Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Revenge of Obligatory Halloween Post

All Hail Horror Houndz!

As I documented in last year's Halloween post, I became addicted to the horror genre at a pretty young age.  Almost too young, since I wasn't old enough to sneak into movie theaters and home video at the time wasn't as accessible as it is now.  As a neophyte horror fan growing up in a small town, my options were really limited. 

So, for the longest time, I had to be content with reading about scary movies instead of seeing them.  The authors of many of these books seemed to be older dudes who thought that the genre began with Silent Films and began to tip into despotism with the bloody and boob-ridden Hammer cycle of horror remakes.  A lot of these writers seemed to believe that the more extreme examples of modern horror (from 1968 onward) actually had the essence of evil woven right into the very fabric of the film itself.

As a good little dweeb who's mindset was safely cloistered away in a Catholic school, I had no problem subscribing to this hypothesis.  After all, I'd been thoroughly traumatized by such slo-pitch fare as Poltergeist and Night of the Living Dead.  When I was able to sneak in the odd VHS rental of heavy hitters like An American Werewolf in London I quickly became convinced that certain movie directors were certifiably nuts and had the ability to cast a "fear" spell on the viewer at will.  They didn't use magic wands or enchanted staves to do this.  They used cursed film stock, clearly marinated in the essence of pure evil.

Up to that point in time, I'd survived several system shocks but I knew that there was still one film so dark, so intense, so unremittingly nasty that a viewing was inevitable.  Unfortunately, my trusted horror film anthology writers did very little fortify me:

"...for all its goriness and the contempt heaped upon it by those who considered its overt ghoulishness too much, (this is) an amazingly influential movie."

Horrors: A History of Horror Movies by Tom Hutchinson and Roy Pickard

"...the most talked about film of its day.  A movie that people just had to see, if they could stand it.  For years studio publicists issued claims that this or that horror film was so terrifying that people with weak hearts should not attend or that members of the audience had fainted or fled the theater screaming.  The same sort of claims were made about (this film) but at least some of them appeared to be true.  The difference was that instead of being frightened out of the theater, people had to leave because they were feeling disgusted or sick.  A good deal of the impact of the film came from scenes of the girl spouting obscenities in the devil's voice and the most talked-of scene was one in which she vomits what looks like split-pea soup in full view of the camera."

Horror Movies by Daniel Cohen

"...the Satanic occupee...breaks every rule of social behaviour from urinating on the carpet to emitting large quantities of spinach-green vomit.  En route she masturbates with a crucifix, levitates her bed, speaks with a voice deeper then Paul Robeson and hurls a well-intentioned priest out of the window."

Horror Films by Nigel Andrews               

Really?  Seriously!?  Surely you weren't allowed to show such things in a film.  I actually found myself humoring the opinion of prototypical televangelist Billy Graham: if the film-makers willingly opted to exhibit such dark material then the resulting movie had to be the embodiment of pure Satanic influence.  I was at an impasse.  I couldn't call myself a horror film aficionado and not see this movie.  On the other hand, if I watched it, was I playing with spiritual nitroglycerine?

In the end, my addiction to fear won out over prudent and rational thought.  One day, during Christmas vacation (ironic!), I went down to the video store, rented a copy of this notorious video nasty and then waited patiently for my parents to vacate the premises.  Like a true masochist, I shut off all the lights in the house and then hunkered down to watch what was supposedly the scariest film ever made.

The Exorcist (1973)

Right off the bat, director William Friedkin came at me full-bore using the power of sound.  During the scene in which Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow) discovers a small demonic headpiece, he employed a weird, ambient, electronic buzz which sounded like a cloud of flies.  Instantly I was ill-at ease.  This technique was used again later when Merrin engages in a stare-down with the full-sized statue of Pazuzu.  As a small-town rube, I even found the dissonant Arabic singing (which I now recognize as the "Athan", or the call for prayer time in Islam) which accompanied the film's title card to be slightly unnerving.

Auditory elements continued to be Friedkin's greatest weapon.  Even after the film segued to more familiar environs, I was kept off-kilter by the strange, unnatural noises coming from Chris MacNeil's well-to-do attic.  And then came the gloriously unnerving strains of "Tubular Bells" by Mike Oldfield.  Could there be any more appropriate musical accompaniment as Chris (Ellen Burstyn) walks home through the October leaves and wind?  To this day, the only comparably effective piece of music I can think of is John Carpenter's soundtrack for Halloween.  

The matter-of-fact sensibilities Friedkin applied to good effect in those early Iraq scenes were expertly transplanted to Georgetown.  For the first time ever I met famous actress and single mom Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) and her cherubic, freshly-scrubbed daughter Regan (Linda Blair).  I couldn't help but notice that their scenes together were completely devoid of illusion, conceit or pretension.  Their candid performances and the film's documentary style really sold the film for me.  I was completely and totally on board.

I watched with growing interest as one of my current practices was ignored and a future warning was proffered.  As a child, I was always cautioned about "catching a draft" while I slept, so my bedroom window was frequently barred shut overnight.  Honestly, growing up in Newfoundland where the temperature barely exceeds twenty-five degrees Celsius, this really isn't a big deal.  In the film, Regan sleeps with her window wide open, allowing easy access for something considerably more malevolent then cold germs.  I remember feeling very superior about myself while watching this.

