Posted in Pop Culture

The Long and Short of It, Starring Vine

Six seconds is all it takes to reach the pinnacle of comedic genius.

There seems to have been a resurgence in the past year or so regarding this decade’s most cherished and underappreciated art forms.

That’s right, I’m talking about vines.

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It’s not that Vine wasn’t popular before Twitter announced the discontinuation of the app in October 2016; it was, to a certain finite point. But thanks to the addition and creation of vine compilations on platforms like YouTube, it’s now easier than ever to waste three or four hours on a weeknight purely devoted to six-second videos.

What a way to go, though.

And now, with last December’s announcement of a probable Vine 2.0, there’s more incentive than ever to “get down with the kids” and watch something that really “butters your eggroll.”

I am sorry in advance.

Like I said, this isn’t really a new development. I think it’s mostly been on my mind because I’ve realized over the past few months that this isn’t one of my weirdo obsessions like watching foreign TV shows or framing memes within the context of art history.

This short-form and vine renaissance is actually pretty normalized.

Now, there is no shortage of content when it comes to the dissection of short-form entertainment. Most people are familiar with Ernest Hemingway’s famous six-word story:

For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.

Never mind that there are dozens of ways to interpret it, because every version still tells a story. And that’s the point! Telling stories! In unique ways!

When I was taking classes for my journalism degree, it was common for the first sentence of an article(aka the lede) to be less than twenty words, often less than ten. It saved time, saved space, and helped develop my concept of “tight writing,” for whatever that’s worth. The goal is simple: give your audience what they need to know so they can read as little as possible.

Of course, this isn’t limited just to writing. Saturday Night Live has cornered the television circuit of quick comedy for decades with their pop culture vignettes. Other shows like millennial favorite Portlandia built on this platform(there’s a reason it stars SNL alums) have shared in its success.

YouTube elevated the idea of short-form comedy even further with the birth of the viral video. Short, snappy, and infinitely shareable: the telltale hallmarks of an instant hit.

Which, of course, leads us back to Vine.

One of the worst(and possibly least #relatable) feelings of the modern world begins with showing a close friend an entertaining video. You spend the first thirty seconds waiting for the content to REALLY start. Then you spend the next thirty staring at your friend’s face, waiting for them to laugh. By the time that the video is halfway over, you’ve lost all hope of their respect for your sense of humor.

Or at least, that’s what your anxiety is telling you.

One of my favorite things about vines is how it whisks most of their insecurities away. It’s only six seconds! A tenth of a minute! Virtually no time is wasted(unless you get on a roll, in which case, revisit scenario outlined about 500 words above).

Take, for example, one of my all-time favorite vines from Drew Gooden:

Please tell me you laughed.

Like most jokes, there are several layers as to why I, at least, find this funny. First, the fact that it’s infinitely relatable and repeatable. As a Michigan resident, I am quite familiar with road construction season, and I see these signs everywhere. Second, the ignorant indignation of the character speaking never fails to make me smile. Even the weird camera angle(which was probably more accidental than anything), suggests that this driver is missing the point.

And here’s the place in the conversation where usually somebody(probably from an older generation) who points out that entertainment today is all about instant gratification. There’s no wait, no build-up, no payoff. People want to laugh, and people want it now. Where’s the expectation in something like that?

To which I shrug and say: meh. There’s nothing particular noble in longer artforms like the 27 hours of Gone with the Wind; just because you’re patient doesn’t mean you’re longsuffering. I will say there is a certain elegance to that style of storytelling, but that as in the era of the Iliad and the Odyssey, those elements are tried and true. Short-form storytelling is where the innovation is occurring, at least for right now.

So as for Vine 2.0, who knows what to expect? There’s no guarantee it will live up to the legacy of its predecessor, whether in name or in deed. What is certain?

I’m gonna go watch some more Vine compilations. Like this one. And this one.

You’re welcome.

