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The Songs I’m Not Censoring

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Gung hay fat choi!

Happy Lunar New Year to my Chinese friends and family, and all who celebrate it.

 

 

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Department Of At Least They Didn’t Start A Forest Fire

“A 26-year-old Michigan man died on Saturday after he was hit with shrapnel from ‘a small cannon type device’ that exploded when….”

This is how the news article began. What words, would you think, could possibly complete the article’s lead sentence?

“… it was fired in celebration at a baby shower….

 

 

Because celebrating babies and pregnancy and impending parenthood – one immediately thinks: Ah, yes: armaments!

“A cannon type device.” As in, a cannon? It was a friggin’ baby shower; it was not a Civil War reenactment, nor battle enactment of any kind…although – WARNING: BAD PREGNANCY PUN AHEAD – many a woman in her ninth month of gestation has felt like she is personally fighting the Battle of the Bulge.

 

The story continues:

“The man, Evan Thomas Silva, a guest at the party, was about 10 to 15 feet from the device when it blew up in the backyard of a home. Metal shrapnel hit Mr. Silva, three parked cars and the garage where the shower was being held, the police said…..
The night Mr. Silva died, he was among the guests…attending a baby shower — not a gender reveal party….”
( “Celebratory Cannon Salute at Baby Shower Ends in Death,” NY Times 2-7-21

Interesting that the article took pains to mention that this was *not* a gender reveal party, as per the idiotic trend in which celebratory pyrotechnics employed by excited parents-to-be inadvertently yet efficiently caused *more than one* wildfire in the past year (a trend which yours truly had mocked in a previous post).

Attention, expectant parents: stop this. Right now. Stop throwing such events for yourselves and stop attending them in your “honor.” Your friends and family will thank you:  no matter what they are saying to your face, under your nose and behind your back they are embarrassed and appalled that you apparently find the fact of *your* impending parenthood – an event so ordinary that it happens worldwide, 385,000 times PER DAY  – to be so special that it is the cause for the type of celebration usually reserved for a nation’s liberation from a dictator or the opening of yet another Disney theme park.

Have a party if you want to, of course!  Keep it simple – those kind of celebrations are remembered most fondly, and are less stressful to plan *and* attend. Do the potluck thing, play music and silly games.  [1]  But have some perspective, puuuuuhhhhllleeeaassee.  NO cannons, no fireworks – nothing which intentionally or otherwise explodes… with the exception of your Uncle Beauford’s mouth (and other orifices) after his third helping of your elderly neighbor’s double-chili-bean-cabbage-beer-garlic casserole.

 

“We’re so excited about baby’s first artillery!

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Department Of What To Serve At Your Baby Shower
Sup-Department Of Maybe Reconsider The Chicken Wings

“Torture a single chicken in your backyard, and you risk arrest. Abuse tens of millions of them? Why, that’s agribusiness.”
( “The Ugly Secrets Behind the Costco Chicken,” NY Times, 2-6-21 )

 

 

Selective breeding by agricultural scientists for larger overall size and enormous breasts – the white meat consumers prefer – has produced  “exploding chickens” that put on weight at a monstrous clip….The journal Poultry Science once calculated that if humans grew at the same rate as these chickens, a 2-month-old baby would weigh 660 pounds…. The chickens’ legs, unable to support the weight of their out-of-proportion bodies, often splay or collapse, making some chickens topple onto their backs (and then they cannot right themselves) and others collapse onto their bellies, where they lie in mounds of feces and suffer bloody rashes called ammonia burns – the poultry version of bed sores.

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Department Of Memory Sparking

The film class moiself  had in college: I hadn’t thought of it, nor of the class’s professor, in years.  Now, twice in the past two months both have come to mind (and thus, to this blog).

