Flights of Fancy

October 7, 2007

One thing that will baffle me to the end of my dying days is the airline industry.

The entire industry confuses me, but nothing confuses me more than how much it seems ingrained in peoples’ lives and how little it probably should. I’m not going to say that flying is an uncommon occurrence, but most people I know that aren’t big-shot businessmen or international terrorists don’t fly very often, and even if they do it might be maybe twice a year. It is hardly the core of anyone’s life that I know. And yet for some reason if one small tiny detail about a flight turns out to be anything more inconvenient than cashing a check at the bank without the proper ID people will go absolutely insane with fury.

Specifically, it appears that people are extraordinarily upset when they dress like tramps or idiots and are peacefully confronted with their choice of attire.

A few months ago, a young lady of questionable modesty boarded a Southwest Airlines flight wearing what appeared to be three quarters of a washrag not quite wrapped around the general areas surrounding her naughty bits. It was one of those outfits that would seem fine so long as she never stood up, sat down, bent over, or inhaled, because if she did, there would be a show most people in America would have to pay to see. There was no mistaking where her erogenous zones were. Of course, immediately upon asking her if she would be so kind as to not flash her vajayjay all over creation with the rather unremarkable suggestion that she change or at least cover herself with a blanket, she suddenly found time to put her career as a Hooters waitress on hold to clutch gallantly at the First Amendment, crying real tears of freedom because a private corporation transporting men, women, and children didn’t think our forefathers fought and spilled blood at Lexington and beyond so young innocent girls like her can dress like street walkers on their way to such glamorous activities as a doctor’s appointment.

Thank goodness her mother came to the rescue, explaining that her daughter “dresses provocatively, as do 99 percent of 23-year-old girls who can.” “Everyone else is doing it” has worked wonders for every person whose precious, precious freedoms have been trampled underfoot by such moral crusaders as the Board of Directors of the various aeronautics companies.

Of course, this would be little more than an offer from Maxim magazine for a photo spread to demonstrate exactly what particular parts of her body were having their free speech rights violated if it weren’t for the fact that things like this seem to happen more often than they should. Another incident occurred only a few days ago, when a young man wearing a novelty T-shirt with a mildly amusing yet rather vulgar slogan (involving the description of a fictional fishing shop known for its skill at baiting hooks, arranged with rather unfortunate phrasing) was asked to change into something else or turn it inside out or something, least of all find some form of whatever self-respect is left of a 30-something year old guy who still advertises the fact that he still finds sexual innuendo funny on his apparel. He did end up changing his shirt, realizing that standing up for your rights is important, but not as important as missing your connection at O’Hare, and it’s best to bitch about it afterwards on the Today Show with Matt Lauer anyway.

Now, I’m a little bit less sympathetic to this second guy. The poor girl getting the ole once-over earns a small amount of compassion from me, since I have a soft spot in my heart for the more alluring parts of women, which just barely outweighs my complete frustration of listening to a crybaby whore complain about not being allowed to do whatever she wants whenever she wants. The guy with the T-shirt, though, just seems like another sausage trying to relive his frat-boy years by sticking it to the man, which, in this case, is a bankrupt industry trying to please every old woman from suing them because they were offended by a stupid juvenile shirt.

And, seriously, who wears shirts like that anymore? The “Co-ed Naked” and “Johnson’s” T-shirts weren’t even all that funny when I was in high school, and those were the days when every sentence that had the words “head” or “hard” or synonyms thereof had me pissing myself in uncontrollable laughter.

Still, one has to give both sides of this unfortunate story credit. The airline has to try to please everyone, from easily offended grandmothers to those who somehow think civil liberties supercede private property rights in any and all cases unless you happen to be rich. And the passengers have to stand up so young people can dress like sluts and morons. Because if they’re not going to fight for the previous few sluts and morons in this country, who will?

This Video Game Heroine Can Be Used As A Floatation Device

February 23, 2007

Eidos Interactive has recently announced that they are releasing the 10-year anniversary edition of Tomb Raider, a pioneering video game that brought to the game-playing public’s consciousness that a strong-willed, highly intelligent female archaeologist can truly make it in the male-dominated world of video games, so long as she is scripted as being clever, exciting, interesting, and has huge, gravity-defying cans.

