Friday, December 30, 2005

Moi

There is this thing in Japan called "moi." It's not French for "me" moi, although that raises interesting connotations; instead it's a subset of anime aesthetics that involves "children you would like to nurture."

So why do I mention it? because it got me thinking about how nerd culture creates fantasy worlds that can be used as substitutes for real life, and how that relates to porn. Moi is not porn in the usual sense-it's not trying to entice sexual fantasies about the imaginary children that the cartoonists are cranking out, thank God. It's enticing paternal or maternal feelings. So it's not offensive the way child porn is offensive, but something about it still makes me go ick.

I think it's the fact that it makes such a base and simple appeal to the emotions, the same way that porn does to the sexual drive, or that sleazy power-fantasy action movies do to the thanatos, that leads me to lump moi in with exploitation. A base appeal is a base appeal, no matter how potentially sophisticated the emotion to which the appeal is made may be. Sexuallity and nurturing are both potentially rich or cheap, depending, and the nurturing drive often kicks in earlier than the sex drive. Three-year-olds will coddle a baby or a baby doll, and good for them, but adults should save the serious coddling for real babies, and leave the dolls for the kids, whether the dolls are three-dimensional or merely lines on paper. Kids can justifiably use cartoon characters as imaginary testing grounds for their own emotional development. Adults can justifiably regard cartoon characters as sources of entertainment and symbolic, totemic significance (heaven knows I do.) But adults who spend much time coddling dolls are probably in need of emotional counseling, at the very least. I suspect the same of adults who indulge in moi. Kids who indulge in moi are another story, of course.

Apologies for any inchoate prose; it's been a night of fun, frolic and refreshing beverages.

Edit 03/07/07: Moe like the stooge, not Moi like French. In retrospect Moe probably appalled me as much as it did because I had a Moe sensibility in college. A female friend set me straight. I was well aware that holding boys to a bogus young masculine ideal ("mommy's little athelete/soldier") was awfully limiting to boys, but needed to understand that holding girls to a bogus young feminine ideal ("daddy's little princess") was just as bad.

P.S. The show is going full tilt and New Year's Eve is your last chance to see it.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Oh, Christmas was grand! I got to spend some quality time with my family, and that's really gift enough. As usual the gifts I gave met with a wide range of responses, from excitement ranging through polite gratitude all the way to the occasional protest. (No more Steve Reich albums for my parents.)

And our play opened so, so strong. It was one of the best nights I've ever had in a theatre, either as an actor or as an audience member. And then we went out for some cool refreshing beverages. And I sat next to a smart, beautiful jazz-piano-playin' woman who had seen and enjoyed the show. I fell in love but couldn't think what to say to her. My life in a nutshell; pretty good, but with more room for improvement than will be filled in this lifetime.

I'm currently reading Life Before Men by Margaret Atwood. It's my first Atwood, but it won't be my last. What is it about Canadian female writers? Carol Shields, Alice Munro... In fact, I think I'll go read some now. Bye!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Intelligent Design

You know what Intelligent Design is like? Back when computers had cassette tape drives instead of disk drives, my Dad put Michael Jackson's Thriller in the TI 99 4A Cassette Drive to see what the TI would make of it. Of course the answer was: nothing. As far as the TI was concerned there was no readable data on the tape. Not because there was nothing on the tape: the tape contained some of Quincy Jones's most commercially succesful music (and that Jackson guy.) Not because the computer was useless: it was great for spreadsheets, Zork, etc. The computrer could do nothing with the music because the computer could only function within a specific set of parameters, and no amount of naivete or wishful thinking could make it dance to Quincy's beat.

Science is that TI 99 4A, and God is that cassette of Thriller. Sorry, not God; the Intelligent Designer. Those Heritage Foundation drones have adopted denying Him three times before the cock crows as a key legal strategy.

And another thing that leaps to my mind when I think of ID: the first edition AD&D Deities and Demigods sourcebook. AD&D rules statistically quantified the strength, intelligence, heath etc. of all the characters and monsters in the game, and so the Deities and Demigods sourcebook, devoted to mythological figures whom one might wish to incorporate into the game, tried to quantify mythological figures in a comically procrustian fashion.

