Tag Archives: humor

Make Everything Pretentious #1: Blood on the Dance Floor’s “Bewitched”

23 Aug

A college acquaintance of mine who falls into the social category of “I don’t know him extraordinarily well but it’s okay to comment on his fb posts if you can reasonably assume that he is posting something outrageous for the explicit reason that he wants people to comment ” (laugh, but I know you know what I mean) recently shared a link to a very strange music video.  And for this … thing (I’m not sure I’m comfortable calling it music again — the first time was iffy enough), outrageous might not be a strong enough adjective.

Take a watch.  And unless you can by some incredible feat of mental strength survive 4 minutes of inanity — in which case, my wide-brimmed Palm Springs summer hat is off to you, sir or madam, because I am not one of those people — I imagine that 30 seconds is about enough.

This is Blood on the Dance Floor’s “Bewitched.”

I think this merits our friend Liz Lemon saying, for all of us:

The strangest thing about this video (how do you disturb me? let me count the ways…) may be that these Blood on the Dance Floor, Lady Nogrady (no comment), and director Patrick Fogarty really tried.  I mean, they really tried.  They just threw in so many clichéd lyrics and such overwhelmingly hackneyed special effects that the end result was anything but bewitching.  More like a curse.

Unconnected as this may seem at first, the “Bewitched” video reminds me of nothing less than some of the academic articles I’ve been reading this summer to prepare for grad school in T-minus 8 days.  These authors (oh Saint Cassion of Imola! pray that I become not one of them in future days!), like Blood on the Dance Floor, are too concerned with being a part of “the scene” than producing quality work (the buzzwords, oh gods, the buzzwords!)

Which leads me to my latest project — Operation: Make Everything Pretentious!

What would happen if some scenester academic wrote a review of “Bewitched”?  Let’s take a whack at it!

From the Journal of New Media Academese

Beyond Heaven and Hormones: Romantic Attraction Reconsidered as Diabolical Eroticism

… thus, clearly, [the singer’s] repeated allusions to the supernatural are a challenge to modern scientific understandings of “love” as, in part, biologically determined, as well as rejecting the current culturally euphoric attitude surrounding romance by appealing to the more ambivalent connotations of sex in relation to the occult.

Notably, the female sex partner–described by the male singer as a “witch” holding him in thrall–holds the dominant position of power within the relationship, by means of her (albeit allegorical) allegorical theurgy, a descriptive characterization that serves to engender (pardon the pun) an incisive challenge to societal assumptions of heteronormativity, a not uncommon theme within the hermeneutics of artistic discourse.  And so in summation–

It’s totes obv.

Save this video for Valentine’s Day, folks.  Or maybe Halloween.

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Nerd Alert! Community Goes “Ready Player One”

18 May

To inherit the estate of a dead business tycoon, an underdog and his eccentric group of friends must work together to beat a fiendishly difficult video game rife with 80s pop culture references and all the while try to keep a step ahead of an evil corporate cheater.

SF fans might recognize this as the plot of Ernest Cline’s novel Ready Player One.  But substitute “80s pop culture references” with “the racist stereotypes of a moist towelette magnate” and “evil corporate cheater” with “evil corporate Gus from Breaking Bad” and you’ve got the plot of “Digital Estate Planning,” the third-to-last episode of our favorite, increasingly-nerdy comedy Community in this, its third and darkest season.

Carlos Esposito channeling the Sixers in his OASIS haptic rig–I mean, at Hawthorne Wipes.

I love Community.  I wrote a lukewarm review of its second-ever episode years ago for another blog, which I heartily repent.  Not that I was wrong about Britta being self-righteous and super annoying in the first season, because I totally wasn’t wrong.  Now that Annie seems to be established as the new female lead (as Jeff says to Britta in Course Listing Unavailable, “You seemed smarter to me when I met you”), I have no complaints.

How could I, when Dan Harmon and Co. delight in proving their nerd credentials every Thursdays?  Like the red and blue universes at Annie’s Model UN UN-off (Fringe), or the evil Glee club Christmas episode (I completely believe that Will Schuester could secretly be a serial killer.  Sweater vests really are weird).

NBC seems to have a thing for pop culture cross-pollination.  And I don’t just mean Abed talking about tv shows, because that’s just what he does.  (As an aside–I think I remember criticizing Community for being too “postmodern” with the whole Abed-being-constantly-self-referential thing, but maybe postmodern grows on you.)  Anyone else notice that, on 30 Rock last night, the POW Avery communicating on camera through finger-twitching code sub-plot was pulled straight out of Homeland?

