Dispatches from the Suburbs of Hell

Heaven is for the obedient. Hell is for the wrathful. What of the ones in between? We wind up in the Suburbs. Our sin is individuality. Our punishment is boredom. But at least we're in good company.

Location: New England, United States

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween: Bah, Humbug

It's a strange thing to ponder: I SHOULD be a fan of Halloween. I mean, I'm a former Goth - more than "former;" I was Goth before Goths knew what it was - and a current Fiery Hellbeast. This holiday was made for me and my ilk. And yet, as I sit here, gearing up for my traditional annual scary movie-fest, I wonder why I'm just not in the holiday spirit this year. Perhaps I'm getting old. Or perhaps the good old Feast of Samhain has finally gotten too commercialized for me.

When Halloween rolls around, I find myself thinking of Spencer's Gifts, and those seasonal shops that open in black-hole locations at shopping malls (there's something so depressing about those places, isn't there?). Those places are always full of rubber masks of generic monsters, costumes of cheap plastic and flimsy felt, and those little skulls with motion sensors in them that scream or laugh when you walk by. Just thinking about those places gives me a headache; the overpowering smell of rubber and that "scary music" CD on endless loop in the background...ugh. These stores just seem to cater toward the unimaginative. Every year they drag out the same "naughty nurse" costumes and the plastic pitchforks that fall apart the minute you pull one out of the little cardboard bin. Do people actually buy these things? Someone must, or they wouldn't keep making them. It reminds one of a Lewis Black routine; maybe they just made all these pitchforks 25 years ago and are still trying to unload them every year.

But worst of all is the underlying sense of desperation. Everything is so generic and unoriginal. I mean, I understand that you don't want to make a big investment in something you're only going to use for one night. But there have to be better ideas out there than just the generic "zombie" costume in its little shrink-wrap plastic bag. My spirit heaves a heavy sigh when I think of it: Halloween is when you let your inner demons out to play. You can't really BUY that in a store. Call me a curmudgeonly grinch if you will, but that's how I feel.

Once upon a time, All Hallows Eve was the day when spirits walked the earth. One day each year, the dead walked among the living, and the living dressed as monsters to keep them at bay - and sometimes to act like them and get away with it (not that I ENJOY it when my car gets egged every year, but at least that's more in keeping with the true spirit of the holiday). I don't think the dead would be fooled by the stuff you get at I-Party. At least, not any of the dead I've spoken to.

But to those of you who still have the Halloween Spirit, I wish you a happy Feast of Samhain. Guard your home well from the lonely dead...and don't egg my car.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Frakking With My Head

Both Isaac Asimov and Rod Serling understood quite well the importance of science fiction. Sci-Fi enables authors to tell fables, to write allegories about human nature without being bound to a specific time or place. It can provide hope for what we CAN become, and voice warnings about what we COULD become. And often it can hold up a mirror to what we truly are; removed from familiar circumstances, a popular point of view can be seen in a different way. The best sci-fi is the kind that makes us think. And the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica series - widely considered not only the best sci-fi show currently on TV, but also one of the best TV shows currently on air, period - does make one think. And the thoughts it raises are not pleasant.

The recent article by Brad Reed posted on the American Prospect Online (www.prospect.org) makes the point that I as a liberal moderate - with some radical leanings; it really depends on how drunk I am - find a bit off-putting. The new BSG is a remarkably well-written show, and frightfully realistic. Completely jettisoning the campy space opera of the original BSG, producer Ronald D Moore and his gallant crew created a show that is entirely its own. The tone of the show is grim, as befitting a story which begins with the utter destruction of human civilization, as it chronicles the efforts of the 40,000 or so survivors of the Twelve Colonies to escape their Cylon destroyers and find a safe haven mentioned in their myths and legends - a place called Earth. There's a real realism to the situation. Our main characters are deeply flawed individuals, and the decisions they make out of their desperation to survive are often horrifying but so understandably necessary. They just escaped the apocalypse; how reasonable would any of us be after that?

