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Thursday, August 28, 2014

100 Songs I Hate: Grief Turns to Radio; Radio Turns to Anger; Anger Turns to Hatred (44-45)

First, I want to welcome myself back to the internet.  I have been M.I.A. from the blog game for the past few weeks, and I'd like to explain.  I also want to thank all of you regular readers who didn’t clog my inbox with concerned e-mails or litter the Facebook page with encouraging messages.  Your commitment to keeping Giant Electric Penguin uncluttered by love and support is astounding.  Sincerely, I was touched.

Roughly two weeks ago, my father-in-law passed away.  He was an amazing man who I kind of wish you guys all could’ve known.  He raised a compassionate, intelligent and ruthlessly sarcastic daughter I am proud to call my wife, and he was a top-notch Pop Pop to my own daughter, helping build pillow forts and reading the same books over and over even when he wasn’t feeling particularly well.  I’ll always have fond memories of driving with Earl to pick up dinner from Gus’s or Pat’s or The Orient, discussing the weather, what television shows we were watching and his hatred of white rice.  And I know any time I step into a Wawa, punch in my hoagie order on the touchscreen and pour myself a large cup of coffee while I wait for the best sandwich in the world to be assembled, I’ll be thinking of Earl, a man who I am proud to have known and called family.

With grief, comes eating, and we’ve been doing a lot of it.  We’re still doing it, even now that we’re all under the same roof again.  And snacking!  Oh, the snacking!  I’m not too terribly concerned at the moment though; "grief eating" is a real thing, proven by science and accepted by scholars as fact.  What surprised me during my recent trek to New Jersey for the funeral and all things attached to it, was how much "grief Top 40 radio listening" we did.  Have you seen this?  Have you heard about this?  Did you read the preceding two sentences in a Jay Leno voice?  You should have.

Look, what I’m trying to say, as I make my triumphant return to pop culture blogging, is this: I listened to a whole lot of crappy music lately, and that means it’s time for GEP’s latest edition of 100 Songs I Hate.

44. "Rude" (MAGIC!)

Why do things like this happen?  No, I'm not talking about Robin Williams' suicide--that was a gut-wrenching bummer I haven't had time to process yet; stay tuned--I'm talking about the popularity of "Rude" by the band MAGIC!.  I first became aware of this song's existence while preparing my critically lauded article about 2014's Songs of Summer.  The song was mentioned in passing on the exactly one Web site I used for research, but I chose not to listen to it at the time because a) I'd never heard even a snippet of it before, and, admittedly, I already kind of had some comments ready for the songs of which I was already aware; and b) MAGIC! is the worst band name since fun., and since fun.'s music sucks, I, perhaps unfairly, surmised that MAGIC!'s must suck as well.  So, I wrote something dumb about "Fancy" or whatever.

"Rude" was inescapable once I crossed the Delaware line.  We heard it twice on the Saturday following my father-in-law's funeral: once on the way to Dutch Wonderland, a family amusement park tucked into the heart of Amish country (all three of us were in dire need of amusement), and once on the way back.  To be fair, on the way up, "Rude" acted as a kind-of soundtrack to a war of wills being waged between parents and child (our 3-year-old, loudly and repeatedly, insisted that we stop talking to her and each other, and me and the wife disagreed with this), so maybe I was judging it unfairly.  The cheesy vibe of white-guy reggae, however, had no trouble breaking through the din of a whiny child.  On the way back, we were given a second chance to embrace "Rude," our daughter being conked out after an exhausting, but ultimately Dutch Wonderful (they say it, man, I didn't make it up!) time.  Sadly, I was once again unimpressed.  But I was also kind of angry.  Why is this such a hit, I thought to myself.  Am I that out of step with the rest of America?  When did it become OK to make a song like this?  Who thought it should be on the radio?  Who were the people making this song popular enough to be considered a frontrunner for Song of Summer status???  Keep in mind, I hadn't even truly listened to the lyrics yet.  I got two more chances to do this before leaving New Jersey, but I opted out.

It wasn't until I started putting this piece together that I paid any attention to the "Rude"'s lyrics.  Up to this point, the vibe was enough to get me cheesed.  Now I knew the lyrics, understood what the song was about, decided my hatred was justified.

