Older Projects

The main purpose of this site is to present comics, artwork and writing pieces as I produce them.  However, there are a variety of older pieces that I did for YouTube and other websites, some of which no longer exist.  They are here for archival purposes.  This page won’t update, but has some stuff that you might find enjoyable.

 

— Keith

 

Never-Published Short Stories

I wrote these and submitted them to various magazines for publication.  None was accepted and I gave up on them and moved on to bigger and better things.

Note Found on a Body at the Lincoln Memorial

(I came up with the ad idea first, and wrote the story around that.  Just to be clear — since People On The Internet are notoriously bad at detecting it — this is satire.  It’s meant to ask whether people who want progressive politicians to be ruthless as their opponents really know what they’re wishing for.)

I’ve never believed in ghosts, or God, or anything supernatural.  I guess that’s how I first got involved in politics, how I decided to go to journalism school.  How I found myself working as a press agent for the ACLU, up late one night in my studio apartment in Washington, racking my brain, trying to think of a way to reach the American people.

The TSA had just introduced a plan to use backscatter x-ray machines – a virtual strip-search – on everyone who boarded an airplane in the United States.  We had challenged it in court, of course, but we were losing the battle for public opinion, and no one knew how to win it.  I’d just stepped away from my laptop to crush another Adderall when he appeared.

There was no blinding flash or puff of smoke.  All of a sudden he was just there in the room with me.  Richard Nixon.

I was frightened at first, sure it couldn’t be who it seemed.  I waited for him to pull a gun, to rob me, rape me, something – but he didn’t.  When he spoke, I lost all doubt.  It was him.  The voice was unmistakable.

“I see you’re having a little trouble convincing the American people to support you,” he said in that fake, folksy manner he adopted in all those newsreels from the ‘50s, when he was telling the public about his dog.  “I ran into the same sort of thing back in ’72.  Let me give you a hand with that.”

The only thing I could do was answer him.

“I don’t know what to do, Mr. Nixon!  If getting strip-searched every time they get on a plane doesn’t rouse people to protest, nothing will.”

He smiled the gleeful smile of a bitter old man about to tell his grandson how all women are whores.

“Oh, ho, ho!  Your mistake is appealing to the American people’s sense of courage in the face of terror, their sense of dignity and their self-respect.  McGovern thought that shit would work, too.  Squashed him like a bug.”

He chuckled to himself, relishing a Pyrrhic victory from 40 years before.

“No,” he continued, “what you need is to appeal to their real motivations — the ones they’ll never tell the pollsters about: fear, bigotry, ignorance.  That’s where the real money is: in the gutter beside the lowest of the low roads.  Take a look at this commercial I had the boys whip up.”

“The boys?”

I was afraid I was about to see Agnew and Hoover looming over my IKEA coffee table.

“There are plenty of ad executives in Hell, son.”

At that instant I was alone in a dark void.  A second later, some ghastly projectionist went to work and I found myself watching a TV commercial.

An attractive young woman, blonde and pale as Eva Braun, stood at the front of the line at an airport security checkpoint.  She wore a thick turtleneck sweater and a long gray skirt, with her hair pulled back in a tight bun; an outfit to make a burka look like beachwear.

“Golly,” she bubbled, “all I have to do is step into that booth?  Sure!  Anything to help win the War on Terror.”

The commercial cut to a shot of the scanner monitoring room, where a black man in a TSA uniform, dreadlocks spilling over his shoulders, stared drooling at the screen.  A glass pipe and a copy of “By Any Means Necessary” lay on the table in front of him.

The scene faded to black.  The words AMERICA: WHAT DO YOU REALLY WANT TO PROTECT burst onto the screen in bright white letters.

Then I was back home, listening to Nixon laugh hysterically.

“Whoo!  It’ll be just like old times!”  He wiped a tear from his eye.

I stammered once before telling him, “That’s the most depraved, cynical thing I’ve ever seen.”