But that's not the most frustrating part for a person of liberal leanings who sits and thinks about the show for a bit. It's the conservative mindset of the show. When you stop and think about it, the BSG storyling plays out like an extreme right-wing version of the "War on Terror."

Ponder this:

The story begins when the Cylons - a race of cyborgs that split off from humanity after a civil war - launch a devastating sneak attack on the Twelve Colonies. Having grown complacent after 40 years of peace, the Colonies fall quickly, and the remnants of humanity escape in whatever ships they can find, forever running and forever fighting the Cylons who pursue them relentlessly, determined as they are to completely wipe out humanity. Further, it is revealed, the Cylons have not only evolved into a humanoid form superficially identical to humans - and are thus able to plant sleeper agents anywhere they want - but they have also found religion. The Cylons believe that they are God's chosen people, and that humanity is an abomination that must be purged from the universe.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Of course, the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 had such a foundation-shaking impact on American society, that it's probably next to impossible to NOT look for a parallel in the works of fiction to come after it. Nevertheless, it's there. A race of self-righteous religious fanatics, convinced that their god wants them to purify the world, launch a sneak attack upon what they perceive as the great evil. And scariest of all, they can walk among us undetected. The guy standing next to you on the subway could be the enemy, and you'd never know until it was too late.

The rag-tag fugitive fleet of human survivors are led by two people: Adama (played with perfect craggy-faced intensity by Edward James Olmos), grizzled war veteran and commander of the last surviving warship; and Roslin (the always-great Mary MacDonald), former Secretary of Education and 43rd in the Line of Succession. The fact that she's the only one left to assume the mantle of President really drives the point home of just how desperate the situation is (and to the show's credit, it doesn't take the easy way out with a female leader; any doubts other characters express about Roslin's leadership abilities are based on her inexperience, not her sex). The military and the civilian leaders share an uneasy alliance, until Roslin starts to have prophetic visions, which may or may not be hallicunations stemming from an herbal medicine she was using to treat her cancer. When Roslin starts acting on her visions, that causes a rift with the pragmatic Adama, but strengthens her position among the more religious survivors.

It's worth noting that in the BSG universe, religion is a powerful thing. The Colonial religion - loosely based on Greek mythology, in contrast to the Cylons' fanatical monotheism - has tremendous political clout. Many of Roslin's supporters during her temporary split with Adama are fundamentalists, and it just so happens her visions line up quite nicely with a bit of prophetic scripture. With their support Roslin becomes the spiritual leader of the fleet as well as the political one, and it's that role that often influences her decisions. In one particularly difficult episode, Roslin issues an executive order to criminalize abortion - mostly to bolster population growth among the handful of human survivors, but the fact that it endears her to the strict fundamentalists that make up her electorate doesn't hurt. Again, the parallels are somewhat glaring. Here on Earth, we have a current President who has made no secret of his fundamentalist religious beliefs and his support of "protecting the rights of the unborn." With Laura Roslin, we at least have the luxury of seeing the situation from her eyes, an agonizing sacrifice of her own personal beliefs in service to a greater good. We have no such luxury with George W Bush; we don't even have the comfort of believing that he finds the decisions he makes in office are in contrast with his own morals. In both the fictional and real cases, we are asked to accept that the decision will end up being the right one in the long run. Somehow the ficitonal one holds more water.

And then we have Roslin's opponents within the fleet; apparently politics, like cockroaches and fruitcake, will survive the apocalypse. Several public figures within the fleet array against Roslin and her policies, including a terrorist movement calling for the end of the war with the Cylons - and two former allies. The first is Tom Zarek (Richard Hatch, cast member of the original BSG and back for more), a former radical activist and political prisoner. The charismatic Zarek is given a significant Machiavellian quality, manipulating every situation for his own personal gain. He sees the destruction of Colonial civilization as an opportunity to start anew, build a new order, one free of the abuses he has fought against. Although we're never privy to what these abuses were, exactly. Zarek's specific politics are never explored; we're never even told why he was imprisoned. This is important, because it makes his motivations in building this glorious new order seem completely and entirely self-centered. He's not interested in a better world for the human race; he's interested in being in charge.

