Thursday, March 29, 2012

BLOGGING LOOKING FOR ALASKA pt. 10: Transcript #001

OK let's do this. Blogging Looking For Alaska, the audio version. I've had this idea for a while--that I wanted to record myself just TALKING about LFA, and then transcribe it, in blog form, to see I guess what the difference is between writing and talking. For me, anyway, I suspect it (the difference between writing and talking) is probably different for everyone. So anyway, THIS blog post that you are reading is actually what I said. INCLUDING this part, I am saying this part right now, for me to transcribe later (and it turns out it is hard! I talk fast!).

And in all likelihood I will figure out a way to put this audio up, as an MP3, which you can download for your listening pleasure, if you'd rather do that sort of thing. And the link to it will be, let's say, HERE.

Anyway. BLOGGING LOOKING FOR ALASKA, part 10. When we last left our heroes, Pudge, who--I've been calling him Miles, but we're gonna have to start calling him Pudge, because that is what he is called in the book. He's Pudge. I've been pretending that's not true, but it is. PUDGE took a basketball to the ol' noggin, and then threw up on his date Lara's lap.

I would be surprised if some enterprising nerdfighter hasn't already put up like a picture on Tumblr that says "In Soviet Russia, Lara throws up on YOUR lap!"

84 Days Before (Hey, it rhymes!)

It starts raining at Culver Creek, like a lot of rain, like there are multiple references to Noah and the Flood. And the first one is cute, and the second one is like WE GET IT. And the third one is like, I don't know if there's a third one, but TWO IS PLENTY.

And Pudge goes a couple days just seeing Alaska, not talking to her, and then one day he finally does. And there's this very Hemingway section:

"Indeed," she said. Her wet hair hung from her head and mostly covered her face. I ate some. She ate some.

And he asks how she's been, and she says "I'm not really up for answering questions that start with how, when, where, why, or what." Which is basically all questions unless you're the kind of person who asks a question like "The fuck?" Which is what I would say if someone said something like this to me.

But clearly we're in the MDPDG phase, the Manic Depressive Pixie Dream Girl. OK. And he asks if he's done something wrong because that is what guys do, and she says "Of course not, Sweetie" in a condescending way because that is what girls do. And Miles acts like he could never possibly understand her problems, and you get the sense that her problems are part of what makes her so fuckable to him. And that makes sense, because that is what, I'm sorry, WHITE MALE AUTHORS do. They think that they are being progressive by saying, "Hey, you know what? I even like the fact that this girl is a bitch sometimes!" And they don't realize that that is just as--it's worse! It's like when Esquire does that thing where they're like, "Hey have you guys noticed, for the sixty-second consecutive month, we have noticed that women are more than just walking vaginas for putting our dicks in? They're good at stuff other than sitting on dicks! They talk with their mouths and say words! And we enjoy the shape of their mouths while they talk, but we also listen to half the words or so!" Farbeit for me to speak on behalf of all women, but I think I can speak on behalf of white women (obviously), when I say: they would probably rather you just say you want to tit fuck them rather than obviously AVOID saying you want to tit fuck them and then act like you deserve a medal for avoiding it, like it was SO HARD TO DO.

76 Days Before

Once again we have one of those things where a woman acts in a complicated way, and John Green does a relatively fair treatment of it, and then a male character calls a girl a bitch on the next page. The Colonel is talking about his girlfriend, whatever the fuck her name was, and he has an epiphany that she was a bitch, which I feel like is the same epiphany he had last time he thought about her, and I don't care about her, and I just want everybody to move on. I want the Colonel to move on. Not because I care about him at all as a person but because I want him to SHUT UP.

So then The Old Man, the spiritual lynch pin of this book or--ugh--I could SAY he's the central philosophical figure of this book, and then I'd turn the page and Pudge would say, "He's kind of the central philosophical figure of this book!" Anyway he comes in and he says "Now, about this Jesus fellow..." and we go "Oh, that's a funny turn of phrase!" And a thousand vlogs were born. And the Old Man has a nice little speech about Jesus, which only makes me a little bit uneasy because one of you told me that this book was actually conceived as a Christian novel? And that makes me feel dirty, like you nerfighters tricked me into this shit.

