Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Alice in Horrorland - revisited

I was going to play the lead in a stage play about Alice in Wonderland.

I don’t think I was me in this dream. I was much younger than my present age, and in fact, much younger than I have ever been. I was some sort of innocent, almost a waif. I was running around with long blonde hair flying behind me. Other people from the play were kind of milling around in various settings, mostly in a high school (I think this was an amateur performance), but I had no idea who they were, even though we had apparently been rehearsing this play together for months.

Though I remembered the rehearsals and I seemed to remember knowing the play very well, I suddenly realized I had no idea how the play started, what the first couple of pages of dialogue were. It was simply blank. Since I was playing the lead, I had to know. I knew I was in it somehow and wondered if it was kind of like the scene where the White Rabbit (always late) rushes past her before she falls into the rabbit hole. Or did she step through the mirror?

There was a director of the play somewhere but I couldn’t find him. No one seemed to know where he was, but I could picture him, what he was like. None of the other players seemed to recognize or acknowledge me and brushed off all my anxious questions. At one point I (who at this point looked like a little girl living in the 1960s) went on a sort of strange computer that reminded me of the Wizard of Oz's contraption behind the curtain, and tried to find out something about the play on the internet. I thought I could download the script so I could at least read it onstage and not be a total fool. I pictured myself just improvising my lines but realized it would throw the other actors completely off and infuriate them and bring the play to a grinding halt.

I saw a sort of glass plate with lettering embossed on it and wondered if I could make one with my name on it, if it would somehow help. The glass was sort of amber-colored and it was plate-sized but irregular, like a blob of sealing wax. I think it had some sort of emblem or crest on it. As I became more bewildered and frantic about what was going on, I suddenly realized I had no idea of the content of this play. I could not remember a single line in it, though I still remembered rehearsing for months. I started running around desperately asking people if they had a copy of the script. All of them shrugged and went on talking to whoever they were talking to. (All these people were young adults, maybe 20s or early 30s, much older than me.) They acted as if I had no connection to the play whatsoever and should just go away.

Then I found a plastic bag and it had some sort of report written on it, printed on it. It said something along the lines of: when she first arrived here, she looked very unkempt and dishevelled. Now she has improved her appearance greatly and is obviously much more attractive. I realized I was reading a psychiatric report and that it was about me.

I kept trying to figure out who the director was. He had an unusual voice and it seemed English. I kept thinking of the movie/book 1984 and George Orwell. Though I never saw him, I kept thinking I heard his voice. I thought that if I asked HIM if he had a copy of the script, I could at least get the first page. I knew he didn’t have one however, because nobody did. Then I decided he must be that guy on Mad Men, the Englishman they called Moneypenny, Lane Pryce. Lane Pryce committed suicide by hanging himself in his office during the last season. He tried to commit suicide with carbon monoxide in a new Jaguar his wife had just given him (Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce had just landed the prestigious Jaguar acoount), but it wouldn’t start, one of the drawbacks to effectively marketing it. 

Just now I realize I only saw this Lane Pryce actor in one other thing, the movie about Sylvia Plath with Gwyneth Paltrow. It was a very poorly-done thing and Paltrow was pallid and uninteresting as Plath, but in one scene, this Moneypenny was talking to her about suicide and how he had tried it once, “but you’ve got to keep going!”. This seemed ironic in light of the Lane Pryce character’s suicide.

But maybe it wasn’t Moneypenny at all: it seemed more like Oliver Sacks, the bizarre genius who studies people with mental disorders like so many insects impaled on pins.

The whole dream was a vague nightmare of pointlessly bustling around, realizing that the play was about to begin, that I was playing the lead, and that I had absolutely no idea of what was in the script. I was trying to scrape together some sort of knowledge of Alice in Wonderland and kept coming up with a rabbit. At one point all the cast members were supposed to produce a picture of what their spouses looked like, and I tried to find a picture of a rabbit, just the face, a brown one. 

