William Loose – Mechanical Industrial Underscore

That’s the name! That’s the name of the production music I’ve been looking for. It’s the music used in the Ren & Stimpy episode Man’s Best Friend, when George Liquor orders his pets onto his couch, and scares the hell out of them.

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I’m thrilled to finally have a name, but now I can’t find the file.¬†Supposedly it’s the property of Capitol Records, but no one seems to have it.

I want this song. There has to be a way….

Top Cartoons: Gary Larson’s Tales From the Far Side

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Like its creator, Tales From the Far Side is a misunderstood creature. A lot of people just don’t get¬†Gary Larson, and I don’t think they got this show either.¬†It was one of just¬†two animated specials based on the popular comic strip, and the only one that aired in the United States. It’s a lovely bit of animation, but I think that director¬†Marv Newland, creator of the haunting Black Hula and¬†Bambi Meets Godzilla, pushed things a little too far into Halloween-Town for most audiences. His¬†vision is clear right from the beginning: the score is a cloud of gloomy¬†guitars and eerie er-hus.¬†The camera¬†glides past smoking farm animals and dead people before settling on a reanimated bovine. This queen of the night tells us with an piercing¬†bleat that she’s¬†bringing us somewhere that we might not like to go, and she doesn’t give a damn how we feel about¬†it.

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That Newland’s direction is matched with Gary Larson’s off-center perceptions¬†doesn’t aid the accessibility factor.¬†In keeping with the spirit of the strip, the show is a series of disconnected jokes, many of them conceptual, so if you never dug¬†The Far Side,¬†you’re not going to dig¬†this.¬†I once watched this show with a non-fan friend, and the loudest, angriest¬†question to come up was, “So what happened to the cow?” She was frustrated that the show had ditched¬†the Franken-cow from¬†the opening, and had never¬†come back to it. She didn’t understand that¬†The Far Side was never about the traditional, long-term payoff. Larson is foremost an idea man, and in his world, the punchline is in the premise.

We get some throwaway gags lifted straight from the funny pages, like a crow scraping its meal off the street with a spatula, but there are also more elaborate setups. My favorite is the insect airline, where the business class is packed with worker bees, and the in-flight movie is The Fly.

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There are also several “role-reversal” scenarios, not unlike¬†Paul Driessen’s¬†The Killing of an Egg,¬†in which arrogant humanity suffers for its transgressions against nature. Presented in the innocent¬†pictures of the comic, this dark theme was leavened. When bolstered by motion¬†and sound, however, it turns¬†downright devilish.

I think it’s terrific, but most critics of the day did not. They admired the slick presentation, but found the material¬†simple and one-note. I’m really not sure what they expected from a show based off a one-panel cartoon. I think Tales From the Far Side¬†is the perfect amplification of the comic strip.¬†Just watching Larson’s dumpy, bell-shaped characters take motion is a lot of fun. The animators clearly¬†had a great time with it: everything bounces and wobbles and wiggles in a delightful fashion that suits¬†the visual style. There’s very little¬†dialogue, which is odd considering that the comic could be quite wordy, but I think it¬†works. Too much speech would soften¬†the show’s concepts, and extract us¬†from the uncomfortable un-reality that we’re meant to be visiting.

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Some of the sequences could use a little trimming, and the finale is a big letdown, but I still think that¬†Tales From the Far Side is a marvel. Like¬†A Wish For Wings¬†That Work,¬†it’s a comic strip special whose material simply can’t cater to everyone, but that’s precisely¬†why I love it so.

Top Non-Cartoons: Innerspace

This may be a bit on-the-nose, what with¬†Innerspace being a Joe Dante film, starring Martin Short, and featuring a cameo by Chuck Jones. Still, I think it deserves recognition as a Non-Cartoon, if only because¬†we just don’t see a lot of movies that are this damn crazy anymore, and certainly not done this well.

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Innerspace came out in 1987, right around the time I was heavy into game-books like¬†Choose Your Own Adventure.¬†I had recently picked up¬†Explorer Destination: Brain at my school’s Book Fair and read it to tatters. I think I learned more about human biology from that silly little book than I did from any science class.

