Department of Duh

The opening, thumping drums and guitar riff to The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army is mesmerizing, to say the least. It is also an unfortunate earworm to wake up with at three a.m., if your intention is to return to sleep. And mine was.

 

As soothing as a Brahms lullaby, trust us.

As soothing as a Brahms lullaby, trust us.

*   *   *

 

MH and I saw the second play of the Portland Center Stage season last Sunday. A part of me was hoping I would find the play boring or just unappealing; thus, when asked for my review, I could justifiably opine, Sex With Strangers is so overrated.” 

 

CAMEL

 

I had no idea.

No idea, that is, as to the reasons I indeed find the play unappealing. It wasn’t a “bad” play. But it wasn’t the play for me, at least at this point in my life.

In general, if I intend to see a movie or play I don’t read reviews about it – or even brief plot summaries – in advance.  A major theme of the SWS play was the intersection/conflict between art and commerce, as played out between the cast, which consisted of two writers. Had I known Sex With Strangers was going to be about writers arguing about writing I would have gone bowling instead.

Not to say it wasn’t done well, and I’m sure most of the audience enjoyed the battle of wits, sexes, and literary mores and intentions between the older, female, more-literary-(read: talented) and-commercially-unknown-but-with-integrity writer, vs. the younger, male, more-financially-successful-and-famous-or-infamous-and-cool-but-once-you-look-past-the-braddadocio-obviously-not-proud-of-what-he-does writer. Older writer was rightly aghast at the mountain of muck that exists due to the advent of self publishing…and how relatively quickly younger writer was able to get her to shelve her integrity and let him construct a false, more hip author’s profile for re-releasing her earlier, neglected novel on his new self-publishing application…

Ick, and ick again. It just sooooooooooo wasn’t for me.

By the play’s intermission I had a nasty headache from clenching my jaw. MH stayed to watch the second half of the play while I took a de-clenching walk around the neighborhood and was temporarily (but rewardingly) sucked into a retail vortex. Thank the FSM for Sur La Table – I found that soy sauce dispenser I’d been so desperately needing.

 

soy

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The Return I’m Not Applauding

 

That would be the return of Bloom County.

 

whatswrongpng

 

I know, I know. I seem to be one of the few FB denizen who isn’t performing the social media version of the Happy Dance, now that the much-beloved comic strip has returned.

 

"Bloom County is baaaaaack!"

“Bloom County is baaaaaack!”

 

I did read the comic strip on a semi-regular basis, during its initial publication period, but was never one of its most devoted fans. I couldn’t put my finger on my lack of enthusiasm, until the day I made a list, to confirm my suspicions.

BC major characters:

* Bill the Cat
* Cutter John
* Hodge-Podge (rabbit)
* Michael Binkley
* Milo Bloom
* Oliver Wendell Jones
* Opus (penguin)
* Portnoy (groundhog)
* Steve Dallas

Minor characters include [1]

* Bobbi Harlow
* Frank Jones (Oliver’s father)
* Lola Granola
* Milquetoast the Cockroach
* Mrs. Jones (Oliver’s mother) [2]
* Quiche Lorraine

* Tom Binkley

 

The major characters (including the talking animals) are all male.

 

mansworld

 

I’m not saying Bloom County was a misogynistic, backasswater Islamic burg; however, to my curious mind at least, there is a connection. Bear with me.

When you see pictures, from still shots to newsreels, of life-out-side-the-home in a conservative Muslim nation, you might wonder how, in a land seemingly devoid of women, all those men were produced. Whether at a political demonstration or just going about the tasks everyday life – walking to and from work, at the marketplace or having coffee with a friend – the lack of females, shrouded or otherwise, is notable…if you pay attention.

Pay attention to contemporary American art and entertainment forms – from plays to movies to TV shows to comic strip. Now, imagine being an alien (or an anthropologist) looking to such forms to try and understand the culture that produced them:  you’d have no idea that females comprise more than half of the US population. [3]

I am woman, hear me roar/in numbers too big to ignore…
I am Woman, written and performed by Helen Reddy)

I love that song, and wish its opening sentiments were correct. But it seems the numbers aren’t too big to ignore when it comes to…sadly…just about any field.

I get that art and entertainment have no responsibility, inherent or otherwise, to be socially or demographically representative. But damnity damn, how it frosts my butt, and makes me feel old and tired, to have to “get that” excuse rationale, over and over and over….

Unlike Islamic state artists, [4]  American screenwriters and playwrights and directors and comic strip authors have the freedom to draw, create, and cast female characters in all kinds of roles. They can also depict them as scantily or as fully clad as they choose…and yet they still – unintentionally perhaps, but effectively – shroud women and girls with the burka of scarcity.

Not being seen is a form of being covered up.

 

Are these women, men, mannequins, corpses, lampposts, bundles of rebar? Who can tell?

Are these women, men, mannequins, corpses, lampposts, bundles of rebar? Who can tell?

 

Don’t get me wrong – I’m glad BC existed. I derived pleasure from many of its story lines, and sincerely believe the comic strip gave us an incalculable, lasting contribution to contemporary culture: an opportunity to appreciate the uncanny resemblance between Bill the Cat and actor Nick Nolte.