The first time was two months ago, during the brouhaha manufactured by a Wall Street Journal columnist who chided Jill Biden, who holds a Ph.D. in education, for using her professional credentials. I’d remembered how I’d gotten a kick out of how Robert Miller, my film class’s professor,  [2]  made his point as to how he wished to be addressed.  Miller, who had a Ph.D. in literature, introduced himself as “Professor Miller.” When a student speaking in class prefaced their remarks with, “Dr. Miller…” Miller would interrupt with, “Yes, nurse?”

The second time was last week, when I was listening to a recent Fresh Air interview with former writer  [3]  and current professional observationist  [4]   Fran Leibovitz.  Leibovitz was promoting a new Netflix docuseries, “Pretend It’s a City,”  in which the series’ director (Leibovitz’s longtime friend, Martin Scorsese) talks with Leibovitz about…well, about Leibovitz, and whatever Leibovitz thinks about any and every thing she thinks about.   [5]

In the Fresh Air interview Leibovitz talked about her “career” background. Before enjoying her fifteen minutes of fame as a writer in the 1970s  [6]  Leibovitz held a series of menial/odd jobs. She claims she took housecleaning jobs and drove a taxi because, “I don’t have any skills. I didn’t know how to do anything else.”

“I also didn’t want to do the job that most of my friends did, which was wait tables, because I didn’t want to have to be nice to men to get tips or to sleep with the manager of my shift, which was a common requirement then for being a waitress in New York.”

My film professor, who was a writer as well as a teacher, didn’t (to my knowledge) require any of his students to sleep with him – that’s not why this memory was sparked.  He *did* do something which I thought was an abuse of power, although at that time I hadn’t the emotional or intellectual context to frame it as such, given its complexity.

One afternoon in class the topic was screenplay adaptation.  As an example of how you would turn a literary story into a cinematic one, Professor Miller announced that our next assignment, due the following week, would be to write up a proposal for adapting a piece of short fiction he would give to us.  We’ll spend the rest of the class time discussing the assignment, Professor Miller said.  He began passing out photocopies of – I stifled a gasp when I read the byline – a short story *he* had written.

 

 

I remember thinking, “Uh, this a good idea?  HELL NO.”

Would any student dare say, “This story is not adaptable,” or, “There’s no way I would want to adapt this even if I thought I could because I just don’t like it.…” or express any other critique, from mild to scathing, knowing that it is the professor’s own work?

I tried to stifle my instinctive, lip-curling expression as I read the story, which was a Mailer-Hemingwayesque male fantasy, about a backpacking trip taken by an Older Man ® (an artist-teacher of some kind) and the Much Younger Woman ® he is mentoring and – surprise! – fucking dating.   Meanwhile, Professor Miller read aloud from the story’s campfire scene, a scene which, he told the class, would be particularly visually appealing for a screenwriter (the following is my summation of the scene):

OM and MYW are sitting around their campfire, their conversation terse and tense. There is a sense of growing strain between them for a variety of reasons, including the status of their relationship, and signs of bear activity in the vicinity. When MYW excuses herself  (presumably to go behind the tent to take a pee break),  OM ruminates about how their relationship will likely be coming to an end, as he is older, more educated and world-wise, and she is…well…she is what she is (young and beautiful).

MYW returns, tossing an item into the campfire as she sits down; OM sees a tampon briefly blaze before the flames incinerate it. He begins to panic…. 

Already feeling nauseated by the retch-worthy cliché of the older male teacher/younger female student predatory romantic relationship scenario, I had another thought that made me want to puke in class: he’s not going to incorporate the macho woodsy myth about bears being attracted to menstruating women in his story, is he?   [7] 

OM starts asking MYW about why she didn’t tell him she was having her menstrual period – they’re in bear country, FFS! That explains his feeling that a bear has been stalking them.  Now, they are in danger….

Several students (all male) took turns praising the scene and shared their ideas as to how they would script it.  I remember Professor Miller looking at me several times, as if he expected my feedback – me, who remained silent, despite usually speaking up in class discussions; me, the one student (or so the professor  told me a week earlier, when he’d returned an assignment of mine   [8]  ) whom he allowed to turn any assignment into a prose-writing opportunity.   [9]

I remember looking around at the class, paying particular attention to the expressions on the other female student’s faces, and having a click-worthy moment of realization:

Oh, so *this* is how women learn to fake orgasms.

