Squidhelmet on August 7th, 2009

I’ve always liked the way water drips off a head of broccoli when you clean it.

Beach And Broccoli 024

It makes me think a head of broccoli might make a nice showerhead.

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Squidhelmet on May 19th, 2009

I had this idea tonight for a cool way to teach a class. 

I was speaking with my friend Philisophistry about writing, and he mentioned how he thought school papers were one of the most useless forms of writing.  ‘A minute after it’s graded, who cares?’

Beetle and Penny

Beetle and Penny

I had to admit he was right.  Only two people have a stake in these documents – the student (for the grade) and the teacher (because they’re paid to give the grade).  I’m talking about the everyday average forgettable college paper – not some academia-rocking dissertation.  God forbid anyone/everyone should write one of these.  (Not me!  My papers were jaw dropping works of staggering genius!  Why didn’t I keep those?  And why can I only remember a couple of them?)

Here’s the idea:

On the day the paper is due the teacher grabs your paper, tosses it in the trash, and says, ‘okay, prove your point.’  Instead of reading your paper, you simply have to state your idea and support it with some reasons.  The teacher then tries to poke holes in your idea, but luckily you are armed with the main points of your essay to defend yourself!

If you can’t convince the teacher, you fail.

This idea isn’t very original.  The concept of ‘defending’ your dissertation is as old as education, but it somehow seems like an old school idea.  Who would dare call someone out in modern education on having a bullshit idea (or not even having an idea!)? God forbid a student should be embarrassed for writing a paper that they and the teacher both agree has been a waste of everyone’s time.

Re-reading this, I wonder why bitching about education always comes off sounding conservative…

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Squidhelmet on February 13th, 2009

I drew up a chart to illustrate my theory about people’s interest in LOST. I feel that the general trend is for interest to climb until the point where people start to feel like they don’t know wtf is going on. While there was a huge spike of interest caused by the mysteries presented in the first season, by the second people had a hard time even describing the show to their friends. Since the show was open ended, people lost confidence that the writers would ever resolve these mysteries they kept piling on. By season three, so many characters and plot twists had been introduced that ABC started adding elaborate recap episodes to the beginning of each season. The casual fans could only watch those recaps and mutter ‘oh yeah, the four-toed colossus foot…’

Most people I know who stopped watching LOST experienced something like this...

Most people I've talked to who stoped watching LOST described an experience like the one depicted in this graph.

Thankfully the solution came in the brilliant decision to end the story! ABC announced that there would be a finite amount of seasons, and all of a sudden the writers were empowered to begin the exciting process of unraveling their sprawling and labyrinthine tale. All of a sudden, they introduced the flash-forward (instead of just flashbacks), and viewer confidence soared with the feeling that at least the story is going… somewhere!

Of course there are a few outliers that affect people’s interest level in LOST. For instance, many jaded viewers found renewed interest by marathoning the DVD box sets. To alleviate the uncomfortable feeling of suspense which follows each episode, the binge viewer simply sets the DVD to ‘play all’ and kisses their anxiety (and their weekend) goodbye. Other outliers include the inconvenient offing of your favorite character due to drunken driving escapades among the cast, random Hollywood writer strikes, or alternate scifi/fantasy programming stealing your interest.

 

Everybody loves helpful factoids!

Everybody loves helpful factoids!

But Season five of LOST has wholeheartedly swung back to resolving plot elements and revealing information. With the introduction of time travel (sure, why not) and teleportation (I knew it all along!) viewer interest is at an all-time high. And to further assuage the confused masses, the producers have even started adding pop-up-video style comments to the episode that airs before the newest one. Thanks ABC!

