Category: Front Page

A Streetcar Named Marge

A Streetcar Named Marge

My Recollection.

I remember having some of the references to the episode’s namesake explained to me, but even as a child, images of Stanley crying for Stella were common sights on various VHS promotional materials to help some of them land. I remember it for that season-four energy and confidence, this is a season that does some odd things at times and the Birds reference with Maggie and the room full of babies is burnt into my mind as a perfect example.

It’s familiar, and I expect to enjoy this episode.

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Retrospecticus: Season Three

Retrospecticus: Season Three

Wow, if you’d have asked me when I started this if it would take me four years to write about three years of The Simpsons, I’d have said, “Yeah, that sounds about right.” The initial plan was for 1 per week, but it turns out things like being shit at judging time are side-effects of ADHD, so you can’t get mad at me. If anything, I’m a hero. That, and believe it or not, knocking out getting on 7k words on anything is solid labour, let alone arranging those words to make sense. I now have even less respect for the people that mash out a cookie-cutter thousand and call it a day.

In my even further defense, there were some irregular occurrences that put legitimate demands on my time. I had to move house, which is always a nightmare, and then clean the whole thing myself, which is a whole new form of nightmare. I will never do this again and have sworn to hire monkeys to do it in future. Then my mother had to move house, and as she is a tiny old lady that means I am moving another house. This was slightly less of an ordeal, but still a goddamn drain. Couple this with having to learn and do foundation repair on the fly, an evolving puzzle requiring various skills I am not proficient in, and my energy for writing just didn’t exist.

I am still aiming to speed this up, though, and it is for that reason I’m cutting out the anecdotes. Fun as they can be, shifting gears between them and the analysis is something that takes a bunch of energy and is clogging the process. I may hammer one or two out from time to time, but there’d need to be some level of interest as motivation.

On the plus side, what time I’m not spending on that can be better spent on the Stray Thoughts section, which is both enjoyable and more relevant to the work. It allows me to reinforce points, bring up discarded primary ideas, and do more focal joke deconstruction. There’s a weird thing among comedians, Conan O’Brien for instance, about joke deconstruction and how it kills it. You’ll hear similar gruntings regarding the science of some beautiful or confounding thing or another. It’s a dismal perspective, anyone who can’t see the cosmic artistry in understanding has blinded themselves to the best shit. Seeing how jokes can be layered, interwoven, counterwoven, etcetera is fun, and I pity anyone who thinks otherwise.

Pursuant to that, next series will have some added features. Things like Joke of the Episode and the like that will culminate in a series end First Annual Gabriel Morton Award for Outstanding Achievements in the Field of Simpsonness that will weigh these against each other. Unlike most awards, which render themselves pointless by using broad genres and occurrence within a set time period as their measuring sticks, these will be categorised in a way that allows for some degree of meaningful comparison.

I thought of this far too deep into season three to go back and do it properly, but it’s a moot point as the Raiders of the Lost Ark opening would have won Best Thing anyway. It’s 30 years old and still funny. If you want to find out why, go read the article on Bart’s Friend Falls in Love as I go into detail there.

Speaking of season 3, it really shakes off the growing pains of the first two. There are still some turds in there, Bart the Murderer springs to mind, and there are a few faceless episodes that lack a memorable hook, but otherwise we start getting into what made it great. Lisa’s Pony, Saturdays of Thunder, and Homer at the Bat are great comic works, wile the aforementioned Bart’s Friend Falls in Love, Mr Lisa Goes to Washington, and Bart the Lover pull off some great character work. Even the lesser remembered stories are now good for a few great jokes or stories, as the writer’s room begins to fill out with young comedy nerds.

That filling out pays dividends. I am excited to get into season four as it’s the first of the miracle run. I started listing ones I was looking forward to here, but it kept evolving into basically the whole series, so that’s the kind of territory we’re talking about. I mean, Last Exit to Springfield is in this series, and it’s a fucking miracle.

Your collective pittances are adding up, which is nice. Now I buy the expensive salami and the self-serve checkout machines have to treat me with respect. Remember that you pay to be treated like a real person, which means you can harangue me when I’m late via Twitter or post questions to be answered on the Audio episodes. I do things this way A: to reward the evolved class of money chimps, and B: because talking is a little quicker, so I can get into more detail without taking forever writing basically another essay. I bring this up as there are usually some elements of what you pay for that few to none of you ever really use. I am more than okay with being paid to do nothing, but usually only when the person paying me is a drunk venue owner. Taking money from Eastern European shed-dwellers, people who secretly live in another family’s crawlspace, and Americans makes me feel the faint pangs of guilt. Even though nothing short of several Willies Wonka could meaningfully change your circumstances, the radishes and insulin you scrimp and save for are the thin rays of light I just can’t take from you. So, make sure you take advantage of these things, or I’ll be forced to deem you subhuman to alleviate my pain.

This is a binding designation that comes with an internationally recognized tattoo behind your ear.

Yours in being sleepy because I wrote this at two AM, Gabriel.

Meter Burn

Meter Burn

I’ve been watching the latest Adam Sandler opus, Hubie Halloween. Okay, wait, I’ll start from the beginning.

