Saturday, October 29, 2005

that skynyrd comp I was talking about

title: Radio Free Skynyrd

Workin' for MCA
The Ballad of Curtis Loew
Things Goin' On
Four Walls of Raiford
Poison Whiskey
Tuesday's Gone
Cry for the Bad Man
I Know A Little
You Got That Right
Am I Losin'
Made in the Shade
One More Time
Every Mother's Son
Don't Ask Me No Questions
I Never Dreamed
Roll Gypsy Roll
Call Me the Breeze

more thoughts on Earl

My good friend Jen brought up, in her comments on my recent entry entertainment thoughts, the question "don't you find the Earl show to be classist? I haven't figured this out yet - but the representation of poor white Americans is somewhat disturbing..."

I have to say, this gives me pause...but I haven't found anything in the show so far that either strays out of my personal experience or shoves a view that is outside of possible expectation. The main thing of which I'm reminded is the reaction from my Northern friends (who, aside from having pretty ugly versions of barbecue, are generally okay) to Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? They kept asking me if, as a southerner, I took offense to the southern stereotypes. I remain puzzled by that one, and, after further review, I have to admit to a certain amount of puzzlement over the Earl show comment...and, of course, this brings me to a whole deeper issue, that of context.

My father grew up in what could most likely generously be called working class situations. Although I have no real details, I always got the impression that his mother's first marriage (to his father) was not particularly happy. I know for a fact that it was not particularly long, and at a time when marriages generally didn't break up and single motherhood was not really easy, she divorced him, so that says something. Her second marriage was happy but short, as the man had health problems. Somewhere in the non-married times, my grandmother sent my father to live with one of my great aunts and uncles. When he did live with Grandmother, I know she had to work several jobs.

(I suppose for fairness, I should include something about my Mom's upbringing...after all, she was the daughter of a small town British farmer. However, my mother, most likely as the result of her schooling, seemed to acquire a certain desire for that sophistication and civilized life that is uniquely British...and also a covert elevation of upperclass values as to that which all should aspire. So this is obviously important, but I just can't figure out how to articulate it just yet...)

When I was growing up, my dad was in the Air Force for most of the time (through 7th grade), so the perks of military life (living in exotic lands, on-base housing) kind of ameliorated any real level of class consiousness awareness (racial as well, but that's a different post). When he retired and we moved to Florida, he ran into ageism and couldn't get the kind of job for which he was clearly qualified. So, for a while, he worked at first as a security guard and then at a propane delivery company before eventually getting his Post Office job. But his retirement pay, and the career military mindset, kept us, for the most part, shielded from the spectre of working class culture.

School, however, could not. Friends could not. The working class neighborhoods where some friends lived, where fellow musicians lived, let us know that we were in a vastly different place than an Air Force base. When I started working at Little Caesar's Pizza (see the pizza of my dreams), that also exposed me to a whole new realm, class-wise, of society of which I had not seen.

In many ways, the Air Force base lifestyle was better. Identity seemed to be not as much of a factor as outside our enclave. We were all military, even if black, from a rich background, from another country. There were jerks, yes, but they were mostly just jerks because of their personality. Maybe I was just too young and naive to see it, but it seemed a zone where the only thing by which people would judge you was your rank, and you could always change that. But was this realistic? Reproduceable?

Civilian life was different. Upon entering high school, I found the whole status-as-related-to-what-kind-of-car-you-drive thing hilarious (of course, I drove beaters, but still...). Upon working in different neighborhoods and seeing how class could largely determine how much of a jerk you were, I started to formulate ideas. Upon gaining friends from a wide range of classes (some had doctors parents, some had pawn shop owner parents, some had grunt work parents), I started to question how each person's sense of and definition of reality was determined by this social class.

Somehow, I tended to gravitate towards the working class people. One friend told me and my brother, upon getting his own trailer, that his fondest desire was to live somewhere where he could open his door, go out to the woods, and burn something. I had some female friends in high school who assumed they would be working full time right out of high school, not due to any "women's lib" notion but to the reality that they would never be able to have a family without two incomes. I worked with people just turning 16 who knew they would have to punch a timeclock until they turned 65 at least. I can picture these people playing beer can tag or stealing roadside barriers for the recycling money.

