In which ten minutes are compressed into two sentences

I was interviewed as a part of a story this week:

…At Columbia College Chicago, Brendan Riley teaches a class exclusively on the zombie zeitgeist, starting with movies of the 1930s.

His media studies class, taught in an intensive January session, meets for several hours each day and enrollment usually takes a few rounds. Eager students sign up, get his e-mail about the amount of writing and then back out, making room for more.

Zombies are scary because ”they are human and not human at the same time,” Riley says. ”Freud calls that the ‘uncanny.’ We’re always afraid of losing control.”…

It’s only fair that I have a small mention in the article, since it’s about someone else’s monster class, but it’s still amazing how 10 or 15 minutes of interview boils down to one sentence.  Sigh.  How will my ego recover?

Off to D-town

The Midwest PCA/ACA conference is this weekend.  Should be fun, but I’ll be happy when it’s done — what a lot of work!

I look forward to seeing some of you in Detroit.

Night of the Living Dorks

Zombie season: 1

Imagine that you found the excised bits of an early American Pie script. Then, having recently enjoyed such teen zombedies as Idle Hands or My Boyfriend’s Back, you would make Night of the Living Dorks, or perhaps Boy Eats Girl. As I said, this film reminds me a lot of other teen zombie comedies, particularly in that its “heroes” find zombie-hood to be a mixed bag, taking moments to enjoy their newfound strength (ala Spider-man in the wrestling ring), but they also find themselves driven to, well, eat people. Some other thoughts:

  • If you decide to watch this movie, hold on to at least the 30 minute mark. The beginning is absolutely terrible. I nearly turned it off. The sex jokes are really awful, not only in their stupidity, but in their ham-handedness.
  • I like the idea that people react differently to being zombified — some give in to it more easily than others. The three characters continue their own paths: the uber-nerd who nurses his grudges manages to play out that insecurity, while the normal guy gets to be more normal and the stoner/sex fiend becomes more stonery/sex fiend-y.
  • The goths are pretty funny in the movie, especially the part where Phillip chastises them for their crappy skills: they use frozen chicken and one of their mother’s hair for the mystical rites. And they draw a six-point star of David instead of a pentagram on the ground.
  • It’s amusing that the bully in the film wears a sweater over his shoulders like Troy from The Goonies.
  • The recurring theme of using a staple-gun to reattach body parts that have fallen off is pretty funny.
  • I watched this streaming on Netflix, which was okay except that it was dubbed instead of subtitled. The goofy performances in the dubbing were pretty distracting, frankly. I would have preferred subtitles.

Overall, pretty mediocre. Not better or worse than Boy Eats Girl, but definitely not the best zombie comedy out there.

A Trip to Dullsville

Journey to the Center of the Earth
Journey to the Center of the Earth

Journey to the Center of the Earth

I didn’t expect much of this movie, since it made very little money and it has Brendan Frasier, an actor I like but who inexplicably dooms any movie he signs on to act in.  It’s also hard to watch a movie like this without scoffing a lot.  A. LOT.  Some thoughts:

  • I think the movie yielded too much initiative to the 3D.  There are several moments where these weird choices in cinematography suddenly remind me that, oh yeah, this movie was produced in 3D and they had to have some pop-out moments.  But these were always gimmicky.  Who needs em?
  • The scientific ideas in the film were pretty preposterous, of course.  But I also found a number of smaller serious concerns: if the “air pocket” regularly heats up to 200 degrees F, how does it sustain a large biosphere of diverse organisms?  And where are all the other mid-size prey animals for the giant carnivorous plants and T-Rexes to feed on?
  • Vernians are people who believe that Jules Verne wasn’t writing Science Fiction, but science fact.  These are not a fictional group concocted for the sake of the movie, but real people, with a website.  Delusional people, but real, apparently.
  • Stupidest moment?  When they find an old abandoned mine with creaky, rusty old mine cars that they happily hop into and careen nearly to their deaths.  Really?  Sigh.
  • And at the end of the movie they imply that there’s some serious writing being done based on the journey, but they brought back, um, ZERO pieces of evidence.  Yeah, they’re gonna get published on that.
  • Oh, and did I mention that these giant underground caves are well lit by, um, they don’t say.  But they’re well lit.  Sunny, even.

Not worth watching.  Just watch Indiana Jones or National Treasure (which at least has a goofy charm this movie misses).

