Review: Raining McCain

In her 1964 essay–if one can call an enumerated list an essay–“Notes on ‘Camp,'” Susan Sontag delineated what she called the Camp style. Though nearly every example she gives is obscure to me, the essential traits of camp are clear: it’s exaggerated, it’s methods overwhelm its message, and it thereby becomes a parody of itself.

Raining McCain” (playable at right), is the most delightfully bad music video I’ve seen recently. And is the quintessences of camp.

Taking off on the idea of the the Obama Girl, who herself played with elements of camp, “the McCain Girls” have created a video so campy as to be perceived as parody or satire. I’m rather confident that it was neither, and in that lies it’s brilliance.

The video laden with elements that seem too comical to be true. The effects, especially call out for attention. Of the three McCain girls, the left-most is notable primarily for her outfit. Making the mistake of wearing colors too similar to the green screen on which the after-effects were laid, she regularly and unintentionally fades into and out of the background.

Other special effects are so silly as to require attention. At one point, the disembodied head of Senator McCain bounces around the screen behind the singing girls. At another point, while full-bodied McCains are falling from the sky, the lead singer takes the opportunity to douse her face in her favorite presidential candidate.

The singing too, of a rewritten version of “It’s Raining Men,” is problematic. Not only are the girls not given the benefit of the technology used by professional singers to improve harmonizing, but there are also notable times when they seem to forget the words. The effect is damning in a video that already feels campy.

All of these reasonable mistakes combine to create a video more funny that serious. Whose message is largely lost in the over-wrought and flawed execution of the concept. And which has gotten ever-increasing attention for its flawed execution and not it’s political messages. Unsurprisingly, the commenter seem rather confused as to rather the videos serious or satire. That, then, is perhaps the state of camp today.

As Ms. Sontag said,

One must distinguish between naïve and deliberate Camp. Pure Camp is always naive. Camp which knows itself to be Camp (“camping”) is usually less satisfying.

The commenter’s mistake is made because in the last few decades fake camp has proliferated. One need only remember the recent Snakes on a Plane or the older True Lies to understand the proliferation of intentional camp.

But these are, indeed, less satisfying. Something that sets out to be “campy” is automatically cursed by its self-awareness. It comes across in the reception, which even for the relatively well-executed True Lies was mixed.

This is what makes “Raining McCain” so interesting. In an era where we’ve forgotten what it’s like to be genuine, serious, and deeply flawed, here come three woman to show us the glory of truly naïve camp. I, for one, am very grateful for them.


Twinkle, Twinkle, E-F-G

Something a little–OK, almost completely–different today. I just wanted to do something before I come back for 5-a-week.

This is a little song I came up with a few months ago. I decided that it’s a good present for the start of the new year.

About the song… it’s (hopefully) not news to anyone who grew up speaking English that the songs “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and the alphabet (or A-B-C) song have the same melody. Stranded with nothing better to do, I decided to combine the two into the amazing song you see below.

Twinkle, twinkle, E-F-G

How I wonder LMNOP

Up above the T-U-V

W-X-Y in the sky

Now I know my little star

Next time won’t you what you are.

Obviously there are many ways you could change and improve the song, but this is the version I came up with. I liked it the straight-forward structure, even though its grammar a little off.

I hope 2008 will be good to you.

american society, ruminations

Learning How To PBS

Though I believe everything I say in this, I do recognize that the whole thing feels slightly absurd. I decided to keep it that way, either because I have or because I lack good judgment. Which of those two it is, I’m not sure.

Fewer Americans know how to PBS than would like to admit it. This is neither unexpected nor a serious problem. I know it took me a while, and a series of happy accidents, to learn how. But I’m glad I did.
PBS logo
If you were wondering, “to PBS” hasn’t been included in any dictionary to date, but it’s an idea whose time has come. Since I believe I made up this verb, I have the power to offer some synonyms, variously we could have “to NPR,” “to watch documentaries,” and sometimes even “to read.”

As the synonyms suggest, PBSing is not really about the network itself. But to PBS properly one must possess the will, determination, time, or attention span to do it. Preferably you’ll have all four, because it’s not always easy to sit down and watch a program that may not be terribly entertaining but which will almost certainly teach you something.

