Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Duck Comics: The Gold Odyssey

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The delusions of wingnuts


"That bumper sticker that maybe you'll see on the next Subaru driving by -- an Obama bumper sticker -- you should stop the driver and say, 'So how is that hopey, changey thing working out for ya?'"

Charming. She really is a vile excuse for a human being, although in her dubious "defense," I'm pretty sure she's too dim to even realize she's inciting violence.

But here's the thing: that "hopey changey" line works great with teabaggers because, A., it's designed to enrage anyone who's not a teabagger; B., it infantalizes Obama; and C., it plays into their fantasy that "they all just voted for Obama 'cause they're STUPID JERKS, and NOW they're sorry I BETCHA." Needless to say, however, this does not translate outside of their insular little enclave. What the hell kind of response would you possibly expect a driver with an Obama sticker to give you? The fact that they've still got the sticker presumably indicates that they're still pretty happy about him. Best-case scenario (worst-case scenario being a fistfight) would be something like "okay, but not Islamarxofascist-y enough." What kind of catharsis is THAT going to provide Mr. or Ms. Teabagger? None at all. It's just going to further enrage him or her (but most likely him). I would say that that's the idea but--and maybe this is a failing on my part--I just can't imagine Moosegirl being smart enough to be that Machiavellian.

Tip to wannabe demagogues: when you're whipping up your followers' delusional revenge/persecution fantasies, it's probably best not to encourage them to engage in behavior that would immediately refute said fantasy. Granted, in this case the followers in question are dumb enough that this insta-refuting wouldn't be likely to change their stances one iota, but on general principle, it's best not to be so embarrassingly slipshod.

Let's give duck comics characters D&D statistics!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Magic Post Test Thingie

We are now trying out a program that magically lets us post from our desktop without even fucking around with the usual blogger interface. This could be super-convenient. Let's try adding a picture:


She does indeed. She most certainly does indeed.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The post where I almost agree with Sarah Palin on something!

Actually, I'd like it better if they'd sit down AND shut up. But if it has to be one or the other, then, yes, absolutely, I would go with "shut up" in a heartbeat. Look how bipartisan this blog has become!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

This is how we do things in the country

Okay, so maybe that title is only marginally on-point. But there's never a bad time to quote Slim Cessna lyrics. Anyway, we are currently in San Antonio for a conference, and here is a sign we witnessed on a sports bar:

We cannot help noting that there are zero words on this sign that would be comprehensible to anyone not steeped in wingnut mythology. Do liberals use their businesses to post belligerent, off-topic signs after legislative defeats? We suppose it must've happened here and there after the scotus awarded whatsisface the presidency in 2000, but we think it's safe to say that, for all their jillions of faults, Democrats in general are far less obnoxious about these things than republicans.

Monday, March 22, 2010

So it seems there was some guy named Bill talking about health care or something.

I am glad that this Bill fellow passed. No, we still aren't gonna have a remotely just health care system, but as long as we have to have the system that we have, we might as well attempt to maneuver in such a way so as to make it as less-bad as we can. God, what an inspiring statement that was. It was instructive--if mind-numbingly dull--to watch cspan last night and here the endless statements in support or opposition. Listen to republicans endlessly spouting the "this bill will create a MASSIVE DEFICIT!" line was simultaneously totally predictable and totally unbelievable. Shouldn't they at least pretend that human life means more to them than money? Crikey.

But whatever--republican congressthings will never be anything other than what they are--and we all know what they are--so there's little point dwelling on it. What's just baffling to me is how so, so many normal people (okay, "normal" may not be the right word) are able to work themselves up into a violent, self-righteous froth about this. I mean, I understand the reason--late capitalism discourages any kind of communal thinking--but the level of rage is just something else. I guess "how DARE the government force insurance companies to not let me die!" is really the same as "how DARE the government not let me eat trans fats!" Some people have an extremely peculiar (that's the polite word) concept of what "rights" are. I know that the republican party's entire MO is convincing people to go against their own self-interest, but good lord--voting for tax cuts for the rich is one thing; shaking your fists at the heavens and DEMANDING that people be allowed to punch you repeatedly in the throat is quite another.

The cspan callers were a real treat, too--like the "next Obama's gonna control when we can SLEEP!" guy, the alleged nurse who was absolutely convinced that nobody is ever refused medical care for any reason anyway, and of course the "no, I don't have health insurance--I'm a pretty healthy guy" guy (you can hear the gods of irony licking their chops in the background). With specimens like this as evidence, I suppose I could be massively overthinking things--maybe people are just really, really dumb, and that's all there is to it. Bah.