Anyway, “Digital Estate Planning” continues that tradition by taking a page (literally) out of Ernest Cline’s book Ready Player One, which itself still strikes me as a gamer’s version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Of course, even for those of you who haven’t read Cline’s debut novel, released last summer to great fanfare from nerds everywhere, Community ep 3.20 is still as entertaining as ever, along with the two others that followed it last night.  Just thought someone should point this out, in the interest of introducing Cline’s fans to Community’s fans, and vice versa (though I imagine the respective fandoms have quite a bit of overlap).

Not much else to say, except, as always:

#sixseasonsandamovie!

* * *

In Defense of Well-Read Internet Trolls*

10 May

I learned something yesterday: If you’re going to write a blog about as contentious and controversial a topic as the characterization of classic characters in American fiction (and do it with alliteration), you’ve really got to grow a thick skin.  Everyone has the right to disagree.  And that is something I will defend unto my last keystroke.  I, Isabela Morales, the Scattering’s sole author, do so swear.

See what I did there?  I used my name.  I did that because I personally believe that if I’m ashamed to put my John Hancock to something I publish, then it isn’t really worth publishing.  But hey, we can’t expect everyone to follow that rule.

Come now, does this look like the face of a “brutish faux intellectual” to you?

Anonymity is a valuable and important part of our online experience.  Why then do we, as a culture, tend to despise, denigrate, deride, and disdain people who post more-than-moderately critical comments without revealing their names?  I am here to say that I believe every would-be Internet troll has the right to write unnecessarily aggressive things about academic blog posts without inspiring offense on the part of the author.  Which is why I want to post this not-at-all-spiteful public letter of apology for forcing my objectionable prose on last night’s anonymous commenter.  You see–

In spring 2009 I was taking a course on American humor and satire at my now-alma mater the University of Alabama.  Every week, our professor assigned us brief writing assignments—analyzing either a chapter or character from the book we were reading as a class.  The essays from those classes that I’ve posted on the Scattering have consistently been some of my most popular for years now (maybe because they’re possibly the only useful things I’ve published here), and if anyone can explain why my paper on Mark Twain and religious satire has been translated into Spanish more than it’s been read in English, that would be kind of cool to know.

In any case—the last book we discussed that semester was Catch-22, the bleakly funny (anti-)war novel by Joseph Heller.  The short essay I posted from class was my comparison of leading man Yossarian and his glum number two, Dunbar.  I flatter myself that I provided a few good pieces of evidence to support my claim that Dunbar is Yossarian’s foil; and of course, like a good little college student, I used in-line parenthetical citations for all my quotes (this was before the history department converted me to CMOS).

This all seems like a very long time ago to me, but how easily we forget that the Internet is eternal: once on Google, always on Google.  And it would seem that someone found my little essay today and didn’t find it useful at all.  In fact, he/she seems kind of pissed off that it exists.  I hope, with this letter, written as a public post for completely non-self-indulgent reasons, I can assuage some of Anonymous’s worries.

Ahem.

Dear Anonymous,

I just wanted to let you know how very appreciative I am that you took the time to peruse my “ancient” blog posts until you found one worthy, or perhaps unworthy, as you would have it, of comment—and this especially because reading my character analysis of Dunbar in Catch-22 so clearly caused you great mental agitation and psychic pain.

As an avid reader myself, how acutely do I know the distress that comes when one is thrown into collision with unpalatable prose!  Please know that I extend to you my greatest admiration and, indeed, perhaps even awe, for setting yourself at the vanguard of the Internet’s blog writing style soldiery!  I don’t think that anyone who read the remarks you left on my post of 17 March 2009 could possibly imagine you as anything other but a white knight of wordpress—charging down the RSS feeds of book reviewers with the same courage and conviction that the chevaliers of old (dare I say, of olde?) charged down the jousting lists.

But because I fear that the weight of public opinion might come down against someone who hands down breathtaking accusations and criticism under the name “Anonymous,” I have decided to publish your comments more broadly—for the sake of showing every one of my readers just how much I care what they think about my writing style.

Despite this article being ancient, the following bothers me and so i’ll comment here. I hope you have relaxed your prose by now, but I’m not going to put myself out verifying.

“second only to Yossarian as a character introduced in the book” – this is annoying. Stop trying to sound pretentious when you simply mean “the second character introduced in the book.”

It doesn’t work and is appalling. Had several complaints leading up to this point, but after this sentence I stopped reading.

