28 February 2011

Award Show or Apocolypse; AKA Things That Start With "A"

Ok, so I made a couple of big boasts in my last post. One was how I would be writing shorter posts; another was how I would be posting on the 83rd Academy Award Show all week. But reality set in. In this case, reality came in the form of a super-duper plus sized helping of suck; more commonly known as the 83rd Annual Academy Awards Show. (The "other" reality is that I cannot shut the hell up sometimes...)

Honestly, I have proudly been telling everyone how I am one of about 237 straight guys that deliberately watch the Oscar’s every year and then they go and do this to me. James Franco, dude! I loved you in “Freaks and Geeks,” then again in “Pineapple Express” and other assorted offerings. But after last night, I sort of wish you wouldn’t call for awhile. I think it’s best for both of us to take some time and reevaluate our relationship.

And is it my imagination, or would the entire 3 hr. 45 min. broadcast fit into about 20 minutes if they would just ease up on the ridiculous commercials? Come on, anybody who buys into what a good neighbor J.P. Morgan Chase has been, probably shouldn’t be allowed to make any purchasing decisions anyway. But I digress. Here is what I was picturing in my imagination for about 3 hours and 45 minutes last night.

(Imagine 1930s era reporter’s voice from here on). Dateline Hollywood! In 45 years of traveling the globe for your edification, this reporter has never witnessed the likes of tonight’s events on the streets of this storied tinseltown! As the glitterati of filmdom made their way into this historic event, social gadfly Joan Rivers underwent a transformation that was nothing less than stupefying. In front of millions of horrified viewers, the grand dame of snarky sprouted wings and swelled to a height of 87 feet tall, revealing herself to be none other than the 300 million year old Beelzebub, dreaded prince(ss) of darkness and harbinger of evil. Rallying a legion of minions, she rampaged amongst hysterical attendees.

But, just as all hope seemed lost; as a shadow of evil seemingly descended for all time upon this shining ensemble, hope appeared! Yes, hope appeared ladies and gentlemen! Charging down Hollywood Boulevard on a towering white steed, clad in brightly shimmering armor and wielding a sword of undeniable justice, came none other than that champion of all humanity, Sean Connery! Oh the chaos my friends, chaos to shock even this hardened reporter. Bellowing ancient incantations, Connery awoke the guardians of light, who all this time have been masquerading as those oversized Oscar’s statues outside the theater. With shouts of righteous rage, they flung themselves upon the dark mistress and her hordes. As terrified onlookers scrambled for cover, seemingly provided by the well stocked VIP Tent, the battle raged.

Sizzling sorcery and the clash of steel on claw rang above bellows of challenge and the shrieks of the wounded and dying. Before my very eyes, it was as if the Apocolypse was unleashed! The guardians of light slew many of the evil one’s minions, including Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber and 2/3rds of the Jonas Brothers. Inexplicably, these same guardians milled around, messing with their fingernails and whistling aimlessly, while the dark minions devoured the entire cast and crew for all three “Twilight” movies. I will leave speculation on their motives for doing such a thing to you gentle reader.

As his followers dealt with the minions, the heroic Sean Connery engaged the she-beast in single combat. Fell deeds were done and grievous wounds delivered, till at last with cries of frustration, the beast took flight and vanished. His lightness Sir Connery then waved his hand, returning the golden statutes to their former state and lulled everyone back to a state of calm with witty baritone banter. The show proceeded as scheduled, more is the pity!

This reporter will leave you with the following thoughts. It is not known if Beelzebub will succumb to her wounds, or if this battle merely signaled the opening round in the prophesized, “1000 Year Reign of Darkness.” If the former proves true, than Sean Connery has in fact, saved the world. If the latter is correct, I know a lot of you good people who expected to be raptured by this point, thereby skipping out on all the pestilence, famine, and war. If you find yourself still amongst us, reading this dispatch, let’s just say you have some explaining to do.

24 February 2011

Sanctity Insanity

So I’ll start off today’s post with some housekeeping.

I am going to try some new “short form” blogging, which translates to me cutting my rambling diatribes down to around 250-500 words.

This experimental format didn’t happen when my friend Ron Reed graciously tolerated a guest post by me on his incredible blog entitled, If I Had a Blog. You can go straight to my long winded lament on the romantic comedy film genre HERE. While you’re over there, look around and be entertained by the host of talent he offers up.

In related news, I am going to unleash a bunch of film related posts next week in honor of The Academy Awards. I’ll reflect on a few film favorites and various trends I’ve noticed throughout the entertainment industry. Hold your breath, it will be so worth passing out for.

