Still Standing…Up

Last week I made my stand-up debut at 37th and Zen’s weekly open mic night and this week I went back for seconds. And, once again, Travis was cool enough to video it for me. This time he managed to get it in focus:

I guess I felt a little more comfortable this time than I did the first time, but still, very, very nervous. It didn’t help that the whole mood of the place was completely different; there weren’t even half as many people and the folks that were there didn’t seem very inclined to laugh. One of the other comedians, Derek Williams, told me about an open mic he was at a few weeks ago where there were six comedians and two audience members. So, I guess it could have been worse.

Now, obviously, I wasn’t as funny this time as I was the last time. One thing that I don’t think mot people realize about stand-up comedians is that they perform the same material pretty much every time they go out. Sure, they’ll come up with new stuff and work it in and dump some older stuff gradually, but for the most part they’re doing the same bits over and over again. JoAnna was definitely surprised when all the comedians were doing the same jokes they did last week. But, even though I know that the Friend Zone bit I did last week would get laughs, and that it’s probably the funniest thing I’ve thought of so far for the stand-up stuff, I chose not to do it because I really want to force myself to try to come up with new things and to have to be continually funny. This isn’t to say there won’t come a point where I’ll do the same stuff over again, of course I will, but at least for a little while I feel like I need to be writing stuff and trying things out and figuring out what’s funny.

For instance, while there were some laughs in what I did last night, the reality is that the vast majority of it is too personal to me and not universally relateable, which is never as good. Ideally you want things that everyone can hear and say, “I know how that feels” or “I do that too”, but I didn’t have that element in what I was saying. So while some stuff was funny, I need to keep that in mind for whatever I do next week. I also cursed a lot, which was just weird. That sort of snowballed. I don’t really care, it was just kind of odd.

Travis and JoAnna said they were going to go up this week and both turned out to be liars. Travis worked about seventy hours this week, so he didn’t feel like he’d had any time to prepare to go on. That’s fair. Of course, he’s had the several months we’ve been talking about doing stand-up to prepare, so it’s also bullshit. Hopefully he’ll go up next week. The day after JoAnna said she would go up she changed her mind, but, she did actually end up getting on stage. Ken Phillips, who teaches comedy classes at The Muse, needed a volunteer for an improv bit during his act and JoAnna, completely ignorant to what she was volunteering for, jumped up on stage:

It’s funny that because JoAnna is a musician she took the choosing of the songs way too seriously. Most of us would just sing whatever song first came to us and go but she was working through her mental rolodex to find just the right song. Still, she was great. And it’s funny that the song she chose was a reference to our most popular (to date) short:

If You Can’t Touch It, Steal It

So, apparently, it’s become Ok to steal. I’m not sure when this happened exactly, though I’m thinking it was sometime around 1998, but I’ve become acutely aware that the place in our personal value systems that perfectly understood that taking something that isn’t your without compensating the owner in an agreed upon manner, or stealing, was wrong has been replaced with a void of moral ambiguity that essentially sees theft in the modern world as acceptable, even commonplace. But, unlike a riot situation, where the rule of theft seems to be if you can carry it you can take it, the opposite applies; in our society, if you can’t actually touch it, it’s perfectly Ok to steal it.

It’s crazy, when you’re a kid, they teach you stealing is wrong, and it’s not just wrong because it’s wrong (which is the weakest kind of wrong), it’s wrong because it hurts others (which is the worst kind of wrong), and we all essentially understand that. Sure, there are people who still go out and steal, but even those people generally understand that what they are doing is wrong. I guess that’s the most baffling part of the rampant digital theft in our society, that the people who do it, and do it frequently, not only don’t see illegally downloading things off the internet as wrong, they don’t even see the act as stealing.

A few weeks ago, a guy I know was telling me about how he get photographs of athletes off a website that sells them. The site is basically a subscriber site, with different price tiers that allow the subscribers different amounts of downloads. A friend of his bought the cheapest subscription, figured out some kind of work-around to get by the download limit (don’t ask me how, I’m honest so I wouldn’t know anything about stuff like that) and sold the code the website gave him to as many people as he could, not only recouping what he paid for the access but turning a profit. The people he sold it to, including the guy I was talking with, used the access to download as many pictures as they could, without the website being paid for their access. As far as I know, this is still going on. This same guy told me about getting a complimentary gift card from an online company for purchasing a certain amount. By playing with the serial numbers on the back of the gift card he was able to figure out the numbers of a bunch of other gift cards, eventually ending up with over six hundred dollars worth of unauthorized free money to use at the web site.

This guy has a decent job, a house, a wife, and a baby; from all outward appearances he’s a perfectly upstanding person, but there he was, casually telling me about hundreds, possibly thousands, of dollars worth of theft that he had committed, all without leaving the comfort of his living room.

illegal downloading

One of my good friends is just about the most polite, nice person I know. He’s very concerned with doing and acting right and being a good person. Yet, his iTunes library is filled with thousands upon thousands of illegally downloaded songs taken through file sharing sites like LimeWire, which while not illegal in and of themselves, basically exist to facilitate illegal downloading. They’re the online equivalent of a store next to a bank that sells ski masks, guns, and getaway cars. My friend would never, in a million years, walk into a music store and just grab some CDs and walk out, but he has absolutely no problem doing the exact same action through his computer with music, movies, and whatever other kind of digital material he can get for free.