“It’ll appeal to Gen-Xers!  Well, I’m off.  Gotta go recommend a makeup artist to Rupert Murdoch.”

He was gone.

I stood alone in my room, mouth agape, the bottle of pills still in my hand.  It had been a transfiguring experience, as if now I should be clothed in the white robes that I had never much cared for.  I knew the truth, and a minute later I knew what I had to do.

By the time you find this, I will be dead.  Tell Helen I always loved her.

 

Lake Wobegon, Summer 2011

(I wrote this on a whim and then decided that writing overt parodies was a pretty cheap way to make a point, so it never went anywhere.  I’m a big fan of Garrison Keillor, but I also think that the picture of small-town “Jolly Olde America” that we have in our minds often overlooks its darker side.)

It has been a quiet week here in Lake Wobegon, my hometown, out on the edge of the prairie.  A cold April morning gave way to the first warm breeze of spring, blowing in steadily out of the Southeast and bringing with it the smell of wet earth and green grass.

The breeze blew through Carla Krebsbach’s hair as she took one last drag off her Newport and flicked the filter into a pile of dirty show.  Only five left until she got back to St. Paul on Sunday night.  Nineteen years old and she still couldn’t bring herself to just walk into Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery and pick up a carton.  Word would spread in a small town and she would have to deal with the passive-aggressive scorn of her parents’ bridge partners on Saturday night.

“Oh, and Carla, you can go out on the sleeping porch to smoke.  No, you can go right ahead, don’t let me stop you.  I’m sure Father Emil doesn’t mind – do you, Father?”

She stood in the shadows, just inside the woodline, and looked down the frontage road alongside I-94.  Carla had been standing there for over an hour since the trucker had let her off, and so far the only traffic had been Bud, plodding by on his backhoe-loader, off to bust up a beaver dam that was threatening to flood Val Tollefson’s basement.  The dark underbelly of a fine Spring morning.  She was getting nervous that something had gone wrong when Burl Inqvist’s black Ford pickup truck came over a dip in the road.  He greeted her with a kiss after he’d parked.

“Where’s all your stuff?” she asked him quietly.

“Jason’s already got it up at the shack.” he replied.  “We’ve been here since early this morning – made good time coming up from the Twin Cities – but the big idiot forgot to bring any bags.  I just got back from Ralph’s now.  Your dad says hi, and he’ll see you for dinner.”

“Cool.”

They walked through the woods for over a mile.  Carla’s Uggs soaked up the cold mud and left her leggings wet and bunched up around her toes.  Finally they came to the shack, built by Val’s great grandfather Olaf Tollefson in 1889 and long since collapsed, the gray timbers of its sunken roof blending into the trees around it.

Burl pushed aside the tarp covering the doorway and they stepped inside.  Jason wore a T-shirt and jeans as he leaned over the jars and aluminum pots, hard at work.  Burl set the Ziploc bags and a case of D batteries down on the table while Carla took off her coat and sweater.

“It was smart of you to think of cutting this here, Carla.” Said Jason, not looking up.

“Never pay someone to do something you can do just as well yourself.”

The acetone smell was already starting to make her eyes water.

“Let’s go outside and smoke.”

“Yeah, make sure you stand upwind.  This stuff’s pretty flammable.” remarked Jason, still apparently unfazed by the fumes.

Burl slid his hand under her belt and led her out into the cool spring air.  They walked for a minute and sat down against a big fallen elm tree upwind of the shack.  Carla rubbed her hands together against the cold as Burl tapped some powder into an already blackened light bulb and fished in his pocket for a cigar lighter.

Then the meth lab blew up.

The brass hinge made a cowbell sound as it bounced off the tree trunk behind Carla’s head, showering splinters of wet rotten wood into her hair.  After a moment’s incredulous pause, she and Burl twisted their heads around to see the still smoking remains of the shack.  Jason stumbled into the doorway, his hands covering his face, his sleeves and hair still smoldering.  He tripped over a fallen board in the doorway, fell flat on his face and didn’t get up.

