Saturday, October 31, 2009

#62 - Vampires

It was the decade when...

Bloodsuckers blew.

Vat happend? Ve Vampires used to be the scariest of all monsters. Evil, undead creatures who stalk helpless, beautiful young vomen who can't resist our fiendish charms and ghostly good looks until it's too late and ve have drained their bodies of every drop of their delicious red plasma. Ve slept in coffins located in gothic castles perched on vertiginous hillsides. Candleabras and cobvebs were not uncommon. And you would never, never see us galavanting about in the daytime; ve get sunburn faster than an Irishman in the Bahamas.

But, vampires now vill do anything to be popular. They don't care about tradition, it's ratings and box office they're after. They like to look at crucifixes, eat garlic and sometimes even break out into song. I know the creatures of the night make sveet music, but this is ridiculous. They hardly even drink blood anymore; I guess it doesn't go over vell vith focus groups. The vampires I used to know vere too busy changing into bats and volves and appearing in virginal young womens bedchambers to find the time keep a diary. Some vampires even walk about in the daylight now, their skin glittering like the disco ball at Studio 54. That's just, vell, gay.

Alas, it's vorking for them. Vampires are everywhere. Books, Movies, Television, Broadvay, ve are all the rage in the tventy-first century. But of course, ve've always been around-this is just the first time girls put pictures of us up in their locker. Ven did ve vampires lose our bite? Ve're pussies. This blood-sucker, for one, can't vait for the day ven vampires stop being fooder for Tiger Beat photo spreads and return to vhat ve do best: sucking.

You AUGHT to Remember.

Friday, October 30, 2009

#63 - Torture Porn

It was the decade when....

Some VERY enhanced interrogation techniques gave us all a hard-on.

Ideas for a fun evening: Dinner out at the new Italian place around the block. Karaoke with friends. A glass of wine and a good novel near the fireplace. Getting shit-faced watching the game with your buds. Viewing attractive young people get slowly mutilated, flayed, whipped and killed in elaborate torture scenarios that would make the Grand Inquisitor turn his head. No? Don't like that last option? Well, you obviously were immune to the many charms of this decades most pronounced horror genre: Torture Porn.

The modest bloodbaths of past slasher films proved too tame for the insatiable bloodlust of 21st Century audiences; we now had an appetite for scenes of distended violence, maximum bloodletting on the side please. The visceral thrills of viscera proved too tantalizing to refrain from indulging. Do, Do, Do...the Strappado!

Torture porn is a game of chicken between director and audience. "You liked that? You like to watch a girl hung upside down above a tile spa and bled like a calf at slaughter while a naked French Woman writhes below in ecstasy? Yeah?" "Pu-shaw, that was nothing. I'm fucking tough." "OK, try this on for size? Here is a girl detaching her tormentor's cock with a pair of scissors and serving it to the Doberman like it was Kibbles and Bits." "Give it to me, I'm ready!" This game has no happy ending.

Popular offenders include: Eli Roth's Hostel and Hostel II, Wolf Creek (it's torture mate!), remakes of the The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and its new prequel Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, Captivity and Touristas (a film in which the violence had become so explicit and banal that it felt more like viewing surgery footage than a fictional horror film). Other filmmakers would not want their work to be classified alongside these cheap exploitative pics but Lars Von Trier's recent provocation Anti-Christ and, especially, Mel Gibson's two hour gladiatorial exercise in sadism masquerading as religious devotional, The Passion Of The Christ, are as much part of the genre as is any of Eli Roth's less highbrow entries.

The film series that defined what torture porn was all about was, of course, the Saw films. Each Saw flick is little more than a exercise for its writers to dream up new and more elaborate Rube-Goldbergian torture devices for their hapless victims to attempt escape from, because thumb screws are so over! The ruse is that the Saw films portend to be little morality plays, the killer not simply a sadistic madman but a radical do-gooder, getting apathetic people to finally recognize just how precious their lives really are...on pain of death! The first edition in the franchise had some structural novelty and whopper of an ending; as the quality of the films have fallen the strained elaborateness of the torments has become itself a torture to behold.

Sadly, as the images from Abu Grahib reminded us, real torture is anything but entertaining. Torture is the ultimate debasement of a person, reducing them and their consciousness to only the most animalistic of impulses. Perhaps torture porn is proof that mass media does respond quickly and effectively to our collective social anxieties. Whether these films adequately and morally confront the real psychological impact that Abu Grahib had on America, I'll leave to the experts. I just hope that torture, whether in our movies or in our politics, does not continue its stranglehold on the American psyche.

You AUGHT to remember....

Thursday, October 29, 2009

#64 - DVR

It was the decade when...

Tivo became a verb.

Programming the VCR. Bane of 80's suburban Dad's everywhere, convinced that it can't be that difficult, their heads buried in sahara-dry instruction manuals for hours on end to no avail, I've yet to meet the soul who truly conquered the beast. Just getting the clock to display the time correctly was a feat of technical prowess that demanded the precision of an FBI bomb defuser. Most raised the white flag of surrender and only taped shows when they were in the physical proximity of the machine, pushing the magic red button on and off for every commercial break. Even then the finished recording was a whole tier of resolution worse than the original broadcast, like a red shirt faded pink after too many washes. Recording television was just more trouble than it was worth.

But there were dreams. Dreams of a different kind of VCR, though they seemed so fanciful at the time that few could foresee how swiftly they would be realized. Imagine a machine that records television programs with an easy to use graphical interface, minimal hardware manipulation, and infinite replay capability. Dream further that one could pause live Television and then fast forward through the commercial breaks. Finally, envision that your recordings are as crystal-clear as they were when they were aired and will not decay whatsoever with time. Well, sometimes technology does not merely skyrockets. Such was the promise of Tivo, the world's first popular Digital Video Recorder aka, the DVR.