But anyway he ends with "But Jesus was special because he lacked wealth and noble birth, but inherited the ultimate nobility: King of Kings. Class over. You can pick up a copy of your final exam on the way out. Stay dry." Which is nice in one of those "I wish you way more than luck" type things, but also he's talking about Jesus so I don't really care. So the final exam question is "What is the most important question human beings have to answer? Choose your questions...then examine how Islam, Buddhism and Christianity attempt to answer it." (Which is like a question that gets less and less interesting as it keeps going on--also, Islam, Buddhism and Christianity? I feel suspicious about the content and order of that curriculum. Like, he's two weird exotic things and here's The Way The Truth And The Light! CLASS OVER!)

So the Colonel and Pudge are talking about what they might do for the exam and then Alaska comes running toward them and she's screaming and being hysterical, in that way that bitches are, because maybe they are having their lady-times, but obviously Pudge will understand because he is the Great White Hope. And she's upset because the guys who tried to murder Pudge have now "pranked" her by flooding her dorm and destroying a lot of her books (what is with these guys and the water torture?). And a crime against a book within a book is a crime that we should ALL feel bad about. But the Colonel doesn't seem that down about it, he says it was a good prank. But also adds "God will punish the wicked. And before He does, we will." Like some Boondock Saints shit. There is a time that would have worked on me.

67 Days Before

We are moving at a pretty rapid clip toward whatever this thing that happens is. And I'm not just skimming faster because I'm talking now and because my voice gets tired faster than my hands do (LADIES...). We're really moving fast, jumping eleven or twelve days at a time. So more Noah references (luckily the rain didn't last for forty days because I would have been like FUCK YOU PUDGE) and then the rain stops. And Pudge is reading about the Civil War which he mentions as being known around his parts (gross) as The War Between The States, which is one of maybe like THREE times that he acknowledges the cultural differences of being in the South. There is no racism in this book, because there aren't any black characters to speak of. And it's fine that there aren't any interesting cultural observations--you can set something in Alabama and not talk about that. I'm sure there are at least five or six people in Alabama who are not racist, and maybe this book is about those five people, but don't bring it up at all! If you're gonna not with the thing, you know?

Pudge mentions that a lot of the people who died in the war had good last words (I mean the odds are just in your favor there, what with the THOUSANDS UPON THOUSANDS OF SENSELESS DEATHS but never mind that, let's get to the cleverness!) like a guy who was asked if he was injured and he said "Yes, and I fear seriously" (very witty way to die, nice job). Takumi shows up, superfluously, and he gives Miles an oatmeal cream pie, and he bites into it and says "Mmmm, hundreds of delicious calories per bite," and I wrote next to it OH RELAX. Seriously.

Takumi has a purpose, for once, he is bringing along some information that couldn't conceivably come from one of our major characters (OH that is why he is here). He tells Pudge that Alaska ratted out her roommate and her boyfriend who were fucking and getting high and you know, doing fun stuff while our heroes were talking about, I don't know, math and french fries.

So Alaska is the rat; she got caught leaving campus with booze and the principal said Tell me everything you know or go home. Which doesn't strike me as a particularly realistic administrative policy, but apparently everybody knows That Is How The Eagle Does Business. This guy, who will later be presented as an upstanding, good person--we don't leave this book with an unfavorable opinion of the Eagle. But he is a corrupt cop, I guess.

And because Omerta is so important at Culver Creek, the fact that Alaska is a rat--oh, she's a bitch AND a rat, how is Miles every going to fuck her again? I'm sure he'll find a way. But he is very upset about this new revelation. And maybe we are supposed to be too? They speculate why Alaska would be a rat rather than just get expelled, and guess that her home life is probably not so good (and there's a problem that LEGITIMATELY should increase Alaska's fuckability, girls who hate their parents are TOPS).

