Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Entirety of Human Interaction Captured in Ten Simple Phrases

"Make me."

"I'm sorry you feel that way."

"Well, I better let you go."

"Who threw that?!"

"Ask your mother."

"I don't get it."

"This is why we can't have nice things!"

"No, the other left."

"Where the hell did that come from?!"

"I didn't order this."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Visual Guide to Celebrating and Surviving the Holidays with Your Family

Ah, the holidays. A time to rejoice…

A time to reflect…

And a time to crumble.

The holidays can oft be a “perfect storm” of high tension, low energy and middling bouts of migraine-induced strokes…

Such adverse conditions can often lead to noticeable behavioral changes, chief among them helplessness, social isolation and inter-familial aggression, also known as “angry blood” or “this again.”

Because of these profoundly negative forces, one is unlikely to recover without dedicated psychopharmacological treatment, whether it be over-the-counter or left-of-the-highballs…

While by no means a cure-all, discerning the right medication is often that first significant step to a noticeable decrease in anger, anxiety, concern or even regard.

In fact, simply initiating a treatment process can give the suffering party a renewed sense of hope, permitting them the strength to once more enter the social arena…

Otherwise known as the holiday dinner table. It is here—where compliments go hand-in-hand with condemnation and reticence is seen as rebuke—that one’s resolve and mental progress will no doubt experience their greatest test.

Unlike typical peer gatherings, where one can find comfort in similar interests and experiences, the holiday dinner table is characterized by great discrepancies in age and perspectives, resulting in seemingly interminable periods of awkwardness and silence…

Punctuated only by an elder relative’s lengthy recount of their most recent and intimate medical exam.

Often the absence of common ground—coupled with unaddressed guilt over household disharmony—can cause hostilities to intensify…


But rather than permit the situation to exacerbate feelings of despair and dislocation, one should take the opportunity to actively engage in society. In the case of a holiday dinner, this can easily be accomplished with a simple toast…

Of course, a family toast is nothing if not a minefield of inadvertent impropriety, since what to the speaker may seem like “playful ribbing” to others may read as “barely concealed hostility” or “outright slander.”

And so one’s genuine attempt at interpersonal connection can swiftly lead to renewed feelings of loneliness, shame, despondency and “angry blood”…

That’s when it’s time to excuse oneself from the social arena. This will give the individual a chance to collect their thoughts, disperse any ill notions and muster the will to breathe.

The injured party can now take a moment to address any conflicting emotions they may have about the holidays, such as both the desire for the perfect gathering and the longing for some sort of sudden wormhole or other means of immediate escape…

While also reflecting on personal misgivings, like honestly believing one’s mom when she says, “Your presence during the holidays is the best gift you can give me.”

Soon with greater perspective will come greater acceptance of yours and others’ limitations. You’ll come to see that most family arguments are the result of misunderstandings and apprehension, not hatred and spite. You'll also start to feel an overabundance of good will, an overwhelming sense of good cheer and overall numbness in your legs, arms and lower jaw…

That’s when you’ll realize the half-tab of Valium you secretly took while pretending to be asleep in the backseat of your parents’ car on the drive over is having the most pleasing interaction with all the liquor you ingested, resulting in a very, very relaxing holiday indeed.

So from my family to yours--and with special gratitude to my brother, Marcello, for being such a good sport with this shoot--I wish you the merriest of merry occasions and a Happy New Year!

Tonight at Union Hall in Brooklyn: My Childhood in Pornography

Please join me and other "academics" tonight as the self-described "useless lecture" (yet critically adored) series Adult Education presents "Misspent Youth," a heartwarming collection of childhood recollections, regrets and repressed memories.

In addition to other great people talking about growing up as a Jehovah's Witness, making all of one's life choices based on the radio and reliving the horror that was the school oral report, I'll be presenting my family-oriented visual essay, "The Original Orgy," a touching, poignant tale of 151 naked people, six dogs and one cherished memento, all made possible by my parents' involvement in the porn industry. Won't you please come and hear me spin a yarn of innocence from yesteryear?

Wednesday (TONIGHT), Dec. 17, 2008 - 8 pm (doors at 7:30)
Union Hall in Park Slope
702 Union St. @ 5th Ave
$5 cover
Your Host: Charles Star

For further details and to RSVP, please go here.

