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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Gratitude beam: on! 

1) On recommendation from Rose, and with extra incentive added by my favorite shop's 40% off sale, I've finally (finally!) picked up the first volume of Sgt. Frog.

I'm still laughing. Seriously, every fucking page is funny. I realize that there are bloggers who've been talking about this for, I don't know, a pretty long time now -- but not everyone comes to something at the same time.

I'd almost forgotten that you can be riotously funny and clever without being crude. There isn't a mean bone in this book's body, but holy god. Hysterical.

Do yourself a favor.

2) I should explain something about my feelings toward Grant Morrison. I like his work. Like many others, I can't quite pinpoint why I like him as easily as I can with other writers -- Ennis and his gift for dialogue, Ellis for the endless wellspring of capital-I Ideas -- and the selection of his works that I adore and those that leave me cold is almost random, with no discernible pattern that I can see.

But the cult of personality bothers me, and the slavish devotion shown to him by otherwise sane bloggers is frankly embarassing. The basic conceit behind All-Star Superman is really pretty simple, as is the premise behind The Invisibles, and is capable of summary in, oh, three or four sentences.

I wonder: Will we be treated to panel-by-panel breakdowns and thousand-word treatises of his and Jim Lee's WildCATS project?

Grant Morrison on WildCATS. Wow. That's like using a bazooka to fire a BB, i'n't it?

3) I'm living on my own for the first time since ever, and about three weeks ago I finally got around to ordering basic cable when I realized it wasn't going to break the bank. And I missed The Daily Show.

Because it's Comcast, though, it should surprise no one that the package listings on their web page are deceptive and misleading. Long story short: I won't be getting Comedy Central. I'm getting CNN, though, which is the other 50% of the reason why I got basic cable in the first place.

These days, you can't swing a dead hobbit without hitting a story (usually in print format) about the Death of Newspapers and how readership is down down down because 24-hour news channels and the internet are killing the need for newspapers. (Maybe it has something to do with lying about circulation numbers, guys -- advertisers lose faith after a scandal like that. God knows why.)

Certainly, my paper has become a pale joke of its (admittedly already jokey) former self in a desperate ploy to attract readers in my demographic. The reasoning is thus: Remove deeply-researched content (bad), make everything in color (good), and reduce all events in the world into easily digestible bullet points (poisonous). The rejuvenated ad campaigns reflect this mentality, and seem to scream We Think You're All Rich Idiots.

Nevermind cultivating an intelligent audience. Don't donate newspapers to schools so kids will have something to read while they're waiting for class to start, after the bus drops them off: Just pander to this imaginary demographic of rich morons.

But I can't watch CNN for more than 45 minutes straight without turning the TV off in frustration. I argue with my television, which is never a good sign. Is this what newspapers are afraid of? The same three stories repeated over and over ad nauseum with little to no true analysis, while the news crew desperately prays for some dumbass bride to bail on her wedding so they no longer have to work to bring you news?

(Let's not even talk about Fox News. There are only two possible explanations for that channel: One, it's a biting satire of the American Neanderthal more nuanced and savage than anything Mark Twain ever dreamed of penning. Two, it's real. I have a sneaking suspicion the more depressing option is the true one.)

I guess the concern is "immediacy." Newspapers cannot compete with the "immediacy" of 24-hour news networks and the internet.

I'm sorry, but I would've figured "immediacy" went down the list of newspaper priorities about the time the fucking radio was invented. (Anyway, any journalism 101 teacher will tell you newspaper stories should be timely, not immediate, two terms that are not synonymous.) No one goes to newspapers for immediacy, and I'm pretty sure that's been the case for, oh, about eight or nine decades now. No. Newspapers supply depth and complexity; that's the working theory, anyway.

But nevermind. We need more color pie charts.

I read the New York Times every morning. I read Newsweek. I pick up an issue of The Economist about once a month. And let's not forget stellar interviews and think-pieces I get from subscribing to Esquire and Playboy. Or the pulse-of-the-minute fix I get from Entertainment Weekly. Or Premiere.

I'm not saying this because I think I deserve a merit badge; I'm saying this because I'm pretty sure I'm not too far off the norm for people in their mid 20's. I'm not a stupid person and I'm almost positive most of you aren't, either.

Tell me you're still reading print news. Tell me the newspapers of America, the ones gutting their staff and throwing out articles that are "too wordy" for bullet points, tell me they're wrong.

I need to hear this.

4) Netflixed The Weather Underground and finally sat myself down to watch it last night. It's definitely of the Talking Heads/Archival Footage/Somber Understated Music For 30 Minutes Straight school of documentary filmmaking, but the "story" of these well-meaning, ultimately naive militant revolutionaries is told with confidence and clarity. Priceless to this documentary's success is access to most of the key members of the Weather Underground, almost all of whom are still alive.

Immediately after finishing I went to my shelf and plucked out Human Target: Living in Amerika, and found myself enjoying the "Where the Wind Blows" storyline so much more than I originally had. There was a certain joy in seeing the fictionalized Weathermen of Peter Milligan's tale, who they were meant to represent, and what of their actions translated from real life. It really is a fascinating slice of American life that you sure as hell don't hear about in history classes, and once again reiterates to me why losing Human Target is something to mourn over. Who's even trying to tell stories like this anymore?

From what I can tell, DC has no plans to collect the rest of the series into trades. Get yourself a copy of Living in Amerika and its predecessor, Strike Zones. Milligan leaves the same impression on me that Morrison does -- white-hot or lukewarm -- and this is him at his absolute best.

(There are two Human Target stories that Milligan wrote previous to the ongoing, one simply called Human Target and the other Human Target: Final Cut. Both are good but not necessary, though Final Cut may clear up some confusion gained by reading Strike Zones.)

5) I also treated myself to a screening of the little-known horror film My Little Eye. I could swear the film was recommended to me by Dorian, but he has no recollection of doing so. Whatever. Whoever it was that recommended it to me: I'm glad you did.

The premise is basic: Five people are selected to live in an isolated house for six months as part of a web-based reality TV show. The prize for everyone staying all six months is a million bucks -- but nobody wins if anybody loses. The housemates fall into their heirarchy and remain comfortable until the mysterious, unseen producers begin needling at them, applying pressure, and bringing bad news that makes one of the housemates want to leave. Things begin to devolve there.

Sounds simple, and you probably think you know how the story unfolds. Maybe you do, but it's not likely; characters that start off one-note (though no more so than actual people in actual reality TV shows, it's worth mentioning) gain depths and dimensions that are surprising and never dishonest, and the "horror" of the movie lies more in tension and uncertainty than jump-scares.

It's also a pretty effective criticism of society's general worship of celebrity culture. A few monologues given by the people trapped in the house directly to the web cameras could easily have been pulled from the angry id of any actor hounded by paparazzi. I make it sound clumsy and obvious, but it's not -- it is, in fact, a story constructed as a savagely apt metaphor, but told with the style and confidence to keep its real motives moving beneath the surface.

Give it a shot, especially if you're tired of modern splatter horror and could do with a dose of something more bare-bones and character-driven.

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