Turning to fantastic happenings over this last week, I might be the last guy to find out about THIS, but Ben Thompson and his Bad Ass of the Week awesomeness certainly made my week. Ben proves not all historians are shirts stuffed full of boring! (I mean we have always known we are a bunch of party animals and now you know it too, or at least you will after you visit his blog). Ok, now on to the post and you better not think for a minute I am counting all of this stuff as part of my word count!


Today I thought I’d toss a little recognition out to my many friends in the Gay and Lesbian Community. I know, there are some other categories that get added into that community now days, but I really don’t know that snappy acronym. So rest assured, I respect you no matter what your sexual or gender identity is. I’m not exaggerating when I say you are some of my most amazing friends (don’t panic straight folks; I love you to, having lived as one of you lo these many years). Anyway, this post is all about respect, or perhaps more accurately, the lack of self-respect.

Honestly, if I have to listen to one more gaseous blob pontificate about the sanctity of marriage and how it needs to be “defended” from same-sex couples, I just might resort to laying down a little Charles Bronson flavored payback. Shall we visit the state of sanctity in marriage? (Look at a map; it is right next to Ohio).

Today’s definition of sanctity is brought to you by reality TV. Here you will find washed up rock stars and other assorted M-List celebrities bumping bellies with skanky groupies and gold diggers; all of whom are vying with fourteen other pod people for the title of “Lowest Self-Esteem.” This title comes with the grand prize of an engagement proposal from the aforementioned nobody. (Who noticed Brett Michaels did three seasons of this thespian showcase while openly pursuing a long-time relationship with the mother of his children? I know 42 out-of-work strippers who missed that detail).

Today, I’ll cut your cable bill in half by running down the entire plotline to every one of these putrid offerings. If you choose to mail me a portion of your savings, that would be really cool of you but it isn’t expected. Just know that I suffered so you don’t have to!

Opening day of the season, everybody is smiling and kissing ass in some cheesy resort location. They keep telling you how exclusive it all is, but you can clearly see the low end buffet and the VIP clichĂ©s, so it’s hard to catch the mood. Weird back stories about how everybody has spent their whole life crying out for attention.

Day 2, somebody remembers they actually have self esteem and storms off the set. If we are really lucky, the spouse of one of the contestants shows up and drags their cheating ass home to “work on our marriage.”

Days 3-11, the “star” proceeds to clumsily manipulate the pool of contestants, aided by never ending streams of alcohol and deft camera edits; these folks never seem to remember they are competing with fourteen other people until directly after they give up the goods in a hot tub on National TV. Hurt feelings and insults fly and everybody tells the camera what they think; which if you pay attention is some amazing acting, brainless people pretending to think I mean. Some sort of poorly negotiated contract also forces everybody to constantly praise the star and say how awesome they are, even though this person disguises all that coolness really well by constantly acting like an asshole.

Day 12 is just a replay of everything you just stomached with a silly musical montage dubbed over it. Oh yeah, that third contestant who just spent the whole hour telling everyone how sure they were that they were in, gets booted off the show in what we will call, “Beepapalooza.” Writers take the day off and they just run the profanity beeper constantly as this person storms off the set.

Day 13 should be the end of your ordeal, but it’s not. This is reunion day. They bring everybody back for one more shot at reliving their most humiliating and desperate moments. Most of the screen time goes to the “one that got away.” Viewers by this point should be hoping they’d all just get away.

Day 14 and here it is, decision time! Not really though. It’s another recap of every moment in the season where tonight’s two remaining contestants skanked or shanked their way past the competition. Of course, this is liberally interspersed with commercials. This advertising bonanza presumably paid for this herd to sit around for six weeks at a resort whose last good year was during Reagan’s presidency. It shows, with check cashing services and pay-as-you-go cell phones dominating the mix.

At exactly the 116th minute of the 120 minute show (Yes, lucky for us it's a two-hour finale), the egotistical fool will pick the victi…err I mean winner. Then the shunned one reenacts “Beepapalooza” for the entertainment of the viewing masses while the plastic couple is whisked away in some horrendously cringe-worthy vehicle. Whisked from the set, straight into the arms of waiting tabloid reporters who will pay them nominal sums of petty cash to feed their delusions of celebrity; while crushing any trace of their remaining self worth during the off season.

Yeah, I know, I totally failed on that word count thing, but things had to be said. Take it out of my cable bill kickbacks.

16 February 2011

The Complex Nature of a Simple Chance

I turn a little more serious for today’s post. Recently, I have become involved in a series of discussions on racism in America. Since my historical focus is on the intersection of race in Portland and the surrounding Pacific Northwest, this is a topic that I spend a lot of time with. So maybe a little historical tale would help explain my mood.

