Monday, May 04, 2009

I was asked recently to explain why Spider-Man and Mary Jane are no longer married. Here follows my summary:

 First imagine that I am a total douchenozzle
 an idiot fanboy
 and, coincidentally, editor-in-chief at Marvel comics.
My name is Joe Quesada.

(and . .. scene)

 "My God! Spider-Man is selling poorly! How could that be?
 "Is it the increasingly shitty editorial decisions I have made over the past few years?
 "Maybe people are getting tired of all the fucking retconning.
 "Maybe it's that I had him reveal his identity, then unreveal it, then rereveal it, then become Iron Man's bitch . . . 
 "No, that's not right. I can do no wrong.
 "I know! The majority of comics readers are children and unmarried older men. They simply cannot relate to a married character.
 "We need to separate Peter Parker from Mary Jane.
 "But divorce, that is bad, and death, that is depressing.
 "I have an idea . . . "

(now we are within the comic)

Aunt May: Peter, I have teh cancers.

 Peter Parker: Oh noes!

Mary Jane: Oh noes!

Peter Parker: MJ, can't you sell her some medicinal marijuana?

 MJ: Peter, that would be wrong, despite my name.

 Mephistopheles (like, totally the devil): I can help . . .

 PP: I see no way this can go wrong!

Mephy: I will cure your Aunt . .. but in return, your marriage will be wiped out of history, as though it never happened . . .

 PP: Cool, cool, I dig being a bachelor . . . I mean, holy shit, that would suck!

 Mephy: And also, you two will always feel a deep, inexplicable pain, because some part of you will remember what you lost.

 MJ: Wait, what possible advantage can you be getting from this?

Mephy: Shhhh. If you point out shitty writing and plot holes, the deal is off.

MJ: We must do this to save Aunt May.

 (they do)

 PP: [is a bachelor living in his aunt's basement]
 MJ: [is a famous actress]
AM: [does not have the cancer]
 Sales of Spider-Man: [continue to fall]

 Joe Quesada: What the fuck?

 [and scene]
Because deals with the devil: much better than divorce

Monday, December 08, 2008

I wrote a letter to the Red&Black that was published Friday about the new tuition fees, the transgressions of the Board of Regents, and the SGA's failure to appropriately deal with it. The original letter follows here:

"Mr. Connor McCarthy, it is time to tender your resignation.

Yes, you. You and all your associates on the Student Government Association. We did not elect you so you could beef up your résumé for law school applications. We did not elect you so you could toady to the administration.

We elected you - hired you, really - to act as our intermediary and advocate in the running of this school. You've failed to do your job, and I'm afraid we'll have to let you go. I was upset to hear of the fee increase, especially since the Board of Regents did not follow established procedures or solicit student opinion before doing this.

As I read the article, though, I felt assured I would read the outrage of those representatives I voted to speak for me.

Well, Mr. McCarthy? Where is the outrage? Where is the dramatic stand against the University? Where is the demand that the University treat its students with the common respect we deserve?

Oh, I know it's all been said before: SGA can only do so much. Maybe that's true. Maybe the SGA is only good for the small bureaucratic victories we've seen from it in the past. In that case, perhaps it is time for the SGA to dissolve until a more effective body can take its place. If the SGA will not fight to represent students, then it has no right to claim its position.

Demand accountability. Demand change. Show some outrage. Or do the honorable thing and go."

It seems I struck a nerve: I left for the weekend and returned to find my e-mail inbox full, a number of messages from people I do not know on my cell phone, and Facebook absolutely crowded out.

[A pointer to student groups: it is really creepy to call someone you don't know because they write a letter in the paper; there are less stalkerish ways to contact me. UGAMiracle did it; now SGA has gone and done the same. Really, guys?]

A lot of SGA senators wrote to me telling me I was wrong and why I was wrong. A good deal more non-SGA-affiliated people wrote to compliment me and tell me they agreed in every particular. If you're reading this, SGA folk: this is the view that most people on campus have of you. Consider it, and consider why that might be.

