Were just waiting for a volume of Jersey Shore-inspired poetry that managed to relate Snooki's pajamas to nineteenth century chemist Friedrich August Kekulé von Stradonitz's reverie-revelation of the molecular structure of Benzene? Then LOOK NO FURTHER, my friend! No joke, I like these poems.
As A.O. Scott puts it in this essay on 2010's long list of based-on-true-(or-maybe-true)-stories, documentaries, pseudo-documentaries, maybe pseudo-documentaries, and so on. There are some nice points in here, such as this fine summary of the unease I felt the day after watching (and thoroughly enjoying) Catfish:
...the way the directors pivot from credulity to shock at her deceit does not entirely ring true. Surely, young adepts of the Internet like these New Yorkers would know better than to take Facebook self-representations at face value. By insisting otherwise, Joost and the Shulmans manage the trick of looking like patsies rather than cynical con men. For most of the movie, they sustain the idea that they (or at least Nev) are innocent dupes, even as their film is built on, and ends by affirming, the assumption that they are smarter and more sophisticated than [their subject].
Well said. (Although Scott missed the other shocker about Catfish: Nev's tramp stamp, revealed halfway through the movie.) And yet, I wanted this essay to be twice as long and come down harder on a few of the questions raised. Or not raised. I still want to see someone to argue that plot and character contrivances in The Social Network, while fabricated, make the movie more true, in some sense, than the reality. Or at least they get at some broader truth not inherent in the nonfiction elements. I'm not saying that's what I think. Or maybe I am. But I'm not competent to make the case myself, so I hope for someone smarter to come along and roll it all out in fine prose so I can sit back and read it with a coffee and say: "Indeed!"
Between the aggressive, violent rhetoric on today's political right and the sharply worded grievances of the left. Because there's a difference between, say, wanting to impeach Bush for starting a war under false pretenses and using slogans like "by ballot or by bullet," raising the spectre of "second amendment remedies," or drawing a target over congresspeople who want to provide health care coverage to all Americans. But it certainly seems like Jared Lee Loughner's attack was less a sociopathic political statement through violence (as one might describe McVeigh's in Oklahoma City, for example) and simply a cold break in reality, as evidenced by this scoop in Mother Jones, which is the most interesting thing I've so far about Loughner's delusional, near-Albigensian motivations.
Collections of imagery culled from Google Street View have been around for some time now, but Jon Rafman has the best eye for discerning the funny, surprising, and poignant moments captured by what amounts to the most extensive documentary photography project of all time. Google's endless mechanized street surveillance is the ultimate photographer: fast, tireless, nearly everywhere, and often invisible, allowing a candid glimpse of the world that would be distorted or even prevented altogether by the presence of a person pointing a lens. With no active photographer, the camera makes no decisions; the beauty is all in the editing, and that's what Rafman is so good at. Some recent favorites:
And this one might be my all time favorite (for obvious reasons):
I love this picture so much, I don't know where to start. A yard sale, perhaps. But is the insouciant alien with an attitude as bold as his bandana for sale -- or is it actually his sale? Maybe he's been out there for hours, and is on the verge of napping? Or just bored from his time on Earth.
But recursive resolution cookies! From Yummyfun, an account by Laura Krafft of Starlee Kine's most recent step towards converting life into performance art, by convening friends to bake their 2011 resolutions into cookies and then devour them, thereby assuming their power:
“Here’re the cookie pics. Some of them are pretty obvious: run more with your dog, don’t bite your finger nails (that’s what the finger cookie is, a depiction of the monster inside of Joshuah Bearman that demands his fingernails.) Josh also wants to get a convertible, finish his book and work out more but not so much where he looks like a snowman. My friend Kevin Tseng made the cookie with “like” crossed out because he’s, like, trying, like, not to say like, like, so often. My friend Ronni Kappos is a jewelry designer and made a beautiful cookie necklace to symbolize the upcoming year but it broke so Josh and Starlee made her a new one. Ronni’s twin sister Marina wants to learn Spanish (“hola”) and make a web page (the cookie with the “www” on it. It’s upside down in the pic which could make her look like she wants to be a seagull.) I like the cookie equation Starlee made where finishing writing her book equals peace of mind. Starlee also made the cookies where she’s at the movies with her future boyfriend drinking a slurpee. Sarah McMurray made a cookie symbolizing “better hair” (one of my favorite resolutions ever) but she ate it right away. My plate is the one with the human heart and a star and bear because I want to find love and learn more about stars and I want to get over my fear of sleeping outside, and I can’t tell you the other ones because they’re too dirty for Yummyfun.”
