to create?”
So this Brad Falchuk character, a producer responsible for running the show, didn't require his day players to sign non-disclosure agreements. One of his day players then disclosed something. So his response is to... threaten the day player with blacklisting.

One mistake. One little, perfectly legal mistake, and the producer who made that mistake is now taking out his frustration on a young performer trying to scrape by in the cut-throat world of Hollywood. Sadly, that is the way it works. Someone makes a mistake, and it's the "little people" who have to pay the price.

And, grovel for forgiveness:
She's also been posting a steady stream of apologies since yesterday's incident, including a response to Falchuk. "I'm truly sorry. I was being completely thoughtless and made a horrible mistake. I'm deeply & incredibly sorry Brad."
If I were Fox, I would fire the producer who didn't require his day players to sign NDAs. That's just ridiculous.

(By the way, who is the mystery Tumblr user who "confirmed" the spoilage? Anything happening to him/her? )


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

New When Falls the Coliseum post: The Toy Story Trilogy and corporate anxiety in the post modern world

I have a new, longish post about the Toy Story trilogy over at When Falls the Coliseum. A bit:

Last weekend, the pay cable channel Starz ran the three “Toy Story” films back-to-back. Watching them one after the other provided roughly the same experience as when you're forced to sit through an hours-long corporate meeting at which a compelling, entertaining, but ultimately hollow speaker hectors you about how much more you could be doing to help the corporation succeed. And then telling you that, for your efforts, you should expect nothing more than the personal satisfaction of knowing you’d helped the CEO make an extra $20 million. Oh, and you're supposed to find the entire proceeding poignant.

The “Toy Story” trilogy is a perfect encapsulation of anxiety in the post-modern world. Corporate anxiety. The films promote groupthink, and the acceptance of the purveyors of mass entertainment and consumables as benevolent entities never to be questioned. In a world in which new technology is giving consumers more control over how they consume their entertainment, the big corporations want you to remember who it was who gave you your Woody.

In the first “Toy Story” film, we’re introduced to the characters and the concept. Your toys come to life when you’re not around. The assembly-line produced hunks of plastic and fabric that were created by the thousands in factories are not simply tools of promotion – they are in fact sentient beings, imbued with personalities by the artisans who created them to make money for the corporations for which they work.

In other words, the entertainment conglomerates give life.

And we all have a responsibility to that life. The consumers who purchase the toys that were created as marketing devices to make money are to use those marketing tools in the manner in which the artisans and corporate executives intended.

The toys themselves have some awareness of their place in the world. Early in the film, Woody lays out the lot of the sentient toy: “It doesn’t matter how much we’re played with… What matters is that we’re here for Andy when he needs us; that’s what we’re made for, right?” This mantra is repeated throughout the series in one way or another, enough that its importance is clear. Accept your lot unquestioningly. What remains in doubt is exactly to whom Woody’s loyalties truly lie – that will not be made clear until the end of the third film.

The neurotic toys to which you, as an “owner” owe so much responsibility, worry over Andy’s birthday party. In particular, will he receive as a gift a new toy that will send one of the old toys to the next garage sale? As it turns out, Andy gets a Buzz Lightyear, and when he is introduced to the other toys, the following exchange occurs:

Hamm: Where are you from? Singapore? Hong Kong?
Mr. Potato Head: I’m from Playskool.
Rex: I’m from Mattel… I’m actually from a smaller company that was purchased by Mattel in a leveraged buyout.

The film is making an overt reference to the mass produced nature of these products for which we’re supposed to have a rooting emotional interest. Factory made hunks of plastic, as Lotso will say in the third film. Moreover, they are created by corporations that purchase other, smaller companies in “leveraged buyouts" -- the corporation gets even bigger by swallowing up a smaller company. As we’ll see as the trilogy moves along, there is no subtext to these films – they are an overt paean to the influence of large corporations on our lives. (And, as it turns out, late in the first film we learn that Buzz was “Made in Taiwan.”)

