The Case for Enthusiasm

April 26, 2012 § 2 Comments

If you read this site, you’ll already be aware of the fact that I’m a pretty sarcastic person. I’ve been known to say that my mother tongue is sarcasm, but that’s not quite true — it’s my father tongue. My mother is generally quite positive.

I am also fairly critical, a skeptic, and I definitely sometimes yield to the temptation to be elitist with regards to art and entertainment — Mumford and Sons? Really? — but I am also a sucker for enthusiasm.

How I feel about the Olympics/Disneyland/a new Toni Morrison novel/insert thing I love here

The two worlds I spend most of my time in are academia and the art world, and I’m constantly surrounded by people hating on everything. It gets tiring. Wow, you don’t like Sylvia Plath, congratulations on your discerning taste, jackass. While academia certainly has a canon that it’s acceptable to worship/you’re expected to worship, academics can also fall prey to the hipster ethos of “the more obscure it is, the better it is” (unless it’s written by a woman: then it’s “chick lit”— or possibly young adult lit — and unworthy of serious discussion). And while artists love geeking out with each other over shared love of a certain writer/painter/musician, they also love hating on anyone whose work becomes successful. Just ask any young poet about the Dickman brothers: it’s a love them or hate them thing, and bitches will throw down.

Did you just say All American Poem was a shitty first book?

John Lithgow knows what's up. (Also, these gif Tumblrs are all over my Facebook feed recently, so you're getting some gifs today.)

But really, I’m so bored with all this hating. A few weeks ago, The Awl published a piece in which they’d asked a number of editors of literary magazines, as well as some contemporary writers, to name books or authors that they’d loved in the past and are now ashamed to think about. Quite a few mentioned Ayn Rand (duh), since many writerly and intellectual types go through an infatuation with her — she particularly appeals to the individualistic mindset of the teenage years. Now, while the woman’s philosophy was batshit insane, I think the fact that thousands of teenagers read her massive novels (Atlas Shrugged is a brick: the thing’s like 1200 pages — imagine a high schooler choosing to read a 1200-page novel) and feel galvanized by them is a sign that she has a certain kind of talent.

The Beats were another oft-repeated example of books people used to love but now are embarrassed to have cared so much about. The Beats are an easy target, and I think it’s kind of lazy to say you hate them. It’s like saying you hate Nickelback: you don’t have to provide any reasons, everyone just nods along. Of course, Nickelback makes me want to drive my face through the wall, and I think their lead singer is impressively unattractive, but still, hating them isn’t very original. It’s the same with the Beats: you can say they’re simplistic and self-indulgent and overly grandiose, and everyone will just go with it. Even though what’s really simplistic and self-indulgent is regarding this passionately inventive and massively influential group of writers as somehow insufficiently literary, but whatever — have fun at your Douche Convention! (I will defend Alan Ginsberg to my grave. “America” is one of my favorite poems of all time.)

Apparently the lead singer of Nickelback is named Chad Kroeger. I'm sorry, Chad, but you are one creepy-looking mofo.

The part of The Awl article that really bothered me, though, was Edmund White’s comments on Virginia Woolf. What he said:

My reaction:

Well fuck you very much. You cannot tell me that reading Mrs. Dalloway isn’t a journey for your very soul, or that Orlando isn’t a tour de goddamn force. (Also, thanks for writing off basically the only female modernist anyone takes seriously — sorry, Djuna Barnes, but almost no one remembers you, even though you’re a genius — or rather, one of the only female novelists period that people are willing to accept as truly great, because she can keep up with people like Faulkner and Joyce, which she fucking does, by the way.)

Now, Mr. White teaches at Princeton, so I’m sure he feels entitled to belittle anything he damn well pleases. And that’s his (annoying) prerogative, but I’m really tired of a culture in which degrading others’ work is the key to establishing yourself as a “serious cultured person.” (Are you wearing a monocle? Why are you not wearing a monocle, serious cultured person? If you’re going to talk about how television is the opiate of the masses, you should at least be wearing a monocle. And a bow-tie.)

Are they playing...Coldplay? Guards, take them away!

Imagine you are standing on a ladder, the top of which reaches a platform with a plate of cookies on it. Hitting the person next to you doesn’t get you any higher in the air, it simply knocks them down to a lower rung. There still isn’t anyone getting the cookies. (And yes, the ladder/cookie bit is an analogy for the progress of the human race. Where do I pick up my Philosopher of the Year award?)