That being said, it’s your prerogative to write as you will. You simply come off brutish in your faux intellectualism.

Cheers

Me being pretentious in front of a picture of UA’s founding librarian, my role model in all things, including 19th-century prose.

Anonymous, I completely understand why you wouldn’t want to put yourself out verifying whether or not I have relaxed my prose by reading any more recent posts, considering how dreadfully my writing style irks you.  In fact, I must now regretfully inform you that my prose, if anything, has only grown more contrived, affected, and overblown in the last two years.  And now that I will be entering a doctoral program in history next fall, I can only sigh and resign myself to the fact that I will doubtless be swept away by the currents of stilted academic prose by the time I’m through.

Alas!  Alack!  I should probably leave it at that, to spare you any more agony, but there’s just one thing–

I wonder how you found this post to begin with?  Were you searching for essays about Catch-22 online?  Because if that’s the case, I would trouble you just one more time to ask whether the actual substance of the essay had any bearing on your research.  I hate to think that my grandiloquent diction is getting in the way of my ideas.

Oh, and if I can keep your attention for another moment (and I only make this extended reply because your browser history certainly does not include the search “cliffnotes catch 22”), I’d like to say something about that particular line that you quoted:

Educated people like you and me have probably come across the literary technique of “parallelism” before—you know, constructing your writing in such a way that the grammar of one phrase, say, echoes an earlier sentence.  That’s what I was going for what I started my sentence with “Second only to Yossarian in alleged insanity, Dunbar…” and ended it with “… is also second only to Yossarian as a character introduced in the book.”

Clearly, I failed in that.  Oh well, we all try these things when we’re young, don’t we?

And last of all—hopefully I haven’t taken up too much more of your time or left the taste of poor diction in your mouth, giving you that fuzzy feeling on your tongue that comes when you go to sleep without brushing—I’d like to say a few words about your word choice.

You are indeed a master wit!  I don’t think I’d ever be clever enough to call a complete stranger “pretentious” while myself using terms like brutish and faux intellectualism.  I can only surmise that you wanted to use satire to comment on an analysis of satire.

Which is why I love you, Anonymous.  And how I do love you for this.

Cheers! —IM

* If you can make it through my stilted prose and pretensions to some modicum of literacy, this, Dear Anonymous, is what we faux intellectuals like to call “satire.”  Or perhaps it’s just what my mom likes to call “passive aggressive.”  Why don’t you let me know.

Happy Graduation! (and good luck getting a job)

7 May

I am convinced that there is no ruder question than What are you going to do with that major?  In the case of a newly-minted B.A. in history and American Studies, I get that question a lot (the answer: grad school!).  But it’s nice to know that just about everyone’s in the same boat this time of year.

Here’s a self-esteem deflating comic from XKCD explaining, in verse, why “Every Major’s Terrible.”  Feel free to sing along!

 

Personally, I don’t see anything disparaging in the lines about history majors — tenure is the holy grail, and teaching for 40 years is a consummation devoutly to be wished.  But that virology verse is hilarious.

Victorian Life Advice, Part 1: “Keep Your Eye on the Main Chance”

7 May

Unless I’ve grown up completely out of the cultural loop (and that’s a distinct possibility), most young people don’t spend their free time reading etiquette handbooks anymore.  I graduated from college Saturday, and I didn’t get a single volume titled “The Ladies’ Guide to Politeness” (a major disappointment, needless to say).

“I get my post-graduation guidance from the cast of Mad Men!”

True, self-help books are everywhere.  When Kate the Lostie graduated from high school, she got a book called “What Should I Do With My Life?” from our grandparents, and apparently corporate culture is such that my very successful mother gets leadership handbooks and inspiration business stories from the higher-ups on what seems like a daily basis (books with titles like “Our Iceberg is Melting” or “Who Moved My Cheese?” or “Whale Done!”, books that seem to have taken Aesop’s Fables to a whole new level of strangeness, books that I take every opportunity to make fun of).

But the difference is that these are all books geared toward people who want to network, make money (and friends to influence), succeed in business (without really trying, I imagine), or find their life’s passion (best of luck to you with that).  They aren’t really books on how–as an 1875 etiquette manual promises–to learn “a new set of forms or ceremonies to be observed if you wish to glide down the current of polite life smoothly and pleasantly.”  Surely, we don’t make such a big deal of etiquette in this grand and glorious 21st century, do we?

Do we?