Then Regan shows her mom how she communicates with her invisible friend "Captain Howdy" via a Ouija Board.  I'd never seen such a thing before and I didn't encounter one in the flesh until many years later.  Contrary to the self-moving planchette and the inference that the demon introduced itself to Regan via this "spirit board", a bunch of us ended up messing around with one of these things in University.

That is, until we had a super-creepy experience in which we contacted the spirit of a four-year-old girl who claimed that she'd been drowned in a bathtub.  When we tried to get her to elaborate, all the planchette did was alternate between the letters "M" and "B".  After hours of coaxing, the spirit slowly, methodically and accurately began spelling out "MOMMY BAD" over and over again.  Needless to say, that pretty much ended my career as an amateur medium.

Back in The Exorcist, I was then introduced to a sad-sack Jesuit priest named Father Damien Karras, brilliantly portrayed by Jason Miller.  After a seemingly pointless scene in which a street derelict asks him for spare change ("Could you help an old altar boy, Fatha?  I'm a Cat-lick!"), Damien heads back to the sort of scummy old neighborhood that once existed in 70's-era New York City.  Karras pops in on his aging Greek mater who adamantly refuses to leave "her home", even though her apartment looks like someone detonated a broom closet filled with religious artifacts.

As a certified psychologist, Karras would be swimming in loot and much better equipped to care for his ailing mother if he'd just gone into private practice instead of becoming a priest.  A real moment of terrestrial horror occurs when his mother ends up in the sort of facility that 60 Minutes would try to smuggle a camera into.  As Karras pushed his way through a horde of dementia-ravaged zombies, I got shades of visiting my own grandmother, recently institutionalized in the latter stages of Alzheimer's.  There'd been a consistent vein of fantasy running through all of the horror movies I'd seen to that point, which allowed me to detect the comforting facade of fiction.  In the case of The Exorcist, Friedkin neglected to throw this psychological life preserver out to me.

Not long after we see that Damien Karras is at a spiritual impasse, finding it virtually impossible to council people experiencing a crisis in faith.  "There isn't a day in my life when I haven't felt like a fraud," he tells a compatriot at one point.  Since priests were considered a bedrock of conviction to me as a child, it was shocking to hear even a fake one make this sort of on-screen admission.  I suppose  this really speaks volumes about how authentic Jason Miller is in this role.  

Up to this point, I really couldn't describe The Exorcist as a scare-a-minute fun house ride.  In fact, by modern standards, the first quarter of film is downright pedestrian.  But every time I watch the film I'm profoundly impressed with William Friedkin's patience.  By exhibiting restraint and treating the audience as if they have an attention span he gives us three-dimensional characters we care about while lulling us into a false sense of security.  At the same time, he's planting tiny seeds of of discord in our primitive reptilian brains.

As Chris inched through the attic, still seeking the source of the disembodied noises, her candle suddenly exploded in a gout of flame, causing me to pee a little.  Downstairs, Regan is shown lying wide-eyed awake in her bed.  The next morning a priest brings flowers into a local church, where he discovers that a statue of the Virgin Mary has been obscenely desecrated.  It was at this point in time when I began to realize that I was in b-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-g trouble.

Like Karras, my own faith was pretty much non-existent at the time.  The Mount Cashel scandal had exploded, and priests once regarded as pillars of the community were being exposed as pedophiles and perverts.  But even as such stories were coming to light, it was still difficult to shrug off fifteen years of religious indoctrination.  Seeing the perverse state of that otherwise beatific statue, obviously shot on location, made my head spin (pun not intended).  Immediately I began to wonder if Friedkin had his own dirt on the church.  Why else would the clergy allow him to commit something so nakedly blasphemous to film?

The film then systematically went about shattering one taboo after another.  Thumbing her nose at her mom's HIGH SOCIETY soiree, Regan materialized from out of nowhere, predicted doom for one of the guests and then decided to test the carpet's Scotch Guard capabilities.  In a glorious moment of 70's-era pop-psychology, Chris kept re-assuring Regan that it's "just nerves" and if she "takes her pills everything will be fine".  At the time I was pretty sure that a mittful of sedatives wouldn't do much to prevent a kid's bed from bouncing around on the floor.

After subjecting Karras to a bad dream so vivid that I knew it was contagious, Friedkin proceeded to contrast this with Regan's own medical nightmare.  Indeed, her spinal tap is documented in such sweat-inducing detail it's like watching an excised scene from Faces of Death.  The juxtaposition between real-world fears and traditional supernatural horror was almost too much for my fifteen-year-old brain to handle.  Eventually all of these bugaboos merged together so seamlessly that they were completely indistinguishable from one another.

Since a kid's room is normally a place of safety and asylum, I watched in abject fear as Regan's attempted to kill her.  Then, from out of nowhere, an impossibly evil voice emerged from within this hitherto angelic little girl and croaked "Keep away!  The sow is mine!"  This was then followed up with a stunningly loathsome open invitation for the gathered physicians to violate the demon's host.  It was as someone had just hit me upside the head with a two-by-four.  

Friedkin's unwillingness to strike the same note of terror over and over again instantly got under my skin.  He had every fear covered: the loss of a loved one, mental and physical illness, a lack of faith, loss of control, and the threat of unexplained external forces.  He kept ringing all of these disparate bells at once, battering my psyche with an orchestral arrangement of unadulterated fear and creating an overwhelming sensation of resignation and despair.

