Archive for March, 2009

Blarney and such

March 17, 2009

About a month ago, my father went in for some routine surgery on his hand (for the sake of hilarious irony, apparently). For the surgery, he had to put on a shower cap so his hair (though there wasn’t much of it) wouldn’t fall into the incision. Of course, the shower cap made his ears look ENORMOUS, and my mother commented that “that’s just his Swedish ears for ya!” The surgeon then lit up, and said, “Oh, you’re Swedish???” and then proceeded to talk in Swedish to him for about a minute before he pointed out that he was not SWEDEN Swedish, but actually HALF Swedish by way of Minnesota. The doctor then shrugged, pumped my dad full of anesthesia, and cut open his hand.

My issue here is that most Americans– alright, white Americans– take a little too much pride in their heritage. It’s not that I have a problem with people having pride in who they are ethnically (I’d thank God for the olive oil-drenched food every day of my life were I Italian). It’s just the idea that having a sliver of a particular nationality suddenly fills you with rabid national pride, despite the fact that your everyday life is painfully white bread American, is grating at best and grounds for having your limbs sawed off at worst. This doesn’t bother me to a limb-mutilating extent the rest of the year, but irks me to some extent on St. Patrick’s Day.

Now, if the streets were filled with red haired, fair skinned folk sloshing around a pint of Guinness with stomachs full of painfully bland boiled food on March 17 every year, hey, that’s be cause for celebration! But St. Patrick’s Day is an excuse to go out and get the 1/8 or 1/4 of yourself drunk, then scream about how you’re Irish and this is your favorite day of the year. One could argue that it’s offensive to wed the holiday most closely associated with Irish Americans to marathon drinking; I say it’s offensive to sell it as praising Ireland when all it’s really doing is praising drinking. Hell, why NOT praise drinking? It adds to social grace (at least at the time), makes anthemic music more enjoyable, gets you out of driving home, makes sex as fun as a jungle gym, and reintroduces you to the awesomeness of hugging and high fiving. But to have frat boys in baseball caps 3/4 of the way off the heads and preppie-sluts wearing green beads pounding beer and whiskey and overjoyed about how one set their great grandparents were Irish before they decided to fuck makes me want to slam my head in my freezer door.

Look, I’m 1/4 Irish, and my parents gave both me and my sister Irish names because that was the one nationality they shared. My mother boils food from time to time, and I add salt and hot sauce. I don’t tan. I get it. But as much as I enjoy getting shlammered, I don’t need a wedge of my heritage to excuse that. I will admit that the general greenness, abundance of shamrocks, and the mere idea that there’s a day dedicated to a part of my heritage is nice. But the fact that this day is used to loudly and drunkenly flout said heritage, no matter how little of you is a part of said heritage, makes me want to drive the drunk sorta-Irishmen from the country like the eponymous saint of the day (get drunk in Canada, you fucking douchebags). Getting wasted and celebrating your Irish pride amidst an overwhelming prejudice from a country you’re just trying to survive in is one thing; skipping your next day’s community college classes due to your wicked hangover is another. If the majority of the county uses St. Patrick’s Day to get righteously plastered, why not get rid of the whole Irish thing and call it Crunk Day, International WOOOOOO Appreciation Day, or Bacchanalia?

So no, Stacy Leibowitz, I will not kiss your herpes-addled lips because you’re 1/8 Irish. And no, Matty Polowski, the Dropkick Murphys are not awesome. (Being a Boston Red Sox fan and Irish immediately puts me on the defensive. I’m so tired of apologizing for guys named Smitty anywhere outside of Massachusetts…) I love being partially Irish, and I love drinking. But good Lord, I don’t know how much longer I can take shitty white people mashing the two together to form a horrific casserole of stale Guinness, vomit, green beads, and a March 18th morning filled with shame.

Loathing Out Loud… on the Internet

March 16, 2009

In my post yesterday about Larry the etc., I “thanked” him for “git-r-dun”, in that it’s a great barometer for telling who the shit human being in the room is (or whatever I wrote). Sadly, I feel the same way in internet correspondence about the dreaded “lol”. Though, lol is more troubling, in that while the vast majority of my friends are equally, if not more, disgusted by “git-r-dun”, good friends have began or have always used the “word” regularly. My hatred for lol is bottomless, and I’m afraid it’s making its way, more and more, into my everyday life. It is because of this that I put a radical thought forward: we get rid of “lol” altogether. Or at least, of course, start using it correctly.