The Value of Alternate History

Confederate States of America
Confederate States of America

The Confederate States of America

This mockumentary presents itself as a San Fransisco-Area television broadcast of a formerly-banned BBC (renamed the “BBS”) documentary about the C.S.A.  The idea is that the Confederate ambassador to France and England persuaded them to enter the war on behalf of the south and thus the South won.    The movie unfolds in a Ken Burns style, with stand-ins for people from the Civil War documentary and a regular update of the events up to today.  The film is broken up by commercials from the modern C.S.A. landscape, in which a modern slave state still exists (or did well into the late 20th century).

The film is an interesting challenge, as it’s both funny and apt, with strong critique of our culture and our tendencies.  The timeline is mostly believable, and the racist commercials really challenge the viewer.  I’m reminded quite a bit of Bamboozled, which also takes on modern racism, but even more shockingly. The layer of mockumentary makes the film less gut-churning and discomfiting, though it still raises some interesting questions.

A few other thoughts:

  • The production values are really great.  The bits of traditional Americana worked into the film succeed marvelously.  For instance, the film re-uses a JFK speech from 1960 in which he characterizes our struggle with USSR as one about “freedom and slavery,” to suggest that JFK was an abolitionist.  Also a gem: the clip of the 1940s movie “I Married an Abolitionist.”
  • I thought the plotline about the prominent American family whose sons regularly have a role in the government was a bit contrived — it doesn’t really have an analogue.
  • The bit at the end detailing some of the key imagery that resided in modern American consumer culture is particularly shocking.  The two most shocking products to me: Niggerhair tobacco (a real brand that existed until the 1950s) and Darkie toothpaste (which was eventually changed to “Darlie” but was still sold over seas as “Black Man Toothpaste”).  Good lord.  The film also mentions Coon Chicken, which we all remember from Ghost World.
  • One downside to this alternate history approach is that it varies things enough that it would be hard to bring this film back to talk about the actual plight of systemic racism and racial inequality still in play in our culture, particularly now that we have a black president and are suddenly “post-racial.”

An interesting movie, and worth watching.

Congratulation, classified network master

I love Babelfish, the translation service that allows you to email in foreign languages. I had to use Google language detector to figure out that this was Dutch (I thought it might be German), but after that it was easy peasy Dutchy. Check out this exchange (in both languages, for your convenience):

Original inquiry
Beste webmaster,
Ik werk voor en ben voor een aantal van onze klanten op zoek naar interessante websites. Ik kwam tegen tijdens mijn zoektocht op het internet en wilde weten of u interesse hebt in het uitwisselen van gratis links? Dit houdt in dat in ruil voor een link op uw website, ik een link terugplaats op een van onze sites. De websites die ik wil promoten zijn hoofdzakelijk informatie sites over uiteenlopende casino spellen, backgammon en de online handel in valuta (forex).

We hebben veel sites in beheer met pagerank en backlinks waar ik uw link op kan plaatsen, dus mocht u meer willen weten, dan stuur ik u graag wat meer informatie op. Kunt u me laten weten of u interesse hebt? Mocht het niet zo zijn, dan hoeft u niet te reageren, u zult in ieder geval geen andere emails met verzoeken ontvangen op dit adres.

Met vriendelijke groet,

Kim Luijten

Dear web master,
I work for and am for a number of our customers in search of interesting Internet sites. I encountered during my search on the Internet and know savage or you have interest in exchanging for free left? This implies that in exchange of a link on your Internet site, I put back a link on of our sites. The Internet sites I want which promote to be mainly information sites on divergent casino spell, backgammon and the online trade in currency (forex).

We have many sites in management with pagerank and backlinks where I can place your link on, thus you could more want know, then I gladly send you what further information. Can you let me know or you have interest? It would not probably be this way, then you do not have react, you will receive in any case no other e-mails with requests on this address.

Kind regards,

Kim Luijten

My reply:
Dank u voor uw onderzoek, maar neemt niet aan verbindingsuitwisselingen deel.Beste wensen,
De meester van het Web van cl.
Thank you for your inquiry, but does not participate in link exchanges.

Best wishes,
Webmaster of CL

Oddly, in putting the Dutch version of my email back into the Translator, I got this:

Thanks you for your research, but do not take part in connection exchanges. Congratulations, The master of the web of cl.

So then I tried running it through the translator a couple more times.  Take the quote above, put it in German and then translate it back to get this:

Owing to you do not participate for your research, but to the connection from deceiving. Congratulations, the master of the network of Cl.

And then French and back:

Because of you do not take part for your research, but with connection to mislead. Congratulations, the Master of the network of Cl.

And Traditional Chinese and back:

Because with do not direct by mistake for you connection research, but is the participation. Congratulation, classified network master.

Music Monday: The Big Pink

I feel like each month’s music post doesn’t do justice to that months’ selections, so I’m going to start posting “music monday” posts as well, which will usually just be youtube clips.

