Today has been a drag, and I almost forgot it was Tuesday. I’d been happy that we were getting unusually heavy rain over the past few days, until I was reminded that heavy rains tend to bring a biblical plague of ants into the house. We spent a good chunk of the morning and early afternoon trying to head them off, and ever since, it’s been a combination of obsessively cleaning surfaces and freaking out when I imagine something crawling on me.
It’s been difficult to get any work done, much less my blogging duties. But in honor of the tragedy, here’s “It’s Raining Again” by Supertramp. I never liked this song, to be honest, but I’ve heard it a billion times because it seemed to play every ten minutes on MTV and Night Tracks. In the early 80s, you just had to make a video “cinematic” to guarantee it got played a lot; it didn’t have to be particularly good cinema. In videos like this, where they hired actors and dancers for most of it, you could only tell who was actually in the band by looking for beards.
I’m pairing it with “Come to My Window” by Melissa Etheridge, because that’s how they’re getting in. And I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve about had it with Melissa Etheridge letting ants into my house!
Preemptively heading off comments about the upcoming Jungle Cruise refurb
Today, Disney announced their plan to make changes to the Jungle Cruise rides at Walt Disney World and Disneyland, removing culturally insensitive (and imperialist) references to native tribes, guides, and head hunters, and replacing them with a new storyline about the hapless crew of a previous journey.
I wanted to ask all the Disney parks fans to join together and head off any attempts from the internet to turn this into some kind of controversy. To be fair, I haven’t actually seen any complaints about it yet, because I’m largely out of touch with the usual gang of obsessives on Twitter and in forums. So this might not even be necessary. Maybe everybody’s excited about it!
But: when Disneyland painted its theme park fairy tale castle a brighter color, people responded as if the company had gone back in time and physically assaulted their younger selves. Anything involving “cultural sensitivity” — like, hypothetically speaking, changing a key scene in an attraction that showed the lighter, family-friendly side of both fat-shaming and human trafficking — tends to have people grousing about it for years.
And actually, I get it. Song of the South is undeniably a movie infused with racism to its core, but I still felt more than a little melancholy when I heard that Splash Mountain was being re-themed to The Princess and the Frog. The movie, its songs, and the ride conjure up very specific, wonderful memories of my childhood and my mother, and it’ll never not be sad seeing those erased.
I understand intellectually why it’s necessary to change, and I’m in favor of the changes, but there’s still that emotional gut response aversion to it. That temptation to ask, “can’t we just acknowledge that it’s dated, and keep it with asterisks attached?” Or, “Isn’t it ultimately harmless?”
So here’s a very recent — and pretty embarrassing, honestly — example to demonstrate why having dated, inaccurate, or insensitive images repeated constantly, even if they seem “harmless” or “just a gag,” can be harmful. If you’re like me, a middle-class American or Western European who’s never traveled to east Africa, what is the image that come into your head when I mention “Kenya?”
Is it this?
I’m embarrassed to admit that I always pictured what I’d always thought was a positive image: a broad, beautiful, savanna with zebras and wildebeests grazing peacefully. I know that much of the country is actually like that. And I know that my only other frame of reference for “Africa” — the fictional city of “Harambe” in Animal Kingdom — is supposed to be a relatively accurate depiction of the smaller towns that are probably more widespread (at least, as of the late 1990s). But my entire idea of the country, if not the entire continent, was so full of these images of safaris and small towns that they’d completely crowded out even the possibility of a cosmopolitan city center with millions of people.
To compare it to something I understand better: it would be as if I thought the entire state of Georgia was like the small towns in the rural southern part of the state, and Atlanta didn’t even exist. I’m not putting any value judgment on small towns vs city centers; the older I get, the more I think cities are overrated. I’m just talking about preconceived notions of an entire place that don’t account for its variety, and don’t update over the years along with the real world.
