30 Rock Hates Graduate Students

Season premiere of 30 Rock, which I like a lot though sometimes find just a bit too antic & pleased with itself, this week.  A funny one overall; there was one line that somewhat mystified me, as Liz and Jack discuss the ethical dubiousness of their treatment of the inspector from the adoption agency:

Jack: “We may not be the best people.”

Liz: “But we’re not the worst.”

Both, in unison: “Graduate students are the worst.”

OK, I did find this kind of funny, but graduate students??  Why?  I think I may be so sheltered within my academic/college-town bubble that it’s difficult for me even to figure out what this reference means to most of America.  Is this, like, a Harvard B.A. writer’s joke about annoying T.As, and if so, isn’t that a little inside baseball? Anyone want to enlighten me?

Speaking of academia, The Office had an inconsistent but partly great episode all about Business Ethics that must represent the all-time apex of discussions of Ethics as a philosophical topic on a primetime sitcom.  High points included Michael and Holly (Amy Ryan from the Wire!) introducing a mandatory office meeting wearing headbands and singing, “Let’s get ethical!  Ethical!” a la Olivia Newton-John.  Also the doofus Ed Helms character’s comment:

“I’ll drop an ethics bomb on you: Would you steal bread to feed your family? Boom! . . . Yeah, I took Intro to Philosophy — twice.”

Catchiest Album of All Time?

Girl Talk’s Feed the Animals may be the catchiest workout/dance album of all time.  It’s almost an unfair contest, in relation to normal music, since the GT guy just steals the catchiest hooks from pop music of the last few decades and (brilliantly) splices and sutures them together so it all functions as an apotheosis of the form of the mixtape.  I liked the last album but found it comparatively resistible compared to this one, which is unceasingly fun, smart and hooky.  When I put it on, it had C&I shaking their booties on the dance living-room floor within seconds, but some of the lyrics are not so appropriate for the Pre-K set so I had to take it off.

Each track contains a dozen or more samples — some of my favorite mashups include:

Soulja Boy “Crank That” + AC/DC “Thunderstruck” + Journey “Faithfully”

Pink “U and UR Hand” + Underworld “Born Slippy” + the Cure “In Between Days” + Thin Lizzy “Jailbreak”

R. Kelly “I’m a Flirt” + Fleetwood Mac “Gypsy” + M.I.A “Boyz” + Rock Ross “Hustlin” + David Bowie “Rebel Rebel”

Tag Team “Whoomp! (There it Is)” + Big Country “In a Big Country” + the Velvet Underground “Sunday Morning” + the Cardigans “Lovefool” + Edgar Winter Band “Free Ride” + Timbaland “The Way I Are”

Yo La Tengo “Autumn Sweater” + Metallica “One” + Carpenters “Superstar” + Lil Mama “Lip Gloss”

There’s a particular wit produced by the combination/integration of some of the whitest music of all time (e.g. the Velvet Underground, the Cardigans, Yo La Tengo, the Carpenters, Journey, etc.) with recent hip-hop.  [There’s an implicit joke made about this, I think, in the Procol Harum “Whiter Shade of Pale” + Blackstreet “No Diggity” mix.]  I was listening to it on the elliptical machine yesterday morning, surrounded by sloowly exercising retirees while watching Sanford and Son without sound on the Y television, which added an extra frisson of je ne sais quoi.  (The plot had something to do with Redd Foxx bringing home a bunch of seemingly homeless men who grabbed sandwiches from the kitchen table — did not really understand what was going on but was impressed by the grittiness.)

You can get the album here on emusic.  (Email me if you’d like an “invitation” to try Emusic which gets both you and me 50 free downloads, or I guess I only get them if you stick with it for more than a month.) I think it’s also free on the Illegal Art webpage.

Practice Your Bewildered Silence

David Letterman “Top Ten Things Overheard at Palin Debate Camp.”

10. “Let’s practice your bewildered silence.”

9. “Can you try saying ‘yes’ instead of ‘you betcha’?”

8. “Hey, I can see Mexico from here!”

7. “Maybe we’ll get lucky and there won’t be any questions about Iraq, taxes or healthcare.”

6. “We’re screwed!”

5. “Can I just use that lipstick-pit bull thing again?”