Burl stood up to run to his brother, but Carla caught him by the shirt tail and held him back.

“No!  We have to get out of here before the cops show up.  They’ll find him.  Get back to the cities and tell Frankie what happened.  I’ll call you this evening.”

“You’re not coming back with me?”  Burl asked quizzically, trying to keep the panic and confusion from creeping into his voice.

“I can’t!  I have to be at my folks’ house for dinner.  They’d make me feel so guilty if I didn’t show up.  Mom would think it was her casserole.”

Burl understood, and without a word they walked back toward the truck and the road.

* * *

The distant, echoing crack rang the bell hanging off the door of the Chatterbox Café, propped open to let in the fresh air.  Myrtle Krebsbach was finishing her third cup of decaf and wondering how to excuse herself politely.

“Somebody must have been saving those fireworks since last Fourth, just waiting for the first nice day in spring to shoot them off.”

Gary and Leroy hit the siren just as they sped by in their cruiser, breaking the early afternoon silence again as they sped out of town towards I-94.

“I don’t know why they’re trying so hard to catch them like that.” Darlene mused as she filled Myrtle’s coffee cup, unbidden, for the fourth time.  “Setting off fireworks is part of growing up in a small town.  Everyone did it, even Gary and Leroy.  After all, boys will be boys.”

“Boys will be boys.” mused Myrtle.  “Good thing we only had Carla.  Which reminds me, I’ve got to get home and thaw out the casserole.  Nice to see you, Darlene.”

It was the perfect exit.

That’s the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all the children are above average.

 

 Rants

Out of sheer indulgence and lack of any other new content, Alex Rock let me have a blog on his website.  As with most blogs, half to three quarters of it was crap, but these are the pieces that I thought were worth saving.

Adventures You’ll Never Have

(Keith inventories a police evidence room, and shares some haggling tips, May 2011)

One of the few advantages to my current lifestyle, besides the opportunity to develop a near-Churchillian alcohol tolerance in my spare time, is that once in a while I get the chance to do something so off the wall that never in a million years would I have imagined it if I still had my old day job in a hospital supply room in Seattle.  Things like: haggling an Iraqi plumber down from $500 to $14* or, in this case, inventorying a police evidence room.  Let me tell you about it.

The point of the exercise, in this case, was to check the contents of the evidence room against the ledger books to make sure that the amicable old retired sailor in charge of the place hadn’t been getting into the confiscated meth that he was supposed to be keeping an eye on, pending some interminable appeals process.  I’m happy to report that he wasn’t, though admittedly I would have had no way of knowing if half the stuff he got a hold of didn’t make it into the ledger books.  Some of it would probably have done him some good, quite frankly.  It seemed like the kind of job where showing up stoned would have no effect on performance.

Anyway, he seemed sober enough and was genuinely happy to see me, or probably any human being, in his office in a converted jail cell in the same block that once housed Frank Sinatra in “From Here to Eternity.”  I sat down at his desk and he had me sign some paperwork, and then he cracked his knuckles and we started going through the list of over 900 items; a catalogue of human malfeasance and misfortune the likes of which I have never before seen.

“Careful with this pistol,” he said, handing me a rusty .45, loosely wrapped in a plastic evidence bag, “it’s still got the victim’s blood all over it.”  And so it did; more so than one would expect had the victim simply been shot.  I’ve seen some pretty extensive blood spatters in my time, so it wasn’t all that shocking to behold, but this was my first actual murder weapon.  He and I shared a twisted laugh that indicated a shared sense of humor, and he went on to point out how, in filing the serial number off the weapon, the would-be shooter had so badly dented the slide that the weapon wouldn’t fire.  He’d had to pistol-whip the victim to death instead.  Just like that – fun fact!

