May 24, 2004 01:06Leaving On A Jet Plane
The tickets are bought and paid for, the travel dates are set, the itinerary is scheduled, the trousers are brown.
Flying isn’t among my favourite things. As far as my favourite things are concerned, flying is down around the bottom of the list, just above colorectal surgery and being eaten alive by fire ants.
It’s not the flying itself I’m afraid of, it’s the returning to the ground as flaming wreckage part I don’t especially care for. There’s nothing that tops the feeling of overwhelming relief that washes over me as soon as the plane touches down on the runway. Sure, we’re still going a couple of hundred miles per hour, buckled down over a massive, highly-combustible fuel tank, but at least we’re on the ground. If the plane chooses that particular moment to crash, explode, and roast us, we’d end us just as dead as if it had happened 30,000 feet up. It would be bad, but it wouldn’t be horrible. Being on solid land makes all the difference, trust me.
It takes a lot to get me on a plane. Especially one from an airline called US Airways. I understand it’s a respectable carrier, but seriously, these days they might as well be called Air ShootUsDown. Adding additional terror to my fear of flying, we’ll be routed through Philadelphia, which adds a whole extra takeoff and landing to the trip, not to mention two more hours in the air.
But the cause is just. An important business opportunity calls, and someone else paying the tab helps me hear that call loud and clear. The destination is Dublin, Ireland. The project is a show I’m not at liberty to discuss at this time, it being in the early stages of development and all. Nevertheless, my uniquely black sense of humour has gotten me drafted, and at last my abilities in the sick and twisted department may be taken full advantage of.
Much as I’d love to share additional details with you and drop some unsubtle hints about what I’m up to, I don’t have the time. I’ll be leaving in twelve hours, which gives me just enough time to get no sleep whatsoever.
See you next week, barring any euphemistically termed “unscheduled water landings.”
May 13, 2004 22:01Quest For Eternal Damnation
1978: Deciding my immortal soul was in peril if I didn’t get some of that old-time religion, my mother enrolled me in Sunday school. I’d never taken churchgoing seriously, right from my earliest childhood sacrilege, and had enjoyed several years reprieve from Christ’s self-indulgent message about love and brotherhood and all that other new-agey hocus pocus. With my earliest breath of comprehensible speech, I’d articulated my extreme boredom with the weekly church services. Even my mother’s concession to allow me to bring paper and pencil so I could draw in the pews throughout the repetitious sitdown-standup-singalong-shutup routine failed to keep me from expressing my disinterest in the whole rigmarole. So, in an effort to silence my complaints, my mother allowed me to become a lapsed Protestant at the ripe old age of five. This suited me fine. Sunday morning cartoons weren’t nearly as plentiful and diverse as Saturday morning cartoons, but there were still a few token entries in the lineup that were worth my time much more than simple salvation.
My parole from the rigors of soul-saving only lasted a few years before my weekends were again imperiled by my mother’s new hope that I would at last be ready to have some spiritual guidance forced upon me. Sunday school proved to be just as lame as I had always feared – a misguided attempt to sway the wee children from the road to hell by accurately simulating what hell and damnation might be like through a grueling program of glory-be songs and forced camaraderie. The real hardship for me – the true hell of it all – was that I was going to miss out on my weekly rerun of Jonny Quest.
Jonny Quest, for the ignorant heathens among you, was (and remains) the coolest adventure cartoon ever. Produced by Hanna-Barbera for one season of 26 episodes back in 1964-1965, it was a space-age boys-adventure wet dream. There were two attempts to revive the show in the 80’s and 90’s, but modern television executives just didn’t get what was so great about classic Jonny, as evidenced by their efforts to update the setting and add icky girls to the mix. The fact is, Jonny Quest was a wonderful politically incorrect Neanderthal of a show that was unapologetically manly (not to mention homoerotic) and excessively violent to a degree even contemporary adult dramas dare not match. The pilot alone had a body count of about 50, which isn’t bad in 23 minutes flat. The five principals were all guys and there wasn’t the slightest effort to appeal to a broader demographic than young boys and arrested adult males (like myself, today). It also sported one of the best television jazz scores of the era, which I still listen to regularly.
Admittedly, I’d seen all the episodes of Jonny Quest a dozen times over, so it was hard to make the argument that I should be in front of the television on a Sunday morning rather than in school learning about the greater glory of God. But in my heart, my very soul, I still preferred the sermons of the mighty J.Q. to those of the big J.C.