"Rude" tells the fairly simple story of a white-guy reggae crooning dirtbag seeking a father's permission to ask for his daughter's hand in marriage.  The father correctly answers "no way," the dirtbag doesn't like this utterly justifiable answer and inquires of said father, "Why you gotta be so rude?"  That's what "Rude" is about, guys.  Your favorite song of the summer is a dimwit whining about his girlfriend's dad not liking him.  First of all, who asks for permission to marry someone any more?  Even if you think it's a cute little custom for some reason, it isn't a prerequisite for holy matrimony.  Second, if your beloved's parents don't like you for some reason, maybe you're the problem.  You're the one joining the family, so maybe you should be the bigger person and do whatever you need to do to win your in-laws over, instead of banging on the front door and crying about perceived rudeness.  I actually think it's a little rude to keep showing up at someone's front door, with your goofy white-guy reggae friends in tow, especially at dinner time.  Why you gotta be so rude, Nasri?

45. "Saving All My Love For You" (Whitney Houston)

After the funeral, post-funeral pizza gorge and temporary respite from tragedy at Dutch Wonderland, it was time for me and the kid to return to North Carolina, my wife staying behind to wrap some things up in Jersey.  For a good three hours, I was subjected to the same 18 Disney songs on a continuous loop.  This wasn't all bad, as I had curated the Disney CD myself, and had packed it with songs I knew both myself and my daughter enjoyed (she calls them "our songs," and we both have parts, and God forbid you miss your part), but three hours of Disney music is a lot for one man to stomach.  Somewhere in Virginia--before I ran over a large rock in the road and we were forced to make a 20-minute pit stop to attach the spare--my daughter fell asleep, and I found myself at a crossroads (not literally).  I could turn off the Disney music and enjoy the soothing hum of the open road, the breezy drone of the air conditioning; I could find the local NPR station and act like an adult for once in my life; I could find a Top 40 station and pray to God that it'd reached its "Rude" quota for the afternoon; or I could listen to one of the late-period Beck or REM albums I had brought along for the drive.  Spoiler alert: I did none of these things.  Instead, I started reading billboards.  

I don't know how much traveling you do in this great country of ours, but there sure are a lot of billboards, many of which are used to promote radio stations.  I decided that the next billboard I saw advertising a radio station would dictate what I would listen to before my daughter awoke and inevitably asked where her Frozen songs had gone.  And it wasn't long before I peeped a billboard for an easy listening station.  There were no fancy graphics, no dopey morning zoo crew radio personalities leering down at me, just the words "easy listening" and the call letters.  I tuned in and was whisked away on a soothing sea of adult contemporary crap.  I couldn't tell you what songs I heard, they all sounded pretty samey, disappeared into the hum and bump of the open road.  But about five songs in, Ms. Whitney Houston's voice cut through the monotony like a hot spoon through congealed bacon fat.  Unfortunately, it was "Saving All My Love For You," a song about a woman in a relationship with a married man.

Look, I don't care who the narrator of this song is, man or woman, an easy listening ballad about cheating spouses and secret lovers is terrible!  I know these things happen, but why is Whitney Houston singing a song about it?  And she sings the shit out of it, man!  I mean, Whitney Houston was a supremely talented singer, and she sells "Saving All My Love For You" expertly.  But why was someone compelled to write a song about such an ugly facet of human existence?  Awful!

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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Fight, Fight, Fight!: I Like Cats Just Fine

I’m not immune to the appeal of online quizzes.  I know I come across as a cool dude with a hip swagger and a Heming-way with words (clever, right?), a happening bro who wouldn’t dream of stooping to the level of an online quiz like the untold millions of slack-jawed dimwits that pollute our nation’s social media outposts, but sometimes I simply can’t resist.  Sometimes I genuinely want to know what country I’m really supposed to be living in or which character from a John Hughes movie I am.  Sometimes it’s important.
Most of these quizzes, I think you’d agree, are innocuous little time wasters, fun breaks from the unending shitstorm that is life.  Some of these quizzes though are downright irresponsible, committing libel, spreading lies and ruining the lives of the quiz-taker and everyone who loves him/her.
I recently took a quiz entitled HOW MUCH DO YOU LIKE CATS? featured on the Brainfall Web site, for which, after answering each question with complete honesty, I received a score of 29%.  I was informed that I hated cats, my reasons for taking said quiz were questioned and I was a labeled a “horrible person.”  With one “innocuous little time waster,” my reputation had been ruined.
People who know me know that I like cats.  I’ve grown up with cats.  I have a cat currently.  My current cat, Garbage, is fed, watered, provided with a clean place to poop, treated like a minor deity by my three-year-old daughter, the only member of the family he truly “likes” (He respects me from a distance, occasionally getting close enough to chew my legs and arms in what I believe is a “flea-removal” technique [it feels very nice]; he is obsessed with my wife in a very lustful, stalkery way that she doesn’t really appreciate), up-to-date on all shots and given free range of the house for all of his lounging, relaxing and sleeping needs.  I love my cat, as one is required to love any family member, I like him most of the time and I respect his right to happiness.  That being said, when he “kicks off,” I’ve already told my wife, who is in complete agreement, that unless our daughter begs for one, we’re done with pets, more specifically, pets that shit in the house. 
I’d be happy to live out my post-Garbage years without a pet of any kind.  This statement should not lead you to believe that a) I am a bad person or b) that I hate cats and deserve a 29% on an online cat quiz.  You tell some people you’re done with pets and they look at you like you’re some kind of monster.  I simply don’t want to be responsible for the health and upkeep of an animal any longer.  If I have a dog thrust upon me as a result of the pleas of an adorable half-Asian moppet, fine.  I’m not going to resent the dog, abuse it or ignore it.  I’ll treat it with kindness and respect because I am not a monster.  But I don’t want a dog.  I don’t want any more cats.  If I want to see fish, I’ll take my family to eat at my favorite Chinese buffet and we can check out the indoor koi pond.  I don’t want hamsters, gerbils, birds, lizards, snakes, bunnies—anything!  I just want animals to leave me alone.  I love ‘em, but c’mon, I’ve had enough.