Tivo revolutionized the way people watched television, much to advertisers chagrin. (I, for one, haven't watched a commercial in 4 years.) It also obliterated the idea of TV being aired in an "schedule;" programming was now an all-you-can-eat buffet. Tape what shows you want, as much as you want, and watch at your leisure. When the On Demand feature rolled around, the menu went a la carte too. With Tivo, you could tape a series over a long period of time and watch all the episodes in a single binge of couch potato nirvana.

Funny thing about Tivo, few who Tivo (verb) actually own a Tivo (noun). Like Kleenex before it, the brand name became so associated with the product that competitors are often referred to by the moniker of the original. What most consumers actually have is a DVR box provided by their cable company. For only a nominal fee more on their monthly bill, cable customers could add DVR service to their account, all but making real Tivo overpriced and superfluous. Such is the way with technology brands that actually set the trend; they are doomed to watch imitators make the profits on their ideas.

The near future is as obvious as it is inevitable: Shows wont be recorded so much as selected. Airtimes will be renamed "download dates." Only live events like the Oscars and the Olympics will be able to maintain large communal viewership, and even these events are no longer tele only media moments; they are supplemented by online liveblogs, webpage links and informational podcasts. The commercial as we know it will die and you can bet the farm we will see product placement in programming like never before in reaction to the loss of commercial dollars. The financial model of a television business without commercials is as of yet nebulous. Things will get worse before they improve. The era of television uniting an atomized country in a million separate living rooms has passed. TV has become Tivo. No consumer dislikes the innovation and flexibility of DVR. It makes TV that much more addictive. It may also kill it.

You AUGHT to remember...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

#65 - Ashcan Chic

It was the decade when...

Rich skinny ass bitches dressed like bag ladies.

Ashcan Chic. Bobo chic. Bobo Style. Boho Grunge. Hobo-Grunge. Heroin chic. Luxe-grunge. It goes by many titles but all refer to the same fashion disaster: wealthy, beautiful young women dressing like Brenda Fricker in Home Alone 2. A rose by any other name...

Oversized skirts, knappy wool sweaters, large boots, oversized sunglasses. These were the ingredients of a fashion trend that defied the very notion of fashion at all. More than just mix and matching, Ashcan Chic was a sartorial potluck. Or rummage sale. A dumpster dive for glamour. It grew in popularity through the early years of the Aughts, reaching a terminal velocity in 2005, when even the Times took notice.

Though many celebrities were guilty of the crime, Ashcan Chic had as its biggest endorsement a pair of celebrities who almost single handedly brought the style into the consciousness of fashion forward women everywhere: Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen. Yes, it was Michelle Tanner herself(ves) who, galumphing around Manhattan while Freshmen at NYU, acted as a walking billboard for the boho-grunge aesthetic, never shying away from a paparazzi's camera. Of course, for the twins the look has utilitarian value too; it works wonders at hiding eating disorders. The Olsens were the epicenter of this fashion outbreak; rarely has a major style trend so had its locus around one personality. (Okay, two personalities, but they might as well be one person, don't you think?)

Thankfully, like most silly fashion trends, the flame that once burned bright has dimmed to near darkness. Maybe people realized that an ensemble inspired by toothless, penniless, drug addicted women wasn't the most sexy or chic way to present oneself. Or maybe we just are all so over the Olsen twins. Whatever the cause, Ashcan Chic is now in the dustbin of fashion history. Will the look ever see a revival? If I may quote from my favorite childhood sitcom, "Oh, PUH-LEASE!"

You AUGHT to remember...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

#66 - High School Musical

It was the decade when...

We were all in this (cheesy, antiseptic, bubble-gum, gonad-challenged, karaoke nightmare) together.

One of the more unlikely entertainment phenomena of the decade, High School Musical began life as just another cheaply produced Disney Channel diversion for the pre-teen set, hoping to distract the target demographic from their go-gurt long enough to land some synergistic product placement for Disney Inc. And like go-gurt these movies are usually cheap, contain no natural ingredients, are quick to consume, taste vaguely of polyurethane and can be disposed of speedily. There was little reason for High School Musical to make anymore of an impression on the general culture than Pixel Perfect or Return to Halloween Town.

The original High School Musical premiered on the Disney Channel Jan 04, 2006. By April the movie was a full-fledged sensation-the soundtrack of the film having soared to #1 in March. An army of devoted elementary school students - with phalanxes of confused, weary, deep pocketed parents behind them - consumed all things HSM with the ravenousness of starving, feral dogs. The merchandising tie-ins were ubiquitous. (Who doesn't need a High School Musical paddleball?)

I myself first became aware of the phenomena when in late '06, browsing through a Bop magazine (as one does), I was confronted by the same all-American smile and floppy locks looking back at me from every page. It was Zac. The Efron. I felt like Shelly Duvall in The Shining discovering what makes Jack a dull boy. Every page! I realized there was an earthquake happening in youth culture and I had barely felt a tremor.

The thing that no one seemed to notice is that High School Musical is WEIRD. How you ask? Let me count the ways:

1. It takes place in Albuquerque. Really? Albuquerque? I mean, how did that get decided upon? At what development meeting did someone suggest Albuquerque as the perfect locale for this all-American high school? It's not that it's totally inappropriate, it just seems strangely... arbitrary.

2. One of the characters name is named Sharpay. She is neither a Lhasa Apso nor a drag queen.

3. Our leading man's name is Troy Bolton. He is neither a 70's anchorman not a gay porn star.

4. Zac Efron became a major musical star thanks to High School Musical but he didn't even sing his own music.

5. The drama teacher, Ms. Darburs, is the broad who played Cassie in the movie of A Chorus Line. Should Donna McKechnie feel jealous or relieved?