Illegal downloading

What’s even worse than the fact that most people don’t consider digital theft to be theft are the reasonings that people give me to argue that it’s perfectly Ok, and not wrong in the least. One of the weakest arguments is that if the content is so easy to acquire, it must be alright to take it. Well shit, I could probably take a ton of produce right out of the super market, or pretty much anything I could fit in a pocked out of Wal Mart (if I can’t find an employee I damn sure won’t be able to find any security guards), but does that make it alright for me to do it? No, and the same rule applies to digital content. Another classic is that all the stuff they’re downloading is too expensive to buy. Tough shit, man. Lamborghinis are expensive too, but I can’t just go and take one because I’d rather not pay for it. The unfortunate nature of things is that if you can’t afford it, you don’t get to have it. It’s not your place to put a personal judgment on the price that someone chooses to place upon their product; if you don’t like the price, you don’t buy it, and you definitely don’t just go and take it without paying later. The furthering of the too expensive argument is the one that states that it’s Ok for someone to illegally download the content because somebody paid for it originally. Sorry, but that one is bullshit too. Is it Ok if one person pays to go to a movie then goes and opens the back door and lets in their friends? No, it’s not, and in the case of downloading things it’s more like letting in a few million of their friends. Just because a few people paid for something before you doesn’t mean it’s acceptable to piggyback their transaction and get the same product. If you don’t pay for something that has a price, that’s stealing.

The last refuge for people hopelessly arguing that illegal downloading is acceptable is the personal attack, which is pretty much the last refuge for any failed argument. “You’ve never downloaded a song without paying for it?” No, actually, I haven’t, I pay for the songs I want, which causes me to be more selective. “You’ve never copied a CD or made a mix tape?” Alright, yes, of course I have. Back in the day I copied a ton of cassettes and I’ve copied some CDs in my day as well. Really, I’ve loaned out more CDs to be copied by friends than I’ve copied for myself. So yes, I have to admit, this is wrong, and it is essentially the same thing as the illegal downloading. The difference is, I’ll fully admit that it’s wrong. I’m giving someone something for free that they should pay for, which is just as good as stealing it for them myself. But, I would argue that there’s a huge difference between giving a CD to a friend to copy for his or her own personal use and putting a CD on a website so that an infinite number of people can have access to it. The guy who stole six hundred dollars worth of gift cards tried to argue that I was just as bad as anyone who downloaded anything without paying for it because I had burned and allowed others to burn CDs, and in one sense he’s right. Both are wrong, but, on the spectrum of wrong, I’m a lot closer to right. Basically, you have to move past the argument over what’s right and wrong, it’s all wrong, and argue which is worse. Going out of your way to take thousands of dollars worth of digital content is much worse than occasionally copying or allowing someone to copy a CD that was directly paid for, and anyone who could argue that it isn’t, well, they’ll probably end up making a personal attack because that’s a futile argument.

What’s more troubling to me than just the general blase attitude toward theft is what kind of effect it has on the moral compass of a society. If we decide that digital theft is Ok, what’s next? When it becomes acceptable to take from others things can only snowball from there. One of the basic ideas of our society is that of the individual, that we have the right to our person and our property and what this attitude toward illegal downloading is saying is basically that there’s nothing wrong with taking someone else’s property. If this acceptance of ephemeral personal theft becomes an ingrained part of the societal psyche then it’s only a matter of time before physical theft becomes acceptable. And once the sanctity of the person and his or her right to property is degraded, the outlook on the person him or herself is degraded. It’s not a far cry from devaluing a person’s property to devaluing a person.

It’s Only Offensive If I Don’t Like Your Politics

Last week there was a big stir because former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin called for President Barack Obama’s Cheif of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, to be fired. Her reasoning was that his use of the word “retard”, which he used to describe liberal groups against Democratic health care motions, calling them “fucking retarded”, was derogatory and basically the equivalent of using the “N-word”.

Sarah Palin

That was on Monday, and Palin directly called for Emanuel’s firing through her Facebook page (apparently she’s very into Facebook; honestly, I liked it better when you had to be in college to use it). On Wednesday, Rush Limbaugh, who’s no stranger to controversy, basically said he didn’t see anything wrong with what Emanuel said. In fact, he went further, marking it not only as a freedom of speech issue, but taking it a step further and deciding to used “retard” offensively as well, “Our political correct society is acting like some giant insults taken place by calling a bunch of people who are retards, retards.” He also said that in order to answer Palin’s complaint, “There’s going to be a retard summit at the White House”. Keep in mind that the “bunch of people who are retards” that he’s referring to there are liberals.

Rush Limbaugh

Honestly, both Emanuel and Limbaugh used “retard” in an offensive way. Both used it in the course of their job, so if their employers decide that the use of a derogatory term is enough to fire them, they should be fired. Both used it to refer to the same group of people, liberals, though Emanuel’s comment was limited to a select group of liberals. But, one big difference between what they did is that Emanuel made his utterance in a closed door, private meeting in front of a limited number of people, whereas Limbaugh made his comments, on his national radio show which gets roughly ten million listeners a week. From that perspective alone Limbaugh’s use of the word was far more devastating in its negative effect than Emanuel’s (though it shouldn’t be forgotten that both uses were offensive), so it would seem obvious that Palin, who is so adamant about the subject because she is the mother of a child with Down’s Syndrome, would also call for Limbaugh to be fired.

But, Palin was conspicuously silent on the issue for the majority of the week. While she literally ran to her Facebook page to call for Emanuel’s job, the only communique from Palin in regard to Limbaugh’s comments was a terse one-liner passed through one of her spokespeople, “Governor Palin believes crude and demeaning name calling at the expense of others is disrespectful.” That’s hardly the harsh words she had for Emanuel. Hell, she doesn’t even refer to Limbaugh by name. And, Sunday night, we saw why. Speaking directly for the first time about the subject, she said two very different things; first, about Emanuel, she said, “I think he should step down,” then, about Limbaugh, she said, “He was hysterical in that…(Liberals) are kooks, so I agree with Rush Limbaugh.”