Like Chris MacNeil, I grew increasingly enraged as the doctors and scientist keep shining her on, clearly willing to say anything to preserve the illusion of reality and keep the engine of medical enterprise intact.  It's not until a psychologist's family jewels get crushed before a small team of shrinks begin to humor the possibility of an exorcism.  Even then, their attitudes are condescending and tongue in cheek.  "The victim's belief in possession helped cause it. And just in the same way, this belief in the power of exorcism can make it disappear," once of them says, probably in an effort to get Regan's enraged mother out of his office.

So, what makes Chris, a staunch atheist, seek help from Catholic priest whom she openly describes as a bunch of "witch doctors"?  More then any other, the next scene in the film can be credited for packing churches to capacity in the first few months of 1974.  Chris comes home after yet another futile meeting with eggheads only to witness the entire contents of her daughter's room spinning around, poltergeist style.  She also notices that Regan is using a pilfered crucifix in a rather, shall we say, unconventional manner.

Accompanying this shock is a still-convincing, one-hundred-and-eighty-degree head spin and the sort of language that would make Bill Hicks wince.  Chris's resulting screams linger unnaturally, providing the perfect segue for the next shot of Karras cresting a hill in silhouette, surrounded by skeletal trees and a corona of fall leaves.  It's an appropriately chilling effect for a transition that offers little visual comfort or reprieve.

I stopped the movie at this point, turned on all the lights in the house, and tried to gather my shattered wits.  I'd never seen anything so egregiously and deliberately shocking.  Even at this jaded stage in my life, after witnessing some of the goriest, nastiest visions ever committed to film, this sequence still sticks in my brain like a splinter.  Back then I spent a considerable amount of time rocking back and forth and muttering that classic mantra 'It's only a movie, It's only a movie' until I could summon the fortitude to keep going.  My greatest fear was knowing that the really sustained shocks were yet to come.    

I watched with growing dread as Friedkin eliminated everything on the soundtrack save a terrible wheezing noise that got louder and louder as Karras ascends the steps to Regan's room.  By this time, the voice of veteran actress Mercedes McCambridge is front and center, giving the demon an otherworldly realism that could never have been achieved through electronic sources.  When Karras plays back his interview with the demon we can clearly hear multiple voices, foreign languages and more backward messages then an ELO album.  The effect is completely jarring.      

Added to this extraordinary vocal performance is Linda Blair's startling physical transformation, courtesy of make-up genius Dick Smith.  Under Friedkin's guidance, Smith clearly went for realism, treating possession like a physical affliction.  His designs suggested that Regan was scarring herself with her fingernails (or that poor, abused crucifix) and the resulting wounds looked both angry and enflamed.  The notorious vomit sequence, rigged up by special effects technician Marcel Vercoutere, was supposed to hit Jason Miller square in the chest.  Unfortunately, it ended up tagging him right in the mush, resulting in a genuinely surprised and pissed off actor as well as one of the most famous  "out-takes" actually used in a final cut.

Another taboo broken, another pause.  It was the first time I'd ever seen someone barf in a film, so I had to drink a glass of water to settle the roiling content of my stomach.  Eventually the masochist in me hit the pause button again and I attempted yet another drive towards the summit of terror.

Now, all of this would normally add up to a surplus of pants-wettery for the average horror flick, but Friedkin wasn't done with me just yet.  Accompanied by Jack Nitzsche's spine-jangling musical stings, the message "help me" is shown boiling up on Regan's abdomen.  Then the demon apes the voice of the "old altar boy" who asked Karras for money earlier, bending both the priest's noodle and our own in one fell swoop.

This time I shut off the VCR and spent some time blissfully flipping through the mindlessly cheerful, gleefully vapid Christmas programming on T.V. at the time.  After taking in a few reels of Frosty the Snowman and gaining some assurance that the world wasn't a completely awful place, I steeled myself once again and plunged back into my self-inflicted nightmare.  

Fortunately, the cavalry arrived not long after in the form of unflappable Father Merrin.  Before my unblinking eyes, Friedkin unspooled that famous image of a cab pulling up to the fog-shrouded MacNeil house.  A lone figure stepped out, bathed in a shaft of ethereal light emanating from Regan's bedroom.  As soon as he set foot inside that besieged house, Merrin was all-business, as evidenced by the following terse exchange with Karras:

Karras:  I think it might be helpful if I gave you some background on the different personalities Regan has manifested. So far, I'd say there seem to be three. She's convinced...
Merrin:  There is only one.      

No preamble, no briefing, Merrin's clearly a guy who just wants to get shit done.  'This guy is totally pimp!' I enthused to myself, 'Everything's gonna be fine now!'  The character's appeal is thanks in large part to accomplished actor Max Von Sydow, who was only forty-four at the time, but plays eighty better then any actor who's come before or since.  And then there's Dick Smith's incredibly subtle aging makeup which still no modern parallel.

Despite Merrin's serene confidence, the walk up to Regan's room is like a funeral procession.  And little wonder, since our heroes are soon assailed from all sides with gouts of day-glo vomit, shaking beds, flying furniture, low level earthquakes, levitating hosts, gleefully obscene foul language and the re-appearance of our old pal Pazuzu.  Even as Karras begins to crack, Merrin remains unflappable.  His spirit is resolute, even as his body seems on the verge of failure.  

'Yes!' I thought to myself. 'Merrin's got this!  He's got this by the ass!  He's go...oh wait...he's dead.'