Now, when I say I’d seen every episode of Jonny Quest already, that isn’t entirely true. There was one – just one – that never seemed to air. That was the “Turu the Terrible” episode. You remember it, I’m sure. It was the one with the old guy in the wheelchair who uses a pet pteranodon to guard his silver mine and keep the slave labour in line. Being a typical dinosaur-obsessed kid, I was dying to see this one particular show, shots of which played tantalizingly over the opening and end credits. Alas, week after week went by and it never ran once. But then, one Monday, reporting back to regular old non-religious school, I heard from a friend that it had finally played – the previous day, while I was at fucking goddamn Sunday school. This was before the VCR revolution, back when if you wanted to see something on TV, you had to watch it when it was broadcast or you were screwed. And I was indeed screwed.
The wrath of God Himself had nothing on my rage as an incensed Jonny Quest/Turu-deprived ten-year-old. This Sunday school shit had to go. I waited impatiently for my chance. It presented itself only a few weeks later.
Our masters at Sunday school must have spent much of their week trying to devise gimmicks to keep the class interested in what they were telling us about the Bible and its cast of thousands – so much so, I remember all the gimmicks and not one of the lessons. One of the things they were intent on pumping up was prayer. The usual private closed-eye mutterings weren’t good enough for them. They wanted some way to make this an inclusive group activity in a more touchy-feely sort of way. It was therefore suggested that the next time we met, we would all hold hands in a circle while we talked to the Lord. Personally, I thought this was a great idea because it gave me all the ammunition I needed to get my ass out of there and back on the couch in front of the TV where it belonged.
“Next week we’re having a séance to talk to Jesus,” I dutifully reported to my mother as soon as I got home.
And that was that. “Séance” proved to be precisely the correct choice of word to raise my mother’s hackles and get me pulled from the class immediately. The very next Sunday morning I was back watching Jonny Quest religiously. They never did run the Turu episode again, and it took me a full 25 years to finally catch it, but I had accomplished what I set out to do. I had damned my soul in the name of a cartoon.
Which brings us to today.
2004: The complete set of original Jonny Quest episodes came out on DVD this Tuesday past. Of course I snatched it up instantly, and look forward to reliving the many wrongheaded, scientifically implausible, and politically incorrect adventures of the Quest gang. But the old memory of how Jonny, Hadji, Race, Dr. Benton and Bandit orchestrated my fall from grace prompted me to seek out a new dose of that old-time religion. Something that might renew a faith I never had and bring me back into the fold.
So on the very same day I went to see The Passion of the Christ.
Right off the top, I have to take issue with the film’s supposed historic accuracy and faithfulness to the gospels. Aside from the typical nitpicking about the hows and wherefores of crucifixion, I was surprised to see how wrong they got their stigmata.
The stigmata is based on the celebrated wounds Jesus suffered leading up to and during the crucifixion, as accurately mirrored in that great piece of medieval artifact hokum, the Shroud of Turin. And yes, Mel Gibson’s movie does show the crown of thorns, the nails through the extremities, and the poke in the ribs with a sharp stick with an attention to detail that handily crosses the line between unflinching and pornographic and steps boldly into Guinea Pig territory. But it doesn’t stop there, oh no. Witness the scourging of Christ, which isn’t so much an accurate depiction of a flogging as it is a graphic portrayal of a live skinning. There are chunks of meat flying off the guy. Remember when Freddy Krueger was really having at Jason Voorhees on the pier in Freddy vs. Jason? It’s that kind of over-the-top violence and gore, but at least Freddy and Jason have the excuse of being undead. In The Passion, Jesus isn’t supposed to be undead. Not yet at least. By the end of the movie, Our Lord and Saviour is one big seeping wound. There isn’t a single square inch on his entire body that isn’t split wide open and bleeding profusely. He’s such a mess, the stigmata is lost in the shuffle. Seriously, no one walks away from a beating like that, let alone walks a whole mile away with a 200-pound weight on his back. I know he’s the son of God and everything, but he’s not fucking Superman.
This, however, fits in perfectly with Mel Gibson’s body of work. Even before he got all born again, his entire career pointed towards a morbid obsession with extreme sadism and masochism. I can’t think of a single movie star who has spent so much screen time being horrifically tortured. Go through his filmography. He must be tortured at least as many times as Jodie Foster and Jennifer Jason Leigh are raped in their movies. And that’s a lot. Gibson is unique in this regard. I certainly don’t remember Cary Grant ever having his toes pulverized with a hammer, do you? Okay, maybe in The Philadelphia Story, but that’s it.
Mel probably would have played Christ himself if he had had the chance. The fact that he has a cameo appearance as both the hands that nail Christ to the cross and the feet of Christ that Mary kisses bears this out. But I’m sure he realized his appearance in the title roll would have earned the film an NC-17 rating. Not for violence, but for the fact that every scene in the film would have featured Mel ejaculating in a self-flagellating religious fervor. And an NC-17 would have kept the devout from traumatizing their children with the film over and over again, at least until it was released on home video.
