Lions and Tofurkeys and Bores, Oh My!

November 27, 2008

It’s Thanksgiving again, and as it is every year, families join together to spend four to ten awkward hours trying to avoid eye contact while eating enough to feed the Sudanese army without remorse. And while it’s a beautiful time of year, it’s also a time to reflect on those traditions that make this the greatest of holiday seasons.

Watching Lousy Football Games: Watching football on Thanksgiving is a time-honored American tradition, partly because of football’s hold on American culture, and partly because it’s an awesome excuse to sit in a basement in front of a plasma TV drinking beer yelling about why don’t you just run the ball in fourth and goal so you’ll cover you piece of garbage go back to Oklahoma you worthless prick of a coach it looks like someone’s not getting a Wii this Christmas because daddy didn’t think the coach was going to be such a cautious pansy on fourth and frickin’ goal while the womenfolk are cleaning up and doing the dishes upstairs. Of course, most of this tradition is spoiled because someone with a remarkable ineptitude at foresight a few decades ago decreed that it would be none other than the Detroit Lions that would host a Thanksgiving Day game every year. The Detroit Lions. A team that hasn’t had a winning season since they started paying players. Even General Motors posted a profit since they’ve won. At this point, the only way they could win a playoff berth is if the football shrank significantly into something a little bit blacker and rounder, they gave everyone on the team a stick, and they renamed the franchise the “Red Wings.” Of course, there isn’t even a halfway decent matchup this year, since Detroit is up against the 10-1 Tennessee Titans, an incredibly lopsided match that absolutely no one is going to watch outside of Vegas. The only good thing to come of that game is that Vince Young is sitting in Ford Field instead of around the dinner table in Houston inexplicably crying like a woman at random intervals when asked to pass the gravy.

Stale-Dated Yams: Thanksgiving is primarily a food holiday, unlike, say, the Furth of July, where meals are more often than not equated with food poisoning and salads that are in reality desserts, or Labor Day, which is about playing tag football or some form of bocce mutated so your four-year-old nephew and play without crying than it is about hamburgers and hot sausage. Thanksgiving is all about the consumption of gross amounts of food. And, of course, the preparation and anticipation of the meal as well. So it would be no surprise that there’s always some dish sitting untouched on the table. Sometimes it’s a staple dish, such as yams or cranberry sauce, that just looks kind of suspect, like maybe it sat in the back seat of the car for an hour too long, or maybe the dog retched in it when no one was looking. Sometimes it’s a well-meaning attempt for someone to appease the lone pretentious vegetarian sitting in the group, an abortive monstrosity of a disaster, a half-finished tofurkey or poorly made watercress casserole. Then, as if it’s one big guilt trip for everyone involved, that renegade dish is parceled up and handed to each family as they go out the door, baited with dark meat and rye bread leftovers, so they can be immediately thrown in the trash in the safety of everyone’s respective homes.

Making Politically Neutral Talk With Your Unbalanced Secondary Relatives: You know who they are. Distant out-of-state cousins and uncles-in-law that you see perhaps every third Thanksgiving, or perhaps an errant viewing here and there. And of course talking about the weather and how much the Lions suck will only take you so far. Eventually someone is going to mention the government, or the church, or the lone pretentious vegetarian who gave everyone the stink eye for loving the turkey so much, or the Motor Carrier Act of 1980, or Jeff Gordon, and off they go. No one wants to say anything except this guy, who knows it all and knows that if you don’t know things the exact same way that he or she does, you are an unrepentant idiot undeserving of the last slice of blueberry pie. And while you have cogent reasons for having a reasonably logical discussion with that person, you don’t, for two reasons. One is that Aunt Jane might pop in and contribute her two cents, and she still thinks the Freemasons are poisoning the wells and the metric system is just a way for the “International Bankers” (cough, cough) to take control of the oil and finance industries. And, two, there is always a chance that this person has you in their will.

Xanax: Oh, come on, like you haven’t already ground it up and poured it in the brandy you don’t think everyone knows you have stolen away in the breast pocket of your jacket.

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There Will Be Blood

November 20, 2008

In case you hadn’t heard, the film adaptation of Stephanie Meyer’s vampire slash young adult romance series, Twilight, hits theaters soon. If you hadn’t heard, of course, you’re most likely already dead and have become a vampire, thirsting for blood, violence, and an endorsement deal with the Burger King.