Since my last post on Victorian etiquette seemed fairly popular (and I am shamelessly angling for an audience), I decided to look again at the manner and morals of the late 19th century.  And as it turns out, they’re not very different from the rules we still follow today.

“You’ll soon find out some wizarding families are much better than others, Potter. You don’t want to go making friends with the wrong sort. I can help you there.”

1. Choose Your Friends Wisely

The 1875 “Gentlemen’s Book of Etiquette” by Cecil B. Hartley (obviously the name of a true gentleman) is the sort of thing a young man with a brand new Bachelor of Arts in XYZ might get for a graduation gift.  And it starts its gents-in-training with some basic advice:

“The young man who makes his first entrance into the world of society, should know how to choose his friends, and next how to conduct himself towards them.”

Why, doesn’t that sound like just the sort of thing snobby Victorian New Englanders would say!  The right kind of people indeed!  Next thing you know, we’ll be calling people “mudbloods” and looking down our noses at anyone without an Ivy League pedrigree.  The outrage!

Yeah, yeah.  Let’s get down off our high horses for a moment and recall that this is exactly the advice that most moms give their teenagers at some point or another (ever been told your friends were having a “bad influence”? or gotten the “You are who your friends are” lecture?  I haven’t, obviously, but I know some folks).  And it doesn’t always have to do with any sticky class or racial prejudices–getting ahead is the sort of thing that ‘Murricans worry about, like, all the time.

Royall Tyler: Making fun of the British and rocking Elvis Presley hair since 1787.

There’s this great 18th-century play called The Contrast, written by a man with the very un-American name of Royall Tyler, whose comedy of errors was a still-pretty-funny send-up of Americans trying to act like fashionable European dandies.  Maybe inadvertently, but probably not, Tyler pokes fun at that most American of virtues: making money.  Hey, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that–I’ve been tweeting disparaging things about OWS-ers for months.  But you have to admit, Royall Tyler has it exactly write when our heroine’s father spouts his favorite line half a dozen times throughout the first act:

“No! no! no! child; it is money makes the mare go; keep your eye upon the main chance, Mary.”

Yes, we have a deeply-entrenched national faith that you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps with hard work and a never-day-die attitude, but hey–it doesn’t hurt to know the right people.

Today, we call that “networking.”

***

Join me next time for 19th century advice on how to engage in gentlemanly conversation.  I promise to let you know exactly when and where it’s appropriate to use the phrase “Hail, fellow, well met!” (because there are totally rules about that).

Musical Advice from 1900: Don’t Be a Gold Digger

1 May

Now that I’m graduating from college, I’ve gotten some joking (I hope) comments from friends and family that I’m going to grad school far, far away on the East coast in order to find some rich WASP-y law student to marry.  Because that’s why people get PhDs.  Seven years hunched over books in a library carrel just screams “Marry me!”

Anyway, all this reminds me of my favorite Victorian-era sentimental ballad: “A Bird in a Gilded Cage.”  Like virtually all 19th/early-20th century tear-jerkers, it features a beautiful woman dying of despair because she gets trapped in a bad relationship (in this case, she’s a gold digger who marries an old guy for his money).

I know we tend to think of “the olden days” as a time when women necessarily married for money and then pined away for love all the rest of their days, but in the 19th century ideas of romantic love and “companionate marriage” were superseding the old patriarchal model of arranged, economic marriages.  This was the golden age of all things sentimental.  I can’t listen to this song without laughing, but if I were a Victorian lady, I’d probably be bawling my eyes out.

So here it is:

Bonus Story!  The day I defended my thesis (a couple weeks ago) I called up my elder sister Kate the Lostie and sang this song into her voicemail. Later I sang it into a webcam for my bemused family (and they’re the only ones who will ever, ever see it).  Apparently after doing some Wikipedia-ing, her response was thus:

“According to Von Tilzer, he was approached in 1899 by Lamb with the lyrics for a song. Although Von Tilzer liked it, he asked Lamb to change some of the words to make it clear that the woman in the song was married and not a mistress. Later that evening, as he worked out a melody at a piano in a public house with some friends, he noticed that many of the girls nearby were crying, which convinced him the song could be a hit.”

haha maybe they were crying bc they could relate

Insightful and eloquent as always, my sister.

John Smith didn’t really look like that. Sorry, kids.