“Toy Story” also features a touching allegory about the ways in which corporations can cooperate with each other to influence consumers. When Woody and Buzz first meet, Woody is jealous that Andy might favor Buzz over him, and admonishes Buzz, “You stay away from Andy. He’s mine, and no one is taking him away from me.” Over the course of the film, Woody and Buzz come to realize that there’s room in Andy’s life for more than one corporate source of influence. After all, Entertainment Weekly is owned by Time-Warner, but that doesn’t mean that a Disney/Pixar production like “Toy Story” can’t be featured on the cover.

You can read more here if you like.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Little Granitos of sand through the hourglass

Everyone exaggerates. I once turned a brief meeting with the actor Morgan Freeman regarding the promotion of one of his forgettable early '00s films (I have forgotten the title) into a one-night stand with the celebrity chef Anne Burrell. It just seemed more interesting to say that I'd made it with a famous tv chef than to say that I sat in the same room as a famous actor for five minutes and said nothing to him.

When you start talking about work history, the exaggeration gets even more pronounced. For instance, in that previous paragraph I implied that I was in a room with Morgan Freeman for five minutes. It was actually more like two minutes. You see my point.

In the world of comics, where you're only as good as your last project, and your last project had better have sold a lot, or at least inspired a good deal of effusive praise on the message boards, the desire to exaggerate must be particularly fierce. Perception is vitally important in comics. Perception is more important, even, than reality (not surprising given that the stories involve people who can fly). This is why so many who work in comics, or try to work in comics, are glad-handers and shameless self-promoters. They network, hard. And a big part of networking is promoting yourself. At a convention bar at 12 midnight, Big Shot Editor wants to know exactly why it is he's talking to you, when he could be talking to that woman in the Power Girl outfit.

This brings me to the famous "pop" artist Roy Lichtenstein.

Writing in the book Lives of the Great 20th Century Artists, Edward Lucie Smith said of him,
Roy Lichtenstein was the master of the stereotype, and the most sophisticated of the major Pop artists in terms of his analysis of visual convention and his ironic exploitation of past styles.
This is a polite of way of saying that Mr. Lichtenstein ripped off other, less famous and less-highly regarded artists. Here is one of the more famous examples of Mr. Lichtenstein's thievery I mean work, the whimsically entitled "Whaam!":

And here is the original "inspiration" for Mr. Lichtenstein's famous painting, an image from a comic book called All-American Men of War:

Back to Mr. Lucie Smith:
These contacts revived his interest in Pop imagery, and a more immediate stimulus was provided by a challenge from one of his sons, who pointed to a Mickey Mouse comic book and said; 'I bet you can't paint as good as that.' In 1961 Lichtenstein produced about six paintings showing characters from comic-strip frames, with only minor changes of colour and form from the original source material. ...

Lichtenstein took in his comic-strip paintings unannounced to the new Leo Castelli Gallery, and was almost immediately accepted for exhibition there, in preference to Andy Warhol, who had started doing similar work. His first one-man show with Castelli in 1962 launched him on a career which was thereafter uniformly successful.
In comics it's called "swiping." It happens a lot. In the world of capital-eff capital-ay "Fine Art," it's called mastering of the stereotype, ironically analyzing visual convention.

When there's a lot of money involved, swiping has a higher purpose.

Actually, this post wasn't supposed to be about Roy Lichtenstein, famous art thief, it was supposed to be about a man called Rob Granito. Mr. Granito was apparently one of the many people who occupy tables in the "Artist's Alley" sections of comic book conventions. He claimed to have worked on various covers for DC Comics, DC animation projects and, most improbably, for Bill Watterson on the comic strip "Calvin and Hobbes."

Those claims, however, are suspect.
[A]ccording to numerous people, he has been ripping off artists and collectors for years. He runs a table at conventions, selling what he calls “original” art when it has clearly and blatantly been ripped off from other artists. Not only that, but he also pads his résumé like nobody’s business.
The Mary Sue, the site from which the above quote was cut and pasted, has examples of Mr. Granito's efforts. Here is one:

I'm not sure what the big deal is. Clearly, Mr. Granito was ironically analyzing visual conventions. This is an especially serious artistic statement, given the way Time Warner, the publishers of Superboy comics, have treated the heirs of the creators of the character.