So it went, through four or five bloody weapons – mostly knives, plus a machete.  One set of evidence, all collected from the same crime scene, consisted of a Ziploc bag half full of pot, two boxes of fireworks and an entire case of belted machine gun ammo.  It must have been a pretty swell night until the cops showed up.  There was a long, boring period spent cataloguing VHS tapes of shoplifters.  But the overwhelming majority of the evidence on hand consisted of drugs.

A surprising amount of it was hard drugs and paraphernalia: used syringes marked with greasy fingerprints and labeled “for insulin only,” burnt spoons and light bulbs with meth crusted on and a one-gallon Ziploc freezer bag filled with tiny vials of diazepam, doubtless lifted in one glorious heist.  It was the sort of stuff where you think that maybe the cops did the guy a favor in busting him – like Frankie Machine getting picked up for shoplifting irons.

But the vast majority of the stuff was pot – easily the second most marijuana I’ve ever seen in one place at one time.  I would say that 60% of the “evidence” in the room consisted of nothing more than an empty dime bag containing a few bits of a “green vegetable-like substance” that “tested positive for THC.”  Or an evidence bag labeled “Blunts (5 ea)” and containing a few charred shreds of cheap paper cigar wrappings.

I couldn’t help but think, as we got into the “2010” section of the ledger, that I knew some of the people from whom this stuff had been confiscated – Soldiers of mine, whom I’d been proud to serve with in Iraq and had literally – not figuratively – risked my life to try to keep safe as best I could.  Back home and suffering from PTSD or just plain bad judgment, they’d run foul of the military’s strict drug regulations and been sent off with a drug conviction and a dishonorable discharge.

America is not a country that gives second chances to its poorest heroes, and a Soldier with a dishonorable discharge, going back to Detroit, with its 48% unemployment rate and former auto executives flipping burgers and sizing shoes, doesn’t have much chance of becoming a Horatio Alger fairy tale.

Every dirty plastic bag and film canister full of buds, in its way, represented a life ruined forever.  It was a sobering thought after the relative levity of the murder weapons.  As a military officer, I generally support the Army’s efforts to keep the place drug-free, if only to avoid a return to the bad old days of the 1970s, when drugs brought gangs who brought violence, and pretty soon you had to carry a sidearm to conduct barracks checks.  But while screening Soldiers for illegal drug use is a good way to rid the force of unprofessional ne’er do wells, it’s not hard to draw the line from the 19 year-old kid being branded with the mark of failure to the scraggly man on the street corner with a sign reading “IRAQ VET PLEASE HELP GOD BLESS,” making you simultaneously ashamed for not helping him and furious at him for giving you a bad name.

So what’s the answer?  At this point, many if not all of my readers are silently mouthing the words “legalize it,”  but focusing on the drug laws is missing the point.  Among the many things that America used to be and isn’t any more is a land of second chances; a place where a petty criminal from Budapest, an insane religious fanatic chased out of Illinois or an illiterate redneck who split from the Confederate Army in April of 1865 could set his sights to the West and, as soon as he’d crossed the Mississippi, beyond the reach of the telegraph wire and Marshalls Service, reinvent himself, get a new start, and pursue the fuck out of that happiness.

That’s something that changed in the years just before I was born, with the Rockefeller Drug Laws and mandatory sentencing.  Some would say that these got criminals off the streets, but who’s to say that America wasn’t made by its criminals as much as by its other, squarer heroes.  I’m sure more people today could name Al Capone and tell what he did than could pick Calvin Coolidge out of a lineup – as well they should.  Capone did far more for the American people than Coolidge ever did.  And while Big Al was too much of a media hound to escape Alcatraz, I’ll bet more than a few rumrunners went on to become perfectly respectable tavern keepers, car radiator repairmen and U.S. Ambassadors to the United Kingdom from 1938-1940.