It’s kind of amazing to me that someone can be that hypocritical and not have their head explode or something. What we’re essentially left with is that Palin doesn’t honestly care about how the derogatory use of “retard” might affect both those with special needs and their family members, but how the derogatory use or “retard” by someone who doesn’t share her political beliefs can be used for her political benefit. When it was somebody she disagreed with politically she was all about calling for his job, but as soon as Rush Limbaugh, one of the few “popular” figures I can think of who’s even more radically right wing than Palin herself, she had no desire to call for his job. In fact, she said that “Rush Limbaugh was using satire” when he referred to liberals as “retards”. I guess it shouldn’t shock me that someone who’s that comfortable with being so openly hypocritical on a national stage doesn’t understand the meaning of satire. I think of the vast majority of politics as a detestable live-action theater that’s main function is to keep the people so pre-occupied with nonsense that they’re unable to wade through the bullshit to figure out what’s really going on, but I have to admit, in a sick sort of way, this was all very fascinating.

What gets me even more than Palin’s continued ridiculousness, is the fact that every article I looked up on the subject had “retard” right there in plain sight. You’ll notice that when I mentioned the comparison to the “N-word” I wrote ‘the “N-word”‘ and not the actual word. That’s because it’s become accepted in academic and journalistic circles that you’re not supposed to write out that word, but to use the “N-word” instead. But, if that’s the case, if that offensive word is to be censored, why is it acceptable to write out all the other offensive words? Why, in an article about how “retard” is offensive, is it Ok to write out “retard”? Why is it every time I read an article about offensive racial slurs toward Latinos or Asians or any other ethnicity they clearly write out the offending words, but when an article talks about offensive words aimed at black people, they never write out the “N-word”? In no way am I trying to trivialize this, or downplay the offensiveness of the “N-word”, I’m merely trying to understand why it’s Ok to write one word and not the other. Why (and how) do newspapers determine that one word is more offensive than the other? If they’re all offensive, wouldn’t it make sense to just not have any of them in there, to censor them all? This is just one of those things that’s never made sense to me.

Who Knew The Hardest Part Would Be The Standing Up?

Quite a while ago I mentioned to Travis, sort of off-handedly, that I thought I’d like to try doing stand-up comedy. I think I’m a fairly funny guy and I’ve always really loved watching stand-up (the first channel I turn to when I turn on the TV is Comedy Central) and I figured I might give it a go. Eventually, Travis came around to the idea that he too might like to give stand-up a try. He’s been immersing himself in the world of popular comedy and has come to the realization that pretty much anyone who’s successful in the comedy world, from writing to acting to directing, has tried their hand at stand-up, so while it’s something I just kind of want to do and think I might be good at, eh’s actually looking at it with a calculated reason and an eye to the future. This pretty much describes the way the two of us approach everything.

We searched around and found a few open mic nights in the area (actually it turns out there’s one almost every night) and decided to check out Wednesday nights at 37th and Zen in Norfolk near the ODU campus. The plan was originally to go to one and check it out then try it ourselves the next week. But, I got impatient and was ready to get the first time over with, so I went ahead and gave it a go last night. I signed up late, well after the show had started, so Tim Loulies, the guy who runs the thing, told me he could slot me in, but only for three or four minutes. I told him that was fine with me because I had no idea how long anything would run for anyway. I decided to go with what I thought was my funniest bit and Travis was cool enough to video it for me with my digital still camera. So here it is:

So first thing you notice is the quality of the video isn’t great, but it was just my movie function on my still camera. I think Travis didn’t realize that he could zoom before he started and the zooming after he started lowered the quality, but hey, he’s never used my camera. (If you don’t believe the guy can use a camera check out his Recognition short.)

Of course, the lack of quality in the video is fine by me because you can’t see how bad my legs were shaking. I’m glad I did it but man was it nerve wracking. I’ve always had this weird thing with stuff like this where I’m put on the spot where I’m really relaxed and fine before I start and it’s not until just after I’ve started that the nervousness hit me. I was cool walking up to the mic and the first few things I said and then just as I was about to start into the bit I could feel my legs turn into jello. I took this weird three quarters stance to try to keep my balance. I’m glad I opted against taking the mic off the stand because my hand would have been shaking so bad the sound would have been awful.

All in all though, I think I did pretty good. Folks laughed, I didn’t get booed, and I didn’t actually lose my balance, or vomit, so that’s a start. I think I’m gonna do this again next week and Travis says he’s going to give it a go for the first time then too. The lovely JoAnna Lynne came out to support me and decided she could go up and be funny too, so maybe she’ll take the stage next Wednesday as well.

I actually posted this without adding this last part but I have to mention that the other guys who were doing the stand-up, some of them for a while, some of them only starting recently themselves, were amazingly great guys. Tim Loulies was more than happy to fit me into the schedule and encouraged me to come out next week. Derek Williams went out of his way to introduce himself and talk to me for a bit about the whole thing. It’s pretty great to see the people in what could be a very insular environment be so open and encouraging and that’s definitely a huge part of what makes me want to come back and do it next week.

Fuck Avatar

If you haven’t seen Avatar yet you’re one of the three folks in the world who can say that. The movie, which came out just over six weeks ago, is now officially the highest grossing movie of all time, earning just under two billion dollars worldwide. What’s even crazier is that the movie is beat out for top earner, Titanic, was also directed by James Cameron, meaning he’s made nearly four billion dollars off of just two movies (well, not him personally, but you get what I mean).