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Anyway, so jazzed was I about adventures in¬†human anatomy that Innerspace grabbed¬†me from its¬†first trailer. It¬†had informed me of the basic plot: a miniaturized pilot (Dennis Quaid) gets injected into the body of an everyman (Short), who seeks the aid of the pilot’s girlfriend (Meg Ryan) to get him out. It sounds like¬†a decent sci-fi setup, even if it’s one that’s been done before. One thing I’ve learned, however, is that when¬†you go into a Joe Dante picture, you never get quite what you expect.

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The film has all the elements of a sci-fi thriller, but they’re all¬†bent into weird angles. Short’s everyman, Jack, is a neurotic mess who has nightmares about grumpy ladies attacking him¬†at his cashier job. Quaid’s heroic pilot, Tuck, is a cocky drunk who¬†smacks¬†himself for a quick psych. When Tuck’s¬†miniaturization experiment is raided¬†by thieves, the lead scientist, Ozzy, escapes by zipping down¬†a highway on a ten-speed. He tries to vanish into the crowd at a mall, but one of the bad guys shoots him with a gun hidden in his prosthetic hand.¬†Ozzy saves Tuck by injecting him into Short’s ass-cheek, and then proceeds to bleed out while surrounded by¬†performers wearing animal costumes.

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As you can see, this movie’s on the edge of Goofytown, and it doesn’t stop at the outskirts. Tuck eventually makes contact with Jack in a series of hilarious and awkward scenes that leave Jack wondering if he’s been possessed. Jack meets Ryan’s character, Lydia, who’s not only Tuck’s girlfriend, but an investigative reporter looking into¬†the aforementioned tech thieves, and promptly falls in love with her. The two¬†work together to trap¬†a fence called The Cowboy (Robert Picardo), an Eastern European who’s about as far from a real cowboy as anyone can be. All the while, Jack has to avoid telling Lydia the truth about¬†Tuck, simply because Tuck’s embarrassed about being so tiny.

Things just keep building like this, taking turn after kooky turn, until Tuck is dueling a cyborg over an ocean of bubbling stomach acid, while Jack and Lydia fly down busy roads in an out-of-control car, battling arms dealers who are the size of children.

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Don’t ask me how it all works. I’m just not that smart. I’m sure the amazing special effects help. The visuals from inside Jack’s body are quite impressive, even by today’s standards. Tuck starts his journey in Jack’s buttocks (the fat cells are really just balloons), and¬†using the bloodstream like a highway, he visits some very real-looking eyes, inner ears, lungs, and heart valves. Using slow motion and clever sound effects, Dante makes the human body into a majestic and scary place.

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More important than the visuals, though, are the performances. Martin Short finds real ¬†sympathy¬†as Jack, even when he goes full screwball. Short can be grating in other films, but I think he’s palatable here because his overacting¬†seems appropriate¬†for the¬†extreme situations he’s put in. He’s also grounded by Tuck, a charming rogue who’s been forced into near-powerlessness. Quaid spends most of the movie scrunched¬†in¬†a blinky, buttony¬†computer console,¬†yet¬†he manages to project great energy. The¬†two actors share¬†nearly no screen time, but they somehow play off each other, with¬†powerful¬†and funny results. Innerspace pulls off many great¬†feats, but making us care about its leads, in the midst of its¬†insane plot, is by far its greatest one.

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There are so many crazy little details and characters that make Innerspace memorable that it’d do no good to try and list them all. The movie is a mural of silliness, painted corner-to-corner with colorful characters and wacky¬†moments. A lot of it is corny, but a lot of it is inspired, and there’s an¬†innocence¬†to its tone and aesthetic that’s missing from comedies today. The more I watch it, the more I lament that we may never see a movie quite like it again.

If Innerspace were to be animated, it’d have to be done by Madhouse, the Japanese studio that brought us the glorious¬†Stink Bomb. That cartoon was another tale of science gone wrong, and it¬†also featured a bit of a dope at its center, so the parallels are there. While I doubt that even their greatest wizards could channel¬†Dante’s sly directing style, I’m sure they could add a voltage to the film that would turn¬†it into something special.

