Thursday, May 25, 2006

project runway people, call me!

I didn't realize that apparently, if one directly addresses the staff of America's Next Top Model, they will respond. Last night, I got the opportunity to talk to Danielle Evans, the newest winner of Top Model. Aside from winning my heart right off the bat when she said that she's mostly been sleeping in the six months since the competition ended, she was incredibly nice, very well-spoken, and much more honest and straightforward than I expected her to be. While she certainly wasn't biting the hand that swathes her in designer clothing, she was plenty willing to admit some of her frustrations with the process. Although, for example, she is glad that she met the judges and producers halfway on the closing of the gap between her two front teeth, she doesn't think that closing the gap is what caused her to win the competition. She also expressed some frustration that, although the judges hounded her about her accent, they not only failed to offer to provide a coach, but also didn't acknowledge the difficulty of changing her accent while she had no access to television or radio. Danielle was a little too polite to take this thought to its logical conclusion: namely, that this left only her fellow contestants as speech models and they were certainly wildly inappropriate ones. Although I continue to think that Cover Girl is kind of ruining Top Model by making it too commercial, I'm secretly kind of looking forward to Danielle's "My Life as a Cover Girl" segments.

tim gunn + puppies = love

How did I not know about this? Tim Gunn! Gay puppies! This is my calling!

america's next top self-loather

As long-time readers will remember, I love me some America's Next Top Model, even though it is but a pale shadow of its original awesomeness. Tyra Banks, in particular, has lapsed entirely into dramatic-pausing, eyelash-batting self-parody. This season was a little strange for me, since I didn't care about it at all until the last five or so episodes, and then I really cared. I loved both Danielle and Joanie, but, since I loved Danielle just a little bit more, I'm extra happy she won.

All that being said, there is one aspect of this season that I found a little...troubling. In a thinly veiled attempt to distract viewers from the fact that Danielle was blatantly going to win, Tyra kept harping on Danielle's thick Arkansas accent, saying that someone with such a blatant regional accent could never get a Cover Girl contract. I would be willing to buy that analysis except for one big problem: last season's winner, Nicole.

If you didn't watch this season of Top Model, you missed Nicole's "My Life as a Cover Girl" ads.* Nicole is a very, very pretty girl, but she has an appalling North Dakota accent. It's about three levels deeper than the Minnesota/Wisconsin accent that everyone jokes about. She sounds like Frances McDormand in Fargo. If we're going to get on people for regional accents, Nicole should be at the top of the hit list. And yet, Tyra never said boo about her extended vowels and, in one episode, went so far as to praise her voice. Nicole's accent is as thick as Danielle's, but there's one important difference: Nicole's accent is stereotypically white, Danielle's is steroetypically black. I'm not calling Tyra Banks a racist. I'm just sayin'.

*: By the WAY, if anyone involved with the production of Top Model somehow happens to read this, please hear my plea: get rid of "My Life as a Cover Girl" and bring back the "Beauty Tip of the Week". That was comedy gold.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

obviously, today is advertising day

I consider myself to be both a feminist and someone who hates humorless liberals. As such, I am exceptionally worried by any suggestion that I might be over-sensitive. I'm willing to forgive a fair amount in the name of irony.

All that being said, I'm completely offended by this new Burger King ad. The commercial changes Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman" to "I Am Man" and talks about how the new Burger King sandwich is man food.

Now. I have no problem with making fun of Helen Reddy. "I Am Woman" is clearly unintentionally hilarious and super-earnest and a relic of the times. My problem is with the idea of "man food." Listen. You can't gender-norm within the context of food, even in a joking manner. This is the kind of thing that fuels girls' food issues. Implicit within female socialization is the idea that certain foods and ways of eating are unfeminine, that you can't get a man if you order a regular instead of diet Coke, that you need to be embarassed about your ability to eat a medium pizza in one sitting. You simply cannot make these messages explicit, even in jest.

I obviously understand that the ad is meant to be so over-the-top sexist that it's making fun of sexism. But, as Al Franken would say, it's kidding on the square - clothing itself in a protective sheath of irony to shield itself from revealing its core fear of emasculation. If there was an ad that was as racist as this one is sexist, even "ironically", people would be up in arms. And it would be a lot harder to accuse those people of being humorless.

worst. advertising campaign. ever.

So, I was all set to write an entry about my enduring love for Mandy Moore, but then I saw maybe the most confusing advertising slogan ever. "It's either Optimum, or it's not."

What? What?? WHAT??? This is literally saying nothing. You can replace the word "Optimum" with ANYTHING and it is EQUALLY APPLICABLE. To wit:

"It's either America's Next Top Model, or it's not."

"It's either a zebra, or it's not."

"It's either scallops, or it's not."

I ask you. I ASK YOU. Was this really the best they could think of?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

blogging for the fam

By popular request, I've started a blog for my parents and other family-type people to read. Enjoy! Leave me comments! Hurrah!

i am not an eighth-floor walkup

These new Halstead ads are killing me. Real estate ads kind of kill me in general, since all they do is remind me that I will never be able to afford a $3 million townhouse in Greenwich Village or anything like that, so, no, Corcoran, I will not be needing your services, God.

Anyways, these Halstead ads are driving me crazy in a whole new way. All of them feature pleasant, non-threatening looking adults smiling into the camera. A small box to the right of their head proclaims what they are not (i.e. "I am not square footage."). Fair enough. But. At the bottom, the copy goes to kind of a Ron Burgundy place. These potential buyers list their accomplishments. "I've doubled my firms revenue every year." "I debuted at Carnegie Hall." "I've won major awards." Or, my personal favorite, "I'm a legal expert. I hold two degrees. I run my company." I genuinely keep expecting to see "I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of fine mahogany."

Aside from my basic New Englander mentality (which strongly believes that it's rude to show off), this whole thing seems oddly...defensive. If you need to go out and say how successful you are, you're probably not that well-off. I may not be either old or new money, but I can still scoff at the nouveau riche.

