In Which I Make a Text Based Rube Goldberg Machine to Blame Space Ghost Coast to Coast for a Problem I Have with a Trend in Comedy

Comedy has an intertextuality problem and it’s all the fault of “Space Ghost Coast to Coast”.

Okay, that’s a hell of an opener and it might not really make sense because there’s a lot to walk back and unpack there. Intertextuality is the relationship between texts, usually it is a term reserved for actual written texts. In the sense that I’m using it we’re just talking about a text as being any kind of media.

Every text or piece of media is influenced by something, hell, even if something is looking to actively ignore other texts that as a conscious decision is still a choice made because of the relationship to other texts. It’s not a bad thing by itself, but the way it’s come into comedy seems to mostly not work.

Back to the point about why this is all Space Ghost’s fault. Space Ghost was a shitty cartoon made in 1966 Hannah Barbera (I swear the word Barbera didn’t have an ‘e’ in it before I wrote this) and in 1994 Cartoon Network used old footage of the original show to make a late night talk show. This show was what started what we have come to know as Adult Swim (the late night programming block on Cartoon Network most nights of the week).

Adult Swim was pretty experimental at first and it wasn’t like anything else that we’ve ever seen on television. After Fox canceled “Family Guy” in 2002 Adult Swim stepped in to run the show in syndication and that along with huge DVD sales helped to cause Fox to take the show back, but pre-2003 Family Guy and later Family Guy became different shows. Audiences in 2003 were using online forums to talk about shows more than ever and audience reaction to some things changed parts of the show. Meg was kind of ignored before, but now she was outright hated by others in the cast and the cut-aways and references to other media and history and just anything got far more intrusive.

The show doubled down on the shock humor and just referencing other things. Not even referencing them in a way that informs the scene or the rest of the story. You see this kind of comedy used in other shows, not so much the cut ways, but the references. Some of them care enough to fit the reference into what’s actually happening. When Archer says “I hate surprises, well except surprise fellatio, unless it’s the Midnight Cowboy kind” that references another piece of media, but it’s also not stopping the action of the plot and even if the reference were removed it would be funny.

Family Guy just throws any old reference up into a space to waste time in an episode. Twenty-one minutes turns into thirteen when you find a way to waste the other eight on bullshit. And the huge problem with it all is that it’s become a way that people will talk to others. I can remember a time when just pointing out that you and someone else remembered something wasn’t in and of itself comedy.

Especially considering that a lot of people don’t even remember the things that are being referenced on Family Guy (seriously, does anyone really remember the DuMont Television network? It ran from ten years, from 1946 until 1956 when it was dissolved).

I’ve seen it creep into real life to a small degree with some of my friends. They’re not even referring to things from media some of the time, they’re just referencing unfunny, unremarkable bits from our actual lives. It’s usually used as a kind of exclusion of a party who is there that didn’t share in the moment. Can’t see any other purpose for it.

As I pointed out earlier with the Archer example this kind of thing can work. When enough people are in on the joke and the joke holds some relevance and doesn’t distract or when it’s just really smart, but not in a condescending way. Your average writing team on television isn’t crafty enough to pull it off, especially not on a weekly basis.

Maybe you can point out that it is a small thing or that it’s not really having any effect that wouldn’t have happened, but that’s just not how intertextuality works. Other works are going to be affected by what’s happened, even if they are affected because they resist the change.

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South Park and Choosing to Care

I was a late comer to the South Park train. While a lot of kids were watching it all the way back in ’97,  I was aware of the show, but never seemed to see it. Comedy was a big part of my life growing up, though. I remember watching things like Mystery Science Theater on Comedy Central late at night and Comic View on BET when I happened to be over at my sister’s late enough.

I had a healthy appetite for comedy.