 

“Do tell?”

 

Up until that moment, the class as a whole had had little problem tearing into films we had been told were “classics” but which one or more of us found poorly made, reductive, or just plain boring.  But for this assignment, what choice did we have, other than to act as if we liked the story?  He was our professor; it was his story. We had to pretend to like or at least approve of it in order for us to succeed in that situation.

Somewhere near the end of class time moiself  raised my hand and asked if we had other options for the assignment – for example, adapting works of…other authors.  I remember phrasing my question as delicately as I could, and squeezing in some (faux) compliments of his story, compliments which were bland enough that I didn’t hate myself for wimping out on what I wanted to do, which was to object to the inherent hubris of him assigning his own story.  Fortunately for me, several of the professor’s suck-ups acolytes weighed in on the subject, and my tacit criticism of his self-indulgent ego trip of an assignment didn’t seem to register (or at least not for long, as I got an A in the class).

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Department Of Sometimes I Miss The Good Old Days Of Censorship

“When I’m good, I’m very good, but when I’m bad, I’m better. ”

“I’ll try anything once, twice if I like it, three times to make sure.”

― Mae West

 

The Good Old Days ® of any kind were usually not-that-good, just old.  I am not condoning censorship; continuing with this post’s cinematic theme, I am remember the day in my film class where we learned about the Hays Code, aka the Motion Picture Production Code.  The Hays Code was used, for almost four decades, by film studios to require that their pictures be “wholesome” and “moral” and free from a list of no-nos (e.g. nudity, overt violence, sexually suggestive dances, discussions of sexual perversity, characters which engendered sympathy for criminals, unnecessary use of liquor, making fun of religion, interracial relationships, “lustful kissing,” ridicule of law and order….)

A lively class discussion about the Hays Code ensued.  Several students, and the professor, gave reasons for favoring some kind of code or guidelines (although not outright censorship), due to the artistic ingenuity such guidelines inevitably inspired.

This idea that “guidelines up the game” is one which crosses artistic genres. I recall experiencing a joy I don’t think can be replicated today, when I realized that 13-year-old moiself  “got” The Kinks’ song, Lola, and my parents   [10]   and the radio censors didn’t.  Presently, pop vocalists can call for the execution of people they don’t like, can call each other obscene and racist epithets, can brag about the…uh, humidity level of their intimate parts….  There are few if any lines to subversively read between. 

 

A fun factoid about “Lola” is that the word “Coca-Cola” in the original recording had to be changed ( ♫ “I met her in a bar down in old Soho where you drink champagne and it takes just like Coca-Cola…” ♫ ).  Singer Ray Davies dubbed in “cherry cola” for the song’s release, due to the BBC Radio’s policy against product placement.

 

Son K and I had an interesting IM session about the subject of censorship when, apropos of what-I-cannot-now recall, K came across some info about the Parents Music Resource Center, asked me some questions, and began searching for and then watching videos of the PMRC’s congressional hearing.

[ The PMRC, as some of y’all may recall, was an American governmental “advisory committee” formed in the 1980s which sought to increase parental control over children’s access to music with violent, sexual, and drug-related themes. The PMRC lobbied the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America)  to develop a music labeling system, ala the MPAA’s film rating system.  Because the PMRC was founded by four women whose husbands had political connections (including Tipper Gore, married to Senator and later Vice President Al Gore) the group was sometimes derisively and dismissively referred to as “The Washington Wives.” ]

K: man so reading about the PMRC. what was tipper gore’s problem

Moiself What made you read about the PMRC?
Some say Tipper Gore was looking for a “cause,; others, including herself and her husband, say she was a concerned parent who became shocked when she listened to the lyrics of one of her daughter’s favorite songs…and then started acquainting herself with other lyrics to popular music.
I think it’s probably a combination of both motivations.  The PMRC was actually a milder version of other parental groups at the time which were calling for censorship – the PMRC wanted parental warning labels as to content….