Nevertheless Takumi makes Pudge promise that if he ever gets caught critically, he will NOT be a rat, he will not give up information about, you know, the fact that the Colonel keeps vodka in his milk and weed in his own shit, or whatever. And Miles says yes, of course, I will fall on my sword before I give up my comrades. And of course he says that to Takumi, because fuck him, who cares what you tell that guy?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

SKINS S1E7: Tony 2012

This episode starts with Michelle punching Tony in the face and then kicking him in the balls. In other words, we're off to a great start. And it's not the last time Tony takes one on the chin (I swear that isn't a blowjob joke) either--Sid gets fed up, too. Compared to the relatively grim conclusion of "Maxxie and Anwar" (Anwar is relegated here to simply sitting in the background and glaring) this episode is downright redemptive, with Sid and Michelle and Michelle's step-father ALL making positive changes and not even ultimately backsliding! A thing like that!
It's also a pretty funny one--there's a great bit of business involving Angie, Michelle, and ringing cellphones. There's also a great use of rack-focus during Cassie's only scene (let's hear it for Cassie, by the way, right? CASSIE!!!), in which she simultaneously busts Sid's and her new boyfriend's balls.
The plot, in short: after watching Tony suck a dude's dick, Michelle finally decides to dump him. While she's at it, she tosses Jal aside too, but it's kind of a friendly-fire death. Meanwhile Sid realizes that he actually DOES have feelings for Cassie at exactly the wrong moment.
While visiting Cassie at Willy Wonka's Rehab Centre, Michelle gets asked out by Josh, who is the brother of that Posh Bitch with the intense teeth that Tony likes for some reason. It goes well, as in sex, except for the way Josh constantly reminds Michelle that he is mentally unstable and needs to stay medicated at all times. Cool story, bro.
And Tony walks around quoting Shakespeare while pieces of sky repeatedly fall on his head. Later, when he sees Michelle and Brother Posh together, he flawlessly executes a bizarre heist, stealing the guy's cellphone and sending sexy pictures of the dude's sister out to his contacts. Michelle is one of the recipients and takes this as confirmation that Josh is crazy. And you know, he probably is,* even though he didn't actually do this. So whatever, something something will out. And Tony's plan doesn't work anyway, because Michelle declines to return to his (Tony's) unloving embrace either.

(*And even if he isn't, he really annoyingly pretends he is.)
Tony quotes Romeo & Juliet throughout, but a play better suited to his tastes is probably Titus Andronicus. The speech from Aaron The Moor is Tony's philosophy (or, the philosophy he claims to have) in a nutshell:
Even now I curse the day—and yet, I think,
Few come within the compass of my curse,—
Wherein I did not some notorious ill,
As kill a man, or else devise his death,
Ravish a maid, or plot the way to do it,
Accuse some innocent and forswear myself,
Set deadly enmity between two friends,
Make poor men’s cattle break their necks;
Set fire on barns and hay-stacks in the night,
And bid the owners quench them with their tears.
Oft have I digg’d up dead men from their graves,
And set them upright at their dear friends’ doors,
Even when their sorrows almost were forgot;
And on their skins, as on the bark of trees,
Have with my knife carved in Roman letters,
‘Let not your sorrow die, though I am dead.’
Tut, I have done a thousand dreadful things
As willingly as one would kill a fly,
And nothing grieves me heartily indeed
But that I cannot do ten thousand more.
I mean, Tony hasn't dug up a dead body yet but give him time.
The above passage from Titus Andronicus was quoted in a recent Radiolab episode ("The Bad Show") and is also used on an album by the band Titus Andronicus (natch). Speaking of Titus, they've got a rad new song I have been listening to CONSTANTLY. It's called "Upon Viewing Oregon's Landscape With The Flood Of Detritus" and you can check it out here.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Hunger Games Movie Open Thread

So, like, how was it?