Science is all about the measurable, the quantifiable, the testable. I was raised to believe God can't be measured or quantified, and that He Himself declared "Do not put The Lord Your God to the test." Trying to shoehorn God into science per se is like the D&D sourcebook declaring that Zeus has 400 hit points. It's a heretical reductionism, a confusion of catagories, that may be well intentioned but belittles God and coarsens science.

But wait, they say. "Teach the controversy." What controversy? The philosophical controversy about whether or not God made the universe is perfectly legit for a philosophy class; the subject of the controversy is fine for a social studies class. But there's no real scientific controversy here. Just because the IDs have duped one or two tenured activist professors into siding with them doesn't mean that the scientific community is really split over ID, any more than the existence of a few tenured history teachin' holocaust deniers means that there's any legit controversy over the reality of the Holocaust. "Teach the controversy." Harumph. Any controversy that was whipped up in a right-wing think tank isn't a controversy; it's a distraction.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Yeah, yeah...

Sorry it's been almost a week since my last post, but I've been really busy with the play... Once the holidays are over I'll probably get back in the bloggin' scheme of things.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Frosty Philharmonic

Apparently Ubuweb is down, right after I linked to it. I guess so many people followed the link from here that there was a system overload.

Anyway, the other day the Birmingham Symphony did its annual Holiday Concert at my workplace. I didn't go this time... It always makes my stomach hurt to see classically trained musicians sawing away at Frosty the $%&@# Snowman. They worked so hard in hopes of doing Charles Ives, but now they're doing Burl Ives. It's like they got culinary degrees but have to work at Shoney's.

Speaking of music that hurts my stomach...

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Bible Tales

Today on NPR they interviewed Bart Ehrman, the author of Misquoting Jesus, a book which I recently started. Between the reading and the hearing my head is spinning... the amount of key Gospel material that appears to have been added or changed comes as a surprise to me. The "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone" story? An apocryphal late addition (though as Ehrman points out, it is a brilliant story. We're better off with it, late addition or no.) The passage in John Chapter One that's pretty much 99% of the scriptural support for Trinitarian theology? Probably shoehorned in by folks who had dreamed up Trinitarianism with no solid Scriptual support (And who'd burn your house down if you disagreed, as explained in "When Jesus Became God" by Richard E. Rubenstein.) Several passages about Jesus taking pity on lepers are actually about Jesus getting angry and curing them by striking them? Erm.

Ehrman also points out that the Gospels were each written as unique stand-alone texts, and we do them an injustice when we try to mash them all together as if they were fully compatable. This makes me want to reread the Gospels with an emphasis on the individual character of each narrative. Still, as one who believes in printing the facts and the legend both, I'm more in awe than ever before of the way the distinct tellings of the Gospel story are often melded together. Every Good Friday service I've been to weaves everything Christ's reported to have said during the crucifixion together into one story that has an astonishing arc to it... I have to honor that reweaving of the narrative strands as an artistic triumph, even if it has blunted our awareness of each Gospel's identity. I'm not troubled by apparent contradictions between the Gospels, since I imagine four biographies of JFK will have contradictions as well. Ehrman also asks if it's worth trusting that the original texts are divinely inspired when we don't have the original texts... one could argue that if God inspired the writing then God could just as easily inspire the rewriting.

Of course I also read an essay about Shakespeare's texts recently (in an introduction to my Twelfth Night script) that explained how the different existing folios of Shakespeare's texts are rife with inaccuracies and contradictions. It demonstrates how familiar Shakespeare passages are really best-guess editorial concoctions; when they had three different versions of the same passage they crafted an "official" version that didn't exactly match any of the folios. Of course as wonderful as Shakespeare is, no one claims it's the inerrant Word, so a little fudging isn't exactly a sin...

BTW in this radio interview Harold Bloom calls the works of Shakespeare, the works of Chaucer, and The King James Bible the three great works of English prose (or something like that) but flatly states that the New Testament in Greek is no match for the Talmud as far as its writing quality goes. I can't read Greek or Hebrew so I can't comment.