Pictures at Yummyfun. But why look at pictures when you can have a movie?
In years to come, there will be fewer obituaries like this one: "Frank Bessac, scholar and adventurer, died at 88." Former OSS officer turned anthropologist in Mongolia on the eve of the Communist takeover of China, Bessac walked from Inner Mongolia to Xinjiang to Tibet, where he was received by the Dalai Lama, one of the last foreign visitors before the Tibetan leader's exile. How many people will be able to tell that kind of tale on their deathbeds when childhood of the late twentieth century settled into just watching a whole lot of the Brady Bunch/Thundercats/Saved by the Bell/Etc.? An account of Bessac's trek was published at the time in Life magazine, which begins on page 130 and opens with a great lede:
"If I'd have known what I was letting myself in for when I decided to study Mongolian anthropology, I’d have quickly left the subject for the Mongolians."
We may be five days into 2011, but it's not too late to take one last look at 2010, especially since it turns out that my Wired story on Gerald Blanchard wound up on a couple of year-end favorites lists, at both Longform.org and Longreads (both of which are favorites of mine, so the feeling is mutual). I love many writing round-ups, Longform's Best of 2010 especially; I've already discovered many great pieces that slipped past during an entire year of reading triage, including some by pals James Verini, Devin Freidman, and Molly Lambert. And it was a nice surprise to get a Google Alert to this item, at a Washington Post blog I'd never seen before, called Story Lab. (And featuring by the impossibly -- and Franglophonically? -- named J. Freedom du Lac.)
As the Air Force has done: Medusa's lapidogenic vision was actually used against her. In fact, it was classic asymmetrical warfare: the vastly more powerful Gorgon's Stare against mortal little Perseus and his shield. But the Perseus was smart, his shield was shiny, and Medusa's strength became her downfall. Maybe not the most portentous title for a "mission-critical battlespace implement" to be deployen in Afghanistan?
It's been a good couple of years for new species discovery, even mammals, even fairly large mammals, but I'm not sure what to make of this dude:
Cryptozoologists everywhere must be rejoicing. Whenever a big and new animal is discovered it offers hope -- and proof! -- of the possibility that sasquatch/yeti/orang pendek/et. al. are still out there, lurking in the forests, cunning enough to remain undetected for all these years. But I don't know about the snub nosed monkey. That's the only specimen ever recorded (and it was eaten immediately thereafter), and it even looks like the fakeries of explorational yesteryear, when taxidermy chimeras where brought back form places mysterious proving the existence of this or that mythical creature. So don't get your hopes up. Besides: why not be satisfied with the truly new species? You don't need to hold a torch with sasquatch when you have an adorable purple cartoon octopus friend from the deep!
The Zombie Zeitgeist A full scale movement is on the lurch. But why the best zombie movie ever made a video game?
Believer interview with Mark Allen Digital artist and awesome gallerist Mark Allen talks about Tekken Torture Tournament and other projects where people were wired to machines and did strange things in public.
Believer interview with Marjane Satrapi Enlightening Q & A with the Persian cartoonist, memoirist, quick conversationalist in which she declares: “THE WORLD IS NOT ABOUT BATMAN AND ROBIN FIGHTING THE JOKER; THINGS ARE MORE COMPLICATED THAN THAT.”