South Park was edited and aired in syndication around the time I was in high school, I think. By then I was old enough to get a lot of the jokes and the movie had come to cable, which I had seen a few times. I had a South Park shirt and considered myself a fan of the show. I thought the guys writing it ‘got me’–that they were the kind of guys I wanted to be like. I didn’t just want to not care on a personal, emotional level. Not caring needed to be the default reaction when faced with almost anything.

When you’re fifteen or sixteen it’s easy to see how this world view applies to you. It’s hard to find somewhere to fit in and when you’re already attending a school where graduating classes numbered under fifty students there was a good chance that you might not have the friend group that even outcasts had at bigger schools. Not caring seemed like a good way to deal with the pressure. What you don’t care about can’t hurt you.

South Park takes that to a deeper level. It poked fun at everyone, a thing I once greatly respected. It reinforced my notions about the world, or it reinforced the notions that I figured I should have: gays are weird and okay, as long as they’re not hurting anyone, but you’re not doing any disservice by calling people faggots as an insult. The younger generation is past racism completely, so all that’s left is to let all of the older people die off (there’s no way that racism is still really affecting us!). The choice between Presidential candidates means nothing, they’re both horrible.

From about ages fourteen to twenty I probably held some version of these beliefs and others that lined right up with the show. I didn’t mind when they took aim at targets that I cared about or liked or believed in. It was okay because they were making fun of EVERYONE, right?

As long as you’re indiscriminate in your fun poking, what’s the harm?

Fast forward to I’m thirty and I still love comedy. I still can’t get enough crude humor as evidence by being able to quote Louis CK and Hannibal Burress’s albums like scripture. Until a few months ago I thought South Park had been canceled. No one had mentioned the show in years around me (probably a testament to having friends that are ‘keepers’).

The internet was set on fire by this past years South Park seasonal target. PC culture, the new boogeyman of the Alt-Right, Brocialists, and just your garden variety bigot. This isn’t to say that there isn’t problems with hard-left liberalism, but to hear some people talk about it liberals are to blame for terrorism, the break down of the American family, and pretty much everything else under the sun.

To see South Park make season long antagonists out of PC culture seems less like the brave thing that people always claim that the show is and more like the expected thing for an audience that grew up watching the show. A lot of them became the adamant Bernie Sanders supporters that refer to Hillary Clinton as ‘a cunt’ every chance they get and don’t understand why it’s sexist (and unwarranted). They are the ones who refuse to look at race, sexual orientation, or gender even when it’s undeniably a factor (Elliot Rodger shooting, for instance).

I was a lot more moderate the right leaning when I started watching the show and I would say that I was more easily offended back then.  Me now still has a bit of that don’t care attitude. But I care when it counts. I care when you’re selling me a value system that’s flat out wrong and trying to reinforce views that don’t really work.

Yeah, it’s just a show. South Park isn’t the news or some politically commentary, except that it’s being used that way this past season and people have cited it before in the past to refer to their views. There are still some moments from the show that I can relate to, everyone expecting me to just like Family Guy because of my sense of humor (spoiler alert, I’ve hated Family Guy for almost the entirety of it’s run), but I think that I outgrew South Park years ago. I’m kind of glad that I did.

Some things are important to me and I don’t see that as a fault. Equal representation of all races and genders (at least in the sense of how they’re portrayed, because not all situations would have all types of people there) is important to me. Caring about politics is important to me, being well informed, and who gets elected is all important to me. PC culture isn’t such a dangerous thing that you need to go on about it for thirteen episodes or how ever long their seasons are.

And yeah, maybe the nearly one thousand words I spent on this was too much care, but I think it extends to more than South Park. And more importantly, it’s something that is relevant, because we live in a world where people actually don’t care enough.

“Selfie” Review: John Cho and Karen Gillan’s new Sit-Com

selfieIn a world of the aging situation comedy (Two and a Half Men) and the mysteriously popular situation comedy (Big Bang Theory) it’s nice to have something to laugh at on Network TV. After season three of New Girl grew stale (I still haven’t watched the very ending of it) I thought I was done with everything on the over the air channels except for Supernatural and Originals.