Conclusions? The working class had better music; where would you rather go, Skynyrd or Yanni? They had better food, as a rule, with barbecue being example one...Tony Bourdain says that the best cuisines, including what is now thought of as Classical French, came about due to the necessity to use the nasty bits of animals left over from the rich.

They also had a distinctly different outlook on life. I don't really think they believed that they could drastically improve their situation. They didn't have the time or opportunities for the sustained education which might lift them...could you really gamble away four years of earning potential, especially if you were chancing large debt and still having the uncertainty of a better career? In many respects, they saw the power structure for what it was (crooked, biased, self-serving), but they didn't have the luxury of even considering reform.

Their main goal was surviving, and maybe getting an extra pocket of luxury by any means. They had long abandoned the illusion of some idyllic fifties utopia. Their quest for survival lead to different pleasures, different aspirations. I've kind of suspected that it was a post-apocalyptic life for most, and that sort of situation breeds that different outlook which must appear foriegn to those who have never experienced it.

So, that's how I see My Name is Earl. Moreover (and definitely more importantly), I think I'm willing to see that whenever identity is the subject. When one views society from a middle or upper class perspective, it gets easy to forget the true impact that life can have on someone. If you are in a post-apocalyptic world, your logic is formed by your basic realities, not the basic realities of outside observers, no matter how open-minded they are. And yes, you may act weird, even after having the eureka moment of enlightenment, be it a windfall, karma, or anything else...but it's only weird from a perspective informed by a different rule of logic.

Although my parents did their best to shield me from that poor/working class life (are they really that different?), I got enough exposure to understand and adopt the thought process. Maybe it's the thing that makes me stand out in department meetings or in seminars (I learned long ago that it never really was the hair or the fashion choices that made me different). It's what accounts for my unconventional approach to handling students, my unconventional approach to my scholarship, and my unconventional approach to my musings (which surely you've noticed by now...).

Sometimes, that weirdness is a better approach to life. Or maybe there are more factors I haven't considered: how, for instance, is all of the above informed by the fact that we were White? Southern? Living in the eighties and beyond?

So, is this all a classist outlook? My gut's telling me no, but it is definitely an issue for further pondering. And maybe, it's not the depiction of poor white culture in the show that is the problem, but the accuracy of that depiction is what should give us pause.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

more links

Apparently, I'm now a part of the bloggosphere. We have more links to the right. Frightening. I'm happy to have everyone, glad people seem to like reading this, but I am a little puzzled. I didn't think there were that many people who both knew me and liked me....who would've figured? Be on the watch for the occasional pressure-filled freakout, now that there's an audience.

So, welcome simmeringhatred, Mrs. Davis, and Cassandra. Glad you're here. Be nice to me...

entertainment thoughts--television

(continuing my series, which last looked at current music in the Mike rotation...)

Over the summer, I decided to celebrate landing a full time job by treating myself and my lovely wife to TiVo. I have absolutely no regrets. TiVo is simply the greatest invention in the history of entertainment. Television now works for me. It will record shows automatically. I never have to delay my extraordinarily busy social calendar because the one decent show is on. My fans and admirers can have access to me at any time, and I can still be entertained...which is how it should be, isn't it?

(Okay, the only regret is that I really need DirecTV to go with it, then you might as well get HBO so you can record films, then why not get a DVD recorder, so you can archive your more important shows? Then you need to buy blanks, then you need to schedule time to burn those get the idea)

There's still not a whole lot on television, but now we can get everything there is that is worthwhile. I've become a regular consumer of shows other than sports or brainless entertainment (ie, cooking shows). So, my insights:

The original only. I've written about this show before , but I've gained a new appreciation. All the characters on the show are wierdos or freaks, which is nice to see. It took me a while to get into the whole art/avante garde look of heavy blood and grossness presented as a part of normal life. And while the story lines are 90% cheddar still, they do pull out the occasional doozy...the murder in the S/M parlor episode or the delusional/insane former model turned homeless episodes were astounding, as were the segments which dealt with Grissom's hearing loss. I've become pretty fascinated with the Grissom character, and it gets good whenever they either acknowledge or play with his quirks. Plus last season's Tarantino-directed finale was probably CSI's and maybe even Tarantino's best work.