In the end, The Passion of the Christ failed to save my lost soul despite the seductive power of cinematic ultra violence, which I usually quite enjoy. I guess I’ll just have to get off with violence in a non Christian-approved vehicle by watching Race Bannon and Dr. Quest kill a bunch of sinister frogmen. Those wetsuit bastards have it coming even worse than the nasty Roman legionnaires.
It is finished.
May 03, 2004 05:44Touched By A Carny
The carnival came to town. Well, not my town, but the town I grew up in, which is now part of the Montreal megacity, so I guess itís my town all over again. I was in the neighbourhood, so I went to check it out. Once or twice a year, this same fly-by-night collection of rickety rides and crooked games sets up shop in the same mall parking lot, bilks people out of as much money as possible, and then moves on to the next mall parking lot one borough over. I donít go on any of the rides. I just like to watch and wait for the bolts to break. Sometimes I place bets with the personal injury lawyers who prowl the grounds.
The amusement park atmosphere appeals to me. People-watching there can be highly informative if youíre making a case study of trailer trash. Thereís not a single trailer park to be found anywhere on the island of Montreal, but somehow the carnival brings these folks out of the woodwork just the same, mullets and all. I think they come to breed with the carnies, thereby perpetuating the species. The cotton candy energizes the males for the mating ritual, the spinning rides make the women kin woozy for the seduction. Thatís the theory of my thesis at least.
When making an anthropological study of your subjects, I suggest you adopt a strict look-donít-touch policy. It helps maintain your scientific objectivity and inhibits the spread of disease. Sadly, my own personal distance barrier was violated last night during my expedition when I ran the gauntlet of game booths.
I didnít want three balls for a dollar, or five darts for two bucks, or any of the other deals being offered. One carny, however, would not be dissuaded from the hard-sell. I made the criminal error of looking in his general direction. I didnít outright break the no-eye-contact rule, but I came close. And close was too close. One vague glance drew him to my side like a magnet. He must have been really jonesing for a mark, because he abandoned his booth by a good fifty feet while trying to snag me. That must have been a distance record for the night.
And then he touched me.
It was a simple tug on the sleeve, but there are laws against that sort of thing. And for good reason. Itís unsanitary. No one knows where these carnies have been, not even the carnies themselves. I could have complained to the cops in the squad car who were keeping a close eye on any suspicious piercings on the underage, underdressed girls in line for the Kamikaze, but I decided against that course of action. The touching incident was my own fault, ultimately. I committed several tactical errors that made me a marked man. First, I was with my wife. Second, I was wearing half-decent clothes. Foolish, I know, but a visit to the carnival had been a spur of the moment thing. Iíd come unprepared, and my mere presence was provocative.
Thereís a set of rules to adhere to when attempting to travel carnival grounds unnoticed Ė pivotal ďdonítsĒ that you ignore at your own peril. For example: Donít travel as a couple. The carnies will assume, quite naturally, that your female companion is going to insist you spend lots of money to win her some piece-of-crap stuffed animal stitched together by child labourers in China. Donít look like youíre on a date. This only compounds the coupling issue, as the carnies will also assume that youíre out to impress your new gal pal and earn her sexual favours by winning a gigantic stuffed Tweety Bird knock-off that stands in flagrant violation of all recognized copyright and trademark laws. Donít look like you can afford to piss away ten or twenty bucks on a game of ring toss thatís impossible to win. The carnies will push even harder to separate you from your money, resorting to stealing your wallet behind the parked vans after beating you half to death with a six-pack worth of empty beer bottles. And donít look like youíre stupid enough to think you can win at a game of ring toss that has been engineered by NASA to be unwinnable. Because, really, who wants to give a carny the impression that he can outwit you?
Over at YTV, a favourite network among both carnies and their marks alike, Fries With That? has been aired an almost shocking number of times in just a few weeks. There will be fifty-two episodes in the can by the end of June, and YTV seems utterly determined to blow through them in record time to get to the real bread and butter of the show Ė incessant reruns. Ratings overall have been very good, and word through the grapevine is that we have the highest rated Canadian show on the network. Of course, SpongeBob and at least one other American show beat the crap out of us in every timeslot they appear, but apparently weíre running a strong but distant third, which Iím told is a good thing. Everyone involved with the show who values regular employment hopes this bodes well for a third season.
News of additional employment is pending following an upcoming journey to distant lands at the end of the month. Stay tuned for all the gory details, as well as the inevitable multi-part travelogue in which Iíll make fun of a foreign culture like a good ignorant North American tourist.