Forget Love

Man, does the internet suck these days. Seems like you can’t go two clicks without running into some hideous argument about vaccinations, corrupt politicians, or Ariana Grande. Grown people everywhere, lured by the siren song of social media, have fallen prey to Early Internet Syndrome: because their words might be seen online, they immediately consider themselves to be superstars. As such, they feel compelled to establish, and defend, their identities in the way that a company does its brands.

What’s that? Keep a private journal? Shit, man, that’s for old people. Nowadays, if you’re not airing your laundry from the battlements of your Facebook stronghold, you’re just not a proper citizen, dammit. Never mind that nobody cares but the few relatives who friended you out of nervous obligation. They, too, must be crushed if they dare opine against you. Cucks! Cucks, the whole lot of ’em!

So, in these hateful times, it’s good to know that there’s a place where folks of all stripes can still gather under one banner…even if that banner bears the logo of a ubiquitous soft drink. I’m being totally serious here: if you’re tired of the childish angst that pervades the net, just do what I do, and make a search for “Pepsiman.” It’s not soda that this superhero distributes — it’s joy.

I’m normally quite vehement in my hatred of superheroes. I’ve always found this nation’s obsession with Batman to be disconcerting, and today’s Cinematic Universes to be empty, formulaic, over-budgeted cartoons. Pepsiman, however, is something else. A late-90s commercial star with silver skin, no face, and a horrifying mouth, he always came a-runnin’ to deliver refreshing cans of Pepsi to parched, sweaty Americans.

This is strange because Pepsiman was created by PepsiCo’s japanese ad department. His spots only ran in East Asia, so they came off as weird commentaries on invasive U.S. corporatism.

That’s okay, though, because as shameless spokespersons go, Pepsiman is easily the company’s most successful. Fuck Britney Spears; nobody buys into that head-tilting, eye-rolling, pop-star bullshit. But give us a klutzy delivery boy who only wants to make dumpy guys in baseball caps smile, and I’m sold. He even has an awesome theme song with a surf-rock bass-line.

Pepsiman became a minor sensation in his day, spawning merchandise that included action figures, bottle toppers, and even a (quite good) PlayStation game. No joke! Believe it or not, it’s an automatic runner that’s a precursor to Temple Run. It also has hilarious FMV that maintains the kooky, nigh-misanthropic nature of the commercials.

Now here’s the best part: even though Pepsiman is nearly twenty years old, the peculiar style of his campaign was so knowing that the meme-hungry netizens of today absolutely adore him. Remember that YouTube video I embedded a few paragraphs back? Its comments are nothing but positive. I can’t find a shred of hatred in it, not even from Coke-drinkers. There are people expressing cheer and amazement, comments of “2019,” and jokes building on jokes. But most of all, there are people celebrating their love of the one-time digestive cure that is Pepsi. It’s really quite astonishing.

Indeed, the public has embraced Pepsiman as the anti-spokesperson: a figure who, like Duffman of The Simpsons, not only raises awareness of his brand, but somehow derides it. I won’t go into what Pepsiman says about the corporation that oozed over an ocean to bring him to life; I think the commercials do that better than I ever could.

The point is that we mustn’t lose heart: cultural fixtures and icons can bring us together, but only if they avoid taking themselves so damn seriously. I’m sorry to say it, Miss Jenner, but love doesn’t really conquer all. Sometimes, in order to accomplish something, you have to work with people you hate. The best way to do that is find a shared experience that we can all laugh about. If it’s a dopey corporate symbol who pushes an inescapable, mediocre product on us, so be it. Love is hard to find, but humor is everywhere.

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Tits and Erudition

Man, movies and TV take themselves way too seriously these days. I can’t pinpoint the timing of it, but someone pulled a switch, and turned the Idiot Box into the Auteur’s Monolith. The programming is as stupid as it’s ever been, but none of it really knows how stupid it is anymore. Think about it. The Living Dead is now The Walking Dead. Most X-treme Elimination Challenge is now American Ninja Warrior. The movie Westworld is now the series Westworld. Producers are now “show-runners.” Aquaman is now…ugh…Aquaman.

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Grr.

So it’s good that we have people like Joe Bob Briggs to bring us back to reality. To remind us that television’s purpose is to patronize, pacify, and pander to us, but so long as we remain aware of it, it’s really not so badrksven.jpg.

Briggs is the latest and greatest of the classic horror hosts, a family that began with Maila Nurmi’s Vampira (though Joe Bob has some contention about that). A comic essayist featured in newspapers and magazines, Briggs was so funny that he was eventually given a series on TMC called Drive-In Theater.

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What’s interesting is that, while most horror hosts came off as cheerful psychopaths, Joe Bob was a down-home country boy who shared bemused reactions and obscure trivia with a Roy Rogers-like folksiness. He had flair and pizzazz, but he was also dry and cynical, like a carnival barker who knows that you know he’s running a scam.

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Audiences loved him, and he kept the Drive-In going for nearly ten years before TMC decided to can him. The official story was that the channel was changing formats, but I suspect that its owners just wanted to be taken seriously as presenters of fine cinema. An intellectual in cowboy boots, showcasing cheap-o blood orgies just wasn’t in their interests anymore.