This week and last, PBS aired the latest Ken Burns epic, The War. The program, roughly 15 hours about American’s involvement in World War Two, takes no small measure of discipline to get through. But if one does, they’ll come away with a deeper understanding of the United States’s involvement in the war, and quite possibly more understanding of this country itself.

Some think that PBSing is a matter of character. That the world’s really made out two types of people, those that PBS and those that have better things to do. I think if such a dichotomy exists, however, its between those who see a reason to PBS and those who haven’t learned why anyone would.

Those who PBS (this includes listening to NPR and other such synonyms) often do it because they want to know something. Whether you’re four and want to know the letter of the day or 40 and want to know what’s going on in the world, you PBS because few other venues are able to convey so much useful information so clearly. Other sources tend to convey less, or do so less thoroughly–though they are often easier to watch.

Speaking of more-fun less-informational sources, I would also offer the word “PBS-lite,” this is for people who would like to PBS, but don’t recognize the difference between PBS and PBS-lite–or perhaps they cannot muster the strength to PBS. PBS-liting includes activities like watching Keith Olbermann or Michael Moore’s “documentaries,” or listening to talk radio.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with PBS-liting, it’s just often different than PBSing. It’s also a lot easier to swallow PBS-lite than PBS. After all, most versions of PBS-lite or either more controversial or funnier, and thus more entertaining than PBS.

I learned to PBS–for the second time, Sesame Street’s different–after seeing Charlie Rose interview Martin Scorsese–I had no idea who Charlie Rose was at the time. Then I was shown a Frontline episode about advertising. Then someone suggested that The NewsHour was the best news broadcast around. Then I was more or less able and willing to PBS regularly.

But PBSing is hard. If I had to choose between PBSing and not, I’d mostly choose not. But that I know I can PBS makes me more willing to do it. And I always know that I’ll learn something worth knowing. Whether or not “PBSing” is a good verb, I’m pretty sure it makes good use of my TV-watching time.

fiction, personal

Banks, Money, etc.

“Hello,” said the piggy bank I’ve had since I was two. He was sitting in a box on the floor.

“Yes?” I asked, slightly irritated.

“We don’t really see much of each other anymore. I was just wondering why.”

“Well, it’s because I don’t need you anymore. I keep my money elsewhere. And besides, you look silly. I’m not six anymore.”

“I look silly? Silly? You think I chose to look like this?!”

“Hey, I’m sorry.” It was my best attempt at caring.

“And I can still hold money. I can.”

“You’re right, you can,” I said, unswayed.
My piggy bank
“You know, that’s not all I ever was…”

“Go on.”

“Remember when you were in the third grade? You wanted nothing more than that Super Soaker 100. Every week, you’d tear me open and count all the money I held.”

“What are you saying?”

“Just that it’s not all about keeping money. I used to hold your aspirations too. And perhaps I’m being presumptuous, but I think I should do it again.”

I could only stare at him.

“You need a place to keep your dreams,” he said. “And I know that Wells Fargo doesn’t have an account for that.”


“Just think about it,” he said.

I set my piggy bank over the fireplace.

personal, ruminations

On Writer’s Block, Procrastination, and a Solution

Writer’s block is a funny thing. When you don’t have it, you tend to wonder what everyone is so upset about. When you do have it you wonder how you ever managed to write anything.

There are certainly a number of possible causes for the disease. The most likely, if you want my opinion, is that it is caused by lack of confidence. Doubt about the quality of the writing you will manage to tap out, doubt about the quality of the writing you have managed to tap out, and doubt that you will ever manage to tap anything out again.

For me, this seems to be the cause. When I know I have a strong topic to write about, I’m often eager to do the work to put out a solid piece of writing. The issue comes with the fact that this is not so easy as I might like it to be.

Sometimes I’ll worry that what I thought was a great idea yesterday really isn’t so today. Sometimes I’ll worry that I won’t be able to do justice to this great idea. Sometimes I just can’t seem to make a single sentence that seems coherent when read.

I can’t escape the feeling that writer’s block is a natural part of the process. I doubt that you could find a person in the world who hasn’t at one time or another suffered from writer’s block, or it’s good friend procrastination.