I gave K a brief history lesson: at that time, many kids didn’t buy their own records – their parents or grandparents did.  As a parent and “consumer,” I wouldn’t want to spend my money on songs that used racial epithets or promoted homophobic or misogynistic viewpoints to my kids. And in the ’80s lyrics were getting really explicit, which made me actually wish for the days of radio content restrictions…because then singers and songwriters had to be clever.  It was so much fun when, ala my “Lola” reference, you knew something was slipped by the sensors – you caught a reference that even the supposedly hip radio programming directors, as well as your own parents, didn’t “get.”

K: just looking through it, (the PMRC hearings) all comes across to me as one of those bullshit moral crusades. a need to either feel self superior, or a need to control anything that doesn’t appeal to X person’s personal tastes, or both.
it just reminded me of a milder version of McCarthyist witch hunting.
demonizing something for political gain

Moiself: Yes, but the latter is a proven technique.

Later on, in an in-person dialogue, I shared with K my opinion that any form of guideline or structure-free art risks…well, think of the criticism of free verse poetry as playing tennis with the net down.  I’m not lauding censorship per se, but, to reiterate, IMHO guidelines can actually make people more creative – or sneaky, which has a strong element of creativity to it. Because when you can’t just come out and say Certain Things ® you have to be subtle and sly, employing cheeky imagery and evocative dialogue.  You have to be more poetic, in a way.

A movie critic once asked the late great writer/screenwriter/director Nora Ephron if Ephron agreed with the critic’s observation that there seemed to have been stronger roles for women actors, and better plots and dialog, in the earlier days of cinema. Ephron agreed, and lamented contemporary movies’ lack of witty dialogue and snappy repartee – and distinctive, self-assured female characters – which were found in the movies of the 30s and 40s and even 50s.  Beginning in the late 60s, along came the “New Cinema” movement, which emphasized so-called gritty realism. You no longer had to employ clever camera angles and witty, double-entendre laden repartee – now you can just show (instead of imply) a graphic murder, have the protagonists jump into bed together (which had the effect of valuing, defining – and casting – female actors as per their sexual appeal)…and then what?

In an atmosphere where nothing is considered to be off-limits, you will never have the delightful shock value of experiencing, say, the judicious use of “strong” language.  I fondly recall my mother telling me about her most memorable movie experience, when as a child she saw Gone With The Wind. She said she’d never forget how she was both scandalized and thrilled – and how “the entire theater gasped” –  when Rhett Butler delivered his infamous parting line:

 

 

 

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Pun(z) For The Day

Moiself : Did you hear about that actress, Reese, who just stabbed a guy to death?
Innocent bystander: Witherspoon?
Moiself : No, she used her knife.

  1. Q.  How does award-winning actor Reese eat her Cheerios?
  2. A.  Witherspoon.

I suppose I have to be a good sport about this.

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May you shun any event mixing pyrotechnics and babies;
May you neither actively nor passively contribute to “exploding chickens;”
May you challenge yourself to both follow and subvert the guidelines;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

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[1] Of course, have these events safely, distanced/outdoors, and masked until this damn COVID-19 thing peters out …do I really need to say this? Apparently.

[2] A pseudonym.

[3] Leibovitz has famously suffered from writer’s block for years, and now seems to get by with having people pay to listen to her talk about the things she used to write about. Not a criticism – she has a keen, sardonic eye, and is quite witty.  I have enjoyed the series, so far (haven’t as of this writing finished listening to all episodes).

[4] I’m not sure if “observationist” is a thing, but Leibovitz seems to be making a living from it.

[5] Which centers around her technophobic life in New York city; specifically, Manhattan.

[6] Using her satirical, NYC-centered wit, she opined on American life in two best-selling collections of essays,   Metropolitan Life and Social Studies.