 

Noltemug

 

Cartoonist Berkeley Breathed was – and is – widely lauded [5] for creating Bloom County’s whimsical/imaginary world in Middle America, with storylines that lampooned big and small town culture and politics. I did enjoy (most of) BC’s take on the political ambiance of the 1980s, [6]  and hope that Breathed will do as well or better with the strip’s present day incarnation. [7]

Still, what I didn’t need then and do not desire now is for yet another artist to create yet another world, real or imaginary, wherein females are peripheral.

Yeah. Hear me fuckin’ roar.

 

roar

*   *   *

Department of While I’m On The Subject

Listening to a recent Fresh Air podcast of the October 9 show, Steve Jobs: The Man, the Book, The Film produced two aha moments – one of which I’ve had before, both of which explain my almost visceral aversion to those who worship at the altar of Apple.

At one point in the interview, Walter Isaacson, author and Steve jobs’ biographer, addresses the issue of Jobs’ legendary volatility.

It’s one of the dichotomies about Jobs is he could be demanding and tough – at times, you know, really berating people and being irate. On the other hand, he got all A-players, and they became fanatically loyal to him…an artist who was a perfectionist and frankly wasn’t always the kindest person when they failed “

That is the near-perfect description of a cult leader.

 

jobs

 

Isaacson also compares the styles of Steve Jobs vs. Jobs’ rival and collaborator, Bill Gates:

Steve Jobs was more intuitive, operated in a much more volatile manner…. the biggest difference is that Jobs was very much a genius when it came to aesthetics, design, consumer desire. And Bill Gates…was much more of a focused businessperson than Jobs was.

Jobs’ intuition and artistic sensibilities are described several times in the interview, and those qualities are presented as strengths which enabled Jobs to envision and produce Apple’s “revolutionary” products and marketing. If Jobs had been a woman trying to make it in that field, those same qualities – intuition, volatility, focus on aesthetics – would have been seen as weaknesses. No one would have listened to her.

 

*   *   *

Department of Family In-Jokes

"You're out of croutons!"

“You’re out of croutons!”

*   *   *

Department Of The Customer Is Always Right…
And Sometimes Rightly Pissed Off

Dear Surly Checkout Clerk at a Major Pet Supplies [8] chain store,

I’m so sorry for interrupting your important slouching time last week, when I annoyed you by causing you to have to do your job. How persnickety of me to notice that you rang up my purchases without asking me for your store’s frequent buyer number – the number that gives me discounts on future purchases; the number your store’s clerks are supposed to ask for at the beginning of the transaction. I regret the pain I caused you when I meekly pointed out your oversight; the number of muscles employed to roll your eyes appeared to have been agony-inducing, as was the effort you put in to pointing your finger toward the payment screen and verbalizing your thinly-disguised disgust with what you mistakenly thought was my concern: “It doesn’t change the price.”

When I smiled at you with the patience your attitude did not merit and replied, “That’s not the point,” I selfishly caused you to grimace with the five seconds’ worth of effort it took to void and then reenter my purchase – a grimace which implied a colossal waste of your valuable slacker time (I’m sure you had better things to do with those seconds, despite the fact that there was no one else in line behind me, nor at any other register in the store) and which used facial muscles that clearly caused you discomfort, being as they were in such close proximity to your festering, so-hip-so-five-years-ago ear gauges.

Forgive me for entertaining, even for a nanosecond, my totally ungracious impulse to jam a feline hairball chew supplement down your throat when you once again took the effort to point out a factor which was not my concern – “It didn’t change the price” – but which, in your infinite, churlish wisdom, should have been my top priority.

I offer one more mea culpa for the small-minded thoughts I had while leaving the store – thoughts having to do about the importance of a brick-and-mortar store’s customer service [9]– especially these days, when we can often find the products we seek online, at a lower cost. Consumers rarely have the incentive to think about courteous customer service– how kind of you to go out of your way to inspire me to consider the concept.

Sincerely and contritely yours,
Another enlightened customer

assist

*   *   *

May your customer service exceed all expectations,
may your second acts be tolerable if not inspirational,
may your earworms be lullaby-worthy,
may you never run out of croutons,
and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

 

[1] “Minor” = having appeared in the strip in “sideline” stories that were not central to the strip’s development and overall story arc (e.g., Bobbie, Quiche and Lola were love interests of the major characters).

[2] That’s her identification –Oliver’s mother and Frank’s wife. Oliver’s father at least gets a first name.

[3] Forbes magazine, hardly a bastion journal of feminist thought, even addressed the discrepancy by publishing  Women Still Ridiculously Underrepresented in Movies.

[4] If such exist, they are, sadly, well-hidden.

[5] Much to the chagrin of actual editorial cartoonists, Breathed’s Bloom County won a Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning in 1987.

[6] Can you believe that Donald Trump has provided fodder for cartoonists for 30+ years? Of course you can.

[7] I also hope he will continue to be patient with those of us who continue to mispronounce his surname.

[8] Hint: not Petco.

[9] In all fairness to the chain itself, their customer service dept.  was promptly responsive to the complaint I filed on line.