August 31, 2007

Only for now

I saw the Vegas production of Avenue Q with Eric Case this week. As Case attests, I enjoyed myself very much.

A raunchy, puppet musical may be the ideal form of entertainment for San Francisco. And compared to when I saw Avenue Q in Vegas, the show was definitely raunched up a bit for the SF crowd.

In Vegas, there were a number of walkouts during the intermission. But for San Francisco they both increased the athleticism of the muppet sex scene and played up the gay jokes. The crowd loved it.

At its heart, the musical works as yet another recontextualization of childhood nostalgia. While this is well-trod territory, it's also very funny. But there are also a couple of genuine, unironic moments in the musical that make Avenue Q much more interesting than something like Robot Chicken.

The final number, with its dharma of "Only for now" is about as good a way to end a coming-of-age musical as you're likely to find. Also, I think the song "I wish I could go back to college" is a great number. For one thing, it hass one of my favorite jokes of the show: "I wish I could just drop a class / or get into a play / or change my major / or fuck my TA."

But it's also got a line from the main character Princeton who sings, almost as an aside, "I wish I had taken more pictures." When I saw the show on Wednesday, laughed at this line; they'd been laughing at everything. But as it sunk in, it seemed like everyone realized a little too late that it wasn't really a joke. Not a bad trick for a puppet show.


e^(-π * √-number of horns on a unicorn) + the answer to life the universe and everything = 41

August 30, 2007

War debts

Anna sent me Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain 1942, a handbook with advice for GIs on how to get along with the British.

I love the matter-of-fact way it's written. And they did a great job reprinting it to match the style of the time.

Plus, it's got tons of great material to read in a 40s-era newscaster voice.

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Update: If the above doesn't play, try this.

August 28, 2007

The market has not solved

On Saturday, I went to a birthday party where we played a little PS2 Karaoke. I wowed the crowd with my rendition of Friday I'm in Love. And that song has been stuck in my head since Sunday morning.

At first, it was pleasant enough. But it's starting to get annoying. For me, the solution is usually just to listen to the song obsessively until my brain releases it from bondage. But, to my shame, I don't own Friday I'm in Love. In fact I don't own a single album by The Cure.

Now this requires some explanation. I like The Cure. Singing along to Just Like Heaven was as essential to high school as hanging out at Denny's. And I had a great time seeing them live at Radio City Music Hall in 1996.

But at some point I decided that I shouldn't own any of their albums. There's no good reason behind my stubbornness. I may have decided that this privation was necessary to show my loyalty to New Order. My adolescence had a number of overwrought pop culture-induced anxieties.

Anyway, I'm ready to make up for lost time. Crystal has the Best of album shared over iTunes here at Twitter HQ (and Blaine is sitting on the completely discography). But I'd really like to pick up my own DRM-free, high quality version of Kiss Me.

Yet, Internet fails me. I can't just go download that legally. The best I can do is pick up the lullaby version of The Cure from Audio Lunchbox.

Which I have now done.

I'm trying to give you my money, big media. But all I get for my efforts is the Fisher-Price Friday I'm in Love.

August 27, 2007

I'm ready for my closeup, Mr. Kubrick

August 19, 2007

Jug Band

August 16, 2007


Eugene snapped this during our visit to Wizard World. The dude on the left (a shill at the LionsGate booth) was taking his role very seriously; leaning in a trying to intimidate grandma into making the wrong Connect Four move.

Grandma was so completely unfazed and into it herself that we assumed she was a prop. We saw her walking around the convention later and figured she was legit. Good marketing ... it was the most memorable thing we saw at Wizard World.


Debate cinema is a surprisingly small genre. You've got 1989's Listen to Me, the Dirty Dancing 2 of the genre (starring Kirk Cameron with a southern drawl). And you've got the little known Thumbsucker, a true gem of a movie that you should rush out and watch tonight.

Comes now Rocket Science, the first feature film by writer/director Jeffrey Blitz who previously made the documentary Spellbound.

When I saw Spellbound, I thought it easily could have been a documentary on high school debate instead of spelling bees. Both competitions feature the same assortment of quirky, intense kids obsessively perfecting some arcane academic skill in a ritualized format. Turns out Blitz was saving his knowledge of high school forensics for Rocket Science.

As a portrayal of high school policy debate, Rocket Science is an amazing work of verisimilitude. The movie opens with a recitation of stock issues, the evidence tubs are back-breakingly familiar and, at one point, the 2AC fails to point out that the NEG's counterplan is not mutually exclusive. (I kinda squealed here.)

As a movie, Rocket Science is a bit of miss. There's not a terribly convincing character arc for the protagonist, a stutterer who gets gets pulled into debate and adolescent love by a fast-talking debate gal. (Said debate gal also made me squeal). And the plot is really just a framework for wackiness.

While said wackiness is admirably executed with superb use of the Violent Femmes, ultimately Rocket Science is, as summarized by the Village Voice reviewer, "another Eagle vs. Little Miss Napoleon Dynamite quirk fest."

What debate cinema really needs is a movie that eschews some of the reality in favor of campy grandiosity. Preferably from the creative team behind Hackers.

August 14, 2007

Self-improvement as self-deception

On the plane ride to Chicago I read Neil Strauss' The Game, the bestselling account of life inside the pick-up artist (or seduction) community.

There's a lot written about the specific pick-up techniques detailed in the book, usually in the context of "How misogynistic is this?" A lot of the methods involve subtly insulting or rejecting the pick-up target (that's a lady), performing prepared routines specifically designed to build rapport (a lot of these are like Cosmo quizzes), or even forms of hypnotic suggestion.