It wasn’t until I woke up and grogged out of bed that I made another connection, with the Marina Bychkova Enchanted Dolls. My current favourite is a doll named Alice, who represents Bychkova’s “reimagining” of Alice in Wonderland. The doll has enormous blue eyes brimming with tears, elaborate costumes and long blonde hair. She both enchants and scares me because along with abandonment and terror, I see anger in her eyes, even a hint of rage.

Unlike Dorothy in The Wizard of OzAlice does not have comrades or companions, just a series of encounters with grotesque figures like the hookah-smoking caterpillar, the Queen of Hearts and the Cheshire Cat whose smile hangs disembodied in the air. She fell into this twilight nightmare down a hole, or, in another story, was sucked into a reverse world behind the mirror. In neither case did she choose the journey.

And then, the final realization.  My mother's name is Alice. 

It's also my middle name.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Max Falling Out Of Kayak

I was Bigfoot's love slave (no, I really mean it)

Satire is dying because the internet is killing it

Facebook’s [satire] tag may prevent people believing Kim Jong-un was voted the sexiest man alive, but the damage is done                        

o Arwa Mahdawi
o, Tuesday 19 August 2014 12.52 BST

‘The problem with satire in an age of finite attention and infinite content is that it makes you stop and think.’ Photograph: David Sillitoe for the Guardian

Forget self-driving cars or virtual reality nano-technology algorithms, the newest innovation to emerge from Silicon Valley is square brackets. Facebook is testing a “satire tag” that will clearly label fake news stories from well-known satire sites like the Onion as [satire]. No longer will you need to rely on outdated technology such as common sense to realise that content like Area Facebook User Incredibly Stupid is [satire], the square brackets will do it for you.

It should perhaps be noted that Facebook isn’t introducing the satire tag because it thinks we’re all morons, but rather because it knows we’re all morons. In a statement, the social network explained that it had “received feedback that people wanted a clearer way to distinguish satirical articles from others”.

Some of those people may well be journalists who have had embarrassing lapses of satire-blindness in the past. The Washington Post, for example, was once fooled into reporting that Sarah Palin was, in a somewhat unlikely career move, taking a job at al-Jazeera. And the English-language arm of China’s People’s Daily fell for an Onion article proclaiming the North Korean ruler, Kim Jong-un, the sexiest man alive, even using the accolade as an opportunity to run a 55-image slideshow of him, complete with quotes from the Onion spoof. Although, it’s possible this may itself have been satire – I’m unsure.

And that’s the problem. The internet has become so weird, so saturated with cats and lists and Buzzfeed quizzes that it’s difficult to know what’s serious and what’s a spoof any more. I challenge you, for example, to identify the Onion piece from these headlines:

US adults are dumber than the average human

Hazelnut prices soar, fuelling fears of Nutella shortage

Tips For Being An Unarmed Black Teen

Serial chicken smuggler caught in Norway

Definitive Proof Kale Is The Marilyn Of Foods

The point of this carefully curated list is that you often can’t tell the difference between satire and real news online. There are several reasons for this. The first is the underlying business model of the internet. We don’t like to pay for stuff online so the internet is funded by advertising; advertising executives demand eyeballs for their dollars; content providers resort to clickbait headlines and shareable content to secure eyeballs and ad dollars; users get addicted to an endless stream of clickbait.

The manner in which we’ve monetised digital media means we often reward reaction over reflection and eschew meaning for meme-ing. News can’t just be news; it has to be entertainment. Indeed, the third law of modern media states that for every moderately important news item published, there will be an obligatory roundup of the funniest Twitter reactions to said news story, generally in slideshow format to maximise clicks.

The second big contributor to satire-blindness is our diminishing attention span. The average American attention span in 2000 was 12 seconds; in 2013, it was eight seconds. This is less than the average attention span of a goldfish (nine seconds).