It’d sure be tough to replace that face-changing scene, though. I think animating that part would only make it look worse!

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Top Non-Cartoons: 12 Monkeys

Today, I’d like to write about Non-Cartoons. I’m not sure that the term needs definition. Does it? What do you think?

Well, okay, I’ll do it anyway. A “non-cartoon” is a live-action film which, I feel, was made with the ambitious scope, and the careful physical attention, that I associate with¬†animated films. I’m not talking about superhero or Star Wars films, which are practically cartoons already, nor am I talking about dry, adolescent anime films, which would probably turn out¬†the same if they weren’t¬†animated. No, I’m talking about films that go broad: they’re grand in scope, and they deal with very huge characters. They’re extreme, they’re over the top, and yet¬†their live¬†actors somehow keep them from sailing off into space. They are weird, but they would not work if they weren’t.

In this venture, I feel I must start with 12 Monkeys, a film directed by Terry Gilliam: an animator.

Terry Gilliam is the guy who did the Monty Python cartoons. You know, the goofy paper cut-out stuff that bridged the sketches:

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Terry Gilliam is known for his outlandish, ambitious movies, and the boiling water¬†they throw¬†him into. Studio executives hate his works, which often feature¬†bleak and authoritarian settings, strange, cheap-looking props, and dark, ambiguous endings. His most successful movie,¬†Time Bandits,¬†is a whimsical children’s story. Its cast¬†made¬†it attractive —¬†it features John Cleese, Michael Palin, and Sean Connery — and it has some of the most dazzling¬†imagery that I’ve yet¬†seen in a film. I think Gilliam used that marketability to sneak in¬†his trademark cynicism, but he couldn’t get away with that twice. His next film,¬†Brazil,¬†would be his greatest struggle.

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Brazil is another Top Non-Cartoon, one that I would like to write about later. I bring it up now because it is the unrestrained portrait¬†of Gilliam’s¬†vision. It’s weird, it’s silly, it’s frightening, and it’s funny. Different people could call it fantasy, sci-fi, action, horror, art film, and comedy, and they’d all be right. Here’s a movie that’s impossible to categorize, impossible to forget, and, I daresay, impossible to like completely.

12 Monkeys is another one.

This is a time-travel story about a deadly epidemic that’s wiped out eighty percent of the population, and a science team’s efforts to stop it. Forced to live below ground, they send convicts up to the germ-ridden surface to find clues about how everything fell apart. James Cole, played by Bruce Willis, has proven himself to be one of their best investigators, so the scientists¬†offer him a full pardon if he’ll go back in time to find the virus’s source.

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The prison facility is a¬†hellhole¬†with joint-crunching¬†cells and terrifying interview rooms. The scientists exchange sentences in a¬†comic fashion, and they observe Cole through a jittering orb of monitors and cameras. Sorry for bringing it up again, but it’s all very Brazil, and all very Gilliam.

The time-travel scheme doesn’t go well. First off, the scientists accidentally send Cole to the wrong year. Second, Cole’s story and violent behavior land him in a mental institution before he can get anywhere. When he¬†explains¬†himself¬†to a panel¬†of therapists, even he seems to realize just how loony¬†it sounds. So he’s trapped, spending his days in a thorazine haze, and his nights reliving¬†a murder¬†he witnessed as a child.¬†Life sucks in a nut house, especially when you think you don’t belong there.

Cole’s foil is a person¬†who’s owned his craziness: one Jeffrey Goines, a string of firecrackers¬†given Oscar-nominated life by Brad Pitt. I fucking love this guy.

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Pitt was chosen for the role in an effort to deflate his “pretty boy” persona, and boy does he succeed.¬†Goines is balls-out wacko. He spews¬†manic monologues. He flips everyone off. His laugh is a dopey croak. He’s that weird kid down the street that your parents didn’t like you hanging out with, and that you weren’t sure you liked hanging out with, but you did it anyway because you were kinda scared to say no to him.