6. The character Ryan Evans dresses like Isaac Mizrahi on a stroll down the Provincetown boardwalk. In the movie, he is neither gay nor teased. Oh yeah, sure, just like real high school. (He sings a song called Bop to the Top! I mean...)

7. Speaking of Ryan, why do he and his sister Sharpay act like characters from Fool For Love. Seriously, if he wasn't such a 'mo this situation would be downright incestous.

8. The musical at the center of High School Musical is called...Twinkle Town. 'Nuff said.

9. The main love interests don't even kiss. HSM makes Grease look like Passolini's Salo.

10. They never get to the musical! SERIOUSLY. You watch a whole movie called High School Musical, and you never see the MacGuffin that makes the plot turn. The movie ends after the auditions. I don't know about you, but if I see a movie called Titanic the ship better sink.

Of course, we all know what happened: Two Blockbusters sequels, the latter of which was released in movie theatres only to break records in that medium as well. The leads became major Hollywood stars. The material found a whole second life in live theatre, first in professional tours and then in high schools across the country. Imitators have made various attempts to capitalize on HSM's success, some successful (like Fox's hit TV-Show Glee), others not-so-much (Broadway's "13"). Ultimately, it's kiddie-clap trap. But without HSM we would have never had this picture, and for that, well...I'm High School Musical's biggest fan.

You AUGHT to remember...

Monday, October 26, 2009

#67 - Pluto gets demoted.

It was the decade when...

The little planet that could, couldn't.

Pluto's Lament

Yes, it's true, I'm small. Is that a crime? Ok, I'm even smaller than the earth's moon. But, all the more reason to admire my fortitude over the years. I've had it rough man! For most of history no one had any idea I even existed, then, when they weren't sure if I was really there, they called me Planet-X, as if all Plutopians were hard-corn porn purveyors (it's actually only around 75%). Finally, in the cruelest cut of all, they named me after a laxative. You thought Uranus had it bad. I might as well be Planet X-Lax. That's what you call having the deck stacked against you.

But against such odds, I succeeded; I became the favorite planet of children everywhere, and by a large margin. Ok, that might have something to do with a certain animated dog, but, that pooch is not named Neptune for a reason people! Now they want to call me a "dwarf planet." DWARF! I already have size issues. Couldn't they have labeled me a "mega-asteroid" or "giga-comet" instead? Something to give me a scrap of dignity. Throw me a bone here folks. You're just toying with my emotions now. And that Neil deGrasse Tyson guy has some weird vendetta against me. What a prick.

I think you're all making a horrible mistake. Think about all the children who learned My Very Exquisite Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas. It doesn't even make sense without PIZZAS! My Very Exquisite Mother Just Served Us Nine...? Nine What?!? Inquiring minds want to know.

No? I don't get to be one of your solar system's planets anymore? Fine. FUCK YOU Scientists! You know what, for all time my name will go down as a banner for all unfairly shat upon little guys everywhere. Losers, I embrace thee. To all the Plutoed people out there- rise up! Demand your planetary status (or real-life equivalent). Yes, everyone's been Plutoed at one time or another, just now they know what to call it. I'll even be the word of the year! Revenge is mine.

(Okay, I'd still rather be a planet again.)

You AUGHT to remember...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

#68 - Movie-To-Musical

It was the decade when...

Broadway met Hollywood and fell in Love.

It is a truism that the most successful musicals are based on pre-existing material. Plays were for a long time the best repository for inspiration, as the stage play comes with at least the scaffolding of a theatrical structure; these are stories already tailored to a limited stage time with a managable number of characters. West Side Story (Romeo & Juliet), My Fair Lady (Pygmalion), Mame (Auntie Mame), Cabaret (I Am A Camera) and Carousel (Liliom - betcha didn't know that one!) - many consider these the pinnacle of the form. The business model of contemporary play production however has all but eliminated the creation of new works which contain the breadth and size needed to support future musical adaptation. Most new successful plays have single sets, no more than four characters and a cast of film and television stars.

Novels too have proved their mettle as source material, from Oklahoma! (Green Grow the Lilacs - betcha didn't know that one either!) to current mega-hit Wicked (Wicked, natch). Despite these successes, the sprawling plotting and complex narrative threads that the length and depth of a novel allows for work against their rejiggering into a dramatically cohesive, focused narrative ( See: Ragtime).

Other media can inspire musicals too, from television shows (Jerry Springer: The Opera) to the Gospel of Matthew (Godspell) to cheap tabloid journalism (Bat Boy). But, In the Aughts, no medium provided as many opportunities for Broadway gold as the major motion picture.

Now, it's true that more classic musicals are based are movies than people realize. From Sweet Charity and Nine (Fellini's Nights of Cabiria and 8 1/2, respectively) to two of Sondheim's best, A Little Night Music (Bergman's Smiles of a Summer Night) and Passion (Scola's Passione D'Amore), the movie, it turned out, could often learn how to sing. But these past successes were selected for the unique take the writers could spin on the material; the foreignness of the original made the American translation fresh and new. Many audiences had no clue the musical was based on anything at all. In the AUGHTS, no such calculations were considered. Freshness was not the order of the day. In most cases, the closer you could get to recreating the movie, the better...just add some songs! And never, ever, change the title.