 

I won’t lie and say that I’ve never lol-ed anyone in an electronic conversation before. But when did I employ it? When I was Laughing Out Loud, motherfuckers. For this is the meaning of this achingly simple “word,” one which demands no intellect to decipher. With certain people, I even take its use as an honor: to make one laugh out loud instead of just smile or chuckle is an achievement with icier folk, and means you’re warming their hearts, even if in the slightest. But it’s the age of Tweeting on your Blackberry in line for the first half of the last season of “The Hills” on DVD at Best Buy-ification of the English language that has made “lol” the figurehead, the sacrificial lamb, the George W. Bush of obnoxious internet speak. Sure, RTFLMAO is twice as obnoxious, because the vivid nature of the words abbreviated (in my 10 or so years of internet correspondence, I’ve sadly never gotten the impression that someone had just gotten up off the floor after laughing their ass off at something they just said), but lol is used so frequently and SO inaccurately that it’s easily the most annoying part of this up-and-coming generation’s growing lexicon of internet slang.

 

And it is for that realization that I demand we rewrite its rules. In my mind, there has to be a hierarchy of displaying laughter via Instant Message. It should begin with “ha,” an expression of mild amusement, perhaps at a joke too witty to warrant laughter in any real life situation, or maybe out of pity-cum-annoyance. Next would be “haha,” expressing amusement, though perhaps more of an internalized funny than a primitive funny (make-you-think funny in lieu of ha-ha funny, if you will). Next up would be “hahahahaha,” or some variation of it, where the word is repeated more than twice. This could indicate actual laughter, or the maximum amusement that make-you-think funny could allow. The next step up, “HAHAHAHAHAHA,” is predictably the last category, but more intensified, THEN followed by the reviled “lol,” being used in its literal sense. In other words, if I see “lol” somewhere, your ass better be laughing.

 

That is perhaps what bothers me the most. The way lol is used is denotes that either some people are just laughing at shit all the fucking time, or are using it disingenuously, which is perhaps the biggest insult of all. My first realization of this horrible phenomenon came about when I was accompanying a friend somewhere, and showed up early to find her typing to someone via instant messenger, using lol liberally and NOT LAUGHING AT ALL. Why bother using this phrase unless you’re laughing out loud? Are you that comfortable lying to people you know? Has lol suffered the same fate as MTV, forgetting the meaning of its acronym and just existing as something else entirely?

 

My biggest issue, though, is its presence in my immediate world. I’m no longer young enough to be part of the generation that uses lol and its many horrible cousins on a daily basis, so it’s a bit sad seeing my friends use it via instant messenger, email, Facebook status, and the like as if they WERE young enough to abuse it, as if a sad attempt to reclaim their place in the youth of America. A lol every now and then for those in the above 25 crowd is tolerable, I suppose, but to use it in the same flog-it-out-of-existence manner in which the 25-and-under crowd brings to mind a picture of some second-chance woman in her 40s sporting Mom Jeans and a hunger for sex for the first time since her dehumanizing divorce. It’s pathetic cloaked in faux-relevance no matter what age uses it, but a lol from someone who knows better is clearly knows better is on par with cleaning up the scattered remnants of a puppy thrown into a woodchipper in terms of sadness. Perhaps there can be no lol reform, and we should just get rid of it. But in the interim, it’s one of the (admittedly many) things that sends an icy shiver of hatred down my spine upon its sight, and perhaps my (and your) world would be better if it were  buried alive in the same graveyard as “groovy” and “tubular.”

An Open Letter to Larry the Cable Guy

March 16, 2009

Dear Larreth T. Cableguy:

In honor of your Comedy Central Roast (like a Friar’s Club Roast for the rented tux crowd, of which I am admittedly a part), I’ve decided to write down what my contribution would have been on my blog, as that’s what people who aren’t famous use for their blathering.

So, you’re awful. Just fucking awful. You’re a malignant cyst on the already pimply ass of shitty comedy. If Louis CK, Chris Rock, or Patton Oswalt are like the Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchette, and Kate Winslett of comedy, respectively, you are the nameless, 46-year old woman that has neighborhood hobos shit on her chest for $20. You are a supermassive black hole of anything funny, degrading laughter to a mocking bray toward anything that was ever likable, beautiful, or worthwhile in the world. Your unending quest to tickle the worst in the worst people for the sake of almost-humor has become the personification of why the rest of the world thinks we’re the mentally challenged gas station attendant wearing a cowboy hat and chewing Skoal of industrialized nations. You make Jeff Dunham, Carrot Top, and Bill Engvall look like the Holy fucking Trinity. You are everything I hate about America, and everything people will be telling their kids about like our grandparents used to tell us about Klan members lynching people for letting black people drink from a white water fountain. You will be nothing but a great source of shame for our nation, let alone the world of comedy.