I stand by every word I wrote. I invite anyone who disputes my opinion to come and speak to me. Find me on Facebook or comment on this blog; you and I will get coffee and address all your concerns face-to-face. That's the appropriate way to deal with an opposing opinion.

Let us be clear once more: the fee, while significant, is not the issue I want the SGA to be concerned with. The issue is the blatant disregard for student opinion or procedure in enacting this fee.

First argument I was sent:
Connor McCarthy was outraged. He worked hard with the senators and demanded that they get outraged.

Unfortunately, the general student body has not heard any of that outrage. The SGA has failed to relate to and communicate with those it represents. Most students are as concerned with the SGA as they are with the inner workings of the College Republicans or the Demosthenian Society; one comment on the SGA I heard was: "The plus of the SGA is that we get to see a lot of dumb t-shirts and weird little party names when they run for reelection in the Spring; the minus is that they take up space in the newspaper. That's about all they do." If the SGA are truly student leaders, then they must connect with the student body and lead.

Second argument:
It's the Board of Regents. There's really nothing that we can do about it. Letter-writing campaigns? Petitions? Why should they care?

The Board of Regents is appointed by the governor, Sonny Perdue. The Board of Regents' policies affect 283,000 students, 11,000 faculty, and almost 29,000 staff. Most of these people are registered voters. Most of the students have parents who are paying for their educations and are also registered voters. You're right: let's not write to the Board. Let's write to Sonny.

You say you can't get the organization and mobilizing power to do this? Then you're not leaders. You're not effective. Resign. If you are student leaders, then use that position to lead. Perhaps this has never been done before, but that only means that you have a muscle you have not flexed. If the SGAs of the universities of Georgia work together to actually have pressure put on the Board of Regents, that will be a show of power that will last you for years. Write to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Write to other universities. Organize. Mobilize.

Third argument:
The SGA actually gets a lot done, and we really do care.

For every accomplishment of the SGA I have seen, I see many lapses. Their successes do not outweight their failures or plain ignorances of what needs doing. If they do not have power to deal with the Board, then they have no business speaking on anything that it does. If they are weak, then we do not need them. An ineffective SGA is bad for the student body because it allows us to believe we have an advocate when we do not, placating us when we ought to rise.

As one man said:
"The illusion of good government is a greater evil than bad government or no government at all."

Endnote: I've heard that the SGA has a few tentative little goals to do things like get a student on the Board--probably as a non-voting member. Don't chicken out on us. You have exactly as much power as you choose to have. Push the envelope now and your successors will have that power too. If the Board of Regents has pressure put on it from above, then that is a lesson they will remain with for years to come. Remember, in your position if you're not making a few enemies, then you're not doing your job right.

Have an opinion? Here:
  • These links are information about the new fee.
Here's the SGA's take
And here's the article from before it was voted on . . .
And this is what the Board did wrong.
  • These are the addresses, phone, and fax numbers of the members of the Board of Regents. Enjoy.
University System of Georgia Board of Regents
  • This is SGA President Connor McCarthy's e-mail address. Demand change and demand action, but do so politely and do not do so anonymously. Treat him as you would like to be treated.
Connor McCarthy
  • Of course, here's the SGA's general e-mail address as well. The same caveat applies.
Student Government Association
  • Want to send a letter to Sonny Perdue? Here's his office. Make your points reasonably and intelligently. An angry pointless letter accomplishes little or nothing.
  • No, I guess you'd like to write to the paper. That's good too. Here's the Red&Black--
  • And if you're up for some big hitting, here's the Atlanta-Journal Constitution:

Monday, December 01, 2008

This I believe: Cigarette companies should not be required to paste on warning labels. We all know cigarettes kill. Instead, the point should be driven home more viscerally: once a day, they must send out Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man to find someone smoking and brutally murder them on national television.


Also then they'd get to keep their cute mascots, which is a plus.