Which bring me to the most potent and empowering scene in the film.  Karras returns to the charnel room and is horrified to to discover Merrin's lifeless body.  The still-possessed Regan is shown sitting off to the side, staring vacantly like an infant who's just drowned a hamster in an aquarium.  But when Karras freaks out and attempts to resuscitate the old priest she actually starts giggling.  Giggling, fer Chrissakes!  

Naturally, Damien snaps, throws Regan to the floor and literally beats the demon out of her.  He willingly admits the entity into his own body but quickly realizes that he has no way to control it.  His final solution is shocking, noble and supremely tragic.

At the end of the film, I was shaking worse then Father Dyer giving last rites.  Although I'd survived the process I was put off of horror movies (not to mention a good night's sleep) for several weeks after.  Despite the nasty assault on my wits, I knew that the film was something special.  The casting was impeccable, the direction was excellent, the performances were great, the dialogue was solid, the effects were seamless and the script's tension built up to inconceivable heights.

Like all great films, The Exorcist has lingered with me over the past twenty five years.  For a film that does unimaginably awful things to its characters and the audience, its production values are just as good (if not better) then most Oscar-winning films.  Think about this for a moment: there's a helluva lot more people who care about The Exorcist then inert, passionless crap like The English Patient.

Just by documenting the reprehensible depravities of the central demon, the film asserts that raw, elemental evil is very, very real.  Yet, in the same breath, the story is rife with nobility, self-sacrifice and redemption.

As such, I really don't see evil in the film anymore.  I see renewed faith, the potential of man and the inevitable triumph of light over darkness.      

EPIC DOC  I love "warts and all" behind the scenes docs.  I wanna be Mark Kermode when I grow up...

EPIC FOOTAGE  If you have a hard time believing how impactful The Exorcist was upon first release, check out this vintage vid...

SEQUEL FAIL  Avoid The Heretic at all cost.  Unless you wanna have a MST3K nite.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Grating Outdoors

Was' Happenin', Outdoorsy Types?

I've talked at length before about hating this time of year.  As soon as it starts getting dark around 7 pm and the temperatures drop below 20 degrees Celsius (that's 68 degrees Fahrenheit for all you non-Metric types), I feel as if I'm waiting for the winter boot to drop.  Sorry, but I don't care that much about colored leaves.  If it's color you want then just take a hit of acid and break out the Crayolas.      

I already miss being outdoors.  Hiking.  Swimming.  Soakin' up the rays.  Between October and May (or September and June in a really bad year) I feel myself slowly becoming more and more pale and sedentary every day.  Since I've got the circulatory system of a ninety-year-old shut-in and my significant other is deathly allergic to the cold, things like skiing, snowshoeing and sledding don't happen very often (read: at all).  As a result, by the time Spring rolls around, I'm usually more out of shape then your average toll booth operator.

Ergo, I need one of these three things to happen this winter:
  1. I need to purchase an alterna-home in either Florida, California or Costa Rica.
  2. OR I need an extended vacation in Saint-Martin.
  3. OR I need to begin construction on a giant indoor terrarium which accurately re-creates a pristine lakeside environment.
Now, I've since been informed that all of these plans require copious amounts of cash so the odds of any of these things happening soon is about as likely as Paul Ryan tearing up his nude wallet photos of Ayn Rand.

I wasn't always like this.  During my early teens I'd think nothing of frittering away the hottest, sunniest days in July sitting indoors working on my latest D&D magnum opus.  Usually my folks would have to root me out of my bedroom with a rake, which they'd then promptly hand to me with an express order to make the front lawn look presentable.  Remember, this was back in the Mesozoic era when parents had kids expressly for the purpose of procuring cheap labor.

Besides raking, some of my other despised childhood outdoor chores included:

(1) Fence Construction.  Immediately followed by fence painting and a routine schedule of fence maintenance.  Putting this Skull-Island-sized gate together in the first place was traumatic enough, since the raw lumber attracted swarms of these charming critters:
"Oh, hai!  Im a horntale wazp an eyed lik to sting youze repeetedlee now, pleez!"

(2) Roofing.  This one was great since it combined my distaste for the outdoors with a stark fear of heights.  As if being perched up on top of the garage wasn't bad enough, often I'd be on top of a ladder on top of the garage.  Hooray for vertigo!

(3) Lawn Maintenance.  When I was first assigned this task I tried the whole "Hey, if I do a really shitty job I'll never be asked to do it again" tactic!  Yeah, that didn't work.  After mowing the lawn like a spider whacked out on PCP, I was soundly chastised and then forced to go out and fix this "embarrassment to the neighborhood".  Eventually I started to enjoy lawn mowing 'cuz at least it produced immediate and gratifying results.  Which could explain my current adult fetish for vacuuming.  Plus, what fifteen year old kid doesn't like to be armed with a weed whacker?

Sometimes basic outdoor chores just weren't enough of a system shock.  So, whenever Dad got the impression that I'd been cooped up for too long or I was getting so pale that I was verging on transparency, he'd stick me on a bike and then force me to chase him all over town.

During one of these Premium Rush outtakes, I was barrelling down Minnesota Drive trying to keep up with him when he suddenly decided to hook an Automan-style, ninety-degree turn right up onto Maryland Drive.  I only had a millisecond to react and by the time my brain told my body what to do, I ended up splitting the difference (as well as my cranium).  