30 Apr

Disney, I’d like to commend you.  You own the animated children’s movie business.  You own it to the extent that I’m still not sure whether you did that 1997 Anastasia musical or not.  Nobody is.  And even if it wasn’t you, I mean, we all know that hardly matters.  You’re the best.  You were when I was a kid, you did when my mother was a kid, you may have when my grandmother was a girl, depending on how old she is.*

Your classic animations are a part of the cultural consciousness now.  But let’s be honest with each other for a moment–and I think we can be, because of our long and loving relationship.  You’ve taken some serious, serious liberties with history.

Now I’m not talking about the fact that Anastasia requires audiences to suspend their disbelief enough to accept that evil green spirits released by an undead Rasputin made the Russian people want Communism.  The undead Rasputin?  That I believe.  But come on, associating the Bolsheviks with evil green spirits?  At least make them evil red spirits.**

Not that you haven’t been great with attention to detail in the past–it’s uncanny they way you’re able to make animated characters look like the voice actors who play them.  Example: Jeremy Irons as Scar in The Lion King.  Iconic, right?  Now whenever I watch The Borgias I keep expecting the Pope to push someone off a cliff into a stampede of antelope.  Although, to be fair, it’s something Alexander VI would probably have done if he had half the chance.

But Disney, dear, dear, Disney, you really phoned it in with Pocahontas.  When I was little, my sisters and I used to re-enact scenes from the movie.  Having an unusually low and raspy voice–the product of chronic asthma and throat inflammation–I played John Smith.  Imagine my dismay when I learned, years later, that all the time I was strutting around like a strapping blonde adventurer I really looked like a squat ginger leprechaun.  Was it any consolation to learn that John Smith was knighted for bravery (0r most times escaping from enemy capture and publishing books about it, or something, whatever) by a Transylvanian prince?

A little.  It helped a little.

I understand that you weren’t working with much.  Even in the 17th century, this was not the face of a handsome man.  The whole John Rolfe thing makes way more sense now.  But still, you turned Jeremy Irons into a lion.  You could have at least given John Smith a beard.

* She has aged beautifully, my grandmother, and it’s not empty flattery because she’ll probably never see this.  Also, has anyone else noticed their mothers or aunts or grandmothers saying “when I was a girl” instead of “when I was little” or “when I was a kid.”  I’ve never said “when I was a girl.”  Gender neutral identifiers, people!  They’re all the rage.

** And this goes for whoever made Anastasia, Disney and pseudo-Disney alike.

Confessions of a Certified Slytherin

27 Apr

Someone who (at age 21 and a half) has read the Harry Potter books innumerable times and been to every midnight showing since Order of the Phoenix is, probably, a little old to be signing up for a kids’ literary enrichment website.  Most of my peer group are the same way–I can walk into almost any classroom on campus and make a comment about the Muggle civil liberties infringements brought about by the International Statute of Secrecy to general agreement and outrage (seriously, don’t Obliviate spells strike you as incredible invasions of privacy?).

So why did we all sign up for Pottermore?

Two words: Sorting Hat.

For over a decade now, almost an entire generation of readers have been wondering what house they would be placed in, should they have been the lucky recipients of a Hogwarts letter to save them from the trials and tribulations of fifth grade and its mixed fraction computations.  Putting on a magical old hat that reads your mind and tells you about the deepest parts of your personality would be super creepy when you think about it, but way cool.  The closest thing we Muggles have to that sort of insight is psychotherapy, and, I assure you, that may be creepy and unnerving, but it’s definitely not fun.

As the series unrolled, I began to resign myself to the fact that I probably wouldn’t have been a Gryffindor.  Or if I were, I’d be like Neville in the early books (before he got super badass and faced down Voldemort and friggin decapitated Nagini).

Of course, I had the consolation of relative surety that I wouldn’t be a Hufflepuff either.  I mean, no one has ever accused me of being “warm” or “kind.”  Whatever that means.

I expected Ravenclaw.  Because you see, friends, academic elitists aren’t made, they’re born.  And I’ve been correcting people’s grammar since I learned how to read.*

But as you may have guessed from the title, I’m not an eccentric, quirky, non-conforming Ravenclaw.  I’m not a noble, self-sacrificing Gryffindor.  I’m not a cheery, loyal Hufflepuff whose badger mascot is a little less lame now that the honey badger no longer has to give a you-know-what.

I’m in the house of You-Know-Who.  The house of magical racists and dungeons and snakes that turn people to stone.  I’m a Slytherin.  And as good ol’ J.K. says in her video intro to the sorting process–the decision is final.