 

This week’s episode focused mostly on Jin and Sun, and continues the plotlines of the islanders flashing through time and Ben trying to wrangle the crew in LA. I won’t go into spoiler territory, but will instead pose a question. While interest is peaked, and longtime fans are relieved to have their patience rewarded, is it enough? Are the writers really going to get away with adding devices like time travel teleportation into the fifth act of their story? And although these devices are convenient, will they deliver the ending that this story deserves? Only time will tell. (Or you can feel free to tell me what you think in the comments section! –SH)

Special thanks to Create a Graph

-Originally published on The Factual Opinion

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Squidhelmet on February 13th, 2009

With a flat-lining economy and a consumer-base of increasingly unemployed Americans, is it any wonder that Superbowl ad space was at an all-time high this year? As if to prove that the US can still spend obscene amounts on inane jingles and bizarre attention-grabbers, NBC sold 30 second spots for 3 million dollars apiece (100 grand a tick!). Although everyone hoped the underdog Cardinals would somehow overthrow the cocky Steelers, there was no comeuppance for the common man on Super Bowl Sunday.

 

MC Hammer and Ed McMahon team up to melt your gold!

MC Hammer and Ed McMahon team up to melt your gold! (This is not an ad, so clicking it will not take you to any gold-melting services)

After the third Toyota Tundra ad, I started to notice a distinct lack of Ford F-150s in my Super Bowl commercial spread. Normally Ford and GM are out in force with their mud-splattering, brody-spinning, slow-Bob-Seger-singin’ tributes to the American man. While it’s comforting to know that the tax dollars we all just donated to the ailing Auto industry weren’t squander on ads, it felt like a family member was missing from the holiday dinner table! As if old gas-guzzling Uncle Ford couldn’t come down this year because he’d gotten laid off. To make matters worse, the car ad that carried the most weight was the Hyundai Assurance spot where they promise to take back the car if you lose your job!

 

Hyundai’s marketing vultures weren’t the only ones trying to sell the bad economy. There were competing ads from big job sites Monster.com and Careerbuilder.com, which mercifully took more of a ‘your job sucks’ tone than a ‘we know you got canned’ tone. But the topper was an all-star-super-team-up between Ed McMahon and MC Hammer (how could this not have happened before?) for the totally shady-lookin’ but supposedly legit operation Cash4Gold.com. Apparently you can toss your wedding ring or fillings into a Netflix-style pouch and send them off to the Hammer so he and McMahon can melt those suckers down and send you enough scratch to buy a ticket to see Will Ferrell in ‘Land of the Lost.’

 

A real American hero!

A real American hero!

The landscape looked especially bleak for movies. Pixar spent half their ad ($1.5 million) reminiscing about their former successes to try and bolster the uninspired-looking ‘Up.’ The announcement of the Transformers and Da Vinci Code sequels were so lackluster that I thought both they were announcing that the originals had finally come to DVD. The one ray of hope, although I should know better, came in the form of the live-action ‘G.I. Joe’ movie. Though the only recognizable characters were Snake-eyes and Dennis Quaid, the preview evoked cheers from our Super Bowl crew, who were maybe just welcoming the image of some elite American badasses banded together for the altruistic purpose of fighting pure evil.

 

The standout commercial of the night that seemed to make the most profound comment about the state of the economy was, of course, for beer.  Miller High Life decided to mock the competition by running an ad that was only one second long. And although the commercial consisted only of a lone beer man shouting ‘High Life’ at the camera, it somehow stole the show by contrast. Ever classy, the champagne of beers took the trophy by keeping it on the cheap.

As the evening dwindled, the promised underdog victory somehow slipped away from the Cardinals. As the big franchise Steelers took their smug victory lap, the cheap beer headache started to kick in, and I wonder if anybody else went to bed feeling like I did; that somehow the bill of good being sold on the TV that night was a long way off from the American Dream.

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Squidhelmet on February 12th, 2009

In January, I created a 15-minute play with America’s Theater Company for Austin’s 2009 Frontera Fest Short Fringe.  We received a highly complimentary review from The Decider (The Onion’s arts and culture site).  ’America’s Theater Company’ is the cheeky name that Ricky Cambier, Hannah Kenah and I have been using when we put up work in Austin.

Since the work is short-form anyway (only about 12 minutes), it’s perfect for Youtube!

 

America’s Theater Company created a show for Frontera Fest 2008, which was also selected for Best of Fest entitled ‘1+1+1′.  It’s a detective story!