And as much shit as I give various things/people on this site, it’s ultimately more fun to gush about something I love than to rant about something I hate — thus all the pictures of puppies and bunnies and Bradley Cooper.

I die.

I’m trying not to tamp down my natural enthusiasm in my life or apologize for liking the things I like. Yes, I write literary criticism that looks at Faulkner through the lens of poststructuralist and other twentieth century philosophical theories of consciousness, and I ALSO LOVE THE HUNGER GAMES. I LOVE THEM. I LOVE THE CHARACTERS. I LOVE KATNISS AND PEETA AND CINNA AND EVERYONE. I SOBBED THROUGH THOSE FUCKING BOOKS. THEY ARE INCREDIBLE AND THIS IS WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF YOU DISS THEM:

I think The Hunger Games books demonstrate keen attention to character development and a masterful management of plot, and you can make fun of them and of me all you want, but at the end of the day, I’m the one that gets to marry Peeta Mellark in my mind…I mean, what?

I adore Peeta in the books, so I was very skeptical about the casting for the film. Against my expectations, however, Josh Hutcherson was phenomenal as Peeta in the first movie. So now I obviously love him.

I’m campaigning for enthusiasm. Let’s love things and not feel ashamed for it.

My friend C is a continual example to me in this. C has perhaps the most unabashedly open heart of anyone I’ve ever encountered; she’s got love spilling out of her very pores: love for people, for nature, and for art and entertainment, both “high” and “low.” She doesn’t distinguish between these last two; she just loves things. Her heart is practically bursting with affection and joy when she watches Pretty Little Liars, and that enjoyment is not at all ironic. She feels no need to regard such a “trashy” TV show cynically, and watching her watch PLL is an absurdly enjoyment experience in and of itself.

We have a friend who doesn’t watch TV and sometimes when we’re talking excitedly about a show, he looks at us like we’re paramecia to his homo sapien. And we’re like, bitch, talk to Frank O’Hara:

My Heart

I’m not going to cry all the time
nor shall I laugh all the time,
I don’t prefer one “strain” to another.
I’d have the immediacy of a bad movie,
not just a sleeper, but also the big,
overproduced first-run kind. I want to be
at least as alive as the vulgar. And if
some aficionado of my mess says “That’s
not like Frank!”, all to the good! I
don’t wear brown and grey suits all the time,
do I? No. I wear workshirts to the opera,
often. I want my feet to be bare,
I want my face to be shaven, and my heart–
you can’t plan on the heart, but
the better part of it, my poetry, is open.

— Frank O’Hara

I want to be at least as alive as the vulgar. So let’s roll back the cynicism a bit. I aspire to be this excited at least once a day:

What’s Wrong with Handsome?!

March 9, 2012 § 2 Comments

So I have this friend. He’s very pretty. Like, his skin was made by elves and his hair spun out of rose-gold by fairies.

No, not that kind of fairy.

Moi???

Except…well, okay, that works too.

My point is that this friend has been genetically blessed when it comes to his physical appearance. He has those ice blue eyes that are so piercing they kind of scare you, and his strawberry blonde (though more strawberry than blonde) hair is so silky and perfect that I’ve talked with a number of friends about it, and we have all admitted to sometimes getting distracted just staring at his hair, seeing the light glance off it, watching him run his hands through it — see, I’ve wandered off into a daydream just thinking about his hair.

And this isn’t just a “break me off a piece of that” kind of situation. A straight guy recently made an envious comment regarding this hair, which was basically like, “How is that possible? Come on!

And yet recently, my pretty friend has been letting his hair grow too long. Whereas he once had that slightly shaggy “I’m an artist!” haircut, he let the bangs grow until he had to sweep them awkwardly to the side in The Zac Efron:

I know, Zac Efron, squeal!, or whatever, but seriously people, this is not how you want your hair to look.

I'm actually frightened by how much my friend's hair looks like this. This may be a picture of him wearing a Zac Efron mask.

At times, loathe though I am to speak of them, his hair even approached The Justin Bieber:

Even The Biebs has since realized the error of his hairstyling ways, and I don’t think “Justin Bieber!” when I think “someone who makes great fashion choices.”

I’m sure you can imagine, given the mental picture I’ve painted for you, why I recently commented (nicely! casually!) to said friend that his hair was getting really long and asked if he was planning on cutting it (he’s the kind of person I can see going off into the woods on a “spiritual quest” for the weekend and then turning up three months later, not realizing how much time has gone by and surprised people have been worried about him, so I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d just forgot to cut his hair).