The other former ally is Gaius Baltar (James Callum, sniveling with the best of them), a brilliant scientist who has the unfortunate tendency to think with his...ahem, LOWER brain as much as his upper one. Baltar is, in fact, the one responsible for the Cylon invasion; he shared his confidental government security access with a woman whom he thought was a rival contractor - turns out she was a Cylon agent. Oops. Driven a bit nuts by guilt, Baltar becomes more unstable as demands are made on him, until finally he decides to run against Roslin for President in the next general election (with Zarek as his Vice-President and puppet master, no less). They run on a platform of ending hostilities with the Cylons and settling on a newly-discovered world beyond Cylon reach. Roslin runs on a platform of staying the course, heading for Earth, foiling the Cylons at ever turn. Lured by the promise of a new world to call home and expertly manipulated by Zarek's spin control, the fleet elects Baltar into office and begins settling the world which they dub New Caprica.

One year later, things are falling apart. The population is still living in tents and quonset huts (or whatever the equivalent is in this universe), civil unrest is rampant, and Baltar can't be bothered to care. He spends his days drinking, getting it on with interns, and ignoring pesky problems like being a Head of State. THEN the Cylons show up. The orbiting military fleet, woefully undermanned since the colonization began, has no choice but to flee and regroup, and Baltar surrenders power without putting up a fight.

Again, we can draw parallels. Neocons love to vilify Bill Clinton, and as President Gaius Baltar is an obvious caricature of him. I'll be the first to say Clinton was a disgrace as a human being, but he could at least effectively govern the country for eight years. Baltar is not so effective. He is a weak-willed womanizing drunk, under whose regime the military suffered attrition in resources and manpower to the point where it could not mount an effective defense against an attacking enemy. Meanwhile, puppet master Zarek, the selfish godless intellectual, is nowhere to be found. The two of them together sought to build a new order, and that order failed spectacularly. This is pretty much what arch-conservatives warned us would happen if John Kerry had won the 2004 election: the liberals took power and the terrorists won.

In his piece, Brad Reed goes on to say that, with the new third season of BSG, the political allegory of the show has changed: the Cylons are now in charge of New Caprica, and the humans are fighting a war of insurgency (even making use of suicide bombers). Reed goes onto point out how several conservative blogger pundits have now decried the show, as it appears now to be a critique of the Iraq War. I'm not entirely certain I agree, as those fighting the Cylons are the same ones that always have been. The nature of the war has not changed, only the battlefield. The parallels to real-life are again obvious, but if anything it shows just how alike religious radicals are. Cylon or human, Christian or Muslim...when you're willing to strap a bomb to your back for some nebulous greater good, there's no quantifiable difference any more. In the BSG universe, we're once again asked to believe that the humans are the "good guys," and this is yet another disasteful but necessary thing they must do to survive. It requires us to think about the psychology of a suicide bomber: what kind of person would do this? What would lead to him this place, where blowing himself up for the cause seems reasonable? It's a dark road to travel, and a difficult one. Heavy stuff; no wonder the pundits are pissed.

In tonight's episode, we were introduced to a new situation. The fleet is back together, they have escaped New Caprica and are on the road back to Earth. Roslin is reinstated as President. The divinely-appointed conservative who guided humanity through its darkest hour is restored to power. And a secret death squad - comissioned by Zarek, his last act as President before stepping down - is moving through the fleet, eliminating Cylon collaborators. The fact that this death squad is composed of several characters we thought were good guys makes it hard to condemn them entirely. And the fact that some of these characters suffered great personal losses under the Cylon regime makes it hard to hate them. Once this is discovered, Zarek, ever the manipulator, claims he was, once again, acting for the greater good: by quietly eliminating these people, he is letting Roslin start her term with a clean slate, free of any need for costly investigations or legal actions. Roslin solves this moral dilemma by rising above it: she offers a blanket amnesty to all surviving human beings, pardoning any and all collaborators, thus eliminating the need for trials or secret death squads, and truly allowing humanity to start anew.