Saw the new Baz Luhrman bit of glory "Australia" this weekend. The first half is pretty liberally cribbed from "Out of Africa", except instead of Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, "Australia" stars Hugh Jackman and Hugh Jackman's abs, co-starring Hugh Jackman's biceps, featuring Jackman's triceps, with small role played by Nicole Kidman, and a brief cameo by Hugh Jackman's forearms.

For serious: Baz Luhrman has a hard-on for Hugh Jackman, but then, who doesn't? He is a pretty pretty man. We will even forgive the lapses of judgment, in which Hugh Jackman pours a bucket of water over his head and we see each drop drip tantalyzingly over his musculature look I am just reporting the facts here. But come on, it's Australia! It's dry. They charge you for a friggin' glass of water. This movie used water waaaay too liberally. 

Baz Luhrman has a fantastic eye for colors and shapes; he assembles fantastic screen pictures. A scene comes to mind in "Moulin Rouge" in which Satin descends a staircase in front of the Duke, shot from behind her. She's speaking submissively to him--acquiescing to his demands--but at the same time the picture on the screen is of her literally going down on him. She descends in front of him, and stops when her head is, from our angle, directly in front of his groin. It's a dark and sinister and fantastically well-done visual pun.

In "Australia", Luhrman really uses that eye. He showcases massive and gorgeous scenes--bombings, stampedes, vast and glorious vistas, Hugh Jackman's abs--in a way that is absolutely stunning. It is a crime not to see this on the big screen. I especially love how he used trees like panels to separate the screen: two characters will stand on one side of a tree to enact a scene while we see a quiet cooking fire on the other side, effectively dividing our view into two rooms. It's brilliantly well done.

Unfortunately, the comparisons "Australia" draws to "Out of Africa" are to its detriment. "Australia" offers nowhere near the depth of character or complexity that OoA did, and certainly does not have the tragic passion of Streep and Redford. From an angry feminist angle, it interested me to see how they treated their female protagonists differently. Streep's character in OaA is based very closely on a real woman, while Kidman's in "Australia" is totally fictional. Both are noble women from Europe translated to a foreign continent. Streep's has a lot to learn but is tough and savvy from the beginning, riding out to the savanna and hunting without a flinch; Kidman's is shocked by the shooting of a kangaroo and lacks anything but rudimentary competence until Jackman lends her his testicles. The real woman is capable; the fictional one is incompetent. Huh.

It's still eminently worth watching. The eye candy is worth the ticket price, and Hugh Jackman--clean-shaven, tuxed-up, and grinning like original sin--is a glory in his own right. Don't expect too much from the story and you'll love it.


I'm a big fan of the old classic Bromance. A bromance, friends, is a totally platonic romance between two heterosexual dudes. It is manly. It is awesome.

The new BBC show "Merlin" has an absolutely adorable bromance between Merlin and young someday-king Arthur, which mostly consists of Merlin hero-worshipping Arthur's warrior skills and Arthur telling Merlin to polish his armor. Yeah . . . some weird undertones to that one. 

I don't consider Sam and Frodo in Lord of the Rings a bromance. They're already an item. And Sam's more his mother, and also wants to marry Rosie Cotton. In cases of a true bromance, any romantic feelings for girls are subsumed into one night stands. 

It's true.

I read it on the Internet.

Anyone have some real-life bromances to give me?

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Innocence, Holy Men, and the very dangerous world

Yesterday I was out walking my daily walk and a gold sedan pulled up beside me. People pull up by me all the time when I'm out walking, usually to ask directions, a request that I very poorly answer.

This was different right away. Pulled up right to the curb and put the car in park; my eye hit the leatherbound, beat-up book on the console--definitely a Bible--the pillow and blanket in the backseat (is he sleeping in his car?), and his face--young, maybe early twenties, without a recent shave and with the dark circles and earnest of eyes of the devout, at least to my eyes.

My first impression: I'm about to get a have-you-accepted-Christ-into-your-life talk.