I'm moving to Brooklyn on June 1, but prior to finding my amazing new apartment, I kept envisioning what my own Halstead ad might look like, given my $700 per month maximum. "I am not a couch in the living room of a Chinatown crack house." "I am in the midst of a bout of post-college ennui. My job duties frequently involve the cleaning up of poo. I have, several times, rejected the idea of buying a bed frame due to financial concerns. Don't charge me an exorbiant broker's fee, only to have the apartment not ready for my move-in date. Just find me a goddamn place to live."

felicity lives in fear

Um. Have you guys seen the pictures for the Mission Impossible 3 press junket? They're really kind of amazing. Every cast member that is not Tom Cruise looks like they're exactly three seconds away from a) death or b) hysterical laughter, which would probably bring the Wrath of Xenu upon them, thus causing Option A. Keri Russell (who I didn't even know was in this movie, but way to have a career, Keri! I love your hair! And I loved Felicity!) and my only celebrity sighting in New York, Philip Seymour Hoffman have especially priceless faces. Check it out here and here.

norweigan would

When I pick up any book by Haruki Murakami, I have a reasonably good idea of what I'll find inside: an antisocial male hero who expresses himself in monosyllabic words, a hooker-with-a-heart-of-goldish young woman (who may or may not be an actual hooker), another woman whose calm surface usually hides great inner torment, allusions to Japan's troubled past, and sex scenes. Lots of sex scenes. It would be ridiculous to call Murakami's novels predictable, filled as they are with wild metaphysical happenings, but it's hard not to wish that he would find a new schtick.*

Kafka on the Shore is, arugably, Murakami's most ambitious novel, surpassing even The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. The usual suspects are all there, but they seem to be more fleshed out than they usually appear and are joined by a host of other characters. Murakami has the sense to pull some focus away from the fifteen year old protagonist, Kafka, and onto secondary and teritary characters. His metaphysical wandrings fit the tone of the book much better than they do in most of his other works, such as Dance, Dance, Dance or, in my opinion, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I think that Kafka on the Shore is probably Murakami's greatest novel yet.

"Greatest", however, is not the same as "best." For me, Murakami's best work will always be his simplest: Norweigan Wood. Most of Murakami's novels are filled to the brim with supernatural happenings, history, and other tangents that can crowd out good old-fashioned character development. Norweigan Wood leaves all that behind and focuses on a very ordinary, very beautiful love story. I'll always read Murakami's more epic works, but I'll always wish he would scale it back down and just tell me a story.

*: One has to wonder if these preoccupations stem from Murakami's own life. If anyone knows of a biography on him, please do tell.

a civics lesson

A conversation between myself and the little girl I watch.

The Little One: I think that it's a very important job to be the President.
Me: That's very true. Would you like to be the President someday?
TLO: I think it's a boy job.
Me: That's not true! There haven't been any women presidents yet, but you know what? I bet that's all going to change soon, maybe even by the time you're old enough to vote. You know who I think is going to run for President?
TLO: Who?
Me: Senator Clinton.
TLO: I know her! Her husband was already the President, so I think she already knows how to be the President.
Me: Yep! And if she became President, Bill Clinton would be the First Gentleman.
TLO: Cool! Maybe I will be the President someday.
Me: Well, I would definitely vote for you. Except maybe if you were a Republican.
TLO: What's a Republican?
Me: There are sort of two teams in American government. One is the Democrats, like the Clintons, and the other is the Republicans, like our president now, George Bush.
TLO: Oh! Does Republican mean bad person?
Me: (trying not to laugh) Not neccessarily. They just believe different things than I do.
TLO: In kindergarten, we voted for President!
Me: Oh yeah? Who did you vote for?
TLO: The one who wasn't George Bush.
Me: John Kerry?
TLO: Leila, John Kerry is dead.
Me: What? No, he's not. He just lost the election. They don't kill you when you lose.
TLO: No, John Kerry was the first President.
Me: Buddy, I think you're thinking of George Washington.
TLO: Once, America was at war with itself.
Me: That's true! The Civil War.
TLO: Abraham Lincoln was the President then. He had a best friend named Walt Whitman. I think that they probably sit together in Heaven.
Me: That's a lovely way to think about it.
TLO: Oh captain, my captain!!!! Walt Whitman is my favorite.

blogger's for television

It is my pleasure to introduce you to the most awesome new show on television, 8th and Ocean. It's on MTV on Tuesdays at 10:30 and it's a reality show about two apartments full of models in South Beach. Said models include a pair of identical twins (one of whom totally sucks at modeling), a male model named Vinci who makes too much money to be dropped by the agency but never shows up at castings, and the very Midwestern, very Christian Britt. Y'all. This show is fantastic. What? You want proof?

Fact: In Tuesday's episode, Britt went to a Christian models meeting. What, you might ask, was the group called, according to the sign on the door? "Model's for Christ."

Fact: When Vinci was confronted about his total ineptitude and flakiness, he responded with a soliloquy of positive Shakespearian proportions. To wit:

(Mia, a booker from Vinci's agency told him that he has to call her at 9:30 every mornings for his bookings. He failed to do so.)

VINCI: You told me that right? But that keep in my head all night long too at the same time. I’m falling asleep, I’m so tired. I wanna sleep, and at the same time I have the pressure ‘Oh 9:30 I have to call Mia, I have to call Mia' I swear god this. So if you have details day before…You can’t punish me like that you know? Like little kid you know? I can’t work like that." (huffs out of room)


Conclusion: This show is awesome.

lindsay lohan saves the world

Yesterday at work, I watched an animated feature called My Scene Goes Hollywood. Yes, that's "My Scene" as in "Nick won the My Scene challenge on Project Runway for his Barbie dress." For those of you who don't watch Project Runway or mind a six-year old girl, My Scene is a Barbie line in which about six dolls are these cool teenagers. Not quite as old as normal Barbies and not quite as young as Skipper. They are all very skinny and dress like two-bit whores.