Just last week, somebody on Twitter posted a picture of the Nairobi skyline — I can’t remember the exact context, but it was in response to some dipshit trying to say that Kenya was backwards — and I think it might’ve been the first I’d ever even seen the city. I wasn’t even aware that I’d been carrying around those over-simplistic ideas of what the country, and really, the rest of the world is like.
So essentially what I’m saying is that I could understand the complaints about the Jungle Cruise changes: the ride is supposed to be silly and light-hearted and never claims to be an accurate representation. Plus, it’s set during some not-quite-specified time period in the early 20th century, so it’s supposed to be dated. (Similar to the “They’re pirates! They’re supposed to be bad guys!” complaint, as if that were the point).
But my response is simply that images are more powerful than we think, especially when they’re presented as if they were harmless, and especially when they’re repeated so often. We can — and in the case of the Jungle Cruise, absolutely should — keep the old aesthetic, but we’re not obliged to keep the old attitudes. From the gags I’ve seen in their “first look” video, it seems like they’ve got the right idea: it’s still silly and fun, but the humor is more inclusive instead of just making fun of people that don’t deserve it.
(Over-)Thinking about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and whether it’s “cinema,” or if it’s something even more relevant to the 21st century
Hey, did everybody catch the latest episode of WandaVision. It was pretty rad. The feeling of a TV-series-long homage to “It’s a Good Life” was stronger than ever, with the added depth of being invested in the characters to make it super sinister. My favorite gag in the whole episode was how they called back to the various ways TV series have tried to hide an actor’s pregnancy over the years: putting them in big coats, standing behind counters, holding a bowl of fruit.
Second is that I referred to Paul Bettany as “Jennifer Connelly’s husband,” which could come across as a weird dig against him out of nowhere, but I really intended it as a dig against his agent. Or probably more accurately, the byzantine union rules that resulted in his getting top billing over Elizabeth Olsen. Because that doesn’t seem fair at all. Bettany himself, on the other hand, seems pretty cool.
But third was how I put in a dig against Martin Scorsese for saying that “Marvel movies aren’t ‘cinema.'” This was a quote that I’d heard a while ago, back when the internet was trying to gin it up into a controversy, but at the time I just rolled my eyes and moved on. Last week I realized that if I’m going to keep referencing it, I should probably look it up and see what he actually said.
And I was disappointed. I’d expected it disagree entirely, but I figured that coming from a filmmaker with Scorsese’s stature, it would be a well-thought-out and multi-layered argument. Instead, it’s just the same old “high art vs low art” gate-keeping that fans of “genre fiction” have been used to seeing for decades. It uses a narrow definition of “cinema” that is just flexible enough to include the stuff that Scorsese likes, it conflates subject matter with artistic merit, and it goes on to conflate artistic merit with financing, production, distribution, and exhibition. And it should come as little surprise that it frames the predominance of “franchise pictures” as the death of the auteur-driven film model in which he became world-famous and widely respected.
Thoughts about a healthier and more attainable concept of “unity” and how to move forward
Seeing Amanda Gorman reading her brilliant poem at Joe Biden’s inauguration was a stark reminder that nobody needs to hear my clumsy words.1But of course, I’m about to drop over 1500 of those clumsy words on you anyway, because that’s who I am. And it was a reassuring reminder that with a government composed of decent, competent people for a change, I don’t have to have an opinion about everything. “How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?” “If we merge mercy with might, and might with light, then love becomes our legacy, and change our children’s birthright.” “…being American is more than a pride we inherit, it’s the past we step into and how we repair it.”
I’ve watched it three times so far, and I still haven’t watched President Biden’s inaugural speech. I’m hoping he at least remembered to mention “American carnage.” The truth is that I don’t really need to see any of the stirring symbolism of the day, because I was moved almost to tears just reading a list of President Biden’s day 1 executive orders, a tangible sign that his administration is going to be working to repair the damage of the last four years.
