Archive for October, 2009

26
Oct
09

On Why We Should Use a Word Processor before Posting our Blogs.

I have just lost 3 paragraphs worth of original writing while working on the part II of my epic trilogy of an article about Don Quixote.  Let us just say that it involved the Back button on my Web browser and the quick thinking and automatically updating nature of WordPress’s awesome awesome AWESOME user interface…

Grr…  My statement is not paid for by WordPress…

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23
Oct
09

Blanka Potter and the Rainforest Sojourn

It’s been weeks, and I’m still unwilling to leave the safety of my jungle retreat.  Every time I try to walk more than a quarter mile, my legs start to hurt, so I turn back.  And why not – this place has everything I need.  Except ice packs for my legs.  Maybe I can rig something up with strips of tree bark, freshly chilled by the night dews.  Yes… chilled bark.  I’ll make a note of it.

I spent most of the last week constructing a banana-leaf latticework to fence in the clearing, securing the panels with strips of leather.  The leather I found in a surprisingly large space beneath one of the nearby forest giants, which I suspect is a fig tree; at least, the area around and under its spidery roots is littered with green, sticky lumps, sweating droplets of sap that ooze out and then congeal before they’re fully formed.  I stepped on one by mistake and it burst like an outraged balloon.

It gets worse.  Ant swarms large enough to ballroom dance with roam the area, carrying fruit away by the bushel.  There are so many wasps and mosquitoes around that it’s like the tree has attracted its own atmosphere: 78% buzzing wings, 20% chitin, 2% instant madness.

I’ve given the tree what I feel is an appropriate name: the Deathly Hollow.  Yeah, that seems catchy.  Because, you know, there’s a creepy hollow space underneath.

The tree, approximately. Any resemblance to a tree from the Harry Potter franchise is wholly deliberate.

The tree, approximately. Any resemblance to a tree from the Harry Potter franchise is wholly coincidental. I mean, deliberate.

Only the promise of something useful, something man-made gave me reason to approach at all – a sparkle in the shadows.  In the a pile of tiny bones tucked beneath the roots (no doubt this place was the ancient den of some undersized predator), I found both my useful leather scraps, and the source of the sparkle: a belt buckle.  It’s the damndest thing to find in the middle of the jungle.  I cached it in an unused hammock along with the rest of my things.  Maybe I’ll look at it later; no need to spoil the surprise.  The only thing I have in large quantities, after all, is time.  As long as you don’t count the vast informational wastelands of the Internet.

***

My blog-writing colleague (or, as I prefer to call him, my blolleague) earlier made comments about leaving me locked out the office during his absence.  I have to assume he is speaking in metaphors, as the only triumphant return I can make right now is wholly electronic.  Freedom of information notwithstanding, I am a prisoner here, with nature herself as my jailer.  That is, until I recover my strength and find my way back to civilization.

Perhaps I’ll find a clue to my quest on the official Harry Potter™ website, featuring tons of cool games, message boards to discuss the raddest new Potter trends, and also instructions on how to perform real wizardry – everything from transforming a glass of water into a Gin and Tonic (alcoholus anonamus!) to, later that evening, magically fooling a sobriety test (breathalyzer malfunctiono!).  Visit today, Uncomma commands you!

***

J.K. Rowling and/or Warner Brothers: please send all money to Uncomma, c/o Jungle Clearing, Unexplored Interior, Borneo.  Make out checks to Blanka Hsudler, not Tom Huxter, who apparently has no interest in being reimbursed for his myriad pop culture references.

21
Oct
09

On my partner’s escape from Azkaban

It has come to my attention that my partner in crime, whom I shall refer to by his nom de guerre as Guy de Maupassant Blanka, triumphantly returned while I was away fishing off the harbors of Tahiti.  A truly harrowing tale it seemed.

But the way he fought off the demons of yesteryear via Googling and Youtube videos was truly an amazing feat.  Despite his apparent victory and return, welcome was not so forgiving as the door to our office was locked when he arrived and I had the key.  To you, Blanka, my friend, I apologize for being a rudimentary dickhead nice person.  I just felt that you were dead for sure and that I had no need to leave the keys under the welcome mat (which I also took with me since I did not feel the need for one.)