And then I heard Karen Gillan and John Cho were coming to a new show, Selfie. I’ve been a fan of Gillan since she stepped in front of the camera on Doctor Who back in 2010 and John Cho provided me with a lot of laughs in the Harold and Kumar series and a show that probably no one remembers called Off Centre.

Selfie is a retelling of My Fair Lady, which was a retelling of Pygmalion (which I had never heard of until this past week). Gillan plays Eliza, a woman with questionable social intelligence who enlists the help of Henry (John Cho) to help fix her. The comedy beats seem to be well spaced out, but the show is funny and more than once I laughed hard enough that my roommate stuck his head in to check on me.

Despite what the title and the theme song might make it seem like the show makes a sincere effort at using the core material in an updated way and showing some genuine emotion. Cho and Gillan are always fun to watch and both really charismatic. The one small gripe I have is that they probably shouldn’t have bothered to try and change Karen’s accent because she’s not consistent with it and how hard is it to say she moved here as a kid and she just never started to speak like us. She already uses the slang of an American, so it makes sense.

I really want to see this show make it and see where they’re going to take it. I worry that the premise is something they will have to adjust once things get further along. If you’re not wanting to check it out on Hulu, Selife starts Tuesday September 30th at 7:00 PM Central/ 8:00 PM Eastern.

Preview Chapter Two of Stephanos

So I’m lazy. I wanted to have something else for today’s post, but I didn’t know what to write. So here is the second chapter of the story from the previous post. Stephanos, chapter two.

Laptops unwind in that same way that spiral-cut-hams do, until you’re down to the good bits: the motherboard, the power supply and the little connectors that I make up names for. Nothing looks exactly the same as anything else, and nothing fits where it shouldn’t. That’s the golden rule of computer component repair. It looks more complicated than it is, really.

hornsAt this point I could afford another cold heat soldering iron that was actually made to do these jobs, but there’s a charm to this one. I made it out of a busted curling iron, some mechanical pencil lead refills, a sliver of mica I took from an old compass, some twelve-gauge wire and other parts I salvaged from around the house.

Thank you, You Tube.

A girl in my class managed to snap the charging port off of the motherboard in one of the loaner Sony Vaio’s that we use in school. I offered to fix it for a tiny bit of cash and it’s good practice.

The actual soldering is just a dab and the quicksilver-like dot sizzles into place beneath the charging port. I barely have time to take in the oily metallic smell before I have to pull the iron and coil of solder away. The smell is my favorite bit.

A few seconds to dry and I test the connection. Yellow or orange or a red light will indicate if it is charging.

And of course it is.

I slide the innards of the laptop together, working the snap together fittings down over one another until I hear the small click of the latches. Each layer has a few screws. I’ve got them separated out into the little compartments that line along the old fishing tackle box that my Dad let me have. All arranged by size right to left; smallest to largest.

Someone knocks at the door to my bedroom. “Your dad said you were busy back here?” My chest does this little hiccup thing at the sound of Daunte’s voice.

“Almost done. Come in.”

He slips through cracked door, leaves it hanging open and steps in behind me taking me around the waist. My head tilts right in anticipation of the kiss I know is coming. “You still look busy.”

“Stop,” I giggle. “Static electricity, I could short the whole board out.”

“She wouldn’t know; it’s already broken,” he mutters against my neck.

My skin is warm and buzzing as I slump against him. “Funny.” I meet my reflection’s gaze and my eyes are a vibrant red instead of their normal blue. My eyelids close and I dry swallow before opening. “Did you stop by to tease me?” When I look again they’re back to blue.

“I was on the way home and wanted to stop and ask you if we’re still on for tomorrow?”

I turn so that we’re face-to-face and almost eye-to-eye. My toes push off the ground until I close the distance and can kiss him full on the mouth. “What you mean is: is Lissette still coming to meet Errol?”