The evidence room keeper jerked me out of my contemplation.  “Smell this!” he said, shoving a bag of pot in my face. “It’s pretty strong stuff!”  And so it was.  It smelled, if I can describe it, as if the user had been exhaling the smoke back into the bag containing his stash in hopes of capturing every last molecule of THC.

“What do you do with this stuff when it’s no longer needed as evidence?”

“Oh, I just take it out into a field and burn it.”

“Just like that?”

“Yeah, a lot of the time I’ll bring a bunch of cops along and they’ll take turns smelling it after I light it.  Then they all sign a memo saying that they were there, so they can testify in court that they know what marijuana smells like if they smelled it on a suspect.”

“So, you burn it out in a field and the cops take turns inhaling the smoke, and then they have plausible deniability when the judge asks them how they know what pot smells like.”

“Pretty much.  I just hate the smell of that stuff, don’t you?”

I honestly told him yes.  All was as I’d suspected.

It was almost lunchtime and we were wrapping things up.  At the very top of a refrigerator full of rape kits, he brought out an evidence bag labeled simply, “apparatus.”

Before I could ask, he pulled out a nine-inch strap-on, with a hole drilled in the tip and an elaborate system of bladders rigged up to channel stored urine out the hole.

“Kid tried to use this to beat a piss test,” my man explained.  “He would have gotten away with it, too, except that the sound of the piss in the cup made him have to go.  Of course, next thing you know he’s got two streams going, which tipped the observer off that something was up.  The judge never gets tired of this one.”

“And who would?”

* Haggling tips:

1. Wait until after the work is complete to begin haggling.

2. Only have $14 in the first place.

3. Have a machine gun.

 

Badass Lefties

(Destroying the myth of the hippie Democrat; I had originally intended to submit this to Cracked.com or similar, but several of the people included in in it were already profiled in other pieces on that site, August 2010)

One of the countless evils inflicted upon us by the 1960s is the idea that people whose political ideas lean to the left are, ipso facto, grass-smoking flower children whose answer to everything is to put flowers in rifle muzzles and sing kumbaya around the wisdom tree.  It’s a concept that haunts the political discussion in this country, such that no matter how many purple hearts a presidential candidate has, or how many Al Qaeda warlords a certain Commander in Chief orders whacked by our fleet of flying robot assassins, he’s always one flubbed line away from being accused of wanting to defeat the Taliban with bear hugs and naked rain dances.  In reality, of course, nothing could be further from the truth.  If you’re in doubt, or if you want to believe but aren’t quite sure how, check out some of these awesome role-models.

Eric Blair

Republicans sometimes trot out George Orwell as a hero on par with Ronald Reagan because he once wrote a book about how the Soviet Union sucked.  He did, and he was right, but most people read Animal Farm and maybe 1984 and conveniently ignore everything else he’d written over the previous 25 years.  Books like The Road to Wigan Pier, which says more about the Great Depression in 150 pages than The Grapes of Wrath managed to say in twice as many, then uses its 100 or so remaining pages to skewer the vegetarians, hippies and assorted creepy-old-fat-guy-with-big-glasses-and-a-salt-and-pepper-beard types who, in his opinion, were fucking up Socialism for everyone else.  Or Keep the Aspidistra Flying, which cleverly explains why quitting your well-paying job to work part time in a book store so you can focus on your art is not a good long term plan.

But enough about that.  I think we all know that Orwell was a committed Socialist.  What’s important is why he was a badass.

Orwell hated Nazis “before it was cool” as they say.  So when Francisco Franco overthrew the democratically elected government of Spain and started generally being a dick to everyone, Orwell didn’t just “like” “Republican Government of Spain” on his Facebook page and go on about his business.  No.  He traveled to Spain (with his wife, amazingly) and volunteered to fight on the front lines against Franco.