You’re not only not funny, but the leader of a movement of people who think humor should be an aggressive attack on people that don’t consider the funyon a food group. “Git-r-dun” is admittedly something I should thank you for, in that it’s a great barometer for figuring out who the shit human being is in the room in a split second’s time.  I think you should spend the tens of millions of dollars you made last year and buy out a half hour of prime time television and fucking apologize to the people you’ve offended (and not in a PC way, but by being so fucking unfunny that people feel violated) with your Sherman’s March of anticomedy over the world Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, George Carlin, Dave Chappelle, the aforementioned Chris Rock and Louis CK among many, many others spent years building and perfecting to wonderfully play to the collective world’s joy and happiness. You’re not funny; you’re a fucking violation of the Geneva Convention. Shame on you for thinking you were anything else. Everything you’ve done is a direct assault to everything the world has done over tens of thousands of years to bring ourselves up from shivering in caves and eating roots and berries. Though you’ve made more money in a year than most comedians would make over the course of their careers, you’ve done it by sucking off the lowest common denominator so proficiently.

Please retire. Retire to an island in the middle of the Pacific no one knows about, and wear clothes made out of palms and drink rain water out of coconuts. It’s much more than you deserve, but so long as you’re out of our collective consciousness, what the fuck should I care?

…I’m just kidding, big guy. I lov ya!

Sincerely,
Shaun

Tolerating the intolerent

March 11, 2009

The most shocking thing about the recent news that Burzum’s Varg Vikernes is going to be released from a Norwegian prison in the near future isn’t so much the music he’ll make once he’s out, the actions he might take (what with his ties to Neo-Nazi groups and such), or even the crime that put him in Der Biggenhaus to begin with (stabbing a dude more than 20 times– a few of those stabs in the head). No, it’s that you can stab another guy 20+ times, be paroled once then be promptly brought back to jail after going AWOL and being caught with a bunch of knives (which Varg did a few years ago), and still get out of your 21 year jail sentence 5 years early in Norway! Mr. Vikernes’ crime would be pretty extreme here– certainly enough to earn him a life sentence or a trip to the gas chamber or… injection bench– in my Country of Origin, and the dude would never see the light of day again had the aforementioned AWOL incident happened during parole. One would hope the man has matured enough not to horribly injure and/or kill anyone in the foreseeable future, and I can’t figure out if Norway’s faith in the goodness of man is endearing or infuriating. (I’m leaning toward the latter, though a lifetime of fatalism and cynicism has a whole lot to do with that.)

 

My biggest issue with Varg and Burzum– one and the same, in that the former is the only member of the latter– is properly distributing the significance between the man’s horrible beliefs and actions as a younger man and his sizable contributions to the world of black metal. Burzum are a part of the Unholy Four of True Norwegian Black Metal, along with Mayhem, Emperor, and Darkthrone, and their influence is perhaps the most heavily weighed upon in the four. While Mayhem’s sloppy almost-punk approach paved the way, Emperor’s regal flourishes gave it a nice coat of polish, and Darkthrone made it nice and dirty again, Burzum’s claim to fame were those sad, morose, buzzsaw guitar arpeggios that inform both the basement-recording one man bands (whose approach and desire to record by themselves was no doubt a fire lit by Varg) and the more weighty elements of Nachtmystium, Krallice, and Wolves in the Throne Room (among many others both in and not in America) are rooted firmly in Burzum’s raw yet rich stylings. And yet, the one man responsible for them is an adamant racist and anti-Semite that stabbed a man to death over a business dispute (though he claims the attack was preemptive), not to mention the church burnings. Like the Sex Pistols, Burzum (along with Darkthrone) represents everything that’s come to be viewed negatively (and, due to the extreme nature of the elements, rightfully so) about black metal: Nazi fetishism, the hypocrisy of fighting against the church’s oppression by pressing one’s heathenist views upon it, and, of course, corpsepaint and raspy vocals with the occasional demo that sounds like it was recorded via a boombox with a sock over it. Varg Vikernes was perhaps black metal’s Sid Vicious, even if he was astronomically more talented than the man (read: any talent at all).