The trend began strong enough with two successful adaptations dominating in the 2000-2001 season. With a witty David Yazbeck score and one of Terrence McNally's strongest musical books, The Full Monty was a well-executed Americanisation of the quirky British indie hit film of the same name. Shifting the action from the very British Sheffield to very American Buffalo threatened to flatten the sharp, malt vinegar flavor of the original, working-class English blokes being inherently funnier than working class Americans dudes. But, headed by the far-sexier-than-Robert-Carlyle Patick Wilson, The Full Monty was a critical success and proved there was money to be made in the adapatation of popular movie comedies.

The show that really blew the lid wide open and all-but-guaranteed a string of movie adaptations was Mel Brook's Musicalization of his own classic hit film The Producers. The show was a juggernaut on Broadway when it opened in the Spring of '01. Glowing reviews, sold-out performances, and record ticket prices followed. Beating out The Full Monty at the Tonys, The Producers went on to garner more Tony's (and Tony Nominations- 15!) than any show in history, winning in all 12 categories in which it was nominated. A success like that was bound to spawn imitators. And spawn they did.

Coming not long after The Producers, the popular adaptation of John Waters' camp classic Hairspray - successfully neutering Waters' already tamest material for the Bridge and Tunnel crowd - proved that the idea had legs. The Python's got into the action with Spamalot, the musical version of their Holy Grail film. Another hit. The catalogue of films to adapt seemed an inexhaustible resource for musical theatre writers. Alas, these golden successes were to be the exception and not the rule. The Wedding Singer, Cry Baby, Young Frankenstein, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Xanadu , Grey Gardens, Shrek, and Legally Blonde all attempted to translate Hollywood Box Office into SRO crowds on the Rialto. None fully succeeded. Others looked like they might sink the genre entirely (sorry High Fidelity). It wasn't until 2009, when Billy Elliot tied The Producers for most Tony nominations in history, that the trend reasserted itself with full force, book-ending the decade on an appropriate note.

Broadway producers are going to have to think more outside the box if they want to pick films that will successfully transfer to the musical stage; the obvious ideas are more picked over than a whale carcus in shark infested waters (which is a more apropos metaphor for the entertainment industry than you can imagine). That being said, I'll be first in line for The Devil Wears Prada starring Bernadette Peters. (Oh, please, please, please...)

You AUGHT to Remember...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

#69 - Wardrobe Malfunction

It was the decade when...

The sight of a nipple shook America to its core.

The date: February 1, 2004
The event: Super Bowl XXXVIII
The perps: Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake
The crime: Janet's nipple gets exposed in a climatic dance move.
The mystery:Did Janet experience a "wardrobe malfunction" as she claimed, or was this all part of the plan all along, sinking America further into the miasma of depraved morality and loose sexuality?
The fallout: Total. Media. Shitstorm.
The legacy: "Wardobe Munfunction" enters the general lexicon, its popularity matched only by its silliness.

What really happened? Decide for yourself. Warning: this video might not be suitable for people who have never seen a nipple.

You AUGHT to remember...

Friday, October 23, 2009

#70 - The Many Faces of Sacha Baron Cohen

It was the decade when...

A Cambridge educated, former model proved himself the most fearless comic since Andy Kaufman.

In the Aughts, the triumvirate of Ali G., Borat Sagdiyev, and Bruno represented a kind of comedic holy trinity, three distinct manifestations of one hilarious person. His name is Sacha Baron Cohen and he is out of his mind. In what can only be called guerrilla comedy Cohen's modus operandi is always the same: Invent a eccentric over-the-top character, play him without so much as a twinkle of self-awareness, find gullible people who don't know you are a comic and then humilate, humilate, humilate. Humilate them, humilate yourself, humilate the audience. Anything for a laugh. This format would have all the novelty of a candid camera re-run if it weren't for the specificity with which Cohen imbues his alter-egos and the sheer audacity and gutsiness of his act.

Unafraid to look right down at the cold dark heart of civil society, Cohen's characters know no taboos nor inhibitions. The laughs often come from painful places; misogyny, anti-semitism, homophobia, our distrust in the intelligence of the lower class - Cohen is picking at scabs, and we're all laughing. This is satire, but it's also a kind of cultural anthropology; outside of Cohen's theatrics the imbelicity on parade is all quite real. It's painful. You don't just laugh watching something like Borat, you squirm.

Dense as a brick wall, Ali G was Cohen's first successful character - a deadpan gangsta youth with a penchant for track suits and ostentatious bling. Spouting a whole vocabulary of faux-slang, Ali G. exposed the blind spot of upper-middle classes when the topic turns to rap and urban youth culture. More than the other loons in Cohen's repertoire, Ali G relied on a string of absurd punchlines, breathtaking in their inanity. (Ali to a terrorist expert: Are you worried that someone is going to crash a train into The White House?) Ali G put Cohen on the map and made him a star in England, but the character didn't resonate as well across the Atlantic where Rap culture is much less of a novelty and Ali's thick cockney was perhaps a bit too local an anachronism to land across the pond.

With Bruno, Cohen's uber-gay Austrian fashionista, homophobia was the target du jour. A debate still rages on whether the character actually encouraged the mindset that it was trying to putsch, but such kirfuffles are somewhat beside the point; the wardrobe of the character alone proves that we shouldn't take this particular schwuler all that seriously. Bruno was the cheapest character of the three (cock jokes tend to be) but having a bare-cheeked Bruno dressed as an angel lowered onto Eminem's face is still, crude as though it may be, sublimely hilarious.