After only a few months of creeping through No-Man’s Land to take potshots at fascist storm troopers, killing rats with shovels and bitching about how the Spaniards were always ready to fight the war “mañana,” Orwell was an infantry squad leader.  For those of you who haven’t met any, infantry squad leader is one of those job titles that virtually guarantees that the holder is tough as hell.

Unfortunately, one day while he was yelling at his guys for the hundredth time to clean their damn rifles, a Nazi sniper shot him clean through the throat, and he had to be evacuated back to England with the KGB hot on his heels.

Pretty awesome, but there’s more.

Rewind to 1935.  Orwell, broke as ever, was sharing an apartment with some guy named Rayner Heppenstall.  Heppenstall had a habit of coming home belligerently drunk at all hours of the morning, making a huge racket, and falling asleep in his own piss in the bathroom.  This greatly annoyed Orwell, who liked to stay up late writing on a typewriter, which is completely quiet and unobtrusive to one’s roommates.

Point is, we’ve all had a roommate like that, which is why we can all appreciate what Orwell did early one morning when Heppenstall came in even drunker and more obnoxious than usual: beat the hell out of him with a God damn pool cue (1) and locked him in the closet until he sobered up, then threw his ass out as soon as he came to in the morning.

End of discussion.

Smedley Butler

U.S. Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler was probably the closest the U.S. military has ever come to appointing an actual card-carrying communist to general officer rank.  That he was able to get as far as he did was due primarily to the fact that he was an absolute nails hardass who refused to take crap off of anyone for any reason and who won TWO (!)  Medals of Honor during a thirty-year military career that took him to the Philippines, China, Haiti, Mexico, Nicaragua, France and, most dangerously of all, West Philadelphia.

The main way to get a Medal of Honor these days is to jump on a hand grenade, thereby saving your buddies’ lives at the cost of your own.  That’s something we all can respect, but it does have a negative effect on future career prospects.  Butler, however, won his medals the old-fashioned way, by leading bayonet charges, dragging a wounded man out of No-Man’s Land despite already having a bullet in his chest, and by invading Mexico for no reason at all.

Butler’s most dangerous and violent assignment came when he took a leave of absence from the Marines to serve as police chief of Philadelphia during Prohibition.  If you’ve ever seen the movie The Untouchables, you have a pretty good idea of what he was up against, and, as would be expected, Butler took a page from Elliot Ness’s playbook.

General Butler opened his term with the first of what would turn into a series of incredibly profane radio addresses, all of which boiled down to, “We’re going to catch those fuckers, and shoot ‘em dead!”  None of the speeches survives on a recording, but you can get the general idea by watching Full Metal Jacket a couple of times.  Butler instituted a system of cash rewards for every cop who shot a “bandit” – known or suspected – set up roadblocks throughout the city to catch rumrunners, and arrested prominent politicians and ward heelers who were on the take.

The Philly underworld was not in any way prepared for that level of aggression, and quite frankly neither was anyone else in the city.  Although crime declined dramatically during Butler’s tenure, his use of napalm and heavy machine gun fire in busting up speakeasies and shutting down numbers rackets was always controversial.  Partly as a result of this and partly because of his annoying habit of arresting the mayor’s friends and relatives on charges of outrageous corruption, the Marines called him back after two years.

We’ve established Butler’s credentials as a badass, you say, but how did he get to be known as such a pinko that Huey Long, of all people, nominated him to be Secretary of War in his cabinet, should Long be elected president (it didn’t work out).

It all started about nine seconds after Butler retired from the Marine Corps, when he published a book called “War is a Racket.”  You can read it if you want, but like “Catcher in the Rye,” it must have been more shocking to the more innocent sensibilities of the past.  Its main premise is that U.S. foreign policy in Latin America had sometimes valued, say, the price of bananas more than things like democracy and self-government.  For further reading along these lines, pick up any high school history textbook published since approximately 1978.

Even more than by writing his book, Butler brushed up his cred both as a pinko commie hippie liberal and as an American hero by preventing a fascist coup against FDR in 1933.