Of course, those of you who did not know that Twilight was soon to be released in theaters are probably those of you so sick of election news you have decided to pay no heed to all forms of media, since this vampire movie has been the cover story on every single newsstand publication from Entertainment Weekly to Golf Digest, and will no doubt be incorporated, as is required by the Constitution of the United States, into segments of The Today Show:

Matt Lauer: Next up, the global markets have been ravished by the mortgage crisis and the Wall Street meltdown. Many analysts are asking: How does this affect the vampire segment of the population? To answer this question, we have Kristen Stewart, the star of the upcoming movie Twilight, out in theaters on November 21st.
Kristen Stewart: Thank you, Matt. Glad to be here.
Matt Lauer: So what does the recession mean for young, attractive vampires?
Kristen Stewart: Well, Matt, in Twilight, out in theaters on November 21st, the global commodities exchange has been volatile lately, as financial markets are unsure of how to respond to the European Union’s actions on banking regulations, not unlike the wildly romantic escapades myself and Robert Pattinson get into in Twilight, out in theaters on November 21st.
Matt Lauer: Please shoot me now.

Vampire stories have always been a gold mine of drama and mystique. While folklore has long held vampires to be a real terror, it was Bram Stoker’s Dracula that catapulted the character of the vampire from bloodthirsty but otherwise bureaucratic tyrant to pop culture icon. Stoker’s Dracula, in particular, helped cement many of the things we now normally associate with vampires, and its impact on the literature of the era was sensational. Many literary critics see the novel as a dramatically rendered clash between folklore and modernity, order versus chaos, and virtue over vice; however, it was also a fairly subtle way in the Victorian era to talk about mind-blowing debauchery, loose women, and gonorrhea without actually mentioning the act of humping it wicked.

While garlic, wooden stakes, aversion to sunlight, and popped collars are the mainstay of vampiric culture—it almost sounds like the ugly conflagration of emo kids, metrosexual douchebags, and the Amish—Meyer’s vampires are nothing like that. They are perfectly good-looking, sashaying around like young, statuesque porcelain trying to pass algebra three and oh by the way suck all the blood out of your body.

Being targeted for the dreaded young adult market—those vaguely mature enough to handle eye shadow and babysitting but not quite wine coolers and missed periods—Meyer has sanitized these vampires for public consumption. Much of the gruesomeness of their existing has simply been fictionalized away, with no hearts being pierced with stakes and no skin turning into saran wrap when they forget the SPF 2000 at the track meet. She does feature some pretty wicked blood feuds, however, which I guess is OK. If I can’t have Martin Short and The Count beating punches chin to chin I guess a good old fashioned West Side Story with more fangs and mercifully less singing is OK.

The film adaptation has been pushed pretty heavily by marketers. My own personal observation of this is that it’s not quite the level of, say, the Star Wars franchise, where by the time Episode Three was released, by which I mean episode six, George Lucas was actually negotiating endorsement deals with individual McNuggets to squeeze every last penny of advertising opportunity from the planet Earth. However, it is fairly aggressive; a stop at the local chain bookstore revealed a remarkably well-rounded display of Twilight books and accessories, ranging from T-shirts with oddly non-vampiric but quite commercial themes to pewter jewelry that can be worn as a fashion accessory then used, later, to cut yourself while listening to Dashboard Confessional.

It’s quite possible that Twilight will be a big success; not only because of the embedded base of loyal readers and impressionable young teenagers, but because of the advertising push and media attention. Of course, it’s not necessarily a done deal, either. Most of the actors are hardly big names, and while a lot of the promotion focuses on the young, perfect characters, the movie is quite dark and potentially confusing to those unable to grasp the more intricate parts of the plot of Madagascar 2. Even if it’s a modest hit, though, it can latch onto a fan base and crank out sequels, much like the critically acclaimed and astoundingly lucrative serials such as Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Air Bud. Then again, if there is one thing that sells more tickets than vampires engaging in elaborate blood rituals and gang wars, it’s young, sexy vampires engaging in elaborate blood rituals and gang wars.


