29 January 2010

The Conclusion

For the past three months I've been pushing hard for everyone I know to watch Jersey Shore. Number of converts? Three, maybe two. My friends don't listen to me, what else is new? So this is my attempt to use a public forum to tell people why they need to watch it. I mean, since it's already over and only in reruns, or in this soon to be released DVD set (which I'll obviously be getting), it's the perfect time to get everyone on board. And more importantly, the title of the DVD, "Jersey Shore: Season 1," alludes to a season two. Fantastic.

As with many great things, I initially got sucked into Jersey Shore because of a Bill Simmons' podcast. This episode is a must listen and a wonderful jumping off point for the show. In it, he and the Czar of Reality Television, Dave Jacoby, break down the cast and review the first episode. Their analysis will make your enjoyment of the show quadruple. I guarantee it. [Update: Their Jersey Shore wrap up podcast just released!]

When the promos and first two episodes aired, the hate for Jersey Shore was fantastic. All the Italian stereotyping stuff, the sponsors dropping like flies, the douchebaggery of all involved, the Snookerpunch, all of those things made it possible only to love Jersey Shore quietly, or perhaps ironically. But after those first few episodes, Jersey Shore suddenly overcame all its troubles and people started to just outright love it. Openly and with no reservations. There's a simple reason for that: the show is great.

This is the zeitgeist, and I only use that word because it's fancy and fun to say and I'm probably using it wrong. But truly, Jersey Shore is the best thing MTV has come up with since the Real World Challenges and I dare say it's even better. For one, the Challenges are getting a tad formulaic. The Jersey Shore was a breath of fresh air. The Situation himself has so many catchphrases, so many quirks, insecurities, and moments of love/hate, that he is immensely compelling as a lead character. It helps that I have a friend who is very similar to the Situation, but I think everyone can probably equate someone in their lives to Mike. I want my friend to watch this show and then turn to him and say, "This is you man. See, see?"

The thing that makes this season of Jersey Shore incredible to watch is that these people would probably be doing the exact same thing without the cameras around. There's no artifice because they pretty much already lived like they were on a reality tv show. Now that they're famous and getting five figures for appearances, that'll probably all change, but Season 1, much like the first Real World, was when it was all still real. You know?

I love how the show initially made me think I liked Sammi Sweatheart and then by the end I thought she was the most emotionally manipulative girlfriend ever and needed to be dumped, even if she was the so called pretty one. I like how I totally respected Pauly D and Ronnie the Rampaging Rhino, who are like good peoples. And Vinny, he's not just the slightly goofy, no GTL (Gym Tan Laundry) doing, slightly dorky outcast, he's completely endearing for his momma's boy values and his undercover girl game.

And J-Woww, who could have easily just been the implanted bimbo, turned out to be my favorite character with her raspy voice, Amazonian fighting spirit, and a true understanding of what it means to be a good friend. She's the "sweetest bitch you'll ever meet," not Sammi. I don't even mind that she co-opted my self appointed nickname, "Jon Wow," since she's clearly made it twenty times better and wholly unusable, which is probably a great thing. I never connected with Snooki much, even as I recognize that she was the spiritual lynchpin of the house. Of course, when she and Mike made out during that last episode, I pretty much puked. It was wrong for every reason.

And Jersey Shore has spawned so many fun things in its short life span. An entire amusement industry has sprung up around them, with sound boards, nickname generators, and Jersey Shore avatars. Plus plenty of t-shirts, towels, and paraphernalia for sale. It's also hard to not fist pump at least once when you're out a club now. Just to see who else might start doing it, or recognize the gesture. (For the record, Ronnie is the worst dancer in the house, not the best. His dancing "style" is hilarious.)

The cast has been spoof'd, de-bronzed, dressed up/down in conservative outfits, game showed to show their intelligence (or lack thereof), and made over Michael Cera. They will likely ride their fifteen minutes of fame for three and a half years, and then slip into the pit of despair, but I hope not, because I want the best for all of them. I want The Situation to change his legal name to Situation, much like the Ultimate Warrior changed his to "Warrior," in order to protect his legal rights to it. And I want him to go on motivational speech tours.

I want Jersey Shore to come back soon, because even if they are now too famous for their own good, I miss them already. And I want you all to join me in appreciating this cultural treasure because even if we have nothing else in common as friends, at least we'll have this. Thank you for your consideration.

Oh, my one enduring question -- aside from if Ronnie and Sammi are still together, and if their breakup was staged -- is wondering exactly how tall these guys are. Here's a photo of them with Rob Dyrdek, who's apparently around five seven. I met someone who went downtown to catch a Situation appearance at a club, but he was on an elevated platform and away from the masses, so the guy couldn't tell. I don't know why their height matters to me. I guess it's because in my mind these people are so much bigger than life, so Bunyan-esque in my imagination, that I need to know how I measure up.