But, despite the movie’s worldwide acclaim, whenever somebody mentions it, all I can think is, “Fuck Avatar.” Frankly, it’s not a very good movie. I should start by saying that no movie has ever made better use of 3D technology. James Cameron revolutionized the way people will look at utilizing 3D in the future because instead of using it to get a cheap reaction out of his audience (let’s face it, pretty much every 3D movie in history has those spots where somebody has a stick or a spear or something that they point at the audience just to make folks lean back in their seat; there’s no real reason for the shot other than to have the 3D effect [I'm looking at you, Beowulf]) and instead used it to create a realistic level of depth and presence that just hasn’t been available on screen before. So, if only for that, I am glad the movie exists.

Unfortunately, that’s about the only positive thing I can say about the movie. It’s pretty awful. It’s nearly three hours long, with huge periods of boring dead space in the middle. There’s about 45 minutes of the main character training in the middle of the movie that honestly provide nothing to the story that couldn’t have been summed up in a five minute montage. 80s skiing movies knew this, why didn’t James Cameron? The acting is also just bad. Giovanni Ribisi, who I really liked about a decade ago, is beyond awful as the businessman in charge of the humans; his lines are forced and overblown and the movie also hints that he’s reluctant to be doing what he is, but they never explore that. Guess they couldn’t fit in in the three hours, maybe it’ll be on the DVD extended cut. As much as I hate to say it, Sigourney Weaver was pretty bad too, but that probably as much a function of her completely one dimensional character as anything she did. She was there to be some kind of badass mentor but ended up just kind of being an angry bitch who smoked. Joel Moore, whose acting chops amount basically to being nerdy, wasn’t so much the problem as his character, who initially loves Sully, the main character, then hates him, then loves him, all in the span of about fifteen minutes and for no real reason. And I don’t know who decided that Sam Worthington would be a star, but they need to be shot. This guy was just awful in Terminator: Salvation, which was even worse than Avatar, and he continues the suck in this movie. He’s wooden and robotic and I was happy every time he became the avatar because the computer animated version of him was far more lifelike. Worst of all, the only actor who was actually compelling was Zoe Saldana, who didn’t even get to really be in the movie since she was one of the natives and thus just an elaborate computer animation.

Worse than the acting was the story, which was basically a bunch of rhetoric amounting to saying that Manifest Destiny is a bad idea and we should be eco-friendly. The film is so blatant and obvious in its message that it becomes a little offensive, like we’re all idiots that need these ideals spoon fed to us. Ultimately it ends up looking like these guys:


being put in this movie:

Fern Gully

and then replacing the humans in that movie with the Marines from Aliens:

Aliens Marines

Ironically enough, in the midst of trying to get across this great message, the movie ends up being a bit racist, as the blue natives end up as a stereotypical representation of Native Americans, or Africans depending on the scene. By the end of the movie I found myself fairly offended by the representation, and not only by the natives, but by their human attackers, who were essentially a referendum against the white man and his greedy nature. Essentially, they boiled everyone down to a stereotype and pitted them against each other. Again, you’d think three hours would have been enough to really delve deeply into some issues, but I guess twenty minute scenes where Sully tries to tame a horse or a bird were more important.

As bad as all that was, nothing was worse than the name they gave to the material that caused the humans to invade in the first place: unobtainium. You know, because you can’t obtain it. It’s unobtainable. Yeah, that’s ridiculous.

Apparently James Cameron had been working on making this movie for fifteen to twenty years, so you’d have thought that in all that time he could have really fine-tuned the script and made it excellent, but I guess he was busy working on the 3D technology. He got that par right, but I would have preferred a good movie in 2D. I mean, this is the guy who wrote (and directed) The Terminator, Terminator 2 (which is the best action movie of all time), The Abyss, True Lies, and Titanic, some fairly classic movies, as well as the respectable TV shows Dark Angel and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. I just don’t get how someone who’d done that much great work could make something as mediocre as Avatar. Of course, Cameron’s work history is a little strange; between 1984 and 1997 he made all of those movies I listed, with one coming out every two or three years, then did nothing (well, he did a few things, most notably several documentaries about the environment) until Avatar came out. I’m wondering if there isn’t a bit of what’s happened to George Lucas, where he’s become so isolated he has no concept of the criticism of his work, going on here. That would be fitting since Cameron said his goal with Avatar was to make the new Star Wars. If that isn’t the most arrogant thing I’ve ever heard then I don’t know what is.

In addition to that bit of arrogance, Cameron also wanted to revolutionize movies as a whole by making 3D a viable and relevant part of things. Like I said, he did an amazing job with the way he used 3D in Avatar, but still, I don’t want to wear glasses. I was pleasantly surprised when I went to see the movie and instead of the crappy cardboard glasses with the red and blue lenses I was given a pair of actually glasses that on first glance could be confused with a pair of sunglasses. I was even further pleased that the 3D didn’t hurt my eyes like with other movies I’ve seen; I still wouldn’t say it was incredibly comfortable, but the images didn’t hurt my eyes. But still, I don’t want to wear glasses. In fact, I go to the eye doctor a couple times a year and order contacts just so I don’t have to wear glasses. I pay money so I don’t have to wear glasses, I’m certainly not into the idea of paying to wear them so I can watch a movie. And what do you do if you are wearing glasses? I thought of that while I was waiting for the movie to start and watched a few people as they struggled with the question, trying the 3D glasses on both under and above their regular glasses. I don’t know what they ultimately settled on, but I’m sure they were uncomfortable for the whole three hours. This is why I don’t think the whole 3D movement is going to catch on, people don’t want to wear glasses.