As Vladimir Nabokov once said, “Satire is a lesson, parody is a game.” But if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the internet, it’s that everyone prefers games to lessons. The problem with satire in an age of finite attention and infinite content is that it makes you stop and think. It interrupts the speed and simplicity of the discover-click-share cycle that makes platforms like Facebook lots of money. By introducing satire tagging, Facebook has helpfully gone some way in eliminating the unhelpful friction of thought and, in doing so, made life easier for us all.

Should the satire tags prove to be a success, I’m hoping Facebook will extend the square bracketing and provide clear labelling for every post on my newsfeed. Here’s to a future filled with [millennial metafiction], [brunch-based panegyrics] and [aggravated alliteration].

Monday, August 18, 2014

WTF?? Bizarre Russian cartoon defies explanation

I should call this sort of thing Ick at Night: it's a tendency to find bizarre things very late, when I really should be in bed. This thing is just so inexplicable, like a Russian Wizard of Oz on acid, that I sat there slack-jawed trying to take it all in. Usually I wouldn't watch the whole thing, but this time I stayed with it, hoping I'd find some clue as to what it's about.

This is an ick day. A couple of weeks ago I got the dreaded "call back" on my routine mammogram. Something is wrong, or at least needs to be investigated further. This has never happened to me before. I've kept my mind off it, pretty much, but today it just pressed in on me. My mind ticktocks back and forth like a metronome: I have it; there's no way. I have it; there's no way. And so on. So tomorrow I have to "go back in" and they'll try to see, I guess, what is there, or not.

I stayed off the internet until last night. My husband has been begging me NOT to go on breast cancer sites. There's just so much misinformation around, and the subject has been shoved in our faces for years, to an extreme I think. I just saw a Facebook thingie, status card or whatever, that exhorted women to "set their tatas free" and have a braless day. "SUPPORT BREAST CANCER!" the thing screamed. Is that really what we want to do?

Do we want to support the disease, which is what the message looks like, or support the cure?

Since Robin Williams died such an awful death, I've seen FB pages and things like that popping up to "support depression" and such-like. One such page-creator claimed that most of the stigma from mental illness comes from the sufferers. I had a hard time mustering much support for his cause.

I could say, I'll go in tomorrow, get my ultrasound and be done with it. I've had ultrasounds before, and CT scans and all that (in fact, in the past 18 months I've had every test you can think of, trying to pin down the source of considerable pain), and they're a piece of cake. What isn't a piece of cake is the waiting. Generally speaking, if a test comes out OK and they don't find anything, they don't call you. You are left hanging, and wondering if maybe just maybe they FORGOT to call you (as has happened to me a couple of times) and you will end up untreated until it's too late.

These things happen. Hell, doctors have been known to take out the wrong kidney or amputate the wrong leg.

I will take it a step at a time, of course, tell myself as usual that I never get sick (which I don't - it always turns out to be "nothing"). I'll go home and try to forget about it all, not hear anything for weeks and weeks while the whole nightmare issue recedes into the background again.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

And you are the Weaver's bonny

No, that's not Big Daddy from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, though you may be excused for making the comparison. It's Burl Ives, who, surprisingly, starred in a complete turkey of a TV show in the mid-1960s. 

As good an actor as Ives was, and he was very good with the right part, there was something oppressive about him, a little adenoidal contempt in his speaking voice that took something away from his folksy charm. In  his one-and-only, one-season attempt at a TV sitcom, he played one O. K. Crackerby, supposedly the richest man in the world. In the opening credits, he buys a hotel just because it's there. In one sequence he sits in a rocking chair whittling, but you get the feeling he could just as easily stab you in the throat.

In this memorable scene from the intro, he takes one look at his new hotel and commands: "Paint it!" Somebody should have dumped a bucket of whitewash on the whole show.