Saintly stuff, right? In the BSG universe, yes, where we have positive proof that the conservatives were right and the liberals almost destroyed humanity. In the real world, such a thing seems cowardly...and increasingly more likely to happen. The idea of having some magnanimous figure simply absolve all of us of our missteps in the Iraq War, so that we can just put this unpleasantness behind us and move on, is both arrogant and aggravating. It means those responsible for the mess will never be held accountable. And will most likely remain in power despite a proven inability to effectively wield it. While in the BSG world, we know that this maintaining of the status quo, this staying of the course, is a good thing, in the real world we know it's not. And it's aggravating to see those in power pretending that it is in the face of clear evidence to the contrary. George W Bush is not Laura Roslin. His plan for America - if you can call it that - is not the best plan for the survival of the human race, a fact that becomes increasingly clear with each passing day.

Science Fiction's job is to hold up a mirror to human society, and we often don't like what we see. But the consolation is that, once we see the mirror image, we can see what is wrong and strive to change it. Let's hope we can do so before we're all floating homeless through the void.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

REVIEW: Adult Swim, Part the Second

Another edition of my sleep-deprived rantings about Adult Swim. Herein I discuss two shows I watch religiously, yet feel quite ambivalent toward:

Venture Bros.

Created by some dude from Connecticut who calls himself "Jackson Publick," this cartoon poses the question that at least a few of us have asked: what happened to Jonny Quest when he grew up? All those "boy adventurer" characters that were very popular in 1960's adventure comic and cartoons and movies, who were there primarly to give the pre-teen audience someone with which to identify, surely they must have grown up. What would they have become? How would life treat them? According to the creators of this show, not very well. Jackson Publick and his cohorts - among them Ben Edlund of "The Tick" fame - posit a life for the boy adventurer similar to that of the former child actor: once they hit puberty, all their prospects go down the drain.

Specifically, "Venture Brothers" revolves around the life of Thaddeus "Rusty" Venture, former boy adventurer and son of Jonas Venture, legendary square-jawed scientist/action hero. Set in the modern era, Jonas Venture is long dead, Rusty is in his fortires and painfully aware of the fact that he peaked at 12. Maladjusted thanks to his atypical upbringing, and embittered by the fact that his father was such a godlike figure that he can't possibly live up to him, Rusty makes a living cashing in on the Venture name, selling his father's old inventions and doing the odd bit of government R&D. He has a bodyguard, a deranged secret agent named Brock Sampson, a decrepit robot servant called H.E.L.Per, and twin sons Hank and Dean. Where exactly Hank and Dean came from has been a running gag from the beginning of the show. Was Rusty married at some point? Did he just grow them in a lab? Even after a climactic reveal in the second season premiere, the mystery remains. Rusty's sons prove to be more of a bother to him than a joy; they're a pair of idiots, basically, completely incapable of relating to the real world in any healthy way - then again, they were raised by Rusty, so I can't really blame them. Rounding out the cast is Byron Orpheus, some manner of overdramatic magician ala Doctor Strange, and Rusty's self-proclaimed arch enemy The Monarch, a pathetic little man in a butterfly costume with an equally pathetic army of faceless minions.