Hope to see you there!

NOTE: And speaking of pornography, don't forget to pick up your copy of the 2009 Hot Blogger Calendar, with yours truly as "Mr. January" and Josh "Comics Curmudgeon" Fruhlinger as the one and only "Mr. March."

Friday, December 12, 2008

Christmas Specials Time Wisely Forgot

Much like a recently orphaned nine-year-old who is left not only to look after his younger siblings but also the day-to-day operations of Exxon Mobil, Christmas Day has far too much riding on it for just one holiday. Marketers need Christmas to succeed on a financial level because the only thing that would further deter people from driving to the stores would be the plot of Blindness. Parents need Christmas to succeed on an emotional level if only to prove that the family home can occasionally be a focal point for love and giving, not just where all the unemployed people now hang out 24/7. And children need Christmas to succeed because, well, if some poor kid in a manger could score gold, frankincense and myrrh the very least today's kid should expect is a freakin' Nerf N-Strike Recon CS-6.

But for some of us, we need only Christmas to succeed on an entertainment level. And while over the years we have been blessed with such Yuletide treasures as The Grinch, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus in Coming to Town, we've also had to endure such not-quite-perennial but honest-to-goodness real specials as:

Let's say you wish to make a sequel to a Christmas classic but half your voiceover cast is long dead. Let's also say that you wish to make a sequel to a Christmas classic but you fear the very idea of "Christmas" may be putting too fine a point on the whole Christmas endeavor so you replace the holiday with something called a "Winter Carnival." And let's say that you wish to make a sequel to a Christmas classic but you don't want your creativity to be hampered by the original special's story or very conceit. The result would be Frosty Returns, which is as much of a sequel to Frosty the Snowman as Batman Returns is to The Yearling. Not only does the tale completely forget about Karen--the girl who in the original cartoon traveled with the snowman all the way to the North Pole but still apparently failed to form any emotional connection whatsoever with the titular character--but now Frosty doesn't even need his magic hat to live, meaning he is no longer the product of childhood dreams and imagination but rather a gelid monstrosity that can roam the land at will. True, the show's anti-corporation, pro-environmental message (as embodied by a aerosol spray that instantly melts snow, which when your story focuses on a living lump of ice is the equivalent of marketing a product called "Acid Attack!") couldn't be more tailored to our current predicament, but what the special offers in foresight it is more than diminished by an absolute absence of holiday joy and wonder that could have only been trumped by a special titled Frosty the Businessman, in which the snowman is up to his eyeballs in mind-numbing hedge fund activism, corporate raiding, “poison pill” boardroom defenses and SEC inquiries, all culminating in an exhaustively detailed proxy fight set to the catchy seasonal song “ValueAct Capital LP vs. Acxiom Corp.”

Like Buddha, Moses and Christ before him, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is the very symbol of Joseph Campbell's Hero of a Thousand Faces, wherein "a hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man." The "boon" in Rudolph's original special was his ability to help Santa make it through a blizzard with his glowing proboscis, a power the reindeer always had but not until his journey perceived as a true gift to his community. It was a gift that Santa would take advantage of again in Rudolph's Shiny New Year, when he sends out everyone's favorite sleigh slave to use his nose to find the missing Baby New Year, Happy, who ran away because of his enormous ears. Never mind that the reindeer never encounters any inclement weather whatsoever. Or why Santa is asked to save the very concept of time itself when the man works one day a year and so has as much of a connection to the linear passage of hours as Doctor Manhattan in The Watchmen. Or why cartoon makers Rankin-Bass seems to have a passion for physical deformity not witnessed outside of a Diane Arbus retrospective. Or...hell, best not to ask any questions whatsoever. Just sit back and think about the years Rudolph and his new band of misfits fail to visit in the Archipelago of Time (where each year occupies a small island), wondering how the cartoon could have brought its winsome charms to, say, 1939.

