Friday, September 14, 2007

TANBR Recommends- September

No intro. Let's just get this started.

Elitism at the Van Pelt Library
I go to the University of Pennsylvania. Maybe I've mentioned it. (I'm only going there for a year, and I'm paying more than I'll make in a year when I get out. I'm getting as much name-dropping mileage as I can.) Anyway, one of the things I was looking for in a grad school was resources. By resources, I meant two things: being able to play with my school in college football video games, which I couldn't do before, and having a serious library. The Van Pelt Library, part of a library system that houses 5.8 million volumes and has an operating budget of $48 million, qualifies as serious. Sometimes I play games with the system just to see if there's something they don't have. I was tempted to see if they had a copy of my own unpublished novel--A History of History, ask me about it.

Some places on campus actually have ivy growing on the walls. I was about to call bullshit on that.

Anyway, the same northeastern elitism everybody has here extends to this library. What should be a symbol of the equality of knowledge and free access to it ends up being restricted in so many ways. First off, one needs a student ID to even enter the building. Once you're in there, you need to sign in with your PennKey and password to even search for anything. This is one of the best libraries in the world, and few people can even step inside.

Let's say you belong there, whatever that means, and that you want to borrow a copy of Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Cercle Rouge for the weekend. Just, you know, top of my head. The computer says it's located at a department called the Rosengarten Reserve Desk. So you find Rosengarten and ask to check out the DVD. Curiously, they ask if you need headphones. You tell them no, and they ask if you have a laptop. You ask if there's something you're missing, and they tell you you have to watch the movie in one of their screening rooms. Technically, you can check the film out, but you can only borrow it for two hours. For every hour it's overdue, there is a three dollar fine.

You leave in a huff, without the DVD or the time to watch it in-house, and on your way out, even though you didn't set off any machines, the security guard demands to search your bag. "Do you have any library materials in here?" she asks. "I returned some actually," you reply, snatching it back and wondering why someone who works in a building full of books finds a bookbag suspicious.

So why would I recommend this place? Because I go to Penn, suckas. I don't want anyone getting smarter than me.

Maus by Art Spiegelman

Not many people are "sort of into" graphic novels. Either you don't know much about them or you're an expert. I, however, am sort of into them. I've read all the essentials--Alan Moore stuff, Sin City--and some of the secondary stuff--David Boring, Berlin: City of Stones--but Art Spiegelman's masterful Maus is the only time (okay, the only time other than The Watchmen) when I've honestly finished one and been able to stack it up next to the best of any other medium of art I've encountered.

For those not familiar with it, Maus and its sequel depict the oral history of the author's father and his saga of survival through Polish ghettos and concentration camps during the Holocaust. To this day, it's the only work of sequential art to win the Pulitzer Prize.
It works on so many levels. It's gut-wrenchingly moving and intense; but because of the structure, we know Vladek survives--reading might be too stressful otherwise. There are touches that seem juvenile at first but transcend to mean so much more. For example, Spiegelman's broken English narration is played for laughs until you realize that it's a third element you're decoding beyond and along with the text and the visuals. Famously, Spiegelman casts all the jews as mice, all the Nazis as cats, and all the Poles as pigs, which is simple but in a beautiful, elegant way. Underneath it all, you can admire the sheer skill required of Spiegelman to convey complex emotions from his mice when all he does it with are two dots for eyes and a line for a mouth.

Electrasol Dishwasher Detergent
I can't say I recommend this specific product--I've never used it--but I do like the idea of it. I noticed it in the checkout yesterday and realized, "You know what? The only thing I could tell you about Electrasol, before I could even tell you what it does, is that the Jetsons are on the box." The Jetsons are and, to my knowledge, always have been the selling point. In this modern age, when the Jetsons are pretty divorced from cultural relevance, they are still important enough to have a thirty-year contract or whatever from Electrasol. Same thing with "Peanuts" and Met-Life. Why would anyone our age know what Met-Life was if it wasn't for Snoopy? I'm not even sure I do know what Met-Life is. Insurance, right?