There is much to love in the show, not the least is the thread of utter WEIRDNESS that runs through it. So much completely random crap happens, and it's executed with precision. Someone on the "Venture Brothers" writing staff is evidently a big David Bowie fan, as references to his music can be found everywhere in the show (the Thin White Duke himself - or a reasonable facsimile thereof - even appeared in the second season finale, in a completely random way). The one-off villians are completely out there, in tried and true adventure comic tradition: Phantom Limb, a floating torso with invisible arms and legs; White Noise, a redneck composed entirely of static electricity; King Gorilla, a rapist primate with a heart of gold...the list goes on. The Monarch's lieutenant, "Doctor Girlfriend," is a stunning brunette with an incongruously deep masculine voice (done by Jackson Publick himself). This is never explained. And on some weird level, it makes her even more attractive...

But while there is much to love, there is also much to dislike. There's a real darkness to the show, a very depressing undercurrent to the Venture family dynamic. Failure and squandered potential are recurring themes: Rusty Venture lives in the crumbling remains of his father's super-scientific compound, too squashed by bitterness and antisocial tendencies to even be a good father to his sons, let alone prove himself a worthy heir to the Venture legacy. Brock Sampson, super-capable secret agent and assassin, is little more than a glorified nanny, and his psychotic rages in defense of his family are all the more frightening since they stem from his frustration. The Monarch is a total failure as a supervillian, incapable of winning the respect of even the most pathetic of his minions. Never mind the fact that he can never capture or kill Rusty; Rusty Venture is barely even aware of who he is. No character in the show is happy, or has lived up to the potential they could have had. None of them are even well-adjusted enough to live normal lives. In a sense, "Venture Brothers" can kind of be thought of as a deconstruction of modern society. As a society we are no longer capable of building things; we can only get by in the shadow of giants. Perhaps in a decade or two, "Venture Brothers" will be seen as a brilliant work of satire. Today it just seems too relevant for comfort.

Robot Chicken

Here's another one that's almost too smart for its own good. Created by Seth Green, character actor and Geek Culture Demigod, it takes the premise of a sort of stop-motion sketch comedy show. Nearly every sketch is a parody or sendup of some great moment of pop culture: from Star Wars to anime to cult horror films. Green and his merry band of actors and writer pull a lot of tricks out of their bags and a lot of trivia out of their collective behinds to create the sketches. Normally they're done with actions figures, animated in stop-motion style, as they animate a sketch loosely based on the program the action figures. It's quite hard to describe; it really needs to be seen to be understood.

Again, there are moments of sheer brilliance in the show, as they twist a nacent concept into something new and self-reflexively funny. The greatest sketch I have ever seen involved an imagined phone conversation between Darth Vader and Palpatine shortly after the first Death Star exploded. The entire sequence plays out like a teenager telling his father he wrecked the car; it's nothing short of brilliant. "Just build another one?! With what money?! You have an ATM in that torso?!" Fantastic.

But again, there is an undercurrent of mean-spiritedness that runs through the show. I think this is a symptom of Geek culture. Geeks can be very vindictive people, you see. We take pleasure in making other people uncomfortable. Oftentimes a sketch will play that seems like it had its origin in a college dorm at about 2am. Something on par with Smurf reproductive cycles or Velma Dinkley's sexual orientation. And sometimes that's just not what you want to see. Precious childhood memories shattered and all. Did we really need to see the Voltron lions humping? Not really. Did we need to see a farting contest between Skeletor and Cobra Commander? I certainly didn't. But I guess it looked funny on paper.

Whatever the reason, it's certainly weird and funny enough late at night, when you're in the right mindset to enjoy it. Which, I guess, is the whole point.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Gimme That Old Time Religion...

My personal religious views are...complex. I consider myself an Old-School Christian. And when I say "old school," I mean, like, 15th century or so. I mean my thoughts on the subject have less in common with modern-day religious scholars than they do with the Christian Humanists of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Erasmus of Rotterdam. Sir Thomas More. Thomas Aquinas. Martin Luther (yes, Martin Luther, poor guy; all he tried to start was a little discourse). There's something about these guys that appeals to me; these were all intelligent, literate, scholary men, who were also devout Christians and, in some cases, clergymen themselves. Nowadays we tend to see these things as somewhat mutually exclusive, and often at odds with one another: science vs faith, intellect vs intuition, reason vs emotion, etc. But somehow back then they weren't. Somehow back then a man could be both godly and worldly. You could be a devout Christian and still have issues with how God ran things. It might have been a sign of the times.