But, horror of horrors — he told me he was growing his hair out! To waist-length! On purpose!!! And that he was always going to wear it down because he doesn’t like when men wear ponytails!

I remember that I excused myself from the room to go vomit, but I must have actually stayed, since he then revealed to me that he’s had long hair before and that, in fact, he used to have dreadlocks! He took his straight, shiny, magicked-into-existence-by–woodland-fairies hair and made it into a dirty mass of wtf are you doing, white boy? 

At one point when he had dreadlocks, he also had a bushy beard, and when he saw his mother for the first time with these new style choices, she took one look at him and burst into tears. True story. (Also, he said that he no longer grows beards because the beard splits in the middle of his chin and gathers into two points. May I quote Joey Tribbiani when I say, “That goatee makes you look like Satan.”)

Now, my friend has no reason to give a flying #&$% what I think of his hairstyle, me or anyone else — although we are the ones who have to look at him all the time — but his desire to go from “Hellooooo there” to “I think that guy is going to try to steal my purse!” got me thinking: what is it that makes really handsome guys work to uglify all their natural pretty?

It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately since it’s been awards season, and despite the fact that the Oscars are better than Lunesta at combating insomnia, I somehow watched all of it. And all of the Golden Globes. And I think I watched part of the Emmys? Although I avoided the Grammys like the plague because I hate that shit — also, I want Chris Brown to crawl under a rock and die.

The point is, I watch these shows partly out of masochism (who doesn’t love watching mediocre art beating out good art for the title of “year’s best”!) and partly out of my love for fashion. I watch for the dresses, and the hairstyles, and the jewelry, and the shoes, and oh yeah, the suits and other men-type-things.

Unless you’re Ryan Gosling in that olive green suit from the Ides of March premier, or Darren Criss in that cranberry slim-cut, or any other sexy man in a suit that I want to pour into my glass and drink, mostly men at the Oscars (etc.) succeed through understatement, i.e. by simply not doing anything wrong.

The other night I ordered an olive in my martini, but he did not come with it.

Ditto every Cosmo or vodka cranberry I've ever had.

If you’re a man at the Oscars (etc.) and I don’t remember what you were wearing the next day, that’s probably a good sign — not an incredible sign, you didn’t wow me, but still, high five for you — a sign that you wore a black tuxedo that fit you well enough, rather than putting on something too crazy.

Since menswear excellence is often based around less-is-more (or around Tom Ford — everything that man makes is stunning), it’s other parts of male stars’ appearance that stand out to me. Lately, it’s their panic to cover up handsome.

And why? What, pray tell, is wrong with handsome? I’m a huge fan of handsome! Why are you taking the handsome away from me?!

If the media is going to push unrealistic beauty expectations on us at every waking moment, I might as well have some pretty men to show for it!

The Oscar Man Fug that had one of my best friends texting me in horror occurred on the face of one of my all-time favorite pretty, pretty men: Bradley Cooper.

Baby, WHY?! Let’s hope and pray this was for a movie. And we know it’s not actually for the role of Satan because that 3-D Paradise Lost flick got cancelled, thanks be to all that is good and holy.

Others, however, can’t so easily hide behind the “It’s for a role!” defense. Take, for example, Ashton Kutcher, who’s role on Three and a Half Men recently led to his being forced to fix his horrifying face. And by that I mean cut his hair and evict the rodents living on his chin.

Hey there! Sorry about destroying your ability to see! #lolz #megadouche

Now, while Ashton Kutcher is majorly not my type (and by that I mean that he is astonishingly accomplished in the art of douchebaggery), he does actually have a pretty face. You know, when he allows it to go outside.

I'm actually surprisingly cute, right?

That look is okay. The guess-how-long-it’s-been-since-I-showered! look? Not so much…

No high-fives for you. Go get the electric razor.

Christian Bale is another one that I’ve been having trouble with for a while. Look, I know that he’s a very good-looking man. I’ve seen Batman Begins. I’ve seen The Dark Knight. I’ve seen 3:10 to Yuma, and The Prestige, and Public Enemies. I even saw Terminator: Salvation, though I can’t imagine why. I’ve seen Newsies. I’ve even seen Pocahontas, and in Pocahontas he’s sexy as a cartoon!! And yet, when I see him at any public event lately, I can only think, “What did I see in this guy, again?”

Seriously, what did I see in him? Oh right, that’s what:

Mmm.