This is The Big Pink, “Dominos” — the video is mildly NSFW, with a naked-lady ice sculpture.


2009-10-25 Tweets

  • Another unexpected moment in fatherhood: being told "now you're Snow White" after having been decorated with 13 Tinkerbell stickers. #
  • Spell check alerted me to something I hadn't noticed before: Ambassador starts with an a, while embassy starts with an e. Weird. #

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Quick bullets on recent media

  • Torchwood, season 2, disc 1: The time travel episode was awesome: the old timey steampunk Torchwood officers, the cool thought experiment of someone who wakes for only one day a year, and the nifty brain paradox of thinking through time travel (something that’s been on my mind a lot recently).
  • Cinderella: trying to explain to Avery what’s going on and why was interesting:
    They’re dancing.
    Because that’s what people do at fancy parties like that.
    Why is she singing?
    Because she’s in love.
    Why did those girls tear up her dress?
    Because they’re mean.
    And on and on and on.
  • Mythbusters: Clean or Dirty car?  The team tests the legend that a dirty car gets better mileage than a clean car because of a “golf-ball like effect” that the dirt produces.  Turns out the dirty car is not more efficient.  But then they tested the IDEA, that golf ball divots would increase efficiency.  And they did.  The difference?  Without the divots on the car, 26mpg; with the divots? 29.  Holy Cow.  I honestly would buy a divot car.
  • Snow White: The seven dwarves make out pretty well, I think.  Another way of putting the story: hot girl chased out of her home volunteers to be housekeeper for a bunch of crusty old dudes.
  • I mooched a couple Mickey Spillane books this weekend; I hope they have great covers.
  • Aladdin: At one point Genie tells Aladdin to present himself as the street urchin rather than as a sultan.  I imagine an XKCD comic in which Jasmine responds “Well, it was fun in the market, but that’s all it was.”

Guess what we’ve been doing at my house on this rainy weekend.

Gearing up for J-session

As you all know, I teach a j-session course each year called “Zombies in Popular Media.”  To keep myself up to date and stay on track, I use November, December, and January as zombie months, watching only Zombie movies from my personal queue.  This year, instead of the haphazard randomness I usually use to decide which movies to watch, I’ve decided to take Netflix’s advice.  Thus, here are the first 20 zombie movies I’ll watch, in “star rating” order.

Zombie queue Fall 2009
Zombie queue Fall 2009

Last year I managed 16 zombie movies between 1 Nov and 31 Jan.  I’m gonna try to watch all 20 of these this time around.  Of course, my zombie queue is now up to 160 movies or so.

Whoring for emusic

Hello good friend,

Do you like music?  I know that you do.  I have an important message for you from Brendan Riley, SOLICITOR AND SON OF DEPOSED RULER Admiral Riley.  It pleases him to have a subscription to “e”music, the delightful Interweb concern allowing “load downs” of several em-pee-threes every other fortnight.  The proprietors at “e”music offer MANY FINE INDEPENDENT AND WELL-KNOWN artists for their VERY IMPORTANT CLIENTS, of which the Honorable Mr. Brendan Riley is one.

[Egypt] from NYPL Digital Gallery
These gentlemen RAVENOUSLY enjoy "e"music
Now his friends have offered him a GENEROUS CONSIDERATION for persuading his numerous contacts to sample from their DELIGHTFUL OFFERINGS.  If you, dear reader, are intrigued by this potential bounty of MELODIOUS DELIGHTS, merely follow the link below to dive into the “rabbit hole” and sample from the WONDERLAND OF TUNES that await you.  Brendan can extend this UNIQUE offer until 15 November only.  After that, the “e”musicians will be out of memberships and likely will have depleted their supply of em-pee-threes.

CLICK THIS INTERLINK to view the AURAL CORNUCOPIA and obtain FIFTY “tunes” as part of your 14 Day trial.

You can find a comprehensive compendium of Brendan’s previous “e”music “load downs” by clicking “In the Stereo.”

In case you missed Glee this week

Finn:  “I don’t think one decision makes your life, unless you accidentally invent some kind of zombie virus or something.”

15 Books

There’s a thread on Facebook called ’15 books’ in which they ask the question: What makes a book sticky? In other words, what are 15 books that “stick with you.” Here’s my list, with the caveat that it’s the 15 books that I can think of right now, in no particular order, and eschewing the books that are significant because of my scholarly work.\

I leave authors out of the list because I’m a jerk.