It was Borat however that cemented Cohen's status on the cultural landscape. Hating jews with a vehemence equaled only by his distaste for women, the Khazakhstan native and amateur journalist is a sublime creation of utter inappropriateness. Rekindling our discomfort with the latent anti-semitism in America, Borat's relentless invectives against the Chosen people are so jarring to our PC ears that we recoil almost as fast as we guffaw. His tour through America in his 2006 film (lengthily titled, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan) is one long needle pop to the over-inflated balloon that is American Exceptionalism. From announcing in front of a Rodeo crowd that he supports George Bush's "War of Terror" to pun'king political figures, the real raison d'etre for Cohen's one-of-a-kind road-trip is to undermine the exalted status that Americans award themselves. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. Putting Borat in situations that often veer on dangerous, Cohen never betrays the comic persona he has so carefully crafted; if it's funny, he is committed to it. He is also not above a big gross out wrasling match with a disgusting old naked guy. Try not to laugh watching that. I dare you.

Does Sacha Baron Cohen have any more tricks up his sleeve? Are there new characters left to be created? With his three original stooges now retired, and suffering from a bit of overexposure, one wonders what Cohen's Second Act will look like. If it's anything like his first, it's gonna be hilarious.

You AUGHT to remember...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

#71 - Bromance

It was the decade when...

just 'cause you and your Buddy were totally in love didn't mean you were GAY or anything.

Five Definitions Towards a Meaning of a Fake Word:

Bromance: Term used to describe a close relationship between two men which is not sexual but nonetheless mirrors many patterns of a romantic relationship.

Bromance: Term used by Hollywood executives to repackage tired formulaic "buddy-films" with a new "it" word that will fool audiences into thinking they are seeing something fresh.

Bromance: Term used by straight dudes to justify the fact that they and the friends act really fucking gay with each other.

Bromance: Term used to describe the relationship between George W. Bush and his one-time press secretary Scott McClellan.

Bromance: The most homoerotic TV show ever made.

You AUGHT to remember...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

#72 - Rainbow-colored Men's Underwear

It was the decade when...

Men's underwear got all cute n' stuff!

Underwear used to be so easy. It should be easy, after all, the whole point of the garment is that it's meant not to be seen. The design of underwear ought to be entirely utilitarian. Pure function. When buying underwear two questions should be asked: 1. Does it hold my junk? 2. Is it cheap?

Of course, things aren't so simple. Not in a capitalist, fashion conscious society where every thing you eat, wear, use or play with - essentially anything purchasable - says something important about you.

Info about someone's underwear drawer can be the key to deciphering their personality. After all, it was through his predilection for boxer briefs that Will Truman's laundry companion deduced he was homo on the sitcom Will & Grace. "The homosexual is the leading exponent of the underpant hybrid." said Will in explanation. Sing it Sister. But of course, the significance of any particular style of underwear is always contextually linked to the era in which it is worn. The popularity of the boxer short in the 90's perfectly suited the slacker aesthetic that dominated the alt-pop culture of that decade; constriction of any sort was not a trademark of the era. Baggy clothes, torn jeans, loose undies - it all went together. Just try to imagine Kurt Cobain in tighty-whities. Might as well try to imagine Elton John in something tasteful.

In some ways, the dichotomy between boxers and briefs make a man's undie preference even more profound than a women's. And let's not even talk about going commando; those people are freaks.

In the AUGHTS a new underwear trend took hold. Gone were the loose, carefree days of boxer dominance. Boxer-briefs made a small foothold in the early part of the decade, as the aforementioned Will & Grace reference attests, but it was the brief, the sperm killer itself, that made a startling comeback in the Aughts. Let it be known, these were not your dad's assembly-line white briefs bought in a bulk pack at K-Mart with some generic muscly, headless torso modeling on the package, NO! Briefs were now to be purchased one at a time, in boutique fashion chains, and, most important of all, in many pretty-pretty colors. If an advertisement did show a model sporting the chromatic couture he was likely not muscular, had acne, and was a good 20 lbs underweight.

So what's the appeal of this apparel? Only the same appeal that a super-duper big box of crayons has to a ten year old; how transfixing the difference between rust and amber! The panoply of totally superfluous options - each pair is actually exactly the same in style and material - puts the consumer in a crisis: having just one color would be deeply unsatisfying. After all, are you always in a red mood? Do I feel Fuchsia today? The only way out of this neurotic predicament is to purchase the whole rainbow. Even more recently the trend has been shifting from solid colors to elaborate patterned undies, some with superheroes on them. And yes, I am talking about underwear for adult men.

So, in brief, (yuck, yuck): Boxers? Tres uncouth. Boxer-Briefs? If you must homos. Tightie-Whities? Whatever floats your boat grandpa, if your boat can still float that is. Colored and/or patterned briefs? Welcome to the 21st Century!

You AUGHT to remember...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

#73 -The HUMMER

It was the decade when...

Suburban mothers drove their kids to school in military tanks.

H is for HUGE, the size of the beast.
U is for UGLY, your taste is deceased.
M is for MONEY, the price is sky high.
M is for Merchandise; so much crap you can buy!
E is for Earth; it does its best to destroy, and
R is for R.I.P, so let's all jump for joy.

P.S. - This blog was NOT written on a Hummer laptop.

You AUGHT to remember...

Monday, October 19, 2009

#74 - World of Warcraft

It was the decade when...

nerds still couldn't get laid but were too preoccupied raiding Blackwing Lair and slaying the black dragon Nefarian to care.

Sucking up the leisure time of a whole generation of otherwise able-bodied young men, World of Warcraft, the most popular MMORPG of all time, took the forumla of the perennial Dorks-Anonymous support group that is Dungeons & Dragons, combined it with the graphical capabilites of the computer, amplified the whole thing using the networking potential of the internet and sealed the deal with the business model of cable-television. The result: A black hole of fantasy ephemera that eats dollars with the same rapaciousness as it does time. The team at Blizzard (World of Warcraft's software company) certainly know what they are doing. Just keep holding that carrot in front of the donkey. Their strategy: Make a massive, complex, densely plotted game without an ending (it can't be "beat,") then charge people a mothly fee to keep playing! And keep playing they do. And playing. And dropping out of college. And playing...

eleven million would be wizards and orcs and elves have invested time and money to join this half-assed middle-earth. What percentage of these subscribers are bespectacled, pimpled males who spent a lot of time jammed in thier Jr. High School locker has yet to be determined by science, but the back-of-the-envelope estimate is high.