Every once in a while, a video game is able to capture the imagination of 12-year old male adolescents everywhere. Usually, it’s a mixture of graphical exuberance, wanton violence, and hackneyed I’m-the-first-person-ever-to- listen-to-Pink-Floyd-lyrics misallocation of wasted wonderment. Tomb Raider upped the ante, so to speak, by adding one more ingredient to the recipe: latent sexuality. How this particular element of gaming had heretofore eluded the video game industry can only be attributed to the marketing concepts that game developers came up with and wrongfully discarded, along with stealing cigarettes from gas stations and detailing the various trials and tribulations of one Deeper Deeper.

The well-endowed protagonist of the game, Lara Croft, soon became a mascot of sorts to those impressed with the blending of incredible graphics and single-minded imagination. Not that Croft’s sexuality is really all that much of a factor in the game proper. Just like any other game, there’s plenty of mindless shooting, jumping, and trap-avoiding, but it just so happens in this case the person doing all that shooting, jumping, and trap-avoiding is trying to hide two overinflated basketballs under her blouse.

Personally, I only played the game once and was fundamentally unimpressed. Mostly it was due to the fact that, as far as I can remember, the first level involved trying to shoot something like 13,000 bats moving at the speed of light in a dimly lit cavern with what appeared to be an ancient artifact known as a Glock 22, an activity roughly equivalent to standing in Madison Square Garden and shooting a three pointer at a basket located on the moon 13,000 times in a row. So I ended my game unceremoniously by trying to get the camera angle to get a good, salacious overhead shot until getting bit to death by a slow, steady stream of winged vampire rats, a process that took roughly a fortnight.

But, lackluster gameplay aside, Lara Croft quickly became either a 1) archetypical feminist icon, representing a very underdeveloped concept in the testosterone-dominated video game market, or 2) a glorified and blatant sexual stereotype catering to the base emotions of the overwhelmingly juvenile demographic that purchases these types of games. Those of use who are astute enough to not be in the camp of those who hunt and seek attributions of virtue onto anything of social insignificance or those who relish the superficial qualities of media icons and stop before they delve any further before they inadvertently discover something of consequence know that in real life, those two qualities—role model and prurience—are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Thank goodness.

Still, as interesting as all of this is, even I was appalled at how much Lara Croft’s sex appeal drove the game to new commercial heights. I was astounded that such a little effort in “accidentally” bumping the 150% button on 3D vector graphics applications when the mouse was hovered over the funbag area would have such a big impact on sales. And this is coming from someone who at one point seriously considered purchasing Manga-themed dishware at full retail.

The instant media sensation of Lara Croft’s attributes as an action heroine was surprisingly robust as well. She appeared on every one of the two thousand gaming magazines in existence in the 1990’s, each in a different provocative pose, such as posing with a gun in her left hand, posing with a gun in her right hand, and posing with both hands on her gun. Some even came with Maxim-style photo spreads, centerfold and all, with Croft in swimsuits or revealing evening wear. The emphasis on her physical attributes seemed to be an almost unconstructive distraction from the actual development of the game itself to an almost negative degree, or even to her face, which until well into the series has a very angular, Geena-Davis like quality to it.

The popularity of the Tomb Raider series quickly eclipsed that of the video game industry. A highly profitable movie based on the game was released in 2001, starring the stunningly underendowed Angelina Jolie (and, perhaps uncomfortably, her real-life estranged father, John Voight). While it promised to be a hypersexualized version of Indiana Jones, a disappointing second movie, released in 2003, effectively ended the franchise as a motion picture venue. The video game series, however, has continued to be a moneymaker, even as Croft’s dimensions have been reduced and more emphasis has been placed on gameplay, apparently in the hopes that the 12 year olds who bought the game in the mid-90’s are now in their mid-twenties and therefore are no longer interested in sex.

Still, the impact of Tomb Raider on the industry as a whole seems to be pretty minimal. There have been few strong heroines that have penetrated the market, aside from Dixie Kong and the Virtual Jenna Jameson. And the push-this-stone-to-make-that-stone-move style of game has given way to more WWII first-person shooters than there were actual soldiers in the European theater and one new Everquest expansion approximately every six hours. Still, the evolution of the video game market being what it is, we’ll no doubt soon see a massively multiplayer Vichy France environment where all of the now-female soldiers’ cups, of course, runneth over. I, for one, can hardly wait.

A Blonde Descent

February 18, 2007

Sometimes, I lie awake at night and hope that things, when taken in the full context of our times, used to be a lot, lot worse. There is some unended chapter in the 1960’s or ’70’s, where, if we were to invent some form of time machine and take a virtual snapshot on some camera, no doubt developed by Apple (presumably called the iTime iCamera or something) and find that things were much, much crazier and more hedonistic than they are now. I do, I lie awake at night and I hope.

