The Indubitable Dweeb
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» Posts from May, 2010

May 26, 2010

That Ain’t Irony, Son: The Hipster T-Shirt Dilemma

Hipsters have taken irony from us. They’ve co-opted it and mutated it into a sad little shell of what it once was. Just as they’ve done with The Golden Girls. Irony to the hipster is nothing more than creating a clash of symbols. Which is really just sarcasm, not irony. One only need examine these snippets of conversation I overheard at a recent Dirty Projectors concert:

“Check it out, I’m wearing a trucker hat. No, I don’t truck. Too many carbon emissions. I ride a bike. It’s ironic.”

“How about this knarly beard? Am I lumberjack? No. Clear-cutting is appalling to me. I work in IT, but I do own a Bonnie Prince Billy CD. Ironic, huh?”

“My T-shirt? Why yes that’s a BP logo. Why? Because I despise them. Irony at its best.”

It’s the T-shirts that get me the most. It’s rare to find a T-shirt that’s ironic by itself. This one succeeds. These do not. Yet if you search “ironic t-shirts” on Google, you’ll think that every t-shirt with a pun or a flippant quote is ironic. Alas, situations provide irony. Catchphrases do not.

Now, I’ll give hipsters some credit. They’re not necessarily buying the corporate produced T-shirts that are clearly aimed at them. They’re scouring garage sales and thrift shops and boxes in their parents’ attics looking for something unique. But there’s nothing ironic in a skinny, pasty hipster girl wearing a T-shirt that says 1993 First Team Bucks County Nose Tackle. It might get a few thumbs up at a Jonathan Lethem reading, but that’s the opposite of irony, because that was the intended effect. She wanted to impress like-minded people. The T-shirt would only be ironic if it produced the opposite of the desired effect, in some synchronistic way.

For instance, imagine the girl wore that T-shirt to a town hall meeting where the debate of the night involved tearing down an art gallery  to put in a football stadium. She may be trying to voice her indignation in the form of an absurd, illogical T-shirt. But what if the town board saw the shirt and said, “Well, we were going to turn down the stadium proposal, but obviously the town is full of football fans, most notably the skinny, pixie-haired girl, who once challenged the status-quo by succeeding in an arena traditionally ruled by obese black men. Football stadium approved!” Now that’s ironic.

The picture above shows a mugshot of a man wearing a “World’s Greatest Dad ” T-shirt. Skirts the edge of irony, but it ain’t quite it. Turns out the man was arrested for soliciting a 14-year-old online, certainly not the actions of the planet’s finest father. Ironic? I’m still not convinced. It’s disturbingly contrary, like a terrorist donning a peace sign, but it isn’t ironic. For his sake, part of me wants to imagine he is a dedicated hipster, and he wore this shirt, and committed this crime, so that I would blog about him and say he is the greatest ironic prankster of his generation. But I won’t do that. Because I believe in the integrity of irony. And I believe this guy is really just a pervert.

May 25, 2010

Lost in the Afterlife

I’ve been poking my head around the web to see what people thought of the Lost finale. There’s a fair amount of disappointment, but just as many people who thought it was beautiful and touching. There’s also a ton of confusion, and I might as well start by stating the obvious. The island was real. They did not die during the plane crash. They all lived and died on their own timelines and reunited in the afterlife. There is no doubt about this.

I didn’t adore the finale initially, but now that I’ve let it sink in, I’m appreciating it more and more and discovering that the “answers” so many people were looking for have been there all along. They’re all tied to the afterlife concept.

The Island was the gateway to the afterlife. The afterlife needed to be protected, because it contained the dreams and desires of every man and woman. And it was too powerful for the living (and magnetic compasses) to handle. However, it was leaking from the island. Some were trying to escape from it. Some were trying to harness its magic. It healed, but also corrupted. Time travel and ghosts and monsters and miscarriages and Star Wars references and all other sorts of nonsense were born from it. Yet only in death, and only if you put the love of others before the love of yourself, were you granted entrance to it. And that’s how the show ended.

