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Athens, Ohio, United States
"Art and love are the same thing. It's the process of seeing yourself in things that are not you."

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Saint Rebecca

I think we all knew a second Rebecca Black single was coming.

And just as surely, I'm sure we all had our own expectations. I had only two wishes for what Ms. Black would churn out with song number two...only two possible scenarios I wanted to see.

Scenario #1 was that the song would be good. And I mean really good. I wanted both pop cultural critics and classical musical scholars to be in full agreement that it was one of the finest original compositions a human being has ever come up with. Children 500 years in the future would play "My Moment" at piano recitals instead of Beethoven's Fifth. No one would be able to hear it without immediately bursting into tears, having become suddenly aware of their own humanity in an unprecedented way.

Why did I want this? Why not. At some point, something has to come along that will change the course of music forever and it might as well come from the least likeliest source we're aware of. I am willing to concede, however, that this was not the most realistic desire on my part.

So I came up with Scenario #2. I wanted Rebecca to show us in some way, any way, that she was now in on the joke. The general gist of "My Moment" (I swear to God I originally wrote "My Struggle" on the first two references of the song) would be "Haha, yeah I get it. Friday was pretty bad. Now here's another pretty bad song that you kids with your tight-ass jeans can dance to ironically."

In hindsight, I guess maybe Scenario #1 would have been more likely.


There is no self-awareness in "My Moment," nor is there much quality to speak of. But it does have a quality that makes me want to revise my initial expectations. It's optimistic.

Rebecca Black released one of the worst songs of the Internet era. She then spent about half a year being told that she had released one of the worst songs of the Internet era. She was humiliated through every possible form of media, went through a protracted legal battle for her earnings off the song and even received death threats (although it should be noted that death threats may be the most common forms of internet censure).

So what does she do? She releases a song celebrating her "moment." We as a society spent six months raping this 13-year-old girl's soul and she essentially says "Thanks, guys! It's awesome to have y'all as fans."

I can't tell if this is courageous or just youthful naivety but I do know that, whatever it is, I plan on encouraging it. It is a rare feat to stare directly into the black heart of the Internet and still come away with a cheerful disposition. It is as impressive as Jesus facing temptation in the desert and still going to the cross. But damn it all if Rebecca doesn't pull it off.

Rebecca Black began her "career" as a social experiment of sorts. Is it possible to gain fame for something objectively awful? Having proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the answer is "yes," Rebecca deserves a continuation on this social experiment. I propose that we see if its possible to sustain someone's career in a field in which they clearly have no talent. We all know the answer is "yes" thanks to this:

The only question is if our appreciation for this girl's tenacity in following her dreams will equal our fascination with drunken fist-bumping lunatics.

Well, it was fun while it lasted, Rebecca.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Goodnight, Sweet Half-Blood Prince

I'd like to share a quote with you. It's from Stephen King, one of the very few literary (if you are scoffing at the words "Stephen King" and "literary" appearing in the same sentence then you may not be the target audience for this post) icons bigger than the subject of this post. It's from his novella The Body, which was later adapted into Rob Reiner's Stand By Me.

"The most important things are the hardest to say because words diminish them."

It's always been one of my favorite quotes but I'm not entirely sure it should be. I've always considered myself a writer (and if you're scoffing at the concepts of "Alec Bojalad" and "writer," then you are definitely not the target audience for this post) and have subsequently felt a certain amount of guilt for holding that quote so highly.

Words shouldn't diminish the most important things. All I have ever wanted to do with my career and my life is to capture what's important with words, to explain it and to catalogue it. But more often than I'd like, I cannot. This is one of those moments.

In The Body, King's character is trying to explain why seeing a doe amongst the rising sun and dew of a new morning was important. I suppose this is a very difficult thing to communicate to someone - why an early morning encounter with nature can be the very moment that your whole life hinges on.

In my case, however, communicating why Harry Potter is important to me feels like it should be so much easier.

Harry Potter may very well be the biggest cultural "thing" ever. In a time where books should be huge, Harry Potter was. Hell, in a time of constantly fracturing cultural interests, nothing should be this huge, but this was.

The Harry Potter brand is worth $15 billion worldwide. That's means everybody on the planet could have conceivably paid more than $2 on some sort of Harry Potter product. J.K Rowling makes $1 million a week from Harry Potter. Harry Potter has invaded every aspect of culture. Almost everybody in English-speaking societies has a basic concept of who "Harry Potter" is.

So yes, Harry Potter is clearly important...far more important that a damn doe standing alert in the rising sun. Still, my words can only continue to fail me.

Every morning I take the subway into work. And every morning I will inevitably glimpse an ad with Harry, Ron and Hermione standing in front of a pile of rubble that was once Hogwarts with the words below them declaring "It All Ends - July 15." And I can't quite communicate what that feels like. It's like Warner Brothers bought an ad to remind me every morning that a close friend of mine will be dying in mid-July. I have an almost scandalized reaction. It seems reckless on Warner Brother's part and just downright mean.

Obviously, Harry Potter won't be dying then. But the era of my life in which there was always another outing with Potter and Company will be ceasing.

I'm not the first to say that July 15 marks the end of my childhood. I'm almost wary to use that phrase because it lends credence to the prevailing notion that Harry Potter is a children's franchise (at the very latest, it stopped being that when an evil sorcerer was brought back from ghost-like state in a ritual bordering on satanic but not before murdering a teenager). Harry Potter became an adult series, but I remained a child throughout.

When I read the first book, I was 9 years old and Harry was 11. When I saw the first movie, we were both 11. When I read the final book, we were both 17. And now Harry has stayed 17 for nearly four years as I've advanced to the uncomfortably ancient age of 21.