If this is any consolation, I have brought with me some paintings by Gauguin which he inexplicably hid underneath the sands of Tahiti.  Can you guess what the painting is of?  Let me just say one word, paint Gauguin.

Your humble writer’s note: Azkaban is not a prison located in the Middle East.  It has no relation to any of current conflicts abroad or domestic.  It is not located in Guantanamo Bay, but rather, a fictional locale masterminded by an uncertain individual of the female orientation from the British Isle.  Uncomma has no relation to the said individual or any individuals of interest with the individual’s intellectual property or properties.  Uncomma was not paid in any way by the individual for any promotional affair relating to the mentioned individual of British citizenship.

21
Oct
09

Don Quixote and the Legacy of an Otaku: PART I

This is a brief article about the term otaku and how it relates to our Western society.

The following passage may be too nerdy for some audience members.  Viewer discretion is advised.

——–

Fuura Kafuka with "the man" and his sidekick Sancho

Fuura Kafuka with "the man" and his sidekick Sancho by Picasso.

Miguel de Cervantes wrote an epic novel called the Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha.  When I read it as a teenager I was absolutely fascinated by the “hardcore” nature of Don Quixote.  It saddens me a little now that I have fully grasped the actual nature of the character of Don Quixote.

Before I go any further with Cervantes, let me explain to the viewers a term I learned later in life.  “Otaku” is a noun used in Japan indicating a specific group of individuals who has or have fixated interest in a particular subject matter.  More than likely, the fixated subjects tend to be anime, manga, video games, an idol (this is a common word used in Japan to indicate a model/singer/actress/etc.,) cosplay, etc.  The closest English version of the word would be something in the line of fanboy (or in old English as loser or geek.)  Just to make it a bit more relevant, an individual in Western society who were engrossed in Dungeons and Dragons 24/7 would be classified as an otaku.  An individual that we label as a furry would be classified an otaku.  The main character that was depicted in that movie, The 40 Year Old Virgin, would be classified as an otaku.

Now back to Cervantes and his cartoon character.

I have now realized that this work by Cervantes, though not completely convinced that it is an original story, is actually an epic about an otaku.  Don Quixote, “the man” as I call him, is one of the first otakus to be illustrated in words unto paper.  This primogenitor of sort for the Otaku community belonged to a wealthy Spanish (this word means that the person is from Spain) nobility.  Due to the inordinately large gap between the poor and the wealthy during these days (Actually this is not true.  The gap is still large in the US and the world), the wealthy can practically live their unproductive lives doing absolutely nothing.

For the case of our “the man” de la Mancha, he felt obligated to indulge in romantic (again this word refers to something that is romanticized) novels of the past knights in shining armor days.  An avid reader and collector of these romantic novels, “the man” was ever so engrossed in the fantastic world of dragons and ladies awaiting rescue.  Adding to the fact that in his residence, he amassed a hefty load of armor, though decrepit and rusting, in which to satiate his cosplay (the need for me to explain every little thing here is starting to really annoy me, look it up yourselves my magnanimous readers, sayth the humble writer,) needs.

——–

To Be Continued.

PS: Your humble servant/writer’s note: Due to new rules from FTC (Federal Trade Commission) requiring bloggers who review products to disclose if they have received funding from the products’ owners by December 31 of Deus Anno 2009, I have decided to apply this rule early to show how humble and noble of a servant I am.  Even though we do not, in Uncomma, review much of anything other than to elaborately review how our minds are greater than theirs, I feel that Uncomma will acquiesce to the greater rule of law.  Hence, the article above written by I, your humble servant and overlord of all that is good and humble, have not received anything from any unnamed donors of any kind relating to any products mentioned or implicitly mentioned within this article or relating to this article.  The said unnamed donor did not pay in cash or in goods or in kind of any services that was provided or was not provided by Uncomma.  This article is completely unbiased and unaffected by donation that can be submitted via PayPal or Google Checkout to an unmentioned link not provided by Uncomma.  Also, PayPal and Google Checkout did not pay Uncomma in any way or form in providing their great service through their respective Web sites.

12
Oct
09

Sequel Opportunity

Part 2 of my comments on the Fallacy of the Author are coming soon.  Meanwhile:

***

In recent years, Broadway seems to have largely converted to a religion originally popularized by the Hollywood elite.  No, not the one you’re thinking of.

