Monday, January 31, 2011

He's Only Human...

The Human Torch extinguished

In the latest issue of Marvel Comics' the 'Fantastic Four,' Johnny Storm - aka the Human Torch - is doused for the last time.

Every couple years a superhero "dies" to much to-do and just a few years later...KA-POW!...the dead crime fighter is brought back to life. And each time, comic book fans wonder; will we ever see him again?!?!?! Apparently, they’re not all superstar brainiacs.

The characters in question are superheroes, as in superhuman, so why all the shock when they rise from the dead? You accept that Above Average Man can leap above average buildings in a single bound, but you expect him to say “uncle” over six feet of graveyard mulch?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

They Shun Pulp Writers, Don't They?

People know They Shoot Horses, Don't They? as a classic 60s film. Few know it was based on a book by Horace McCoy, which has been called America's first work of existential fiction.

The book came out in 1935, before existential fiction was a widespread topic. And the book had a murder, so it was called a crime novel, making it a candidate for genrecide. Of course, were it not for the "classic crime novel" stamp, it might have drifted offscreen altogether. Being lumped in with the high end of the crime fiction world at least allowed They Shoot Horses to find its way into esteemed compilations like Library of America's Crime Novels: American Noir of the 30s and 40s.

I just finished reading this bleak and very entertaining book, and can’t help but think if Mr. McCoy had been from Toulouse rather than Tennessee, his novel would be given more attention by the snootier Guardians of Taste. They Shoot Horses would have Sartre-obsessed hipsters poring over it, plumbing its depths for the meaning of its lack of meaning. Ironically, had McCoy been from Toulouse, he probably wouldn’t have found such a warm reception in France.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Practical Love Songs

You don’t have to wait for Valentine’s Day to hear your radio upchuck a mushy mix of musical malarkey. As you flip from station to station, you’ll recognize one dominant theme; love. Money is an obsession on country and hip-hop radio (country about lacking it, hip-hop about rolling in it), but coinage jingles seldom journey beyond these two formats. Hard to imagine a soft rock single with a chorus about cash: “This dollar in my pocket says ‘In God We Trust,’ like I trust in you-U-U (cue artificial horn section).”

Not only do all stations pump love themes, they tend to be the same types of love themes; new love, dying love, unrequited love, loveboat. You rarely hear a song about practical love. I’m still waiting for a track that sings, “I hate ya girl, but I can’t pay both halves of the rent.“

A practical love song wouldn’t have to be that cynical, though. It could just describe authentic love encounters; the pointy logistics of real relationships rather than the Shakespearean, pie-in-the-sky portraits standard love songs paint for us.

Men with bruised egos often come to me seeking advice. Rather than give them rubber-stamped sympathy about “plenty of fish in the sea” or “those cankles portended bad things down the road,” I prescribe practical romance songs to help them through their troubles. A particularly educative tune is “B.B.D. (I Thought It Was Me)?” by Bell Biv Devoe:

I went out, last night
See, that's when I met a sexy girl
She was lookin' so right
She said, "I wanna take you for a trip around the world"

(I thought it was me) - I thought it was me who makes the girl this way
(I thought it was me) - I came to find out she's like that every day
(I thought it was me) - I thought it was me that makes that girl so wild
(I thought it was me) – I found out she's like that with all the guys

This New Jack fable says it all. Too many young men believe they possess a unique ability to ignite “the crazy” in women. They strut around convinced that each girl they seduce is normally a specimen of immovable frigidity. But when this godsend touches her, blind instinct takes over and l-o-o-k o-u-t…she can’t help but do crazy things! He then confidently reports back to his idiot pals about how he magically transformed her from “I don’t think so” to “Ay Papi!” You occasionally catch 40-year-olds spewing similar garbage, but their tone is transparent. It is the same wounded inflection they use when pretending to like coaching their daughter’s soccer team. They only recite the lie because they know if they don’t try to believe it, they’ll retreat to the shed with a fifth of Jack and a barrel of sleeping pills.

The vast majority of men cannot comprehend that it is every girl’s M.O. to convince you she doesn’t do “this” all the time. Why might that be? So she won’t seem like a whore who does “this” all the time. Of course she wants to downplay her experience. Of course she wants to make it seem like she is usually hyper-inhibited. And the best way to make her story stick is to wrap it up in effusive praise of her lover’s supposed one of a kind prowess.

When I was 19 and 20, I probably had similar delusions, and probably believed the delusions of my friends. I have now tiptoed past 30, but because 28 is the new 19, I am still hearing guys my age share sex tales with that same chunkhead bravado they should have outgrown long ago.

Gentlemen: You are embarrassing yourselves, your friends, the sex acts you are describing, and the ancient tradition of storytelling. Remember:

(I thought it was me) - I thought it was me that makes that girl so wild
(I thought it was me) – I found out she's like that with all the guys

Too bad post-sex chats aren’t conducive to speaking plainly. This is the one time a man might actually learn something from hearing a woman say, “It’s not you, it’s me.”

Monday, January 3, 2011

Bemis and the Buttheads

One of the first "Twilight Zone" episodes I ever saw was the renowned “Time Enough At Last.” It is the one where Burgess Meredith plays Henry Bemis, a time-constrained bank teller who is always being “conspired against” by his wife and boss in his quest to find time for reading. Bemis survives an H-bomb blast (because he is sneaking in some book time in the bank’s vault), and in the resulting solitude finally finds enough time to read, read, read. That is, until his glasses break. “Time Enough” is one of the show’s best remembered episodes, and whenever there is a TZ marathon, I try to catch it.

For some viewers, one takeaway from “Time Enough” seems to be that it is a condemnation of anti-intellectualism; the tyranny of the anti-book rabble. After all, poor Burgess is callously denounced by his wife and boss for reading. Sounds like an open-and-shut moral.

The tirades of Mrs. Bemis are one thing (women live to corrode what little joy can be mined on this accursed rock). But as far as work goes, remember, Henry Bemis is a bank teller who reads on-the-job. An early scene shows how this on-the-job reading causes him to miscount change. Bemis’s hammy ogre of a boss summarily roasts him for being “a reader.” Bemis’s boss is right. Bemis works as a bank teller. That means cashing checks and taking deposits. It does not mean assailing short-changed patrons with lines from David Copperfield.

Calling Mr. Bemis on this dereliction of duty does not make Bemis’s boss an anti-intellectual or any other brand of villain. It makes him a guy who does his job, which is to supervise bank employees to ensure they perform their tasks and provide adequate customer service. A bank supervisor’s sole literary focus should be reading the riot act to bums like Bemis.

Had Henry Bemis been reading on his lunch break, and been accosted for being a reader, then yes, you could make the case that he is surrounded by anti-intellectuals. But being kept from reading the classics while being paid for work that has nothing to do with reading the classics hardly makes you a victim of those "illiterate," "unwashed" whatevers. Not in the 5th dimension or anywhere else.