Why Are You Still With Him?

See, this is what I’m talking about.

There’s this documentary called Radio Bikini that came out in the 80s. It’s about an A-bomb test that the United States military pulled shortly after the end of World War II. They blew up a couple of atomic bombs over a bucolic tropical island called Bikini Atoll, and then sent a detachment of soldiers to play around in the irradiated blast zone. The purpose was, purportedly, to observe the effects of the bomb on the environment. The event was heavily advertised, and all the television networks reported on it like kids chattering about their great new toy. Sprinkled between the gung-ho patriotism are interviews with a displaced Bikini native, and one of the soldiers who was sent into the test site. It’s a disturbing true story of blatant, human hubris.

Here’s the movie, in case you’re curious about it.

I first saw Radio Bikini in 1993, in my high school Physics class. I still remember the shock of the conclusion, when the camera pulled back to reveal the effects that fallout had left on the poor veteran. I wasn’t mature enough to really appreciate the film, though, so I watched it again recently. It stung far worse than it did before. Out of curiosity, I looked for reviews about the film that might provide unique perspectives on the material.

That’s when I found this:


Oh dear. So much to talk about.

First off: all movies are emotionally manipulative, okay? If a movie doesn’t make you feel something, than it’s failed as a movie.

Second: There is original material here. The interviews. Was he trying to knock the film for using actual footage to make a point?

Third: The guy says he likes this documentary a lot, but then backpedals and says it’s only enjoyable for “hippies and leftists.” Right, because only left-wingers would appreciate a story about the dangers of nuclear weapons. How much of your spine must you be missing to say something like this? Is this man’s allegiance to his political party so overwhelming that he’s unable to recognize the basic human folly, and the cruelty in this film? Did he forget what species he belongs to? It’s always the same tired deflection: if it’s a movie about something stupid that our nation has done, it’s obviously a media/Hollyweird/libtard hit-job. This dude needs to untangle himself from the Reaganite circle-jerk and look at the world the way that a human being does.

Finally: the credential. By closing with “God Bless America,” the man reveals his brainwashing. He refuses to acknowledge that his precious America once misled its own citizens, condemning them to pain and disfigurement, and he buries his head in its bosom with complete forgiveness. I love my country too, but to dismiss an event like this and only show anger to the people who report it is insane. It’s like getting smacked around the kitchen by your lover, and then getting mad at your friend who calls the cops about it. Then it’s like refusing to press charges, running up and kissing the lover, and saying, “Don’t worry, I know you didn’t mean it.” What the fuck is wrong with people? What happened to self-respect and responsibility?

Governments are not God, okay? They are not infallible, and they do not deserve blind worship. They are institutions of humanity, and therefore must be flawed. Hell, the Bible is full of stories about flawed rulers. Why doesn’t anybody remember that? If this joker above actually cared about God at all, he’d understand this. Maybe then he’d recognize the awful things that were done to God’s creations in this film, and adjust his viewpoint a little bit.

Well the good news is that nothing like this could ever happen again. It’s not like the government is spying on us, right? Surely if some violation of our civil rights was going on, we wouldn’t blame the person who told us about it, would we? Or do we need another black eye before we stop defending our abusive boyfriend?


You Won’t See the Doctor Now

It’s some kind of miracle. The return of one beloved 90s Comedy Central series seemed unlikely enough, so two should leave us beatific. Unfortunately, the ravages of the road leave skids and scars too deep and dark to ignore. Still, it’s nice to reconnect with old friends, even if it’s impossible to make eye contact with them.


Back in 1995, the golden days of stand-up comedy, mellow fellow Jonathan Katz developed an unusual animated series about a put-upon psychologist who counseled comedians. In his off time, he joked with his barfly buddies, sparred with his bitchy receptionist, and slowly lost his grip on his underachieving son.

Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist was a work of introverted inspiration, with an easy spirit and a peculiar visual style. Called “Squigglevision,” this computer-drawn technique placed simple, colorful figures against grayscale backgrounds. The characters were presented in static poses, but with three or four slightly different images, so they seemed in a perpetual state of quivering tension. The look was so distinctive that the animation studio, Soup2Nuts, employed it in other series like Home Movies and Science Court as a sort of hallmark.

katz ben.gif

The audiobook website Audible has released a fifteener — a series of fifteen episodes of fifteen minutes each. I invented the word, shut up — of all-new Dr. Katz episodes. Many of the guest comedians are returning champions, such as Ray Romano, Dom Irrera, and Janeane Garofalo, but there are a few newcomers. Tom Papa and “Weird Al” Yankovic are the ones who caught my attention, since I share their individualist worldview, and I highly recommend their episodes.