Also written very briefly about this one. I had fears that they would take a pretty decent first season (with occasional brilliant episodes, such as the Emmy-winning "Three Stories") and turn the whole thing into a soap opera. The episodes of season two which have aired to this point have been nothing short of astonishing. Their race episode was one of the more astute takes on ethnicity from a major network. The episode about the girl with cancer is playing a huge role in a proposed paper entitled "My Brain is My Superpower"...more details about that one if it gets accepted.

My Name is Earl
The only new show I can get behind 100%. For those of you unfamiliar, the concept is that Earl (Jason Lee) is a small-time crook who, after winning the lottery and immediately getting hit by a car, decides that his life sucks. He sees Carson Daly on tv in the hospital talking about karma and decides to give it a try: he is going to make up for everything bad he's ever done in his life.

The show is witty and crisp, especially in terms of dialog. Jason Lee is amazing, and the writers never talk down either to the characters or to the audience. Everybody has multiple dimensions, which is a rarity in modern entertainment. Yes, Earl is not the brightest guy, but he is wildly is everyone else in the program. Stereotypes so far have been exploded as absurdist constructions. Plus, the show has had killer soundtracks...its use of Skynyrd caused me to go to iTunes and make my own compilation, and they actually played Montrose's "Rock Candy," one of the most underrated 70 rock songs.

American Chopper
Male bonding as aggression. Yelling as a sign of love. Complex family dynamics. Senseless destruction. Newly made celebrities who still appear to be true to their roots, class-wise and locale-wise.

Good Eats

Food meets science. Engaging the theory of cooking, rather than recipes or catch-phrase spouting, is what sets this show apart from other more boring cooking shows. Instead of learning about a dish, you learn about how the world of the kitchen operates. It's more an operational manual of cooking theory than anything else. Plus, the recurring characters (W, the incarcerated Cocoa Carl, Paul) and electric popular culture spoofs make this a fun show even if you care not a bit for cooking.

No Reservations
Tony Bourdain is a great personality...he's loud, abrasive, crude...yet surprisingly touching and sentimental. Unlike A Cook's Tour, this show gives him the time to stretch out that he has in his books. My only regret is that there are not enough new episodes.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

one final sex note

In my continuing effort to understand the commodification of sexuality in this country, we also stopped by a place called "The Women's Sexuality Resource Center." I guess it's a sign of something that a porn shop has to be a "resource center," but I haven't out exactly what it signifies.

When we got to the toys, we were informed that they were indeed demonstrators, and we could pick them up or try on the strap-ons...which I found a little unnerving, but I guess it is good customer service.

I told this to my friend Eric, and he told me that he heard the Seattle, WA, store Babes in Toyland used to let you take their demonstrators to the back room to long as you kept your underwear on.

This leads me to wonder what tehy do with the older demonstrators...could you buy them at a bargain rate, or would that be slumming it a bit too much?

meat raffles....a survey

One more thing about Bennetts...when we were there, we saw a flier for something they call a "meat raffle."

Naturally, we were curious, so we asked the waitress what in the heck a meat raffle was. Apparently, they raffle off various cuts of meat throughout the day. Fairly self-explanitory, I know.

So why haven't I heard of it? The waitress thought that meat raffles were quite common. She expressed shock that we didn't know anything about them. It led her to ask, "Are you from out of town?" Yes, my ignorance of meat raffles led to me being marked as a tourist.

Now, I can get the working class appeal. I don't, however, understand the pure regionality of the event. We don't have meat raffles down South, even in the working class bars. Never seen one around Ohio. I can only assume this is something you do in the places where it gets way too cold for rational thought, which, while I like Wisconsin and think it is one of the most beautiful places I've been, certainly is an apt description of their winter.