You read that correctly (2).

Roosevelt had just been elected President on a radical platform of “using government money to keep people from starving to death” and “keeping Wall Street from fucking up the country again.”  This alarmed the robber barons greatly, but it was the first time it had happened, so they hadn’t yet hit upon the idea of just bilking Congress for hundreds of billions of dollars, which would prove to be the dominant tactic in future financial crises.

Instead, some bright young up-and-comer hit upon the completely insane idea of hiring 500,000 unemployed World War One veterans to lead a coup against Roosevelt.  He talked it over with his buddies while they were sitting around a table buying $200 bottles of third shelf vodka from dead-inside bar girls, and they thought it was a good idea, too.  So a little while later he walked up to the now-retired General at a cocktail party and broke the ice with, “You know, we’ve been talking about staging this coup against the President.  You in?”

Butler spit his drink back into his glass as casually as he could, humored the little bastard for about ten minutes, excused himself, and ran off to tell Congress about the shenanigans faster than you could say “HUAC.”  Congress did some investigating of its own, and although his story checked out, no one was prosecuted because the plotters weren’t so much billionaire plutocrats seeking to overthrow democracy as Brooks Brothered Young Republicans with too much time on their hands.

Do you know some Brooks Brothered Young Republicans with too much time on their hands who need to be hauled before Congress for making stupid statements?  If so, then Butler should be your hero.

Daniel Inouye

It’s become fashionable these days to refer to one’s political opponents as Nazis, whether they’re Black, Texan or Jewish – all groups of people that the Nazis did their best to destroy.  You won’t catch U.S. Senator from Hawaii Daniel Inouye doing that, though.  Dan knows a thing or two about Nazis, specifically about killing them.  He won the Medal of Honor in Italy during World War Two by destroying three German machine gun positions, the last of them with a live grenade that he pried out of his own severed hand – this despite the fact that he had already been shot in the stomach at the beginning of the engagement.  He was ready to keep right on going, too, but understandably passed out from loss of blood at that point.  When he came to, his guys were carrying him back to the aid station; he told them to get the hell back to work.

This is probably the reason why, despite the fact that that he voted for the health care reform bill, the assault weapons ban and approximately 97 tax increases during his 40 years in the congress, he doesn’t have a big unruly mob of crackers standing at his doorstep dressed in sweatpants and coonskin caps waving pictures of him with Hitler mustaches drawn in in sharpie.

Eugene Debs

Imagine this scenario:  a left-wing politician is brought up on charges of aiding Al Quaeda.  Fox News does their best to have him tarred and feathered and he can’t even dream of getting a second hearing in the court of public opinion.  Most people these days would just fold up, plead guilty to a lesser charge and be railroaded into obscurity.

Not Eugene V. Debs, who had the damned audacity to run for President in 1920 despite the fact that he was in prison AT THE TIME, and for aiding the enemy during wartime no less.  Sure, the charges were bogus and Debs’ offense consisted mainly of making snide remarks about the Attorney General.  But the charge was “espionage” and if you know anything about the home front during World War One, you can guess how it went over.

Debs was fucking punk rock about the whole business.  When the Glenn Becks of the day came out with editorials saying “Eugene V. Debs you hate America,” he did an end-run around the usual shouting match by running for President, as a Socialist, with the campaign slogan: “fuck you, and fuck your stupid law.”

He ran his presidential campaign out of his prison cell and in the election of 1920 won nearly a million votes – not enough to win, but as a percentage of the electorate more than (much less badass) lefties Ralph Nader and Denis Kucinich have ever won, even combined.  By getting a million Americans to vote for a commie felon, Debs wiped his ass on the tie of every smartass pundit in the country who wrote him off from the get-go.

That’s more than the next three presidents were able to accomplish combined.

