Monday, August 15, 2016

“Modelling a culture after The Simpsons”/ "Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales"

Apr. 6, 2015  “Modelling a culture after The Simpsons”: I cut out this article by Alexandra Molotkow in the Globe and Mail on Jul. 12, 2014.  It had a picture of actors dressed up like the Simpsons so I had to read it.  The article is actually kind of deep as it dwells into a novel.  Here’s the whole article:
I worry, as we all do, about the decimation of the human race from climate catastrophe, supervolcanic eruptions, plagues. An asteroid at least wouldn’t be our fault, which is liberating the way it is when a plane hits turbulence and you realize that if you plummeted to your death it wouldn’t matter that you smoked for 15 years.

I also worry, selfishly, about the extinction of human culture as I’ve known it, for reasons both existential and practical. The music and books I love, the TV ads I remember, even the Far Side cartoons I’ve read and the novelty mugs I’ve drunk from, are so much a part of my consciousness that to think of them gone forever is to consider the end of me. Second, even if I survived the apocalypse, what would make life worth living?

I thought of this while reading Edan Lepucki’s California, a post-apocalyptic novel that received a huge publicity bump last month from satirical TV host Stephen Colbert, who encouraged viewers to buy it from independent bookstores as part of a middle-finger salute to Amazon (Colbert and Lepucki share a parent publisher, Hachette, whose titles have been shunted by the online superstore). It tells the story of Frida and Cal, a twentysomething couple in a United States rattled by climate catastrophe, who flee a rotting Los Angeles for the countryside. After Frida gets pregnant, they abandon their home in the woods for a strange community guarded by giant spikes made from junk. The inhabitants aren’t as menacing as expected, but human drama ensues.

Lepucki is less concerned with doomsday logistics than with a more essential question: What will make life meaningful when life as we know it ends? The book is a love story, fuelled mostly by the tension between Frida, Cal and their baby-to-be, but love, in this case, isn’t necessarily redemptive or virtuous. It’s a moral contranym: on one hand, nothing else matters when you’ve got love; on the other, when you’ve got love, nothing else matters. Through twists and turns, Frida and Cal end up in a private community for the surviving wealthy, where the shopping plaza plays How Much Is that Doggie in the Window and troublemakers are made to disappear. A suburban hell, but safe for the family.

Instead, the most heroic theme in California is human resourcefulness – how we carry “home” on our backs and remake our lives with whatever’s available. Frida invests a turkey baster with totemic properties and trades an old bra for a pair of Vicodin. Alone in the woods, she and Cal entertain themselves by having sex (“it replaced the Internet, reading, going out to dinner, shopping”) and meditating on terms (“Magic Marker, air conditioner, strawberry. It was more entertaining than Frida would have ever imagined it to be”).

It’s strangely uplifting to consider how future generations might salvage the ruins of ours. Consider Anne Washburn’s Mr. Burns, a post-electric play – which will see its Canadian premiere, produced by Outside the March and co-directed by Mitchell Cushman and Simon Bloom, next May – in which survivors of a presumed nuclear holocaust build a new culture based on The Simpsons.

In the first act, characters remember old episodes for comfort and to pass the time. By the second, survivors have formed rival theatre troupes to perform them, buying repertoire piecemeal from strangers – Simpsons lines have become a commodity – and staging “commercial breaks.” Everyone remembers how ads work, by selling status and identity over product, but no one quite remembers which products mean what.

The third act, set 82 years after the beginning, is a musical reconfiguration of the show’s Cape Feare episode (in which Sideshow Bob – now Mr. Burns – tries to murder Bart Simpson on a houseboat). Bits of Ricky Martin, Britney Spears and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas are absorbed into an allegory of the fall of civilization and the dawning of a new order. “And now that I’ve lost everything,” sings an uncanny Bart, “Now that everyone I love is gone/ All I have left is everything/ The river carries me on.”

It’s absurd, but not ridiculous. The Simpsons is the perfect basis for a new culture: both art and entertainment, profound and escapist, smart and stupid and wadded so deep in our psyches that, as the grounds for collective imagining, Springfield might as well be the astral plane. (For an example of how the show has been completely rewired for a new world – one in which the dysfunctional middle-class family is a literal pipe dream – and a new medium, consider @Homer_Marijuana, a Twitter account that tells a surprisingly grim story of the family’s weed dependency.)

The worlds of California and Mr. Burns are post-television, post-Internet – their predominant medium is memory, which warps culture more vividly than anything you’d need a generator to access. We know that our way of life is doomed, and that everyone will lose everything, and even through the best of times the end buzzes like office lights. But the prospect of building a new culture from figments of the old is oddly soothing. The only cause for optimism is human imagination.

"Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales": I cut out this book review “Ordinary lives cracked open” by Monica Rhor on Feb. 8, 2013.  She reviews this book by Yoko Ogawa, translated by Stephen Snyder.  Here’s the whole review:

They are the scenes of ordinary life: a mother stopping by the neighborhood bakery to purchase two strawberry shortcakes for her son's birthday, an aspiring writer toiling over a manuscript in a spare apartment, a young woman preparing dinner for her beau, a woman spying on her husband's mistress.

Yet in Yoko Ogawa's story collection, "Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales," those ordinary exteriors are merely brittle shells that crack open to reveal darkness, death and despair. Woven through the 11 interconnected tales is a thread of the grotesque, the macabre, the mournful.

The mother's errand turns out to be a paean to inconsolable loss. The writer emerges as an unhinged character that evokes both love and pity. The amorous young woman finds herself entwined in both a murder scene and a museum dedicated to torture.

Ogawa, a prolific author whose work has appeared in The New Yorker and Harper's Magazine, laces her stories with gruesome murders, exotic animals and peculiar events. Her language is both spare and searingly precise, crystallizing the details of everyday existence and capturing the unexpected shock of the bizarre.

