entertainment, general silliness, Lighter Things, Things We Should Know

From the Blevkog Archives – April 21, 2006: Cultural Relativism: An Example

Note to readers: I’m not entirely sure why, but this has always stood out for me as one of my favorite pieces of writing that I’ve done on Blevkog. This particular frivolous item comes from the prior incarnation of the blog. I may have written better entries since then, but I don’t think I’ve ever written anything more memorable. It has been edited slightly to remove what must have been evidence of a sale on commas and to add a photo at the end. Fortunately I am no longer so prone to being Captain Subordinate Clause. Enjoy.

Apropos of nothing except the spirit of Friday afternoon, I present the following.

As regular readers may know, in a rather lengthy comment to my compadre kevvyd’s item here, I made reference to the concept of cultural relativism. Simply put, it is the unfortunately rare ability to judge a culture or its members on its own merits, and not on the basis of another country’s cultural norms. The opposite of cultural relativism could therefore be called ethnocentrism.

Other cultures are different, that’s pretty much why there are other cultures. It makes the world an interesting place to live, all too often in the sense conveyed in the Chinese curse.

Japan, as a culture, has some interesting and unique qualities similar to our own, but just different enough to make us cock our heads sideways like a dog when you make a funny noise. For example, comic books are for the most part intended for adult consumption, and many cartoons are also so intended. The output of the anime culture, as it is called, is immense.

For quite a while, different business interests have made deals to bring some of these products to North America – the comic books are experiencing an unprecedented surge in popularity, for example. The cartoons have enjoyed a longer history, with Astro Boy closely followed by Speed Racer. Japanese cartoons, as a rule, have often seemed badly animated and poorly dubbed, which is partly true: often the dubbing is a result of the stories needing to be changed to more appropriately, shall we say, North American values.

Which leads me to this: many of my generation look back with an embarassed fondness on a show called Battle of the Planets. You know, the one with the flaming spaceship. In said battle of the titular spheres, Mark, Jason, Princess, Keyop and Tiny save the world each weekday (or whatever) from the forces of the evil Zoltar, from the planet Spectra.

With me so far? Great.

Not long ago, I was excited to find at my local library a copy of the Ultimate Collection of B.o.P. (if you’ll excuse the acronym). What intrigued me, however, was the inclusion of the original Japanese episodes of the series that became, after the meaty paws of Sandy Frank was finished with them (anybody else thinking about the ‘Sandy Frank’ song from MST3K?), Battle of the Planets.

Originally, the series was entitled ‘Science Ninja Team Gatchaman’. In this series, Ken, Joe, Jun, Jinpei and Ryu battle the forces of Galactor (from somewhere on earth, not from space), represented by the evil Berg Katse. In this series, the characters, particularly Joe (the moody one), swear a fair bit, using the ‘S’ word more than once, per episode. As I said, these things were relatively easy to remove, since the dubbing process would change the language anyway.

Further to this, the show is considerably more violent – in one episode, we are shown the corpses of victims of one of the monsters, and people obviously die by the hundreds in some of the attacks on cities. This content was cut to reflect the North American culture at the time, and since it resulted in a considerable amount of material being cut, the U.S. producers hastily animated the robot 7-Zark-7 to act as a narrator and time waster.

This is going somewhere, honest.

As I watched one of the original Japanese episodes, I was completely surprised by something. We open the episode in a fictional country, in which there is a large peak, Blue Mountain. Upon said mountain are carved the faces of three of the country’s past presidents (sound familiar?). The work has taken three generations to complete, and the young lady is just about to finish the fourth head, that of Jesus. Yes, Jesus.

The Gatchaman episode is, in the original translation from the Japanese, “The Magma Giant: Emperor of Hell”. One of the heads from the mountain is used by Galactor as the head for the roughly 500-foot tall lava monster. Can you guess which one?

Cultural relativism: the ability not to totally laugh your ass off at any culture in which this phrase is even possible:

500-Foot Tall Molten Lava Jesus.

GATCHAMAN_VOL_5-9

Excuse me sir, do you have a moment to discuss YOUR FIERY DEATH?