If he were more clever, maybe he'd make that argument. But he doesn't seem to be. Per Rich Johnston, at Bleeding Cool:
So I find his contact e-mail and asked him. What exactly were these credits? He told me;

Yes I am currently working iwth Jay Diddilo on a batman title that has not yet been released. I’ve worked on dozens of books the shaddow of the bat being the batman title I was on for about 4 weeks. Most of my work has been covers though. The current took deals with a bit more of the history of the “batman” then his current exploits though.

Okay, so I asked which issues in particular – and who the hell Jay Diddilo was. He told me;

Jay is one of the big Writters for DC I probbibaly spelled his name rite, covers range from the Shaddow of the bat issues 12-25, teen titans 1-7, Spiderman I did a butt load I dont know the numbers, for Iron Man the same. For the Animated batman series 1092-1995.

Those Shadow Of The Bat covers were by Brian Stelfreeze, those Teen Titans 1-7 in the same timeframe were by Dan Jurgens and George Perez. I pointed this out.

I did mix work, fill in work and was a ghost artist for most of the projects I did, Iron man was for Marvel Multi Media as was Spiderman, Batman the Animated was under the WB Studio.

Well I asked and both Dan Jurgen and George Perez had never heard of this guy and certainly didn’t have any assistants or ghost artists on those covers.

I pointed this out too and… nothing. No response. That was a day ago.
Why didn't he just break out the Edward Lucie Smith book and send him the section about Roy Lichtenstein?? Simple as that. When you've been caught in a lie, don't try to cover it by telling more, little lies. Tell one more big one.

Instead, he's trying to complicate things by turning himself into the "Charlie Sheen of comic books." The Comics Cube has an email from someone claiming to represent Mr. Granito, who is offering him up to journalists for interviews, for the low price of $150 for 20 email questions (more if you want to skype with him). Also:
So, regardless of personal judgement you must admit that Rob Granito creates controversy- and controversy attracts attention. Rob Granito gets attention. Rob Granito gets people talking.

The Blog owner at All Things Geeky even explained how he had thousands of visitors to his site when he had never experienced that before. Rob Granito has gotten more attention and caused more talking amongst his detractors and his fans than any other comics professional!

Now is YOUR chance to take advantage of this red-hot story. As Charlie Sheen has proven in the mainstream media, controversy sells. It has been proven, and suggested by the convention fans blog that Rob Granito is the Charlie Sheen of Comics. And just like Charlie Sheen caused MAJOR headlines with his controversial 20/20 interview, now YOU can get Rob Granito to sit for an interview for your site or blog!

Rob Granito will live up to his image as the bad boy of comics, who admits he has made some mistakes (but who hasn't?) but also points out that comics fandom at large does not know the WHOLE story. Find out how Rob Granito began as an artist. Discover what his experience was with the legendary Dave Stevens. Find out what REALLY went down with Mark Waid. Learn how Rob feels about the comics professionals who have derided his name in the past few weeks like Ty Templeton Jamar Igle, Al Rio, and more!

I guess you could make the argument that Charlie Sheen is the Roy Lichtenstein of situation comedy actors. Clearly, Mr. Sheen is swiping his acting style from Burt Reynolds of "Evening Shade." In that way, perhaps, Mr. Granito's representative has a point.

Otherwise, I believe if I were advising him, I'd go with the ironic analyzing angle. I certainly wouldn't retreat, which is maybe what he's doing now (his website is gone). In comics, perception is everything. If you're perceived as a brilliant ironist, that's what you'll be. You need to get the fanboys on your side, promoting your cause on the blogs and message boards. If you just give up, then you're a quitter.

Chef Anne Burrell told me that it's much the same in the world of celebrity chefing.