And the whole 3D thing is a big part of why Avatar being nominally the highest grossing movie of all time is really just a crock. A good majority of the people who’ve seen the movie have seen it in 3D, meaning that each of them had to pay an extra three dollars for the right of wearing those goofy glasses, thus artificially inflating the movie’s total gross. This is just the first crack in the armor, because when you start looking into the actual numbers things get worse. In the US (because I can’t find the figures worldwide) the average price of a movie has more than doubled since Titanic came out, meaning that half as many people may have actually seen Avatar, maybe even closer to a third considering the extra 3D fees. In fact, when you adjust the numbers for inflation, Avatar isn’t even close to the highest grossing movie, coming in somewhere around twentieth. Nope, when you account for inflation the highest grossing movie of all time is Gone with the Wind, which came out seventy years earlier, making right around three billion dollars worldwide. Personally, I think it’s fitting that a good movie with a good story and good acting is the actual king of the box office.

So, from the terrible story to the bad acting to the stupid glasses to James Cameron’s unbelievable arrogance to the fudged numbers, there are a ton of reasons to say, “Fuck Avatar.”

My Home State Never Ceases To Disappoint Me

I was born Norfolk, Virginia and raised in Virginia Beach, Virginia. I spent six years living in Charlotte, North Carolina, heading down there to go to college and, after failing horribly in that endeavor, staying down there because I didn’t know what else to do, but that’s the only bit of my twenty-eight years I’ve spent anywhere other than right here in my home. I like Virginia, it’s a gorgeous state. We have beautiful beaches, amazing mountains and when you travel through the state, not all of it, the more rural parts, you can’t help but think about how pretty it is. I like that we’re close to the nation’s capitol, though if you asked me why I’d have no idea, and that I can drive to Florida relatively easy from here, even if it’s a long drive. I love that we have as many Minor League baseball teams as any state not named Florida or California, though I wish they’d put one up in Hampton again. I like that it gets cold, but not unbearable in the winter, and that it get hot, but not, no, wait, it’s pretty stinking hot in the summer. I like Virginia. I’m proud to be from Virginia.

But, and that comma after that ‘but’ is huge, it routinely disappoints me on the simplest of things. I don’t think I’ve ever been more ashamed of my state than I was a few years ago when they passed a bill, by an unbelievably large margin, that stated that marriage is between a man and a woman, a man and a woman only. They don’t even have enough guts to pass a law against gay marriage, they had to pass one limiting what marriage was. It’s sad to me that something that is really a legal issue, because, let’s face it, that’s what marriage really is, becomes mixed in with a moral issue, which has nothing to do with the legal contract that the parties getting married enter into. It’s even more sad because in the relatively near future we’ll be looking back on times like these and wondering why everyone was so homophobic. Trust me, it won’t be long in our nation’s future and gay marriage will be legal in every state in the union. I know, to some it seems unfathomable, but so too did the concepts of free blacks, and the rights of blacks and women to vote.

If anyone actually read this blog I’d assume that moral diatribe drove several of them, likely Virginia residents, to a different part of the Information Superhighway, which is a shame because that’s not even what this post is about. No, it’s about a different bit of backwards moral judgment. When I was heading to check my email I saw this story on Apparently Culpeper County, which is in Northern Virginia, has banned the widespread use of the newest version of Anne Frank’s Diary because one mother was outraged at some of the new material in the edition. The material that caused the stir was absent from earlier editions concerned Anne talking about her emerging sexuality, supposedly in explicit detail, or as explicit as a 13 year old girl would know to write about. What’s sort of ironic is that the sections were originally left out because Anne’s father didn’t feel they were appropriate. He knew that his daughter’s words were an important recollection of the horrific tragedy his people were forced to endure, but he was unwilling to have segments where his daughter talked about herself as a sexual being become widespread reading material. While a part of me kind of disagrees morally with his choice, a bigger part completely understands and can’t find any fault whatsoever in his choice to edit her diary for publication.

Anne Frank

But, regardless of her father’s wishes, the more complete version of her diary was published and frankly if there’s more to be read from one of the most important books in history, then all the better. But, kids in Culpeper County won’t get to read that new version because of one complaint. That’s right, that’s all it took for the school system to ban the book. One complaint. The mother complained and the schools system immediately banned the book’s use in the classrooms. They didn’t consult any other parents, didn’t talk to any teachers, didn’t interview any students, they just banned it because one person complained. That’s scary.

Culpeper County didn’t ban The Diary Of Anne Frank entirely, they just banned the new version from being used in the classroom. They will continue to teach the old version in the classroom and the new version will be kept in the library at each school. So this isn’t the completely gut-wrenching move of banning a book entirely, but it is still depriving the kids of the fullness of the book. The school board may as well have gone into each individual book with a big black pen and lined out the parts they didn’t like. The bits about the awfulness of the Nazis are just fine but the parts where Anne talks about how it feels to grow from a girl to a woman are unsavory. Like most instances in America, the violence is just fine, but don’t you dare mention sex. Did anyone stop to think that adolescent girls, and boys too, could learn more from the book, could engage themselves with it easier, if they were able to see Anne Frank as even more than a human being in great peril, but also as someone just like them, with a changing body and all kinds of foreign feelings? Sadly, I’m sure they didn’t. The mother saw sex and rather than have an adult talk with her child, completely ignoring the reality that at one point that child will be an adult and will need a healthy understanding of sex, and ran out to make sure that “filth” would never come near her baby again. And the school board, fearing the slightest bit of conflict, predictably took the cowardly way out and banned the use of the book, without even giving the slightest thought to what that action meant. The whole scenario is a conglomeration of short-sightedness and obstinance and it makes me sick.