Apparently, the My Scene empire extends beyond mere dolls and includes computer games, books, and, as I learned first-hand yesterday, movies. In My Scene Goes Hollywood, the girls audition to be extras in a movie. Shockingly, one of them is picked to replace an actress in a speaking role. As you can imagine, she is seduced by the power and glamour and starts becoming a royal bitch. As you can also imagine, her friends get pretty sick of this routine pretty fast. When the chosen friend is dumped by her movie-star boyfriend, clearly, someone needs to come in and teach these girls, as the DVD box puts it, "the true meaning of friendship."

Enter Lindsay Lohan. Oh, you heard me. Lohan plays herself, or, at least, a version of herself who does nothing wilder than challenge co-stars to a game of Dance Dance Revolution. She helps the My Scene girls come back together and, to be perfectly honest, her entire script reads like a commercial for Lindsay Lohan: So Pretty and So Nice! In this spirit I present Future Tween-Targeted Animated Movies Featuring Lindsay Lohan:

Lindsay Lohan and the Miracle of Christmas

Lindsay Lohan Tells Off That Girl Who Said You Smell Bad

Lindsay Lohan Explains Where Babies Come From

Lindsay Lohan Would Totally Come to Your Sleepover, But She Has A Movie Premiere That Night

Oh My God! Lindsay Lohan Totally Loves That Skirt.

Lindsay Lohan Thinks That Boy in Your Reading Class Was Definitely Looking At You Today and She Heard He Broke Up With His Girlfriend and If You Want, She'll Totally Push You Guys Together at the Dance Tonight

some say the best joke ever

A joke from the child I watch:

"Knock knock."
"Who's there?"
"Poop who?"
"Ha!!!! I just made you say poop!"

You're welcome.

getting me love-drunk

I used to like the Black Eyed Peas. Back in the pre-Fergie era, when Macy Gray used to do all the female parts and they were sort of chill and Jurassic 5-ish and hung out with the Roots. I liked them and put "Request Line" on a great many mix CDs, but it wasn't like I was a huge fan. Which is why my current deep and intense hatred for them is so unreasonable. Yeah, they sold out big time, but selling out doesn't even piss me off so much usually. Yet everytime I hear "Shut Up" or "Let's Get Retarded" or "Hey Mama" or god forbid, "Don't Phunk With My Heart", I curl my fingers into fists and grimace and shake my head many, many times.

I think it's mostly Fergie. Besides being America's Next Top Butterface and the poster child for incontinence, I'm pretty sure she used to be a man.

Like Simon Cowell, I'm not being rude. There's nothing wrong with being transgendered. In fact, I'd probably like her more if she was openly living her life as a transsexual individual (or at least my militant liberalism would force me to defend her...then again, I sure did hate a lot of trans kids while at Smith, so maybe not...stupid is stupid, regardless of gender identity). All I'm saying is that I think her junk was, perhaps, not originally located in her trunk. Really, it would be better for Fergie if she used to be a man. Otherwise, she's just a really unattractive woman.

All that being said, I continue to be deeply, deeply in love with "My Humps." So in love that if it's playing in a terrible bar or store, I'll wait for it to end to leave. So in love that, were you walking in Brooklyn Heights earlier this afternoon, you may have spotted me dancing down the street because it was stuck in my head. So in love that if I didn't spend most of my time with a six year-old, I would download it as a ringtone. As the ever-insightful Anthony has pointed out, if it was by Fannypack, all the cool kids would be all over it. Even though it's by what may be my least-favorite group of the moment, every time it comes on my Pandora station, I get my dance on.

the year of wanting a book deal

In the past two months, I have read Julie and Julia, The Year of Yes, and The Know-It-All, memoirs in which the authors spend a year making every recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, agreeing to go on a date whenever asked, and reading the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica, respectively. In tribute, I present a list of Things I Have Considered Doing for a Year, for the Sole Purpose of Garnering a Book Deal:

-Completing every activity suggested in the Childcraft Encyclopedia (note: Helen and I actually registered a blog for this purpose. It contains exactly no entries)
-Making every recipe in Marcella Hazan's Classic Italian Cooking. Sadly, Marcella and Leila is not as good of a title as Julie and Julia
-Eating only foods that can be grown in my northern-facing Manhattan apartment (basil, tomato, mold)
-Spending a week in the capital city of each U.S. state
-Watching each episode of every reality television show on the air
-Reading every play in the New York Library of Performing Arts
-Refusing to leave the confines of Manhattan
-Making all my own clothes
-Following all the dictates of the original Emily Post guide to manners
-Throwing a party every night
-Seeing every movie that opens in a year

In all liklihood, I will be too lazy to do any of these things, and will instead pursue my regular method of trying to get a book deal: wishing when I throw pennies in the fountain.

an open letter to my most embarassing celebrity boyfriend

Dear Joshua Jackson,

You don't have the topicality of Andy Samberg or the fame of Jake Gyllenhaal. You don't have the indie cred of Peter Sarsgaard or the niche-market factor of Dave Lieberma or my gay boyfriend. There may be others better looking, more talented, wiser about career choices, but I still have a soft spot for you. When I see your name in Gawker Stalker, I kind of want to check out the place you were spotted. What I'm trying to say is that in my own personal Non-Threatening Boys magazine, you're always on the cover.

Which is why what happened yesterday saddened me so greatly.

Yesterday, I came home after work to see what delights my TiFaux held for me. What did I find but an old episode of Saturday Night Live, hosted by you! It wasn't a particularly great episode. But here's the thing: you were funny. You did a great Donnie Osmond impression and you did your own monologue, a trick that was not accomplished by last week's host and fellow Celebrity Boyfriend Peter Sarsgaard. I looked you up on IMDB to see what you're up to these days.

Joshua Jackson, you're up to a lot of nothing. Nothing good, that is. You made five movies that allegedly came out in 2005. I remember exactly one of them being in theatres. What was that one? Racing Stripes. Come on, now.