The other thing that's good about the bill passing is that it shows teabagging dickheads that their bullying and thuggery isn't enough to bring the government to a standstill. I know it's not a lesson that's going to sink in or anything, but it really needs to be said in any case--empowering people like that with actual victory would be an extremely bad thing.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Duck Comics: "Wailing Whalers"

Featuring a lengthy discursis on the ultra-obscure Moby Duck. No matter what you've seen before, NOTHING can prepare you for a mind-shattering episode that will change everything you think you know about Duck Comics Revue--next, on blogspot!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Oakley Hall, Warlock (1958)

Yes, it's true, you read me like a book of matches: the only reason I read this novel was because it has Thomas Pynchon's imprimatur. I kinda suspect that nowadays, that's the reason most people read it, who read it. It's not especially reminiscent of anything Pynchon would write, except perhaps in terms of the obliqueness of some of the characterizations. Then again, probably--what?--a fourth of Against the Day could fairly be called a western, so maybe it works out.

Anyway, I'm glad I read Warlock. It's a very deft, subtle deconstruction of American mythology. Skeletally, the plot could hardly be simpler: the citizens of a town (Warlock) in a fictionalized region of Arizona are tired of all the cattle rustlin' and gunfightin' going on, so they band together and hire a legendary lawman, Clay Blaisedell, to restore some law'n'order. Sound like a pretty standard plot for a western, does it not?

Well, things don't turn out as you'd expect. We slowly come to realize that the cattle rustlers in question--the ones stirring up all the trouble in the first place--are kind of beside the point, to wit: to what extent is the town willing to accept the kind of mythic frontier justice they thought they were buying into when they hired Blaisedell, and is this "justice" even remotely plausible in any case? One problem that the townspeople face is that they're not actually incorporated, and thus don't really have all the rights of representation that they ought to have as US citizens, so on the one hand, they're gravitating towards civilization--they want to live (though they certainly don't consciously think along those lines) in the kind of place where dime novel Wild West heroics are obsolete--and on the other, those very heroics are ever-present, both as a kind of reality and as an conception of the world that is pretty firmly entrenched in everyone's minds. Where do you go from there?

Blaisedell isn't really the main character; he remains pretty opaque throughout (not really in the same sense as Brackett Omensetter, but I wouldn't curse you to hell for making the comparison). Instead, we have John Gannon, a former rustler who, shaken up after having been involved in a massacre, quits the gang and becomes deputy marshall in the town (because it's not exactly an in-demand position). Naturally, we have here a perfect image of torn loyalties, especially since his brother is still on the other side. Gannon's commitment to something like civilization makes people admire and hate him in turn; he embodies everyone's hopes and insecurities. This is complicated even more by the presence of Kate Dollar, a former prostitute come to town to wreak vengeance on Blaisedell for allegedly killing her fiancé. She has the most affectless romance (if you can even call it that) ever with Gannon, who is--as you can imagine--put in an exceedingly difficult position here. Although their relationship isn't much (and I'm afraid that by calling it that I'm making it sound like more than it is), it's still the novel's emotional center.

Another subplot involves the efforts of the miners working in the area to unionize (okay, come to think of it, this part is pretty obviously influential on late Pynchon), and once again, we're forced to face up to the question of how we want to live, since the need to organize to become effective flies in the face of the individualistic spirit of both the western and of America (as it conceives itself) in general.

I should at least say a few words about the novel's villain, Tom Morgan, but he's a tantalizingly hard character to pin down--a friend of Blaisedell, Kate's former lover, he's pretty darned fascinating. Undoubtedly, he is an evil man, but not "evil" in the sort of witlessly absolute, unfathomable way you'd see were this a Cormac McCarthy novel, and not wholly unsympathetic--he's all too human, and his suffering and jealousy and doubt are all too real. An actual, honest-to-goodness antihero if ever there were one. If this were a typical western, he would be a typical badman, but that is a counterfactual. Getting to the bottom of his motivations is not easy, but his scenes, especially with Kate, are frequently mesmerizing; certainly some of the most indelible writing in the book.

Anyway, I don't want to get too deep into spoiler territory--as you'd expect, things go all pear-shaped, and we are made to see that the contradictions between how we see ourselves and who we are are simply too great for us to bear. I should make it clear that the novel isn't unambiguously in favor of civilization as embodied by the US government, either; the mine boss is a tyrant if ever there were one, and the governor of the territory is a senile old man lost in dreams of past glories of killing Mexicans. Hall refuses to make things easy or provide straightforward answers, and that's a good part of why this is such a great book (one could certainly say a few words about how our conception of ourselves, as outlined herein, is THE operating principle in US politics, for better or for worse (actually, always for worse), but this is long enough as it is).