Maryland Drive had just gotten new sidewalks, so the curbs were about as high as the West Bank Barrier.  The front wheel of my bike hit this concrete monolith and sent me pitching head over heels like that crazy mid-air pinwheel / cannonball stunt in The Road Warrior.

Just as soon as I was airborne I knew that I wasn't going to stick the landing, so I took great pains to come down on a non-vital body part: I.E. my face.  Needless to say, it was a real treat digging pebbles out of my cheek and prying my mangled eyeglasses out of my forehead with a flathead screwdriver.

"How bad is it?  It's really startin' to sting now..."

Fishing trips were my alternate punishment.  Before I go any further, I need to establish that I was a really weenie kid.  Even more of a weenie then I am as an adult, which is really saying something.

I was such a pathetically sheltered little dweeb that I'd often use a black felt tip pen to scratch out any "naughty" words that I came across in my sci-fi magazines and replace them with family-friendly alternatives.  I didn't know it at the time, but I seemed to be preparing myself for a high-profile and lucrative career as a prime-time television network movie sensor.  

Anyway, I distinctly remember one particular time when Dad asked me to go on a fishing trip with him.  Actually if you replace the works "asked me to go on" with "auto-enrolled me in", that would probably be a helluva lot more accurate.

That day we peeled off the highway onto a dirt road and drove for what felt like two-hundred and forty-six kilometers.  Then, with absolutely no discernible cue, he suddenly pulled over by the side of the road and declared with one-hundred percent certainty that "this was the place".  After descending a precariously steep rocky bank we plunged into a thicket of woods that made the Black Forest in Germany look like the Montréal Botanical Garden.

As if navigating through this Amazonian underbrush wasn't bad enough I had to contend with  ravenous clouds of miniature, winged, bloodsucking stirges.  And let me tell you, Kind Reader, black flies and mosquitoes consider me to be nothing less then a "nummie treat".   Although I was "lucky" enough to inherit my Dad's protuberant, bullet-deflecting knee caps I certainly wasn't born with his blood type, which appears to be lethal to insects.  In fact, if I ever make the mistake of wandering too close to a copse of trees or a tiny puddle of still water I tend to get swarmed.  To these marauding midges, I must smell like a bucket of KFC in a trailer park.  


Arms flayed by thorny branches, boots half sucked off by boggy sinkholes, and marinated in enough DEET to poison the water supply of a half-dozen Vietnamese villages, I forged on, struggling to keep up with Dad, who was drifting through the woods like a wendigo.  It was then when I realized, to my horror, that my fishing line had gotten caught up on a branch about a half-a-mile back along the non-existent trail.  By the time we located the source of the snag we could almost see the car.

During this interlude all of those verboten and previously-excised magazine swear words all came back to me in a gloriously cathartic rush of unadulterated profanity.  My Morman-like moratorium was over. Honestly, I probably would have made Louis C.K. blush.

So, yes, I didn't have a great track record with the Grating Outdoors, but being a Canadian (not to mention a Newfoundlander) I knew that, deep down, I must have some affinity for the wild.  This hypothesis was eventually proven correct when a tentative series of successful camping excursions as an adult proved to be both relaxing and enjoyable.

But the thing that really turned me around was when a former co-worker asked me: 'Hey, did you ever check out all those lakes that are up around where you live?'  At the time I had no idea what he was talking about but I never forgot the question.  Then, a few years later, I did some Google map research and spent an entire day trying to find these mythical places.

The first site was rife with teenagers and broken glass.  The second place was cleaner but still overpopulated.  But then, just as soon as I crested the rocky apex of the third spot, I knew that I'd discovered a little slice of Paradise mere minutes away from home.  Bonus points: there were barely any miniature flying vampires anywhere in sight!

I quickly made up for lost time.  If the forecast was sunny and temperatures in excess of twenty degrees were predicted, I'd work feverishly all morning to electronically transcribe the previous day's longhand and then spend the rest of the day ensconced in my unconventional but tastefully decorated exterior office.  No cubicle.  No recycled air.  No oppressively claustrophobic ceiling.  No sickly florescent lighting.  It was the perfect environment for inspiration.

Subsequently, I fell madly in love with Mother Earth.  The only problem is that I'm completely addicted to this ritual and when I can't be with her I become sullen and depressed.  Like Lancelot in Excalibur; I've come to rely upon Gaia to heal my spiritual ills.  The long, dry, dull, monochromatic days of winter days do absolutely nothing to assuage me.

So, how's this for a deal?  If I can get enough people to buy my book I'll funnel the profits directly into constructing an indoor, all-season pleasure dome which every one of my sponsors can visit!         
Fine print: sufficient copies of the book must be sold in order to finance the construction of the preciously mentioned Xanadu.  One visit per customer per proof of purchase.  Offer void for douchebags.         
EPIC POEM  One of my all-time favorites.

EPIC STUNT  Wanna see a re-creation of my infamous bike crash?  Check it out at the 2:24 mark... 

EDITED FOR T.V. FAIL  Man, am I ever glad that I dodged that particular career path.  Half of this is gloriously NSFW, the other half is spectacularly lame. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

TLC = The Loser Channel

"Take me to Amy Winter!"

Regards, Reality T.V. Reformers!