There are two kinds of people: those who refuse to smell the rancid thing in the back of the fridge when offered, and those who do. I’m part of the latter cohort and, contrary to the former’s beliefs, I don’t do it expecting the experience to be a pleasant one. My behaviour is driven by an existential need to know where the edges of the room are, in some probably naïve desire to one day know the shape of it. I know it is going to be bad, but how bad. It is for a similar reason that I used to seek out the grotesquery of the internet, and why I will still click grim links when offered to me. It is for a similar reason that I found myself curious about Adam Sandler’s face.

Adam Sandler is a fascinating creature. Capable of legitimately fantastic work in dramas like Punch Drunk Love, romantic comedies like The Wedding Singer, and, yes, even lowbrow work like Happy Gilmore. He does not seem to give an identifiable fuck about this, though, and spends most of his time making godawful shit to cynically, almost punitively milk morons out of their money. All of which would make more sense if the money ever did anything, like odd pet projects that were representative of his actual capacity. Instead I can only glare at his career like it’s a Dadaist comedy-destroying spectacle I’m too stupid to understand.

Is that a Hubie? Is Hubie a person’s name or is it a Halloween thing Australia doesn’t have yet? I need to smell this.

It’s all of his lowbrow movies in a blender. He’s kind of retarded, he has a dumb voice and facial tic, he has a magic thermos, Steve Buscemi is there, and it’s awful. Not awful as in unsophisticated, which it is, just awful. Tying all the superficial bits of other films together means this one lacks even the simple emotional core of any one of them. It’s the cinematic equivalent to having Happy Gilmore, The Waterboy, and Little Nicky explained to you by three separate nine-year-olds at once.

It’s the kind of awful that makes me need to see the writer’s room for it the same way you need to see the face of an awful driver. I imagine it being like one of those Loony Toons industrial scenes, one of the ones set to Powerhouse by Raymond Scott, where a whole tree is whittled into a toothpick. This flawless machine whose horrible purpose is to do the most terrible thing in the worst possible way. I can’t imagine anyone having a second idea. It would just be a perfect continuum of separate voices saying “vomit” and “retarded voice” that lasted the run time of the film.

I noticed it mentioned on the Movies subreddit and found myself compelled to take another whiff of something. In a splinter conversation about Sandler’s other recent works, someone said, “I hated murder mystery, it felt so lazy…this is just my personal opinion”.

Why even waste the energy required to write that?

People add the “opinion” tag as though someone might mistake their sentence for a sandwich and chip a tooth biting their monitor. You could replace that sentence with a “because…” and then demonstrate a reason. That would be a point. Even “it sucks”, as not a point as it is, is a statement. “This is just my personal opinion” may as well be replaced by “do not read those first eight words.” Why go to the trouble of expressing yourself when you aren’t expressing anything?

It’s probably my fault.

Answers on back of book.

A few years ago, I wrote about the difference between taste and assessment, how both readers and writers mess this difference up, and how this manifests as a fundamental difference between review and critique that isn’t reflected in the definitions of either. I wrote this to address something I took for granted, an understood difference between what I enjoy personally and what I assess as being of quality.

It’s an incredibly well written piece, but it is missing something, and I’m assuming that’s why it hasn’t swept the world like a neural plague and helped my species come to a better understanding of their approach to creativity.

Perfect examples.

You can explain why one shouldn’t touch an electric fence all you like, nothing will hammer that point into a skull like seeing someone get a shock meant for an adult bull. I was alternating between reading and Twitter the other day when a perfect comparative case study presented itself to me, so now I present it to you in the form of two excerpts.

This first one is from Narratology: An Introduction by Wolf Schmid and the second is from The Guardian’s review of The Haunting of Bly Manor. Read both and try to see if you can spot a difference.

To be fair, I cheated you a bit by lying. That isn’t an excerpt of the Gurardian review, it’s the whole thing. The Narratology segment, however, is a paragraph from a 258-page book. Here’s goofy me, trying to explain this separation using “words” when perfect demonstrations exist. Ah well, hindsight and all that.

Transforming some Hermeneutics

Narratology is a critical work in that it engages with, challenges, and poses ideas regarding the concept of narrative using a variety of examples and supporting evidence. This is why it’s 258 pages long, why that excerpt looks like gibberish; and what I meant when I said that critiques are longer, specific, and will use domain specific language. Strip a section of a niche work using local jargon of its context and most of it will look like madness.

What this section is doing is dealing with, for example, the difference between the word “pipe” as written on Magritte’s painting, The Treachery of Images and the word “pipe” in the sentence, “Magritte was a painter who smoked a pipe”. The former refers to a non-existent or fictive pipe while the latter is a non-fiction reference to a real pipe that existed, and this section is about delineating the difference between fiction and reality when they are both manifest as identical words on the page.