“He’ll be all mopey if she isn’t. It’ll just be shitty. I’d rather tell him we canceled it.”

The prickly hairs dotting his cheek catch at my skin as I run my thumb along his face. “I’d rather tell him we canceled and still go, too. But she never gave me a straight answer. She’s driving me so I guess she’ll be there.” I rest my arms on his shoulders so that they stick out straight behind his neck and tilt my head to one side. “What exactly did you tell Errol?”

“You and Lissette are like sisters.”

Daunte and I have been friends since Miss Swanson’s third grade class, when the seating chart changed and we were partnered up to learn cursive. That same year my horns were coming in and he was the one of the few kids who didn’t tease me about them. I kissed him in the sixth grade when he tried to stand up for me and got punched in the face. Neither of us ever officially asked the other out—we were just kind of dating after that. And three years later, here we are.

“He’s not going to expect me to help him talk to her or pass little notes or some shit, is he?”

“He’s not going to do anything.”

“Okay.”

“Just tell her I whined about how I haven’t seen her outside of school in forever.”

My hands find themselves under his collar straightening the crease. “Guilt trip. We’ll make that plan B.”

“I have to get home and help Mom.” He rubs the hair down over my horns and pulls me in for a kiss. “I love you—see you tomorrow.”

“Love you too, night.”

__________

From the warmth of my bed I do the shower math—how much longer can I sleep, plus how long I absolutely have to shower to be presentable, minus the time I told Lissette to be here. Do I have time to get ready? I lie on the edge of sleep for five minutes and then stumble on my heels into the bathroom.

Most of my morning shower is cold today; I’ll have to make an effort to replace the wire I borrowed from the tank-less water heater to make the soldering iron. The rest of the time spent getting ready comes easily. The Succubus side of me means I never look like a hot mess—my hair will fall into those perfect bouncy curls, but it does cooperate with other styles. I don’t need makeup except for lip gloss (though sometimes I cover up my freckles). I’ve never had a zit or pimple in my life.

When the sound of the shower is gone Lissette and Dad’s voices come through the wall muffled. His laugh is distinct and there’s a faint smell like—scrambled eggs? I towel off in the shower and step out onto the mat.

My outfit for the day is a purple peasant-style tunic and a pair of black yoga pants. I keep thongs and other things I don’t want found hidden in a Tampax box under the sink. It’s the one place Dad wouldn’t look. I step out of the bathroom and slip into some no-show-socks and a pair of black flats.

I find Lissette making small, slow circles beneath her face with a frying pan full of scrambled eggs and sniffing them. She doesn’t see me at first. “See how fluffy they are? It’s all about the whisking, the more air you get into them then the fluffier they are.”

My dad is shoveling the eggs into his mouth and grumbling something that sounds like agreement in reply.

“I didn’t know we were trading egg recipes.”

“Look who finally decided to join us.” Lissette puts the skillet back on the stove and ditches the oven gloves.

“I told you to be here earlier than we needed because you’re usually late.”

“Ouch.”

I sigh. “How’s your mom doing?”

Lissette plucks a sliver of egg out of the pan and drops it into her mouth. “I didn’t tell her. Something came up.”

“Lissette.” The words are behind my teeth waiting to come out, but Dad’s right there staring up at us as he chews his egg. I close the distance between him and me, and hug him tight around the shoulders. He’s tense as I whisper to him. “Bye Daddy, I’m staying at Lissette’s tonight.”

“Alright. Give me a call when you get in for the night.”

I never do and he never bothers me about it.

We head out the door to where her car is parked. I’m staring at the back of her head as we walk. She’s braided some of her blonde hair into a circlet that wraps around her head and for some reason it reminds me of a Valkyrie.

There are muddy trenches marking the spots where cars have backed up and turned around and parked. I try to step between them and hold my tongue until I reach the door of the car. “Why didn’t you tell her?”

“I’m not really in a rush to see my Mom cry over another guy.”