Listen, you're really not a bad actor. You were the best thing about Dawson's Creek (a low compliment, but a compliment nonetheless). You were great in The Laramie Project. You were way too good for all those third-tier teen movies you made in the late 90s/early 2000s. Moreover, you're charming as hell. Remember how when Dawson's Creek started, we were supposed to root for Dawson? Remember how, within a season, you became the alpha male, solely on the strength of your charisma? You can do it again!

I'm sure it must be a hard time for you right now and that watching your ex-girlfriend make out with Tom Cruise must be even more disgusting for you than it is for the rest of us (between that and "alpha heterosexual" Chris Klein's recent asshat remarks, Katie Holmes' taste looks so bad, it kind of drags you down), but get it together, man! Your next project, the star-studded Bobby, looks like it might be okay. Call your Oscar-deserving friend Michelle Williams and get some tips about how to make the world forget you were Pacey. Do you really want to fall to the level of Sam the Eagle doppleganger James Van Der Beek? Shape up!

With crushing and concern,

in which our heroine reveals that she's totally a tween girl

Over the course of this past weekend, I had what may have been the pleasure and may have been the misfortune of watching two "movies" targeted at nine year-old girls. I use the word "movies" in quotation marks because I'm genuinely unsure if either a direct-to-DVD release entitled My BFF: Best Sleepover Ever!! or the Disney Channel extravaganza High School Musical counts as a film, per se.

Full disclosure: I watched Best Sleepover Ever!! under some duress (read: the six-year old child I nanny for was home sick and obsessed with the DVD). I watched High School Musical entirely of my own (sober) volition. I'm just that cool. And so are Helen and Mia.

Best Sleepover Ever!! concerns five girls (the titular BFFs) who I would guess to be sixth or seventh graders. As the title suggests, they are gathered at the house of two of the girls (sisters and not twins, which I found improbable...who lets their little sister come to a sleepover?) for the best sleepover ever.

Alleged Components of the Best Sleepover Ever:
-Dance party
-Face masks
-Eating fruit and dip
-Truth or Dare
-A game called "Chairs in the Air" which is really just a glorified group lap sit and which you played in theatre class or any group you were a part of that involved "trust-building"
-Pranking nosy little brothers
-Pajama fashion show
-Some sort of fakey Ouija Board business

This DVD is clearly aimed at girls younger than the kids in the "movie", since any actual twelve year-old would find most of these activities (particularly the G-rated game of Truth or Dare) outrageously lame. Strike one. Strike two: the DVD is a treasure trove of gender-norming. When the girls make predictions about themselves, all of them concern who they're going to marry. More troublingly, during the Truth or Dare Segment, the girls had a discussion of what each disliked about her own looks. This conversation was in no way regarded as problematic. I'll get off my Smith high horse in a moment, but that was absolutely inappropriate in a DVD that clearly aimed to project an image of its characters as role models. Strike three? I had to watch this DVD three times on Friday. Although, to be fair, that number pales in comparison to how often I've seen the truly wretched Robots.

Rose called me Friday evening and strongly recommended that I watch High School Musical on its next showing. Oh man. She was right. It was terrible. Ly awesome! The plot made little to no sense, the acting was abysmal, the music redundant and to call the characters one-dimensional would have been high praise. Needless to say, we loved it. A brief plot summary: Gabriella is a school nerd. Troy is a basketball player. Having learned of both their latent musical abilities and their mutual attraction, they want to audition for the school musical (or, as the drama teacher, played by the poorest man's Meryl Streep, calls it, the musicale). However, they are pressured not to by both their friends, who want to maintain the status quo and the creepy twins (improbably named Ryan and Sharpay) who have had the leading roles in every musicale up to now. I think we can all guess how it ends. Awesome thing number one: dance numbers. Awesome thing number two: Sharpay is played by this girl. Awesome thing number three: the following conversation:

Me: You know what this movie reminds me of? That movie where Julia Stiles was in a school musical? And it was a musical version of some Shakespeare play? And maybe Joseph Gordon-Leavitt was in love with her?
Mia: What?
Me: Maybe it was called Next to You?
Mia: Down to You?
Me: No, Down to You was with her and Freddie Prinze Junior and was the worst movie ever. I think it was called Next to You.
Helen: Wasn't Next to You with Melissa Joan Hart? No, wait, that was-
All (in unison): Drive Me Crazy*.
Helen: Are you sure the movie you're thinking of was with Julia Stiles? Was it maybe Kirsten Dunst?
Me: Yes! You're right!
Mia: Crazy/Beautiful?
Me: No, that was where she was crazy. In this one, she sang.

IMDB revealed the name of the movie to be Get Over It! Apparently, it involved Shane West, not Joseph Gordon-Leavitt. I don't know how I transposed the cast of 10 Things I Hate About You onto this movie. Anyways, had I remembered that Shane West was involved, I probably would have confused it with Whatever It Takes. Moral of the story: my knowledge of minor late 90s/early 2000s teen movies in encyclopaedic. Also, troubling.

*: IMDB would later reveal that Next To You was, in fact, the original title of Drive Me Crazy, adding a whole new scary dimension to our brain trust.

a promise: you will overcute

Perhaps it's not strictly television, but this might just be the best thing ever. Or at least the happiest.

the next howard dean?

I recently brought an issue of the New Republic because it featured a cover story I couldn't resist: "The Hillary Slayer: How Russell Feingold Could Topple Clinton in '08." Inside, the headline asked "Will Iraq make Russell Feingold the new Howard Dean?" (Writer Michael Crowley did not seem to realize that the two headlines were this point, Howard Dean has to be associated with his failures rather than his successes (whether or not this is fair is debateable) and Hillary is really 2008's John Kerry, so I'm not sure how the Dean remark makes sense).

Anyways. Nothing (and I mean nothing) in politics makes me more excited than the idea of Russ Feingold running for President. Feingold is my favorite senator (yes, I have one) and probably my favorite person in Congress.* I think he's very progressive and even when I don't entirely agree with him, I at least still believe that he believes in what he's voting for, which is a compliment I would make about maybe five senators. I think he's brilliant and often right and I don't care if he's apparently kind of personally unlikeable. If he runs, I will drop everything to work for him.