Monday, April 11, 2011

New When Falls the Coliseum Piece: The tedium of the provincial critic

I got all offended and whatnot by a couple of critics' essays last week (one about the television show "Extreme Couponing," the other a "review" of the Olive Garden), and wrote a long diatribe, with some NSFW language. A brief taste:

In Charles Willeford's great novel The Burnt Orange Heresy, the indifferent, arrogant art critic James Figueras, musing on his own success, observes,
Only twenty-five full-time art critics in America, out of a population of more than two hundred million! This is a small number, indeed, of men who are able to look at art and understand it, and then interpret it in writing in such a way that those who care can share the aesthetic experience.

Clive Bell claimed that art was "significant form." I have no quarrel with that, but he never carried his thesis out to its obvious conclusion. It is the critic who makes the form(s) significant to the viewer!
The critic occupies a rarefied place. At least, the paid critic does. The man or woman who commands pages in publications such as, oh, let's say The LA Weekly, or, to choose another publication totally at random The Washington Post, is automatically looked at with unique authority because those particular publications have history, prestige, and money behind them. Someone who rises to the position of a food critic, or a television critic, in publications such as these, is expected to have atypical expertise that will inform his opinions. Most of us have real jobs, and have a limited amount of time to spend puzzling over the subtleties of this particular coq au vin, or what makes that ratatouille more desirous than this one over here -- or what makes "Mad Men" so good, or why you should be watching "30 Rock" as opposed to "Jersey Shore."

Critics who make a living as critics get to spend all their time educating themselves on their particular métier. They become experts whose opinion can be sought out by others who aren't as knowledgeable, so that we can get a bit of wisdom for ourselves, and maybe be turned on to new experiences. A critic can be a great councilor.
You may read the rest here, if you wish.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Blues-playing schnoodle has Poodle Bitch holding her ears

Poodle Bitch cannot decide if the schnoodle is half cute, or can't make up his/her mind to be cute. Naturally, Poodle Bitch admires all dogs equally, but cannot help feeling a sense of specific pride where her own breed, the mighty and noble poodle, is concerned.

Poodle Bitch is not so sure how to feel about Tucker, the piano playing schnoodle.

If in fact, as the uploader of the above video states, Tucker engages in this "piano playing" three or four times a day, Poodle Bitch is glad she does not live with him. Or, next door to him.

Then again, Poodle Bitch would not want to live with the comedic actor Ricky Gervais, either. But she does enjoy watching his antics on occasion.

So, play on, Tucker, wherever you are.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Poodle Bitch wonders if we would still love John Steinbeck today, if the critics of the time had done their jobs

John Steinbeck was a human American author who wrote several books that are famous. Poodle Bitch has only read a few of those books herself; she finds his works to be mostly pedantic and a rather unsavory mixture of sentimentality bordering on the maudlin, and romanticism of poverty ("Hooptedoodle," as Mack put it in the prologue to Sweet Thursday). Poodle Bitch believes one need look no further than the first sentence of his short novel Cannery Row to discover what she dislikes about his writing:
"Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream."

Ah, yes. Cannery Row contains multitudes. Poodle Bitch understands.

That said, Poodle Bitch does enjoy some of his works. Of Mice and Men was a fine book, and Tortilla Flat had some interesting details and genuine humor. And then, there is Travels with Charley.

Naturally, Poodle Bitch enjoys reading about a talented human writer spending time with a bright and cheerful poodle, even if that poodle is standard. Mr. Steinbeck clearly understands the bonds that exist between humans and dogs:
It is my experience that in some areas Charley is more intelligent that I am, but in others he is abysmally ignorant. He can't read, can't drive a car, and has no grasp of mathematics. But in his own field of endeavor, which he is now practicing, the slow, imperial smelling over and anointing on an area, he has no peer. Of course his horizons are limited, but how wide are mine?

And so Poodle Bitch was mildly disturbed to learn that the book Travels with Charley, which she had been given to believe was mostly nonfiction, might in fact be heavily fictionalized.
A huge commercial success from the day it hit bookstands, Travels With Charley in Search of America was touted and marketed as the true account of Steinbeck’s solo journey. It stayed on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list for a year, and its commercial and cultural tail—like those of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath—has been long and fat. For five decades Steinbeck scholars and others who should know better have not questioned the book’s honesty. But I had come to realize that the iconic American road book was not only heavily fictionalized; it was something of a fraud.