The movie-star-on-his-off-time-skipping-a-shave-or-two is a pretty common occurrence in tabloid photos/in actors’ actual lives, and that makes total sense to me: if it’s your job to look perfect every moment, I can see why you’d trash the razor and eat entire pizzas given the chance. However, I think this should stop at a point.

Yes, sometimes when I’m working on a paper (graduate school = now I’m a perma-student), I don’t leave my house for four days and I don’t shower or put on makeup or wear anything aside from pajamas or sweatpants, and my bangs are all twisted on top of my head and I get that twitch in my eye…but the point is that after I finish the paper (or happen to look in a mirror), I take a shower and put on some real clothes. Also, though I do frequently grocery shop after I go to the gym and thus venture into public with no makeup, a red face, and sweaty, sweaty hair, I usually don’t want to punish strangers for having to look at me.

And I think, given these recent photos, that Shia LaBeouf has reached the “punishing strangers who have eyes” stage.

via The Daily Mail

If I hadn’t been prompted by the headline to know that this was Shia LaBeouf and you’d asked me who this was a picture of, I’d have replied, “Some homeless guy,” or “A hipster.”

Shia’s not in the upper echelons of “Bring the smelling salts! She’s fainted!” handsome, but he is definitely not bad-looking, and he has this strangely sexy vibe that I’ve never been able to pin down. And if you can look like that bum/painter above or like this:

…guess which look I think you should pick.

Plus, my best friend K has run into him in Burbank and apparently he’s super chill and a great sport, and he dated Carey Mulligan for several years whom, if you read the site regularly you’ll know I totally adore, so I’ll continue like Shia — or as we’ll soon be calling him Shi-Yeti.

But while Shia LaBeouf is a young guy who seems like a bit of a wild card, some of the other “Keep the handsome away from me!! The power of fame compels you!!!” menfolk are less young and far more handsome.

Brad Pitt is potentially the worst offender of all, in that he been hiding his handsome behind bad haircuts and bad facial hair for years, and also because he has the most handsome to hide.

So close, and yet...

I despise his hair. Despite the fact that he probably has a stylist following him around his house adjusting his hair/clothes, Pitt’s long hair always manages to look like it hasn’t been washed in a few days.

And don’t tell Angie (or the tabloids), but I’d suggest that in the above picture (his official 2012 Oscars nominee portrait), he looks like he’s channeling ex Jennifer Aniston during her early Friends years. 

Short in the front, long in the back for no reason? Yep, it’s The Rachel, only without the proper styling — Brad forgot to add the mouse and blow-dry the top with a large round brush! Shame on you, Brad…

Also, that goatee has got to go. My favorite photo from the 2012 Oscars red carpet is the following one, because Brad’s facial expression is admitting what Brad himself refuses to admit: that facial hair is heinous.

"Please! Get it off me!" - Brad's face

We know you’re not 25 anymore, Brad, and that’s okay! We know you won’t look like you did in Thelma and Louise,  but you can still look like this:

Or like this:

Don’t let Angelina’s perma-perfect alien-skin get you feeling down about your wrinkles — you’re an earthborn human so you’re going to age, while she doesn’t seem to have that problem.

You’re still handsomer than 99.99999985% of men. Who have ever lived.

Brad, we love you, not as much as we love The Clooney, true, but we love you. So please, bring back the short hair and the clean shave, or even just the short hair!

But whatever you do, don’t go back to this:

I stand corrected. THAT goatee makes you look like Satan.

I Do Not Trust People Who…

February 14, 2012 § 3 Comments

I’m a judgmental person. I like to think myself as “discerning” rather than “judgmental,”  but let’s just call it like it is.

I try, however, to keep my criticism to myself (and close friends) — with the blatant exception of this blog. I can certainly be a bitch, but ripping someone a new bodily orifice because she admits to liking Mumford and Sons is just unnecessary.

Plus, maybe it’s my intense love for media so bad it’s good, or so overblown it’s great, but I don’t want other people to feel as if I’m looking down on them for watching The Vampire Diaries. Perhaps the base impulse here is my desire not to have others look down on me for watching Pretty Little Liars. Or Gossip Girl. Or Beauty and the Geek (man, I wish that show still existed). I have so many guilty pleasures I’ve just started calling them pleasures.

But I have known quite a few people over the course of my life that are unapologetic elitists. Or “pricks,” to use the common parlance. This is one of my least favorite personality traits, so naturally, I keep trying to date guys who possess it.