That, of course, doesn’t mean I hate cats.  I’ve said it already, but it bears repeating: I like cats! So, why is the idiot who devised this Brainfall quiz convinced that I don’t?  Well, I think it’s because I answered the questions wrong.  And what were some of these questions?  I don’t remember them word for word, but I think I can give you the gist.
One question asked who I talked to when I was at a friend’s party: my fellow human party guests or said friend’s cat.  I, obviously, answered that I would talk to the other humans in attendance, who I assumed I myself was friendly with on some level.  I suspect this was the wrong answer.  By indicating that I would rather have a conversation with a fellow human being than a feline with the brain the size of a peach pit and no viable way to communicate through language (meows don’t count), I am not suggesting that I will ignore the party host’s cat or, when nobody’s looking, stomp on his tail or dump his kitty kibble into the toilet and flush while the cat looks on forlornly.  I just think if you go to a party and spend the whole evening in the corner conversing with a cat, you are probably a crazy person.  If you want to talk to cats, you should probably just stay home and, you know, talk to your cats.  You aren’t required to attend parties at your friends’ houses.  If you want to be a homebound weirdo who does nothing but shoot the shit with cats all day long, be my guest.  Doesn’t mean you like cats more than me, just means you are kind of strange, and that’s OK.  GEP is a place for the strange, a place for the cat-talkers.  My beef isn’t with you, it’s with Brainfall and this dumb, dumb quiz.
Another question asked “Do you like LOLCATS?”  I think I know what LOLCATS is (are?).  It’s the I Can Have Cheezburger thing, right?  Whatever it is, I like it.  And I think that’s the answer I chose: I like it.  I believe “I love it” and “It’s the only funny thing that has ever existed” were also choices.  I think by acknowledging that I simply “like” the idea of funny cat pictures was not enough.  I think, in this quiz maker’s eyes anyway, to prove your love for catkind, you must believe that LOLCATS is (are?) the height of comedy.  I don’t think it (they?) are.  Sorry.  I think there are so many things funnier in this world than goofy cat pictures with purposefully misspelled captions.
Here are a few other questions that, I think, screwed me:  “Could you date someone that didn’t like cats?” (my answer: Yes); “Do you often find yourself distracted by your cat’s cuteness?” (my answer: No); “Have you ever had a deep conversation with your cat?” (my answer: No, don’t be silly).

First, when I was a single man, how potential dating partners felt about pets was never a factor.  It was more important to me that they wanted to go out with a professional temp who lived in a crummy apartment, ate a lot of fast food and was quick to “let the lady pay.”  “Would you recoil in horror if I suggested that the two of us have intercourse?” was a way more important question than “Do you like cats?”
Second, I’m not distracted by any animal’s cuteness.  Garbage is very cute.  I don’t refer to him as my “little kitty bear” for nothing.  He shouldn’t feel bad about himself because I don’t look up from Instagram or pause whatever episode of Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives I’m watching for the 11th time to take in his cuteness when he lumbers into the bedroom.  Very few things distract me.  My wife getting undressed in front of me, that distracts me.  My wife coming out of the shower in her untied bathrobe, that distracts me.  Basically any time my wife is removing clothing.  That’s what distracts me.  Cats, not so much.
Third, what kind of deep conversation am I supposed to be having with my cat?  I’d rather talk to my wife or my dad or my friends when I have something important to discuss.  Hell, I’d rather have a deep conversation with my three-year-old.  She can at least give me a kiss and tell me she loves me after I discuss with her for the third time that day how unhappy I am at work.  What’s a cat gonna do?  Walk away halfway through a guts-spilling session, that’s what.  There’s no better way to make someone feel like a pile of garbage than to walk away while he/she is trying to express something personally meaningful.  And that’s a cat’s M.O..
Look, I don’t hate cats, all right, so stop saying I do, Brainfall!  What kind of name is Brainfall anyway?  You must’ve fallen on your brain when you were a kid and now you’re all dumb or whatever.  Your cat quiz sucks!