An author called Bill Steigerwald set out to follow Mr. Steinbeck's original journey with his poodle companion, and cross-checked the claims made in the final printed version against not only a map of the United States, but early drafts of the manuscript, Mr. Steinbeck's letters, and newspaper articles. The results of his research?
The more I learned about Steinbeck’s actual journey, the less it resembled the one he described.

As it turned out, Mr. Steinbeck spent more than half of his journey in the company of not only faithful Charlie, but his own wife. He also spent a great deal of his time in rather tony hotels; hardly roughing it in the wilderness. He also would have had to have traveled at fantastic speeds impossible at the time to have made all of his stops.

Mr. Steinbeck's book was originally published in 1962. In that time, readers and scholars have had ample opportunity to check Mr. Steinbeck's work, and the claims made within. Poodle Bitch wonders why it has taken this long for someone to do so.

She didn't think to do so for herself, because she assumed that experts in the field of 20th century American literature, in particular those who specialize in Mr. Steinbeck's works, would have done so. Poodle Bitch is hardly an expert on his works herself -- she doesn't have enough enthusiasm for him (as she stated above) to delve too deeply into his oeuvre.

Poodle Bitch wonders if that is the problem? The only ones who are examining with deep consideration are those who are the most enthusiastic. The fanboys, to use the modern vernacular. And those people have no interest in suggesting to the public at large that their favored author might have been less than honest in his dealings with the reader.

Then again, perhaps the scholars took it for granted that readers understood Mr. Steinbeck's "dishonesty." As Mr. Steigerwald points out,
Steinbeck dropped hints in Charley that it wasn’t a work of nonfiction. He insisted, a little defensively, that he wasn’t trying to write a travelog or do real journalism. And he pointed out more than once that his trip was subjective and uniquely his, and so was its retelling.

From what I can gather, Steinbeck didn’t fictionalize in the guise of nonfiction because he wanted to mislead readers or grind some political point. He was desperate. He had a book to make up about a failed road trip, and he had taken virtually no notes. The finely drawn characters he created in Charley are believable; it’s just not believable that he met them under anything like the conditions he describes. At crunch time, as he struggled to write Charley, his journalistic failures forced him to be a novelist again. Then his publisher, The Viking Press, marketed the book as nonfiction, and the gullible reviewers of the day—from The New York Times to The Atlantic—bought every word.

So this was a matter of marketing and of a critical establishment that acted more as cheerleaders for a work of art than as genuine, detached examiners.

Poodle Bitch will bear this in mind the next time she laments the fall of modern movie/literary/music criticism. It has always been thus. Perhaps if there had been a "Smoking Gun" website at the time of Travels With Charley's release, the book would not be remembered today. For the sake of the poodle Charley, that would be a shame.

Then again, if James Frey can have his own "fiction factory," for which he is very well compensated, perhaps even the Nobel Prize winning (in 1962 -- the year of Charley's release, Poodle Bitch notes) Mr. Steinbeck could have recovered.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Dr Drew is a noble doctor with nearly 30 years of medical experience

Moanday April 4th -- the day in which American television news talk finally got real. Dr Drew Pinsky, that human skunk, started his new talk show on HLN. A network which includes in its lineup Nancy Grace, Joy Behar, and Jane Velez-Mitchell actually got worse. It's downright mind bending.

On Dr Drew's first show, he announced his purpose in a long and self-serving monologue that sounded like a whiny little punk kid trying to explain why what he was doing wasn't actually teasing -- he was trying to help the fat kid in the back row.

"The human experience. I'm fascinated by that. Why we do what we do, and I'll have an opinion. I'll express it, you can expect that. Now, for those of you that say I can't diagnose at a distance, I've been practicing medicine for nearly 30 years -- I have experienced and I've studied hundreds -- let's say thousands of cases. It's what I do. And I want to start a dialogue about what concerns you, my viewers. We'll address it professionally, and we'll get it right. I intend to make a difference."