The thing is, after a moment of stunned silence as I sat in front of my computer, I realized that it makes absolutely perfect sense.  For more than ten years I’ve avoided seeing it because, despite J.K. Rowling’s insistence that Slytherins aren’t all bad, we’ve never actually seen a good one.  Pottermore tells us Merlin was a Slytherin, which is cool, but as an historian, I’ve got to say that it’s doubtful King Arthur, Camelot, and Merlin ever existed.  It’s probably a myth some woebegone Slytherin made up so her housemates would feel better about themselves.

I should have seen the warning signs long ago, but I refused to look the basilisk in the eye.  It’s done now, and my metaphorical magical heart has turned to stone.  Some of you, dear readers, might be like me: fearing to know your true self.  Maybe you’ve been designated a Slytherin; maybe you’re afraid to put on that hat.  The following is for you.

A Guide to Accepting Your Serpentine Heritage

1. Would you describe yourself as cunning?

The first time Harry and Co. hear the Sorting Hat sing its sinister, sibilant song, the part about Slytherin goes like this:

Or perhaps in Slytherin/ You’ll make your true friends,/ Those cunning folks use any means/ To achieve their ends.

You, like me, may prefer to imagine yourself as a frank, open, straightforward person.  Certainly not deceitful in any inherent sense.  But think back to your past: at any point in your academic or workplace life did you do something like this?

A girl I know–I’m not going to give any names, but she writes some second-tier sci-fi/whatever else blog on wordpress–went to a Catholic high school.  She was diligent, hard-working, and hid her contempt for certain classmates with impressive grace and aplomb.  She had almost all of her classes with the same 20 or so girls, all of them smart, all of them hard-working.  But one in particular annoyed this friend of mine.  That girl was pathologically hard-working.  Like, obnoxiously diligent.  And my friend didn’t like being shown up.  One week near the end of their senior year, my friend’s teacher told the class that there were some extra assignments for those who wanted some points to shore up their grades.  Both my friend and the other girl had better-than-perfect grades in the class.  But that other girl said that she’d do the assignments anyway.

My friend, as I said, didn’t like being shown up.  She knew that the other girl, let’s call her Mary, because she was freakin’ perfect, would get all sorts of brownie points for being pathologically diligent.  My friend tried to explain to Mary that there was no reason to do the additional essay or whatever but no, friggin’ Mary was going to do it anyway.  My friend considered doing the extra work too, simply to keep pace.  But then she realized something: this new assignment wasn’t extra credit.  It didn’t go on top of the grade; it just got averaged in.  Which meant that someone whose grade was already an A+ could actually suffer a net loss in points by doing an extra essay that could only get her an A.

My friend encouraged Mary to write the paper.  My friend didn’t.  And my friend got the highest grade in the class.

Oh, and did I mention?  This was religion class.

I realize that that sounds kind of horrible.  But don’t judge my friend too harshly for her “cunning.”  What she did can be seen negatively, but that’s the easy answer.  If you really think about it, while her motives were hardly pure, her reasoning was perfectly sound.  My friend wasn’t going to waste her time with something that couldn’t benefit her.  Mary was so caught up in her single-minded work-work-work attitude that she didn’t actually stop to think about what was in her interest (I’m going to guess that Mary’s a Hufflepuff).  So you see–cunning isn’t evil: it’s about achieving your goals.

And speaking of goals…

2. Do you have any plans to take over the world?

Or at least, your little piece of the world?  You don’t need to build a giant laser on the moon and try to blow up the earth to be ambitious.  And besides, that’s horribly cliché.

From the Sorting Hat’s next song:

And power-hungry Slytherin/ loved those of great ambition.

There’s nothing wrong with a little ambition, you know.  It’s not all throwing money around and waving silver-headed canes in people’s faces like the Malfoys would have us believe.  Ambition takes determination, hard work, intelligence, and long-term planning.  You have to imagine what you want to be in five, or ten, or twenty years and have the discipline to make those dreams come true.  And you know why Slytherins are good at that?  I’ll tell you why: because, unlike the namby-pamby other Houses, we don’t call them “dreams.”

We call them plans.

3. Do you care about people’s bloodlines?

In its final appearance in the books, the Sorting Hat gives us this even less flattering portrait of the serpent House:

Said Slytherin, “We’ll teach just those/ Whose ancestry is purest.”

Okay… not going to bother with that part.  “Pure-blood” talk gives me the creeps.  Let’s just admit that, as a House, we’ve turned out an unfortunate number of seriously nasty characters and be done with it.