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Monday, August 4, 2014

Movie Penguin Monday: #27. Triple Dog (2010)

Ah, the high school sleepover!  Is there anything more fun?  I can actually think of several things right off the dome that are immensely more fun--like sleeping in my own bed at home for instance--but back in those heady, carefree days of high school, sleepovers were the best.  You and a couple of friends staying up late, eating pizza, watching horror movies, braiding each other’s hair, trading period stories, sharing stock market tips, eating ice cream, summoning demons through the use of a Ouija board, making prank phone calls, talking about which boys you thought were cute, practice kissing each other while wearing the laciest of panties and an ill-fitting brassiere through which your erect nipples were clearly visible, telling ghost stories: sleepovers were the greatest!
I’ve heard stories, but nothing crazy ever happened at any of my sleepovers.  There was the time my friend fell asleep on the couch watching Beavis and Butthead, and then woke me up at three in the morning to apologize for falling asleep, asked if he could climb into bed with me so we could “talk until we both fall asleep,” proceeded to fall asleep almost instantly and hogged both the bed and the covers.  There was also that time me and four friends stayed up all night watching David Lynch movies, taking occasional bathroom and internet porn breaks.  Nobody ever got a penis drawn in Sharpie on his forehead or peed his sleeping bag after having his fingers delicately placed in a cup of warm water or woke up to find a supernatural goalie-masked killer brandishing a blood-soaked machete mere inches from his face.  We just ate pizza, drank soda, watched movies, talked about boobs and fell asleep on whatever furniture was closest.  I’m not a female—I bet you couldn’t tell from my perfect description of girl sleepovers in the previous paragraph, right?—so I don’t know what went down at one of those, but I suspect it pretty much the same, right down to the boob talk.  I think sleepover culture is pretty standard across the board.  Tell me if I’m wrong.

Triple Dog, a sub-Lifetime, non-thriller from Canda--the country from which roughly 85% of Netflix’s content hails--tells the story of a sleepover gone “wild.”  I mean, I think we’re supposed to find the proceedings “wild" and perhaps a tad "distressing.”  “This is what teenage girls are really up to, man,” the filmmakers seem to be saying.  “I’m serious.  This is totally what they do when you aren’t looking!  Isn’t it crazy?!?”  Only nothing that happens is really that crazy. Granted, a girl does make a convenience store microwave explode, but those things explode all the time.  Convenience store microwave are notorious exploders.  Google it.
Six girls on varying rungs of the social ladder, but all unapologetically white and upper middle class, gather for a birthday slumber party at Eve’s house, one of which, Chapin (because that’s a name), is the town bad girl.  It is suggested that Chapin is responsible for the drowning death of a student at a nearby Catholic school, a case Eve, I guess, is super interested in getting to the bottom of at random times throughout the movie, but mostly doesn’t care about until the end and in the various flashbacks that pepper the film for no real reason.  The flashbacks don’t create any real tension or add anything to the plot. It’s a pretty straightforward story that doesn’t need to be interrupted periodically with flashbacks to the week leading up to Eve’s slumber party, because the characters only seem vaguely aware that there was a week leading up to anything or that there will be future weeks ahead.  

So, we've got Eve, the birthday girl; Chapin, the female, non-animated equivalent of Bart Simpson; Liza, AKA “Rat Girl,” nicknamed thus because she has a rat on her at all times; Cicely, the vaguely ethnic one who is confused as to why her classmates aren’t as sexually attracted to their principal, Mr. Scalco, as she is; Sarah, the Christian; and Nina, a girl.  

Chapin, being the radical, bad-ass skateboarder that she is, declares Eve’s party lame, and suggests they play a game of Triple Dog, Truth-or-Dare without the “Truth” and with two times the head-shaving.  In Triple Dog, everybody gets a dare and gives a dare.  If you don’t complete the dare given, you have to shave your head. You can challenge the dare-giver to do the dare herself, and if the dare-giver complies and completes said dare, the dare-avoider must have her head shaved.

