Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Now, I'm just stumped. I give up. The man has no problems continuing Bush's state secrets and preventitive detention policies, especially as applied to Muslims arrested on the Afghani-Pakistani border, and he has shown real enthusiasm for Predator drone strikes in the same region, but he can cook keema and daal, and reads Ghalib, which is more than I can say about myself. Go figure.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Post Where I Tell You What's Up and What's Funny

I want to write a sweeping post about the death--okay, the evolution of--comedy, a result, obviously, of the Internet's fracturing of our popular culture and its promotion of quirk. But that would mean some bullshit bandying about of academese that no one -- I especially -- wants to endure (well, maybe Thumbu excepted). So, let me check my "discursives" and my "normatives" at the door, and say this only by way of opening query: Remember when only things that made you laugh out loud were truly funny? I have vivid memories of the scene in Naked Gun (or one of its sequels) where Frank Drebin uses the bathroom without detaching his microphone and everyone is made to listen to his bodily functions; that Barry and Levon $240 worth of pudding skit from MTV's The State; that Moleculo the molecular man skit that Conan O'Brien did when he was on Saturday Night Live. And I remember laughing hard at each of them and knowing that, that right there, that's funny. The first of these skits/scenes was universally funny, if the universe was peopled by awkward 10-year-old boys. The second of these ventured into some welcome absurdism, which my high school self had some appreciation for. The last of these I caught at a friend's house one Saturday night before a night out with a large group of people, none of whom got or cared for the joke. I remember standing in this friend's living room, doubled over, as ten people looked at each other, totally perplexed.

I have since watched all three scenes/skits and find them notably less funny than when I first watched them, but I don't think this diminishes their value at all. The thing to note is that all three at one time in my life made me laugh out loud, really hard. Why is it then that these days so much of what passes for humour in our popular culture evokes maybe a half-crooked smile? Robert Downey, Jr.'s minstrel show in Tropic Thunder? Virtually every moment of The Office ever? These -- the performance and the show -- have been haled as virtuosic examples of comedy by many people I respect, but neither have encouraged the slightest snicker from my person. It occurs to me that quirk, that certain boldness of performance, perhaps what Derrida would call differance (French pronunciation; also, just fucking with you...), these are the measures of good comedy, but where is all the stuff that makes you keel over because you're convulsing with laughter? Look, I like Zach Galifianakis plenty, but is clever and discomfiting the same as funny? Seriously, is it? I like Keyboard Cat (see above) too, but does he even qualify as amusing, or is he just the latest example of the mainstreaming of quirk brought on by the internet?

Don't get me wrong. I am happy that laugh tracks are going the way of GM and the newspaper industry. I like that we, collectively as a society, have put up some resistance to cookie-cutter comedy (e.g., America's Funniest Home Videos) -- and yes, I know there is plenty of evidence suggesting we haven't -- but is it too much to ask that things that purport to be funny make us laugh out loud?

That's my piece, and let me end it this way. There are two people on the Internet who make me laugh almost without fail. Aziz Ansari and Gabe Delahaye. They are also both my secret boyfriends, and I not so secretly hope that one day they make a baby together. Recently they both posted throwaway items in their blogs that made me laugh, and as anyone who has ever read the vile trash that is The New Yorker's Shouts and Murmurs section knows, it's not easy to elicit that kind of reaction through the written word alone.

Here's Gabe on the upcoming season of Entourage, and here's Aziz on IM'ing with his brother.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Lakers in 5

After abandoning his Knicks to become a Kobe-phile, Spike Lee has decided the next logical move in his career is to do a remake of Malcolm X with Phil Jackson, obvs.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

problems i'd like to have - part 1 of an occasional series

the news media has long exhausted the usual supply of recession stories about job loss, healthcare crises, detroit, retirement, etc. running parallel to this theme of quiet desperation are stories about (what i like to call) problems i'd like to have. the chief source of PILTH (ha!) is, of course, the new york times, which consistently runs stories about people on the brink alongside tips on how to weatherize your second home.

example #1: you saw this story about williamsburgers who can no longer rely on their parents to support their lifestyles. you rolled your eyes, too, at ridiculous anecdotes like -

Luis Illades, an owner of the Urban Rustic Market and Cafe on North 12th Street, said he had seen a steady number of applicants, in their late 20s, who had never held paid jobs: They were interns at a modeling agency, for example, or worked at a college radio station. In some cases, applicants have stormed out of the market after hearing the job requirements.