The article harps a lot about Feingold's potential to tap into the Dean bloc. And that's all well and good, but what he needs to remember is that, as much as the Deaniacs were vaunted and as much buzz as Dean got**, he didn't win anything. Feingold needs to remember the lessons, good and bad, of the Dean campaign.

The Bad:
1) Control. Dean was, in many ways, a terrible candidate. And I say this as someone who liked him, at least originally. He was unmanageable. Just when things were going well and he was on an anti-Iraq roll and everybody liked him, he'd go and say something about wanting to bring people with Confederate flags on their windows into the Democratic Party. Dean didn't know when to shut his damn mouth. Listen. No candidate wants to look as though everything they say has been focus-grouped, but in this day and age, a candidate needs to be...manageable. Dean wasn't, and I think that's why his appeal never reached too far beyond that initial group of Deaniacs, who were willing to forgive him his inconsistencies. Feingold has positions that could be seen as either inconsistent or based on integrity. His challenge, if he runs, will be to develop a cohesive narrative for those positions and, perhaps more difficultly, to trust his handlers to help him do so.
2) Tone. Howard Dean always looked smug. Even when I thought he was right (which was really most of the time!), I sort of wanted to disagree with him because he had that pissy look on his face. Remember the debate where Al Sharpton and John Edwards tried to make him apologize for the Confederate flag report and Edwards asked if he wasn't wrong to say it and Dean pissily snapped "No I wasn't, John Edwards."? Dean always looked and acted like he knew better than you, which is exactly the criticism Republicans make of Democrats. "Democrats think they know what to do with your money better than you!" The New Republic article about Feingold mentions these tendencies in him: Feingold won't let his aides eat or drink at trade association receptions and he tried to ban senators from using business-accrued frequent-flier miles for personal use. I think those are both perfectly fair policies, but he needs to make sure that he comes off as humbly virtuous, rather than smugly holier-than thou.

The Good:
1) The Internet. For all its challenges and its ultimate failure, the Dean campaign has a phenomenally important legacy. It absolutely revolutionized the way campaigns use the Internet. The most amazing thing about the Dean campaign (and the reason, I think, that it electrified so many people) is that it was interactive. On the official Dean blog, people could use the commments feature (uncensored!) to post everything from testimonials to campaign strategy suggestions to recipes that Dean might enjoy (no joke). The Dean campaign's use of the Internet also revolutionized fundraising. Dean had an unbelievable war chest, especially given where he started from and that was due to the way he encouraged micro-donations through his website. Once Dean was out of the race, the other candidates aped his tactics, but they were watered down: not as interactive and not as compelling. Feingold should hire Joe Trippi (whose book about the Dean campaign, incidentally, is totally brilliant) as his chief Internet strategist.

Man. I love the silent campaign season.

*: Bernie Sanders notwithstanding
**: Hey, remember when Rove issued that leak saying that the Bush camp was operating under the assumption that Dean was going to be his challenger? Isn't that hilarious in retrospect?

ways to make me see your movie

Embarassingly enough, the trailers are usually my favorite part of going to the movies. No matter how excited I am for the movie I'm about to see, I'm always more excited to hear about movies I might see in the future.

I'm also unusually susceptible to cheap tricks used by trailers. For the edification of any readers so employed, I present a brief list of Trailer Tricks That Will Make Me See Your Movie.

1) People (particularly families) Dancing in Unison. This is how I ended up seeing Stepmom. When the preview shows people dancing in unison, particularly if they're family members and particularly if it looks like they might be dancing to some sort of Motown song, it touches some weird, primal chick-flick gene somewhere within me and I have to see the movie. This has led to some regrettable decisions.

2) BOOM. BOOM. BOOM. BOOM. BOOMBOOMBOOMBOOM. (imageimageimageimage). I think this trick was most recently used in the trailer for Memoirs of a Geisha. It is clearly being used to indicate a sense of momentum...a sense of momentum that totally lures me in. I know that this trick has failed me many times before, but I still fall for it 95% of the time.

3) Use of the Following Songs: "I'll Take You There" by the Staple Singers. "This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)" which Google swears is by Natalie Cole. "As" by Stevie Wonder. "I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever) by Stevie Wonder. Really, any pre-1980 Stevie Wonder song. Again, this touches the primal chick-flick nerve and means that my mother and I will be seeing this movie on Christmas. This may also be why I've seen this more than once. Well, the trailer only accounts for the first time. The second time was an unfortunate combination of the flu, HBO and my abiding love for Taye Diggs.

an open letter

Dear Fairway at 72 and Broadway,

Fairway, I love you. You're so reasonably priced and you have such a fantastic selection. Once, my grandpa took me to visit you and we got 8-10 bags full of fancy groceries (proscuitto! chevre! filet mignon!) and it was only $125! How much would it have cost at Whole Foods? At least $300. And the food was so delicious and you don't overcharge for organics and your butchers are so helpful. I especially love the Harlem Fairway because they have a cold room. You have to put on a special jacket! It's like a little adventure! Even though it isn't nearly as awesome, I do love your little branch on 72 and Broadway. Their cheese section is awesome.

But. But. But. There are a couple of issues.

First of all, who designed this store? There is no rhyme or reason. You can't go up and down the aisles systematically. In order to get to the meat section or the cleaning supplies or pasta or beer or cookies, you have to make a right turn from the part of the store featuring the produce and the bakery and the cheese. Why would you design a store this way?

Furthermore, I have never seen such narrow aisles. There can be only one lane of grocery carts at any given time, so even under the best of circumstances, there are going to be collisions.

All of this would not be such a problem were it not for the people. You have to believe me when I say this: I have never seen such rudeness in my life. At you, the Fairway on 72 and Broadway, I have seen people actually shove each other. I have seen people cry. I have seen tiny, sweet-looking old Jewish ladies scream at the poor teenage cashiers. It is, to say the least, a nightmare.