For me, and many others as well, procrastination is engendered by fear that what will actually be produced won’t be worth the time that has been spent on it. For that reason, I tend to hold off as long as possible–that way any perceived lack of quality can be justified by an artificial lack of time.

Few things cure either writer’s block or procrastination better than deadlines. The trouble is, they have to be substantial and useful deadline. They have to be deadlines that you as the procrastinator actually are concerned by. An artificial deadline that you create, one that you know to be artificial will never work.

What’s needed is a deadline enforcement system. A service that will hold you to your deadlines. When you fail them you will begin losing things that are valuable to you. Maybe they could begin to drain your savings account. Maybe that could rough you up. Maybe they could just be really disappointed in you.

I don’t know why such a service doesn’t exist. Perhaps I’ll make it.The trouble is I have to create it. Creating an anti-procrastination service without an anti-procrastination service? This may be the most difficult test a procrastinator could ever undertake.

big ideas, personal, USA

Happy Wednesday!

Holidays should never be recognized by anything but the day of the week on which they fall. This way, we give the day no credence beyond it’s own merit as a day of the week.

We can know that today is supposed to be Independence Day, which of late has come to mean little more than grilling, fireworks and alcohol. But we cannot tell others that we know this fact. We can only tell them that this is a good Wednesday.

They will think we are odd for telling them this. But we will know that some Wednesdays are good. And some Wednesdays are bad. Some Wednesdays are just average. Wednesdays tend to vary in this manner. There is no way to impose order on our Wednesdays.

Sometimes the Wednesdays that others think are truly special turn out not to be. Sometimes Wednesdays that no one else thinks are special really are.

We tell them “Happy Wednesday!” because we know this is true.

They laugh at us because they have forgotten this truth.


Five Frequently Forgotten Facts about Pirates

Everyday, pirates seem to be getting more and more popular. I think this is absurd. Here are the five most important things we should not forget about pirates.

  1. Johnny Depp is not a pirate, pirates are not Johnny Depp. All this nonsense about good looking pirates has to stop. Pirates were probably some of the ugliest people on earth. Let’s not forget that Vikings were essentially pirates, and no one thinks they’re terribly attractive. And in a related point…
  2. Pirates STINK. Think about it, not only are they probably ugly, but you can have little doubt that they smelled bad. Sure everyone smelled bad, but pirates wouldn’t even shower if they had the chance. They think they’re too good for something like that. Plus you can be certain that no pirate ship ever made had a hot shower on it, and that’s no fun for anyone.
  3. The Pirates make a terrible baseball team. Even if you live in Pittsburgh, you know this is true. Pirates play baseball about as well as Rockies or Royals, whatever those are. And simply put, being bad at baseball is not only un-American, it’s unattractive.
  4. A pirate would kill you for a bottle of rum, or vodka, or probably even Schnapps. And that’s just bad news. Who wants to sit down to unwind with a bottle of their favorite liquor and find themselves dead and without any booze. One or the other might be okay, but if you’re dead you’d probably really want a drink.
  5. Less awesome than a unicorn, less strong than a T. Rex. Let’s be honest. Pirates are just senseless. Unlike ninjas which are both awesome and deceptively fast to make up for their lack of strength, pirates have nothing. They are not awesome, they’re mostly just silly. And they’re not going to defeat anyone in any kind of battle. I mean the three musketeers have better fighting skills than pirates. And they’re French.
big ideas

Impressions in the carpet

About a week ago, I moved some furniture around the house. And it left those impressions in the carpet. Some of them are still there as I write this today. And it makes me wonder what those impressions mean to the carpet.

Are they a way for it to remember its past? But they last only as long as the carpet wants to remember. Maybe the carpet has chosen to only remember its past for so long. With time it comes to adjust itself to the new reality. It only keeps them around long enough for it to get used to the new reality. After that it’s ready to move on. It has no need for remembering anyway.

Maybe they’re the carpet’s passive aggression coming forward. Maybe the carpet feels a need to remind me of the way that I used to make it suffer. It’s not really one to complain while it is suffering, but afterward it just will not let you forget that it has been suffering under the weight of your furniture for an extended period of time.

Do you think that the carpet is just rolling with the punches? That it’s not actually very attached to remembering the old reality, or making you feel guilty for it, it’s just sitting there. Those impressions don’t mean anything to it. It’s just worried about staying in the present, so that’s what it will do.