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entertainment, media, science, Self-righteous asshole, Things We Should Know, willful blindness to absurd extremes

The Vast Difference Between Balanced and Irresponsible

Sigh.

If you’ve been reading my little posts for a while, you’ll know how I decry irresponsible journalism. On the flip side, I am an admirer of good journalism – writing that informs about legitimate debate and shows signs of painstaking research and fair examination of both sides of an issue.

Once again, Time Magazine shows us the difference between legitimate balance and useless filler. Jenny McCarthy is the subject of an article in which she claims to have ‘cured’ her autistic son. Oddly enough, Time manages to both justify (poorly) thir reasons for running the story and indicate why it shouldn’t have run in the first place:

To McCarthy’s opponents, from the public-health officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to the pediatricians of the American Academy of Pediatrics, this makes McCarthy much worse than a crank: she’s a menace to public health.

So, the recognized scientific authorities on this topic disagree with the half-wit actress and former Playboy model? It’s not hard to decide who carries more authority in this case.

They ask why so many mothers are reluctant to vaccinnate their children based on McCarthy’s insistence that they are dangerous. That’s an easy one: They are idiots. Easily-led, scientifically illiterate idiots. Articles like this one will only make the problem worse, thereby giving Time the opportunity to exploit the resulting catastrophic preventable illness rates somewhere down the road.

In responsible scientific journalism, debate is important – two sides, both interpreting evidence they have gathered, but who have reached different conclusions. This is the essence of constructive debate, and is reflective of how science is built – good scientists always accept the possibility that they may be wrong. All of it is based on evidence, however. To juxtapose the results of hundreds of scientific studies with the beliefs of a third-rate actress is clearly wrong. The arguments are not coming from the same basis of assumptions – one is systematic, the other emotional. The evidence is clear: vaccinnes do not cause autism. Even the single study cited by vaccine panic-mongers is an admitted falsification, and is therefore invald. Preponderance of scientific evidence vs. fake science and anecdotal belief. Which should you choose?

Yet, Time insists on perpetuating the myth by giving McCarthy a venue to create more risk to children.

Let’s use a crude (very crude) analogy to demonstrate: I hereby deny the existence of Australia (no offence, just the first thing that came to mind). I’ve never seen it, except on maps. Well, what is my motivation to trust the representatives of the mapmaking industry? They have a vested interest in maintaining the illusion that Australia exists. How else would they maintain sales of maps of certain portions of the Southern Hemisphere?  Basically, I’ve never been there, never experienced the country directly, so I don’t believe it. What about all the people who have been there? In the pocket of Big Cartography. All the pictures? Faked – probably New Zealand or clever photoshops.

So, within a logical (although deeply flawed) framework of belief, for which I could probably gain support from at least a fringe portion the billions of people who have also never visited there, I have made my case. I demand equal time in Time to defend my views, because only then will they have fairly presented all sides.

In a word, no. Time, and other venues, need to wake up to the fact that not all views are equal. Despite the insistence of politically correct postmodern apologists for the validity of all ways of knowing, some beliefs are demonstrably, objectively and irrefutably wrong. Jenny McCarthy’s views on the link between autism and vaccines is one of them.

I know, my position is impossibly naive and not reflective of the competitive world of infotainment that news has become, but I can still hope for better. I can hope for someone, somewhere, to wake up and realize how irresponsible this type of reporting is. Somewhere in the world is an editor who can stand up and say, “No more”.

Except in Australia, of course.

blogger, entertainment, general silliness

Shameless Self-Promotion

Good Morning.

Just a note to inform Blevkog readers, particularly those of a more geekish bent, that I will be posting sections of a work in progress on our sister blog, Revenge of the Inner Geek. The posts are excerpts from a longer work in progress regarding bad sci-fi movies, and hopefully there’s a chuckle or two contained within.

Consider this a hopefully-effective method of moving closer to a writing career.

Shameless plug complete, take a trip over and check it out. Thank you for your attention.

entertainment, general silliness

Christmas Classic – A Special Gift

I present to Blevkog readers a little present from our sister blog, Revenge of the Inner Geek. In honor of the season, I give you an immortal classic: Part 1 of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Enjoy!

culture, entertainment, general silliness, Lighter Things, media

Bah, Humbug… The Xmas Rant

A Blog post in today’s New York Times which discusses which Christmas songs should be put out to pasture got me to thinking about which traditional songs, shows, etc. could be considered the most annoying – from my own point of view, of course. Please feel free to comment freely and often – let’s get this debate party started!