The Middle Ages were an interesting time in Europe. Life wasn't pleasant back then. There was disease and poverty and dozens of tiny wars between decadent nobility, but there was something else too. There was a notion of "Christendom," the idea that all Christians were part of something bigger, and something good. The Pope had little temporal power, but when he issued a decree, for the most part every ruler in Western Europe followed it. Papal Bulls were a sort of international law back then; knights could kill each other all they wanted six days of the week, but if the Pope said "no jousting on Sunday," there was no jousting on Sunday. Monasteries were centers of learning, where books were preserved and copied - not the least because clergy were often the only people around who could read. And Latin, as the language of mass, was the only language spoken in every country, and so became the international language of diplomacy, law, and scholarship. There was an infrastructure in place that bound all Christian nations together, in a loose ideological federation, created by the idea that God did have a kingdom on Earth, and everyone was part of it.

(Of course it goes without saying that if you WEREN'T Christian, things were not so great for you. I know. It wasn't perfect. Let continue on toward my point...)

So with this notion of community came all the thinkers, with ideas on how to improve the community, how to keep the community healthy. That's where the Christian Humanists came in. Trying to expand upon the precepts in the Bible, interpreting them for a new age without losing their basic signifiance. Trying to reconcile seemingly illogical concepts of Christian faith through Classical methods of logical argument. Their efforts are fascinating reads, deep meditations on the human condition and the natures of sin and virtue. And when Europe went through the Renaissance, things really started to get interesting. That's when the BIG questions started to get asked. That's when many religious scholars began to question as to whether or not the earthly leaders of the Church were actually doing the right things. And for the most part, this discourse was tolerated. Intellectual discussion of the relevance of rituals, of abuses of power, of the role of Free Will in Man's life, were commonplace in many Christian countries, and in fact can be looked at as a sign of a healthy community. Dissent with the Pope was at least tolerated, if not given validity. It was until Martin Luther nailed his Theses to a door that things started to go downhill.

And things have pretty much gone all the way down since then, I think. As much as I love the Modern Age, with its flush toilets and its assurances that the cold I'm fighting off won't develop into pneumonia and kill me by the end of the week, something precious is missing. Intellectual religious discourse. How often do Christian leaders actually discuss things nowadays? These days there's the unfortunate conception that intellecualism has no place in religion - and even more unfortunately, many religious traditions encourage this conception. The modern Roman Catholic Church with its cold authoritarian edicts that arise from a worldview almost comically out of touch with the modern age - and that would be funny if they didn't cause so much genuine damage. Protestants aren't much better. We have the Fundamentalists, with their almost proud and gleeful rejection of rational thought, in favor of a small-minded reading of sacred text. There's something almost pathetic in a Fundamentalist's groveling before God, looking on high for everything, afraid to think or do for themselves. They would be pitable if they weren't so dangerously fanatical, so terrified of things beyond their narrow field of vision that they are moved to violently stomping them out. On the other end of the spectrum we have moderate denominations like the Unitarians and the Episcopals, who truly do mean well, and preach an admirable message of tolerance and emotional support to those who seek stability in this big scary world. But the flaw remains in all cases: organized religion has been reduced to an emotional crutch. Christendom, once a unifying and positive force in the world, is now a shelter for those who find the world too complex to deal with. The kingdom of God on Earth has been reduced to a disaster relief agency - and an outdated, inefficent one at that.