26 January 2010

No Thank You

Listening to: Passion Pit, "Sleepyhead." Whiny, annoying, catchy, and uplifting at the same time. You'll miss it five minutes after you just heard it.

I discovered Jancee Dunn last year and can't believe I haven't shared her with the world yet. She's a former MTV VJ, ex-Rolling Stone journalist, and a hilarious memoir writer. I randomly picked up "But Enough About Me" at Housing Works in SoHo over the summer, read just one page, fell in love with it, and have since bought four copies to distribute to friends.

Her newish book of stories, "Why Is My Mother Getting a Tattoo," contains an essay about the calcifying habits her husband, Tom, has developed over time. He is against, for example, "restaurants with the words fun, factory, or eatery in its name, or anything with a subtitle ('A Pan-Asian Fusion Bistro and Wine Bar')." Other things that make his no can do list include Sunday brunches, brands of jeans with names longer than two words, and walking while eating. While at first this might seem curmudgeonly, I find myself relating to Tom. See, in recent years, I've also developed a long list of things that I simply "don't do" anymore.

A smattering: I don't do hip hop concerts, I don't do gourmet fried chicken, I don't do costume parties, holidays, overpriced breweries with crappy food, or movies in the park. I don't do airport duty unless it's within my normal operating hours, 2pm - 4am. I refuse to wear dress shoes for a club because if you're going to be dancing why the hell do you want to be in uncomfortable footwear (sorry ladies, your sacrifice is noted)? After hearing my friend say that he'll walk away from anything with a line, I've decided I don't do lines anymore either. That goes for ice cream on a hot day, midnight premieres or launches, and amusement parks. I will stand in line for Souplantation and most buffets though. Most recently I've developed an aversion to anything free. I'm not in college anymore, "free" shouldn't be a knee jerk enticement, not when it means a thousand other people will be flocking there for a likely sub-par experience.

Dunn explains it like this:
"Of course, to a younger man, choice is enticing. But an older man is acquainted with disappointment. The years roll on, the regrets pile up, and suddenly your dogged adherence to 'no alcoholic beverage that contains more than three ingredients' starts to make more sense.... After four decades on earth, time was no longer infinite for him. Those mediocre dinners and pointless films become less forgivable. And so, for Tom -- and for me -- out the window go reunion-concert tours, morning television, and invitations to events with vague dress codes like 'smart casual' and 'business festive.'"
Sure, with an ever expanding list of things I "don't do," I run the risk of being a Debbie Downer or Fussy Buddy, but hey, a man has to draw the line somewhere right? I admire Tom for the specificity of his rules and I hope to refine my dislikes into a similarly pruned temple of "no." Of course, when I'm fifty and friendless I might change my tune but for now I think it'll be okay.

21 January 2010

Fox Force Five

Listening to: Phoenix, "Girlfriend."

I could go on and on about why I love each of these blogs. But I think if you just go ahead and RSS them and read them you'll love them too. I don't have the words to eloquently explain why I dig these blogs so I'd better let them tell it. Some of them are long time favorites, some of them I've only recently found, but all of them I'm addicted to and wished they posted every second of the day. So this is like my desert island top five of blogs. And they'll serve as introduction to my new and improved blogroll.

Note: I have no idea why these are all blogs written by women. My guess is I tend to favor confessional, personal blogs that are both well written and funny, and for whatever reason it's harder to find guys who blog like that. I'm constantly on the hunt for blogs that fit this criteria. If anyone has suggestions, please pass them along!

[Through the Looking Glass]
"Overall though, I like the patient population in NY better than the patient population in Philadelphia. There’s more diversity, there’s more of an immigrant/working class/trying-to-hustle-and-make-it population, more parents care about their kids. I suppose you could say that there’s less despair in New York. Less resignation to their status in life. These folks are generally busting their asses. And despite all their non-urgent complaints, I recognize that in them and respect that. There’s more pride. You can see it in their appearance. Shabby but clean. In how they tug on their children and tell them to behave appropriately in public. There’s a human-ness in NY that I appreciate."
-New Year's Resolutions-

[Single Spaced]
"As much as I love being a mom, I also need time to just do me. The good news is that I’ve become a lot more confident in this motherhood thing since my daughter was born. One major indicator is that I’ve been able to take myself out of the “mommy wars” context altogether and can say with complete honesty that I’m no longer conflicted about having to work. I’m a lot more comfortable charting my own path as a mom and more confident in my ability to figure things out on my own and with The Huz. There’s a more defined shape to my role as Mommy, and now there’s space to figure out the rest of me and who I am as a woman."
-Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire-