“Oh. Are you in a rush to see her get some disease or—or—knocked up by a guy who doesn’t even respect her.” Lissette’s mom was the closest thing I had to a mom at this point; she even had me calling her Mom.

Lissette holds her hand up. “I’ll tell her tonight while you’re there. I might need the back up.”

“Okay.”

“Anyway, we’re early. How about we make a quick stop to check on something?”

“Is this scheming or snooping?”

“I slipped a GPS tracker on Tim’s car the other night—I think he’s with the little home-wrecker.”

“What makes you think that? And where did you get this?”

Lissette shrugs. “Fifty dollars at one of those run down places that sell spy gadgets. After I acted all confused and worried about my cheating dad the guy even helped me set it up.”

“Dammit, Lissette.”

“What?”

“I tell you what, we’ll go indulge your stalking fetish if you do that thing we talked about?”

“Which thing? We talk about a lot of things.

“Come with us today and get to know Errol.”

“When I had a boy pinned to his bed last night with my tongue halfway down his throat and do you know what the furthest thought from my mind was? When’s my prince charming going to come and rescue me from this dreadful life of doing what I please?” she clasped her hands together, tucked them under her chin and fluttered her eyes. Lissette and her theatrics.

“You were with some boy last night? When?”

“Like I said, I wasn’t in a rush to see Mom cry. Remember that kid we used to give rides home.”

“Alex?”

“Or Nick. It was definitely four letters.”

“Please tell me you used a condom.”

“Didn’t have any—so we just made out and necked some.”

I roll my eyes. “I’m not asking you to give Errol a handy. Just come with us so that he’s not—.”

“—Fucking your swerve up? Awe, you guys let me tag along all the time without an escort.”

“Yeah, but you keep yourself occupied.”

“True. I’ll go, but only because you need to spend time with Daunte.”

“You’re the best.”

“And because I need your help to follow Tim.”

“There’s something very broken inside of you Lissette.”


Guardians of the Galaxy was…fun?

Okay, so that title might be one of those things that looks sarcastic. Bear with me here, because this concept might be a little foreign to movie-goers. This movie was just pure fun. Sure there was some drama here and there, but the set pieces, the characters, the plot—it all worked really well to create a fun atmosphere and I think that I heard more laughter in this auditorium than I have in any movie I’ve been to in a long while.

Guardians_of_the_galaxy-Copy1

That includes comedies.

If there’s one thing that I can say about Marvel in the positive it’s that they’re bold. So bold. They put out a comic book movie about a title that isn’t considered mainstream the way your Spiderman or Iron Man types are and they made it look like something watchable. They got star power behind it and sold it. They didn’t shy away from the fact that there’s very little human or familiar in these worlds. They didn’t try to water down the story.

The start of this movie is a little jarring and for the first few scenes it skips around and it’s hard to get a good footing, but once you catch up to where the movies going (maybe about twenty minutes in) it’s just pure fun. I’ve read the comic this book is based on and the characters are pretty much spot on. The snark and the witty banter is well-written and effective. It’s not the Whedon-esque humor that seems to pepper the other Marvel movies and the characters all seem to speak through themselves and be funny on their own merit. No one sounds exactly like anyone else and even in the two hours or so with them you get a definite sense of voice.

I want to keep this short, but go see this movie. Go see it right now if you can. If I had to rank this as opposed to other Marvel films. Like I said, it takes itself a lot less seriously even though the thread is far greater. There’s no political commentary or anything of that sort, but not serious doesn’t mean bad. Captain America 2 was my favorite of the Marvel movies up until this point, but I think this one might be even with it.

Again, go see this movie.

So Did The Fat Lady

ac3ea7190c324be4cbd4338c53e097ebThe FX show “Louie” Has been some of the most impressive I’ve ever seen and it seems like not many people are watching it. When you consider that it’s on the same network that bought up shows like “Archer” and “Always Sunny” you would think that it had the kind of support from other comedies that could catapult it into being the kind of thing people are talking about at work the next day.