  1. Ender’s Game. A book I read at least twice a year well into my twenties. I’ve cooled on this since I learned OSC was an outspoken homophobe.
  2. Perdido Street Station by China Mieville. A book that pushes the envelope of what you can do with fantastic / SF fiction, in a good way. Amazing. (The Scar is nearly as good, IMO)
  3. City of Glass. Okay, this is somewhat related to my scholarship, but I like it for its wide-ranging philosophical important and kooky layered referentiality.
  4. Freakonomics. I can’t think of another book that started so many cool conversations. Pools are more dangerous than handguns. Discuss. (See also: Sway)
  5. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Hands down my favorite comic. Bears repeated re-readings.
  6. Catch-22. Another defining book from my youth about the madness of modern bureaucracy. I should re-read that again to see what I’d get out of it today. I’m laughing already thinking of Major Major.
  7. Forever War. More than any other SF novel, I find myself referring to this one as a book of cool ideas. I have brought it up in many classes and conversations.
  8. Cryptonomicon. I love all of Neal Stephenson’s works, but I think this is the best. That said, I could easily add two or three other books to this list, particularly Snow Crash.
  9. The Partly Cloudy Patriot. Sarah Vowell’s writing mixes history and commentary and personal experience and I love it immensely.
  10. Isaac’s Storm. Erik Larsen crafts a tight narrative about hubris, science, and the most deadly hurricane in the U.S. before Katrina. When people encounter a certain kind of excitement about a writer, I invoke this book as a must-read.
  11. Shadow Divers. An excellent book about human daring and ingenuity, exploration, and the weakness of addiction. Plus, really interesting history.
  12. World War Z. I’m a zombie fan, I’ll admit it. This book captures what’s exciting about zombies in so many ways, it’s hard to put down. I’ve read it three times: the first time I couldn’t put it down. It’s too good.
  13. Right-Ho, Jeeves. If you have read Wodehouse, you know. If you haven’t, you should. Get on it.
  14. The Man in the High Tower. Alternate universes, trippy ideas, Philip K. Dick. All important and interesting. (See also, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)
  15. Getting Things Done. As a perpetual procrastinator who always wishes he wasn’t, this book stands as the paean to all things I wish I would do, and sometimes I can.

The Game

The Game
The Game

My Writing for New Media class watched The Game this week as part of their preparation for their ARG project (Alternate Reality Game). The idea of the project is to propose an Alternate Reality Game that one might fund if one had lots of money and even more time.

Some new things I noticed this time around (Spoilers ahead!):

  • When the pranksters behind The Game tag his house, they include a twist of his name (Nicholas Van Oorton) that says Nicholas Van Cocksucker. How droll.
  • The “C.R.S.” initials from the company that runs the game appear everywhere, even on the van “Cable Repair Specialists” and the taxi “City Regional Service.” The ubiquity of these villains is everywhere.
  • There are a few moments in the film that strain credulity: the holes that appear all over the apartment (when Nicholas first comes under gunfire) seem beyond real (though I guess they weren’t real when they made the movie). The tenuous placement of his giant jump from a building is the most preposterous. I suppose that lands in the same category as JAWS‘ scuba tank — if the audience is in for a penny, they’ll be in for a pound.
  • I love the way nearly every person he interacts with turns out to have been “in on it.” The one I never noticed before but caught this time is the silent business man in the airport who points out the ink stain on NVO’s shirt. It’s the same guy who handles the bill at the end of the film.
  • When Nicholas goes into the San Fran bay in the back of the taxicab, he uses a hand-crank to roll down the window and escape. As we’ve learned from Mythbusters, the pressure differential would prevent you from rolling down the window until the car completely fills with water. Note to all readers: if the car goes in the water, open the door or window immediately, before you sink under.

The movie holds up really well, I think. It’s the third or fourth time I’ve watched it in class and everybody still likes it. Plus, it’s old enough now that most of them haven’t seen it.

Some lessons we drew for devising our own Alternate Reality Game scenarios:

  • Such games can’t have clear boundaries — users can’t know when they’re playing or not.
  • Personalize the experience — users will be sucked in if those crossed boundaries include personal spaces that should be inviolate. Early testing or other elements can be used to assess what the user is like.
  • Danger plays a key role — make the user afraid to help suck them in.
  • Activate their curiosity — draw on the things that get them to involve themselves.

All ‘atwitter

I used the phrase “all atwitter” in class today and my students thought it was a reference to the micro-blogging site.  I explained that, no, “all atwitter” was a phrase before the website.

Then we all pondered for a moment whether twitter is named for this phenomenon.  They don’t say so, and their birdy birdy logo suggests something else, but it seems like there must be a connection, no?