 

Posted in Literature

Top Ten Dystopias Based on Where I’d Be Kind of Okay with Living

There’s been a definite trend over the past ten years or so. Dystopian literature is making a comeback, in a big way. From the dawning of The Hunger Gameseveryone and their preteen has been eating up this stories, without spoons, like some sort of wayward wanderers on a bleak hellscape, while Big Brother plots their impending …

You get the picture.

So many people have rated these books in so many ways. I’m not going to make a dent in that. I’m also not going to tell you which books are best, because let’s fact it, that subject has been essentially exhausted.

But I will tell you which ones I prefer based on entirely selfish and subjective reasons.

And before you ask me, no, there are no YA dystopias on this list, for several reasons. First of all, because there’s too many to name. Secondly, because they inevitably turn into love stories, and there are no happy endings here. And thirdly, because I don’t want to.

But I do want to tell you where I would want to live, given the choice, between alternative dystopias. Who knows? Maybe we’ll end up in one of these scenarios before we know it.

10. 1984 by George Orwell

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Totalitarian government? Check. Creepy government watch program? Double-check. Weird, media-related brainwashing techniques? Boy, don’t even get me started.

Here’s the thing about 1984: it’s the quintessential dystopia. Frankly, it’s the platform that almost every YA dystopia is built upon. But there’s nothing fun about it. There are no clever twists, minus the world-building aspects of the book.

So while I love the book, I’m going to pass on this one. I like my freedom too much, especially when it comes to writing and media. Give me my Twitter feed or give me death.

9. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

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Another classic example of a weirdly sexualized dystopia.

This one has a few more perks than the future of 1984. We’ve got some Shakespeare books and differing views on society. In fact, instead of prison cells, we’ve got fancy islands where we exile the more irregular members of society.

Though whether or not that scenario turns into Lord of the Flies at some point is anyone’s guess.

I’ll take my chances somewhere else, thank you.

8. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

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Wait a minute, didn’t we already cover this one?

Though Murakami’s title mirrors Orwell’s, he shows a world vastly different from the previous novel. Alternate realities. Cults. Ghostwriters. Little People. Plus, I’m a sucker for a story that’s set in Japan.

If you like weird sci-fi, I highly recommend this book.

I just wouldn’t want to live there.

Call me old-fashioned, but I think that jumping in and out of parallel universes would feel pretty jarring. Though I prefer other worlds to totalitarian regimes, I’ll still with my reality for right now, thank you.

7. Anthem by Ayn Rand

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Here’s the thing about Ayn Rand: either you love her, or you love to hate her.

She’s a bit of a one-note writer(communism = BAD), but I’ve always been a fan of this, her shortest work. With simple characters and an even simpler plot, it’s about one man’s quest to return to the concept of individualism in an oppressive and communal society.

Not a bad way to live, necessarily. Except that even when the main character frees himself from the mantle of big government, his only option is to go into hermitage, with or without a viable mate. Plus, there’s the added bonus of realization that once he has children, he will no longer be in a solely individualist society. Two generations down, he’ll have created civilization.

I don’t really feel like waiting that long to get a coffee to go(the truest mark of civilization).

6. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

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The only reason this book is halfway up the list is because I think I’d be lucky enough to avoid becoming a handmaid.

If you haven’t heard of this novel(by the way, what’s the name of that rock you’ve been living under?), it’s a dystopian set in a society where, similar to the story of Abram and Hagar in the Bible, rich men use additional means to add to their family in a time of low fertility.

Here’s what works for me in this world: the people who are oppressed are the ones who are already judged in our current system. Rich white men are free to do whatever they like while the rest of the world suffers. Like I said, I have a feeling that I wouldn’t be in danger in this world since I feel pretty comfortable in the one I already live in.

Seems pretty similar, doesn’t it?

But I’m all about solidarity. So if everybody else is suffering, then I’m going to have to pass, whether it affects me in the same way or not.

5. The Children of Men by P.D. James

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Don’t even talk to me about the movie.