Hokey? A bit. But the theme of the show was always about being lost. And every character, from Jack and Kate to Ben and Locke to Jacob and his Mother, was lost. Physically and spiritually. The viewer was lost as well. Sifting through the mysteries and trying to find a key to solve it all. Turns out, by leaving so many mysteries unanswered, the show is providing the template for an afterlife. And now that Lost has died, the key is to piece together that afterlife in any way the viewer wishes. Why were Walt and Aaron special? Who built the statue? Who was shot in the out-riggers? You decide. It’s the only way the narrative can live on. The only way the light can be protected. The only way the blog posts and term papers and theses can keep coming.

I, for one, am grateful for that, but I won’t be writing about Lost anymore, cause I’m not sure you all care. But in order for you to care about future posts of mine, I give you the following order. Join Netflix. Watch Breaking Bad. Thank me.

May 17, 2010

Lost and the Last of the Groundhog Days

The latest season of Lost premiered on February 2nd, aka Groundhog Day. It was a joke, a cheeky clue for the audience. Because they introduced a major plot device in the premiere. It’s come to be known as the “flash-sideways” narrative and it’s essentially a big “what-if.” What if the characters had a chance to do it all over again? What if the circumstances were different – no island, no smoke monster, no Geronimo Jackson spinning on the turntable? What would have happened to these poorly reared, trigger-happy pawns of science and faith? The answer seems to be that their pesky destinies would have eventually tracked them down anyway. In a week, the series will come to a close, and hopefully we’ll have a better idea about what exactly is at play.  But if Lost peddles anything, it peddles ambiguity. And the faithful aren’t shy about hitting the bulletin boards to shout their opinions and theories. The internet might bust a spring or two in the hours after the finale.

I can say with a certain amount of confidence that most people will not be discussing Groundhog Day. The wink-wink-nudge-nudge premier date will be just another piece of Lost trivia, no more significant than the Hurley Bird. The date was a reference to the movie, of course, and on the surface it doesn’t seem to be much more than that. We’ve all seen the movie. A cynical weatherman played by Bill Murray lives the same day over again and again, until he finally gets it right and becomes a man who can love and play the piano.

I remember when Groundhog Day came out. It was a hit, though it barely beat forgettable fare like Dave and Cool Runnings at the box office. Critics thought it was enjoyable and clever, though they hardly thought it was earth-shattering. A better than average comedy – not much more. Over 15 years later, Groundhog Day has become not just a favorite of the revisionist cineast, but a genuine classic. The Writer’s Guild considers it the 27th greatest screenplay ever written. The New York Times even put it in a list of the Ten Best American Movies. Of the 1990s? No. Of all time! Say what you will about the existential implications of the film, about searching for meaning in our post-9/11 world. It makes for a good term paper, but I don’t think that’s the reason the film has gained such a following of late. The reason is TBS.

If you turned to the cable station TBS in the late 90’s and early 00’s, it’s likely you would have seen Groundhog Day on more than a few occasions. TBS syndicated it and played the grooves off the thing. Over time, the film worked its way into the DNA of many a channel surfer. The more familiar you became with it, the more you enjoyed it, because it was offering you the experience of its main character. You were living the film over again and again. You began to anticipate plot points (Ned Ryerson punch in 3, 2…), and the exact words and inflections of the dialogue (“Too early for flapjacks?” “I’m a god. I’m not the God.” etc.). In other words, you learned to be one step ahead of it.

Repetition and familiarity have served Groundhog Day better than just about any film in history. It is its essence. Because of the internet and DVRs, people don’t channel surf anymore. So it’s unlikely that any other film will be able to take such a covert route to classic status. Word of mouth will create the cult followings, and blockbusters like Avatar and The Dark Knight will be anointed masterpieces as soon as the Thursday night sneak-preview receipts come in. Another Groundhog Day will probably be lost in the mix.