[Relentless Miracles]
"From his new girlfriend, he will not face harassment about attending White Privilege Workshops (“Come on! It’ll be good for you!”). No longer will I make him sit through three hour documentaries about Hurricane Katrina and participate in post-film Q&As with the director. He will not need to attend two hour Youth Speaks Teen Poetry Slams; he will not feel guilty about “not wanting to talk about genocide all of the time.” He’ll no longer feel the pressure to vote in primary and midterm elections. His sexual performance will not be graded (“You got a check plus there my friend,” I would say afterwards). He will not receive another postcard from a communist country I have traveled to."
-How Facebook is Ruining My Life-

[Magic Molly]
"Late in the afternoon I sat still and watched the Triops. It had rained all day and the dressing for and braving of weather made me long for a tank of unchanging comfort in which to flutter, like the Triops, without rest. And he doesn’t rest, not that I can tell. A thumb-sized creature in the shape of a horsehoe crab, he is always moving when I turn on the light, subsisting on three pellets per day of Triops Food from a white envelope. This is all. His metabolism must be slow. For a thing in perpetual motion, he keeps the weight on."
-Technical memoranda-

[The Antisocial Ladder]
"When I was 18, I met my first Hmong friend, who upon initial meeting I thought was Chinese. For once, I was getting to confuse someone as Chinese. She was telling a story about how one of the little kids we worked with kept referring to her as Chinese, but that she was in fact Hmong. She laughed and I laughed along with her, pretending to know what the hell she was talking about. Later, I actually went through the dictionary looking for the mystery ethnicity of which she spoke. "Is it spelled Mung? Mong? Like Mongolian? Is that another way of saying your Mongolian?" My thick head never would have guessed that you needed an 'h.'"
-What Ocean?-

17 January 2010

The Book of Eli (2010)

Part two of our hopping experience, it was either this, Daybreakers, or Avatar again. Despite being entertaining most of the way through, I think we would have gladly traded in both Lovely Bones and Book of Eli for another Avatar viewing. Denzel Washington, Mila Kunis, and Gary Oldman are appealing and fit their roles nicely (although Kunis can't quite pull off bad ass and really needs to find her non-romantic lead niche fast to secure her future). The bleak post-apocalyptic world is nicely shot, if a bit cliche, and there's good scenes sprinkled throughout, as well as an encompassing sense of atmosphere and mystery. It's always fun watching Denzel do Denzel right?

So the movie heads in a nice direction until the last twenty minutes and from there it just baffles you. I won't discuss any spoilers here but you'll be Googling after the movie, I'm sure of it. There's a bit of discussion about faith and religion and bringing people together and I'm sure there's a really great allegory to modern times fit in around the fighting and action scenes, but overall the Book of Eli is pretty much just good as movie hopping fodder. You could go deeper with it but I'll take a pass. I am curious how the conservative Christian world takes it though, I can't imagine a lot of support on that front.

The Lovely Bones (2009)

I only read some of the book because something about the ubiquitousness of the light blue cover turned me off. Well now I know exactly what it's about and I feel the need to read it. A girl is murdered and the hunt is on to figure out who did it. Of course, the movie turns down a lot of the pathos from the book and the whole thing becomes a sort of spiritual whodunit. I've decided Peter Jackson is not a good director. I watched Heavenly Creatures, I watched King Kong and the Lords, and now this effort which left me very upset about the pacing. Peter Jackson, I'm boycotting you (and I hope the Halo movie doesn't happen under your direction).

Everything about this movie was off. I didn't like Saoirse Ronan as the lead (possibly tainted by my memory of her awful lying ways as Briony in Atonement), I didn't like Mark Wahlberg or the usually very likable Rachel Weisz, and I hated Nikki SooHoo's faked accent. Can't she just speak regular old English? Hewwo? We need to find SooHoo a better role. So really I liked Stanley Tucci the best, as the sociopathic killer. That's probably not a good thing. And really, if having bad hair, bad clothes, and bad style was enough to qualify you as a murder suspect, the movie sure got the 70s absolutely right.

12 January 2010

Get Smart

Listening to: Discovery, "Carby." My friend who gave this to me said it's "R&B for hipsters." I'm not sure what that means but this isn't like any R&B I recognize. After some researching, it turns out Discovery is a side project for some members of Vampire Weekend and Ra Ra Riot. Since I don't who either of those bands are, I guess I'm like way outside hipster-dom. For good or for evil.