And yes, I realize this story could have played out pretty much anywhere in this country, but when I saw the headline to the article I felt awful and when I saw that I happened just a few hours from here, in my state, the place I grew up, I felt an immense sadness for the state of things.

I’m A Loner Dottie, A Recluse

J.D. Salinger, the author of one of the greatest and most influential novels of all time, The Catcher in the Rye, passed away yesterday in his Cornish, NH home at the age of 91. It really shouldn’t be a surprise that he passed away in his home since for the last half century, give or take a few years, he had chosen to seclude himself in that home, disdainful of even the faintest whiff of celebrity or adulation.

J.D. Salinger

Salinger will go down in history as one of the most baffling and inexplicable figures in all of literature; in actuality he’s more interesting that the fictional characters of most novels. The man wrote exactly one novel, The Catcher in the Rye, published in 1951, and had three collections of short stories published between 1953 and 1963. The last time he published anything was 1965, yet as a writer he remained well known and popular to this day, hell, he’ll probably be more popular now that he’s passed on. Most of the revered authors in history have been incredibly prolific; some great authors have published over twenty novels in addition to countless scores of short stories and articles, yet Salinger had an incredibly limited body of work. But, that body’s sheer brilliance was enough. The Catcher in the Rye is one of my favorite novels and deserves every bit of praise it receives and while I haven’t read his other works (I bought Nine Stories a long time ago and consistently forget to actually read it) they have garnered mounds of acclaim over the years. In the last interview he gave, which was thirty years ago, Salinger said that despite his self imposed banishment he continued to write daily and had, at the time, at least fifteen novels finished. I have no doubt that if those novels were ever to be published they would be huge successes, regardless of their literary worth, though really there’s no reason to assume they’d be anything other than exemplary like the rest of his work, but given Salinger’s lack of desire to have them published while he was alive, saying “I write for myself”, there’s no reason to believe that they ever will be published.

One of the things they teach you when you study Literature is to separate the author from the work, and generally I take that approach to it’s fullest. I’m really not that interested in the people who do the writing. Sure, I personally think of Kurt Vonnegut as a spiritual grandfather, but I love him for the fiction he created, not for the person he was. At the end of the day I don’t really know anything about who Kurt Vonnegut the person was, only who Kurt Vonnegut the writer was. The problem with Salinger is, you just can’t do that, because Salinger the person is so fascinating. How can someone make something as classic as The Catcher in the Rye and then, for all intents and purposes, completely shun the world, even the people who would welcome him anywhere with open arms? We’re a society that feeds off of attention and fame, deep down inside we all desperately want our fifteen minutes, but this man didn’t even want one minute. And it’s not just that he shunned the spotlight, he threw great big rocks at it then beat it with a bat in an effort to make sure no light could ever spot him again.

Because Salinger the person was so fascinating it really does become impossible to separate him from Salinger the author and that notion is taken even further as most want to see Holden Caulfield, the teenage anti-hero protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye, as a literal representation of who Salinger the person was. And while every Lit professor I ever had would say this isn’t an association that should be made, it works so perfectly. Holden is an utter misanthrope; he’s caustic, hateful toward the world and people in general, and talks numerous times of wanting to extricate himself from the world, even to go as far at to pretend he was a deaf mute to prevent himself from ever having to talk to anyone. Considering that Salinger did extricate himself from the world, it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that he felt exactly how Holden felt. Holden has been seen as the epitome of adolescence, a mass of frustration toward a world that seems pointless and, above all else, someone who had absolutely no desire to be forced to grow up. Considering that Salinger’s exile, combined with the wealth he acquired from the massive success of the novel, meant that he was able to avoid the adult world, to be free of the rule of the responsible, basically free of anyone’s rule, it’s further clear to see how Holden can be taken as a direct analog for the author.

Those who don’t revere The Catcher in the Rye have pointed out that Holden Caulfield isn’t the kind of grand anti-hero that so many think he is, rather that he’s a spoiled, childish brat who eschews responsibility not out of moral objection but out of sheer immaturity. They see him as nothing more than a rich whelp, which he certainly was, the novel centers around his absconding the prestigious private boarding school he was attending and carelessly playing around in New York City, who is only able to have his outlook on life because his family was rich enough that he didn’t have to worry about the business of actually making a living. Frankly, all this could probably be said about Salinger as well. He came from a well off family, attending private school in the middle of The Great Depression, and his world view probably wouldn’t have been the same if he had been standing in a bread line rather than sitting in a classroom. Well, it could have been the same, but it likely would have come across differently.

Holden Caulfiled’s true essence, and thus Salinger’s, is probably somewhere between the view of him as a bastion of adolescent frustration and that of him as a tower of privileged immaturity. He probably was as much the everyman teenager as he was the ungrateful rich kid. But, even if the character is bit conflicted, the fact remains that Salinger’s great work has resonated with young readers, mostly male, for nearly sixty years. I first read The Catcher in the Rye when I was twenty-two, which is close to how old Salinger was when he wrote it in the early 40s, and I felt like he had somehow got inside my mind, taken my thoughts, and printed them out, all while mastering time travel so that he could do it forty years before I was born. The book that’s spoken to me the clearest in my life is Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, but the only book that I’ve ever felt could have been written about me was The Catcher in the Rye. I’m not novel in feeling this way, in fact I’m trite and hackneyed, but it’s the truth nonetheless. As fascinatingly odd as his life was, and as surprisingly bare as his collection of works was, J.D. Salinger deserves to be praised because no one has ever captured the essence of what it feels like to be an adolescent male better than he did. Others have done it well, brilliantly even, but no one did it as perfectly, as masterfully as Salinger.