Those who play WOW speak in an alternate vocabulary from that of any recognised language on planet earth. But on
Azeroth, it all makes sense. For example if a WOW player were to say this:

I'll tell you why I wont spec my warrior for port: I like PVP and I hate grinding, The Arms/Fury spec keeps my dmg and attack rate high, and I didn't need defense bc my bro is a holy pally and my RGF is a mage with uber CC. I already have a druid tank anyway, and I was our guild's MT all through vanilla WOW + BC WOTLK was my caster phase but I wanna spec for melee dmg in cataclysm. BTW, I don't really have a RGF...yet!

They really mean:

Why won't a girl kiss me? I'm a level-60 Paladin!

Does World of Warcraft offer any positive social value to the world whatsoever? Well, virtual epidemiology, it turns out, is a good model of the real thing. Scientists have looked into the spread of magic diseases in Azeroth as a guide to the effects of real-world outbreaks. I shit thee not. Political organizing is also making a foothold in WOW's virtual reality with various "guilds" having an online rally for a presidential candidate at some snowcapped mountain locale within Warcraft's vast fictional landscape...the fact that the candidate was Ron Paul is moderately curious.

Of course, a total lack of irony is what allows these pseudo-serious dramas of dungeon raiding and dragon slaying to thrive in the imagination; the self-conciousness attendant in humor would be an intrusion of reality, the whole silly house-of-cards would come crashing down. Ironically, the necessary severity with which the game and its players treat the fantasy makes it all the more justifiably risible to an outsider. There was a time not so long-ago when, if an adult man openly and unashamedly admitted a compulsive obsession with a pre-adolesencent fantasy universe -- dwarves and dragons, broadswords and enchantments, knights and gnomes -- the disclosure would be a cause for embarrassment. In the Aughts we have to listen to grown men talk about such things and accept it as legitimate. With World of Warcraft, an entire swath of the population has figured out a way to live in their 7th grade daydreams. The obvious truth, inaccessible it seems to the Warcraft player, is that it is really they who are being played.

You AUGHT to remember...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

#75 - Pinkberry

It was the decade when...

We couldn't stop eating sour ice cream.

Pinkberry fact sheet:

(The following are incontrovertibly true facts about the uber-trendy frozen yogurt chain known as "Pinkberry.")

Pinkberry yogurt is neither pink nor berry flavored.

Pinkberry yogurt tastes like, well...if you had walked into a frozen yogurt store 15 years ago and had been served Pinkberry you would have spit it back in your cup and asked for a refund because your ice cream was sour; that's what it tastes like.

Pinkberry's amazing contribution to world cuisine is that it sells itself as yogurt that tastes like yogurt.

Pinkberry is not yogurt.

Pinkberry, when confronted with the embarrassing fact that their yogurt wasn't yogurt, renamed the product "chilly bliss."

Pinkberry serves its yogurt-esque product in stores that look like the interior of the space station in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Pinkberry has convinced people it's good for them.

Pinkberry has a celebrity clientele, and where Leo DiCaprio dines, so dines the nation.

Pinkberry only tastes good when you load it up with toppings, like big ass blackberries or Cap'n Crunch, which, of course, costs you more money.

Pinkberry's main competitor, Red Mango, serves yogurt that is neither red nor mango flavored.

Pinkberry is almost totally unknown to people outside New York and Los Angeles thereby letting these urbanites feel cooler about their overpriced dessert decisions.

Pinkberry serves a coffee flavor that tastes like a latte made with rancid cream.

Pinkberry is so addictive its nickname is Crackberry.

Pinkberry only serves one flavor at a time, so don't even ASK for a swirl!

Pinkberry is a special kind of delicious; even rats like it.

You AUGHT to remember.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

#76 - Steve Jobs Riseth Again

It was the decade when...

We worshiped at the altar of Steve.

And it came to pass that in the year of our lord one-thousand nine hundred and fifty five, a child would be borne in the city of Saint Francis. And he would bring unto the world untold riches. And he too would make untold riches. And from his lowly state he would rise to sit on a throne of cash, and be worshipped by the multitudes of nerds.

And, lo, his name was Steve. And he was good. And he would bring to man much fruit. And his company would be synonymous with home computing for many years.

And it came to pass that Jobs found such success that neither he nor his partner St. Woz could control their empire. And so, Jobs proclaimed another as his king but he was a deceiver. And the Deceiver wore the crown of fruit.

Now, the deceiver knew no allegiance to Steve. He hath doubted his maker. And so he said, "thou hast given me power over thee Steve. And I shall smite you with it." And the Deceiver banished Steve from his own kingdom.

And it came to pass that Steve, banished from his own kingdom, wondered the desert for half a score. Whilst abroad he ganeth in strength whilst his old kingdom fell feeble and meek. It was so that Satan prospered whilst Steve wondered. And Satan put forth a new program called Windows. Steve saw that all he had made was stolen by the evil one and this made him mad.

And it came to pass that after ten winters the gates would once again open to Steve. And he would be greeted by the multitude, and there would be much rejoicing. And in the year of two-thousand and aught he would be again crowned to lead his kingdom of fruit. For 10 years hence Steve would reign on high, wielding the power of the letter "I." And he would giveth to the masses much music. And he would build temples for believers to pray in. And he would preach before the techno-pharisees and moneylenders and offer to the crowd new idols to worship. And these sermons would be called "launch events." And there was much rejoicing.