He’s also a ton of fun to watch. Fast-talking and fast-moving, he’s like James Woods on crack. With his wild antics and anti-establishment speeches, he is the original Nolan Joker. Don’t let anyone tell you different. In the movie’s best shot, a desperate¬†Cole pushes Goines against¬†a third-story balcony railing, and holds his head over the side. The camera is held above the two, so we can see the frightened onlookers from the¬†floors below. Goines doesn’t react in any rational way: he just cracks up laughing, and thrusts a fuck-you¬†finger in Cole’s face. It’s a total Batman/Joker moment, only without the stupid costumes and makeup. It proves the superfluity of the superhero movie.

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So Goines is a force of nature, but he’s also a red herring, and the movie kinda limps to its finale after¬†Goines leaves the picture. It¬†gets reflective and melancholy¬†when it really needs to get up and get moving. Threads about sanity and the Cassandra complex wrap¬†up long after we’ve lost interest in them, and the romance¬†doesn’t feel believable.¬†The language of time-travel movies is so familiar by¬†now that¬†there’s no surprise to the ending at all (this was likely intentional, but that makes it no less boring). There’s an excellent, chilling moment involving David Morse’s character, but the rest feels low and saggy.

Now this brings me to the TV show.

For some reason, the SyFy channel felt the need to expand 12 Monkeys into a series, one of those things that makes no sense to me. The movie may be flawed, but it got its point across, and serializing it won’t do its slower elements any favors.¬†I call it “The Sopranos¬†Syndrome,” and you see it everywhere now. The Peak TV philosophy¬†seems to go like¬†this: stretch a plot¬†until it’s ready to snap, bloat it with tired¬†themes,¬†provide no answers or¬†resolution until the¬†mad rush of the finale, and boom, you’ve got yourself a success. Even South Park is doing this now, and it drives me nuts.

What’s more, the producers¬†decided to cast Emily Hampshire as the Goines character,¬†and one of the first things she says is, “Look at you; you can’t take your eyes off me!” Ugh.

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Already, this new¬†Goines has told¬†us that she knows she’s hot. Come on. A great character shouldn’t have¬†to fall back on hotness. There is nothing sexy or even sexual about the original¬†Goines, and that a sex symbol plays him underscores that fact.¬†In the movie, Goines is Daffy Duck. In the show, Goines is Catwoman.

This doesn’t work for me.¬†I’m not saying this because of any feminist leanings; I just don’t find the “small, cute, and catlike”¬†look¬†to be¬†especially threatening. There are plenty of women in cinema who’ve done crazy and terrible¬†without any eye candy. Look at Misery. Look at La Femme/Inside. Look at The Ring! Perhaps it’s¬†the nature of our culture, but it does seem like this equation¬†of menace with attractiveness¬†is more common¬†among female villains.¬†Is there any male villain like that? Gaston, from¬†Beauty and the Beast,¬†is the only one I can think of.

Anyway, 12 Monkeys is a true Non-Cartoon, not¬†only because of Pitt’s character, but because of the peculiar setting, wild concept, and crooked¬†camerawork. I think its musical score¬†is beautiful too. I¬†believe that animating it wouldn’t damage it, if it was provided the¬†right animator. In this case, that animator is Peter Chung, creator of Aeon Flux. His character designs are freaky and weird, and his settings are eerie and monolithic. I can totally see him doing this movie justice, but I would keep him far away from the show.

Top Cartoons: Snoopy Come Home

There have been over forty animated¬†Peanuts¬†TV specials, and¬†five feature films. There’s a timeless quality to these¬†tales of¬†precocious youngsters.¬†Their¬†lives, activities, pains, and pleasures — baseball games,¬†flying¬†kites, pulling pranks, fitting in —¬†have rarely deviated¬†from what children deal with even today. Snoopy Come Home maintains¬†the themes of the comic, but it¬†pushes them farther than they ever went before.