In "Sewing for the Heart," for example, the narrator is a bag-maker who has been contracted to create a purse for a beating heart. The client is a cabaret singer who was born with the organ outside her chest. The narrator gasps in awe at the sight and utters an oddly erotic ode to the throbbing muscle: "What extraordinary, breathtaking beauty! Would it feel damp if I cupped it in my hands? Would the membrane rupture if I gave it a squeeze? ... I wanted to run my fingertips over each tiny bump and furrow, touch my lips to the veins, soft tissue on soft tissue, the pressure of her pulse against my skin."

Many of Ogawa's characters, including the bag-maker and the cabaret singer, reappear in other stories, as do details and events in ways that are sometimes incidental, sometimes integral to the plots. The effect is, as Ogawa describes the novel written by the unhinged author, an "icy current running under her words."

In these stories, ordinariness is not a mask hiding the morbid and the macabre. In many cases, the ordinary life itself, with its insistent drip of isolation, sameness, sadness and loss, is what pushes the characters to the edge of madness and vengeance.

As Ogawa writes in "Welcome to the Museum of Torture," which introduces readers to an exhibit space for devices such as corsets that crush internal organs and tweezers used to slowly pluck out a victim's hair: "For torture to be effective, the pain has to be spread out; it has to come at regular intervals, with no end in sight."

Ogawa's haunting prose may not be to everyone's taste, but readers willing to explore the murkier edges of the human psyche will not be disappointed.

Dec. 24, 2015 Zemanta: I cut out this article "Love your users; kill things that don't work: Tool for bloggers" in the National Post on Apr. 2, 2012.  It was in the business section, but it was related to blogging:

"Zemanta is a platform for assisted on-line content production for any web user. A blog, an article or a web page is fed it into its system which then recognizes the content and returns suggested images, smart links, keywords and relevant related stories from the Internet. It can be referenced from a user's preferred content publishing platform through a plug-in."

Mar. 23, 2016 Screenwriters Meetup: I went to one of these meetups last week and I didn't like the script.

It was offensive like that Punk'd episode where Jennifer Love Hewitt thought she was in real and present danger.  She thought she was going to get beaten up for being in this director's office.  The director was going to get beaten up and maybe Hewitt too.

The screenwriter S did say his script was supposed to be dark.

My week:

Aug. 8, 2016 Filmmakers meetup: I have been attending these since Aug. 2015.  In 2016 I have been inviting my friend Dan L. to attend these events.  These occur every 2 weeks.  The last one I sent to him, I did tell him that if he doesn't want to come, I will stop emailing it to him.  He finally attended one.

Charity: I have met his friends by going to his church and one of his friend C's house.  At C's house, we have deep and meaningful discussions about important topics like generosity.  One woman L there says she gave $5 to a homeless guy one time, and he was huffing gas.  She knew he was probably going to spend it on drugs, but she did anyway.  She said something about drugs are more important to this guy to stay warm.

I said to donate to charities like Hope Mission and that charity will help homeless people like feed them.  That is where I can guarantee the money pays for food instead of drugs and alcohol.

I remember talking to my friend Sonia about giving money to homeless people and she won't give money to them.

I really like going to C's house.  I've been there a couple of times.  It reminds me of having deep and meaningful conversations with one of my friends whom I accidentally offended in 2013 and she pushed me away. 

Jurassic Forest: Have you heard of this?  I saw a billboard ad and looked it up.  It's in Gibbons, AB.  I watched the video and it's of big life- like animatronic dinosaurs in a forest.  It looks cool and all.  However, I feel like I would end up getting bored like I was at the Telus World of Science. 

I looked up the activities there, and it seemed more for kids and families.

Aug. 10, 2016 Fun activities: I was looking up fun things to do in Edmonton.  The things that came up are like Telus World of Science, Muttart Conservatory, and Fort Edmonton Park.  I've been there for school field trips.  There is the Edmonton Valley Zoo.  I remember going to a zoo when I was a kid.  I don't really have any interest in this.  I did attend the Street Performers Festival and the Artworks Festival.  I did walk through the Taste of Edmonton Festival.  I have been to those a lot over the years.  It's not that interesting.

I saw a billboard ad for Speeders and that's go- cart racing.  I have never done that before, and I'm not really interested in it.

I even entered to win free tickets to see this musical that I found an entry form in the Edmonton Journal.  I didn't win.  The thing is I bought a pack of 10 stamps at London Drugs, and they can't sell 1 stamp.  I used  2 stamps to enter two different times to win the Sherlock Holmes contest.  I have lots of stamps leftover.   

I have to look for Meetups to go to.

Aug. 12, 2016: Yesterday was my birthday, but it was on a Thurs.  I already celebrated it already on Aug. 1, 2016 by going to West Ed mall. 

Aug. 13, 2016 Pokémon Go: I'm sure some of you guys may tell me to play this game, but I'm not going to.

1. I don't like Pokémon.

2. I don't have an iPhone. 

I'm on the bus and at work, and people are playing it. I will always associate Pokémon with The Simpsons episode where they make fun of the TV show Kids Say the Darndest Things.  Cut to Bill Cosby interviewing a 7 yr old boy.

Cosby: So what do you like to play?
Kid: Pokémon.
Cosby: Pokémon?!  You mean the poking and the mon, and the Ash Catch' em, and the blaaaah.....

Day off: Today I got a day off from my 1st restaurant job.  I woke up early and read the newspaper outside in the morning.  In the afternoon I went and recycled my pens and batteries at Staples.  I haven't been there since Feb. 2016.

I then visited my friend Jessica at work.  If it wasn't my day off, my Sat. are usually me working in the morning and reading the newspaper in the afternoon.

Today was a sunny day.

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