On the flip side, the legacy of television shows have benefited greatly from technology. With DVRs and Hulu and Netflix and so on, viewers can watch a television show at their leisure. Breaking Bad in a weekend? It’s doable (and recommended!).  They can also study a television show in depth and in slow motion and in freeze-frame and every which way they want. No show has been studied more closely than Lost. Check the comment sections at Entertainment Weekly. Better yet, look at Lostpedia. The detail would make a Trekkie (sorry, a Trekker) faint. I’m a fan but holy smokes, guys! Turn off the TV and computer screens every once in a while. Shoot some hoops. Drink a beer. Dance with a girl.

The creators of Lost undoubtedly read these sites. They must if they want to keep one step ahead of their fans. And each week they see how certain ideas fly and if something’s not in the can, they rethink their plan. They adjust. They try again. People complain that they seem to be making it up as they go along, but how could they not? They can’t guarantee whether one actor will stick around for the entire run, or if a character will become a pariah on the level of Jar Jar Binks. For the last six seasons of Lost, the creators have rolled with the punches, and learned, and gone down different paths to get to the end. And now the end is finally here.

It reminds me of that last day in Groundhog Day. Bill Murray’s weatherman takes his well-earned wisdom and he puts it to the best possible use. He lives his life the way it should be lived – naturally, honestly. The Lost finale must do the same. Not everyone is going to love it, but if the creators want to escape from the perpetual “what if’s” that plague shows like Seinfeld and Battlestar Galactica, then they can’t go with gimmick or gotcha. It must be natural, honest and earned. The pressure is huge, but the payoff…well, let’s hope “it’s a doozy.”

May 14, 2010

Does My Cultural Radar Need a Tune-Up?

I have taken a vow of silence. A week back, I received a ticket to attend an advance screening of a big Hollywood film that premieres later this summer. I went to the film and signed some piece of paper saying I wouldn’t release information about it and I plan to hold true to that pledge. I know first hand how advance reviews can occasionally sour enthusiasm. All I will say is that during the screening, people cheered and clapped and I was absolutely flumoxed. It wasn’t the worst film I’d ever seen, but it was, to put it lightly, rather awful. And yet clapping. Cheering even. For one liners and kisses and such.

I’m going to attribute it to peoples’ excitement at being the first to see something. They were so invested in believing that they saw the next colossal hit, that they whooped and whistled their doubts away and went home and updated their Facebook profiles with something along the lines of “Guess who went to a big Hollywood premiere? I probably won’t respond to any messages for a while, cause I’m guessing I’ll be grabbing cocktails with Matthew Lillard and Eddie Furlong later. So suck it, zeroes.” Now consider this. No one was cheering when I went to see Avatar, and that movie’s box office dwarfs the GDP of many a nation. The Navi need not get their braids in a twist. I doubt the film I just saw will challenge their record.

Then again, maybe I’ve completely lost touch with the public. Maybe it will be the hit the world’s been waiting for. I’ve been wrong before. There are a few things I was sure would bomb, but went on to be wild successes:

Middlesex by Jeffrey Euginedes – I read this book months before it was released and while I could appreciate the scope, I was sure it would derided for being a blatant rip-off of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. Homage is one thing, but I felt Euginedes took the ideas, the form, even certain plot points of Rushdie and transplanted them with far less elegance and wonder to Greeks in the upper Midwest. I didn’t think Euginedes would be run out town with pitchforks, but I thought more than a few critics would wag a finger at him. But no. Oprah pick. Pulitzer winner. Modern classic. And no Greek equivalent of a fatwa to deal with. Go figure.

The Big Bang Theory – Not the actual theory, which I knew the kids would love. I’m talking about the television show. I think I watched the first episode or two of this sitcom and wrote it off as formulaic tripe. Virgin nerds fumble around a pretty lady while trading Star Wars metaphors. Insert laughter. I figured it would last a couple seasons with a “well, nothing else is on,” viewership, but it has become a verified hit. And critics dig it. I’ve poked my head back in to see if it’s changed. It hasn’t.