Yeti Researcher Yet another 100-page issue of the world's top academic journal devoted scholarship about the Yeti, Bigfoot, Sasqatch, and other mystery primates worldwide. For researchers and lay audiences alike, the latest YR features a history of Sasquatch sightings in southern California, an update on the wily orang pendek of Sumatra, and a new look into Teddy Roosevelt's obsession with bagging a Bigfoot. As Editor-in-Chief, I promise you won't be disappointed.
Panda PowerPoint! I guess I don't mind being "the entertainment" when it's at Mark Allen's second annual Holiday Fry-B-Que. Presented: preliminary findings from my ongoing research into the most charismatic megafauna of all: Giant Pandas.
McSweeny's Presents: The World, Explained | Dec 9, 2006 For those who missed it, there will be more. World, Explained is going strong! Money was raised, laughs were had, and for those paying attention, small amounts of useful information about things like the aurora borealis were transmitted. Plus: Michael Cera = lovably funny. And Nick Diamonds' renditions of Dumb Dog and Hanging Tough are still in my head. As is that horribly catchy Fresh Step jam.
Jest Fest at Skylight Books Somehow I wound up hosting the 10th anniversary jubilee for Infinite Jest at Skylight Books. Because who doesn't love a jubilee, right? Despite being delirious with Hepatitis A (that's the mild, non-lethal kind; I'm not at risk for Hep B since I always go the needle share and choose clean-looking prostitutes), I managed to not mis-pronounce anyone's name and make an erudite joke and poke gentle fun at Michael Silverblatt.
McSweeny's Presents: The World, Explained | June 10, 2006 Number Three! Last one was sold out so we moved to a slightly larger theater. Andy Richter hosted, and his opening exegesis of CSI: Miami warmed the people up right. Evany Thomas presented her very scientific findings on the Secret Language of Sleep; Starlee Kine bared her neuroses to the world (or at least the 300 people in the audience); Josh Davis showed video of his 135-lb self sumo wrestling a 550-lb opera singer from San Bernardino; and Davy Rothbart closed it out with some Found Magazine magic. Grant Lee Phillips, Sam Shelton and Zooey Deschanel provided the music punctuation! I can still hear their rendition of We Are the Champions.
McSweeny's Presents: The World, Explained | Feb 11, 2006 The second in our series of precision comedy and fact-based entertainment extravaganzas benefiting 826LA. Patton Oswalt was kind enough to host, and Jon Brion joined in on the piano and guitar as thematic accompaniment. Presenters included: David Rees, Michael Colton, John Hodgman (along with his hirsuit troubadour, Jonathan Coulton), and me. Plus: a fashion show of exciting multi-user garmentry.
Little Gray Book Lecture at Galapagos How to Observe President's Day. Jonathan Coulton's technical wizardry has made this entire show available online. The summary from PRX: Sarah Vowell, John Hodgman and Joshuah Bearman on Presidents' Day, along with a fifteen-piece marching band and a new song about all forty-three presidents. My contribution? Yes, from Yeti Researcher. Again. Actually that was the first one. So I have only five stories!
July 25: TJ to LA -- A Night McSweeney's Readings I was honored to be part of a strange triptych along with Salvador Plascencia and Josh Kun. Sponsored, somehow, by La Ciudad magazine, we all packed into Beyond Baroque with no air conditions. 150 people showed at 7 o'clock on a Friday evening, which we took as a good sign of something. Sal held up and anxiously discussed drawings from his novel, Josh delivered an essay on the Dr. Moreau of Tijuana, and my shtick (again) was Pac Man and metaphysics, this time with fun slides.
October 8th: Skylight Books w/Stephen Elliott Fun times were had by all. Someone in the audience actually mistook me for an expert on the psychology human character. We ate shrimp cocktail and drank cheap wine and laughed at Bush and celebrated the certainty of right besting wrong in American democracy. A lot of good that did.