Eat my shorts!

I guess the best way to proceed is to describe the dares.  I could conduct a deep exploration into feminism or discuss what the slumber party represents in contemporary film study or describe the flashbacks in painstaking detail or the flashbacks within the flashbacks—one of which involves a crappy CGI butterfly—but I’ll just surge ahead to the nudity.
Sarah picks Liza to give her a dare.  Before I reveal the dare, keep in mind that Liza has little to no reason to be at this party.  First, she and Chapin hate each other because Liza strongly believes that Chapin is a murderer and has no qualms about sharing this information with anybody who asks.  Second, Sarah, Nina and Cicely—this film’s answer to the trio featured in the film Mean Girls—don’t really know or particularly like Liza.  Third, the only time Eve and Liza have ever spoken to each other, seemingly, is two days earlier in the frozen food section of the grocery store, where Liza starts screaming about how Chapin murdered a girl or something.  Also, she doesn’t want to play the game and doesn’t appear all that thrilled about parties in general, with her surly attitude and perma-grimace.  So what does she dare sweet, god-fearing Sarah to do?  Rat Girl dares Sarah to streak.  And the smile she has when she says it is a mile wide.  So, Sarah slow motion jogs down the street naked to the delight of her friends and passersby.  I feel like we’re supposed to think the streak dare is sinister foreshadowing of worse debauchery to come, but it seems more lame than anything else. 
In fact, Triple Dog never lives up to the sinister promise of its premise.  Or its trailer.  The dares are fairly standard—I’ll get to them, don’t’ worry!—and the film’s ending—I’ll spoil it, don’t worry!—isn’t anything to get particularly disturbed about.  I don’t know if Triple Dog was intended to be one of those "parent-frightening eye-openers" that were popular for a time, but if it was, it failed spectacularly.  The flashbacks try so hard to establish a mood that the movie simply can’t sustain.

You can't tell from the picture, but this scene is super racist.

Here are the other dares:
--Chapin dares Rat Girl to hide in Eve’s brother’s closet until midnight.  Liza ends up bonding with Eve’s brother over Rock Band and it is implied that they “do it.”
--Someone dares Nina to perform karaoke/pretend to have a seizure at Big Wong’s, a karaoke bar managed by an Asian stereotype whose cringeworthy performance is so painfully racist and unfunny, it makes a roughly five minute scene feel like an eternity.
--Cicely is dared to take a piss on Principal Scalco’s front porch.
--Chapin is dared to steal a porno from a convenience store.
--Eve is dared to go to “third base” with a boy named Whisper.  Yep.  Whisper.
About Chapin’s dare: This is the scene with the bean bomb/exploding microwave.  While the store’s clerk and security card work in tandem to douse the microwave fire, Chapin dashes behind the counter, grabs a Penthouse, and escapes in true Bart Simpson style, skateboarding into the night while making wisecracks (I think she calls the bumbling, obese security guard “tubby” or something).  When her friends pick her up in Cicely’s SUV a couple of minutes later, her backpack is FILLED TO THE BRIM with other stuff she stole.  WHAT?!  How is that even possible?  We don’t see her steal anything else.  Before the beans explode, the security guard is following her movements pretty closely.  There's not way she was able to grab a "gag gift" for everyone in the car.  It’s dumb.

Don't have a cow, man!

The girls crash another party in the neighborhood, meet up with Whisper, who stops Eve from, uh, using her mouth on him in a sexual fashion, as he is more interested in Chapin.  Chapin freaks out because, apparently, her sanity is linked to Triple Dog, and watching the game fall apart in front of her, sends Chapin into a tailspin that results in her jumping off of a bridge.  The same bridge she dared the dead girl to jump off of in a past game of Triple Dog.  Ooooooo!  The truth is revealed and it’s dumb!  Chapin doesn’t die though—she ain’t no punk—she just pulls herself onto the shore, finds her friends and the all run from the cops while “Yakety Sax” plays on the soundtrack (not really).
And that’s the movie.  Seriously, that’s it.  Everybody is suddenly friends, everything is right in the world and nobody cares about the stupid dead girl anymore, you know, except for the family of the dead girl.  Their world is probably still pretty damn awful.  I bet there are days when her mother doesn’t even want to get out of bed.  And her dad, well, his only comfort is found at the bottom of a bottle.  Sure, he had 15 years of sobriety under his belt, but what is he gonna do?  His little princess is dead.  At least Chapin’s OK.

I triple dog dare you to watch Triple Dog.  If I were you, I'd just go ahead and shave my head now.

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