Enough profound and troubling stuff! Here's a few delightful websites:

http://cakeandpolka.blogspot.com/2005_11_01_cakeandpolka_archive.html

Wonderful wacky musical downloads.

http://www.dictionaraoke.org/index.html

Online dictionaries speak the hits! My faves are Tomorrow Never Knows, And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going (from the Broadway musical Dreamgirls) and Anarchy in the UK.

Best of all: http://www.ubu.com/

Jam-packed with artsy films and audio i've wanted for years, all for free (and apparentlky legal) download.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Time, She's A'Wastin'!

No time for a proper post, except to say that The Eight: The Reindeer Monologues is coming together quite well; yesterday instead of rehearsing as such we brainstormed production ideas. As an actor I'm not used to having that kind of input, but it does remind me of my days with the improv troupes, when we'd create shows from the ground up. It's shaping up to be the kind of simple and concise production I like best. I was astonished to have people in church Sunday express both knowledge of and excitement over the show... I have a feeling that it's going to be a memorable way to end the year. Cast member Tom W. describes it as "not a Christmas play. It's a Christmas hangover play." It's strange how making something so gloomy can be so joyful, and not in a lip-smacking adolescent wallowing-in-voluptuous-misery way. Production can be such a joy!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

I am sick of people with cars that cost more than, say, a hungry child's yearly needs, taking up all the parking spots at my apartment building. Today there are Jaguars and such taking up all the (clearly designated as for residents only) spots, and I am so, so tempted to go deface them (I've never defaced anybody's vehicle, FWIW) but I won't because our preacher told us today in the dismissal to give people good before we give them bad. Maybe I'll tie a rose to someone's antenna and THEN scratch their cherry-red paint job.

Or maybe I'm just frustrated because today was a reminder of something I don't care to acknowledge about myself; when it comes to Relationships I'm at the developmental level of a ten year old. Several marvelous women around my age spoke to me in church today, and I felt like I was going to spontaneously combust. I made a point of learning their names and now can't remember their names. One of the key reasons I returned to church was to meet people, but meeting people is excruciating. Actually I met people at the coffee shop yesterday too, but that was low stress because there was less at stake. One woman was my Mom's age, one was a high-schooler. No Relationship potential there. Fling maybe; not relationship.

Here's a tip for young, attractive married women, BTW. Don't talk to us lonely straight guys. Just go away. No, I take it back; you can talk to us if you're holding your husband's hand or blinging your wedding band right up front. Every time a friendly woman strikes up a conversation with me and waits ten minutes before letting it drop that she's married, I can't help entertaining the notion of spinning on my heel and walking away without a word. I would never do such a rude and futile thing, but the idea of it as a gag amuses me far more than it should.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Reindeer Games

I haven't posted as often as I'd like because I've been trying to learn a monologue for this show I've been cast in, The Eight: The Reindeer Monologues. The show's being done as a post-Christmas bonus to the Birmingham Festival Theatre schedule, and although I had declared a moratorium on acting until 2006 they tempted me into this one. The gimmick is simple: Vixen claims Santa's raped her, and so each reindeer has a say. If that sounds funny to you, come see it! If that sounds to you like the kind of cheap pop revisionism that hasn't been fresh since R. Crumb got tired of it... you and me both, kiddo. But as it turns out, the script is sharp, funny stuff, a real actors' showcase. It doesn't settle for coasting on the gimmick. And with this cast it's going to be the kind of show I'd love if I weren't in it. I'm sorry that it's apparently going to be a limited run, since it has cult potential. Doing it after Christmas is a neccessary evil since the impetus to do it started so late. It'll shine briefly, but I expect it to shine bright.

I'm playing Comet, a Santa apologist who appears to have been prepped with talking points and speech coaching courtesy of the Heritage Foundation. All those anti-drug assemblies in high school will finally pay off, and I'm so excited about putting that secularized evangelical speaking style to work.