No-Name Directors Being Shouted Out at the End of Commercials
Along similar lines, garden variety commercials for upcoming movies have taken a strange turn. Take the ad for Shoot 'Em Up, for instance. There's nothing completely revelatory about it; it tells us everything we need to know about a movie that may or may not be good. Then, at the end, it shouts out, "A Michael Davis film!" Oh, you mean the Michael Davis who directed Monster Man? Who the hell is Michael Davis, and how many people are going to rush out to see that flick because of him. And it seems as if most movies are doing it now, acting as if I should care that Mark Helfrich directed Good Luck Chuck. Finishing a commercial with the occasional "a Martin Scorsese picture" means something, but the egos associated with this current marketing trend must be enormous .

"The Whitest Kids U Know"
It's a sketch comedy show on Fuse, which isn't starting off as a great recommendation but stay with me here. The show gets shuffled around a lot on the schedule, but the DVD is about to come out and maybe give it a little buzz. This is the most extreme, consistently funny comedy I've seen on TV in a while. Like any sketch comedy, some skits go on too long, but these guys never pull any punches. Just search YouTube, and you'll find so many clips that will motivate you to watch it on your own time. Trevor Moore is the standout--kind of like Eddie Murphy on "SNL" in '85, to the point where everyone else just seems like an extra--so look for him to really make some moves once this gets cancelled.

Watch it: if only so that I can toss the references around.

Deflecting Women by Being Married
It's not as if before I got married all my conversations with the opposite sex ran rampant with sexual tension, but I can definitely tell a difference now. Once a female acquaintance finds out you're married, you become safe to them. You're one of the good guys, the ones who commit, and women let their guard down a bit. If I'm marriage material, maybe I have something to offer to a conversation or friendship. Women have never been comfortable around me in the past, probably because they sensed that I was more interested in laying them than actually being their friend (mostly true). Since I'm married, they assume that isn't the case any more (umm, true? Mostly?) It's pretty refreshing, a natural zesty enterprise.

Plus, having a wife is quite a trump card in a conversation. Every guy knows the feeling of chatting with a girl, making her laugh, feeling as if everything is going well, and then getting stomach-punched when she slips in, "Well, my boyfriend blah blah blah." Now I have a male equivalent and can crush dreams with the best of them. (No homo on this whole entry. [No homo on using the word "entry."])

Magellan Navigation System (a/k/a Sally)
For the aforementioned wedding, my dad gave us one of those GPS devices for the car. "This thing has saved my marriage, son," he told me. "This thing solves so many arguments."

And I have to admit, it comes in really handy living in a new city. I've almost become too dependent upon it. After living here for two months, I still don't really know where anything is without Sally--making machines anthropomorphic is mandatory.

Anyway, naming it Sally also gives me license to yell at, essentially, myself sarcastically when I'm lost in North Philly. If a tiny person lived in my car all the time and was willing to give me directions to anywhere in the world, I think I would show it some gratitude. But since it's a machine, I'm not thankful at all. Pretty much every time I use it, I get close enough so that I don't need the thing anymore, and I turn it off disgustedly. "You don't know where I am, you stupid bitch. Keep telling me to take Baltimore. Why don't you fucking marry it you like that route so much?"

"I can't take a left, whore."

Additionally, she calls out her directions kind of late sometimes, which creates some reckless lane-changing, and I have to keep glancing at the screen while I'm driving. Sally might have added a few years to my marriage, but she's slicing years off of my life.

Considering, however, that this is coming from a guy who has wasted an entire tank of gas on u-turns trying to leave Dallas, a guy who ended up crying in a Waco motel parking lot, that's an unqualified recommendation. :)

Finally, in what will probably become a weekly installment, here are the expert predictions for the LSU score:

P.T.: LSU- 35, Middle Tennessee- 7

Field Correspondent Matty: LSU-45, Middle Tennessee-10 (They will not beat that spread.)

Yours truly: LSU- 45, Middle Tennessee- 7

Jelly: unavailable at press time (not on AIM at exactly 3:40)

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