So, anyone ever heard of a meat raffle? Are they confined to certain areas of the country? To certain ethnic groups? Anyone ever enter? Win anything?

I do like the concept, however, and it is one more reason in a long list of why I would never be a vegetarian.

the compatability of sex and food

This past weekend was my fall break, so the wife and I got out of town. We travelled to Madison, WI, where my friend and ex-roomate Jack lives. I like and miss Jack a whole bunch...he's easily the best raconteur I've ever met. I need to talk him into documenting his stories...

Anyway, when this trip was in the planning stages, a friend of ours (an ex-Madisonite) told us of this bar called Bennetts. Apparently, on weekend mornings, Bennetts serves breakfast. Nothing unusual there, and indeed, the breakfasts do rate better than Dennys. However, they also broadcast hardcore pornography throughout the breakfast hours. They call it "Smut n' Eggs." Naturally, we had to go.

So, Sunday morning, we all piled into Jack's Jeep and went to Smut n' Eggs. There are two Bennetts locations, and we went to the one outside of downtown, on the philosophy that it would be less student-oriented.

I first spotted the bar by the Old Style sign visible from the road. Personally, I took this as a good omen, but I've been into working class swill beers for some time now. The bar was itself suitably working class...stuffed fish, beer mirrors, and other similar decorative items lined the walls.

And then there were the three screens of hardcore smut going. It was amazing how unsexual genetalia pounding together can be when taken out of its normal context. Of course, the three of us occasionally deconstructed the action, but very few of the other patrons seemed to be paying a tremendous amount of attention to the screens. There was a gentleman who came in with what looked to be a very used-up hooker, but the majority of the crowd was either slumming college students or working class guys there to eat. The sex seemed to be just there to provide a bit of a "bad boy" image to the proceedings.

The bar did its bit to play up the surroundings...the Bloody Marys were garnished with tampons, for example...but the staff mostly treated the whole thing with a sense of humor. I heard one of the waitresses comment that "I'd need implants and liposuction to look like that," but nothing unusual there. As unsexual as I saw it, they really must just be bored with the closeups and money shots.

I did buy a t-shirt, but I'm not sure if I have the guts to wear it to may be pushing a line which I don't really want to cross (and that does say quite a bit). I asked if they had their coffee mugs for sale, and I was told that while they couldn't sell me one, I was free to steal one. So I participated in sanctioned robbery. Is that immoral?

We came back to Bennetts Monday night, mostly because Jack had the burning desire to see what the bar looked like during non-pornographic hours. It was just another working class bar...a good one, the kind of place I would love to hang out, but thoroughly unremarkable. The only thing out the ordinary at all was the jukebox selections, which went from Ozzy, to Elvis, to Cher, to Johnny Cash.

Overall, I enjoyed the experience and would go makes a great intro into class discussion if nothing else. However, I don't think it is the perfect combination of food and sex, as the sex almost operated as an afterthought. The same thing happened when me and my brother stopped at Cafe Erotica for lunch on the way back from Atlanta...only there, the food was as unappealing as the skeletal dancers. While Smut n' Eggs was by far preferable, it still treated both the sex and the food as plebian items.

This is all a shame, because food and sex should definitely not be mutually exclusive. Quite to the contrary, good food can be very orgasmic if treated with respect. I've had a manchego cheese and applewood-smoked bacon gratin which made me weep. I cook a wild mushroom smothered steak which can make you melt. Both of these would go great with sex. But both the food and sex have to be something special...not necessarily snobby, but at least luxurious. If someone has done it yet, I hope someone tells me about it, because I want to go there.

Hmmm...maybe I've figured out what I need to do if the whole academic thing falls through.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

White Castle!

We found a White Castle in Toledo! There's apparently only one. It did make Lori suggest that we should do the White Castle stuffing for our next holiday outing. Every day I love her more and more...

the best way to study culture

Just ran across a web site which has 30 second versions of films
performed by animated bunnies...go to Angry Alien Productions and check it out. Their version of The Exorcist is something to behold, truly.