[7] After class I found a couple of Wildlife Fisheries Biology majors who confirmed that was a myth.  Even so, it was a myth that got a lot of traction, and it wasn’t until in the 1980s and ’90s that biologists did studies proving that bears – or sharks – are no more attracted to menstruating women than to any other kind of human.

[8] storyboarding a dada-esque, vignette-style commercial for the soft drink, 7-Up, which he graded A+.

[9] We’d had and would continue to have various projects over the quarter, from “making” a short films or advertisements or animation. I’d no interest in filming anything or doing animation, and always chose to interpret “making” as doing the screenplay, storyboarding and/or writing portion of the project.

[10] When my friend’s très conservative mother was singing along to “Lola” on the radio while was driving us to the beach, I somehow resisted the urge to ask if she knew she was enjoying an ode to a naïve young man’s romance with a transvestite.

The Sushi Roll I’m Not Ordering

Comments Off on The Sushi Roll I’m Not Ordering

 

Department Of Sophomoric Observations

A Japanese restaurant where I have become a weekly lunch regular recently installed a video screen which plays a continuous loop of some truly gorgeous pictures of their various sushi and rolls, combination platters, bento boxes and other menu items. Last week I was enjoying the show as I ate my bowl of edamame, until I almost choked when the picture of a long, brown, slightly curved, specialty roll flashed by on the screen – a roll that someone had unfortunately decided to dub, “The Johnson Roll.”

Slang terms and idioms don’t always travel graciously across cultures. My server gave me a curious look when she caught my mirthful reaction, and I wondered if I should say anything – just pose an innocent question, to see if she “got it.” [1]   I mean, I’d feel like a pervert ordering the thing.

 

If I order the Johnson roll will you be happy to see me?

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The Electorate I’m Not Analyzing

Because simple ad hominem attacks, the usage of which I am usually (or at least philosophically) opposed to, will suffice:

Are people bloody bonkers?

I refer of course to the great mystery of our time.

 

 

 

 

No, not that one. The mystery is that the Trumpster is not in the dumpster at this point in the primaries. My theory: there are many short-sighted people who, the more they feel ineffective, unappreciated and threatened, the more they gravitate towards that which they perceive as powerful. And these people apparently equate bombasity with power, and there are enough of them to keep That Man at the top of the festering turd of a heap that is the Republican presidential primary contest.

And yes, bombasity (the condition or quality of being bombastic to the nth power) needed to be a word. [2] Now it is. So let it be written; so let it be done.

 

 

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The Constraints I’m Not Protesting

Content warning: Yet another plug for Star Talk, Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s podcast.

This time I’m touting the Science Of Creativity episode, with host NGT interviewing his guest, musician, Talking Heads founder and AARP men’s hair fashion correspondent, David Byrne, about…see the show’s title.

Which (drum roll, please) got me to thinking .

I love it when Someone Smarter Than Moiself ® articulates a concept with which I am in total agreement. [3]  As per the referenced podcast, that concept is this:  constraints, both in art and science, can be liberating, and are in fact what lead to creativity.

Many wannabe (IMHO) artists chafe at the mere mention of restraints or controls or guidelines when it comes to that nebulous concepts creativity. On the other hand [4], mature/experienced artists realize that when there are no boundaries you can just do anything…which often seems like – and sometimes leads to – doing nothing in particular.

Witness the creativity called up by the NASA engineers – the astounding, seat-of-their-pants, imagination and resourcefulness that enabled them to create solutions for the Apollo 13 crew to bring their severely damaged spacecraft home safely. These solutions were arrived at not by using anything/everything at the engineers’ disposal; rather, they had to work within the constraints of what the astronauts actually had within their capsule.

Constraints, even those which might be called “censorship,” can be liberating, in that you can focus on what you can do with the materials/talents/themes/venues at hand, and not ramble within a world of seemingly no limits. The beauty of haiku is in its structure. The insipidness with much of so-called free form or free verse poetry…tennis without a net, anyone?