Not that it’s going to do any good, of course.

I’m not one to usually follow the various self-inflicted trials of celebrities. Sure, I’ll listen with amusement at the latest television star to be caught in an affair, and I’ll laugh heartily as another movie star gets caught with a DUI, and I’ll scratch my forehead in puzzlement at yet another nightclub shooting. Actually, I like hearing about how people who make more undeserved money than me screw up, because then when I put the coffee filter in wrong or forget to mail the mortgage payment I can smile mildly to myself in a self-congratulatory sense of entitlement. At least I didn’t pass out drunk at a truss boutique on Rodeo Drive.

But lately the absolute frequency and intensity of misbehaving young starlets seems to point more towards the supply end of the graph than the demand. Sure, it’s great to see some young blonde get her (ahem) comeuppance, but when everyone’s doing it, no one is shamed. And there’s much more by way of surprises than I’m comfortable with.

Anna Nicole Smith’s behavior has been reliably unfavorable, a remarkable feat for a woman who has been dead for at least week. She has an ambiguous, incoherent will that is going to tie up the probate courts for (no doubt) decades, though one has to concede that it’s still more lucid than anything she’s verbalized in the last ten years or so.

The newest problem child is Britney Spears, whose increasingly erratic behavior has raised more than a few eyebrows in…well, pretty much the studio of Access Hollywood and maybe per parents’ house. But even her latest adventures are close to slapping the “crazy” tab on her. After a few days of rehab rumors swirling about the tabloids, she shows up at a modest tattoo parlor and demanded to have some body art added to her already remarkably tousled appearance, specifically on her wrists. Now, I’ve never been very fascinated by tattoos—not on myself or others—and it’s not from some fear of needles or, more logically, hepatitis, it’s just that I have an inherent aversion to activities with little positive contribution to someone’s well-being and an extremely expensive opt-out cost, in this case presumably successive skin grafts or some Star Trek laser they developed at the Robert Schuller Deprogramming Clinic and Health Food Laboratory, Inc. But if there was one place I would not want to have a tattoo—besides, you know, there—is the wrist. There’s just too much in the over/under in that transaction to make me think a permanent body art representation of a Chinese proverb that unbeknownst to me really means “I Crave It From Behind” is best displayed on one of the weakest areas of your blood flow continuum.

Of course, you would think that the story would stop there, but if you did, you not only haven’t been watching a television in the past fourteen centuries or, hopefully and more likely, you have successfully blocked out all reports containing information about Spears as a colossal waste of time and effort for everyone involved in society. (Which, by the way, means you shouldn’t be reading this right now.) Previous to receiving her tattoo, Spears took a razor from a conveniently nearby salon and shaved off all of her hair. This, of course, being somewhat of a shame, since Spears’s hair seems to be the last part of her body that hasn’t been sold out to the highest bidder.

If there is one look that is pretty much confirmed as not being particularly unbecoming, the female bald look is it. It didn’t particularly work for Sinead O’Conner, the only other pop star who deliberately shaved her head to make up for her talent of not having any talent. It’s not hard to believe that she’s doing it in a moment of guilt and weakness to desexualize herself after effectively whoreing out her wholesome image at the expense of her dignity, and wants to bring back even a small modicum of self-respect to her new role as a mother. Either that or she has lice.

This stands in stark contrast to her perceived arch-rival in the total skankification competition, Christina Aguilera. Spending the last few years in kind of a low-key, whore detox schedule, Aguilera managed to redeem herself with a presentation at the James Brown tribute at the 2007 Grammys. In what has generally been a well-received performance, she belted out “It’s A Man’s World” with such force and enthusiasm it can only be assumed that she either had to pass a kidney stone or trying to sweat out the gin, either of which could be perfectly amenable to be a fitting emulation to the Godfather of Soul.

It’s hard to bring up that much moral outrage about all these young girls. Since Hollywood cracked open its doors almost a century ago, young actors and actresses have misbehaved publicly and brutally ever since Clara Bow’s amazing display of muscular conditioning and gastronomical tolerance in terms of volume astounded the world, or at least the collegiate football system. It’s no wonder than they succumb to the pressures of stardom, but it does add a little bit of perspective as to how things work in our society. When Russell Crowe goes on a four-day bender and leers at the teenagers down at the mall after suckerpunching the waitress at Appleby’s, it’s on the news for the next three weeks and adds a few million dollars to his asking price. When our Uncle Jim does it, we call it Tuesday.