"Excuse me," he says, "I'm sorry, I just got this impression, like, an idea from the Lord, that I should ask you: does your father need any prayers? I felt like I had to stop and ask that. Should I pray for your father?"

I stop and think for a moment. "Well," I say honestly, "not that I know of."

"Okay," he laughs. "What about you? Do you need any prayers?"

I look away and think for a moment. Yes, I'm an atheist, but if it pleases someone to pray for me, that's all right. I'll answer honestly. And honestly, I have a pretty good life. I don't need prayers--maybe I need help being the man I know I oughtta be, but that's a small enough prayer.

"No," I say finally, "I don't think I really need any prayers. There's lots of other people need more prayers and blessings than I do."

"All right, well, I'm Ernie." He sticks out his hand for me to shake.


"Just want to say that Jesus loves you."

I thank him, wave as he drives away. I prize these little encounters where people try to show concern for others, where they bring a little God into the world. I may not believe in it, but I think life can always use a bit of holiness. One of my favorite memories is of sitting on a beach as a child and being suddenly presented with a beautiful shell by a middle-aged lady, who told me Jesus loved me and then walked away. I do wish I still had the shell.

Really, I start to feel a little bad about it as I keep walking. If he really was living out of his car, I should have offered to buy him dinner, or something. See if I could find someplace he could sleep for the night. I've just finished reading The Dharma Bums, so I'm feeling very charitable to wandering holy men.

I'm living at home for the summer. Later that evening I tell my mom about the whole encounter, and my mild regrets that I did not do more. She purses her lips, looks hard at me. "Do you really mean that?"

"Well . . . yes," I say. "I mean, there might be some danger to hanging out with a new-met stranger, but it felt like the right thing to do."

"What impression did you get?" she asks me.

I had had some misgivings. My "wandering holy man" notion was just a romantic idea--in this age, no poor monk drives a car. Who can afford the gas? But I don't say that. "He seemed like an earnest, honest guy, really. And it's the whole WWJD thing."

"Phillip, that's well and good, but think about this. He's driving around in a car. He sees you out walking alone, asks about your father--are there problems at home?--will someone miss you if you don't come home? This is how kids get kidnapped."

I'd protest that I'm nineteen years old and can take care of myself, but I don't look it, and truthfully, Ernie was probably stronger than me. I have to yield a bit to my mom's experience--she burned herself out working with runaways and troubled kids when I was little, and has a few too many horror stories.

"And now he knows your route, and when you go walking," she goes on. "Next time you're out walking, think he'll be there again?"

"I usually walk at night . . . this was an early afternoon walk."

"Good. But be more careful."

I suppose this is a long anecdote, but it precedes a big question. I know I'm a very innocent guy--I always assume everyone has the best of intentions at heart, but things get muddled up in the struggle of the everyday. It rarely occurs to me to think people might be dangerous--heck, I though Annie Wilkes just needed a good firm hug in Misery--but I still stand by my impression that the guy was honest. And I resent my mom a little for turning what felt like an encounter with holiness into Stranger Danger.

What do you think? How much has the world warped, and how much kindness can we afford strangers? Is there holiness moving out there, quietly and sweetly, or only predators under evangelical beards?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

You know what? The Red and Black headlines are boring. They're dull, and they have been all year.

Oh, I had some momentary hope when I saw there'd be a series on sexual harassment in the university system. I thought there might finally be something to shock or titillate. But I was disappointed--all we got were little accounts of how this or that professor may or may not have said some kinda suggestive things to a student once.

Seriously, Red and Black? Seriously? That's not the story I want to hear.

I want to hear about a professor who winked when talking about his office hours, and then I want to see how that evolved into a full-blown prostitution and cheating ring scandal with sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Give me profiles of all the Sorosti--sorry, academic escorts--and tell me how many points a blow job raises your grade. What about a handjob? Will that bump you from a C+ to a B-? Inquiring minds want to know.