It wasn't always this way. And I believe it can be again. But there needs to be discourse. Intellectualism needs to find its way back into religion. Debate needs to happen. Dissent needs to be honored. New ideas need to be considered. There needs to be a new Christendom, a new community of Christians, if Christianity is to survive at all. The Keys to Kingdom are in the hands of the barbarians; the enlightened need to take them back.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

REVIEW: Adult Swim, Part the First

I have bouts of insomnia. They come and go. And when I can't sleep, I flip on the Tube. So Adult Swim has sort of been an off-again on-again relationship for years. There's something about the strange mean-spirited animated chaos that lends itself well to being in a semiconscious state. And while for the longest time the shows on Adult Swim have just not appealed to me, of late they've gotten much better. And while I work through my current insomniac attack, here are a few of my thoughts:


In general, I prefer Punk to Metal. To me, Metal evokes a carefully-crafted fantasy, while Punk evokes an ugly truth - and I'll take truth over illusion any day. So I probably find Metalocalypse entertaining on a completely different level than most of its audience. The show chronicles the life and times of the fictional Death Metal band Dethklok, the "most powerful cultural force in the history of the world." The band is ridiculously popular, with a worldwide ravening fanbase and an income that dwarfs the GNP of many small countries. So popular has this band become, that is has attracted the attention of some shadowy Illuminati-like organization of military and religious leaders, who have plans of their own and fear that Dethklok's power may interfere with them.

The sheer LUDRICOUSNESS of the premise is what I like about it. Dethklok basically lives the Metal fantasy: they live in some castle somewhere, and they have an army of executioner-hooded thugs who do their bidding. They have so much money that they can rent a nuclear submarine - to record their new album at the bottom of the sea, "the heaviest place on earth" - and seem to be able to kill people and cause mass destruction with impunity. As a result the show is often unspeakably violent, with death and mayhem so completely over the top that it cannot possibly be taken seriously. It's the excess of the rock-n-roll lifestyle taken to its grandest possible extreme, and it's played with a total straight face. The members of Dethklok are strangely clueless of anything beyond the band, sequestered from the consequences of their actions by their army of handlers and their astronomical amounts of cash. They maintain a strange Clockwork Orange-like innocence, living in their violent fantasy worlds with no real inkling of how to relate with reality - and it's when they are forced to deal with reality that the comedy really starts. The first episode of the show revolves around Dethklok being obliged to make their own dinner - "like regular jackoffs do," in the words of Nathan Explosion, Dethklok frontman and Glen Danzig lookalike - after their personal gourmet chef dies in a freak helicopter accident. Wackiness ensues as they hit the supermarket, and are forced to deal with things like price checks and whether or not beer counts as food. Another episode involves their efforts to "stay fresh" and try to go in a different artistic direction after the enormous success of their most recent album. In a curious stroke of genius, Nathan Explosion deduces that the opposite of tragedy is comedy - or rather, "COOOOMEDYYYYYY!" Nathan tends to yell a lot - and turns the band into a comedy troupe, with himself as the worst prop comic in history (and if you know your prop comedy, that's saying a LOT). Wackiness ensues yet again, culiminating in a comedy routine so abusive toward its audience that Gallagher himself would be impressed.

The show gets a lot of validity, because we are often treated to some of Dethklok's music, which is a pretty good approximation of real Death Metal: lightning-fast guitar licks, dark violent imagery, and incomprehensible vocals delivered by voice actor Brendon Smalls in what is a suprisingly good Death Grunt. Who knew he could get his voice that low? He's come a long way from [b]Home Movies[/b]. Further, the show's creators have managed to snag voice cameos from many real-life Metal artists, including King Diamond, several members of Nevermore, and Kirk Hammet and James Hetfield of Metallica (presumably Lars Ulrich is too much of a joyless bastard to join in the fun). I just enjoy watching the ridiculousness of the illusion being built and torn down: Dethklok are treated like gods by their legions of fans, but they do nothing to earn or deserve that acclaim (in fact they wrote a song about how much they hate their fans; it went quintuple platinum). Dethklok fans are portrayed as so hopelessly devoted to their band that mass suicides happened when their new album was delayed. The show is a strange blend of satire of the Metal subculture and light-hearted valentine to it. There's something very desconstructionist about it. Needless to say, I love it.