We’ve all had the experience of listening to/reading/watching/observing a less than magnificent (or not even marginally competent) book/painting/play/movie/recital/concert. Some of us have also been witness to (read: somehow forced to attend a showing of) the “art” of someone who evinces little or no actual artistic talent – someone who lacks the discipline to put in the years and hard work to develop the talent but who is so enamored of the concept of being an artist that they have to come up with another name for…for whatever it is they can do.  [5]

 

I’m artist, dammit, and who are you to limit or define what that is?

 

 

Nowadays it seems you can show/describe/sing about just about anything, including people performing personal hygiene rituals, people fucking, people being disemboweled and tortured….  The proponents of this show-it-all-ness call it realism, and fling the censorship! pejorative at those who suggest subtlety or moderation in presentation.

Excuse me, but your story might be more enjoyable if it had complex, three dimensional characters and a more intricate plot, or one which might encourage viewers to imagine and  anticipate and….

(Gasp!)  This is intentional – you would censor/constrain my art?!

The Realism Rah-Rahs seem clueless when it comes to understanding how their in-your-face approach loses the poetry of subterfuge, the beauty of obfuscation, the creativity of concealment.

Without constraints, there is no thrill of sneaking a song like The Kinks’ Lola past the censors. [6]  And the snappy, now-classic cinematic dialogue, the clever artistry of cinematography and staging necessary to impart certain concepts (e.g. a sexual rendezvous) was enabled, and made necessary, by the movie production codes of the day. [7]  The saucy double entendres of Mae West

When I’m good I’m very, very good, but when I’m bad, I’m better.

You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.

Too much of a good thing can be taxing.

When I’m good, I’m very good, but when I’m bad, I’m better.

Why don’t you come up and… see me some time?

­– why write those lines today [8] when you can have your actors openly proposition one another (and then follow through) on camera?

 

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The Certificate I’m Not Showing You [9]

Perhaps you remember (or are desperately trying to forget) my blog post from two weeks ago, wherein profanely ranted about I articulately lamented what I saw as the lack of respect MH received for his 25th anniversary with his company (all together now: Twenty-five years and they gave you a fucking $8.99 Safeway cake?!?!?”)

 

 

That’s not all the recognition he received. Tuesday eve MH came home from work bearing a Certificate of Accomplishment, in the form of a white 8 ½ x 11 inch piece of paper that had his name, a Congratulations, 25 years, yay you! message and a couple of color graphics printed on it. The cheap piece of paper certificate had been laminated, and was slightly bent/curled in the middle, as if someone had tried to roll it up or had sat on it.

Perhaps the yeah-isn’t-this-great twinkle in MH’s eyes as he showed the paper to me should’ve reassured me that I didn’t need to suppress my reaction. Still, I waited until the next morning, to see if I felt the same about it. I asked to see the certificate again, and summoned all the enthusiasm such an honor merited:

Moiself: “I’m sorry for snickering at this. I mean, it’s obvious someone went to the trouble to go all the way to Kinko’s to have it laminated.”

MH: “I’m pretty sure it was in-house job. If they’d gone to Kinko’s it wouldn’t be bent.”

I could not let that stand. I made a rare (for me) trip to a local crafts store, got a shiny purple frame and what son K refers to as “bedazzlers,” and I pimped that certificate.

 

*   *   *

May your accomplishments be bedazzled;
May your constraints be creative;
May The Martian win this year’s Best Picture Oscar;
and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

 

[1] I did: “So, what is a Johnson roll made of?” Her straightforward description of the ingredients indicated to me that she’d no idea of the…possible interpretations of the roll’s name.

[2] You’re welcome.

[3] Aka the Yeah, what she said, phenomenon.

[4] …you have other fingers.

[5] Performance Art, anyone?

[6] Certainly, it would have been a different song – or perhaps, not even written – had there been no radio content censorship back then.

[7] Hays Code and Breen code, e.g. 

[8] And, sadly, few screenwriters do.

[9] Because MH refused to let me photograph it.