I'm going to stipulate that these techniques work and that they are prima facie deceptive. The fact that both of these things are true raises some interesting questions about how men and women attract one another. But there's a more interesting seduction going on in the book.

It's not about sex

In many ways, The Game, and even pick-up itself, is not really about sex. Yes, that is an objective. But sex is just one way the pick-up artist measures success. Other objectives include: getting a woman to give you her phone number (known as number close) or kissing a woman (kiss close).

Referring to these acts as different types of closes is telling as this is also the language of salesmen. Extending the metaphor, one paradigm of pick-up is known as FMAC, an acronym for Find, Meet, Attract, Close. This recalls Baldwin's speech in Glengarry Glen Ross when he berates the salesmen with another 4-letter code, AIDA (Attention, Interest, Decision, Action).

The point is that power and manipulation are the fuel for this obsession. As with salesmen and their marks, there is an antagonistic relationship in which one person's will is pitted against the other.

The metaphor that Strauss uses more than once is that of a comedian. Comedians go out looking to 'kill' and, like salesman, use prepared routines to manipulate and seduce. As with comedians, the pick-up artist starts out being fearful of rejection and eventually becomes contemptuous of his targets (once he learns how easily manipulated they can be.)

The important point is that seduction is about the exercise of power and the manipulation of perception. So what are we, as readers of The Game, being led to perceive.

I want you to hit on me as hard as you can

One way to understand what's going on in the The Game is to look at the parallels between it and Fight Club. That there should be a connection between the two makes sense; superficially, both are perspectives on contemporary masculinity.

There are a number of explicit connections as well. One of the pick-up artists goes by the handle Tyler Durden. The pickup artist commune in LA is branded Project Hollywood; a conscious echo of Fight Club's Project Mayhem. Project Hollywood becomes home to an ever-increasing number of apprentice pick-up artists who live in barracks-like conditions. And the whole situation takes on a destructive momentum of its own that confounds the expectation of the narrator.

Parallels also exist at the thematic level. Fight Club is a work of seduction. The reader is seduced by Tyler Durden who declares "I look like you want to look. I fuck like you want to fuck. I am smart, capable, and more importantly, I am free in all the ways that you are not."

In Fight Club we are seduced by nihilism. But those who mistakenly portray Fight Club as a valentine to ultra-violence miss the crucial point: the reader has been deceived. Tyler is not an external antagonist at all. We are told from the outset "I realize all of this — the gun, the bombs, the revolution — is really about Marla Singer." As Palahniuk has stated, "the whole story is about a man reaching the point where he can commit to a woman."

In a way, so is The Game. After spending two years climbing his way to the top of the pick-up scene, Strauss finds a woman who is resistant to his seduction techniques. So, of course, he must have her.

The important difference is that the collapse of Project Hollywood (and Strauss' pick-up lifestyle) seems to happen to Strauss rather than because of him. The pick-up artist known as Tyler Durden turns out to be a borderline personality who ends up deriving more satisfaction from manipulating the apprentice corps than in actually picking-up women. Mystery, Strauss' closest ally in the community, falls apart from a combination of heartbreak and what seems like manic depression.

As things unwind, Strauss carefully portrays himself as being adjacent to the downfall. Mystery is suicidal, Tyler is manipulating the other guys, Courtney Love is a mess (she's a house guest at one point).

In Fight Club, the antagonist-narrator is responsible for the inevitable collapse of the male fantasy world he created. In the Game, Neil Strauss portrays himself as almost a victim of the community he helped nurture.

It's all in the game

This, ultimately, is the real manipulation in The Game. The author gets to be both a vehicle of hetero-male wish fulfillment and the guy who leaves with the girl when others wreck the party.

That Strauss is able to pull off this maneuver is illuminating if somewhat unsurprising.

At one point, the dysfunctional Tyler coins the term "stylemog" (after Strauss' pick-up handle Style) and defines it as "a subtle set of tactics, mannerisms, backhanded compliments and responses used to keep a pickup artist dominant in a group." So, too, does Strauss put himself in a position of power over the reader while feigning vulnerability.

On one hand he confesses that "a sequence of maneuvers and a system of behaviors would never fix what was broken inside. Nothing would fix what was broken inside. All we could do was embrace the damage." However, whatever Strauss considers broken inside himself is never really explored.

The more important part of this quote is at the end. By ending up with the perfect girl, Strauss has embraced his unnamed damage and treats his journey through pick-up culture as a path that had to be followed. He never would have had the courage to approach his girl without the lessons learned from pick-up.

This sort of weak-sauce Nietzschism, in which the past is justified as it led to the present, feeds into the idea of pick-up as self-improvement. Rather than seduction or manipulation, learning pick-up is a way to overcome one's limitations.

But passing off pick-up as self-improvement is highly disingenuous and purposefully manipulative. It's a way of disguising power obsession in the same way that greed can be disguised as "Jesus wants you to be rich" Christianity.

In the course of The Game, Strauss impressively manipulates women, his fellow pick-up artists and the reader of his book.

Wouldn't you be disappointed with less?

August 11, 2007

I kinda want this

August 10, 2007

For the love of God

August 06, 2007


Anil does an amazing job unpacking the reasons why it's significant that Dan Lyons is the author of Fake Steve Jobs. Go read it.

August 03, 2007

Help, please advise

Biz is wicked jealous of my exemplary dental hygiene.


Got the chompers checked out today. No cavities!

My teeth feel super-clean and ready for biting. It feels like I could tear a chunk out of a steel sandwich.