Honestly, every image coming from the inauguration — which I could only catch briefly while I was trying to get some work done again, after days of unproductive anxiety — was cause for an upswell of emotion and relief. There was such a diversity of speakers, a selection of people from all around the US to contribute to pre-recorded videos, an abundance of LGBT representation, all topped off with a professionally-run press conference that was intelligent, competent, and — imagine! — respectful.
I’ve already seen comments that American politics has become refreshingly boring again. And I get it, but I’ve been excited to see such an earnest display of kindness, decency, and integrity. It’s a relief not just from the spectacular combination of corruption and incompetence of a fear-and-hatred-fueled administration, but of well over a decade of creeping cynicism that preceded it.
Recommending a friend’s podcast appearance talking about a non-classic ride
Belated YouTube and podcast recommendation: I’ve been a fan of the Theme Park Stop channel for a while, where Alicia Stella does videos about theme park news and rumors, mostly focused on Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando. She somehow manages to make even speculation about patent applications interesting, and she also does a killer impression of Mickey Mouse from the Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway ride.
I haven’t had much time for podcasts since I stopped having to commute, so I missed out on a recent episode of their podcast featuring my real-life pal Dave Cobb. He was talking about the Men In Black: Alien Attack attraction at Universal Studios Orlando, a project on which he was the creative director. It’s a great conversation about the planning and development of the ride, with hosts who not only know the ride inside and out, but are big fans of it not only as theme park guests, but people who try to closely follow the business.
Dave is super-generous with his time, enthusiasm, knowledge, credit, and friendship, and he and his husband have been my hosts in LA and for Disneyland gay days more times than I’ll ever be able to pay back. It’s fun hearing him talk about a project he’s proud of, sharing his personal contributions and emphasizing the work of so many different people that went into making it.
It’s also a reminder of how the ride is the highlight of Universal Studios Orlando, and I’m not just saying that because I’m biased. I’ve got to admit that I’ve always been kind of an a-hole about Universal Orlando, because I immediately forget that I’m an adult and instead revert back to being an insufferably hyper-critical guest (and rabid Disney Parks fan) in my late teens and early 20s.1And in the summer in Orlando, no less, which just added to the feeling of irritation. I only got to ride Men in Black for the first time a few years ago, and it was immediately clear how there’s a level of thoughtfulness that went into that attraction, from start to finish, that you rarely see even now, in the post-Wizarding World of Harry Potter era. As they say at the beginning of the podcast, there’s a reason it’s lasted 20 years in a park that is constantly changing!
Because I genuinely can’t understand a single word Ariana Grande is singing in “Thank u, next”
“Take Out the Trash” by They Might Be Giants seems appropriate this week, the day before January 20, 2021. TMBG may be my favorite band with one of my doppelgängers in it, and they’ve got a song for just about everything.
I’d thought I was going to use “Hey Hey Hey, Goodbye,” but I discovered to my horror that the title is actually “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye,” which is an image nobody needs now in this time of happiness and healing. If you want to see a bunch of studio musicians in 1969 failing to lip-synch to it, though, that video’s got you covered.
So instead, here’s the only time you’ll ever see Motley Crue linked on my blog, with their timeless hit “Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)”. I looked for a pop song titled “Go Get Fucked (You Worthless Shitstain)” or “I Look Forward To Never Having to Hear Your Name Again (You Treasonous Little Bitch),” but didn’t turn up anything. Even from the Dead Kennedys!
Changing up the mood with some calming and uplifting instrumentals
The other night, I started listening to Holopaw by Eerie Gaits because Apple Music told me to. I was really enjoying the opening track, “What’s Eating You,” and kept waiting for the verse to start, but the words never came.
I can’t say I’m all that mad about it, though. It’s really good at setting a mood, which for me is the sense of being at the end of Act 2 or a late 90s or early 2000s romantic comedy, when the protagonist comes out of a crisis with a heightened sense of resolve, and — either packing up boxes while leaving the office, or turning around to look at the front door of the house for the last time and nod sagely — thinks, Maybe I’ll get through this after all.