So I'm back in school. Yes, I figured since I'm going to be in San Diego for the next few months, I should be productive with my time and get back on that school thing. The last time I was in school was probably seven or so years ago? I felt old to be in undergrad then, now I'm positively ancient. But since I look like I could be an undergrad I'm hoping to blend right in. With the help of my trusty ex-intern -- sit on that a minute -- I got settled in quickly. She's been absolutely great about responding to my panicked text messages ("Where is this building!? How do I buy a parking pass!? What is this online thing I need to do?!"). College has changed a lot since I last stepped foot on campus, and it's all damn confusing.

I had forgotten how tough it was getting into classes. You hear about the UC system getting squeezed and particular schools being jammed with increasing enrollment and fewer resources but the reality is stark. Since I'm not officially a UCSD student, I had to crash classes, wait out the waitlist people, and then get permission from the instructor. That meant I spent last week jumping from class to class, collecting a lot of syllabuses, and only getting into every third class or so. When I explained my situation, some of the professors were super helpful and willing to accommodate me, for which I'm quite grateful. After a rough first week, I finally got it all figured out and will be taking two writing classes (memoir and short fiction) and an introduction to critical theory class.

Technically I could take any upper division classes but I wanted to take writing workshops because I haven't really done much of it in the past and if I'm going to be in school, I want to learn. Recently I've been thinking about how education can be entirely wasted on the young. You don't appreciate it or have the time to really devote to it when there are social distractions waiting in every direction. Or maybe I was just like that. Now I'm just thirsty for knowledge anywhere and happy to drink in the enthusiasm of teachers and students.

As a sidenote, I've been following Alexandra Bracken's blog for a bit now and she's a debuting young adult author who's still in college. Or maybe just graduated. She wrote and revised her book, "Brightly Woven," while doing classes and all of that. I can't even imagine the discipline it took to get through both schoolwork and the book writing. Quite amazing. I nominate her "Most Productive Person of 2009."

08 January 2010

Up In the Air (2009)

Well crafted, nicely shot, starring likable actors and actresses, and getting lots of pre-Oscar buzz. There's a whole lot to like about Up In the Air but I'll tell you now, it's shaping up to be the Crash of 2010. Maybe I'm way too biased because it's entirely too hopeful for me and I hate the message it gives, which is essentially: "lonely person must find others to find happiness." After an amusing and strong beginning where we see George Clooney's crazy travel habits, the movie devolves into a whole mess of emotional cliches and I couldn't stomach it anymore. It's a decent movie, it lets Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga do a lot of fun scenes, but it's no best picture contender. Which means of course it'll win.

Let me tangent here and spoil a little bit of an insignificant plot thing. So in the movie Clooney's sister is about to get married but her fiance gets cold feet a few hours before the wedding. After getting a pep talk from George, he decides he's ready to marry the sister and she joyfully says "of course!" after being in absolute tears. I'm against this. If the guy gets cold feet right before the wedding, that's an automatic, "Cancel the reception, shit needs to be re-evaluated immediately. I don't care what you say right now, clearly you are not ready for this." Are we agreed here?

03 January 2010

Visual Acoustics (2009)

Last year I saw "The Cool School," a documentary about the LA modern art scene. A nice complementary piece could have been Visual Acoustics, subtitled "The Modernisms of Julius Shulman." Shulman's an architectural photographer and his work has been highly influential and you've probably seen his photos even if you didn't recognize his name, which I didn't. Many of the architects he worked with I was familiar with though: Netra, Koenig, Lautner, Eames, Wright, Gehry.

While I'm hardly an architectural scholar, I do love buildings and this movie brings many of them to life wonderfully. Actually, the very first domain name I purchased was hyperwest.net, in semi-homage to this book, "Hyperwest: American Residential Architecture on the Edge." After watching Visual Acoustics, I realize how much Shulman's work must have influenced Hyperwest. And if you read The Fountainhead (one of my favorite books) there's a lot of talk about the aesthetics of buildings because the main character's philosophy on architecture was inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright.

It's interesting that a film captures the work of a photographer who captures the beauty of buildings, but whatever it takes to get the word out right? Seriously, if you like architecture, photography, or just art at all, this is a must see. Below is an excerpt from the official film website:
"Populating his photos with human models and striking landscapes, Shulman combined the organic with the synthetic, melding nature with revolutionary urban design. The resulting images helped to shape the careers of some of the greatest architects of the 20th Century, with Shulman documenting the work of Richard Neutra, Rudolph Schindler, Pierre Koenig, John Lautner and many others.

Taking its aesthetic cues from Shulman’s own sensual and nuanced photography, the film’s narrative is built from a blend of Shulman’s own images as well as in depth interviews with architect Frank Gehry, designer Tom Ford, artist Ed Ruscha, actress Kelly Lynch and writer Mitch Glazer, publisher Benedikt Taschen, Academy Award -- nominated cinematographer Dante Spinotti and a host of others."