From age 9 to age 21, I, and my generation, had the world's most real imaginary friend to grow brave the awkwardness of puberty with, to learn about the inherent injustices of the world with and to figure out just how we would ever reconcile the inconsistencies of what our parents and teachers taught us.

Now, I see "It all ends," and I'm faced with a horrifying notion. It's not horrifying that Harry Potter is ending, it's horrifying that I'm not. The students of the Hogwarts class of '98 are crystalized in a perpetual moment of triumph, defeat over evil and, in Harry's case, defeat over death. They all froze at the same moment and I found that I could still move my limbs. They won their war and then I realized that someone had to clear all of the bodies out of the Great Hall.

I suppose this realization should have hit me in 2007, when the series actually, you know, ended. There was a tremendous feeling of emotional catharsis when I closed the Deathly Hallows, but part of me was aware that I was still living in the era of "Active Potter." Somewhere in Scotland the wheels were still turning on the franchise, and it's a credit to the team behind the films that I considered the series to not quite be finished yet. But now as Warner Brothers continues to remind me, it really, really is ending.

I'm not going to the midnight release. The logistics of it finding which theater to go to while in a foreign land (the locals call it "New Jurrzee," I believe) were difficult. For something so monumental I know I could have figured it out. I've not missed a midnight release of a movie since Goblet of Fire and I haven't missed a midnight release of a book since Order of the Phoenix but I'm going to be missing this one.

I wanted to make it a special experience but nothing felt grand enough. A midnight release was fine for a middle chapter but for the end...? The only way to pay the series its due in symbolic fashion would be to fly to Scotland, identify the exact spot Hogwarts would sit on if it did exist, and set up a projection to watch the movie with everybody who's ever been important to me, living and dead.

That didn't work out.

So sometime this weekend or early next week I will sneak into a screening by myself. I'll marvel at the Dark Knight Rises trailer, finish 3/4 of my popcorn before the movie starts and have a religious experience. Once the movie is over, I will exit the theater. I might keep walking to my car, or I might take a moment to lean up against a wall.

Undoubtedly something important will have just happened and I will put it into words. And those words will diminish more than half a lifetime spent at Hogwarts.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Super (H)8(er)

Some things become are such obvious slam dunks that there is no question they will somehow be messed up.

Imagine, if you will, that a basketball player knocks a pass from the opposing team towards his own basket around the free throw line (those who know nothing about sports may want to skip a paragraph or two). He takes off in a dead run, gets control of the ball around mid court and is dribbling full speed towards his own basket, with no one remotely close to him. He knows he's going to dunk it - there's really no other option.

But as you're watching this, you just have this gut feeling that he'll miss the dunk. It's too easy. Athletes thrive on adversity and there is no adversity in a fastbreak dunk. He'll start to think about what will happen if he misses the dunk. What will his excuse be? That he was too open? So what does end up happening? I don't know. Let's ask Ron Artest.

Sometimes slam dunks are just too obvious. And that's exactly how I feel about Super 8.

Look, I know Super 8 came out roughly 328 years ago (in pop culture time) but humor me and just hop in the Delorean all the way back to June 10 so we can pretend this post is still relevant.

Until Roman Polanski makes a movie about child molestation, there will never be a more perfect coupling than J.J. Abrams and a Spielbergian monster movie dripping in nostalgia. Almost everything Abrams has been involved in up to this point has been screaming that he wants to do this movie.

The first half of Lost season one (one of the very few times Abrams was actually closely involved with the show) plays kind of like Super 8-lite. There are adults and children dealing with their familial issues while the supernatural plays out in the background. The supernatural isn't the foci of the drama, it's merely the impetus.

During Abrams 2007 "Mystery Box" presentation to the TED Conference, he spoke of why Jaws is one of the best movies ever (fastforward to 9:08 in the video)

He said it's not because of the suspense or the terror of a massive, prehistoric shark. It's because Spielberg knows how to insert one scene between father and son that establishes that everything on the screen matters. There is a very fine line for cinematic characters between human being and shark chum, and Abrams clearly gets that.

Abrams understands everything he says in that TED Conference both intellectually and emotionally. And he's proven it he knows how to demonstrate that in summer movies like Mission Impossible 3 and Star Trek.

J.J. Abrams not only respects and loves Steven Spielberg's work but he understands it. He's the one man in the world who would not only want to recreate E.T more than anyone but he's also probably the only person who could.

So does it work? Do you need me to post the Ron Artest clip again? No, of course it doesn't work. How could it? Super 8 is far too close its own filmmaker's comfort zone to do or say anything meaningful or affecting.

It looks like a J.J. Abrams movie, which is to say quite visually impressive (I don't even mind the lens flare). The acting is very good, and in the case of Elle Fanning spine-tingling good. The action is solid, and the creature in question is actually quite an interesting creation. The script isn't even overly terrible, despite some awkward dialogue.

But despite every reason why it should, Super 8 just doesn't work. The emotional arcs don't hit. And it might be because we know they're just that: arcs. It feels pre-determined and false. Abrams may have gotten both emotional storytelling down to such a science that it comes across as predictably scientific and cold.

To a certain extent, all characters in summer blockbusters and Abrams' movies are loosely drawn archetypes. But Super 8, which is so invested in nostalgia, should not rely as heavily on archetypes and outright cliche as it sometimes does.

Super 8 couldn't possibly fail and that's why it predictably did. J.J. Abrams was in complete control of the ball in Super 8. Every possible aspect was pointing to a slam dunk and he clanged it off the rim. He'll bounce back, presumably when his hero isn't looking over his shoulder as a producer. It's easier to slam home that dunk when your girlfriend isn't watching from the stands.

Until then, here are more missed dunks.