He sounds awfully noble for a complete as shole, huh?

Dr. Drew spent the first 30 minutes of his new ongoing dialogue about what concerns us discussing Charlie Sheen.

The most played-out topic in America. Then again, if you want to get into the psyche of an as shole, you ask an as shole. (Long story short: Charlie Sheen's troubled.)

Among the guests in his Charlie sheen segment(s) was Kacey Jordan. You remember her, right? She supposedly tried to commit suicide. Or, she just partied really, really hard. Either way, it was Dr Drew doing what he does best -- his medical specialty is exploitation.

Speaking of which, his next segment involved bullying victim Alye Pollack. This girl, of whom I'd never before heard, recorded an anti-bullying video that really moved one of Dr Drew's segment producers.

"How can you not be moved by that video?" Dr Drew asked. He then had a painfully awkward conversation with the girl from the video, and her mother. "Sometimes the greatest wisdom comes from young people in my opinion. What do you think needs to be done about the problem of bullying?" he asked her.

Her wisdom? "It completely needs to end."

For those of you keeping track at home, Dr Drew thinks Charlie Sheen is troubled, and he's against bullying. Again, how did we get along without this show?

In his final segment, Dr Drew interviewed Sammy Hagar. I kind of like Sammy Hagar. Why did he have to do this show?

Oh, heck. Sammy Hagar thinks he was abducted by aliens. Or, he had something "downloaded" from his brain. Again, I say: Oh, heck.

Here's how I want to remember Mr. Hagar:

Not with that Whitley Streiber/Communion nonsense.

To heck with you, Dr Drew. You almost ruined Sammy Hagar for me.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Did Charlie Sheen's torpedo actually "lay an egg"?

Get it? "Lay an egg"? As in "bombs"? As opposed to "torpedoes"? It's almost Easter ("Easter eggs") -- "laying an egg" is another show business term for "bombs" ("fails"), which is a play on "torpedo"! You don't get it? I thought it was pretty funny.

Anyway, last night was the first stop on Charlie Sheen's "Violent Torpedo of Truth Etc" tour, in Detroit Michigan. It apparently didn't go very well. Actually, I suppose I should say it went about as well as a reasonable person might have expected. But that sounds churlish.

Someone actually recorded the event for posterity, and posted the videos on YouTube. There are six in all. Six torpedoes. I have embedded the first video here; depending on your level of masochism, you might want to actually view it. You might want to view the other videos.

It goes downhill from there.

Entertainment Weekly dispatched someone to the scene to compose a minute-by-minute record. You can waste some time reading that, if you like. Sample:
9:23 — We are watching video of Charlie Sheen playing Call of Duty.

9:35 — The show has become a padded and disjointed mess. Sheen plays an old short film he made called RPG starring a young Johnny Depp but the audience gets frustrated and starts booing. Sheen stops the video and says, “Okay, so RPG was a bomb. Tonight is an experiment.” One is reminded of Torpedo of Truth’s subtitle on the marquee outside: “Defeat is not an option.”

9:40 — Sheen says he’s going to “Tell some stories about crack. I figured Detroit was a good place to tell some crack stories.” This comment, not surprisingly, does not go over well. “Show of hands who here has tried crack?” Very few people raise their hand. “I don’t do crack anymore, but this is a good f—ing night to do some crack.” The audience boos.

9:43 — Sheen tells the audience, “You paid your hard-earned money without knowing what this show was about.”
Mr. Sheen is right. Nobody knew what was going to happen when a comically deranged man was given carte blanche for a live tour. You've got to expect that it's going to be a demented experience. But you know what? "Demented" works great in small doses. But an hour of a privileged guy with an unusual vocabulary ranting about monkey brains, Vatican warlock assassins, dripping bags of mayhem, interspersed with clips from television interviews and footage of him playing video games is bound to get a little tedious.