See, that's interesting. Oh, and I want pictures on the front cover, because too many words make my head hurt.

Actually, more extreme photos would be cool, too. Take note, Josh Weiss, or whoever succeeds you. If you can't get really dramatic shots, you can fake 'em. They do it in Iraq all the time. Photoshop's cheaper than ever, and it's time you people learned how to make it in the real world of journalism. Besides, images do wonders for your credibility.

Now, I understand a lot of really thrilling news stories aren't ever going to happen at our fair university. I accept that. But who's to say the Red and Black can't make them up? I mean, what if an earthquake hit? There'd be fire, and broken glass, and some guy running out of a building with mud streaked over his face. We could have rednecks telling us what the tornado sounded like. I'm sure the theater kids need something to do with their time.

What if the whole Bulldawg football team turned out to be Soviet agents in disguise? Knowshon is actually Kommandant Noshonov, reporting on our tactics and distributing Communist reading material on the sly.

Maybe there are orgies in Myers. Hell, if you need a witness, I'm damn good at perjuring myself. Most of us aren't that aware of what goes on at the university. By reporting the news, the Red and Black can make the news. We won't know the difference. Reality is created by the media, man, and you gotta start catching up if you're gonna survive in this century.

Come on, journalistic integrity is for the fifties. These days it's all about the sell, and you're gonna get a better sell with lurid sex, neon lights, and dirty dirty money. Fake us some headlines, Red and Black.

Monday, April 07, 2008

To get workers for the Nations of the World, Epcot recruits college students living in these countries to come to the U.S. for a year and work in service jobs. They live in what sounded to me a lot like a Cold War-era nuclear bunker under the park (Walt Disney was known for planning ahead, I guess) and come out in the daytime to serve food and sell souvenirs. Wearing, of course, their national costumes. Having seen the Viking armor and longboats, it was really heart-wrenching to be served waffles by proud Norwegians in stockings and lederhosen. Besides, wasn't that supposed to be the Germans' schtick?

Um. The Lederhosen, not the cruel and unusual torment.

I talked to one of them. "Yeah," he said, "we have to work a lot. But they give us our evenings off."

I asked him if he was enjoying America, or if he thought it was that different. "It's nice," he said, "warm. But my boss keeps trying to get me to go to church."

I nodded in sympathy. Norway, by some measures, is 71% secular, something I regard with fascination and admiration. I wondered aloud if Thor might be persuaded to strike the man down.

He laughed. "No, but really, it's a really great opportunity."

Norwegians. I wanted to tell him that in his forefathers' days, there woulda been a lot more pillaging and a lot less appreciation. How the noble Vikings have fallen--!

Each pavilion is notable for featuring native cuisine, except, of course, the African pavilion, which featured none at all. The irony was not lost on me, nor the indignity that what was clearly an image of Africa--drums, staffs carved with lion heads, a dearth of edible foodstuff--was labeled simply "Outpost".

I think my greatest disappointments were in what they left out, not what they had there. I searched China for a tank I could stand in front of for a picture, but it turned out they didn't have any. I felt this was inauthentic and a terrible oversight on the part of the Disney Corporation. England, similarly, lacked the Sex Pistols, Dr Who, and Harry Potter. Really, who cares about Buckingham Palace when there's real culture to see?

My brother and I toured France together.

"It's just like Paris," I observed, "but without gypsies trying to fleece you at every turn."

My brother stared at me blankly. "Phillip. It's a Disney park."

"Okay," I amended. "It's just like Paris, except everyone is a gypsy and they're all on crack."

The Eiffel Tower, by the way? Nothing but a silhouette on the horizon. What a gyp. I cursed the shoddy gypsy workmanship and moved on.

Canada! Oh Canada. A pavilion done out in logs, staffed by real Canadians, dressed in lumberjack flannel. I weighed the discomfort of flannel in Florida heat against the sheer humiliation of wearing it for a year, and wondered again when Disney had signed its contract with Satan.