Various Links (I'll update over the weekend)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

BLOGGING CATCHNG FIRE pt. 2: The Reverse Margaret Atwood

OH HEY I had another post about Catching Fire just hanging out in my drafts, SO HERE IT IS! None of this is particularly comprehensive, so if you haven't read the book it might not make any sense? But I actually think CF is worth a read, as opposed to The Hunger Games. In the next week or two on this blog, look for 1. A return to Skins recaps 2. Something about the end of Catching Fire and something about Mockingjay in general. 3. Maybe a return to LFA? I'm not sure. The vote on Tumblr was mixed. ANYWAY, back to fire catchin':

Part II: The Quell

Shit gets exponentially totalitarian in District 12 because President Snow is working out his anger on the rebels by punishing Katniss. What's funny is that eventually, everybody will acknowledge the fact that Katniss has only a symbolic role (albeit a powerful one) in the whole war effort--which should be obvious already given that it started without her and is now going on without her, away from her--and even Snow (eventually) seems to know this. So the fact that he'd waste so much time and energy making her miserable is weird, but whatever, and eventually he announces that since it's the 75th Hunger Games, they're going to mix it up. Former winners from each district will fight it out (So yeah, Catching Fire is to Real World/Road Rules Challenge as Inception is to Scrooge McDuck or whatever). Since Katniss is the only living female champion from D12, she's in.

So she gets drunk with Haymitch and they make a pact to protect Peeta at all costs. Now, the getting drunk thing is kind of great and subversive at first--teen drinking! Never mind that girl has SEEN SOME SHIT and deserves a drink every now and then, but still! But Katniss wakes up with like, the worst hangover of all time and makes sure to note, several more times, what a bad, bad idea drinking is. Teens: Katniss is lying to you.

Once we're back in the Capitol (Haymitch gets picked for the games, which would have been BADASS, but Peeta volunteers in his place. Fucking Peeta!) in the Capitol, the rest of part II consists of escalating acts of political subversion. Cinna dresses Katniss up in a terrifying Black Swan number for the parade through the city. Which is nice, because girl has been White Swan for a half a book too long. For real though, that section of the book is pretty gnarly.

But then another stupid thing happens. SURPRISE. Katniss is getting in a elevator and this chick Johanna Mason (who I visualized as Joanna Newsom) starts talking to her. Johanna is complaining about her outfit for the just-finished opening ceremonies, and then she just gets naked and keeps talking to Katniss. So far, so good.

But once she leaves, Peeta laughs at Katniss and tells her that the other victors are making fun of her for being prudish. That all of the weird encounters she has had with them so far have been intended to mock her purity. Peeta points out her unwillingess to see him naked back in the arena in the first book (I mean he doesn't say "Remember in the first book?" but anyway). So we already know about the sins of excess at the Capitol—they of the ipecac parties and all that shit—and the Hunger Games themselves are the crass violent fixation of a corrupt, evil society. So why do we have to bring sex and nudity into our crosshairs, too? You guys know that I am a champion of sex and nudity, so this shit really offended me.

Dig it: Katniss, our hero, is righteous and tries to avoid unecessary violence and is generous with food and money. Enemies at every turn do none of these things, as Katniss is the opposite of them. And now the other thing that bad people do is fuck. Now one of Katniss’s most important traits is that she is “pure.” She’s killed some people, but she’s a virgin. Katniss = purity, charity, nonviolence, and now ABSTINENCE. The Capitol = excessive violence, greed, and now SEX. Having sex, therefore, is essentially suggested to be as bad as killing, as bad as tyranny. All excess is the same. Except: Oddly, the only sin that seems to be okay for the righteous side of the fight is alcohol and drug abuse. Okay! I don’t feel good about these themes.

But I do like Katniss's slutty new friends, Joanna Newsom and Finnick Odair (for the record, I picture him as Michael Fassbender and I think you should too).

And if you're doubting this purity argument that I am putting forth here, well:

At the interviews before the Games, Katniss and the other victor-tributes pull on heartstrings (some of them are super old, some of them have families) to win audience support. And then Peeta causes a near riot by implying that Katniss is actually pregnant. Uh-oh. Best of all possible worlds, this could be a cynical, crass use of Potential Baby Life--Peeta exploiting the sympathies of the lay-folk to win support (like, you know, many Republicans).