 

Burzum’s music was always dangerous, though. Hatecore and other music written by and for racists always had the wonderful handicap of being boring, derivative hardcore with lyrics about racial holy wars or white power or whatever. But Burzum and the so called NSBM (National Socialist Black Metal, a subgenre of the subgenre of black metal) bands that cropped up later on were creating a new kind of music, seemingly rooted in hate and prejudice. And though I agree with many that to dismiss black metal as nothing but the music of racists and exclusively for whites is horribly ignorant, Varg doesn’t necessarily make our argument easy. In fact, I avoided Burzum until about a year ago because his personal views so differed from mine. Though I’m unaware of any Burzum Classic songs that are about white power or genocide (though there are probably more than a few anti-Christian numbers, calling out a metal band for being anti-Christian is like putting out a hit on an ant), the fact that it may have been there– and Burzum did move on to be an ambient music act later on, mainly due to Varg’s realization that black metal was rooted in rock and roll which was created by *gasp* black people but also due to the fact that the prison wouldn’t allow him to make and record music anymore– was always off-putting enough. I heard them a few times in passing, and recognized the influence in many of my favorite black metal bands (Xasthur is essentially the American remake of Burzum), but never sought them out. They remained taboo to me. Of course, that eventually changed.

 

In an almost completely overmatched comparison, Richard Wagner– the brilliant composer who, on top of being the most respected and influential figure in music since Beethoven at that point, served almost solely as the bridge between the Romantic and Modern eras– was a raving anti-Semite in his personal life, to the degree where Hitler regularly employed the music of Wagner for rallies, parades, and so forth. And yet, Wagner’s operas were never ABOUT anti-Semitism, but Norse mythology and all the other crap people wrote Romantic operas about. To dismiss Wagner because he was an anti-Semite is ridiculous, as his music serves as an important and substantial base in much of the music we enjoy today, even outside of the classical realm (though I don’t excuse him for hating Jews because “everyone else did at the time!”, and have always found that a bogus explanation for being a fucking bigot). And, to a much lesser extent, it’d be silly to simply ignore Burzum simply because it was composed of an angry, silly, hateful, pasty kid in his twenties. So, I checked the band out about a year ago after flip-flopping, and felt slightly guilty even as the albums were downloading. And the results, unsurprisingly, were middling!

 

After all that buildup, I’d forgotten that Burzum are a True black metal band, i.e. one of the progenitors of the genre and massively influential, yet undercooked and derivative, just like early Mayhem, Darkthrone, and Emperor. The difference is, of course, that those bands would go on to do much more substantial and interesting things later on in their careers. Burzum, due to the whole little stabbing thing, never got that chance, so the music is stuck in a state of arrested development, never improving upon its fundamentals in the way Varg could (and perhaps should) have. The self titled/Aske release is interesting but overall underwhelming, stretching good ideas entirely too thin over the course of 7-8 minutes per song. The real indicator of Vikernes’ squandered potential, though, lies in Filosofem, the record recorded right before the murder that put him in jail and released after his sentence began. Though marred by a 25 minute instrumental ambient track situated smack-fucking-dab in the middle (a pretentious and confusing decision on his part), the album is full of mean-but-melancholy black metal, peppered with what is my favorite Burzum (and perhaps favorite black metal overall) song “Jesu Dod”. The song is based around one killer straight up black metal riff, and some fussy drums that are oddly propulsive, both for black metal and for Burzum itself. The songs rhythmic fussiness almost gives it a dark post-punk sheen worthy of Joy Division or Dead Can Dance, making the fact that the song goes on about a minute or two longer than it should not an issue. One could listen to the main riff over those drums endlessly, and Varg apparently takes you up on that.

 

It’d be cool to think that perhaps he’s made an American History X-style turnaround, and leave jail a new, open minded man. Varg stated last year that when he begins making new music again, it will resemble old Burzum and not the ambient road they took after their sole band member was incarcerated. Who knows if this is for artistic, fiscal, or ideological reasons. But the issue with thick-headed white guys is that they tend not to change their minds, even after losing sixteen years of their life to a stupid thing they did almost two decades prior. Varg will probably keep spouting the same boneheaded, racialist tripe that has become so closely associated with him. And, as a consequence, those who enjoy black metal will continue to be thought of as the sort of people that enjoy music made by racists. And even despite the fact that Krallice’s drummer is a big ol’ Jew and a Burzum fan, Wolves in the Throne Room have said they denounce Nazi ideology and hold “eco-feminist” views yet listen to Filosofem while working on their farm, and Blake from Nachtmystium has constantly said his band is strictly “apolitical” and clearly has a Burzum fetish, people will continue to oversimplify. Even though, admittedly, they’re oversimplifying for an incredibly valid reason, is it fair to attribute the intolerant views of one onto many?