12 Ounce Mouse

Adult Swim is notorious for giving us 11-minute cartoons that make little or no sense. 12 Ounce Mouse perhaps makes the least amount sense of any show ever made in the history of animation. It's certainly the most crudely drawn (intentionally). And for a reason I can't fully articulate, I find it addicting. The show is INSANE. It defies simple description. It features simplistic doodles maiming and killing each other and talking in head-explodingly circuitous arguments. I have NO BLOODY IDEA what this show is supposed to be about. And yet I can't stop watching.

12 Ounce Mouse is obstensibly the story of Fitz aka Mouse aka Mouse Fitzgerald, a nihilistic alcoholic mouse, and Skillet, his pet Dog-Squirrel-Chinchilla...thing. They wander around an unamed badly-drawn city, doing crimes and odd jobs and drinking lots of beer. Mouse's misadventures often bring him into contact with a cast of bizarre characters, including Shark, some sort of vaguely-defined organized crime figure, Roostre, a one-handed burnout who runs a corn-dog farm (don't think about it too hard; you'll only hurt yourself); and a stoner circus peanut. Over the course of his adventures, Mouse has flashbacks to another life he may or may not have had, and between drunken gunfights he tries to figure out what's really going on.

The most addicting thing about the show is that, despite the "doodling while high" feel of the show, there is clearly some kind of long story arc in place. Like the best Adult Swim programs, 12 Ounce Mouse is much smarter than it looks on the surface. There is some kind of intricate conspiracy directing the actions of the characters, which Shark may or may not have a hand - er, fin in. Tantalizing clues are dropped here and there, like pieces of a puzzle that was Mouse's life before he became the apparent pawn in some dark figure's game. Watching the show is kind of like unraveling a Conspiracy Theorist's thoughts, using crayons. Show creator Matt Malleiro clearly is a deeper thinker than at first glance, and the fact that the show consists of amateurish doodles just lends to the off-kilter feel of the whole thing. Given the resources Williams Street has at its disposal, the show could be rendered a lot better than it actually is. But it isn't. It doesn't need to be. In fact, to render it better would rob it of some of its originality. It certainly has some guts to be so badly-drawn and so smart at the same time.

At any rate, it certainly lends itself to being watched in another state of mind. Like being high. Or sleep-deprived. Must be why I love it so.

More to come later...

The Gates Open...

Good morning to you all, and welcome to the Suburbs of Hell.

If you've found your way here, I can assume a few things about you. I can assume you are an intelligent and creative person, who enjoys thinking for yourself. I can assume you reject dogma on general principle, because blind obedience to arbitrary laws squelches human potential. And because of these feelings, you, like me, have been...not exactly damned. More like darned. Darned to Heck, as it were. Because we're just not evil enough to be of any real use to Hell Proper. So, rejected by both Heaven and Hell, we just kick around the outer rim.

Things aren't so bad here. The scenery is pleasant, if not a little harsh. The smell of brimstone is cut by the big pine trees out back. The screams of the damned don't really travel that far. And of course, the company is good and true. You'll never tire of good conversation; free-thinkers of all kinds have wound up here, and we take comfort the fact that we're all in this together. Our one punishment is that vague unease, that sense of ennui, that comes from living in the 'burbs. But we each deal with that in our own ways.

I deal with it thus. With this brand new blog, wherein I shall share my opinions on just about everything. Nominally, this is a place where I will discuss and review things like films and TV shows, books, albums, and so forth. I hope to make this a regular thing, updated at least once a week (I do have a life beyond the blog, you see). And I hope that you will check in regularly and let me know what you think.

So, again, Welcome. Make yourself at home, and don't despair. You've always got a friend in Hell.