A referential signifier (designatum) like “pipe” is a label we apply to a signified referent, a physical pipe (denotatum). The point of Magritte’s painting was to highlight that there’s a space between the word and the thing that humans seldom think about. The painting is a pipe, yet it cannot be used in any manner like a pipe, so it is not a pipe. The word pipe in the sentence about Magritte’s actual pipe has an extra-textual (outside of the word itself) referent, a real object. The word pipe in the painting does not and refers only to an inner-textual (in this case, the text is the painting) fictional pipe. What this section is doing is exploring the core difference between fiction and non-fiction when both are using a word that cannot be smoked. One transposes meaning onto the “ontic sphere” (real world), while the other only pretends to.

Some of the language used may seem deliberately obtuse, but these terms do have specific meanings, it’s that they relate to ideas that makes the conversation tricky. A rose by any other name will smell as sweet, so the word used for it doesn’t affect its reality. Defining a concept that doesn’t exist outside of the language used around it requires a bit of verbosity. Even “ontic sphere” is useful as, when discussing spaces between language, fiction, non-fiction, and reality, the word “reality” could refer to any number of things. “Ontic sphere”, in all its grotesque thesaurasiness, is specific enough not to.

This may also seem like an unusual thing to bother with, but the purpose is identical to any other deep understanding. A home cook may know some recipes, and may be able to execute them well, but knowing the underlying chemistry and physical behaviour of each of the ingredients, while useless to home cooks, will allow a chef to innovate entirely new dishes.  

Imagine the way Fight Club uses various levels of interaction with its audience—directly addressing them, directly addressing them in a pseudo-factual way separate from the regular narration, the spliced penis frame—each of these manipulates the way we understand the relationship between reference and referent to assist the telling of the story.

Works that deal in mystery, unreliable narrators, or questionable reality will deal heavily in the ideas of which this concept is a core element, and this book will allow for a better understanding of these ideas, and so the production of better works.

Poking the Hive.

I came across the Guardian review after seeing its writer being mocked on Twitter. I happily joined in, as the mockery was entirely deserved just not for the review part of the piece. The opening is a combative stab at horror fans to generate attention and clicks. Declaring that Halloween is the worst time of the year is, within a review for a horror program, akin to me posting “KISS SUCKS” to a KISS forum. The little dingbat was picking a dumb fight for attention her writing would otherwise never get her and completely deserved the counterpunch purely for the obnoxious stupidity of it.

While it’s perfectly fine to respond to the snark of the introduction, that’s the only wrong thing the writer has done. Genre fans are sensitive because they’re the dismissed pile of bodies cinematic drama stands on to pretend it’s as tall as literature, so prodding them in such a manner is stupid. But the article doesn’t say horror is bad, it explains why the writer doesn’t like it, which fulfils an important function of a review: giving the reader an orientation point.  

This orientation point is necessary because there isn’t any critical language in the article. About the closest is the word “anticlimactic” and there’s a kind of reference to pacing, but nothing that compares to the language in the Narratology excerpt. Review can use this language in lieu of personal perspective, but that it isn’t used here doesn’t make this a faulty review. There’s no critical language because it isn’t arguing a point.

Have you read The Brothers Karamazov? What about anything by Tolstoy? I’ve been reading a bunch of short stories by Anton Chekhov lately because Narratology references them, and the aforementioned Russian greats, quite a bit and will frequently assume I am aware of what is being discussed. Critical articles or books with singular foci don’t ever feature a quick rundown of the work being examined, yet our review of Bly Manor spends about half of its precious space on a glib outline of the material. It does this because it is operating on the assumption that you have not yet seen Bly Manor.

If you look at a shovel and one of those giant, bucket wheel excavators you’ll be able to tell that they are for vastly different tasks, even if they share a basic similarity of purpose. Review and critique are still synonyms in Google, but the above comparison perfectly illustrates that this is like defining both a shovel and a bucket wheel excavator as a “tool for moving dirt”. The differences between these two works are staggeringly obvious.

The Guardian article was released the same week as the show it’s reviewing, its writer establishes a personal perspective regarding the material in the opening paragraph, it’s short, uses a general vocabulary, and it includes some superficial information about the program itself. It is not making a statement on horror, it is not arguing a point about the genre, it is not arguing a point at all. In this, it’s fine that she hates horror. Review differentiates itself from critique by helping a reader work out if they may want to engage in the reviewed work or not. If you similarly hate horror, this may be the show for you. If you love horror, then you have the tools to come to a similarly useful conclusion about how to spend your time.

Howling into the Void.

Existence is a weird place and weirder still for a social animal with an individualist streak. What is red without any of the other colours to define its redness? What are we without any other people to see us as ourselves? In this, we howl into the void, even if it’s just to get our neighbours to tell us to shut up, because then we know we exist.

But you can at least learn to howl in tune and you can do this even if only your ears will hear it.

Text response, any writing about a work, is one of the most common forms of writing people do and most waste this on a rough howl. Your opinion doesn’t matter, going to the trouble of writing something online just to tell people they don’t have to engage with it is a waste of everyone’s time, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have anything to say.

Having a better understanding of even these superficial elements of review and critique will allow you to better consider what you are going to write, if it’s worth writing at all, and this consideration will make the things you do engage in deeper and more worthwhile.

Beyond this, separating these elements will open you up. Once you don’t view works as monoliths slathered in irreducible opinions you’ll find more parts to like and, ultimately, more art to enjoy.