As you probably guessed from the website that sells them (and the subtitle “Audio Files”), these are basically radio shows. No animation here. You’re meant to listen to these on the drive to work and imagine. They’re also relatively void of plot, and focus on the therapy sessions (read: comedy bits) of their guests. That’s a great loss, since the clever conversations between Katz and friends were the real heart of the original show.

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My absolute favorite scenes were the ones between Katz and his adult child Ben, voiced by Adult Swim superstar H. Jon Benjamin. These scenes were pure gold, as they presented a believable father/son relationship based on love and humor, but strained with the expectations of social responsibility.


Sadly, Ben plays only a minor role in The Audio Files, and he only seems to appear in phone conversations. Considering Benjamin’s busy voice-acting schedule, this might have been due to scheduling difficulties, but it’s disappointing nonetheless. What’s more, age has lied hard on the voices of both actors, and their weakened efforts are a little sad to listen to.

To cover for Ben, we get Erica Rhodes playing the estranged sister of snarky secretary Laura. We get scenes of the two gals reconnecting, but I find their babyish voices grating, and honestly, I prefer not knowing too much about Laura. Her efforts to keep our therapist hero at arm’s length was a major part of her character, and getting in close to her doesn’t feel right.

What’s more, the lack of visuals removes some of the humor of the show, as the animators accompanied the confessional anecdotes with funny imagery. They were especially effective with the jokes of Dom Irrera and Mitch Hedberg, and I miss it.

katz yogurt.jpeg

I realize that picking at this show isn’t quite fair. It’s a generous revival, and I’m grateful that it exists. I’m hoping it continues, so long as it draws its focus away from Laura and Erica, and back towards Ben and Katz. Their chemistry is a treasure, and it belongs in any spotlight it can find.

Winning! Internet Arguments

As many of you know, internet assholes are everywhere, and they exist in many different varieties. From the dopey douche-bro who can reach no higher than schoolyard insults, to the smug pseudo-intellectual who insists that scolding and belittling amounts to a “discussion,” you’ve got quite a motley crew out there, just waiting for the opportunity to feel superior to you. Once you let them in, there’s no escaping: you’re locked in an exhausting battle of wills that will only end when one of you gets bored. There’s no face-saving in a situation like this, and even though nobody cares but you and the person you’re dueling, odds are that you’ll end up feeling pretty bummed and strung out when it’s all over.

Well, folks, I have good news for you. I have solved this problem. Next time someone comes at you with cocky, smirking arrogance, wave them away with a tactic they can’t possibly get past: the Fortune Cookie Defense.

Yes, the Fortune Cookie Defense. It’s a surefire way to frustrate and annoy your opponent, while making you look transcendent and unflappable. Please observe the following example:

  • Random Asshole: What a mindless and vacuous comment.
  • Me: Your high-minded principles spell success.
  • Random Asshole: lol your videos are stupid and nobody likes you
  • Me: If you refuse to accept anything other than the best, you very often get it.
  • Random Asshole: btw is that you in your picture? ugly fuck
  • Me: Your shoes will make you happy today.
  • Random Asshole: wtf is that all you can say.
  • Me: People enjoy having you around. Appreciate this.
  • Random Asshole: whatever

No asshole can puncture your ego if you just read him his fortune. If he replies, just give him another one. Repeat until he stops. Acknowledging an asshole without really acknowledging him shuts him down very quickly. The beauty of the Fortune Cookie Defense is not only its impenetrability, but its effectiveness as a reversal move. It makes you into the troll, while turning your enemy into an increasingly ineffectual, yapping chihuahua. The angrier he gets, the stupider he looks. Your internet pride is invincible with the Fortune Cookie Defense, so get out there and start trolling, folks!

The “Culture War” Is Really Humans Vs. Culture

Make America Angry Again! It seems like everyday now, there’s some TV show or public event aimed at upsetting the president, followed by a Trump Tweet that fires everyone else up. Everywhere you look, you see angry racists, angry anti-fascists, angry feminists, angry football players, and angry celebrities screaming, waving their arms, and killing each other with cars over something Trump said or something Trump did.


Come on people. Look at this guy. Does he really deserve this level of validation?

Now, I realize that the issues that have Americans so enraged these days aren’t entirely the president’s fault. These are old fires being stoked, but we’re not going to douse by throwing tantrums or going out of one’s way to piss people off.


Yeah, I’m talking to you, interchangeable NFL protesters. Now, I don’t care about the National Anthem or all this disrespecting the flag one way or the other. To me, those as symbols, and I leave symbols to the same people that George Carlin does. The way I see it, you’re just exercising a right that this great country is based on. I’m proud to live in a place where you needn’t worry about getting lynched, stoned, or even fired for your actions. Whether I agree with you or not, however, I still think you could find a better venue to share your viewpoint.