Conclusion

The point is, brother and sister Slytherins, that while we may get a bad rap, we just need to own it.  Not the Death Eater stuff, obviously, but the cunning and ambition.  That’s not a bad thing.  It’s more effective than the abstract intellectualism of the Ravenclaws, and do I really need to insult the Hufflepuffs again?  I mean, their House ghost is the Fat Friar and they live in a cellar next to the kitchens.  What else is there to say?  As for the Gryffindors, well, I’ll just quote a badger friend of mine:

“Gryffindors are like Hufflepuffs, except bro-y.”

Well said, friend.  Well said.

*As a side note, and further evidence that I would make an awesome Ravenclaw, I can still distinctly remember at least two years before I learned how to read and write.  My older sister, 2 years above me, was making my mother cry with her staged readings of “The Giving Tree” (friggin communist altruist hippies).**  Meanwhile, I got my hands on a little pink-and-white notebook wherein I would make scribbles and try, to no great avail, to inscribe them with meaning.  I was so jealous I wanted to papercut my sister with her precious book.***

** I apologize.  I worked a summer at the Ayn Rand Institute.  Sometimes this stuff just comes out.

*** Oh god … I totally am a Slytherin.

Top 5 Historical Americans Who Were Probably Vampires

24 Apr

Heroes and villains with secret identities are about as American as apple pie, teeth whitening, and fundamentalist Christianity–and these days (sadly enough) you can add sparkly vampires to that list too.  So with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter coming to the big screen in June (and oh, what fun we’ll have here then), it’s only natural to speculate about other historical figures who may have had their own supernatural secrets.  I’ve already written about fictional Lincoln and his flame gun, and zombie Henry David Thoreau, but as I sat in English this morning, dreaming about all the midday naps I’ll take after graduation, I began to compose a list of famous Americans who may not have burst into flames in the light but certainly had their vampiric qualities.

1. William Cullen Bryant

He was a 19th-century romantic poet.  He was a boy genius.  He wrote his masterpiece, “Thanatopsis” (Greek for “a view of death”) at age 17.  And look, just look at that face.  The collar, the cloak, the pallid skin and sinister smirk all point to one thing: he prowls the streets at night searching for blood.  In fact, I’m pretty sure he tells us that in his poem:

When thoughts

Of the last bitter hour come like a blight

Over thy spirit, and sad images

Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,

And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,

Make thee to shudder and grow sick at heart;–

Go forth, under the open sky, and list

To Nature’s teachings

In other words, feast on the blood of the innocent in the moonlight, friends, for tomorrow Lincoln’s coming for you with the hatchet he keeps under his stovepipe hat.

2. Edgar Allan Poe

Do you think it’s a coincidence that poets top this list?  It’s not.  And if we know one thing about Poe: he never met a stiff he didn’t like.  There’s a movie coming out about him too, you know, in which some super creepy groupie goes on a killing spree in which he (or she) brings all the gruesome deaths in Poe’s writings, shall we say, to life.

More likely explanation: Poe committed them all himself.  After all, as your teachers will tell you, write what you know.

Just look at those eyes.  Those are the eyes of a haunted man who’s seen eternity, and shrinks from it.

3. President James K. Polk

One of my history professors put this image on a powerpoint the other day, and you have to admit, Polk does look quite a bit like Lucius Malfoy.  If any of our past presidents were Slytherins, Polk definitely would have made the cut.  This is the man who imagined up a war with Mexico and made it happen for kicks.  (Or territorial expansion, one or the other.)

And lest we forget, Polk did have some tense run-ins with Lincoln during his presidency.  When Polk, licking his lips, thundered that Mexicans had “spilled American blood on American soil” (which they hadn’t, and which wasn’t), Lincoln was one with the “Spot Resolutions”–calling for Polk to identify just where exactly the blood had been spilled.

I’ll tell you where.  Into his wine glass, that’s where.

4. Laura Ingalls Wilder

Bet you didn’t expect this one, did you, eh?  Her Little House books are staples of childhood bedside reading.  But did you ever ask yourself, as your parents tucked you in at night, why the Ingalls were always moving West?  I mean, from the way she writes you’d think they had it pretty good in the big woods.

I’ll tell you why: Pa was a vampire.

People of the 19th century were not as accepting as we are today.  They wouldn’t have swooned in desire to see a vampire.  They would have staked him, like, immediately.  But Pa was a good guy.  I’m guessing that, of all of these American bloodsuckers, he was closest to the “vegetarianism” of the Cullen family.  The West was indeed a land of bounty: wild and full of wild game, Pa could feed without being tempted by human blood.  Because out there, the only humans for miles around were Ma, Mary, Laura, and Carrie, and eating them wouldn’t have been acceptable.