As you drive through the streets of Los Angeles every morning, you can hear its zen-like mantra being chanted, drone-like, by hundreds of executives over their morning meal of the blood of interns and screenwriting hopefuls.

ESTABLISHED FRANCHISE, EASY MONEY.  ESTABLISHED FRANCHISE, EASY MONEY.

The same force that impels nearly every summer blockbuster to be either a sequel, superhero movie, or adaptation of yet another young-adult book about vampires has slowly but surely crept into the brains of the (theoretically) more artistically-minded backers of musical theater.

There’s Spamalot and the Producers, each based on a popular decades-old film comedy, and Young Frankenstein, which builds upon the formula by adapting another movie from the already screen-to-stage success Mel Brooks.

There’s Hairspray, based on a movie and later adapted into one, reminiscent of the moment in 30 Rock where Jenna Maroney receives an award for her role in Mystic Pizza, the “best performance in a movie based on a musical based on a movie.”

Let’s not forget Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, Mary Poppins… uh… The Rescuers Down Under?  Well, I’m sure that’s coming in the next year or two.  Might be a good time to invest in mouse suits.

And of course, there’s Shrek.  I heard a radio ad for this show recently, featuring a likeably generic theatrical version of Smashmouth’s “I’m a Believer.” “I’m a Believer” was originally made a hit by the Monkees  in 1966, who at that point neither played their instruments nor wrote their own music (the song is by Neil Diamond).  When the theme you choose to represent yourself is a rewrite of a cover of a song by a band who was created specifically for a TV show… well, enough said.

***

So, yeah.  Half of Broadway (and my understanding is that we’re mostly talking about the successful half) is made up of recycled material.

But what compelled me to write about this trend is someone who took the mantra of “Established Franchise” a step further.

This Guy.

Andrew Lloyd Webber at work.

Andrew Lloyd Webber is the man behind The Phantom of the Opera, Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Cats (as well as Starlight Express, which is, depressingly, not the only musical performed mostly on roller skates).  So far, so good.  But he is also the man behind the recently announced Love Never Dies, which is a sequel to The Phantom of the Opera.  Ten years after the events of the first musical, the Phantom finds himself inhabiting that most mysterious of places: Cooooney Island.  OOoooOOoooOOO!

If Las Vegas is a well-groomed, smooth-talking Hollywood mobster, and Atlantic City is the squinting, spitting real deal, then Coney Island is like the old Russian guy who lives upstairs from both of them and runs a Pinochle game for quarters out of his bedroom.  Nestled at the south end of Brooklyn, New York, it’s a faded boardwalk, a grimy beach, many, many rides that go around in circles, and, on weekends, a crowd of locals too fat to know humility.

To be fair, Coney Island is actually a pretty scary place, something I’ll explain in a future article.  This will help give you an idea of what I mean, though.

Classic literature comes alive!

Which circle of Hell is the one where your head is attached to a demon's tongue? I'm going to guess... seventh?

***

For some reason, the idea of a sequel to a musical rubs me the wrong way.  I’m no musical theater aficionado, and even when I am I much prefer the upbeat silliness of Singing in the Rain or a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta to the often too-serious tone of Webber’s work.  However, it’s certainly no exaggeration to say that Phantom’s lavish production values, its pop flair, and its operatic ambitions helped define a whole era of musical theater.  Trying to drag this icon of decades past into the new, Shrek-friendly Broadway environment seems akin to forcing Neil Armstrong to pilot the Star Tours ride at Disneyland.

What I think doesn’t matter, of course.  We’ll have to wait and see what happens, and these days there’s only one way to measure success.  At least Webber knows the game, commenting that “if it does a third as well as the old Phantom I’ll still be very happy.”  I’m sure he will, given that Phantom’s lifetime take is something on the order of $3 billion.

Hell, maybe in a few years I’ll come around and write Opera Phantom 3: Revenge of the Fallen.

***

Next time on Uncomma: More literary theory.  Thrilling!

07
Oct
09

You killed my author, prepare to die

I’d only intended to stay a day or two while I recovered from exhaustion, but by now it seems that the abandoned camp has become my temporary home.  The trees are less dense here, so the place has the feel of a vaulted cathedral compared to the shadowy netherworld just a few yards away; at night, the dim glow of the Google logo on my laptop gives the clearing the subtle sheen of a polished stone.  If I really squint, I can even pretend that the clusters of beady, hungry eyes out beyond the edge of the clearing are candles twinkling serenely at the end of some neglected alcove.