After the episode last week, entitled So Did the Fat Lady, I’m starting to think I know why there’s not a more prominent following behind “Louie”. The show is staggeringly brilliant, but it’s brutal. Not in that fantastical Game of Thrones way so that people can’t look away, but in a way that the show is being so real with you that you want to look away. You only don’t because it’s such a good well written show. You feel for characters, even ones that you just meet some of the time and you get to walk this awkward line between surreal and realism that’s not the kind of thing that I’m used to seeing on TV.

It can be hard to watch a show that points out faults in something that you’ve done or a way you’ve behaved. This show can do that and does it really well.

The episode tackles the way men are about dating overweight women versus how things are for overweight men. It’s an interesting and brave commentary and it will probably make a lot of people mad (bring up overweight women or anything to do with them in some circles and watch the anger it provokes).

It’s good that a show has the courage to do these kinds of things and even point the finger at it’s audience. It’s for the best that this show isn’t on Comedy Central too, because the network seems to have very little patience for smart comedy these days. And while Archer and “Always Sunny” might technically be the same genre of show as “Louie”, they’re not hard hitting and watching them isn’t going to shine a spotlight on you.

We need more of this kind of thing in media. We need more out there that can entertain while making you think.

Learning to let go

By OrmeryIt feels like I must have been in high school when I came across the book Good Omens, although I am sure it must have been later because I wouldn’t have handled it’s criticisms of religion with the light heartiness that I did and high school me didn’t know who Neil Gaiman even was

I had also (briefly) given up on reading even though I still tried to write. I stopped reading for the same reason a lot of high school aged kids stop reading. We’re taught that the only serious books out there are the likes Shakespeare and Twain and Chaucer and Milton and so on. We’re not exposed to how fun reading can be or how interesting a book can be. High school English programs are just a place to sift out the literature students for college courses.

But I’m way off topic. When I first heard about Good Omens and heard everyone speak so highly of it and the authors I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy. Amazon didn’t have their LOOK INSIDE feature back then and I didn’t trust ordering books online anymore after a copy of a book on writing had taken six months to reach me.

I settled for getting the book from Barnes and Noble and read through the first bit in a rush, but as I progressed my reading slowed and I grew tired of the characters. The children in the book were following that pattern that 90’s sitcoms seemed to follow: once there’s children on the screen/page count on everything being a little less funny.

This was the first thing Gaiman I had ever picked up and I remember thinking I really wanted to like the guy. Not because he’s a writer and some kind of master of the craft, but because there was a girl that I liked back then who adored him and somehow I thought that liking him would lead to—I don’t know what I thought it would lead to. It was a simpler time, the middle part of last decade.

I like Gaiman now, but I feel like I might need to give up on this book like I gave up on it the other times. We don’t really have to read anything we don’t want to. Not every book is going to please every person and if you’re not getting any enjoyment out of it why read it at all?

Now, there’s a school of thought that says that reading anything for a writer is like learning little lessons. There are some little lessons not worth finding out. That’s why my Kindle copy of Fifty Shades of Grey will probably forever be frozen at 53%. That’s why I refuse to read anything with shirtless hairless men on the cover. This isn’t anything against Pratchett or Gaiman.

Fiction and fantasy has changed a bit since the early 1990s and it’s easy to see the tine periods influence on the book. I’m sure it’s kind of hard for new listeners to get into Bell Biv Devoe or Duran Duran, but we don’t hold it against them. Writing is expected to be timeless, but I think that’s just because our school system and academics have forced us to keep reading shit that’s hundreds of years old.

In truth nothing is really timeless. And nothing is going to gel well with everyone, least of all if they try and force it. Sometimes you have to learn to let things slip past and just accept that they’re not meant for you.

Artwork Credit: http://ormery.deviantart.com/art/good-omens-fanart-180159896