We’re following a common theme here in dystopias written by female authors featuring infertility. Set in the year 2021, themes include theology, generational dynamics, and lots and lots of guilt.

In theory, it’s not all that different from The Handmaid’s Tale. But I’d rather live in James’s world because at least everybody is miserable in the fairly same way together. It’s less about systemic injustice and more about the faults of humanity in general, which is just fine by me.

Plus, I really like babies.

4. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

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Probably my all-time favorite dystopian in terms of storyline alone.

One man’s disillusionment with his seemingly idyllic life leads to a new discovery in the written word. Plus, it’s literally a huge metaphor for Plato’s allegory of the cave.

This is one case where I wouldn’t mind being acting as a part of a rebellious faction, especially when it involves books. It’s not an ideal situation, but it’s one that I think I would be able to live with, as long as I have access to a good library.

3. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

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Maybe this whole blog post was just a subtle brag about reading the entirety of Infinite Jest all along.

To be honest, it’s hard to critique the setting of a novel like this because it’s just so huge. I don’t even know which part of the storyline to touch on: government coups? Tennis academies? The detriments of eating mold as a child?

So the only part of the story I wanted to focus on in this arbitrary rating system is the fact that the world stopped numbering years and started letting them be sponsored by outside companies.

Please join me in celebrating the Year of the Funko Pop.

2. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

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Hello again, my Nobel-prize winning friend. Made anyone cry recently?

In a rare turn of events for someone like me, I actually saw the movie adaptation before I read the book. I highly recommend both. In fact, my favorite thing about the plot is how you can’t even tell you’re in a dystopian future until near the end of the story. That kind of subtlety gives me metaphorical chills.

I love it so much that I don’t want to spoil the plot. Let’s just say that only a very few select group of people have to suffer at all, and enjoy a fairly normal, even idyllic, life before their time on earth ends.

And even then, it’s not really…like I said, it’s hard to explain. But rest assured, there is not the same level of systemic oppression here as in The Handmaid’s Tale. The morality is a little fuzzy, but as the only version of me, I’d be fine. Actually, I’d be more than fine, with all of their medical advances, so this one is definitely preferable.

1. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

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And here’s our number one choice(that will catch only a few people by surprise.) And maybe it’s a little bit of a cop-out, because most of the novel occurs in more of a utopia than a dystopia, but all of the elements are there.

Most of the story takes place after an epidemic destroys most of society and life as people know it. The plot follows several characters in different living situations featuring an airport, a cult, and a troupe of Shakespearian actors.

Now if you know anything about me at all, you’d know which one I’d choose(WARNING, WARNING: theatre nerd alert). But what makes this my number one is simple: choice.

That’s the whole point of this exercise, really. In an actual, realistic dystopia, nobody has a choice. Everything is dictated by their particular surroundings. To be even giving the choice between worst-case scenarios is not something to be taken lightly.

Remember that next time you don’t know which coffee to order, which movie to see, or which book to buy.

 

Posted in Television and Film

Soft Around the Edges: When You Can’t Take the Dark Stuff Anymore

It took me almost two months to finish watching Netflix’s The Punisher.

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Which is characteristically unlike me. Not that I’m constantly binging shows now that I’m an official adult or whatever, but when it’s a good show, especially a “dark” one, I used to be able to polish that stuff off in a week with a couple of episodes a night.

But then something changed.

Or, more importantly, I changed.

My “big girl” job has a tendency to play out every week like a daytime marathon of Law & Order. It leaves me sad, drained, and like all I want to do is roll myself up in a little burrito blanket until I wake up the next day at 5:30 am, ready to do it all again.

So forgive me if it takes me a few days to get through an episode or two.

And the thing is, I still love dark shows. Criminal Minds, Mindhunter, Westworld, Black Mirror, I dig it all. On top of that, I believe these stories are necessary to build culture because LIFE IS DARK.

No amount of Disney movies can combat that.