A large contingent of people on this planet are convinced that life on Earth will end as we know it on December 21'st, 2012.  Some believe that our world will be devastated in some manner, either by a black hole, a chain reaction of natural disasters, a solar flare or a collision with an Armageddon-sized asteroid.  Others believe that this sea change will take the form of a global revolution whereby the masses finally rise up, throw off the shackles of their oppressors and demand a paradigm shift.

Then there's another interesting theory which assumes that our planet was actually seeded with human life millions of years ago by a higher power.  As such, we've unwittingly spent the past two-hundred thousand years moving towards this date; our progress keenly monitored by invisible overlords.  Its believed that these entities adhere to a strict laissez-faire / "Prime Directive" sort of arrangement which prevents them from Etch-A-Sketching us into oblivion unless we completely bottom out as a race of sentient beings.

And let me tell ya, folks, given all of our miss-steps over the years we've come pretty damned close to bottoming out on several occasions.  There was that whole "Dark Ages"/Spanish Inquisition thang.  We've indulged in more wars then you can shake a skud missile at.  We continue to deny basic civil rights to people just because of their skin color, gender, age or sexual orientation.  A clinically diagnosed moron was in charge of the most powerful nation on the planet for no less then eight friggin' years.

Contrary to all of these setbacks, I still held out hope that we were all moving in the right general direction and making those hypothetical parent entities reasonably proud of us.  Sure, every once and awhile our inter-dimensional supervisors probably looked down on us and thought: "Okay, granted they're a little f#@%ed up sometimes but, hey, they've still got their hearts in the right place!"

But recently I've seen something that's seriously compromised my faith, to the point in which I'm now totally convinced that we've hit the utter nadir of human behavior.  As a result, I know that it's only a matter of time before our celestial taskmasters return to earth and reboot all of us with a song in their hearts (presumably this one, BTW).       

And what morale-shredding spectacle did I witness recently that could so completely and utterly shatter my faith in humanity?  Look, then, upon the face of madness and despair...

Before I proceed with the autopsy, let me just give you some context by telling you a little bit about the ethically bankrupt network that currently disseminates this televised abortion.

The Learning Channel was established in a joint effort by N.A.S.A. (!) and the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (!!!) in 1972.  Its noble goal: to provide education though the widespread and all-pervasive medium of television.  Despite being privatized in 1980, the station continued to feature practical programming on such diverse topics as medicine, science, nature, home improvement, history, technology, cooking and current events.

When The Learning Channel's sister station FNN (the Financial News Network) fell upon hard times in the early Nineties, it was sold off to The Discovery Channel.  The new owners continued to foster educational content for quite some time but as their ratings began to dip a conscious shift was made towards the growing phenomenon of "info-tainment".

*HUUURRRKKK!!!*  Sorry, but that term always makes me throw up in my mouth a little bit.   

The network's block of educational children's programming was the first to go.  I remember the network starting to piss me off in the late 90's when they began to feature what I could only describe as a series of "cradle to grave" reality shows.  Between A Wedding Story (1996-present) and A Baby Story (1998-present), the network began an extensive and rather insidious campaign to re-assure women that if they weren't married and/or pregnant (or preferably both) by the time they were thirty then they were pretty much failures at life.

Little surprise then that the network began to refer to itself as TLC versus The Learning ChannelHmmmmm, quick show of hands, how many people out there think that TLC stands for Tender Loving Care?

The network continued to excise educational content in lieu of sensationalistic crap featuring high-speed car chases, emergency ward trauma, killer tornadoes, and medical oddities.  When they weren't titillating audiences with exploitational garbage they were teaching them to be vapid, materialistic, superficial douchebags with a series of shows about such hot-button topics as home decor (like Trading Spaces from 2001 to 2008) and dating (the wittily titled A Dating Story from 2000-2002).    

In the mid-2000's the TLC powers-that-be started seem to have second thoughts about the direction of the network.  They briefly adopted the catch phrase "Live And Learn" and for one last glorious shining moment they began referring to themselves as The Learning Channel again.  But since responsible programming doesn't always translate into ratings, the network was soon completely awash with brain- dead reality shows and completely useless decorating programs.

The station really began its concentrated power dive into the dumper back in 2008 when it kicked off its "Life Surprises" schedule of programming.  Pretty soon every show seemed to fall into one of the following categories:
  1. Midgets on Vacation  Little People, Big World.  Little Chocolatiers.  The Little Couple.  Hey, look, small folks do the same things that average-sized people do, just with more steps and ladders.  What a f#@king revelation!  
  2. She's More Uterus Then Woman!  Hey, gals!  You too can be on television if you're willing to  turn yer vag into an echo chamber.  No show brainwashed more girls into going "Octomom" then Kids By The Dozen and John & Kate + Eight.  That is until Kids and Counting came along.  This last reprehensible piece of dreck came complete with a heaping side-order of Jesus Camp-style propaganda!  Hey, Jim Bob and can only keep your kids in an ignorance bubble for so long!  As soon as they catch so much as a sidelong glance at the internet they're gonna go completely Mickey and Mallory on you.    
  3. Can I Have Another Piece Of Chocolate Cake?  DC Cupcakes.  Fabulous Cakes.  Ultimate Cake Off.  Seriously, I like Cake Boss as much as the next guy, but TLC needs to be cited for single-handedly contributing to the North American obesity epidemic.  Fondant isn't a food group, people!  
Although you'd be hard-pressed to learn anything from the gems listed above, the next wave of TLC shows made 19 Kids and Counting look like Bill Nye The Science Guy.  Any pretensions to respectability were flushed right down the loo with the following electronic freak shows:
  1. Addicted A.K.A. "Sure I like to do whippets on the weekend by at least I'm not whacked out on crystal meth!"  
  2. My Strange Addiction A.K.A. "Sure I'm addicted to crystal meth but at least I don't drink my own urine!"  
  3. One Big Happy Family / My 600 Pound Life A.K.A. "Sure I'm big-boned but at least they won't need to cut a hole in my bedroom wall to crane-lift my beluga-sized corpse out when I die of heart failure at age forty!"
  4. Hoarding: Buried Alive  A.K.A "Sure I've got some clutter in my apartment but at least I don't have dead cats stacked up like cordwood the corner of my bathroom!"
  5. Abby & Brittany  AK.A. "Sure my life sucks but at least I'm not congenitally joined to my own sister!"  
Honestly, the last thing these people need is a dead-eyed camera lens stuck in their face, drawing knee-jerk "holier then thou" scorn from a nation of slack-jawed yokels.