But this is not a cynical, crass use of Potential Baby Life, and in fact Katniss very quickly makes sure we don’t draw that conclusion, thinking “Well, yeah, I COULD be pregnant. And after all, the Capitol DID take away my ability to safely have children.” (And before this, Suzanne Collins is even vague—OBVIOUSLY she's fucking vague—about time Katniss and Peeta spend in bed. They aren’t fucking, but it is written in such a way that you might accidentally think they are, and that she really IS knocked up, for a little while. Suzanne Collins mistakes confusion for depth.) So now the weapon against the excessive, sexually promiscuous Capitol is the potential life of a (fake but again that doesn't matter) baby! LIFE BEGINS AT CONCEPTION, PRESIDENT SNOW! The Hunger Games are as bad as an ABORTION! Guhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Couple this with the misguided, vaguely condescending racism and the whole rationing/starvation motif and you basically have a sci-fi series written by Newt Gingrich. Or maybe Peeta IS Newt Gingrich. And Gale is John Galt. Seriously, is that guy going to ever do anything other than get his ass kicked?

I've omitted pretty much all of the depth and shading in part 2, so please fill in my blanks in the comments.

Monday, March 12, 2012

BLOGGING CATCHING FIRE, pt. 1: The Terrible Swift Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword

I totally hated Catching Fire, until I loved it. The first half--the first two-thirds, even!--are maddening, occasionally VERY sloppily written, and also a little racist? We’ll get into it.

Part 1: The Spark

[Here’s the deal: I have a bit to say about the aforementioned troubling material in Catching Fire, but not necessarily a lot of formal shit to say about like, the rest of the series (the parts I liked, in other words). But I would like to hear your thoughts! So look for a few open-thread discussions in the coming days. Bring your A commenting game, ya heard? And today, feel free to not address anything I mention here if there's other stuff in Part 1 you want to talk about. Instead. I'm DTF, as the kids say. Wait, that might not apply here.]

We pick up with Katniss a few weeks after the end of the Hunger Games. She and Peeta are living relatively large in their new houses in the Victor’s Village--shit’s weird between them for like a day and then they work it out, sort of. I mean, you didn’t expect Suzanne Collins to allow anything to seem definite for more than a few pages, right? Katniss and Peeta were quite obviously at odds at the end of the last book, and that won’t do. We have to get them back to “sort of at odds and maybe sort of in love but unwilling to maybe say so even to themselves maybe!” So we get back to there, and Gale is kicking around but not really because he works in the coal mine most of the week--I think FoxConn does the scheduling for that shit--and everything is OK for a little while. Victors are apparently supposed to pursue hobbies, and Peeta channels his passion for frosting cakes into something a little less weirdly specific: painting. Katniss is too lazy-angry to develop an actual skill so she gets Cinna to ghost-draw dresses for her (he sends her all his stoned reject sketches and she passes them off as her own for the press). Meanwhile Haymitch wanders drunkenly around through the background of scenes, bumping into furniture. (When Haymitch got back from the Games I bet his chosen skill was “moonshinery.”) All of this is conveyed in that weird, Proust-for-people-who-don’t-like Proust present tense-flashback shit as Katniss prepares for something called a “Victory Tour.”

(I predicted, in a video after reading The Hunger Games, that part deux would be like the Real World/Road Rules challenge version of the same story. I was almost right.)

Then The President shows up to tell Katniss she’s a stupid bitch and he hates her. She’s like “huh?” but slowly realizes, over the course of a tour of the districts, that revolution coming, fast. And her first, survival-focused instinct is to find a way to keep it from happening.

Things fall apart very quickly. Suzanne Collins sets up the Victory Tour plot and we, the readers, are perfectly happy to settle in for that story. Which is why it is kind of bewildering when Collins skips over all of it, literally publishing what reads like an outline of a few chapters:
Cinna begins to take in my clothes around the waist. The prep team frets over the circles under my eyes. Effie starts giving me pills to sleep, but they don’t work. Not well enough. I drift off only to be roused by nightmares that have increased in number and intensity. Peeta, who spends much of the night roaming the train, hears me screaming as I struggle to break out of the haze of drugs that merely prolong the horrible dreams. He manages to wake me and calm me down. Then he climbs into the bed to hold me until I fall back to sleep. After that, I refuse the pills. But every night I let him into my bed. We manage the darkness as we did in the arena, wrapped in each other’s arms,  guarding against dangers that can descend at any moment. Nothing else happens, but our arrangement quickly becomes a subject of gossip on the train. 
The grammatical confusion about which events are singular and which are continuous is the least of our problems. I mean, wouldn’t you like to see SOME of this play out in a scene? I’m surprised Suzanne Collins mustered complete sentences! (“And then this happens, and then this happens, and then this happens.”-how she writes) One of the many events we blur past is AN ACTUAL (FAKE, BUT TELEVISED) WEDDING between Peeta and Katniss. It’s literally one sentence in the middle of a chapter. Huh? 

Before Suzanne Collins suddenly decides she’s sick of writing about the Victory Tour, however, we do get a brief sketch of the first stop, a tense appearance in District 11. I tried to forget, while I was reading the description of the place, that the actors playing Thresh and Rue in the Hunger Games movie are black. Because it’s more or less a slavery/prison colony. High fences, brutal guards (wearing white!), people hurting their backs and wearing straw hats, working in the fields. I started thinking Suzanne Collins never said they were black Suzanne Collins never said they were black like a mantra. But then Katniss describes Rue’s family, watching her speak from a platform, as “a flock of small dark birds.” UH OH!

And so it’s hard not to read everything after that as well-meaning but wildly racist. Katniss admires Thresh’s wizened-looking grandmother. She looks at Rue’s big family and describes them as “identical” (ha). And a wise old man touches off the moment of rebellion (I loved that Tracy Morgan line in 30 Rock about having extensive experience playing simple old black men who encourage white people to do stuff)--what happens is after Katniss speaks honoring Rue, he whistles a tune, Rue's tune. The crowd starts to push forward, and then the white guards shoot the old man in the head. Ughhhkay.

And Katniss considers their level of brutal treatment and (still in survival mode) frets that the people of D11 would be more likely to start a rebellion than her own people. This maybe wouldn’t be so fresh in my mind if I weren’t listening to David Blight’s (excellent) lectures on the Civil War, but Katniss’s phrase about a spark setting them ablaze sounds like something a paranoid member of the slaveholding class would have said in 1830. Yikes.

Once the Victory Tour is winding down, Katniss and Peeta attend an irritating party in the Capitol. Katniss contemplates what she’s seen (which would maybe be more impactful if we’d seen it too!) and can’t seem to form a coherent opinion about whether or not rebellion is good. Remember how, in The Hunger Games, Katniss recalled walking in the woods with Gale while he talked politics? And how she’d supposedy never really understood what he was saying? Once again, Katniss, our supposedly strong female narrator, defers to men for her political opinions; Peeta thinks that rebellion might not be a bad thing, and Katniss decides to agree.

That happens at the abrupt conclusion of the tour, during this fairly ridiculous section where Katniss and Peeta find out that Capitol partygoers like a drink that makes you vomit--they use it so they can keep eating food all night long. Katniss and Peeta are appalled, and Suzanne Collins takes a long time explaining how the drink works, which is weird since like, it exists in real life. It’s called Ipecac, and if you want to have some fun, search it on YouTube sometime! Anyway, note Suzanne Collins’s wide-ranging, vague distaste for excess. That’ll be important later.

ANYWAY Katniss and the gang return to District 12, where shit slowly gets more and more totalitarian. A new Peacekeeper shows up and whips Gale almost to death for hunting in the woods. The black market where Katniss used to hang out burns to the ground. Rage Against The Machine starts playing on the soundtrack.

But it still takes like another 100 pages before this book gets good.