Lessons Learned

November 11, 2008

Reporters secretly hate election day. Or, more appropriately, they hate the waiting on Election Day. It may have been somewhat exciting in 2000 or 2004, when the fate of the election dragged endlessly on, and people on both ideological sides waited with eager anticipation as to the outcome. This year, of course, the outcome was pretty much known when Ohio was called for Obama (hell, it was known in October), but since most decision-makers refused to grow a pair after being momentarily embarrassed by the 2000 election, they refused to take any official stance in calling the election until well past the point of obviousness. This had two unfortunate effects. The first was that newscasters had to think of something—anything—to talk about for about four hours, so there were a lot of absurd statements such as “Well, if McCain wins Oregon and Washington and one of the congressional districts in Maine, he’ll have a 50/50 shot of winning the presidency. Assuming that he also wins California. And Mars.” The second effect is that they got to play around with holograms and big floaty maps and fluorescent colors and county-by-county results and inconsequential state senate races and breaking down the voter turnout of Hispanic-Asian vegetarians over the age of 35 and anything besides declaring the quite obvious result of an Obama presidency. This must have been insufferable not only to the 200 million voters getting drunk either out of celebration or dismay, but also to the newscasters wishing they could do the same.

The elected official who calls his constituents racist rednecks can still win as long as he dumps shovelfuls of cold cash in his district. I’m not a bang-the-drum scream-from-the-mountaintops throw-the-bums-out kinda guy. I am of the opinion that the voters get the government they deserve, even if that means sending the same condescending jackass back to Congress even though he called his constituents racists and rednecks. Perhaps people in Western Pennsylvania missed that part. Jack Murtha called his constituents racists and rednecks and still was re-elected with 58% of the vote—most likely because Murtha rivals neighbor Robert Byrd in arranging the logistics of a convoy of trucks to dump dollar bills in giant flaming sinkholes all around the Johnstown area. This would register quite a bit of outrage amongst the people and the pundits if it didn’t happen in approximately 434 other House races every year.

Foreigners know as much about us as we do about them. Americans have long been painted as arrogant self-interested bullies, unconcerned about the cultures of other countries and frightfully unsympathetic to what effects our actions have on others in this world, such as the War in Iraq and the continuing existence of America’s Next Top Model. But while many Americans hold onto vague, largely inaccurate stereotypes of foreigners—such as the French being elitist, non-productive perennial objectors or the Germans being belligerent, sausage-eating awesome car manufacturers—foreigners also have inaccurate caricatures of America; George Bush being a bible-thumping cowboy, for example, or Arnold Schwarzenegger being an Austrian. Any European who visited this country would be shocked at what they find. Sure, Americans may be rich, arrogant, and woefully indifferent to the lives of others, but at least our food doesn’t taste like animal organs and raw vegetables ground together in a paste and served with subpar wine. I’m just sayin’.

The people of Minnesota are borderline insane. Now, far be it for me to be judgmental about the good people of the land of a thousand lakes, but, c’mon. Ten years ago you elect a former pro wrestler to the governor’s mansion, and as of last count you were within a few hundred votes of electing Al Franken, whose only reasonable qualification for belonging to the esteemed Senate chamber is that he is an insufferable prick. An automatic recount is triggered in Minnesota, where incumbent Norm Coleman is slightly ahead; however, as we’ve seen in the past, counting votes is negotiable when the result means sending a vaguely washed-up comedian to go make policy. Also, for the prosecution, in the case of insanity for Minnesotans: the continued popularity of Garrison Keillor.

Saturday Night Live needs to figure out what to do for the other three years every four years. Saturday Night Live has been spot-on in the election, much like they usually are every election. However, they’ve also been largely not funny the remaining three years, and I even include the seasons in which Will Ferrell was not involved as a cast member, leaving it to others to pick up his gaping void of hamming it up, mugging shamelessly on camera, and not even trying anymore. So unless Sarah Palin stars in a reality show of some sort—which, sadly, is not necessarily out of the realm of possibility—it looks like three more years of fake game shows and twelve-minute sketches about some social meme that played itself out eight months ago. This will give them plenty of time to find a cast member able to do a decent Mitt Romney or, possibly, a black cast member to do Obama.

The people want change, whatever that means. Certainly, the citizens wanted change in the sense that they were sick of the spendthrift, clumsy way in which the Bush administration handled the economy, the war, hurricanes, science, international relations, and pretty much everything except for the approximately four months after September 11th. And while this is a wildly legitimate idea, one suspects that pretty much anyone—from Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani to Kim Jong Il and the decomposing remains of Richard Nixon—could have campaigned on change and still came in at least second in New Hampshire. This is not to minimize Obama’s electoral success, but the mere combination of hope, change, non-Bushness, and ethanol subsidies is enough to propel you to the White House with remarkably little effort.