 

Note:  These videos were all filmed by my good friend Philosophistry!

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With the Academy Awards closing in, Squidhelmet has been trying to catch up on some of the nominees. Since there’s plenty of general movie reviews out there for Man on Wire, I’ll skip the basic plot summary and focus on the three things that struck me as unique about this documentary:

1. We’re just not gonna go there.


The World Trade Center has become a highly charged symbol. It’s increasingly common for television and movies to show the smoking towers underscored with somber music to evoke an emotional response. When this is done without context, for political purpose, or as part of bad entertainment, it can be manipulative or even offensive.

Man on Wire tells the story of a tightrope walker who broke into the World Trade Center and hatched an elaborate plot to traverse the span between the two towers. For Philippe Petit, the towers represented the apex of his artistic ambitions. As a child, he saw a picture of the projected tower design in a magazine and scratched a thin line between them with a pencil. Director James Marsh chooses to cast the towers only in the light of Philippe’s innocent dreams, and to me this represents the highest degree of good taste.

By avoiding any nostalgia or sentimentality, Man on Wire allows us to view the towers as symbols of hope, achievement, and undauntable spirit, which is incredibly refreshing. Like a funny anecdote told at a funeral service, where you celebrate life rather than dote on death.

 

2. This documentary is made up of fake documents!


Philippe Petit wirewalking the world trade center

Philippe Petit wirewalking the world trade center

While reenactments have become a common tool in documentaries, Man on Wire playfully integrates new footage and old in a way that is mesmerizing. While some is original document, most is new footage composited in such a way that it captures that grainy Super-8 home movie feel. The young actors so resemble their real-life counterparts that it’s near impossible not to believe the reenacted footage is real.

The footage frequently dips into fantasy, but somehow maintains its documentary quality. For instance, in flashback Petit often appears idealized, riding a unicycle determinedly through the streets of Paris wearing a Top Hat and mime black. While clearly an abstracted vision of the man, somehow these flourishes never make the film feel inauthentic.

While this seamless juxtaposition of document and forgery is an amazing evolutionary step for the documentary genre, it definitely sets off the Squidhelmet conspiracy theory radar. With Benjamin Button style face-replacements and reenacted documentary footage added to the arsenal of Hollywood tricks, how long before we start to see ‘newly discovered’ footage from the moon landing or JFK assassination? Remain vigilant Squidcadets!

 

3. An unexpectedly bittersweet love story.

 

This dips into spoiler territory, so avert your eyes if you’re sensitive to such things (I know I am). The movie contains an incredible plot twist right after the climactic moment. As the film opens, we are introduced to Annie, a beautiful young girl who is pursued by the wire-walking showman, and soon becomes his muse. Throughout the planning of Petit’s various guerrilla tightrope heists (Notre Dame Cathedral, Sydney Harbor Bridge) Annie remains a loyal supporter and dedicated companion to Petit. She faithfully endures his ‘tortured artist’ angst and is even barred from joining him in New York City until he becomes desperately depressed about the shambled state of his twin towers plan.

The unexpected moment comes right after Petit has successfully pulled off the caper, and gets arrested. His fame in New York skyrockets, and as soon as he is released from jail, he is swept up in a whirlwind of fame. Instead of rejoining his accomplices and girlfriend, he disappears for a two-day rendezvous with an adoring fan that pounces on him in front of the court house.

At this moment you expect Philippe to be cracking champagne with his fellow conspirators, but instead he dives headfirst into rock star narcissism and completely betrays his longtime girlfriend. What’s interesting about it is that Philippe and Annie both refer to it as a beautiful way to have ended the relationship. Their love had been that of a genius and his adoring fan rather than two equals. And somehow when his dreams had been fulfilled, they both had nothing left. While it’s tempting to moralize it and be repulsed by his action, it’s an intriguing twist that somehow avoids repugnancy by the distance the participants have from the memory, and their mutual acceptance of a young love’s bittersweet end.