Anna Nicole Smith, RIP

February 10, 2007

Anna Nicole Smith, actress, model, and control group for intelligence, has died. Parts of her were 39.

Smith, a former Playmate of the Year, has had a reasonably seasoned and controversial career as a model. Her unique mix of outrageous behavior and girl-next-door innocence made her a celebrity. But her dramatic home life, which she made no effort whatsoever to keep from the public eye, enhanced her popularity beyond Brangelinic proportions.

The death of Smith by a probable drug overdose has surprised many people, the same people who were surprised at the fact that Hillary Clinton is running for president. It’s an unfortunate fact that Smith has had a long, public battle with substance abuse, one of the many, many hurdles she has had to work to overcome in her life, along with obesity, grammar construction, and being Texan.

Smith’s goal in life was to emulate Marilyn Monroe. In many ways, she succeeded by becoming a blonde sex bombshell, causing controversy with her sexual openness, and having a cyanide capsule anally inserted into her body by the mafia to cover up an affair with Bobby and Jack Kennedy.

Granted, their career paths differed in many ways as well. For instance, Marilyn Monroe has been on record as being able to successfully tie her shoes without there being a step involving inserting ground up coca leaves in her nose. And when Marilyn had sexual relations with Hugh Hefner in order to get on the cover of his magazine, it didn’t require significant pharmaceuticals to be injected directly into both of their bloodstreams in order for them to finish to completion, though for completely different reasons altogether.

Smith has somehow managed to become a legitimate figure not for her occasionally coherent outbursts or her limited acting roles, but through the behavior of her quixotic marriage to an oil tycoon, the WASPishly named J. Howard Marshall. Despite there being a 60-plus year difference in their ages, Smith professed that she loved him with the same amount of conviction in her voice that she uses when proclaiming that TrimSpa isn’t just a placebo that tastes like cough syrup and sawdust.

A golddigger marriage isn’t enough, in and of itself, to legitimize Smith—if it was, half the women in the world would be on the front page of the New York Post. However, when Marshall did something entirely unexpected—die at the age of 90—then it became a newsworthy item. Smith and Marshall’s family have fought a decade-long battle for his estate, which totaled in the billions. The escalating legal battle went all the way up to the Supreme Court, and much was made in the media of the admittedly lightweight Smith walking into one of the most austere institutions in America’s government. Many pundits were concerned that Smith may not feel comfortable in such a serious, grandiose setting. Thankfully, despite the Supreme Court’s honorable tradition, there was, indeed, plenty to make her feel at home; Clarence Thomas kept a stripper pole in his chambers, William Rehnquist kept a full stock of amphetamines hidden in his top drawer, and her and Ruth Bader Ginsburg discussed their favorite lap dancing techniques.

Alas, the court case is only a small part of the drama. She recently gave birth to a daughter while in the Bahamas, and only a few days later her son, Daniel, died of a drug overdose while visiting his newborn sister in the hospital. Then, the paternity of the daughter came into question. Smith declared her lawyer, Howard K. Stern (he insists on using his middle initial so as not to damage his, uh, reputation) to be the father, but a few others seem to have a valid claim for parentage, notably Larry Birkhead, Frederic von Anhalt, and, at least statistically likely, Kevin Federline.

Smith’s descent, unlike most people, was televised, and usually with her encouragement. She appeared on many of the entertainment magazines and awards shows with slurred speech and ambiguous statements. Her reality TV program, The Anna Nicole Show, was a surreal look into her private life, which seemed to chiefly revolve around her dog Sugar Pie having amorous feelings towards unfortunate inanimate objects. While it introduced many characters in this unfolding real-life drama, such as Stern and Daniel, it also opened up an entirely new view into the weirdness that was her life. In ways, it was funny, but it was mostly sad. (In case you’re wondering, both funny and sad make plenty of money.)

Still, many people are legitimately saddened by her passing, while others are irritated that this is more than a one-day story. The seemingly disproportionate interest in the tawdry is hardly a new development, yet Anna Nicole Smith walked that fine line between Cracker Jack prize and cultural icon, never quite slumping drunkenly one way or the other. Unlike other notorious deaths, however, it’s the sad fact that for most people her real legacy will probably be bounced around the 9th circuit court of appeals for the next decade or so. For the rest, her legacy will live on as long as that May 1992 issue is floating around.