Decision 2008: The Long, Painful Road To Something That Will Only Slightly Change How Things Will Work In Washington

November 4, 2008

Finally, in an election season that started in what seems to be around 1792, the voters will choose the next President.

Both candidates are making their last minute pitches to the American public. Despite what the polls say, there is a rather significant number of individuals who are still undecided—greater than the margin of error, the pollster’s moral equivalent of pulling out. These equivocating individuals are known in statistical terms as complete morons. That may be a bit harsh, of course, though politics has little patience for the uninitiated. There are a few exceptions as to why anyone would still not have enough information to make a decision—the Amish, for instance, or the clinically insane. The candidates are going to be bringing their message to Monday Night Football, for crying out loud, trying to latch onto the last vestige of normalcy in the public that hasn’t been inundated with small snippets of misinformation served out of context after being market tested.

Of course, given that the end-game speeches of both candidates pretty much boil down to “I mean, c’mon,” it’s easy to see why many people just want the damn thing over with.

Pundits are mixed as to whether this is a massive realignment in the political landscape or just a reaction to the combined train wreck and helium-induced self-combustion that is the last, tragic days of the Bush Administration. Some look at America and see people who yearn for health care reform, protecting the environment, and disgust with the wealthy class. Other, more realistic individuals see a vast collection of individuals who will forget about all of these things once Ashley Simpson “accidentally” flashes her hoo-ha in front of the TMZ crew.

John McCain has a desperate road ahead of him on Election Day. He is quite far behind on the polls, and is losing in nearly every battleground state. His only glint of hope is that a reasonably large number of individuals still haven’t made up their mind, and in a world where Two and a Half Men gets nominated for an Emmy anything is, indeed, possible.

Barack Obama, for his part, is campaigning like he’s already won, which in all likelihood he has. He’s reached out publicly to specific individuals, asking them to be in his administration; he’s even letting Joe Biden speak at rallies without having someone nearby with a blackjack and a tranquilizer gun. Overconfidence is always a bad thing for politicians, however; marginal supporters, assuming it’s in the bag, may be less inclined to hike it to the pools under adverse conditions, such as getting a decent tee time.

It’s also going to be an historic election regardless of the outcome. For the Democrats, nominating the first black candidate is not only symbolic but an important step in recognizing race relations in this country. If the Republicans win, there will be the first woman on a major ticket to win. It’s a far cry from 2000, when it was two white boys from Texas who won.

Of course, in Western Pennsylvania, things have turned slightly uglier than normal. Jack Murtha, a House Democrat, has been on record stating that Western Pennsylvanians are basically racist and may be willing to vote against Obama simply because he is black; after apologizing, he effectively noted that we weren’t racist but merely “redneck.” (In a world where there is an actual flourishing market for fake bull testicles to attack to your vehicle, this is probably more of a feature than a bug.) Western Pennsylvanians aren’t necessarily any more or less racist or redneck than anyone else, at least on paper, but they also tend to not be fans condescending politicians. So much so that Murtha may only win with 55% of the vote instead of 70% this time. (As an aside, Pennsylvania is one of the few states that mandate that all state liquor stores be closed today. I feel this is wrong, since if there’s any day in which you need a stiff drink, November 4th is it.)

There are pitched battles of ugliness throughout the national elections as well, particularly for the Senate. The North Carolina Senate race has turned sour, with motherly incumbent Elizabeth Dole dragging out the “all Democrats are atheists” horse and flogging it publicly, something normally discouraged in practice by the Methodist Church. The corruption trial of Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, who, at 1,500 years old, is the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, concluded that he was guilty and effectively ceded the race to the Democrats, reducing the number of Alaskan Democrats that are not currently serving in Congress to be about 50% or so. In Minnesota, they are seriously considering electing comedian Al Franken to the Senate, an absurdity ranked only above the completely ridiculous notion that any state would elect a former professional wrestler to the governor’s office.

But on Tuesday night—or, more probably, next Friday three weeks from now when all the court challenges have been exhausted and the pundits have worn themselves out with barely-legitimate rationalizations about minutia and both Diebold and ACORN have been drug out into the public and flogged by members of the Methodist Church—we will finally know who our next President will be. In either case—whether it be the messianic Barack Obama or the underdog maverick John McCain—there are going to be lots of people getting piss-ass drunk Tuesday night. And there’s nothing quite as uniquely American as that.