In Seattle there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Rejoice! For Steve hath returned. And all was right with the world. And may we all eat his fruit for years to come. Amen.

You AUGHT to remember...

Friday, October 16, 2009

#77 - Long Term Kidnappers

It was the decade when...

It was trendy to lock your children up for years in horrific dungeon-like scenarios.

In the annals of psychopathology the serial killer has reigned supreme; a media darling inspiring countless movies, books, and TV shows, the serial killer has been everyone's favorite brand of psycho since a nut with a knife and deerstalker cap prowled the streets of foggy Whitechapel. The names are household: Bundy, Gacy, the Zodiac, Dahmer, the last of whom must take the cake when it comes to pure satanic salaciousness. But the stream of media-friendly psycho murderers had all but sputtered to a drip by the time the Aughts rolled around; wackos no longer posess the theatricality to send taunting, cryptic letters to newspapers (probably because no one reads them anymore) or moonlight as birthday party clowns. The stage was set for a new kind of monster to keep us awake an night. Ladies and Gentlemen, for your consideration may I present to you Mr. Josef Fritzl.

Successful electrical engineer, proud Austrian, devoted family man, Fritzl was a poster boy for middle-class mundanity. A father of seven with his devoted wife Rosemarie, his daughter Elisabeth was his favorite child. The sexual abuse started at age 11. Seven years later, faced with the prospect of losing his daughter to the world, Fritzl built an elaborate bunker underneath his backyard, lured 18 year old Elisabeth into it, knocked her out with ether and locked her inside...for 24 years-a captive beneath her own home. Frequently raping her in the new subterranean dwelling, Fritzl sired seven children with Elisabeth, all but one of whom survived infancy (Josef incinerated the lone fatality). The dungeon being too small for a full family Von Trapp, Fritzl raised three of the children upstairs with Rosemarie, claiming that his daughter (who, according to Fritzl's front story had joined a religious cult) left the children on their doorstep. Ping-Ponging back and forth between families in some kind of sick farce, Fritzl avoided detection for over two decades, his wife Rosemarie (she claims) believing the cult story all the while; the neighbors were totally oblivious. Only when one of the dungeon children had a medical emergency did Fritzl allow Elisabeth to again see light of day to take her sick child to the hospital. The facade quickly came crashing down, and Fritzl's chambers of horrors was exposed to a shocked public.

Right now you are probably thinking, "Holy Fucking Christ, I think that is the most fucked up story I have ever heard." And indeed, you'd be correct. This is the most fucked up story you have ever heard. This is the most fucked up story I have ever heard. This is the most fucked up story anyone has ever heard. And the award for sickest mother-fucker in history goes to: Josef Fritzl. Now, someone get Michael Haneke to make the movie.

If Fritzl was a one-off, a true lone nut, as horrifying as this story is, you'd nAUGHT want to remember. But sadly, Fritzl was but one in a bizarre and unsettling criminal trend to take hold in the Aughts: the long-term kidnapper. Now, no other psycho out there quite went "the full Fritzl" but, in what must be some aberrant schizo meme, the similarities with Austria's demonic Dad were often dismaying.

Even before Fritzl's dungeon was discovered Austria was aghast with the story of Natascha Kampusch, a ten-year old girl kidnapped by communication technician Wolfgang Priklopil in 1998. She was held in a custom-built basement dungeon (isn't it hard to build a dungeon?) for eight years before she escaped. Showing a modicum of self-awareness, Prikopil had the good sense to jump in front of a train when he discovered that his captive had escaped. Kampusch has gone on to become a television host in Austria and animal rights activist. She currently owns Prikopil's old house, and, according to some reports, lives there. She will soon auction off some dungeon items for "good causes." It's like Elie Wiesel summering at Belsen. Weird.

There was an Australian Fritzl, who trapped his daughter from age 11 and gave birth to four children with her, three of whom survived despite severe health problems. This freak was just discovered this year. There was an Italian Fritzl, also caught in 2009, who imprisoned and raped his own daughter for 25 years, sometimes with his son participating in the festivities. (It seems that these liaisons bore no fruit of the womb - thank god.) The son would abuse his own daughters as well, imitating his father as best he could. There was a British Fritzl who, though he had no "dungeon," relocated his family often to avoid detection. He frequently raped both his daughters, and, over the course of 25 years, fathered nine children/grandchildren with them. He impregnated them a total of 19 times but lost 10 to either miscarriages or terminations. He was caught in 2008. Finally, also in 2009, there was a Colombian Fritzl who locked up and raped his adopted daughter for 25 years.

Jesus. H. Christ.

Thankfully, America has yet to produce a true Fritzl but the recent discovery of Jaycee Lee Duggard, kidnapped and held captive for 18 years over which time she gave birth to two daughters, is a case study that comes close. At least the captor in this particular horror show was a delusional stranger (with a blog no less).

One things for certain, the Aughts certainly gave a new meaning to the phrase "family values."

You AUGHT to remember.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

#78-Red Sox win the World Series.

It was the decade when...

Prospects for a No No Nanette revival looked slim.

What is "The Curse of the Bambino?" Sounds like some some horrible Mafia expression. "I'm putting the curse of the bambino on Frankie the Snake. That good-for-nothing louse crossed ma famigilia one too many times and so, (insert thumb in mouth.)" (Note: My knowledge of mafia patois is entirely constituted by the stories of Damon Runyon and occasional dining trips to Umberto's Clam House on Mulberry Street.)