Which invariably bring me to my final category:
  1. Toddlers & Tiaras A.K.A. Bitter Harpies Living Vicariously Through Their Creepily Pan-Sexualized Afterthought Daughters.
  2. Sister Wives A.K.A. I Got 99 Problems And My Four Wives Contribute Exponentially To This.
  3. Outrageous Kid Parties  "Now, we know how hard it is for some people to pay their cable bills in this tough economy but we're just gonna add insult to injury by showing you how little of a f#@k rich assholes care about that."  
  4. My Big Fat (Fill In The Blank) Wedding  Condoning racism and feelings of superiority in the viewer by emphasizing the worst aspects of a barely-understood culture since 2010!  
  5. The aforementioned Here Comes Honey Boo Boo A.K.A. TLC Tricks Oblivious Uber- Rednecks Into Providing Weekly Visual Evidence Of Chronic And Ritualized Child Abuse.    
The worst thing about Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is that our bar of self-respect has slipped so low that we're actually willing to legitimize their behavior.  For the first time ever, people are proudly "coming out" as rednecks.  This is even happening here in Canada, which is hilarious since our brief summers barely give our necks a chance to get singed.

It's like the word "diva", which was once used to describe stuck-up, prima-donna attention whores who were willing to do anything to make themselves look better.  Now it's used to describe a host of female singers like Celine Dion, Mariah Carey and Jennifer Lopez.

Wait, bad example.  Lemme try that again...

Lately the term "redneck" has come to describe lovable shlubs who enjoy life's simple pleasures.  They cling stubbornly to their own myopic opinions, they're completely oblivious to the concept of self-assessment and they're perfectly content to exist in a world that extends no further then the reach of their own bloated appendages.  They like self-assertive music, wildlife-related fashions, non-threatening comedy, water-flavored beer and cars that are so awesome they only need to make left turns.  Sounds pretty straightforward, huh?

Sorry, but calling someone else a "redneck" is just about the worst thing that you can possibly say to another human being.  Especially if you believe, as I do, that the meaning of life is to learn new things, travel to different places, absorb disparate points of view and use these experiences to improve yourself as a human being.  As opposed to wallowing in sloth and ignorance.

Couple this with a strident-yet-mindless misinterpretation of the genuine societal ill of "bullying" and we've got a potential disaster on our hands.  As part of the show's promotional material, TLC routinely releases troll-baiting photos like this:

So, naturally, media outlets like radio stations pick up these photo and then plaster them over their Facebook pages and websites, inviting listeners to comment.  As such, is anyone really surprised when  people start sharpening their knives and throw out painfully accurate appraisals like "Pathetic", "Abusive", "Shameful", "Exploitative", "Sick" and my own personal favorite:


Since the act of posting this photo is akin to throwing an entire flat of Beggin' Strips into a pack of starving labrador retrievers, I really can't blame people for responding with such vitriol.  What I can't fathom is how some morons have come to interpret this as "cyber-bullying".

"Cyber-bullying"?  Seriously!?  The whole point of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is that these slack-jawed troglodytes are willing to globally humiliate themselves at a discount rate.  Frankly I'd be disappointed in my fellow human beings if they didn't call them out.  It's the whole point of the friggin' show, fer Crissakes!  If you're stupid enough to hang out on a street corner holding a 'Kick Me' sign then you shouldn't be surprised when your breath ends up smelling like shoe polish.

In spite of this truism, a deluded posse of young, idealistic, self-righteous parents (who are apparently more naive then their own brainwashed larvae) are shouting charges of cyber-bullying at anyone who dares to accurately refer to June Shannon as "a human thumb".  Really?  Seriously?!?!

Hmmmm, dontcha think that there's a slight difference between these masochistic yahoos and some poor gay kid in Junior High who's had his Twitter account routinely bombed with homophobic epithets?  Jesus, people, stop swilling the Kool-Aid and come back to earth!    

One final thing.  As much as I'd like to blame all of this on the conscienceless, greedy, corporate weasels in charge of TLC's programming, most of the blame should fall squarely upon us, the undiscriminating viewer.  The network pinheads succumbed to weakness and dumbed down its programming mainly because there weren't enough viewers genuinely interested in enriching, intelligent and informative programming.  They started to pander to the lowest common denominator because, ultimately, we vote with our remote controls and currently we're voting more Hee Haw then Reading Rainbow.