 

In case it’s not clear from the above review, Squidhelmet gives Man on Wire two thumbs up! Although it will probably win the Academy Award because it is the most-hyped documentary, it is more than deserving!


Bar Trivia: What’s an eleven-letter synonym for tightrope walking?
Answer: Funambulism!


The Book:


The DVD:

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I get this love-at-first-sight feeling whenever I encounter a new term.  Especially one that describes an idea I didn’t know had a name.

I fell hard for the term internet meme.  The ‘meme’ concept as a cultural signifier goes much deeper, but the aspect of it that really stole my heart was the internet meme.  Wiki describes an internet meme as a “catchphrase or concept that spreads quickly from person to person via the Internet, much like an inside joke.”

Although I’ve never participated in an internet meme actively (by making a response video to a youtube clip, or an animated gif that captures the essence of a moment), I do spread the links around when they make me laugh, which is really the lifeblood of a meme.  Each one is a little pyramid scheme.

I came across this beast one day, and it blew my mind. This is an ambitious project to chart the timeline of different Internet/Cultural Memes!

We all receive links from friends and pass them on to a couple people through IM, email, twitter or social networking posts, so it sometimes feels like these inside jokes are only among our small social circles.  But the combination of easy transmission, cubicle culture and the 6-Degrees theory makes these links go viral so quickly that it creates the bizarre effect of an inside joke that a million people are in on. (CF – Being RickRoll’d while watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade)

I wonder about how memes affect our perception of a story.  For instance, the recent Christian Bale meme, where he lost his s#it on the set of Terminator Salvation:

(NSFW – Foul language, violent undertones, cussing in a Welsh accent)

Which in turn spurred this inevitable (and surprisingly catchy) techno remix:

Both of the above videos went viral, but as a fan of Christian Bale (full disclosure), I was pretty curious about how the story ended. Did he apologize? Did his publicist make an apology for him? So I investigated, and of course there was an apology:

Here’s what troubles me.  The KROQ interview adds a lot of information to the story:

  1. Even though the rant only appeared on Youtube last week, the event occurred last Summer!  (Publicity stunt?)
  2. Bale apologized to the DP, did not get him fired, and continued working/communicating with him throughout the project.
  3. Christian Bale thinks that it’s okay for Michael Phelps to smoke weed.

None of these are insignificant details (except for #3 which is merely irrelevant) but the tragic part is this – the radio interview was NOT viral.  Statistical breakdown as of this post:

Rant video views:  973,349

Rant techno remix views:  1,858,745

Rant apology views: 2,545

Population of Swaziland: 1,141,000

So even if you might have been swayed by Bale’s humility and self-deprecating charm in owning up to his douche-baggery…  nobody linked you on that part of the story, so the impression that most of the population of Swaziland is left with is that Christian Bale went on a tirade set to phat house beatz!

Squidhelmet answers your questions before you even ask them:

  • Celebrities have it tough in this meta-modern world, so don’t judge Alec Baldwin, David Hasselhoff or Tom Cruise by their highly publicized moments of human weakness!  You may be asking yourself: wouldn’t we be better off by just closing our eyes and pretending there’s nothing beyond 30 Rock, Night Rider and Top Gun?  Yes.
  • Don’t forget, Youtube is full of the embarassing moments of common people as well.  Are these of less value than the embarassing moments of celebrities?  Yes.
  • What do I do if I find I’ve become an internet meme, Squidhelmet?  I don’t know, ask MetaFilter.

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UPDATE: 2/8/09

This meme has spawned many great response videos, so on the suggestion of my friend Philosophistry, I’m going to collect a few on this post so we can all trace the proud history of Christian Bale’s unfortunate moment.  Enjoy!

Tracy Morgan Goes Off

Christian Bale vs. Bill O’Reilly (Illustrates meme cross-over!)

Christian Bale Takes David To The Dentist (Mash-Up) [Illustrating further meme crossover, this David After Dentist meme caught on around the same time]

Stephen Colbert gives his own special tribute to the Christian Bale meme:

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