Actually, no. The curse of the Bambino traces back to the worst sports sale in history, when Babe Ruth was traded by Red Sox owner Harry Frazee to the New York Yankees in order to fund Frazee's investment in a Broadway production of the musical comedy No No Nannette, or so goes the lore. In actuality, the money was used to mount a new play called My Lady Friends, the source material that No No Nanette was eventually based on. (But the story works better when it's a faggoty musical, doesn't it?) Whatever the show, Babe Ruth joined the Yankees. The Red Sox, once a powerhouse of baseball clubs - the Sox won the very first world series and garnered the title again five times before trading Ruth - hit a dry spell. Very dry. Death Valley Dry. Bob Newhart Dry. Betty White Vagina Dry.

From 1918 to 2003 the Red Sox were, well, losers. Not a single World Series title. Attempts were made. The team got close ('46, '67, '75, '86) but the cigar remained ever elusive. The plight of the Red Sox fan had become Sisyphian; it was a masochistic existence. The Susan Lucci of baseball, Boston's losing streak was so predominant over the years that the Red Sox had come to be defined more about their losses then their wins. And all too often the dreams were foiled (before they even got to The Series) at the hands of the ball club that cursed them. Yep, the damn yankees.

So, hooray, the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 against the Cardinals (which itself had some historical value as the Cardinals had beaten the Sox in the '46 and '67 series) but the series itself lacked drama; it was a sweep by the Sox. The real triumph, the win that killed the curse, was the Sox's dramatic defeat of the Yankees to take the Pennant. After losing the first three games to the Yankees, it looked as if the Sox were in for another year of disappointment. No team had ever come back from 3-0 in the pennant championship before. But, miraculously the Sox turned things around in game 4 and went on to win the American League Championship in the most dramatic fashion possible, four straight victories against the Yankees, each win being necessary. After a pennant success like that, against their nemesis, the Sox weren't about to let the Series go south. The curse was lifted. Even Miss Cleo didn't see that one coming.

The joy of Boston fans was ecstatic.

I think it was the worst thing to ever happen to them.

Disappointment is addictive and chronic disappointment especially so. With the curse lifted, with the moment of victory and it's attendant release of surplus excitement passed, the Red Sox devotee is now a ball club fan like any other. For the Bostonian no summit will ever scale as high as World Series Victory night 2004. It's all downhill from that moment on. There is a reason that writer and Red Sox fan Bill Simmons titles his book about the championship "I Can Die Now."

At least Cubs fans can continue to live in blissful agony.

You AUGHT to remember.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


It was the decade when...

Filmmakers learned to speak fluent mumble.

Things you need to make movies:
1. Money 2. A script 3. A story 4. Dialogue. 5. Drama.

WRONG. For now we have Mumblecore, the most-buzzed about film genre no one has actually seen - this despite the pages of copy devoted to the movement in alt-weekly newspapers, classy intellectual magazines and film blogs. Indeed, the analysis of mumblecore was more interesting than its movies. A sub-species of the general trend toward quirk in indie films of the decade, the cinema of mumblecore lacked the silliness and gutsy absurdity of comic larks like Napoleon Dynamite, Juno or Eagle Vs. Shark. Mumblecore wasn't nicknamed "MySpace Neo-Realism" for nothing.

Usually made for the cost of a nice set of golf clubs or trip to Europe, mumblecore films make no attempt to look anything but homemade. So distant from the Southland it'd be hyperbolic to label these films anti-Hollywood (even if they're occasionally made there), the mumblecore movement instead set up camp at the South By Southwest Film Festival in Austin, each year putting forth a new iteration of their DIY formula, recycling the same themes so often that a new film genre formed when no one was looking.

And what is a mumblecore movie? Well, get a group of emotionally stunted, white, unglamourous 20-somethings together (preferably those without acting experience) for a weekend or two, invent some characters that mirror the actual people playing the roles, turn on the camera and...improvise! The result: a reflection of a generation adrift, unable to express any coherent thoughts to each other. They all seem like would-be hipsters who lack the initiative to actually cultivate the sensibility. All past rules of inter-personal connection having been annihilated by the 20th century and its sociological revolutions, there are no more mores and inventing new ones seems exhausting. Attempts at connection end in isolation. Life itself has all the definition of a mumble.

Being an out-to-sea 20-something has long been fodder for indie-film, but with mumblecore a shift occurred. Contrast the genre with the slacker films of a decade ago and their protagonists. In films like Clerks or Swingers or GO the characters were positively loquacious on the topics they felt confident in discussing; those being primarily fanboy pop-culture minutia, and the conquest of women. Conversly, on any topic, the inhabitants of mumblecore-ville can barely muster up a sentence that includes a verb, noun and object. Rarely has anomie been so banal.

A labyrinthine network of directors and actors, the mumblecorps (as they are affectionately known) are nothing if not insular. But with such insularity comes a specific artistic temperament, a movement, and whatever one might think of any particular mumblecore film, there is something to be said about the consistency of the genre's particular style and themeatic preoccupations. Something is resonating here. And many of the films are actually quite successfull in their modest way. Hannah Takes the Stairs is suprisingly structured given its improvisitory origins and Baghead proved that the "corps" could spoof themselves, all the while playing by the "core" rules.

With the age of privilege coming to an end (with it, the ability to do nothing with one's time-a staple of mumblecore) and the children of the 80's now hitting 30 and facing some of the real problems that life poses, the terminus of Mumblecore is no doubt upon us. Gross over-exposure by the media (links to all the articles on the net about mumblecore would take pages), especially in relation to the movement's actual popularity, only served to push the genre into cliche (see video below). But nonetheless, the films of mumblecore might still end up being the emblematic works that will, in decades hence, define this generations particular weltanschauung (or lack therof). But for now, the time has come to learn how to articulate.

You AUGHT to remember.