First of all, there should be a moratorium placed on the playing of any festive music before the 15th of November – even if some of it is good, by the time xmas rolls around we are so psychologically damaged by the repetitive playing of good tidings that we would probably welcome the relative solitude of Guananamo Bay. Brainwashing us to be happy is still brainwashing.

When I was young, my family had a simple tradition: light the tree, start a nice, roaring fire and turn the winnebago-sized console stereo to our local radio station to enjoy some nice xmas music. I’d sit with my hot chocolate, waiting for the NORAD Santa tracking reports, ready to dash for my bed at the slightest hint of sleigh bells. Inevitably, something horrible would intrude on ths most peaceful and pleasant night of family togetherness: a little spoken word recording of something called The Littlest Angel, or something like that. The single most depressing collection of words ever, read by a deep-voiced narrator who seemed on the verge of tears, it was a recording that nearly every year drove my family to the brink of mass suicide – would you like a little arsenic in that hot chocolate? Yes, please. I don’t even remember what it’s about, other than a dead child and a box full of his possessions that got sent to the wrong destination or something – yes, even in heaven, there is lost luggage. If this is still being played somewhere, it’s no wonder more people are reputed to kill themselves during the holidays.

Frosty the Snowman – there’s no better cartoon to motivate me to turn up the heat in my home. While the Grinch and Charlie Brown (except for the Linus speech) remain treasured memories that make me want to watch them every year, Frosty is just saccharine enough, with just enough uncomfortable subtext, to render it unwatchable for me. For starters, none of these children apparently have parents – Karen’s trip north with Frosty seems to be nobody’s problem in particular. Sure, no issue at all – someone’s daughter has just illegally jumped on board a train with an inhuman snow homonculus – what’s to worry about? That, combined with the fact that every adult in the cartoon is incompetent or borderline retarded, makes this utterly unwatchable. Don’t even get me started on the ‘sequel’. It’s a sad tribute to the talent of Jonathan Winters that this is ever repeated. Oh, and while I’m at it: was there anyone ever who actually thought Jimmy Durante could sing? He would have been right at home with Rod Stewart and Kim Carnes in Laryngitis Theatre.

The following list of songs will be those banned immediately upon the inauguration of my administration:

  • Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree: Is it just me, or does Brenda Lee sound like her sinuses have fallen into her neck? Completely cringe-worthy, in my opinion;
  • Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer: c’mon, this one is self-explanatory. Somewhere, there’s one guy who likes this – let’s give him a copy and spare the rest of us the agony;
  • Santa Baby: By all means, let’s reinforce the association of Charistmas and naked, unfettered greed! Ho, ho, ho.. and I do mean ‘ho’;
  • Any song with “Christmas” in the title that has nothing to do with Christmas, e.g.: Last Christmas by Wham! The need for a two-syllable word does not justify the inclusion of the name of the holiday in your lyrics;
  • Baby it’s Cold Outside: while not technically a Christmas song, it was pointed out by a commenter in the NYT as being a great date rape song – so, it’s out;
  • The Twelve Days of Christmas, and no, sorry, not even the Bob and Doug version will be saved. Ok, you can play that one once on a designated day at a designated hour, then it goes back in the sleeve – this will be known as the “Take off and take it off” rule;
  • Silent Night: seriously, is there anyone who isn’t sick of this? The new jazzed-up version on the commercial will be shot and burned, along with whatever his name is, De’Angelo or whatever. Just don’t tell him we’re responsible, as I think he may be a good fella, if you know what I mean;
  • Blue Christmas: Elvis is dead. Accept it, and stop pissing on his corpse by playing this over and over;
  • Anything, and I mean anything by Boney M;
  • Jingle Bell Rock: No it isn’t, and no, it doesn’t;
  • I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus: Let’s not celebrate children witnessing extramarital affairs, that just seems wrong. It strikes me as odd that the kid seems ok with it. Come to think of it, is this the kid who shortly thereafter requires the replacement of two front teeth? Dysfunctional families are not festive. Plus, They Might Be Giants did it better with Santa’s Beard;
  • Snoopy’s Christmas (Snoopy vs. the Red Baron): If I may, I’d like to (ahem) shoot this one down for good;
  • Any “All-Star” songs, like those performed by Band-Aid or Northern Lights have long since stopped serving any useful purpose. The sole redeeming moment is in the televised documentary for Northern Lights, after legend Neil Young sings his line, and the engineer (or whoever) says from the booth that it was a little flat. Neil Replies: “That’s my style, man.” Yes it is, Neil, yes it is;
  • Whatever that atrocity is that describes the heroic deeds of “Ding-A-Ling the Christmas Bell”. All copies, and Ding-A-Ling himself, will be melted down and the resulting ingot dropped on the composer;
  • Springsteen’s version of Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town: no, just…no. The band sounds like it is laying in wait for Santa with knives;
  • Do You Hear What I Hear: If so, you are obviously not drinking enough;
  • Feliz Navidad: I heard this recently and realized just how annoying this was. Ok, I appreciate other cultures and other languages, but come on! This is the same phrase repeated 300 times – that’s not a lyric, that’s a vocal compulsion;
  • I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas: trust me kid, no you don’t. Those things are vicious;
  • The Little Drummer Boy: even as a child, my family were primarily using this as a basis for obscene versions (the fact that ‘drum’ rhymes with ‘bum’ being the height of comedy styling when I was eight), so let’s just play this one off for good;
  • That idiotic Christmas song by the Beach Boys, Little Saint Nick or some such. I am particularly annoyed by the refrain “Christmas comes this time each year”. Thank you, Brian Wilson, for your insight, but I have a calendar, and it was working properly when last I looked.

We now know the reason Santa can travel the world so quickly: caffeine and sugar

Now, there’s some stuff that needs to stick around, for example, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, which may strike some readers as an odd choice, given my atheist leanings, but it is a beautiful tune (and is thus responsible for my capitalizing the ‘G’ in god, which I generally refuse to do).  Plus, it hasn’t been done to death – the version in Mr. Bean’s Christmas special shows how well it still works. The animated Robbie the Reindeer specials are hilarious and should be classics – and shall be designated so once my regime takes office. Also, there was one on a week ago about Santa’s elves who were responsible for securing the scene before Santa’s arrival, that was a hilarious pastiche of Christmas cheer and Mission: Impossible-style antics. If anyone remembers the name of this, I’d appreciate it.

Anyway, this is a partial list at best, and I invite everyone to vent their anger and put in two cents’ worth of cheer or venom, whatever works for you.

Oh, and what do I want for xmas? The opportunity to write for publication. A column, a commentary, whatever – I’d just appreciate the opportunity. I’m hoping one or more of our readers could help me out with that. Pointers, names, or just a straight up chance to establish myself, that’s all I need.  Blatant plug complete, thank you for your patience.

Happy Holidays to my esteemed colleagues, and particularly to our readers, without whom we would just be talking to ourselves.



culture, entertainment, general silliness, media

Tiger Bomb

This is one of those times.

One of those times that I certainly think that I need – nay, deserve – press credentials. Picture the scene, or a variation thereof:

Star Athlete/Actor/Musician: I am sorry that I have transgressed and let people down. I will promise to work on my (marriage/drug problem/gambling problem/poor acting skills) and try very hard never to let this happen again. Questions?

Me: I have a question.

Star Athlete/Actor/Musician: Yes?

Me: Why the everlasting fuck should I care what you’re doing, have done, or are about to do? I mean seriously, with child poverty, war, disease, racism, the rape of the environment, abuse of power and willful ignorance on the list of things that are waaaaayyyy ahead of you and your little insignificant peccadilos, why does what you’ve done matter one iota in the grand scheme of humanity’s march toward oblivion? Does what you’ve done actually alter a single molecule of the universe outside your own little social circle? Can you answer me that?

Star Athlete/Actor/Musician: (Weeps openly).