It’s sad that he chose to keep himself from the world for so long; there are no doubt many terrible things that can come with fame, as Salinger knew all too well, with the grand example of Mark David Chapman naming The Catcher in the Rye as the reason he murdered John Lennon, but there are many nice things that come with notoriety as well. It couldn’t have hurt for him to occasionally have heard how his novel positively affected people. The effect that The Catcher and the Rye has had on the world is incalculable; it’s influence is so broad and far reaching that it has likely personally affect just about everyone who has ever been exposed to popular culture in any way. We should all be thankful that J.D. Salinger chose to engage in the world for the short period that he did and be doubly thankful that he’ll finally get the complete level of isolation that he craved.

Why It Pays To Become Moderately Successful

Last week there was a lot of buzz about actress Christina Henrdricks, one of the stars of AMC’s show Mad Men. If you don’t know who she is, she’s the insanely hot redhead:

Christina Hendricks

Apparently she went to some awards show and wore this dress that made her look even more stunning and that got a bunch of folks excited (check out her IMDB page, her popularity rose four thousand percent in a week). For whatever reasons I couldn’t find pictures of the dress today when I was looking for them, but as you can see from that picture above, she’s a very busty woman, I don’t know bust sized but I’d guess she’s a Quadruple Z, and the dress really accentuated that quality.

Personally, I don’t watch Mad Men, apparently I should, and one day I’m sure I’ll watch the DVDs, but I didn’t need some dress to let me know how crazy gorgeous Christina Hendricks is. Anyone who knows me knows I love redheads, love them like crazy. Something about that hair and pink skin just gets me. I mean, her insanely large bust is nice, but it’s not something I’d go crazy over; frankly, you take that same gorgeous redhead and give her a flat chest and I’d probably feel the same about her. So I’d been enamored with Ms. Henricks since the first time I saw a picture of her. In fact, this week I found out she was in a few episodes of the show Firefly, which was what the movie Serenity was based on, so it turns out that I was into her way before she ever showed up on Mad Men. One of the best things about the Firefly DVD was seeing one of the unaired episodes where her character came back; like, “Oh, there’s that crazy hot redhead, I’m gonna like this episode.”

But what got me interested in talking about her was that I found out who she’s engaged to. I saw a picture and I couldn’t believe it so I did some research, which really amounted to a Google search, and it’s true, she’s engaged to Geoffrey Arend. Who? Yeah, I’d ask the same thing, because even though I couldn’t recognize his name offhand, I did recognize him. So Christina Hendricks, this world class beauty, and a redhead to boot!, is going to marry this guy:

Geoffrey Arend

Still don’t know who he is? Well, most recently he was in (500) Day of Summer where he played Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s best friend, which is pretty much the role he always plays. I also especially remember him from an episode of Undeclared, where he showed off a mean Christopher Walken impression, and from the made-for-TV movie Porn n’ Chicken, but most folks probably haven’t seen those. He’s probably most memorable from what was actually his first role, in the opening scene of Super Troopers. He was the kid in the back seat of the car that had to eat all the drugs and ended up licking the glass in the cop car.

Still, even if you kind of remember him from these roles, you have to admit, he’s not very famous, or even very successful. Sure, he’s managed to work as an actor for the last decade, which is a major accomplishment, but he hasn’t really put himself on the map. Yet somehow, the moderate amount of success he’s had has afforded him the opportunity to marry a woman like Christina Hendricks. Seriously, those two are getting married. Look at those pictures, the crazy hot redhead is marrying the schlub with the kind of weird face and what-the-hell-is-going-on-up-there? haircut. Don’t believe me? That’s fine, I wouldn’t either, but there’s proof all over the place:

Christina Hendricks and Geoffrey Arend

Now, he’s not the ugliest dude in the world, not even close, but she’s way out of his league. She’s out of most human beings’ league. Nevertheless, they’re on the verge of legally binding themselves to one another. Personally, I can’t find another logical reason for this than the fact that he’s moderately successful. Is that maybe an unfair assessment? Absolutely. The guy probably has a great personality, he always comes off as very likable and is very, very funny, so I’m sure that doesn’t hurt things. And it’s pretty likely that she’s just an awesome person who values personality over looks. Face it, she almost has to be. Sure, she’s got some hype right now because of Mad Men, but aside from that she’s never been in anything worth noting and even on the show she’s not one of the main stars, so really, on the scale of fame, Christina Hendricks is at about the same level as Geoffrey Arend. But, she’s also an absolutely gorgeous woman who could have her pick of any man, particularly since she’s somewhat famous. yet, she chooses this guy. As unbelievable as this coupling is to me, my only real conclusion is that these are just two really great people getting together, her because she chose him, out of literally anyone, and him because he better be a great person if he’s not rich or famous and she chose him.

I’ve been rambling and feel like I’ve lost my point, but what I’m really getting at is despite my assumption that both Goeffrey Arend and Christina Hendricks are great people, the reality is that the only reason this pair happens is because he’s successful in a high profile industry. You would never see this in regular life. If I ever ran across a run-of-the-mill couple that was this disproportionate in looks my first assumption would be that the guy is rich. And you’re lying if you say you wouldn’t think the same thing. The fact is, average to below average dude, no matter how great their personality, can’t get well above average women (or above average or even average for that matter) to be interested in them unless they’re either financially successful or socially successful. Some people would think I’m sexist for saying that, but that’s just a naive way of looking at things. Face it, if Geoffrey Arend was just some dude, and Christina Hendricks was just some chick, he’d never have a chance. She’d shove him into The Friend Zone, date assholes, and complain to him how there aren’t any great men out there.