One caveat, though: the brief afterward, which helpfully reveals WHAT HAPPENS NEXT: it's awful. Completely artistically unjustified. I can't believe Hall would have slipped up like that. It completely takes the wind out of what had been a pretty darned resonant ending. I know if you read that far, you're not gonna want to stop, but I feel like I should at least warn you. Now you have no one to blame but yourself.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

ABC, Lexicon of Love (1982)

So recently I tried listening to the band's third album, How to Be a…Zillionaire! for the first time, and man…some people like to use words like "flimsy" and "disposable" as sort of all-purpose dismissals of eighties synthpop. I would argue that this is a foolish thing to do, as artists like Ultravox, Heaven 17, The Buggles, and Thomas Dolby all made pretty darned substantial music. However, "disposable" is the only word I can think of for Zillionaire. I wanted to hear it because it was the band's second-highest-rated album on allmusic, but the result was a major disappointment.

The reason I'd never listened to anything else the band did is because Lexicon of Love is such a definitive statement that it seemed as though the band's later, much-less-fêted albums would inevitably be letdowns. This appears to be the case. Everything else just seems…irrelevant.

Pretty much anything I can say about Lexicon is probably superfluous--I'm certainly not bucking any critical consensus here. But the album really is quite a thing. The marriage between the mixture of synthesized and orchestral instruments and the lyrics (that's right--it's a polygamous marriage) has rarely been done so well, and absolutely nothing on the album is not closely considered. More than ever before, it seems to me, the eighties was a time when producers used music as their own sonic playgrounds, and this is pretty much the summit of that tendency, even when it's not immediately apparent. Just listen--listen, I tell you!--to those ferocious arpeggios playing behind the verses of "Valentine's Day." Quite extraordinary.

The mood of the album is probably worth commenting on--overwhelmingly, it is one of sublimated emotional devastation, only occasionally erupting outwards. So on "Many Happy Returns," given the subdued chorus--"these are the lessons I could have learned/And these are the letters I should have burned"--it's all the more striking to hear Martin Fry spit out "I know what's good/But I know what trash is" (or, even better, "I know democracy/But I know what's fascist").

Often, however, strong emotion is only felt by its absence. I bow to no one in my appreciation of "Poison Arrow," and you had better believe that I will loudly sing along with the chorus, deploying my best falsetto for the "HAA-AH-EART!" bit. However, it's certainly not the album's most subtle song. BUT: the CD features, as a bonus track, something called "Theme from 'Mantrap.'" Wikipedia sez that "Mantrap" is a short spy film starring the band (sample sentence: "It is then up to Martin to battle his doppelganger and make the world safe for New Romantic Synth Pop"). The song is just a slower version of "Poison Arrow," but I think it even outdoes the original. It embodies the album's mood perfectly, and towards the end it features what may well be the album's best moment, as Fry intones "sticks and stones may break my bones but…words they almost killed me." I cannot imagine another context where that line would be so devastating, but in this perfectly unified, hermetic setting, they absolutely kill.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Duck Comic Analysis in Print Journals

Moses, Geoffrey. ""What a Life!" Carl Barks' Donald Duck as Nervous Modern." International Journal of Comic Art. 12.1 (2010): 288-301.

I can't link to it because the IJOCA's website is woefully out of date, and they don't have an online version anyway. But here's a blurry photograph to prove it exists:

I have to say, I'm pleased as punch; I feel as though this means, in some abstract way, that the world is validating/legitimizing my somewhat eccentric obsession. Also, I'm glad to report that even though I wrote this about a year ago, I'm still pleased with it--usually what happens is that I write something, then look back a few months later and think ARGH! HOW COULD I HAVE BEEN SO NAIVE AND REDUCTIVE!!!11 But I still think this is mostly pretty on the money.

Anyway, check it out if you have access to a university library that carries the journal. I'll post a .pdf here after some decent interval.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Song of the South Q&A

Q. Summarize the plot in as few words as possible.

A. A boy, Johnny, goes to live with his mother at his grandmother's estate. His father leaves; it is elliptically revealed that their marriage is suffering. This makes Johnny sad, but he meets Uncle Remus, who tells him edifying animated stories about Br'er Rabbit. He also meets a girl named Ginny, and they become friends. His mother thinks Remus is a bad influence on her son, so she forbids him to hang out with him. He leaves; Johnny chases after him and gets gored by a bull in notably bloodless fashion. Remus is reinstated and Johnny's father returns. These two things cause Johnny magically not to die. The kids and Remus skip around as cartoon animals appear in the real world via some kind of rip in the space-time continuum. The end.

Q. Okay, let's cut to the chase: how racist is it?

A. Pretty darned racist, actually. One's immediate inclination is to assume that Disney's concerns about the movie are overblown, but it really is pretty bad (obviously, this doesn't mean I approve of the ban). It's not maliciously racist, and there's nothing like the jaw-dropping "What Makes the Red Man Red?" bit in Peter Pan, but regressive racial presumptions predominate. The white people are clearly the ruling class; the movie takes place contemporaneously to its filming, but attitude-wise, you'd never know it wasn't a Confederate fantasia of some idealized version of slavery with the happy, simple slaves living in harmony with their wise and compassionate masters. When Johnny has a birthday party, Toby, the black boy he's become friends with, isn't even not invited; rather, it's that the very idea that an African American could be invited to socialize with the rich white kids never even crossed anyone's mind. So you can sort of see Disney's point.

Q. Crikey. Is there anything in the movie that might somehow attenuate this racism?

A. Well, Ginny does come from a kind of white-trash background (and her oafish brothers are the movie's antagonists)--we are given to know that even Toby is forbidden to associate with such people. So you know. But this barrier turns out to be permeable, as Ginny is permitted to go to the party. There are gulfs and then there are gulfs.

Q. Anything else?

A. Well, we get the impression that Johnny's uptight mother could stand to learn a thing or two from the more laid-back negroes. But I'm not sure that exactly helps the movie's case.

Q. Probably not. So, moving on: does anyone in the movie display any discernible acting talent?

A. Only James Baskett as Uncle Remus. Obviously he's playing a type, and not a particularly racially progressive type either, but he does it well enough that you appreciate his work in spite of that. Impressively, he also voices Br'er Fox in the animated bits, sounding absolutely nothing like Remus. He died only two years after the film was released, at the age of forty-four (you'd never guess from the movie that he was that young). Very sad.

Q. Jeez.

A. Sorry to suck the air out of the room like that.

Q. AHEM. So about those animated segments--how are they?

A. Mixed. Br'er Rabbit isn't actually a particularly distinctive or appealing character, and Br'er Bear is meh. But Br'er Fox is quite memorable, and whenever he's doing his thing they come to life. He's a fairly alarming character, lanky and full of sharp fangs and speaking--thanks to Baskett--in a hyperactive, nervy tone that sounds as though it's meant to be some sort of oblique commentary on our nation's crystal meth problem. We would absolutely obliterate Honest John from Pinnochio. Very well-done.

Q. What about the interactions between real-world and animated characters?

A. Pretty well-done--there's an especially neat bit where a live-action dog's head moves around following an animated frog.

Q. Cool.

A. Indeed.

Q. Can you make some sort of tedious connection to Disney comics?

A. It's not that hard--Rabbit starred for a long time in his own comic stories, and you also see the other characters around and about. I don't care for the stories much, but historically, it's interesting to see their origins.

Q. How's the music?

A. Again, mixed. I actually don't care so much for the song that everyone knows--the Academy Award-winning "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah"--and "Everybody's Got a Laughing Place" is just okay, but "How Do You Do?" is a lot of fun. There are also a handful of numbers that we only hear in part in the backgrounds of the live-action section, and some of those are worthwhile too, especially "Uncle Remus Said."

Q. You saw the movie in its last theatrical rerelease back in 1986. Do you remember anything of it from then?

A. I think I vaguely remember the bull-goring bit, but that's all. I only wanted to see it because of the animated bits, and I think the live-action parts (which are the great bulk of the movie) just kind of bored me. And yet, the animated parts don't seem to have stuck in my mind either. Go figure.

Q. How the hell did you get your hands on a copy in this day and age?

A. I can neither confirm nor deny that doing a google shopping search will reveal a number of very reasonably priced bootleg DVDs. It might or might not also be possible to view it online.

Q. Say no more.

A. I won't.

Q. Except this: did you like it overall? Does it have anything beyond historic interest?

A. You know, I did. Even disregarding troubling racial issues, It's not a brilliantly-executed production: the acting (apart from Baskett) is really quite bad and the script isn't up to much either, but I sort of got as caught up in it as it's probably possible for anyone to get in this day and age. I can't imagine how Disney could possibly rerelease it today--I frankly wouldn't want my children exposed to it, and I don't imagine that a DVD solely aimed at adult collectors would be easy to market or would sell well if the company did. And besides, after treating it like the madwoman in the attic for so long, how can you suddenly do an about-face? So it really is in kind of a tight spot. But if you have the means (and let's face it, if you have an internet-enabled computer, you do) I would recommend it to anyone interested in Disney history.

Q. Thank you for your time.

A. Always a pleasure.

Q. Any last words?

A. ALL of the child actors in this movie are now DEAD.

Q. ...

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Duck Comics: "Safari from Komba Tomba"

The only connection between the above image and today's offering is that they're both from old, obscure, non-Barks stories. I'll tell you this, though: if you submit in comments the link to the youtube video of you dashing into a pet store and demanding to know whether they have any trained woodpeckers that'll peck anywhere you want them to, you will totally win the coveted Inchoatia Merit-Oriented Award for Valor and Awesomeness. Seriously--I'll even make you a crude .jpeg.

What I like about this entry is that, due to the obscurity of "Safari from Komba Tomba," it increases the web-available information on the topic by several hundred percent easily.