We watched the film in the pavilion, hosted by a pretty blonde Canadian girl. It has been a fine American tradition to politely harass Canadians whenever one happens by ever since they burned down the White House in the War of 1812. At my brother's opportunity, I went up to talk to her.

"You know," I said, "my girlfriend's name is Sarah Redden."

She nodded, confused.

"She lives in Canada," I went on.

"That's nice."

"Toronto or Ontario. One of those places."

"Toronto's in Ontario, actually."

"You might know her," I said.

She looked a bit affronted. "You know, Canada's actually a pretty big place."

I shrugged. That stuff's all relative. "Maybe it was Buffalo."

"That's in New York."


I left with a new respect for America. We don't wear funny costumes, and we'll at least pretend to know that friend of yours who lives in America. We'd never live under Disneyworld, and we proudly display tanks at all our parks. Take that, China.

Friday, April 04, 2008

A few nights ago I was eating dinner with three female friends of mine, and conversation turned, inevitably, to The Sims.

The Sims, for those who have not played it, is a computer game that allows you to manage the lives of a family of people, from finding them jobs to dictating when they use the restroom. Such a concept should allow players to explore different aspects of life in novel ways; instead, it's often turned to more prurient purposes.

"Remember the vibrating heart-shaped bed?" one girl asked me. I nodded--the bed had all the style and grace of a no-tell motel, and if you told your Sims to use it, they would disrobe and perform carnal--excuse me, virtual--acts beneath the covers.

"Once I was home alone and bored," she went on, "and so I had my Sims have sex again . . . and again . . . and again . . . until finally the man passed out on the floor."

"I did something similar," another broke in. "I built a wall around the bed, so they kept having sex until they both died from exhaustion."

I told my own story, in which I turned my best friend's little sisters into sociopaths. I taught them that you could put a Sim in a room, remove the door, and then set the house on fire. When your Sim perished, the Grim Reaper appeared to dispose of him. My friend's sisters were suitably shocked.

Fifteen minutes later, they dragged me over to the computer to show me their latest project. They were luring neighbors into the house in order to trap them and kill them when the house burned down. I patted the two budding serial killers on the back and left, telling myself I had given them only the means to murder, not the motivation.

"The real problem," one of my friends said, "is the social workers. My Sims had a baby, but there wasn't really time to take care of it. So this social worker came and took the kid away.

"Of course, if you build a wall around the social worker when she shows up, she'll just die anyway."

"If you keep killing social workers," one confided, "they can never take your children away."

Our fourth dinner companion, who had evidently never played the game herself, wondered aloud whether she ought to call DFACS as soon as any of us conceived.

"No," I said, "at least, not on these two. Do you really want to be responsible for a social worker's death?"

I guess Sims lets you explore what it's like to be God, within certain limits. We heap a lot of blame on God, especially for the sort of things that happened in the Old Testament. Fire rained from the sky. People were turned into salt. There were floods, and massacres, and a baby got cut in half. But really, can we claim to be any better? At least God never walled you up in a house and set the carpet on fire. Nor has he killed a disproportionate number of social workers, or brought people to death by sexual exhaustion.

We take issue with the matter of Creation. There's a tree, and you're not allowed to eat of it, but you know, it's right there, and what could one little bite hurt? The logical man might wonder why the tree wasn't placed out of reach, but the logical man never had to play Sims without cheat codes. You're limited in funds, and it's hard to put the Tree of Knowledge on a distant mountaintop when there's a perfectly convenient spot right between the mulberry bush and the demonically persuasive serpent.

Sims teaches us an important theological lesson. A lot of times in our stories, gods just behave like we would, if only we could. Anybody whose had to deal with Egyptian customs procedures has thought about smiting the whole country with locusts, and most of us, upon meeting a beautiful woman we're too shy to talk to, would probably jump at the chance to manifest as a bull or a swan or perhaps even a convenient raincloud. It's the Olympian way.

So give the gods a break. After all, they're only human.