I’m only joking about the eyes, of course.  Death here comes without the luxury of a warning.

But I won’t let it worry me.

***

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing lately.  This is, clearly, no substitute for the real thing.

I’ve been reminded, though, of an essay I read in one of the first classes I took on literary theory.  I can’t remember the title or the author (clearly, it made quite an impression), but it dealt with the Fallacy of the Author (also known as the Intentional Fallacy, or, more whimsically, the Death of the Author), an idea which has informed my reading process ever since.

The concept states, basically, that when we read we shouldn’t worry about the author’s intentions.  The words, once written, speak for themselves and we should look to them if we want to find out what a work means.

Music provides some illumination into how this should work.  Beethoven’s Ode to Joy has lyrics by Frederick Schiller – lyrics so majestically overblown that they practically float away like a German airship.

No ticket.

But even without its lyrics, perhaps more so without the distracting verbal flourishes, the chords and melody exude joy.  We don’t need to know what, precisely, inspired joy in Beethoven in order to understand  the piece’s meaning.  In fact, this one is best left alone, because I’m pretty sure he’d just won a bunch of money betting on a slapping contest.  Perhaps Joy was the name of the winning competitor.

***

SIDEBAR: Speaking of Beethoven, what if the radioactive goo that simultaneously blinded and empowered Daredevil had gone into his ears instead of his eyes?  We might have ended up with a deaf but eagle-eyed avenger, spotting danger before it appears.  Tough to get his attention, though, if he’s not looking at you.

Ludwig van Murdock

Hey Daredevil, help me light my barbecue? Daredevil? DAREDEVIL? ...Ah, I'll just do it myself.

But I digress.

***

Ode to Joy is just that – a celebration of human emotion.  Things get more complex when we deal with popular music, in which lyrics play a central role.  What do we make of something like Layla by Derek and the Dominos?  The song’s narrator begs the eponymous Layla to leave her neglectful husband and be with him instead.

I tried to give you consolation/When your old man had let you down/Like a fool, I fell in love with you/You turned my whole world upside down. (Eric Clapton could have been incredibly emo if he’d been born 30 years later.)

Rock fans know that Clapton wrote Layla about Beatle George Harrison’s wife, whom Clapton would later marry.  The song is grounded in fact, which lends it an extra dose of poignancy.

Layla provides a nice illustration of the limits of the Intentional Fallacy.  If we ignore Clapton and look at the song on its own, we can still understand the narrator’s woe.  The listener may even be able to see its sentiments reflected in his own life.  Clearly, though, the feelings expressed were intensely personal ones for Clapton, and ignoring this aspect of the song excises a whole layer of meaning.

***

The Fallacy of the Author comes in handy when parsing more opaque songs like Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven.  It’s only natural to want to find meaning in a song that is one of the few things people remember from the ‘70s, and Stairway’s words clearly have a lot going on.

Then again, If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow/Don’t be alarmed now/It’s just a spring clean for the May Queen just sounds a lot like Robert Plant forgot the lyrics mid-session and decided to ad lib.  The thing makes little enough sense that it’s not surprising some listeners thought the whole point of the song was as cover for a backmasked salute to Satan.

Much has been made of the song’s symbolism, its reference to Celtic mythology, etc., etc., etc.  But without asking the songwriter himself, any conjectures are just that.  For all we know, a drug-addled, Tolkien-loving Plant may have thought he was writing a sequel to The Lord of the Rings.

No Stairway? Denied.

No Stairway? Denied.

In the end, it is probably best not to worry about what was intended here.  Authorial intent, as in the case of Layla, can sometimes make things work on another level, but mostly, listeners trying to unscramble the contorted brainwaves of an earlier decade in search of illumination are just going to do themselves an injury.  Some see Stairway as a parable about materialism, some hear a call to arms for the grand tradition of western mythology, and of course, there’s always the Satanists-with-a-sound-engineer theory.

Myself, I find it’s easiest, and most accurate, to say what I always say when someone asks “what’s this song about?”

Uh, heroin?

***

Next time on Uncomma: what the Fallacy means to writers – or Why Kurt Vonnegut totally deserved that F.