Communism – My buddy Karl assured me he was onto something. I thought it was some hippie BS. “Go back to the drum circle, Karl. Go date a girl who wears skirts and jeans at the same time, Karl.” But one toppled tsar, a shining path, and an arms race later, and it’s still kicking around. Even in our White House, at least according to my most trusted news source: Victoria Jackson.

May 6, 2010

Our Interview with Faisal Shahzad

In the first of what we hope are many journalistic coups, The Indubitable Dweeb has managed to land an interview with the erstwhile most-wanted-man-in-America, accused Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad. We asked some tough questions. He gave some surprising answers. No matter what you think of miranda rights and the role of bloggers in the reporting of terrorism, you’ll want to read this fascinating journey into the mind of a man who a few days before was just another immigrant, another face in the crowd.

ID: Let’s start with your name. Faisal Shahzad. That’s not a name most Americans are familiar with, or certainly comfortable with. Is there something else we can call you? A nickname? Anything like that?

FS: Sure, sure. A lot of people, they call me Fievel.

ID: Like the cartoon mouse?

FS: Exactly! An American Tail. It’s a funny story actually. Back in Pakistan, when I was a kid, my sister and I, we use to love to sing together. Duets, you know? There was a talent show at the local mosque and we signed up to do Close My Eyes Forever, which is a song by Lita Ford and Ozzy Osbourne.

ID: We’re familiar with the song.

FS: Showstopper, right? Anyhoo, the night before the talent show, we see this movie. This cartoon.  And there’s this song. Somewhere Out There. It’s sung by cartoon mice and it’s out of tune and it’s almost like a bad Andrew Lloyd Webber ballad, but damn it, it works. I’m telling you, it absolutely breaks your heart. So we ditched the ripped jeans and teased hair which, come to think of it, weren’t exactly Taliban-friendly, and we sported some rags and mouse ears and sang Somewhere Out There. And we killed. Just blew the beards right off the crowd. The next morning, people started calling me Fievel. “Keep wishing on that same bright star, Fievel!” That sort of thing. A few years later, I went through a Gomer Pyle phase, I tried to convince people to call me Shazam!, but it never took. It was Fievel then. It’s still Fievel now.

ID: You are aware that Fievel is Jewish, aren’t you?

FS (after a long pause): But he is a mouse?

ID: Yes. A Russian Jewish mouse. His last name is Mousekewitz.

FS: No. You’re wrong. I have the blu-ray at home. I watch it once a year. I’m pretty sure he’s Chechen or something.

ID: Fair enough. You’re entitled to your interpretation. In any case, do you find yourself relating to Fievel’s story.

FS: You know, I do. I was an immigrant to America, just like him. I’m not particularly fond of cats, just like him. There are a lot of coincidences between our stories.

ID: Did Fievel ever try to blow up Times Square?

FS: Well, no…but that doesn’t mean he didn’t want to. It’s never stated explicitly, but I’ve always assumed that sometime before he reached America, Fievel travelled to Pakistan for some training in explosives. There’s a scene where he unleashes the Giant Mouse of Minsk, which is this big mechanical rodent that shoots fireworks from its head. Genius stuff. Where did you think I got the fireworks idea from?

ID: So your attempted bombing was based on ideas found in a Don Bluth cartoon?

FS: Most attempted bombings are. Remember last Christmas when that kid tried to light his crotch on fire and blow up that plane? Straight out of All Dogs Go To Heaven. The original title of the film was actually All Dogs Go To Heaven Where 72 Virgins Are Waiting For Them, but they shortened it because it didn’t fit onto marquees.

ID: We find that hard to believe.

FS: I find it hard to believe that Linda Ronstadt never won a Grammy for her performance of Dreams to Dream from the sequel Fievel Goes West, but it’s true.

ID: So you enjoy Linda Ronstadt, Ozzie Osbourne and Lita Ford, as well as the films of Don Bluth and the catchphrases of Jim Nabors. Any other recommendations?

FS: Tango and Cash.

ID: Who do you relate to more? Tango or Cash?

FS: Today? Cash. Definitely having a Cash sort of day today.