Let’s be honest: Monday Night Football is not the place for you to speak your minds. In fact, you’re not hired to speak at all: you are modern-day gladiators, paid to beat the shit out of each other in an arena for the pacification of the public. That’s all you are, and that’s all anyone cares about. As for me, I don’t care one whit. If you want ruin your careers and damage the reputation of the company you work for, then go right ahead. Maybe it’ll get Americans to stop thinking about football and start thinking about real issues. I just think you’d do better to speak at a college, publish an essay, or even write a letter to the editor, for crying out loud. You’ll have a smaller audience than when you’re on your precious tee-vee, but at least you’ll know that the people you do reach will actually give a shit.

It’s the egotism that bothers me more than anything. What kind of self-absorbed douche gets on a soapbox in the middle of work? If some dude at my office decided to interrupt every workday with a political message, the rest of us would throw our staplers at him. And don’t give me that shit about free speech. The First Amendment only protects you legally. It doesn’t mean that your friends, family, employers, or sponsors will like what you have to say. There are consequences for saying the wrong thing, so suck it up, buttercup.


Then you’ve got the people who love to say that the president has emboldened racism and hate groups. Once again, I think those people are giving Trump a little too much credit. These organizations have existed, and will continue to exist, for years and years. You can’t blame Trump, a professional narcissist, for these violent rallies that are going on. Have we forgotten that the president works for the citizenry, and not the other way around? We hired him. Trump became president because we voted for him, not because he reached into his bag of racists and Russians and pulled them all out to vote. He is a reflection of us. Cruelty and ignorance are All-American home goodies, baked at three-hundred and fifty degrees for over two-hundred years.

Why do we keep blaming the president for all our problems anyway? He wields no real power. Sure, he puts his name on the bills, but his position only exists for one purpose: to provide “good feelin’s.”

Let’s be honest again: for all his impressive oratory skill, what did Barack Obama really change? I mean, really, as in the quality of our daily lives? Any changes in my life during his presidency were brought on by my own efforts. He certainly didn’t turn the country into some femi-homo-disarmed-Euro-paradise like conservatives feared. All he did was send warm, liberal fuzzies through the television while business, war, and politics went on as usual. In 2017, we just exchanged one talking head for another, one that says what the other side likes to hear. And still, nothing is changing. Do you have more money in your pocket than you did before Trump became president? Do you feel better protected from terrorists and scumbags? Is the nation a warmer, happier place than it was last year? Nah, but at least you have your alpha-male role model shouting down those pussy libtard snowflakes, and that’s all these people need.


Therein lies the trouble we face: mindless tribalism, or as the magazines are calling it, the “culture war.” People are trading their individuality for groupthink and entering into twisted crusades against each other. You can’t say it’s only happening on one side, either, or else you wouldn’t see the childish clashes we’re getting. Those militant morons out there chanting and whining don’t care about making life better for anyone, they just want to feel morally superior to those they disagree with, by shouting them down and belittling them. When they vote, they don’t consider which candidate will improve the nation, but the one that will run their enemies out on a rail and silence them for good.

Now here’s the truth: if that’s the way you think when you vote, then you’re admitting that you don’t want a president, you want a king. That makes you a defector from democracy, and a supporter of despotism. You are precisely what Benjamin Franklin warned us about, and precisely what the Revolutionary War was fought to tear us from. In a democracy, everyone gets to speak, and in a society as diverse as ours, a tug of war must exist in perpetuity.


So what’s the answer? I don’t know how to calm these nutballs we see on TV every night, but I do see the difference between them and the regular people that surround me in real life.

The fact is that regular people don’t get so worked up over these things. They’re too busy trying to survive. They have households to manage, families to raise, budgets to balance, jobs to attend to. They stay informed of policy and vote, but they don’t allow their identities to be so wrapped up in gang mentality that they want to kill the opposition. They are decent, reasonable folk who want to live in peace, not to create trouble where it needn’t exist.

It’s time we started taking responsibility for ourselves. We have to stop surrendering to the waves of manufactured consensus, and start owning up to our actions. Terence McKenna once said that “Culture is not your friend.” It aims to control you, to categorize you, to paint you as something you might not want to be. In fuming over the latest stupid tweet Trump made, you are playing straight into culture’s hands. Focus on your life, your reality, your people, your God. Consider how to improve your world practically, and don’t let anyone else, especially some nimrod on television, tell you how you should do it.

Not-So-Top Cartoons: Wreck-It Ralph

Something’s gone wrong in Videoland, and it’s not that Sarah Silverman found a way into it.