4. “We have to wrap it up for the day — McCain eats dinner at 4:30.”

3. “Can we get Congress to bail us out of this debate?”

2. “John Edwards wants to know if you’d like some private tutoring in his van.”

1. “Any way we can just get Tina Fey to do it?”

Man, Letterman is starting to feel like the Daily Show. I like #10 and #9 the most.

“We are the lost civilization”

The notoriously apolitical David Letterman on a lengthy rant about global warming.  Paul Shaffer’s inane little noises of assent add a surreal touch.  Here’s a partial transcript:

Until we get the carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, we are screwed.  We are walking dead people.  We are the lost civilization.  You’re looking at us right here.  Time to go, the cab is coming…. I’ll tell you why it’s too late.  We’ve had no leadership… nobody has stepped forward…. We have to find alternative forms of energy.  On the other hand, I don’t even know why I’m talking about this, because it’s TOO LATE.  We are DEAD MEAT.   The Republicans have taken climate change out of their platform.  As far as they’re concerned, everything’s fine.  “96 degrees in March, yeah, just how we like it!”  We are so screwed….

I adored Letterman in his early days in the 1980s.  I eventually cooled on him when the witty, sarcastic irony that had seemed so pointed started to seem to turn into a more predictable show-biz attitude.  I used to feel there was a real edge of absurdist critique there, but the “critique” part became harder to glimpse through all the celebrity interviews and so on.

Anyway, I like it when he surprises me.  I do still think he’s an intriguingly weird & smart guy who has never been 100% swallowed up by celebrity and television culture.

And a Hoosier, of course.  Wiki: “According to the Ball State Daily News, he originally had wanted to attend Indiana University, but his grades weren’t good enough, so he decided to attend Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.”  I wonder if anyone has ever used that fact to argue against IU’s raising/tightening admissions standards.

Watching the Olympics with Celie and Iris

So far Celie and Iris seem to consider the kayaking to have been the high point of the Olympics. I think they only watched it for a few minutes at some point when we were out of the room. Ever since then they bring it up occasionally, always saying, “Daddy, if the kayaking is on, TRUST ME, watch it! They go SO fast,” and variants of that sentiment, always including the phrase, “trust me,” which I don’t recall ever hearing from them before. They also liked the BMX biking and kept asking me if the bikers who fell over had died. And the gymnastics, of course. Their main insight while watching the men’s rings was that it would be really easy to tickle them under their arms while they did that.

After 15 minutes or so of watching they generally start their own Olympicking, as they call it, doing various stunts on the mattress, generally with some loose connection to whatever sport we’ve been watching. The problem is that we’re expected to offer amazed, appreciative Bob Costas-like color commentary on every move or tumble. The other night they were doing some kind of jogging race around the mattress with their dresses pulled up on top of their heads and I had to issue a series of penalties and points-off for bottom-revealing (which is strictly prohibited in international play).

Os Mutantes Happy Meal/ Chris Knox Heineken

I know this sort of thing is old hat by now, but this still sort of blew my mind. I’m watching game 5 of the NBA finals, it cuts to an ad, and I hear a familiar tune over a scene of a bunch of a first graders playing soccer. It’s (not that I remembered the name of the song) “A Minha Menina,” a great Os Mutantes song that I know from their 1999 Luaka Bop compilation Everything is Possible. For those of you who don’t know them, Os Mutantes (the Mutants) were a Brazilian psychedelic rock group from the late 1960s/early 70s who were re-introduced to the non-record-collecting Anglophone world by David Byrne with that compilation album — but are still pretty obscure in the scheme of things.

So I’m watching the cute kids playing soccer, trying to figure out what it is, and then the losing team gets the ultimate consolation prize of… a Happy Meal!! It’s a fricking McDonald’s ad!!!

Again, I should be used to the ineluctable globalist cool-hunting margins-to-center logic of late capitalism, but this still freaked me out a little bit. I guess just because I don’t think of McDonald’s as one of those cool-hunting corporations when it comes to advertising — aren’t their ads usually super-mainstream?