In The Year without a Santa Claus, Santa refuses to deliver gifts when he feels unappreciated by the children of the world. In 'Twas the Night before Christmas, Santa refuses to deliver gifts when he feels slighted by a letter published in a small town's paper...and written by a mouse. No doubt the production company of Rankin-Bass was already storyboarding their next special, Santa Gets Pissed Off Yet Again and Cancels Christmas for the Umpteenth Time--in which Santa’s hair-triggered temperament is once more set off when he has to find about a dear friend’s engagement through another source, making him wonder why he even bothers trying to get close to people--when Twas failed to win over audiences long tired of the Jolly Elf's pathological need for constant admiration and reassurance. Now granted, long before this or other holiday cartoons Santa was well known for his snubs (including the naughty as well as every religious observer save Christians). And the special is not without its charms (the reading of the eponymous poem and the very catchy ditty "Even a Miracle Needs a Hand"). But the fact that the entire story hinges upon the building of a giant clock that literally sings Santa's praises seems just a few steps away from constructing cult temples, developing a system of oracles that communicate the will of Santa to the people and the offering of sacrifices to appease a Kringle perceived as more belligerent than benevolent.

Recently, Burger King once ran an ad campaign in which they took people from remote regions and unspoiled societies and introduced them to the concept of the hamburger, thereby dooming such cultures to rampant obesity, heart disease and brand awareness (it's as if Christopher Columbus stepped onto to Samana Cay and said to the indigenous folk, "Have you ever tried a fried Snickers bar?"). Such is the story of Christmas Comes to Pacland, when Santa Claus literally falls out of the sky and introduces Christmas and Christmas shopping to a civilization that by then had formed its own long-standing mythos ("Eat or be eaten"). How Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Pac-Man Jr. and Adopted Chinese Baby Pac-Man react and respond to this new holiday concept I can no longer recall. But no doubt by now Pacland--like the communities in the Burger King commercials in a scant few years--has all but lost touch with its roots and is now hoping beyond hope that they score a Christmas Tree Store or, god willing, a Tangiers Outlet.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Bob Cratchit: Whiny Ingrate

As Christmas Day nears and the country is now officially mired in a recession, one's mind turns to thoughts of A Christmas Carol, a holiday tale defined by hard economic times as symbolized by Scrooge's poor, underpaid clerk Bob Cratchit. Yet, upon looking at the story with fresh eyes and through the lens of today's skyrocketing unemployment, one can't help but find Cratchit a wholly unsympathetic--if not downright despicable--character.

Although Cratchit is known for his diffident nature in light of his unpleasant circumstances--taking life on the chin while he and his family get it up the ass--the reader can tell he hopes for a better future, one involving regular meals and perhaps names for the two of his six children who don't have ones in the book. And, yes, on the surface this may seem a thoroughly admirable and acceptable outlook for the character. But does Bob really have it so bad? After all, this was Victorian England, where children were thought of as a potential substitute for coal and people were thrown into debtor's prison for taking a penny but not leaving a penny. This was an era where factories would work employees 25 hours a day thanks to a glitch in Greenwich Mean Time and people were oft paid in metal dross, which could then be exchanged for a whipping. Women were perceived as chattel, children were considered office supplies and the working man was as expendable as the pandas factory owners would throw into the furnaces to fuel their elephant ivory polishing machines.

And during this horrible, hardscrabble time where the best the lower classes could hope for was Scarlet Syphilitic Cholera Disease, we have Mr. Bob Cractchit, who by comparison has the world hanging by a string of gold. To wit:

* Full-time employment
* Walking-distance commute
* Ready access to office stove
* Time off--with money!--for Christmas Day
* His very name means "money" ("Bob" being another term of "shilling")
* Children at precisely the right age to toil in mills or--in the case of his eldest daughter--milliners.
* The comforting sense that his financially unwieldy family of eight will soon be cut down to a far more manageable seven.
* Owns a white comforter that doubles as both a bedspread and a sports coat!
* Has a roof over his head and either wood or scattered thatch under his feet.
* They toast on Christmas, meaning spirits or at the very least some form of liquid is well within their economic means.

By all accounts Bob represents a flourishing "middle class" in Dickensian England, one where there's a job waiting at day's start and a more than likely chance of living to see night's close. And with a daughter working for a hat maker, a son about to earn a full five-and-a-half shillings a week for accepting his inescapable fate and even a second daughter who might one day have what it takes to suck a man dry of his wages next to the Victorian equivalent of a Dumpster (ie. open street), Mr. Cratchit is well on his way to a financially secure future.

So next time you read--or more likely, watch--A Christmas Carol, waste not a tear for "poor" Bob Cratchit. Instead, reflect on the audacity of a man who has it all and yet still feels wanting in life. Bob Cratchit, you truly are the whiny ingrate of English literature.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

How Did I Make the 2009 Hot Blogger Calendar? I Had the Audacity to Dream.