Fairway at 72 and Broadway, I want to love you so much. Please stop making it so hard for me.

Your friend,

unabashed materialism

I love cooking. This is not to say that I'm an especially great cook. I'm certainly not bad, but given the high expectations you might have if you've tasted my grandmother's or my father's cooking, I'm not amazing. But. There is something incredibly satisfying about creating a meal. It's so...project-based. Last night, I made filet mignon. It was fantastic. You should be very jealous of my roommate.

This love of cooking is tempered by my kitchen. Every time I type kitchen, think of it in quotation marks because it is not so much a "kitchen" as a "hallway between the living room and Amanda's room." And when I say "hallway", I'm not talking about the lovely long passageway you'd find in a normal apartment. I'm talking about a room the size of a large table. There is no counter space. There is no dishwasher. There is not even a double sink.

As you can imagine, this makes cooking...challenging. As does my cookware situation. You see, I suffer from a condition called "being totally broke." So when it was time to buy dishes and pots and pans, I went where so many have gone before: Target. For maybe $30, I picked up a four-setting dish set, plenty of glasses, and an eighty piece kitchen-in-a-box set. This set provided me with a wide array of crappy materials, including a stockpot (of sorts), an alleged Dutch oven and a frying pan.

Three months later, the stockpot has succumbed to the ravages of plaster (from the hole in the ceiling that I DON'T EVEN WANT TO TALK ABOUT) and the frying pan has black bits flaking off it. Furthermore, small children playing tag and extending in a line from base conduct heat better than the bottom of these pots and pans. Y'all. This is no way to live.

I knew I didn't have enough money to truly upgrade my cookware, but, on Sunday, the sweet siren song of Williams-Sonoma drew me into the Time Warner Center and put me face to face with my great new unrequited love: copper cookware.

Look at it! It has beauty (how sweet would it look hanging from hooks in my imaginary large kitchen?), brains (copper! it conducts heat in such a beautifully even fashion!), and brawn (yo, it's heavy). We could be so happy together. Sauteeing. Frying. Making any number of fantastic treats. Ours could be a love to last a lifetime.

Like so many potential great loves of my life, however, copper cookware is out of my league. This set of three pots and pans costs $500. On sale. Oh, copper cookware. The society ladies of the Upper East Side may possess you, but you will always have my heart.

off to see the diddy

If you aren't watching "Making the Band 3: Season 2", you, my friend, are missing out.

The title alone should clue you in to the amazing treats that live on Thursday nights on MTV. Last season, the Diddy began his attempt to form an all-girl band. (Mr. Sean John has conveniently forgotton that he has ALREADY DONE THIS. Dream was awesome primarily because only one of the members could sing and, sadly, had the misfortune of being kind of apalling-looking. Conversely, only one of the members was hot, but she couldn't sing. The solution? Have the ugly one sing while the camera focuses on the hot girl. Amazingly mediocre.) P. Dids was unable to complete the titular act, however, since all but three girls failed to measure up to his exacting specifications (read: several of them were b-u-s-t busted or totally could not sing). At season's end, he let the three girls who could kind of keep a tune, sort of dance and weren't totally hid get called back to the second season. They aren't even in the band. They have to repeat the whole process. Phenomenal.

This season, most of the girls can at least sing, although I have serious doubts about the dancing capabilities of some of them. They aren't as...genetically challenged as some of the girls from last season. Things bode well for the making of a band to go down.

The best thing about the show, however (aside from the fact that one of the girls is named Taquita, which I do believe would translate to "Little Taco"), is P. Diddy: Arbiter of Blackness. You kind of have to see this to believe it. Basically, Diddiddity Doo Dah believes that if you can't dance, you aren't authentically black. Last season, the Diddy of P. told the black and Latina girls who couldn't dance that they were, more or less, race traitors. In the first episode of this season, he threatened to revoke the blackness of several clumsy auditioners. There are like ten AAS 101 papers here, y'all. What offensive thing will he say next? I, for one, cannot wait.

tv recommendation of the week

I had a sweet babysitting job this weekend in which I got paid $12 an hour to sit on my butt and watch TV while the baby slept. I haven't had access to cable (or, to be perfectly honest, TV at all) since I moved to New York, so clearly the thing to do was to catch up on everything I've missed on my favorite channel, The N.

If you're my friend, I imagine that you're plenty familiar with The N, but just in case, here's what you need to know: The N is awesome. It is a channel targeted pretty much solely at 12-15 year old girls. It runs reruns of My So-Called Life, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Daria. Sometimes, it randomly runs music videos instead of commercials. Most awesome, however, is The N's "original" programming. I put original in quotation marks, because frequently, The N confuses "original" with "Canadian", as in the case of what I believe are its two most popular programs, the dreadful Instant Star and the supremely addictive Degrassi: The Next Generation.

What I want to talk about today, however, is a show that I kind of doubt anyone is watching: Girls vs. Boys. Girls vs. Boys is in its (I think?) fourth season and it is fantastic. It's a reality show in which teams of high school students compete in a battle of the sexes in a semi-exotic location (Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and somewhat bafflingly, Montana). Its awesomeness comes from many sources. First of all, high schoolers are ridiculous. Someone is always crying, someone is always yelling and someone is always scheming a way to hook up with someone else.

The first season that I watched was the Hawaii season. The six kids on the Hawaii season seemed like genuinely nice, normal kids. When two cast members from Degrassi were brought in on a ratings stunt, they too seemed like genuinely nice, normal kids. All this niceness was put to the test by the competition and resulted in maybe the most awesome thing I've ever seen on television. The teams were competing for a prize that worked out to about $10,000 each. The scores of the boys' and girls' teams were close to even going into the final challenge and then the girls won it. The challenge involved setting up letters in a field (?) and the boys loss was immediately followed by all of them running through the fields sobbing. Four sixteen year old boys crying in a meadow. It was both unintentionally hilarious and genuinely a little touching. I was hooked.

