Why is Exxon Mobil paying to promote their VP’s Twitter account? Will the cool / plugged in kids start buying oil futures?
If John Cleese and Conan O'Brien had a baby, I would be friends with him.
I just watched a commercial for CBC’s Hockeyville in Canada contest. For those of you who don’t know, every year the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation holds a contest in which towns across the country compete for the title of Canada’s most hockey-mad community. The winning community gets to host an NHL pre-season game at their local arena.
This particular commercial urged people across the country to submit applications on behalf of their communities. They urged people to do it for all the kids who play hockey and for all the coaches and parents involved in running local hockey programs. The commercial goes on to call these coaches and parents heros. Do it for our heros, the advertisement said.
Has the price of admission into the hero club gone down? Have the requirements for being a hero been downgraded to owning a Dodge Caravan and waking up early on a Saturday morning? I’m not a parent and I’m not a hockey coach, but if I were either, I would feel sheepish being called a hero for it. I’d simply want to be called a responsible adult. A parent who cares enough (and who can afford) to bring their kid to hockey should qualify as a good parent, an upstanding citizen, but not as a hero. A coach who is nice, fun and who doesn’t sexually abuse the kids should be called a role model, but not a hero. What if one of those parents or coaches saved someone from drowning; what would we call them? Everyone they know is already a hero, so we’d have to find another word. Superhero? Megahero? What would we call policemen or policemen who work with drug-addicted orphan babies? Ultraheros? Hero ∞?
I think that if we’re going to call the majority of people around us heros, we should at least create a tiered system in order to distinguish between everyday, modern heroism, such as correctly using bleach with the laundry, and traditional heroism such as volunteering to be shipped overseas to liberate Poland. Perhaps the system could look like this:
Level 1 Heroism: Dressing and feeding yourself and your family.
Level 2 Heroism: Donating money to charity, not molesting schoolchildren, especially those entrusted to your care as a teacher / coach / priest / rabbi / daycare worker / McDonald’s playground supervisor / employee of Wal-Mart
Level 3 Heroism: Not resorting to violence against the idiots around you every miserable, goddamned day
Level 4 Heroism: Working in a field that demonstrates a tangibly positive effect on humanity
Level 5 Heroism: Working in a field that positively effects humanity and puts your own life at some level of risk (firefighter, urban bus driver)
Level 6 Heroism: Saving a fellow human being from serious harm or death while seriously jeopardizing your own safety, being a member of the Armed Forces (regardless of why military action began), eating an entire Vermonster at Ben & Jerry’s
On the other hand, people could just try to use words in the proper context to avoid diluting their meaning or we could ask advertisers not to pander to their audience by calling them heros. But until then, I think the above-mentioned system is the way to go.
Let me begin by saying that the following argument is bullet-proof, so don’t try to punch any holes in it.
John McTiernan’s 1988 film Die Hard is the most American movie ever made because it’s the best example of mediocrity becoming spectacular, and in spectacular fashion. Mediocrity becoming spectacular is a very American idea. The root of many film scripts is about an ordinary person being put into an extraordinary situation. But popular American films take this to another level. Extraordinary becomes epic, super-epic. And Die Hard, with its balding, ass-kicking hero, does super-epic better than any other film.
The mediocre: John McClane is a blue collar guy who is estranged from his wife and daughter. America loves relatable characters, which is why American audiences like blue collar guys and which is why they like cop movies (also, drama is easier to create when your character is a cop as opposed to a tax clerk. Although I heard the first draft of Rambo had him working as a tax clerk for a Vietnamese conglomerate).
The spectacular: Turns out this blue collar guy isn’t your everyday cop-he’s an un-killable super cop! Andy Sipowicz or Jimmy McNulty wouldn’t stand a chance next to McClane at the Fictional Policeman’s Awards. McClane takes out a group of terrorists without wearing shoes or even a shirt. Even Superman needed a shirt. This man who wouldn’t get served at most diners manages to outsmart a whole group of terrorists and reconcile with his wife while occasionally cracking wise.
Die Hard is enjoyable to watch. It’s fast-paced, full of action, and Bruce Willis exhibits an endearing maniacal sassiness. But to break it down further, Die Hard possesses other essential qualities of a truly American movie, including:
Last but certainly not least, Die Hard is the most American movie ever made because it takes place at Christmas. Finally, a movie that combines America’s most mythologized holiday with violence. Not even Jimmy Stewart can match that.
I don’t watch Saturday Night Live every week but when I do, I get annoyed with the characters played by Kristen Wiig. It seems that she is mainly asked to portray weirdo characters who aren’t so much funny as they are mentlally distrubed. And that’s kind of funny but not really. Good comedy needs good writing as well as good acting, and the laughs generated by Wiig’s characters come solely from her acting. The writing isn’t very original because the characters aren’t saying or doing anything interesting; they’re mostly acting weird and we’ve seen Wiig do this many times. The schtick is old and I think it wastes the talents of a funny actress. Maybe its not the fault of the writers, maybe their producers tell them to give Wiig the pyschopaths because the audience responds to it.
The same thing happened to Will Ferrell, Cheri Oteri, Chris Kattan and Molly Shannon. They were given a lot of nutty characters to play and for a while it seemed like SNL was just that—sketches devoid of smart writing or commentary, sketches about maniacs where the comedy was mostly physical, but not even in a good way. Think about Mongo—it was mostly shrieking and ass slapping. SNL has a great history of crazy characters, from Ed Grimley to Mary Katherine Gallagher. But even Mark Katherine Gallagher got old. She was a one note character who was overplayed. There is only so much material a writer can stretch from one character or one character type and the current writers seem to have hit a wall with Wiig. They either don’t know how to write an original character for her, or they don’t want to.
SNL has been criticized for the repetitiveness of sketches and characters in the past. I’ve heard Bob Odenkirk call them out on this, although in 2010 I saw him at a conference and he defended the new group of writers and actors at SNL who were creating new and smart material. And he was right—I think for the last few years, up until this season, SNL has been pretty great. The cast was funny and the writing was good (writers like Colin Jost and John Mulaney, two very funny comics). But the repeat sketches and crazy characters who have nothing interesting to offer are making SNL disappointing. I’m sure they can turn it around, but I think Kristen Wiig’s departure would be helpful. Without Wiig to rely on, the cast and writers will have to try new things and get laughs from other sources and situations.
I miss the days when I could be a complete asshole without remorse. When I was a teenager, being funny helped me make friends. I could tell jokes, do impressions, but best of all, i could insult people.
Sometimes I insulted people just to sharpen my skills or impress whatever cool kid was around. I wouldn’t hurl insults from the halls though or engage in insult contest like the rap battles from 8-Mile; I used a conversational style, where I’d rip into someone during run of the mill banter.
Today, I’ll take friendly jabs at people but nothing that would crush anyone’s self-esteem. Now, when I want to make fun of someone I think about the context, that person’s background, how they would feel, the opinions of others; all instincts that kill the insult comic.
That asshole is still inside of me though, waiting to rip into someone and make a room erupt. But I can’t. If I’m in a room with a guy named Bill and Bill says something dumb, I put my potential joke through a filter of reason and humanity, ultimately castrating the joke into something that gets no more than a chuckle and which Bill can easily brush off.
Making fun of people was mean, but satisfying. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have this adult’s brain and empathy so that I could engage in some free form insulting once again. Maybe my friends are just too nice and I worry about hurting good people. Maybe I need to spend more time around jerks who deserve to be humiliated. Maybe I’ll just get a job at the PMO.