We’re trying hard here at dropout productions, and while some of us (not me) have been accused of doing all this to try to get women, the reality is we just don’t want to live average lives. We have ideas and stories inside of us and we’d love to make a decent living making them come to life. But, in all honesty, the idea that a moderate amount of success is enough to make it possible for a completely average guy to snare a world class woman make me want to succeed very badly. I’d never go out of my way to say I want to do well for the perks, but man, if a crazy hot redhead is part of the perks then I guess I’m all about the perks. So bless you Geoffrey Arend, because if a fugly, barely successful nothing like you can get a gorgeous, busty, redheaded, pink goddess like Christina Hendricks then there’s hope for us all.

I Thought Baseball Was A Religion

This blog shouldn’t really be about sports, but the only one who ever writes on it is me and I like sports. So, this past week one of the more unprecedented actions in, well, probably the history of sports happened. Grant Desme is an outfield prospect with the Oakland Athletics; he just finished his first professional season, where he was the only player in the Minor Leagues to hit more than thirty home runs and steal more than thirty bases (he actually stole forty), a season that he followed up by winning the MVP award in the offseason Arizona Fall League, which is a huge deal since the league is reserved for the best of the best. Desme was about month away from heading to Arizona for Spring Training, and there was a very real chance that by the end of 2010 he could have found himself in the Major Leagues, playing for the Athletics. But, that won’t happen, since this week Desme announced his retirement from baseball so that he could pursue another life goal, becoming a Catholic priest.

Grant Desme

Now, as a baseball fan, my initial reaction was shock. I’m a huge Braves fan and last year’s Arizona Fall League MVP was the Braves’ Tommy Hanson, who ended up spending most of 2009 with the Braves, nearly winning Rookie of the Year. I couldn’t imagine how I would have felt last September if he all of the sudden retired. My second reaction was again of shock, because of Desme’s choice of profession. A priest? A…Catholic priest?

I have to preface all this by saying that I am about the least religious person out there. I’m not even one of those people who would say “I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual,” I’m not any of that. Attempts were made to raise me Catholic, attempts that had failed before I was even ten, but that doesn’t mean I have any kind of special vehemence toward the Catholic Church, I don’t care for any religions, I don’t see the point in picking one out to dislike more than the others. Despite all this, I completely understand people who are all about their religion. I don’t agree with them, but I get it. Actually, I have a huge amount of respect for anyone who truly gives themself to their faith rather than just paying lip-service to it, acting religious rather than saying you’re religious, being good and treating others well rather than using your belief system to judge others, these are things I admire.

So, with that in mind, I absolutely respect Grant Desme’s decision. I don’t agree with it, I don’t fully understand it, even though it makes sense from one perspective, but I respect it, and I certainly wish him well. But, at the same time, I’m baffled by it. The amount of work it takes to become a professional baseball player is astounding; just getting signed by a Major League team and playing in the Minor Leagues is about as rare as winning the lottery. The amount of work it takes to excel, to be the MVP of a prestigious league and be on the cusp of the highest level is even more astounding. So the idea that someone could just walk away from that is nearly unbelievable to me. I go to games and I see players without an ounce of natural talent and guys who are so far past their prime nobody can even remember when they were good, and they refuse to give the game up. They fight day after day to keep their job; you’d literally have to rip the jersey off their back to get them to walk away from baseball, but this guy just gave it up. That’s hard to swallow.

I’ve seen plenty of people write about how noble it is that Desme was willing to walk away from baseball to focus on his faith, but even that seems misguided to me. I’m not saying his faith is misguided, his faith is his own and not for me to judge him on, even if I don’t agree with it. It just seems to me that if he really wanted to do well within his religion, if he really wanted to get the message of his faith out there, then staying in the game of baseball is a great way to do that. First, as a baseball player, he is a role model. Some players don’t want to hear that, but it’s the absolute truth, people look up to athletes. If he’s out there as a prominent, positive example of a member of his faith, that can only help get his religious message out there. The number of avenues and venues and arenas that open up to a high profile professional athlete are tremendous. Even as a Minor Leaguer, he can talk to people at the games each night; even as a fringe Major Leauger, people will still listen because of who he is. If he’s a star, it’s even better. Albert Pujols is the best player of his generation and he’s very religious and everyone knows it, because he talks about it and acts in a way that is consistent with his beliefs. I hate to be blunt, but Albert Pujols probably does more for Christianity than any priest ever has.

This is the side of the coin that I don’t think Grant Desme has looked at. I’ve known a number of players who talk religion with anyone they can. Paul Bryd, who played for the Mets, Braves, Phillies, Indians, and Red Sox, usued to put a different Bible verse next to every signature he wrote. He knew the Bible backwards and forwards and was eager to talk about it. Joe Winkelsas, who played for the Braves and Brewers, used to regularly begin conversations with the question, “Have you met Jesus?” These guys believed in their faith and saw the opportunity that being a professional baseball player afforded them in spreading that faith.

Again, I’m not a religious guy, if anything, baseball is as close to a religion as I get. Nothing has been more central and important in my life as the game of baseball, nothing has taught me more about the way to act properly in this world, and nothing has filled me with joy and hope more than baseball, so maybe that’s why I’m unable to properly digest Desme’s decision. But, I do with him luck, even if I think he could have done more to help his faith by staying where he was.

Great, On Paper Writer’s Vlog Day 40 (December 20)