Unfortunately, the two seasons since have not neccessarily been populated by such well-intentioned teenagers. The Montana season featured some kids who thought a little too much about strategy, forgetting in the process that sixteen year olds have no subtlety. The current season also involves a little too much strategy, although the cast members are a little more likeable. Girls vs. Boys does, however, always hold the possibility for ridiculous awesomeness and I highly recommend adding it to your TiVo or TiFaux.

Monday, December 06, 2004

items taking up valuable space in my brain that could be used for other things. like say, writing my thesis.

-The theme songs to the following shows: Sister, Sister ("Sister, sister! Never knew how much I missed her!"), The Nanny (which incidentally, I totally watched the reunion of on Lifetime tonight. You just lost all respect for me, huh?), Full House (like you don't) and Boy Meets World.

-An inordinate amount of Saved By the Bell trivia.

-The plot of pretty much every book I read between the ages of six and twelve. This includes such useless titles as Nothing's Fair in Fourth Grade, You Have to Draw the Line Somewhere and Lisa and Lottie, which was some crazy German version of The Parent Trap. Also, pretty much every Babysitter's Club and Sweet Valley Twins book ever written.

-Pretty much all of my lines from every play I've been in (up to and including The Sound of Music when I was twelve and played Brigitta).

-In a related vein, all the songs with accompanying choreography from truly terrible plays I was in during elementary school and camp. Titles of said plays include The Fabulous Fable Factory, Sami's Magical Circus and Hoodwinked!. If you get me real real drunk, I can bust out a rendition of "Turn That Frown Upside Down" from Sami's Magical Circus. I only wish I was joking.

-A rap my first grade class performed at the Black History Month assembly. "Harriet Tubman didn't take no stuff! Wasn't scared of nothing neither!"

-The location of every season of The Real World.

-Most of the dialogue of the following movies: Clueless, The Breakfast Club, Heathers, Dirty Dancing.

-The rhyming text of a preview for Empire Records that aired before Clueless ("Cory and Rex! First time at sex! AJ loves Cory! Whole nother story!"). Does anyone else remember this? Besides Rose?

-The phone numbers of people I haven't called in over ten years.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

quite nice

One night in my first week of my junior year abroad in London, I prepared to go to School Disco. School Disco is a peculiarly British institution. Held at a few clubs (including the bar on my university’s campus), School Disco is a dance night where everyone goes in their old school uniforms, a feat made possible by the fact that almost every school in England has uniforms. As a product of American public schools, I had no such uniform and was thus forced to improvise. The best I could do was a (rather short) navy blue shirt-dress. Stepping out from my bedroom into the hallway, I asked one of my flatmates if I looked okay. Although his facial expression was flatteringly gaping, the only thing he said was “Yeah. You look quite alright.”

In the United States, “quite alright” means “I’ll be polite, but really you look like you fell off the back of a truck.” Disheartened, I went back to my room to look for a better clothing alternative.

I needn’t have worried. As I would learn over the next nine months, the British have their own version of the English language: one in which “quite alright” means “you look hot.” I knew part of this before arriving in London, of course. I’d watched enough episodes of Fawlty Towers and Absolutely Fabulous to know that a lorry is a truck, the loo is the bathroom and rubbers don’t have quite the scatological connotation in the United Kingdom as they do in the United States.

What I didn’t realize is that the differences between British and American English don’t stop with simply using different words for the same thing. The mentality with which the British use language is simply vastly different from that of Americans. Both approbative and disapproving comments are phrased in almost maddeningly moderate ways. In all my time in England, I never once heard a Brit say that they loved or hated anything. Such extreme language almost seemed to be taboo, or at least in poor taste. Instead of loving X, the British “quite like” it. Instead of hating Y, the British “don’t much fancy” or “aren’t too fussed about” it. Something that you or I might describe as “so wicked awesome” (provided, of course, that you are also from Boston) becomes “quite nice.”

This moderation of language was at first baffling to me. Both my parents are potty-mouthed artists prone to grandiose statements (“I will never see another show as goddamn amazing as the one I saw tonight” – a statement that would have more credibility if I hadn’t heard it dozens of times). I was a total theatre geek in high school and have retained (in social situations, at least) the hyperbolic vernacular and projecting voice characteristic of insecure adolescent dramatists. In the American world that I’m used to, the words “love” and “hate” rarely indicate truly intense feelings. When I say that I “hate” something, for example, my actual meaning runs the gamut from mild dislike to severe annoyance. Similarly, the list of things that I “love” includes such trivial entries as a Britney Spears song and hot dog day in the dining rooms.

My biggest fear in studying abroad was that I would fulfill the stereotype of the ugly American. I had nightmares of taking pictures of Big Ben with a disposable camera pulled out of my fanny pack while being horribly rude to native Londoners. I’m not actually the disposable camera or the fanny pack type, and shortly after arrival, I realized that Londoners, like residents of United States cities, are plenty rude themselves. A new dimension to my fears of being an ugly American, however, soon emerged. Americans, I realized, are really, really loud. For the most part, the British students I met spoke quietly, even after the third pint of the night. The American students, on the other hand, yelled in the flat’s hallways, the pubs and the streets. Almost immediately after arriving, I started to become extremely self-conscious every time I opened my mouth. My voice was too loud, and the things I said were embarrassingly overenthusiastic.

I didn’t want to be so conspicuously American, but neither did I want to be the kind of person who comes back from a year abroad saying things like “Cheers!” in a phony British accent. I have a clear memory of a pretentious theatre intern at my high school returning from a semester abroad.
“Kate! You’re back!”
“Oh! Hullo!”
“Oh. You have…an accent?”
(small, affected laugh) “Oh, do I? I guess I must have picked it up at RADA.”

I met many Americans who had lived in London for upwards of twenty years and even they did not have actual British accents. Rather, they spoke very softly with a British cadence and crispness, but not an actual accent. There is no way to develop an accent in nine months.