I don’t know what to make of Wreck-It Ralph, Disney’s 2012 niche-teaser about a video game villain who just wants to be liked, dammit. Is it a morality tale? Is it an action film? Or is it just empty-headed entertainment that’s about as satisfying as a Sugar Rush?


I’ll summarize it as best I can: there’s this arcade game called Fix-It Felix Jr., in which the player guides the friendly Felix up a building to stop the ape-like Wreck-It Ralph from busting up the place. It’s an obvious send-up of Donkey Kong, but this particular Kong is tired of getting tossed off a roof everyday. So, against the advice of his fellow bad guys, Ralph abandons his post and tries heroic deeds in other arcade games, so he can prove that he’s more than just a terrorizing thug.


Along the way, Ralph is tormented by the violence of modern games, the gooey pitfalls of a saccharine candy-land, and the specter of a former villain who “game-jumped:” the glory hog Turbo, who caused two games to go out of order.

Like Pixar’s Toy Story or the classic Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Wreck-It Ralph presents us with a strangely complex society, with many rules and expectations for its citizens. Like the toons and toys of cartoons past, Wreck-It Ralph’s video game characters exist to please and entertain humans. As such, any individual’s attempt to rise above his or her station is considered disruptive to the community, and is thus met with disapproval. The mantra of Ralph’s support group, Bad-Anon, is, “I’m bad, and that’s good. I’ll never be good, and that’s not bad. There’s no one I’d rather be than me.”


So the message of the film seems to be the stale old platitude of “be happy with whom you are,” but with the tacked-on amendment of, “so long as you remember your place.”

I take issue with this because, in the real world, criminals (or “bad guys”) who reform are to be commended. It takes real effort and work to improve oneself, to recognize the consequences of one’s actions, to learn empathy, to foster positivity. Even if the motivation is self-serving, i.e., to avoid prison or to save money or to raise a family, breaking away from a life of crime is indisputably a good thing, for both the group and the individual.

So is the constant urging for Ralph to stop his pipe dreams of heroism and just get back to breaking things really healthy?

Keep in mind that I only “take issue” with this. I’m not offended by it, and I understand that Ralph’s world has certain requirements in order to function, but the can of worms that this story opens isn’t, and cannot be, fully explored, and that’s frustrating. There are many perspectives and feelings to consider in a topic as complex as this, and a Disney cartoon just isn’t equipped to handle them all. You might say that Ralph’s writers were aiming to raise questions, to encourage its audiences to have lively discussions on the ride home from the theater. When a movie’s height of humor is a sassy little girl spewing doody jokes, however, I highly doubt that it has such lofty artistic goals.


Anyway, that’s my main beef with this film: the story feels slapped together to line up with its “Roger Rabbit in Videoland” premise. And really, that’s what Wreck-It Ralph is: an updated version of Robert Zemeckis’s masterpiece, only more niche. It references the Golden Age of Video Games, when kids actually played 8-bit games in arcades, it’s got cameos from faces such as Q-Bert, M. Bison, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Clyde, and its original characters are amalgamations of existing Disney fixtures, like Mickey Mouse and The Mad Hatter.


I actually like that last part. Fix-It Felix Jr., as played by Jack McBrayer, is basically a human Mickey Mouse. He may have been modeled after Mario, but his movements, attitude, and mannerisms are all Mickey’s. Imagine any one of his lines in Wayne Allwine’s voice and you’ll see it, I promise you. I find this idea of a postmodern update to the Mickey persona fascinating.


(spoiler warning)

Then there’s my favorite character, King Candy, who’s voiced by Ed Wynn…as impersonated by Alan Tudyk. Put a top hat on him and you’re back in Alice’s Wonderland. I actually think the King is more like Judge Doom, in that he’s an ancient, whispered evil in disguise, revealed by accident and assuming a monstrous form.


Turbo is, of course, a device meant to lead Ralph’s quest to a battle to save all of Videoland, but I guess that’s okay. The real antagonist of this film seems to be the insufferable weight of one’s peers, though I suppose that’s open to interpretation. There are things I like about this movie — the performances of John C. Reilly as Ralph and McBrayer as Felix, the occasionally irreverent tone, the fact that it has no songs — but the rest of Wreck-It Ralph is pretty forgettable. As with most Disney productions, it never goes too far in any direction, for fear of upsetting somebody. So instead we get fizzy, fuzzy harmlessness painted in sweets and sugars, to be ingested for a quick high before seeking out something more filling.

A post-script: yes, the animation is excellent, but that’s to be expected from Disney. Besides, computer-generated animation is so prevalent now, even in freaking live-action films, that its spectacle has become numbing. Had Disney been bold enough to depict Wreck-It Ralph in the pixel-art style of the games it was evoking, it might have earned a real high score from me.