Here’s the ad, courtesy of Stereogum.

addendum: now I’ve learned that the catchy/weird song from that Heineken ad is by New Zealand indie rock legend Chris Knox of Toy Love & the Tall Dwarves. Strange. Here’s the ad:


So, we got a Wii. This has been a long time coming. Sarah decided to get one for me/us for Xmas, but of course she could not buy one (Nintendo has not been able to meet demand for them ever since they were introduced in December 2006, unless you prefer the conspiracy-theory approach that would see it as an artificially manipulated scarcity). In order to stymie any attempt on my part to block the gift, Sarah bought a gift card from Best Buy. It annoyed me to no end that Best Buy then sat on our money for what turned out to be 6 months. They also are obviously using the Wii unavailability as a way to trick people into having to make multiple visits to the store, as they are always pretty vague about when exactly the new ones will be coming in.

I went last Sunday at opening time, 11:00 a.m., and got one of the last 8 left. It was a weird scene, at least 2/3 of the people there were there for Wiis, or Wii Fit games, everyone carrying out the same white boxes (they look like some kind of Mac/ipod relative).

I checked on Amazon and used ones are still for sale at over 25% above the list price. I of course was tempted to flip ours immediately for a profit.

We haven’t played it all that much yet. The Sports game it’s packaged with is kind of neat but seems as if you need to buy a second controller to take full advantage of it. We got a game called “Cooking Mama” out of the library (!) on a friend’s recommendation that it might be something Celie and Iris would enjoy. They did, although in 20 minutes it already started to drive us a bit crazy. Its a Japanese game with a demented Iron Chef aesthetic — you follow recipes to create certain dishes, peeling vegetables, stirring the pot, rolling the Mochi balls in cocoa, etc. All in all, I think C&I are on the young side for the Wii, although Celie got really into grating cheese.

It’s very funny to watch someone else using it, they look like a madman, shaking and gesticulating. It is neat the way it keeps you on your feet & moving around. I almost felt like I threw my arm out pitching in the baseball game.

I was heavily into video games in the 1979-1983 era, roughly — Donkey Kong at the little store near my parents’ house in Cambridge which is now an outpost of the Swedish embassy or something bizarre like that — and then have not played much since. As a 12 year-old-boy there was something uniquely addictive, in a no doubt sublimatedly erotic way, about the whole experience of slipping the quarter in with its satisfying thwonk and setting the colorful, buzzing, noisy experience into motion. For a while I’ve figured that the period we’re in now with video games might be something like the pre-Jazz Singer silent era in movies, before everyone fully recognized how substantial and important the medium had become. Part of my problem has been that I’ve a lifetime Mac user, so many of the best games aren’t available.

More reports to come, I’m sure. I want to get Super Mario Galaxy. I’m glad that Mario is still a major player in this universe.

Here’s a Nintendo ad that shows what it looks like.

Addendum: Joshuah Bearman’s article in the July Harper’s, “The Perfect Game: Five Years with the Master of Pac-Man,” is hilarious and fascinating on the topic of video game obsession. A great peek into a bizarre little subculture.


My sister-in-law Vanessa is a writer for this new CBS drama Swingtown, premiering on June 5. Here’s a NY Times article about it.

Family loyalties aside, I’m looking forward to it — some writers and producers from Six Feet Under are involved and it co-stars Molly Parker, who was so good in Deadwood. Here’s a description from the profile:

WHEN the television series “Swingtown” has its premiere on June 5, viewers can expect to see the following scenes in the first episode: a ménage à trois; a high school junior smoking pot and later flirting with her English teacher; the flagrant enjoyment of quaaludes and cocaine; and the sight of the neighborhood scold unwittingly stumbling upon a groaning and slithering orgy. “Why don’t you kick your shoes off, Mom, and join the party?” is how a middle-aged participant, clad only in mutton chops, says hello.

Debauchery, however, is only an appetizer for the main story line: the open marriage of an airline pilot and his wife, who, in pursuit of new partners, set about seducing the businessman and housewife who have just moved in across the street.

Melissa Henson, director of communications and public education for the watchdog group Parents Television Council, comments that “it’s sort of driving a stake through an institution most of us regard as being fundamental to our culture and to our society.” As my brother observed, I guess this assumes that the American family is a vampire. Or a tomato plant, maybe (what else gets a stake driven through it?)