“They say, ‘You want me to work eight hours?’ ” Mr. Illades said. “There is a bubble bursting.”

and the biggest PILTH of all:

Mr. Weinstein has been advising two brothers in their late 20s who wanted to buy a $700,000 apartment with $250,000 from their parents. But their parents’ investment portfolio has lost so much value that they now can give only $50,000. Since the brothers make about $45,000 a year each, they are now shopping for a $500,000 apartment.

bailout, please. and then it made me think, is this article meant to be tongue-in-cheek?

in contrast, the journal--which you expect would run out-of-touch to the max stories (here is one)--has been surprisingly practical with its advice. revise your resume, don't screw up that phone interview, y'know. it also featured this story about a former wall street banker turned waiter:

Recently, their oldest daughter asked Mr. Araya if the family would have to move. He told her he didn't know. She countered: "How much money do we need?"

"The way she looked at me," Mr. Araya says, "I could tell she was counting the money in her piggy bank." He went into the bathroom and cried. After a few minutes, he dried his eyes and walked back into the living room.

oh god, bring back the PILTH.

anyway, obligatory hockey reference--red wings, what happened?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Conspiracy Theories

This is a picture embedded in a crazy ass forward that made its way to my inbox this morning. I have a relative in Pakistan who has a tendency to forward alarmist information about computer virus threats, warnings about temporary tattoos, and yes, the occasional insane call to protest because some western institution or the other has managed to affront Islam. Now to embark on this discussion is a bit difficult for me, of course. I write for a meagre audience, but an audience of westerners, and I'm not totally comfortable airing the overly sensitive small-mindedness of my people here for others' derision. But this latest conspiracy really deserves to be shared.

The gist of the email is this: In a blatantly provocative move, a bar serving alcoholic drinks has opened in a structure on 5th Avenue in New York City, a structure modeled on the Ka'aba, a sacred edifice central to Islam and located in Mecca. This bar, according to the wastrels who crafted the forward, is but the West's latest insult to Islam. Of course, as most readers of this blog know, the picture above is not of a bar; it is the fabulous and newish Apple store near the old FAO Schwartz on 5th Avenure. In American parlance perhaps it is referred to as a Mecca of Iphones. Inside, there is a genius bar where bearded and tubby gentlemen serve you bottomless chagrin and condescension, instead of PBR's. In the picture above the store appears under scaffolding, and thus resembles the Ka'aba.

So what to make of all this? I don't know. Today Obama made an apparently riveting speech in Cairo (I have not heard it yet)-- though by all accounts he failed to apologize for Steve Jobs' heresy. Today our President took a proactive move to bridge a yawning chasm, even as he puts other stresses on the structural integrity of that bridge. But do email forwards like this temper whatever hopes we may have for a shared future with the developing world's Muslim population? They may, but here for me is the rub: While in this world there are quite a few crazy-ass Muslims who confuse nihilism for piety, who have made Afghanistan their homebase, who are funded by petro-dollars, and who our governments are right to destroy, the majority of outraged Muslims (not the majority of Muslims, mind you) are like my relative -- intellectually vapid, unpersuaded by reason and fact, and constitutionally incapable of turning their critical lens inward (at the affronts committed in Islam's name throughout the Swat Valley for instance?). That is to say, the majority of outraged Muslims are like the majority of outraged non-Muslims.

And here's the point I want to make. Let me put down my latte, and turn down NPR to make it. These Muslims are no different than our own home-grown crazies, the ones demanding Obama's birth certificate be presented for their personal inspection, who want all taxes eliminated, who blame their own failures on illegal immigrants. An absence of reason, tribalism, pigheadedness -- these are the hallmarks of crazies of all stripe, American and Pakistani. We spend a lot of time thinking--and given the President's actions today, he spends a lot of time thinking -- about the twain and how it shall meet. But perhaps the twain has met.

It doesn't matter the creeds. We are asssailed on both sides by an absence of reason.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


This picture speaks for itself, I know. But because I believe in two part harmonies, let me speak for it also. This is the greatest photo portrait in the history of human existence. It is also a picture of me in my dorm room in the fall of 1996. Your task is to identify how many 90's elements there are in this record and comment accordingly. This photograph will soon be on display in the National Archives; the curator thanks you in advance.