Think about it: When one of your friends starting talking about his "philosophy of life," how long before you interrupt him? And if he did it repeatedly, how long would you remain friends with him? Unless he purchased for you the services of prostitutes, or suitcases full of drugs, or flew you out to a major league baseball field so that you could do batting practice, probably not very long.

The people who bought tickets didn't have any way of knowing the specifics of the tour (Mr. Sheen et al wouldn't reveal the nonsense that they were "planning"), but they shouldn't have been surprised by what they got. Surely no one was surprised by what they got?
Linda Fugate, who paid $150 for two seats, left the theater and walked up the street, yelling, "I want my money back!"

"I was hoping for something. I didn't think it would be this bad," said Fugate, a 47-year-old from Lincoln Park, Mich.
"No way" the show makes it through all the dates, said Bob Orlowski, a lawyer from Plymouth, Mich., who watched with six clients in a suite.

"He's not suited for this," said Orlowski, 46. "It wasn't funny."
Could you imagine having this man for a lawyer? "Hey, you're one of my best clients... I've got these bitchin' seats to the Charlie Sheen tour... Let's go!"

I'd rethink my relationship with him, were he my lawyer.

But, even if most people were unimpressed or disappointed with Mr. Sheen's efforts, surely there were a few diehards who stayed to the end of the show? And surely those people were rewarded for their loyalty to their favorite warlock?
We're told Charlie did come back on stage briefly and invited the people who stayed to move up closer to the stage ... but then he started complaining about his audio and walked off the stage.
Oh well. At least no one threw any eggs at him. Get it? "Lays an egg"? Audiences used to throw rotten eggs at performers when they didn't perform to their expectations. Yes, people used to bring rotten eggs (and sometimes tomatoes) to live shows, just in case the show was bad. They couldn't bring "bombs" with them.

Oh, come on-- that joke was at least as funny as Mr. Sheen's program.

Most links via TVTattle.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

My poem for you

I knew
Not what to do

(You wouldn't give me a clue,
You're less scrutable than I'm used to)

So I threw
My shoe
At you.

Friday, April 1, 2011

New When Falls the Coliseum post: Ervin Phillip Ashton: The strange facts in the case of the eerie life

Over at When Falls the Coliseum, I have a new post about the early 20th century pulp horror and fantasy author Ervin Phillip Ashton, which features and overview of his life and (obscure) works. A small sample:
EPA struggled to sell even to the pulp horror magazines of the early 20th century, many of which had strikingly low editorial standards. His stories and occasional poetry generally landed in the back of second- and third-tier horror and mystery titles like Strange Times, The Eerie Nightmares, Eerie Worlds, FantastiFiction, and Fantastic Oddities. In a sad twist of fate worthy of a character in one of EPA’s stories, the one time he managed to get a cover story in one of the pulps (Fantastic Oddities issue number three, cover dated June-July 1919), the editor not only changed the title of the story without his knowledge (from “The Strange Facts in the Case of the Eerie Incident” to “Foul Zanies of Havendirge!”), but also misspelled EPA’s name on the cover.

“Zanies” is a classic of sorts; at least insofar as an EPA story can be said to be a “classic.” It opens with a pitiful man, starving, feverish, and beaten, rushing through a wintry forest with no memory of who he is or how he got there. He’s taken in by “zanies,” mentally and physically deformed people who, having never left their family estate, are the end result of generations of incest. The family decides to torture the man, but he turns out to be an Elder of Underwhere, a dark creature of indescribable power from another dimension, the mere sight of whom is enough to induce depraved insanity.

This story features a number of elements that recur in EPA’s stories. It is set, as the editor’s title suggests, in the fictional town of Havendirge, Georgia, where EPA set most of his contemporary horror stories. It features reference to the Elders of Underwhere, ancient beings who split their time between our dimension (called “Overwhere”) and their own “Underwhere.” It features a dark, forbidding house that is not a place of comfort and safety, but of pain and misery. And it features a family cursed by events from the past.

You can read the whole thing by clicking this sentence.