I’ll let you speculate as to why Pa called Laura “Half Pint.”

She herself seemed to take after her father more than her sisters, and while Mary would have gasped and fainted away should she have ever found out about her father’s true nature, I’m guessing Laura probably just shrugged it off.  And later, when she was grown, she probably asked him to turn her.

Why do you think the Little House books are so rife with nostalgia for a lost childhood and passing way of life?  The times she wrote about weren’t only her youth, they were her last years as a human.

5. Benjamin Franklin

You know him as the face on the $100 bill, the man people still think was president at some point, the guy who flew a kite in a lightning storm and lived to make a fortune off of it, and the name that keeps popping up in your history textbook at points long after you would have expected him to be dead.  He was everywhere!  He did everything!  In his old age he was a lecherous old man with a coterie of buxom French hotties!  And he didn’t give a shit.

*

That’s all for today, folks, but join me next time for a gendered interpretation of the cover art for Edgar Rice Burroughs’s John Carter series!  Sounds fun, right?

Review: “To Say Nothing of the Dog” (plus, proof that the Victorians really, really loved their cats)

17 Apr

In the year 2057 — when getting a Ph.D. in history is a high-risk endeavor requiring mental and physical endurance, athleticism, a working knowledge of quantum mechanics and Victorian table manners, and, as always, a firm grasp of the Chicago Manual of Style — Ned Henry is a doctoral candidate on a mission. The stakes? If he fails, the Nazis win World War II. The operation? Return a time-traveling cat back to 19th-century Oxford.

For original article in the CW, click this eerie and vaguely misleading book cover! Because it's definitely not about ghost cats, flaming gothic architecture, or disembodied heads.

“To Say Nothing of the Dog” is a classic whodunit — if the “it” were causing an incongruity that could rip open the space-time continuum and destroy the universe, and the “who” were a snowy-white feline named Princess Juju.

Did I mention this is a comedy?

That’s the premise of Connie Willis’ “To Say Nothing of the Dog,” a delightfully bizarre literary commingling of sci-fi and historical fiction. And considering that the Large Hadron Collider didn’t result in black holes or time travel technology last year after all, for a novel written in 1997, the science-y parts of the plot hold up. Besides, since most of the action takes place in 1889, Google wouldn’t have done Ned Henry much good, anyway.

And as tangled as the timelines are, this is, essentially, what’s going on.

In 2057, the aptly named Lady Schrapnell is working on a massive project to rebuild Coventry Cathedral, destroyed in a Nazi air raid during WWII. And because “God is in the details,” she’s employing scads of time-traveling historians to go back in time and find out exactly what the cathedral looked like the night before its destruction.

All that’s left to replace is the Bishop’s Bird Stump, a hideously ugly Victorian flower vase that, according to an inconveniently waterlogged journal entry, changed the redoubtable aristocrat’s some-odd-great-great-grandmother’s life in the summer of 1889 (and thus absolutely must be reproduced in the new cathedral).

But the unthinkable has happened: It’s missing, along with that great-great-something-great-grandmother’s pet cat, both of whose disappearances might just have a domino effect leading to Hitler taking over the world (if the world survives the breach in the space-time continuum, that is).

To say nothing of our hero — Ned Henry is certainly no Indiana Jones. And when it comes to tracking down lost artifacts (or missing cats), he’s no Sherlock Holmes, either. But wearing his straw boater at a jaunty angle, Ned and his partner-in-historical-crime Verity Kindle (perfect name for a historian, right?) are ready to play croquet, host séances and, of course, save the world.

Hold onto your petticoats, ladies and gentlemen, and pay attention to your Western Civ professors — because some day the fate of the universe may depend upon you knowing your groats from your tuppence.

This here ends the book review.

But Now… More Victorian Cats! (or, the tangential stuff I didn’t put in the newspaper column)

Recently I purchased an item of clothing that unites two of my loves: cats and the long 19th century (yes, I am absolutely going to be a spinster historian animal hoarder when I grow up).  After seeing it, my eldest sister (who you may know from long ago posts as Kate the Lostie), who has already grown up to be something of a cat lady, sent me an article that reveals something Connie Willis must have known–Victorians really, and I mean really, did love their cats.

My Sweatshirt, circa 2012

And more Actual Historical LOLcats, circa 1870s (below)
But there are more! (photos from io9)