In 1940, there were only about 1800 black residents in the state of Oregon. Historical discrimination, hostility, and laws had achieved their desired effect, which was to keep Oregon predominately for white residents. In fact, Oregon was the only state admitted to the union with a specific clause in the state constitution prohibiting blacks from even living in the state. During the 1920s, Oregon boasted the highest per capita membership in the Jazz Age Klu Klux Klan, which despite a furious PR campaign to the contrary, was not simply another civic organization. But the white citizens of Oregon had not counted on Hitler and friends. Ironically, it took one of the most notorious racists in history to crack open the white monopoly in Portland. Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. By December of 1942, Henry Kaiser had imported 16,000 black workers to work in his three Portland area shipyards. The good citizens of Portland did not respond well to this forced integration. For the duration of the war, there wasn’t much to be done since the whole world was literally watching. But as soon as hostilities ceased and the shipyards shut down, old habits found familiar and fertile ground.

What followed was a series of Jim Crow laws, redlining, discrimination, and intimidation of the black families that chose to remain in Portland. The cumulative effect was that they were crowded into a “black neighborhood” along Alberta Avenue in the northeast sector of the city. Crowded in and forgotten by employers, politicians, education systems, and nearly everybody else. In fact, black residents were seemingly forgotten by everybody except the police, who poured an inordinate amount of resources onto less than 2% of the total population. They have the incarceration statistics to prove it to.

Until one day, they were remembered. It seems that with the exploding real estate market of the late 1990s and early 2000s, the old black neighborhoods were now becoming attractive to urban renewal and gentrification proponents. Driven by greed, developers swooped in and bought up large tracts of old neighborhoods. Displaced residents were scattered far and wide across the city, any sense of community shattered. Stop complaining they were told, if you don’t want to move, don’t sell. Except the prohibitive real estate practices and discriminatory mortgage lending of the subsequent 50 years had not fostered home ownership. These constraints combined with unemployment rates that were twice the state average to insure that the people living in those homes, didn’t own those homes. Absentee landlords gleefully cashed in.

Boutique bars, shops, and cafes replaced ethnic eateries and traditional gathering spots. Lofts and remodeled Craftsmen Bungalows sold for heavy prices; far beyond the means of their former occupants and neighbors. The social hipsters and trust fund urbanites moved in. Standing around with $6 pints of microbrew, they noshed on gourmet offerings and gushed at the awesome nature of the neighborhood. The families that had lived there for generations were relocated to places not so awesome. Out of sight and again out of mind.

There are no trendy nightspots, culinary delights, or stylish lofts in the new black neighborhoods. They spans a series of areas that are best described as human warehouses. Dense packed mass produced apartment buildings, interspersed with exploitive businesses, fast food pits, and soul sucking uniformity have replaced their tree lined streets and vintage homes. The only resemblance to their old neighborhood is that education options are still sub-par, unemployment rates are still more than double the state average, and nobody remembers them except the police.

Well not quite nobody. I remember my first home when I moved to Portland in 2001. Everybody said I was crazy to rent the 1909 Craftsman on the corner of Alberta and Albina Avenues. That area sucks they said. Only it didn’t. I made friends, shared some laughs, and spent more than a few nights on somebody’s front porch; sipping a drink and relaxing in the company of friends and neighbors. I remember running everyday past old boarded up buildings and thinking how cool it would be if somebody did something with them. It seemed such a shame to let that charming old architecture go to waste. Only the people that lived there couldn’t get the loans, the leases, and the block grants that outsiders had access to. So when my thoughts came to fruition, they killed the very neighborhood that I had grown to love. I left soon after for other parts of the city. I could no longer afford the housing costs in my old home. My landlord made a 200% return on his investment, so who could blame him when he took the money and ran.

And that is the crux of this whole post. It is not about blame or rehashing the sins of the past. It is about solutions today. These exceedingly complex issues are most often boiled down to some yapping head, trying to score a few political points by playing the affirmative action card. People just cannot understand why it should be their problem. They devise intricate legal arguments to rationalize their positions, but to me it all rings hollow. It rings hollow because I used to make those same empty arguments. It was settled a long time ago I said, stop playing the same old tune; except I was wrong.

Expecting a people who have been deliberately abused and marginalized for centuries by a system to suddenly merge into the mainstream of that system defies logic. The solutions are as complex as the problem and there is no magic bullet to slay the beast. All I ask is that the next time you hear a news story about a crime, or see some representation of poverty, pause before passing judgment. Pause and ask yourself if you really believe that what you are seeing is a person who just cannot get their act together. Or are you really seeing a person that has yet to be allowed the chance?

