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.