It was far from the end for Joe Bob, however. Four months after his firing, the wily Texan found a new home. The cable channel TNT needed a new host for its Friday-night horror-fest Monstervision, and Joe Bob fit the bill perfectly. He turned the show into a casual, Talk Soup-like hang-out, complete with trademark bits. He joked with his crew, who were often heard laughing, and did poorly-acted, silly skits with his guests. Such guests included stars from the very films he was showing, or else experts who provided commentary on the realism of those films. One night, he got both Rhonda Shear of Up All Night fame, and Joe Flaherty as SCTV’s Count Floyd, to hang out and ad lib with him.

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He also featured viewer mail, which was usually brought in by a sexy babe in hot pants, fresh from America’s finest correctional facilities. Joe Bob was well aware of his awful time slot, and he reveled in the fact that his prime demographic was, in fact, prisoners. He encouraged his “captive audience” to send in their prison cafeteria menus, and even provided facts about the jails that they hailed from.

His most famous bit, however, was the “Drive-In Totals,” a list of every cheap trick the upcoming film had loaded in its chambers. The list always began with a body and breast count, and always included some kind of “Fu” — a play on the Kung variety — based on the themes of the movie’s action sequences. My favorites include Senior Citizen Fu, Curling Iron Fu, and Intestine Fu. All told, MonsterVision with Joe Bob Briggs was campy fun, but it felt real, like Joe Bob and friends were there on the trail with us, sharing life’s downtime and poking at its absurdity.

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Then, in another effort at “format changing,” TNT cancelled him. As the channel inched away from its initial trove of Turner films, in order to schedule newer, big-budget Hollywood films, it seemed that seriousness would once again topple silliness. In 2000, Joe Bob was fired, and MonsterVision continued without a host for a few miserable months, before fizzling into oblivion.

Seventeen years passed, and horror languished into grim, predictable fare like feardotcom, Don’t Breathe, and The Conjuring 2. But now, in another miraculous 90s resurrection, Joe Bob is back, and he’s bringing the good horror with him. True to his word, Mr. Briggs has refused to let the drive-in die.

The Last Drive-In is a mini-series on the horror streaming service Shudder. Amazingly, it’s the same damn thing as before: full-length, old-school horror films interspersed with trivia and commentary, complete with Drive-In Totals and mail calls. The movies are mostly bad (The Prowler, Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama), or extremely niche (Legend of Boggy Creek, Daughters of Darkness), but there are some classics sprinkled in there (Hellraiser, Sleepaway Camp). God bless ’em, though: they’re all shamelessly exploitative, and that’s all that matters. We don’t come to the Drive-In to see deep, critical darlings (though there are still some fascinating ideas in these movies), we’re here to laugh at some cheeseball stinkers, and the myriad methods they employ to disgust, frighten, and appall.

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The Last Drive-In originally aired as a 24-hour live-streamed marathon, but it’s now available for subscribers to watch in separate episodes. It’s not expensive to sign up: just five bucks a month. It’s totally worth it, and you get a lot of other horror series too!

Joe Bob is, expectedly, a little fat and creaky now, but his style and good humor are unchanged. In fact, now that he has no censors to worry about, I daresay he’s livelier and funnier than ever. The old man lets the “fucks” fly, and shoots straight about the touchiest of topics. From smartphone addiction to L.A. subways to transgender rights, nothing is safe from Joe Bob. He’s as sharp and fun to watch now as he was in the 90s, and it’s a little sad when the party finally ends.

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There were some troubles with the initial stream, of course. Anyone who remembers the disastrous debuts of Diablo III, healthcare.gov, and Amazon’s Prime Day won’t be surprised to learn that The Last Drive-In suffered from lengthy server outages as a result of overwhelming demand. Most folks who tried to sit in on the marathon simply couldn’t. That’s okay, though, because despite Joe Bob’s insistence that this was his final bow, Shudder quickly recognized his value to their service, and renewed him for another go-round. Let’s hope they’ll be prepared this time. We need more stuff like this.

I’ve already given my reasons for why we need more stuff like this, but I can’t compete with the man himself. Before The Last Drive-In was recorded, Joe Bob wrote a brilliant essay explaining his success, and it tops anything I could ever put out on the subject. Daniel says, check it out.

Now, there’s something else I wanted to mention.

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The whole reason I’m even talking about Shudder is that I found an interesting tidbit of news recently. Turns out that master monster-maker Greg Nicotero, whose work can be seen in Evil Dead II, Day of the Dead, and The Walking Dead, is working to revive the classic horror film Creepshow. He’s building it as a series that will appear on none other than Shudder, hopefully in 2019. He’s quoted as saying that he wants to recover the stylish, comic-book feel of the first movie in honor of the great George Romero. Here’s hoping he pulls it off; the horror whores are watching!

Oh, and Mr. Nicotero, in case you somehow come across this goofy little blog post, I beg that you retain John Harrison for the show’s musical score. If that’s not possible, I recommend the great Franz Falckenhaus, (a.k.a. Legowelt), who specializes in lo-fi, scary synth. The music of Creepshow is critical to its effect; don’t fuck it up!

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:

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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?

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.