07 February 2011

The Paranoid Time Traveler and How It All Worked Out in the End

This post is my contribution to the "Smiley Sociology Study" happening on my friend Rachel Hoyt's blog as we speak! You can visit it at this address:



So there is that song that says, “I had a million dollars but I spent it all…” I do not really care for the song, but I figured that describes my experience with time travel. You see, I did have a million dollars, but I spent it for a chance to travel back in time to any date of my choosing. It was a one shot deal. Since I am a historian, I had a lot of eras I wanted to visit so I poured a lot of consideration into my choice.

Initially I was drawn to ancient times, way back on the edge of human history when the lines of the known and the speculated become pretty blurry. I reasoned that it would be a huge boost to my career to spend some time as a tourist, then hurry back here to deliver stunning works of academia on little known subjects. But then I thought it through. The chances some guy would split me in half with a sword seemed pretty likely, my sword skills not being what they used to be and their fascination with the subject and all. Then diseases, natural hazards, and the immense amount of work just to keep from starving entered into the equation and I remembered that the average life expectancy was only about 28 years old. So it might have even been a big joke on me. You know, showing up and having them say, “Surprise” you are 45 years old, so in this era you’ve been dead for 17 years. That just didn’t seem like it would be worth a million bucks. All that for a few books seventeen people might thumb through.

As I scrolled forward through time, a lot of the same worries kept resurfacing. I saw myself popping into the middle ages just in time to catch the plague. Or maybe I was burning at the stake for spilling the beans on the whole geocentric vs. heliocentric debate just a little too soon for the church’s tastes. After a while, I thought that maybe I was being selfish and instead of thinking about what was in it for me; I should instead try to do some good for all of mankind.

So of course this led me to think about going all the way back to the Garden of Eden. Yes, to the very cusp of creation, arriving just in time to slap that apple out of Eve’s hand and bash the serpent in the head with a large lump of rock. That thought started to appeal to me, because, with my work done, I would have of course been hanging out in a perfect paradise. But then doubts started in.

What if all went as planned, but then some sort of weird sexual tension ensued between Adam, Eve, and me? I know it sounds unlikely, since you have two perfect beings and then me, somewhere on the scale below perfect. But what if Adam was just not a very reasonable guy or Eve liked to walk on the wild side; like she had already demonstrated with that whole apple and snake episode? Now I am faced with either getting my butt kicked by a twelve-foot tall superman, or having all of humanity blaming me for whatever happened next. Then of course there are issues of religious theology. What if I asked them to set the time machine for the point of creation and arrived in deep space just in time for a front row seat to the big bang? After thinking it through, I lost my zeal for the idea.

Maybe I could not help all of humankind, but what of some? What if I showed up in the Americas in 1490? I could travel up and down the coastal regions saying, “Look, some guys are going to show up here in a couple of years. Trust me when I tell you that as soon as you see them, set them on fire!” “Do not hesitate for a second, just do it, you will thank me later…” Of course nobody would have understood a word I was saying so it probably would not have turned out very well for any of us.

So now I had a full blown phobia about time travel. No matter how great I thought an idea was at first, cracks immediately appeared. I began to be terrified that I would be hurling through the space/time continuum when I suddenly remembered, “Wait, I do not even know what Da Vinci looks like, what if I give these airplane plans to some random idiot?” I imagined showing up in 1950s America, ready to soak up the golden age without the fear of nuclear annihilation that was on everybody else’s mind. Then I would have found out that there was no Mayberry, or that main street America never was, father never knew best, and that it was impossible for me not to notice all those “other” people who do not seem to be enjoying the times as much as a few folks were. That and let’s face it, “The Fonze” would have just been annoying after a while.

So in the end, I just ended up going back to 1974 with a bag of cash and investing it all in some dude building a strange contraption in his garage. While I was there, I soaked up some of the 1970s flavor that I was unable to do the first time around when I was only 9 years old. You know, caught a few incredible concerts, rolled down endless roads with a few crazy dudes on bikes, and generally just stayed mellow. When my visit was over, I was sucked back to the present, none the worse for wear. As for how it all worked out? How do you think I had a million bucks to blow on some time junket that never even left my own lifetime? That guy’s contraption ended up being the start of the whole technology boom that led to my ability to write this post.

05 February 2011

What Say You Good People to the Presence of Tyranny Most Foul?

The other night, my consort and I attended the cinema. There is nothing particularly special about this event, since I fancy myself a bit of a film buff. What made this night’s frivolity special was a little anecdote I’ll refer to as my “bold stand against the tyranny of evil men.”