There are certainly reasons to believe that the latter is not only true, but grows to be more so with each passing day. As anyone who’s kept carpet around for some time will tell you, as it ages, it keeps those impressions for less and less time.

Maybe the carpet is, when young, too attached to its past. It wants to remember, feels the need to remember, all that it’s seen, all that’s been around it. But that with time it begins to realize that its far more important to just adjust. To be present, first and foremost. The past only matters to the extent that it changes the present.

That maybe, we should be less attached to all things. Including the impressions in the carpet. The meaning and actions of others in our lives.


Five Reasons that Unicorns are Better than Penguins

UvPPenguins have been getting a lot of press lately. At least 300 movies about penguins to have come out in the last year, of which Surf’s Up is only the most recent. But do you know how many movies unicorns got? That’s right. Not a single movie about unicorns has been released recently, and this is simply not right. So here they are, the five best reasons reasons to protest this injustice. Five reasons that unicorns are better than penguins.

  1. Penguins cannot fly, unicorns can. This is especially important because, as you may be aware, penguins are birds. This makes the point all too clear, while penguins are busy being deficient birds, unicorns are busy being awesome.
  2. Penguins waddle, unicorns run faster than anything else on the planet. Not only can unicorns totally fly way better than penguin, they also run way way faster. Like, incredibly. Unicorns are so fast that they make penguins look like rocks, stupid slow ugly rocks.
  3. Unicorns have a horn, penguins have flippers. Let’s say that a bar fight broke out, who would you rather have on your side, a unicorn or a penguin? That’s what I though. Not only can a unicorn poke the other guy in the eye, but then you can get a ride from him which would definitely be really cool and awesome and fast.
  4. Penguins lay eggs, unicorns just are. Penguin babies are little wimps. They come in eggs that their parents have to take care of and stuff. Even the daddy penguins. Lame. Unicorns just happen, wherever and whenever they want. If a unicorn wanted to, he could make a clone of himself and suddenly appear behind you. Pretty cool, huh?
  5. Unicorns have magic powers, penguins do not. Does anything more really need to be said?

On Dog Poop

I have a dog. His name is Lucky and he’s the size that strangers consistently say “what a cute puppy” when they see him. He’s at least seven people-years old. That’s 49 in dog years. To the extent that he understands the strangers, he doesn’t seem to care.

You may be thinking that this is the story of how that charming dog came to live with me. This is not that story. This is instead the story of dog poop.

I am, in this area, incredibly inconsiderate. Just ask anyone who’s walking through the park when they see a dog arch it’s back in that certain way that makes it clear that they couldn’t really be doing anything else but what they are. And then they’ll yell, “I hope you’re going to pick that up!”

To which I give the only reasonable response, nothing. And as they walk away, I do too. Without a bag of warm excrement in my hand.

I realize that leaving my dog’s turds in public is not appropriate. But sometimes I just can’t stoop down to pick it up. Especially when it looks like Lucky had a little too much to drink last night. Or especially when someone reminds me of my ‘responsibility.’

It’s not that I never pick up the dog poop. If the conditions are right, and a bag is close at hand, I’ll do it. But even then I can’t escape the feeling that it’s a rather silly thing to do.

There a number of reasons that picking up dog poop is absurd. For one, horses, whose poop is much larger and much more solid, are allowed to leave turds wherever they want. Their owners seem to feel no need to clean it up, even if it was lain in the middle of a perfectly good hiking or biking trail.

Further, dogs are, to my knowledge, the only animals that poop outside that we are required to clean up after. Surely inside-pooping cats get their poop cleaned up, as do gerbils, rabbits, and guinea pigs, but this is because they’re pooping in our homes.

The where and how of dog poop is much more like the where and how of squirrel or wild/feral rabbit poop. And it’s not as if dog poop is a danger to the environment. All they eat is grain and some rare meat proteins, nothing terribly foreign or worrisome. In fact, it probably makes pretty good fertilizer for all the foreign substances (like grass) that we plant everywhere.

So next time you’re walking your dog, and someone asks you if you’re going to pick that up, do the right thing. Say yes and walk away. Leave the excrement where it falls.