This is the second animated Peanuts feature, written by Charles Schulz and directed by Bill Melendez. As the title says, the focus is on Charlie Brown’s independent,¬†imaginative, attention-loving beagle, but instead of playing vulture or chasing the Red Baron, he¬†gets trapped at the peak of¬†what amounts to a symbolic¬†love triangle.

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There are tensions in the Peanuts neighborhood. Snoopy’s been spending too much time away from home, fighting with the Van Pelt kids, and standing up his play dates. NO DOGS ALLOWED signs are cropping up at his favorite haunts, and even that round-headed kid is pounding him with lectures.¬†It seems as though he¬†just doesn’t belong anymore.

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So when a letter from a mysterious girl named Lila arrives, which spurs Snoopy on an impromptu road trip, everyone feels responsible.

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It turns out that Lila is Snoopy’s original owner, who, for some reason, had to give¬†up her puppy when her family¬†moved. She returned him¬†to the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm, where Charlie Brown’s parents later discovered him.

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Now Lila is sick with an unnamed, but  serious disease, and misses her pup terribly. Snoopy and his bud Woodstock try to use mass transit to reach her, but NO DOGS ALLOWED signs stymie them, so they have to make the trip through unfamiliar towns and wilderness on foot. They travel a mighty long distance together, bonding, joking, and generally dealing with the rustic life. On one occasion, however, their adventure, and their lives, are put in serious jeopardy.

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Having gone without human companionship, Snoopy is pleased to spot Clara, a gal playing in the sand outside her house. He runs up and greets her, but she seizes him, kidnaps him, and attempts to forcibly adopt him.

Clara is more or less¬†a relative of Tiny Toons’s Elmyra, with no awareness or empathy for an animal’s feelings. She gives Snoopy a flea bath, repeatedly dunking him¬†underwater. She ties a hefty rope around his neck and yanks him around. She dresses him in hideous clothes for a tea party. Then, when she spills her tea on him, she blames Snoopy, and gives him a spanking.

It must be noted that Linda Ercoli, the voice actress for Clara, is amazing. At only thirteen years old, she gives Clara an impressive range of emotions, from giddiness¬†to rage, and she’s always ¬†horrifying. She even sings a very complicated patter song with aplomb and perfect rhythm.

After a crazy and intense chase, our wayward heroes make their escape, perhaps having learned something about dealing with strangers.

Meanwhile, Charlie Brown is haggard with worry. His friends reach out and provide advice to help him accept that Snoopy is likely gone for good, but nothing works.

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When Snoopy finally reaches his old friend, he has to make a tremendous decision. Lila feels so much better with her doggy around that she begs him to come back to her. It is here that Melendez’s direction best¬†demonstrates¬†its wisdom. Melendez understood that Snoopy’s comic strip¬†thought-bubbles wouldn’t work in a film, so he instructed ¬†his animators to pour their¬†efforts into the pup’s¬†physical expression. He¬†may be a simple-looking cartoon character, but the agony¬†Snoopy displays¬†at Lila’s request¬†is truly heartbreaking.

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What follows is a series of shockingly painful scenes, restrained¬†only with a¬†stingy¬†sprinkle¬†of humor. There are tearful, even maudlin, partings, and a haunting portrait of real¬†depression as Charlie Brown is unable to eat or sleep in the absence of¬†his dear friend. The sequence¬†plays to a¬†wistful¬†lament¬†called “It Changes,” which, while written with innocent and childlike language, will likely never be understood by any but the most scarred of children.

Speaking of music, one will notice that Vince Guaraldi’s jazzy piano themes are missing from this film. You won’t even hear the iconic “Linus and Lucy” anywhere in it. The score is by Richard and Robert Sherman, who also worked on Disney’s The Jungle Book and Hanna-Barbera’s Charlotte’s Web. Their work here swerves from pleasant and dark, just like the film itself.

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Mercifully, two wonderful payoffs await, and the film closes with enough joy to conquer the preceding misery.