Back in 1987, when my friend Jeb Brack and I shared a dorm room at Duke, we'd spend many a late night talking about our future...when not working on our cinematic masterpiece Carl, about a teddy bear that accidentally gets accepted to college, joins a fraternity, goes on a drinking binge resulting in campus-wide mayhem only to eventually flunk out, find out that since he isn't technically alive he can't kill himself and ultimately runs away to Madagascar to pretend to be a ringtailed lemur (oddly enough, the film never got past the planning stages).

One night--perhaps around 3 AM--when we were each lying in our separate beds, having quoted as many Bosom Buddies episodes as possible (this was before The Simpsons, which no doubt would have comprised the entirety of our conversations), I mentioned a long-held, cherished dream of mine.

CES: One day, Jeb....maybe not tomorrow but one day...I'm going to appear in a Hot Blogger Calendar.
JEB: What's a "blogger"?
CES: That's someone who in the future will write a blog.
JEB: What's a "blog"?
CES: I think it will be like a journal or diary, only there will be no lock or special hiding place and every person in the world will have access to your every thought every minute of the day.
JEB: Dear God, why would anyone want to expose themselves like that?
CES: I think in the future the importance of privacy will lag far behind the need for a sense of community.
JEB: So everyone will be blabbing about everything all the time?! Where on earth is THAT going to happen?!?
CES: I think on the Internet.
JEB: You mean Usenet?
CES: No, it's more like a web of devices that connect to provide information over numerous lines of some sort.
JEB: Ohhhhhhh, you mean like that new-fangled "fax machine" we've been hearing rumors about.
CES: I guess, but instead of reading it off of a piece of paper you read it off a screen.
JEB: Television or movie?
CES: Not sure. I think maybe one of those Dick Tracy two-way wrist communicators.
JEB: And are you going to keep a...what do you call it...a "vlog"?
CES: Blog. "Vlog" doesn't make any sense. Yeah, I think so, At first I'll write something almost every day. Then every so often. Then I'll go several weeks without writing anything due to a prolonged illness and instead I'll just put up videos of my future girlfriend pretending to be the female candidate for Vice-President of the United States.
JEB: You're going to date someone who looks like Geraldine Ferraro?!?
CES: No, I mean--
JEB: Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, yeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaahhhhhh....
CES: Uh, Jeb, you all--
JEB: Oh, that's it. THAT'S IT!

At this point I realized Jeb was no longer interested in my odd ramblings and had gone back to making out with the foreign exchange student he slept with on and off junior year.

But all that late-night dreaming and prognosticating has finally paid off as yours truly is now Mr. January in the 2009 Hot Blogger Calendar! Yes, now you can start next year off right with me, staring right back at you with my trademark smoldering "I can't smile on camera or make true eye contact" gaze.

Now to be completely honest, I wasn't initially scheduled to appear in the calendar. After a hotly contested Internet poll I actually came in #13, meaning I was initially out of the running (there being only 12 months and all). But when Wil Wheaton--yes, that Wil Wheaton--was unable to participate I was called in to fill his spot.

That's right--I'm now second in command to Wesley Crusher.

Actually, I was very happy Wil failed to make it because the shoot was great fun, made even more so by the calendar's two creators Jane Porricelli and Sarah Morgan. I can't show you me strutting my stuff--such as my stuff is--as Mr. January (that's for paying customers and my girlfriend when I owe her money) but I can share a photo of me that although didn't make the inside does appear on the calendar's hot, hot, hot cover:

Plus, you can find plenty of more behind-the-scenes photos of the calendar shoot at both Jane's and Sarah's Flickr sets. And if getting to start 2009 with me isn't enough of a lure, did I mention that Josh--Mr. Comics Curmudgeon himself--appears in his boxers? Yeah, now I can hear your wallets opening.

If you want to buy a calendar (there is both an all-men's and all-women's version), then purchase your copy here today! Jane and Sarah are great people and it would be ever so swell if they made a little profit in addition to all the memories they made for us. Plus, Sarah said I look like a "pretty, pretty princess" so how can you pass that up?

The 2009 Hot Blogger Calender--Get Yours Today!