I had just recently left my most delectable fiancé ensconced in the embrace of our enviable seats to make my way out towards the lobby. As I strolled past an alcove in the hallway, my mind preoccupied with lofty musings far too esoteric to deserve voice here; four large lads sporting the uniform of the establishment in which we stood sprang out. These ruffians set upon me before I had even a small chance to react. They pummeled me with truncheons, stomped me with hobnailed boots, and hurled vile insults upon my person. Following two seconds of spirited resistance, I was reduced to a fetal position with arms thrown up to protect my head from further punishment. These brigands then took the opportunity to rifle through my pockets and wallet. Since I have fled back to ivory towers these last four and half years, they only managed to abscond with $6.32. As they faded back into the darkness of the alcove, their whispered threats against summoning the authorities lingered in the air behind them. I made my way back to my seat and my love, shaken but relatively unharmed beyond my pride and a few bruises. The film was a paltry exercise in muddled intentions. It seems Vince Vaughn has yet to decide if he is supposed to be playing a comedic actor, or a mediocre dramatic thespian of no great note.

But wait you cry out, what of the felonious assault upon your person? Who cares about a half baked romantic comedy when there is foul play afoot? Get to the point man! To which I must urge patience gentle reader, all will be revealed in good time. And, as it happens, that time is right about…now.

You see, the story I am recounting for your consideration is obviously fabricated. It is my way of compensating for the mugging that actually took place when I forked over $6.32 for three and a half ounces of M&M’s at the concession concern located in the establishment’s lobby. To be fair, the candy was swaddled in seven ounces of packaging, but I still came away from the transaction feeling a bit wounded. My pride was wounded because I lacked the additional $6.00 to “make it a combo” by adding two cents worth of corn syrup and water to the mix. After all, I had just dropped $22.00 for the admission price, so who amongst you can point the finger of blame for my destitute state? But mostly I was wounded because this episode forced me to blurt out, “I remember when…” And let us agree on this one point rapt listener; uttering that phrase just makes you feel so damn old.

Old enough to recall when a first run movie, a thirty-two ounce pop, and eight ounces of candy lightened your pocket by about $6.00 total. Old enough to remember how the older folks in your film going expedition even complained about that; fondly recalling instead when the whole outing weighed in under a buck, unless you stopped off for burgers and shakes, then you were out $1.25 for the evening. Old enough to recall the awesome arcades attached to grand old film houses. That wily trap was going to set you back another few bucks for showing up three hours early and wearing your fingers out fending off assorted alien invaders. But overall, you, your friends, and your entire community regularly bathed in the entertainment that a local movie house could provide and very few second mortgages were necessary to maintain such an indulgent lifestyle.

But wait you cry out again, for you are in a particularly argumentative mood this evening, what of the film quality? Surely even a relic, as you have revealed yourself to be, cannot fail to acknowledge that the cost of creating today’s masterpieces has risen considerably over the cost of that last “Ator the Conqueror” installment in the early 1980s? At first I am wounded anew by your latest outburst; having clearly failed to win over even your most modest sympathies with my tale of woe. But, then I am forced to admit that the 250,000 Orcs descending on Minis Tirith were in fact, quite a bit more impressive than those past depictions of the same six horsemen galloping across the same desert backdrop, whilst being described by the narrator as “the invading dark hordes.” But I digress.

Being of the educated variety and possessing a keen sense of inquiry, I have come into knowledge that makes me aware of the cost to produce a movie in today’s world. For the question I must put to you fair reader is; what vulgar society would have our film stars trying to fund their addictions and excessively quirky lifestyles on a working person’s salary? Nor can we simply ignore the endless baggage train of camp followers and assorted needy souls, all nipping at the scraps of profit to be devoured from each undertaking.

And so we arrive at the point of my tale and I must admit that it seems not a moment too soon, if the wandering of your attention is a measurement to be trusted. It might surprise even you most learned reader, to find that the humble movie house owner is as much a victim as those of us who venture to partake of his wares. It is these brave purveyors of cinematic magic that must shoulder the brunt of public ire, quell the rioting hordes at the bag checks, and constantly patrol darkened and hostile auditoriums for the presence of three pound bags of contraband; smuggled in from the nearby grocery outlet by people who had but $2.00 to spare for the evening’s repast.

For in all the mountains of currency heaped high around even the most humble productions, there is but one source of profitable income available to the beleaguered cinema owner. This is in fact, that larcenous toll for tickling our tastes with questionable delicacies. Now if you will excuse me good and gentle women and men, I must see to the sewing of interior pockets onto my most favorable cinema attire.