In nine months, however, one can develop a British vocabulary, and even, to some extent, a British sensibility. The changes came slowly. I began to refer to the place where I lived as my flat rather than my apartment. I giggled with my British friends about “pulling” on a night out dancing. When my computer malfunctioned, I found myself responding with a simple “Bloody hell” rather than my customary string of shouted expletives. I knew the transformation was complete, however, when I turned to a friend one day in February and asked, very quietly, “Do you have any of that chocolate left? I quite fancy a wee snacky thing.” Excitingly, he did have some chocolate. It was quite nice.

back again

So, now that I've written some things I actually don't hate, I figured I'd post again. Mostly just stuff I wrote for my creative nonfiction class, but maybe someday when I'm not all thesis-crazy, I'll write new things. In the meantime, it's new to you at least.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

best thing of anything.

iTunes in college dorms is an amazing, amazing thing. Today, on someone named "Nikki"'s music, I found the best thing ever. It appears to be a recording of the Dutch cast of Rent. Why is this so awesome? The answer, my friends, lies within the first track: "Huur." "Huur" is apparently "Rent" in Dutch. At the end of the first verse, the actor playing Mark, sneers/screams "HUUR"! It is impossible to describe fully the awesome hilariousness of this moment and I can only assure you that this should be your top downloading priority. It will greatly improve the awesomeness of your day.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

pretty fingers and lollipops

From the ages of four to seven, I spent every Saturday morning at Miss Emily’s School of Dance, located in the Greek Orthodox church in Roslindale, my hometown. The decision to enroll me in tap and ballet classes must have made sense to my parents. I was a stage-struck child, one who refused to go to bed without first putting on that night’s production of “The Leila Cohan Show,” a one-woman extravaganza featuring songs, jokes and the occasional dance number, all performed under the glow of the flashlight I made my father hold above my head. Dance lessons must have seemed to my parents to be an outlet for my creative energy and so every Saturday morning, I learned the absolute basics of ballet and tap with several other girls and one (much mocked) boy.

Despite my obvious enthusiasm, it quickly became clear that, even for a four year old, I was not a born dancer. A photo from the time shows all the students in my class doing plies. The other children look like miniature ballerinas, with their bottoms in line with their feet. I, on the other hand, appear to be performing some bizarre caricature of a plie. I am leaning forward to a ridiculous degree with my bum in the air and my chest stuck out. While the hands of the other girls have the thumb and middle finger lightly touching in what Miss Emily called “pretty fingers”, I have my thumb and middle finger clamped together and the other fingers splayed outrageously in a manner resembling some ungodly cross between spirit fingers and devil hands.

I wasn’t much better at tap. As much as I loved demonstrating and shouting the names of the steps (“KICK BALL CHANGE!”) for my mother in the kitchen after class, I was generally out of sync with the rest of the class, jumping onto my right foot just as everyone else hopped onto their left. My arms flailed rather than glided. I may have had the right head of curls, but Shirley Temple I was not.

The highlight of the dancing school’s year was to be a recital held at a local high school. Oblivious to my failings, I was excited beyond belief at the chance to show off what I thought of as my brilliant talent in front of not only my parents, but an audience of total strangers. Maybe someone important would see me and whisk me off to Broadway or Hollywood. With these dreams of stardom dancing through my head, I was horrified to learn on the Saturday before the recital that, despite my status as one of the shortest members of the class, I would be dancing in the back row during the tap number. The back row! How would people see me there? When my mother picked me up that day, I was in tears.

“Miss Emily says I’m going to stand in the back row during the tap song!” I managed to sob out eventually.

“Well, why do you think that is?” my mother asked.

“Maybe because I don’t know the dance as well as the rest of the girls? I just keep forgetting it, Mommy, so I make up my own.”

“Well, maybe Miss Emily wants you all to do the same dance. Why do you want to stand in the front if you can’t remember the dance?”

“(Sob) I just want everyone to seeeeeee meeeeee.”

I begged my mother to negotiate with Miss Emily, but to no avail. I was relegated to the back row. At this point, I became mutinous. I scowled during rehearsals. I muttered under my breath that Miss Emily was stupid. I wrinkled my nose in disgust when anyone asked me about the upcoming recital.

When the long-awaited night finally arrived, I made it through the ballet performance without incident. We had several songs between the ballet and tap performances, during which we were meant to get changed. The song for the tap performance was “Lollipop” (“Lollipop, lollipop, oh lolly lollipop”) and, in keeping with the theme, we were all to carry real novelty lollipops. To a four year old, this was the pinnacle of excitement. While waiting to go onstage, I played with my lollipop, pretending it was a microphone, then a guitar. Carrying on with my musical theme, I began to pretend it was a drumstick, much to the amusement of my friends. During a particularly enthusiastic air-drum solo, I brought the lollipop down hard on the back of a chair. It broke in half. I burst into tears.

One of the chaperoning parents came running over. Quickly assessing the situation, she offered me a fake painted lollipop that had been kept on hand in the event of emergencies or premature eating. I worried that if I took the fake lollipop, I would lose the chance to eat the lollipop I had broken. Miss Emily promised us that we could eat the lollipops after the show and with my chance at fame thwarted by my back row status, the promise of a huge lollipop was all I was looking forward to. I refused to take the fake lollipop. Before the chaperone could lay down the law, another parent was calling us to come on stage and I ran, clutching my contraband lollipop.

If carried with one hand, my lollipop would have been visibly broken, so I was forced to use both hands to hold the lollipop like a steering wheel. I stuck out like a sore thumb among the other students, all of whom were carrying the lollipop with one hand and using their unoccupied arm to glide in a simulacrum of professional dancers. At least, I would have stuck out if I hadn’t been hidden in the back row. Maybe Miss Emily was right after all.

new year, new blog

Behold Charmless Behavior! Because if there's one thing I need, it's another method of procrastinating on my thesis. I changed from the old blog (Pop and Politics) because I was sick of some of the low-quality writing on it toward the end and also, sick of having a blog name I stole from a better site. So, enjoy the new blog and, as always, I love comments, emails and presents.