BTW I got a voice work tip from NPR's Fresh Air last week that's really working for me; Terri Gross spoke to a voice trainer who said that you should never think about your diaphragm at all. Don't breathe from your diaphragm, but think of taking sips of air. What she calls "by the ways." Like when you've just made a statement, and then you think of something else to say, and you sip a little air so you can say "By the way?-" That's how you breathe. That may or may not make sense or seem worth worrying about, but I've been so self-concious about breathing from my diaphragm that it's given me a really labored and unnatural speaking pattern... Back in the day I needed to be made aware of the diaphragm because I was breathing from my ribcage, which is no good for a would-be actor, but I didn't understand that once I started breathing from the diaphragm I needed to get out of my resperatory system's way. This sips of air stuff seems to be helping me get the air I need to speak while keeping my from taking forced and unnatural-seeming bellows-breaths. And yet I'm too lazy to look up the name of the woman who passed on this tip and give her credit. That's gratitude for you.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

I'm an Expert on being an Amateur.

I've got a followup to that post a few weeks back about why I can enjoy amateurism in performance and visual arts but not in writing... I think it's because there's more room for easy, natural human expression in performance and visual arts. Singing and acting are extentions of normal behavior and communication anyway, and the most unskilled drawings can have their charm, but prose is less suited to "from the hip" expression for anyone who isn't particularly skilled with writing. One of my English professors in college had a slogan: "writing=thinking." That's probably intended more as a statement of an ideal principle than a matter of fact; I have a friend who's as intelligent, thoughtful, lucid and subtle on a bad day as I am on a good day, but his hastily typed non-proofread emails usually seem to be the product of a sweet but subnormal child; his thinking is clear in a way that his writing isn't. When he actually makes the effort to write well his writing does match his thinking; it's a neverending Flowers for Algernon loop with this guy (who is one of my dearest friends and I hope he doesn't read this or he'll whip me.)

Really, I love "artless" singing almost as much as I like artful singing; same goes with acting. You can get a really strong sense of the performer's personality shining through when they aren't skilled enough to craft the expected illusion. Bad prose is usually all the embarrassment with little of the charm.

And for anyone who's keeping track, one of the guests on that NPR show about fanfiction is now a published novelist. I dug up her website, skimmed the sample prose, and though it looked very much not like anything I want to read. Judge for yourself at her website.

Of course I write this knowing full well that I've hardly got a leg to stand on when it comes to carping about less-than-sublime writing. All I can say in my defense is that I regard my blog as an extention of any other means I might use to foist my opinions on the world, rather than as a writing forum; or as Samuel Johnson put it: "You may abuse a tragedy, though you cannot write one. You may scold a carpenter who has made you a bad table, though you cannot make a table. It is not your trade to make tables." And so I hope no one will mistake this blog for an assertion that it is my trade to write any finer than the next fool!

BTW Blogger's spellchecker doesn't include the word "Blog."

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The Homosexual Lifestyle

I'm supposed to keep this under my hat, so of course I'm posting it on my blog: I've been cast in a show. I vowed not to do any more shows until after New Year's, but this seems like a pretty low-impact short term thing. It's a monologue show (8 monologues, 8 performers) that's being shoehorned into a theatre's regular schedule; the details are still up in the air. All I know is I've read the script, and since none of the monologues have been assigned I've chosen the one I wanted to do and been doing some basic prep work on it. Ever the optimist.

There's a young man who lives upstairs from me, and there's something he does that is a textbook example of the homosexual lifestyle; what it leads to, what it amonuts to. He may not be aware that I can hear what goes on up there. Not conversations, but anything loud, I can hear. Far be it from me to judge anyone's lifestyle, but I never heard this from any previous tenants. Every night.

Every night.

He vacuums the whole apartment. I don't know why he does. He's not trying to impress girls. It's not like he works in the coal mines and is tracking in filth.

I don't own or want a vacuum. I have hardwoods and tile (and so does he, unless he's added a throw rug or something.) A broom and a mop work just fine, added to which there's hardly any visible floor space anyway for all the comics, books, etc. lying about.

(This post has been slightly edited in an effort to set up the joke a little more effectively. Of course now I have misgivings that it may seem to be genuinely homophobic, so I may edit again in order to clarify that it's daily vacuuming which I'm holding up as 1. typically homosexual and 2. offensive. Any suggestions are welcome. Let's make my lame blog jokes a team effort!)