As you may have guessed, I’m getting a little tired of this. Athletes, Tiger among them, are physically talented – they have an unparalleled  ability to complete whatever goal is required of their individual sport – that’s what makes them worthy of the title of ‘champion’. Similarly, actors, such as Robert DeNiro and Meryl Streep (although others may differ, this is the first two names that come to mind among modern actors – I would put William Powell high among those of the past) can interpret characters and pretend believably to be someone else in order to service the requirements of a narrative – they are mental and physical storytellers. The good ones can help immerse you in a new world or situation so the viewer can concentrate on the narrative flow. The bad ones take you out of that world and disrupt that flow. Musicians too are sometimes capable of works of incredible beauty, nuance and social commentary.

BUT…

That’s where it ends, folks. The personal activities of these people who have chosen certain types  of employment in creative or competitive fields are of absolutely no interest to me, and I submit that they are of no valid interest to anyone else, either. They are well-known because of their talents on the field, screen or stage – they perform their chosen professions with distinction and well-deserved recognition. That is where it ends.

They, like any individuals, are entitled to their opinions, but they are no more or less important or valid than the opinions of others. Celebrities who endorse many causes or charities, I have no particular problem with, as they make no claims to expertise or special insight. Others, however, have chosen to insinuate themselves into fields in which they have no more talent or expertise than you or I. Perhaps less. That is at best annoying, like Bono’s solutions to the problems of the world economy, and at worst highly dangerous, like Suzanne Somers’ endorsement of vitamin cures for cancer and dismissal of mainstream oncology, or Jenny McCarthy’s campaign against vaccination due to unproven and unverified links to autism. I don’t know about you, but I’m not taking cancer treatment advice from Chrissy Snow.

The most important point I’d like to make here (finally) is that the actions of celebrities, no matter how well-intentioned, or poorly-considered, are not, nor have they ever been, news. We have conflated popularity and importance to the point where any idiot who can act his way out of a wet paper bag suddenly possesses a degree of social influence completely disproportionate to the level of importance of the work he or she performs. Granted, not all professions have an equally profound influence on society – I haven’t felt the need to listen to the opinions of a taxidermist lately. The point is that if he or she is an incredibly talented taxidermist, does that make their opinion of any issues more valid?  Should a proficient taxidermist be granted the ability to evade or disregard the laws the rest of us must follow? Is this brilliant animal-stuffer justified in assuming they should be treated like royalty?

News is, to my way of thinking, information that is relevant to our lives from an economic or social perspective – crime, unemployment, political decision-making – all of these will have relevance to the way we live our lives and to the way we plan for the future. None of this applies to celebrity news, unless George Clooney decides to steal a zeppelin and crash it through an orphanage on his way to destroy Wall Street in a giant ball of flames (That, I would read about).

As far as I’m concerned, celebrity ‘news’ – including any discussion of the infidelities committed by a golfer in his personal life – are irrelevant and waste my time. This is just the kind of mind-candy that distracts us from the real issues, keeps us politically ignorant, and motivates some of us to do anything to achieve the new holy grail of celebrity – a reality show of your very own.  As for their being role models, same story – they are good at a job, and if you choose to follow after them professionally using the best and the brightest as your guide, more power to you. If, however, you decide that you have to wear the celebrity’s brand of shoes or abuse others just to be like them, you have severe problems. We are losing our identities because of the aggressive sale and self-promotion of other people’s identities. Until enough of us stand up and leave the room (or change the station, or, just imagine – complain) at the sight of gossip and celebrity antics, we will continue to breed generations of people who think that a celebutante with no claim to fame other than being famous has something important to say. About anything.

Now, where can I steal me a zeppelin?

entertainment, favourite person, general silliness, Lighter Things, media

Palin’s Book is Excellent

Seriously, I don’t know what the fuss is about.

Within are faithful accounts of the important events in Palin’s life that led to this point – I will admit it leans heavily to the creative side, with only a little bit of politics thrown in, almost as an afterthought – this doesn’t, however, demean or decrease the enjoyment of being able to bask in the absolute genius that is Palin, and many of Palin’s innermost, most honest thoughts…

I… Huh? What?

Nonononononononoooo…

Oh, fuck no.

Michael Palin.

Less funny than the other one?


Diaries, 1969-79: The Python Years. A really excellent book. What were you thinking?