Please, I implore you: stop slowing down to gawk at these car crashes.  Don't even watch this shit ironically.

We have to prove that we're better then this.  

The very future of the human race depends upon it.

EPIC ADVICE  ♫♪"Just don't look...just don't look..."♫♪ - just don't look

EPIC SKIT  I used to think this was funny.  Now it's kind of a sad comment on society...

EPIC THEORY  Hey, it's no less ludicrous than TLC's fall lineup...

EPIC MOVIE  David Cronenberg tried to warn us about this thirty years ago.

WE FAIL AS HUMANS  Just check out this undeniable sign of the Apocalypse.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Stranger Than Fiction

Welcome, Corporate Cops!  

Umbrella, Cyberdyne, Tyrell Corporation, Weyland-Yutani, Omni Consumer Products: sci-fi is rife with irrationally evil business entities who's sole function is to put the blocks to the humanity for the sake of a few additional profit points.

But what if I were to tell you that there are some very real companies out there who's business practices are so vile, so reprehensible and so underhanded that they make these fictional corporate villains seem uninspired by comparison.

Enter Monsanto, a one-hundred and ten year old company that began to amass its fortune by selling the  artificial sweetener saccharin to the Coca-Cola company.  In the 1920's, Monsanto began to produce various drugs, chemicals and plastics.  Not long after they started manufacturing PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl) which was widely used as a coolant in motors and transformers.  That is until 1979 when the U.S. Congress banned the stuff after scientists linked it to various types of cancers including non-Hodgekin Lymphoma.  Before the ban, Monsanto was responsible for producing 99% of all PCB's used in various industries.

In the 1940's Monsanto began produce the pesticide DDT or dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane for those of you out there who aren't into brevity.  In her book Silent Spring published in 1962 biologist Rachel Carson made a compelling case that thirty years worth of indiscriminate spraying of the chemical was having a highly detrimental effect on wildlife, the environment and human health.  The book created such a stir that John F. Kennedy (a.k.a. the last real President of the United States) set up a committee to verify the validity of her claims.  When Carson's theories were largely validated, the EPA was ordered to de-register DDT and it was eventually banned in 1972.

Nonplussed by these minor setbacks, Monsanto concentrated on finding a new revenue stream.  In the 60's and 70's this came in the form of a fat military contract for the notorious herbicide / defoliant called Agent Orange.  The U.S. Army sprayed twenty million gallons of this crap over Vietnam in order to deprive enemy troops of food and cover.  In the end, it destroyed over five million acres of forest and farmland, killed or maimed approximately four hundred thousand Vietnamese and ushered in about five hundred thousand birth defects.

And for all those poor naive idiots out there who still believe that the American government would never harm its own citizens: as of April 1993, almost forty thousand U.S. Army vets had applied for disability claims after being exposed to Agent Orange during active duty.

In 1973, Monsanto began flogging a glyphosate-based herbicide called Roundup.  Over the course of the next forty years, it became the dominant weed-killer used in the United States, with over eighty-two tons applied to crops.  Although the EPA still considers Roundup to be harmless to humans, debate continues to rage about its possible effects on plants, animals and the environment.    

Perhaps because they were growing weary of losing lawsuits, Monsanto began to scale back its chemical production in lieu of exploring the brave new frontier of biotechnology.  In 1983 it produced some of the first genetically-modified plant cells.  Introductory crops followed just four years later, including a soybean resistant to the herbicidal effects of the company's very own Roundup.  In a move that was either inspired by standard practice or brilliant foresight, Monsanto put a patent out on a slew of their Frankensteinian creations.

Not only did this help them recoup any initial investment sunk into research and development, it also allowed them to sue independent farmers into oblivion.  This is brilliantly illustrated in the following clip from the awesome documentary Food Inc.  

The really scary thing is that Monsonto's corporate lobbyists are so powerful that the friggin' U.S. State Department acts like their personal attack dog, going after nations that attempt to block the sale of the company's genetically modified, Borg-like crops!

After making a mint screwing around with the genetic makeup of plants, Monsonto then turned its attentions to the animal kingdom.  In 1993, the FDA approved Monsanto's bid to sell bovine growth hormones which artificially inflate milk production in cattle.  Dubbed Posilac, the product has been sold relentlessly in all fifty of the United States for the past eighteen years.  Mercifully, Canada and over thirty other nations across the world had more common sense, refusing to approved it on the basis of  animal health.

And then there's the company's shameful environmental record.  For forty years, while they cranked out PCB's from their factory in Alliston, Alabama, Monsanto knowingly dumped hazardous by products into open landfills and nearby rivers.  The end result: in 2003 Monsanto paid $300 million dollars in damages to local folks who's lives were destroyed by this naked act of gross negligence.  

Conservatives love to argue that regulations are killing free enterprise and government needs to take a "hand's off" approach to big business.  But until companies like Monsanto learn to ethically self-govern themselves, their point is completely moot.

Maybe the only way to get crooked outfits like Monsanto to clean up and fly straight is to sic Sarah Connor, Rick Deckard, Ellen Ripley, Robocop and Chris Redfield on them.

Oh, wait a minute.

Those people aren't real.

EPIC DOC:  This awesome little doc dishes up the full scoop on Monsanto in the same time it takes to watch an episode of The X-Factor.  

EPIC EVIL:  Got yer very own evil corporation at home?  Here are a few more nefarious mission statements to give you inspiration!