That’s even more intense in “The Rainbow Trout and the Wicker Creel,” which adds the feeling of music you’d hear laid on top of a montage of stock footage. Like many of the tracks on Holopaw, it feels like music that’s supposed to supplement something else, either lyrics or images, instead of standing on its own. But I still can’t help but enjoy it.
“Saw You Through the Trees” is my favorite track, because it’s the one that works best as a standalone composition. It doesn’t sound like anything’s missing, but it could also work great as part of the soundtrack for a movie that’s heartwarming and uplifting AF.
Reviewing (or really, effusively gushing about) the first two episodes of the new MCU series WandaVision
Two warnings first: 1) This has spoilers for the first two episodes of WandaVision. 2) I’ve barely read any Marvel comics, so if you got here via a search, hoping for easter eggs and hidden comics references and storyline speculation, I’m no help. Luckily for you, there’s a metric shitton of that already online: ScreenCrush has a bunch and tries to speculate on future story developments, while Nerdist keeps it a little bit more to the comics references themselves.
As an only-partially-abashed fan of Disney, Star Wars, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve maybe been a little too much of an apologist for global media conglomerates. I feel like I’ve abandoned any claim to indie cred several times over, when I suggest that not all IP is bad, and that sometimes mega-budgeted corporate productions can result in fantastic experiences.
WandaVision makes me feel a little vindicated, because I’m skeptical you’d ever see something quite like it without ten years of blockbuster movies and a corporate-owned streaming service behind it.
Someone who doesn’t know much about music or poetry attempts to do a deep-dive on why Paul Simon is a genius lyricist
For the past week, I’ve had “America” by Simon & Garfunkel going through my head. Even though it’s one of my favorite songs, it’s too sad for me to listen on repeat play, so I’ve never memorized it. As a result, I’ve been going around singing it to myself, but I’ve kept getting hung up at the same part.
It’s the best line of the song:
"Kathy, I'm lost," I said, though I knew she was sleeping.
The reason my brain keeps sticking on it is because the meter’s off. It repeats the same tune and general rhythm from two other parts of the song:
Let us be lovers, we'll marry our fortunes together
Toss me a cigarette, I think there's one in my raincoat
But there’s a syllable missing, which my brain keeps trying to fill up by changing it to “although I knew she was sleeping,” or “even though”, etc. This could be a perfect example of overthinking a piece of art until you’ve drained it of everything that made it sublime, but in this case, it gave me an even greater appreciation for it.
I’ve been thinking about electric vehicles, and I want the internet to check my work
I’m turning 50 this year,1Whether I want to or not and I had big plans for a year-long banger of a mid-life crisis. Grow a wiry, dingy-graying ponytail. Get more age-inappropriate earrings. Pick up a new, ridiculous hobby. And pointedly: get a convertible.
Not a muscle-car convertible, because I may be a soon-to-be-50-year-old man, but I’ve got the heart of a sophomore sorority pledge. I wanted a convertible VW Beetle. I’m a big fan of the 2011 redesign, and I rented a convertible in Florida for a work trip, and it was a ton of fun. Plus I’ve spent the last 20+ years driving practical, fuel-efficient sedans — two of them hybrids — and I just wanted something dumb, fun, and completely impractical.
But getting an internal combustion engine in 2021 just feels a little too irresponsible. Assuming you’re in a position to do otherwise, of course: a lot of very rich people have spent an awful long time and an awful lot of money making sure that electric vehicles were prohibitively expensive for most people. Even now, they’re eye-wateringly expensive. But when even fuel-efficient cars are putting out tons of emissions per year, it feels gross to keep doing it just for fun.
So I’ve got the extremely privileged “problem” of having to decide what car I want to get when my current lease runs out. Some requirements: