November 23, 2010 § Leave a comment

High School Musical 3 follows Troy and Gabriella and company through their senior year of high school, ending with a heart-touching (not) number about how, even though the former classmates are traveling to opposite ends of the country to pursue their personal goals and dreams, they’ll remain friends forever. Millions of kids sat through those 90 minutes and likely believed every word of it I. I’m guessing that the few adults who attended either criticized the entire time or submitted themselves to 1.5 musical, colorful hours of the willful suspension of disbelief. Through this movie, Disney seems to be claiming that friends are forever. At least, they are in Hollywood. In front of the camera, never behind.

Even though life doesn’t usually work out that way, people still like to hope that it will. In my opinion, that hope is a big part of the reason HSM3 made $16.5 million on its opening day. Granted, a lot of the income was from elementary and junior high girls who just wanted to see Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens sing and dance. But I’d venture to argue that part of the appeal is the message that the movie portrays: the message that friends are fairy-tale quality and that all the people you like will like you back and that those you love will never leave your side.

As we grow up, we learn that this isn’t the case and that life is hardly a Disney movie. But we still like to dream. So I paid my $8 and sat through all the catchy songs and Zanessa nonsense and realized that, even though I was cynically criticizing the characters for claiming they would always be together, they were all doing and saying exactly what I had done and said. I used to have that same hope. As a kid, every time I met a new set of friends I thought, “these will be my buddies forever.” I was always wrong. At first it depressed me, because I missed my friends. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that an ideal social situation is not the one advertised at the end of HSM3, because for that scenario to work, time would have to freeze. But like it or not, we can’t stay in high school forever. (Thank god.) Life is constantly, fluidly moving forward and hence so must be our circles of friendship.

You get friends specific to your location and circumstance, and when either or both of those things changes, so does your peer group. The change isn’t a bad thing — in fact, if you were forced to drag the same set of friends through all of your life’s changes your social life could get unreasonably tiresome. In other words, “We’re all in this together” may be sung with jubilation at the beginning of high school, but its an anthem of doom to adult life.


True Life Haha

November 22, 2010 § 2 Comments

Joking about terrible diseases is a terrible thing to do, because thousands of people worldwide are afflicted with, debilitated from, and killed by the horrendous maladies so unfortunately ubiquitous amongst mankind. But for some reason, making fun of these illnesses is one of the funniest jokes available. I watched a show on MTV with some of my friends called “True Life,” a show that finds kids with some kind of defect and follows them around for a couple weeks documenting their difficult life. This particular episode was about a couple of kids who suffered from Tourettes Syndrome. The show incited disgust and sympathy amongst my friends, but that is as far as our benefactorial spirits would take us. The remainder of the weekend was not spent raising support money for Tourrettes research or thanking god that True Life isn’t making episodes about us; rather, it was spent jokingly excusing every fumble with “I have Tourettes.”  It was funny, and it never got old. (And believe me, there was a lot of stumbling and tripping and dropping things that summer weekend.) We probably could have marketed our own show — “True Life: We’re Horribly Insensitive But We Don’t Care.”

But I don’t think are actions are as disrespectful as they first appear. True, no healthy person should mock another less healthy person. But I think laughing about it is partially a cover up of our fear that it could happen to us. Additionally, speaking lightheartedly about evil traumas is our own way of celebrating the fact that we don’t have that disease. Everyone’s going to die someday of one thing or another, so while we’re healthy we eat drink and merrily mock those not so fortunate. Because soon enough, karma will catch up and it will be our turn to fall.

He likes to think and drink pink ink

November 20, 2010 § Leave a comment

So there’s this kiddie show called “Charlie and Lola.” It’s about these two little 2D cartoon British kids who go around doing ordinary daily things like eating and schoolwork and recycling newspapers to save the earth. For some reason, little kids love it. The show, while mundane, has a unique charm, and I have at times been drawn in if not by the cute characters than by the effect of a well-turned British phrase on a case of sheer boredom. (“I feel absolutely completely dreadful, Chawlie!”)

While I was watching one day, Charlie and Lola were enjoying their afternoon snack: biscuits (that’s the British word for cookie) and milk. PINK milk. Pink milk is their favorite.

Why do little kids love turning food wrong colors? For some reason, it’s fun for them. Breakfast cereal, candy, juice, jelly, you name it — people marketing to younguns make sure its sopping with Red #40 and Blue #5.  If you don’t believe me, check the grocery store. And then when people graduate from childhood and get their I-Am-Now-Officially-A-Boring-Adult diploma they suddenly think wrongly-colored food disgusting. Instead of Fruit Loops they eat Raisin Bran without the raisins and and the Frosted Flakes without the frosting and Lucky Charms without the lucky or the charms.

I dare you to re-release your inner child and put food coloring in everything you eat and drink for an entire day, and enjoy it. Pink milk. Absolutely and completely charming, Chawlie.

The Painful Truth

November 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

Why do we like to laugh at people getting hurt?

I think it all boils down to the fact that humans thrive on similarity, and pain is something we, unfortunately but universally, share.

My second hypothesis is that as subjects of occasionally awful luck we like to watch karma dish itself out once in a while onto other people’s heads. It is under this assumption that America’s Funniest Home Videos has made a fortune and aired for years. For the sympathetic soul, watching it is half cringing, half laughing. Haha their ATV tipped over, haha they fell through the trampoline, haha they slipped on the bathroom floor, haha they crashed into a window, haha haha haha haha! That looked like it hurt. Hahahahaha!!!

Most of the humor in The Three Stooges is slapstick comedy of the hammers-dropped-on toes variety. So is the humor in Bugs Bunny. Disney’s Pinocchio falls down the stairs. In the Home Alone movies, the bad guys get bricks dropped on their faces, step on nails, and get their hair set on fire. None of these instances are meant to satisfy sadistic urges or model behaviors; they are intended to make people laugh. And I think the reason it makes us laugh is that it reminds us of ourselves. We make mistakes all the time and so, while it feels almost wrong to laugh at this type of entertainment, in reality we are really only laughing at ourselves. So watch the stooges guilt-free and laugh until you pee your pants, because there really isn’t any substitute for vicarious tomfoolery.

A comedian died last night, Rorschach (Watchmen) says. But his death, though tragic, was a comedic act in itself, for every brutal tragedy invents another shade on the comedic color wheel to add to the ironic palette of humor.

YouTube is America

November 11, 2010 § Leave a comment

YouTube is a wonder of the modern world. It’s a stroke of genius, a constantly morphing art, and an conglomerated exhibition of both the fantastic and the mundane. But the really interesting thing is how it is just another way in which American citizens exercise their first amendment rights. The U.S. was founded in part to build a nation which allowed, valued, and encouraged free speech and entrepreneurship, and thankfully that hasn’t fundamentally changed too much these past 224 years. Immigrants came to America in centuries past to start new lives; in the land of the free, a farmer could become a stock broker and a slave could become an Olympic champion.

That rags to riches storyline has manifest itself once again, this time in the binary world of one’s and zero’s. Ladies and gentlemen, meet YouTube: the online worldwide video blog where you can star in your own video for the viewing pleasure of all mankind. Or you could post a cartoon. Or a song you wrote. Or time-lapse photography or song lyrics or videos of your break-dancing toddler. Most of the time, a few videos per week go viral and the rest remained unnoticed except by their creators. But every once in a while, some skinny teenager videotapes himself singing songs and playing the piano in his bedroom and a few years later he’s the youngest performer ever on Comedy Central and his video has 13 million views.

It doesn’t matter who, or where, or even what you are; on YouTube everyone — with a computer, internet connection, and a webcam, that is —  has a fair chance. And this is how YouTube is like America.

Don’t misunderstand this post to mean that YouTube represents all that is free and good and beautiful. YouTube is what you make it and how you use it, and it can be a black hole of a time waste and a source of lots of nasty stuff. But after sifting through the raunchy material and pointless garbage, YouTube’s true assets can be mined. It’s microphone for the unheard; it’s a gallery for artists and a respite for the lonely; it’s a voice for the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses yearning to be heard above the roaring 21st century. YouTube is a gateway, the Statue of Liberty for cyber-America symbolizing that here, at least for now, you can be, say, and do whatever you want. Three cheers for the Red, White, and BlueTube.

The Almighty Comic

November 11, 2010 § Leave a comment

As long as you offend everyone, nobody’s feelings get hurt. I find it somewhat strange that in today’s ultra politically correct society, the most offensive people get off Scott free. I don’t mean the hate speakers, I don’t mean the far left or the far right, I don’t mean homosexuals or anti homosexuals or abortion rights activists or deforestation advocates. I mean the comedians.

As far back as the middle ages, and probably farther, comedians have occupied an under-recognized but over-needed position in serious culture. From the jesters in the royal court of yesteryear to YouTube comedians of today, they make us laugh, by pointing out the strange ironies in life, poking fun at authority, and mocking everything under, above, and around the sun. And though they’re ridiculous, we listen to them, because its cathartic quality relieves us momentarily of life’s burdensome somberness.

One thing that separates comedians from the rest of society is their prerogative to be profane, crude, offensive, and blasphemous in ways that would get ordinary citizens and public figures alike chided at best and imprisoned at worst. The comic gets a 24/7 hall pass through the school of life that lets him frolic along, saying all the things we wish we could say but are under too tight of a societal grip to actually express.

No matter if you’re RayWilliamJohnson making jokes about aids or tosh.o laughing at drunk sorority girls or Stephen Colbert making fun of George Bush or even Tom Bergeron from America’s Funniest Home Videos laughing at skiers crashing into trees — they’re allowed to make jokes, to poke fun, and to mock mercilessly. We’re allowed to laugh too, but only very cautiously.

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