This is folksy on an endless loop. You can't say the man isn't trying, he does what he can with very weak material, but he did a lot better playing Santa in the Holly Jolly Christmas special. I've tried to describe Ives' voice, which was unique. Not at all what we think a folk voice should be, almost baleful. He excelled at morbid songs like Long Black Veil. (I've also been trying to find one called That's All I Can Remember, just a kick-ass morbid jailhouse execution song). I've always wanted to say about him, "folksy my ass". There was some sort of legend that he got up and walked out of the classroom in school and never came back. Like Bob Dylan, he was singing in front of people at age four. He sang one about the devil's nine questions, an old Child ballad that in actuality has only eight questions in it (maybe to see if you're paying attention?), and the accompaniment consists of two chords, strumming perhaps three strings per chord. At least until all that Little Bitty Tear business, he was a minimalist.

O. K. Crackerby on amphetamines. To be honest, these clips were not very good material for gifs, so I had to play around with the settings. I just liked the hokey name, which sounds almost like a breakfast cereal:  the O. K. is obvious, but Crackerby is remeniscent of cracker barrels and even "crackers", po' white trash who made a killing somewhere. And not hunting possums. (This was, don't forget, the era of the Beverly Hillbillies.)

My favorite of the bunch, a grey square that appears between the end of the scene and the commercial. Probably had more audience appeal than the show. If Burl had been allowed to sing, it might have boosted the ratings, not to mention the quality. Even Andy Griffith pulled out his guitar once in a while.

The Patty Duke Show 1963


Friday, August 15, 2014

Absolutely excruciating! (but not then)

Yoo Hoo, Killed Cock Robin? (Pogo version)

The Dancing Pig - My Favorite Silent Film

This is a favorite, one I've posted before, but let's trot it out again, shall we? Well, I'm doing it anyway.

Obviously this is some sort of crude vaudeville act that has been filmed with a still camera. The dancers are almost out of frame for most of it, and a man leaps in to remove chairs and other props, something you don't see in too many movies these days. But the most remarkable feature of this, which of course I have giffed in three speeds (small, medium and large), is the mugging at the end, in which the pig shows off all the technical marvels of his facial features, a tongue that sticks out and waves, nasty-looking fangs, etc. I'm not sure how the guy in the suit managed all this, but you will notice most of it took place during a head shot at the end. Keep your eye on the pig's neck, and you will plainly see hands working the strings and levers. As if it needed to be any creepier.

And now, for your enjoyment and edification, The Director's Cut by Wes Craven, a. k. a. A Nightmare on Pig Street. The fun begins at 3:52!

Who Killed Cock Robin?

Who killed Cock Robin 

"Who killed Cock Robin?"

 "I," said the Sparrow,
"With my bow and arrow, I killed Cock Robin."

"Who saw him die?" 

"I," said the Fly,
"With my little eye, I saw him die."

"Who caught his blood?" 

"I," said the Fish,
"With my little dish, I caught his blood."

"Who'll make the shroud?"

 "I," said the Beetle,
"With my thread and needle, I'll make the shroud."

"Who'll dig his grave?"

 "I," said the Owl,
"With my pick and shovel, I'll dig his grave."

"Who'll be the parson?" 

"I," said the Rook,
"With my little book, I'll be the parson."

"Who'll be the clerk?"

 "I," said the Lark,
"If it's not in the dark, I'll be the clerk."

"Who'll carry the link?"

 "I," said the Linnet,
"I'll fetch it in a minute, I'll carry the link."

"Who'll be chief mourner?"

 "I," said the Dove,
"I mourn for my love, I'll be chief mourner."

"Who'll carry the coffin?" 

"I," said the Kite,
"If it's not through the night, I'll carry the coffin."

"Who'll bear the pall?" 

"We," said the Wren,
"Both the cock and the hen, we'll bear the pall."

"Who'll sing a psalm?" 

"I," said the Thrush,
As she sat on a bush, "I'll sing a psalm."

"Who'll toll the bell?" 

"I," said the bull,
"Because I can pull, I'll toll the bell."

All the birds of the air fell a-sighing and a-sobbing,
When they heard the bell toll for poor Cock Robin

Poor Cock Robin.

In memory of Robin Goodfellow.