But I can’t stay in a burrito all day, especially when Netflix is just a mouse-click away. Here’s what I’ve been watching to lift my spirits after a long day, and a long existence, of being General Buzzkill(which is what I call myself because I’m just a buzzkill, you know, “in general”).

Sitcoms

Laughter is and always has been the best medicine.

The first of my absolute favorites of the moment is The Good Place, which if you haven’t been watching, you need to go do right now. The plot is simple: Eleanor, played by Kristen Bell, dies and ends up in a generic “good place” afterlife; the only problem is, she wasn’t really that good.

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Next up is Superstore, because there aren’t enough shows that truly show the absurdity that is working retail. Basically, this show is about a group of people who work at the equivalent of Wal-Mart; besides being hilarious, it features a diverse cast and finds ways to talk about ethnicity that don’t include crass jokes about skin color or eye shape.

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The last of this perfection trifecta is Brooklyn Nine-Nine, another one that’s pretty simple to explain: Saturday Night Live with cops. That’s pretty much all you need to know.

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What earns these three sitcoms a special place in my heart is the fact that almost every character really likes each other. There’s no one person who is teased or tricked or duped every episode; no Kramer, Dwight, or Joey that feels humiliated every week. Everyone is supportive and friendly even when they make mistakes.

Comedy Specials

In case it wasn’t already abundantly clear, I really like comedy specials.

Here’s a quick recap for anyone who’s still in the dark: they’re easy to follow, easy to pick up, and usually shorter than your average movie.

Unless, of course, you’re watching a episode of Big Fat Quiz of the Year/Everything. This special trivia show from across the pond only ever features comedians as its contestants, and they almost never care about winning. They are genuinely just there “for a laugh.” My personal favorite contestants include Richard Ayoade, Noel Fielding, and Jack Whitehall.

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And speaking of Jack Whitehall, this isn’t technically a comedy special so much as it is an episodic series of specials. Jack Whitehall: Adventures with My Father features comedian Jack Whitehall finally getting to experience a gap year with his stuffy old father. Also, there’s an anthropomorphic doll.

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And finally, Fred Armisen of SNL and Portlandia fame has a new special out: Standup for Drummers. This delightful hour features the comedian doing a surprisingly sweet routine with lots of(you guessed it) random drumming. Honestly, I had no idea that Fred Armisen was so talented; plus, it’s rated TV-PG, so if you’re looking for clean comedy, this is the one for you.

Reality Shows

More than anything, I have recently dived back into my love of B-level reality shows.

Let me clear about one thing: any reality show I watch has to have a prize at the very end so that there’s a new cast the next season. I’m not here to watch people live in Alaska; I’m here to watch people get mad.

First up: America’s Next Top Model. Tyra’s back! There’s no more age limits! You could literally look like Jabba the Hutt, but if you took a good picture, you still might be model-material. I love the tears, I love the drama, and I love how many weird people always end up auditioning. What a gift to humanity.

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Next comes Project Runway and its teeny-bopper child, Project Runway Junior. My favorite thing about every season has to be the in-depth look at the creative process and how different people find inspiration. It’s entirely fascinating, and when it goes well, it’s amazing; when it goes bad, frankly, it gets even better.

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And finally, the jewel in my crown, what sometimes consumes my every waking thought.

Survivor.

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Now, I know what you’re probably thinking. Most reasonable people stopped watching this show back in 2003. But trust me, it’s still going strong.

To be honest, I’ll probably have to write a full post in the future about just how and why I came to love Survivor so much. For now, let it suffice to say that the lengths the production team goes to produce captivating stories from a bunch of bums on a beach astounds me(plus, everyone is BEAUTIFUL? I am in awe).

The newest season started up a few weeks ago, and it’s actually been pretty good right off the bat, even with the weird Ghost Island gimmick. If you’re looking for something mindless, I highly suggest this season as a good place to start.

Once my brain is turned to mush, maybe I’ll watch something good again. Until then, catch me ten seasons of Survivor deep in my blanket burrito every night at 7pm.