Snoopy Come Home baffled most critics, and even Roger Ebert described it as “schizoid.” I agree that¬†it vacillates from one emotional extreme to the other, but I don’t know if that damages the film in any way. Peanuts has always been¬†tinged with anxiety, and I believe that’s part of its endearing nature. I don’t believe it would continue to be printed in today’s comics if Schulz hadn’t dared to mix¬†his own insecurities and doubts into the minds of his cute little characters. I think this movie is quite an achievement, even if it would never play well with today’s audiences, who expect shiny computer animation instead of¬†the exquisite hand-drawn work shown¬†here.

Top Cartoons: Space Ghost Coast to Coast – Intense Patriotism

Oh man…it’s been too long since I last watched this. I’m still laughing too hard to even organize this post. This is a comedy tidal wave, and if you watch it, you’re going to have a tough time getting enough oxygen. Sure, it’s recycled animation put through After Effects, but who cares? The concept, jokes, and timing are so god-damned, spot-on perfect that I think it earns a spot on the ol’ Top Cartoon list.

This episode came at that SGC2C sweet spot between the lame Evan Dorkin days and the just plain weird Adult Swim days. Talk show host Space Ghost has decided to finally travel to America, where all the great superheroes live. Evil musician Zorak, and mostly-indifferent director Moltar have their doubts, but they’re going whether they like it or not. Unfortunately they end up in¬†Mexico.

Highlights include:

  • The Pledge of Allegiance
  • Jeff Foxworthy’s¬†“jokes”
  • Moltar’s fear
  • Zorak’s kids
  • The box
  • Zorak demands freedom
  • “MINE is still on.”

Just watch the dang thing.

The Internet Critic Conversation

Okay, here’s the premise: Daniel (D)¬†submits image/story/cartoon to website. Random site user¬†(C) decides to leave a comment on it. Here’s how it invariably falls out. Keep in mind that this has happened to me¬†many¬†times, with¬†many¬†different people.


C: This is bad. Just bad. Idea¬†has been done a million times. Obviously you don’t know what you’re doing.

D: That’s a little rude, not to mention unhelpful. You’re giving me no ideas on what to improve.¬†Every¬†idea¬†has been done a million times, so you might as well say this about every bit of art on the site. Finally, if I don’t know what I’m doing, perhaps you could be kind enough to enlighten me? If this is all you have to say, then just leave it alone.

C: Well, this being an ART/LITERATURE/PORTAL SITE, I don’t feel I have to hold back on what I say. You need a thick skin around here, so don’t get so butthurt. GOOD DAY SIR

I then discover that C has blocked me from further contact.


Now, I really don’t care what people like this think of my work. Obviously they don’t have any real opinion; they just want to break stuff down and feel superior to someone. As you probably already know, I get like that myself.

No, what pisses me off is the childishness of it, the lack of self-awareness. Don’t they realize that I too, am allowed to say what I want on these particular sites? Don’t they realize that just because they¬†can¬†say what they¬†want, it doesn’t mean it’s going to go over well?¬†And don’t they realize that¬†blocking me¬†because I called them out on their shoddy critique shows a pretty damn bad case of butthurt on their part?

I know, I know. “Just ignore them,” you say. Normally I do. The last time this happened, though, the criticism was leveled at the concept of the work, which I did not create. The idea belonged to the man who hired me for the commission. I wasn’t personally offended, but I felt compelled to stand up for my collaborator. Bear in mind that I did not use any offensive language. I simply said that it was rude to slam the idea without offering any positives. The “critic” then whipped out the tired old speech about their right to say whatever they want, and added that my art wasn’t even that good anyway (no details of course). Then I got blocked. It all fell out exactly as it did above.

The only¬†analogy I can think of for it is that it’s like watching a grown man stick his tongue out at you and mean it. All you can do is squint incredulously.

You’d think I’d be used to this sort of behavior by now, but I’m not. My attitude toward humanity is like that toward¬†a bad movie: I keep hoping that it’ll¬†get better somewhere.¬†It never does, though, and my mind is continually boggled. I mean,¬†they can’t¬†all¬†be this stupid, can they? Can they??

I’d better just relax. Anyone have any Oxycontin?