But really, I hate people who are dickish about what other people like. If the woman who works two cubicles down from you loves Taylor Swift, unless she plays “Love Story” on repeat without headphones, shut your damn mouth.

All that said, while you are free to like and dislike whatever you want (you are quite probably wrong, but that’s your prerogative), I do think it is fair to judge you based on what you know about and do not know about. If you think Camus is a perfume, I will think less of you.

Thus, below you will find a list of knowledge gaps, behavioral tendencies, and character traits that mean I will not trust you.

I will not trust you if

1. …you cannot quote Mean Girls. I don’t expect everyone to have memorized all ten seasons of Friends like I have (except for my best friend K, I do expect this of her. Luckily, she doesn’t disappoint), but Mean Girls is one of the movies of my generation (I will give you a pass on this point if we have a significant age gap). If you don’t know what I mean when I say that “My father, the inventer of toaster strudel” would not approve of something, our senses of humor are not going to align.

Why is this line the best thing ever? I don't even know. Speaking of: this is the best valentine I've ever seen. Thanks, Feminist Ryan Gosling.

2. …you don’t know who Paul McCartney is. During this Sunday’s Grammys, featuring an appearance by the man himself, the twittersphere blew up with this mess:

via Buzzfeed -- to be read with a keen sense of disgust and a fear for the future of humanity

I can forgive the people who haven’t heard of Bon Iver — although that ignorance demonstrates that we probably can’t be close friends, and we can definitely never date — even if they (well, Justin Vernon, so “he”) won their “Best New Artist” Grammy in 2012 when their first album came out in 2008. But Paul McCartney?! Paul McCartney!! Please God, tell me you know who the Beatles are.

I hate when older people say that the younger generation is taking the world straight to hell, but come on, is this a generation that have not only never heard the Beatles, they’ve never heard of the Beatles. Hello, Hades, I hear you have good pomegranates here…

3. …you do not like Adele. It’s fine to be sick of her songs getting overplayed on the radio — especially “Someone Like You,” which is an incredibly emotional and touching song and which I don’t want to hear after some Bruno Mars shit while I’m shopping for groceries. If you genuinely think that Adele is not a good singer or a good songwriter, even if her style is not necessarily for you, you have the musical IQ of Paris Hilton (remember “The Stars Are Blind”?) and are the emotional equivalent of fossilized dinosaur dung.

I didn't watch the Grammys, but I am happy she won all of the things. She deserves all the recognition she can get, even if the Grammys are a pandering mess that often make the Oscars look like the paragon of artistic taste.

4. …you do not like/watch television. My perverse fascination with The Bachelor aside, I truly think that television is an unfairly maligned and undervalued art form. The structure of multiple episodes produced over a long period of time allows TV shows to develop characters in a manner that other more limited media, such as film and even (non-series) novels, simply cannot approximate. This is not to say that television is a superior art form to film, but it can achieve things film cannot, and vice versa.

There’s a reason I sobbed wildly during the season 5 finale of Bones when Booth and Brennan finally express their love for each other and then not only do not get together, but depart for different parts of the globe for the next year. I care deeply about these two as human beings, and while I know that they are fictional characters that do not “exist” in our traditional understanding of the term, I do think that fictional characters engage us emotionally in important and useful ways, and as someone who loves stories, all forms of stories, I love a medium that allows narratives of human lives to be explored and examined over such a protracted period of time.

Anyone who doesn't think these two should be together was tragically born without a heart. Or the brain region responsible for feelings of empathy, as Brennan might more accurately say.

Plus, no one who’s ever seen Battlestar Galactica can say that television is an inferior art form. That show is like a philosophical treatise. With bonus Tamoh Penikett.

BSG's confronting the notion of fear of the Other would make the show incredibly necessary and beautiful, even if its many other nuances were absent.

I have friends who would like to spend all of their time climbing trees and growing organic food, and who are genuinely not interested in TV, but these people similarly are not interested in/do not like/do not know anything about film. The other day I was talking to a friend about a poem I wrote that features Ryan Gosling’s dog, and she said, “Is that an actor?” She wasn’t putting me on — this is simply someone for whom electronic media, including television and film, are not even peripheral to her life.

However, 9 times out of 9.78, if you are the kind of person to say, “What is this ’30 Rock’ of which you speak? I don’t watch television,” you’re probably an elitist asshole.

Most redeeming thing James Franco has ever done.

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