Wilfred Owen

Wilfred Owen wrote antiwar poetry, which in modern eyes is an activity at most one short step removed from wearing tie-dye and smoking pot in Buena Vista Park.  The fact that he was gay also probably would not help him get invited to speak at a Republican National Convention.  However, unlike the entire population of Height-Ashbury, Owen was an infantry officer in World War One.  This meant that he performed more towering feats of heroism on his way to get hot water to shave with than most Green Berets do in their entire careers.  Indeed, he was killed in 1918 just a week before the war ended, leading a bayonet charge across a bridge in one of the decisive battles that brought the war to a close.  I don’t think that there is anyone alive today, excepting maybe our man Dan up there, who would ever be in any position to question Wilfred Owen’s testicular fortitude.

He didn’t have to be there.  Owen had been diagnosed with what was then called “shell shock” in 1916 and subsequently pulled off the front line.  He had already distinguished himself in combat, and there was nothing to stop him sitting out a war that everyone had already agreed was a futile waste of everything in a comfortable hospital in Scotland.  He didn’t, and indeed went behind his boyfriend’s back to volunteer to return to the front lines in 1918.  Why?

Wilfred Owen was born and died in a different time, when people had different expectations of other people, and of themselves, in a way that is difficult to articulate.  The best I can come up with is that in those days, people were expected to do things before they shot their mouths off about it.  Smedley Butler could write a book about how the U.S. military ruthlessly suppressed Latin American guerilla movements in order to further the narrow interests of companies like United Fruit, because he was the man in charge of the suppressing.  Who the hell was going to argue with him?  Debs spent decades as a labor leader and went to prison for organizing railroad workers to strike against a 30% pay cut before he ever went into politics.  Eric Blair, alias George Orwell, was a cop in India before he wrote about how the British Raj was corrupt and evil, and he was a hobo and restaurant dishwasher before he wrote about how tough poor people had it in the ‘30s and what had to be done to change that.  He may have been right and he may have been wrong, but he at least had some idea of what he was talking about.

And that is what you don’t see nearly enough anymore.  Apparently a PoliSci degree from UC Boulder makes you an expert on everything from the war in Afghanistan to international trade policy, and a high school diploma and a career as a morning radio shock jock (3) qualify you to write several inane books philosophizing about every aspect of American society, politics and foreign policy.

Go to a bookstore and look at the social science / politics section, and you will find book after book about politics, war, economics, and really any topic you could care to name — mostly written by people whose only job has ever been to write books about politics, war, economics and any other topic you could care to name.  Books advocating (or condemning) war against Iran to stop their nuclear program, written by people who have never been in a war, been to Iran, worked in nuclear energy or served as diplomats in the Middle East – any of which might give them something to say.

Look at cable TV, where entire television shows will be composed of nothing but people whose only job it is to be on cable TV reciting talking points at the cameras.  Professional experts with no expertise.  We can’t stop them, but we can repudiate them.  And if we had fewer of them hanging around and more people like the ones above, we might just wind up with better answers.

(1) Actually, it was what’s called a “shooting stick,” which is basically a pool cue that you stick into the ground to rest your rifle on when you’re shooting things from a standing position.  Things like elephants, apparently.  Heppenstall wrote a short story about the incident in 1955, called “The Shooting Stick: The Amazing True Story of How I Got My Ass Kicked by England’s Foremost Man of Letters.”  It is currently out of print.

(2) No, really.  http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2624/oh-smedley

(3) Looking at you, Glenn Beck.

 

Mad Men

(Reflections on television advertising, May 2010)

One thing that I missed while I was in Iraq was TV commercials. The magic of AFN, which allows Soldiers to catch half a Red Sox game in between missions, also allows them to enjoy television free of commercial advertising. Like PBS, though, the military finds its own ways to waste your time* while you’re waiting to find out what happens at the end of The Simpsons (SPOILER ALERT: everything goes back to normal). The military fills the ordinary commercial breaks in programming with its own spots, ranging from the predictable (Sexual Assault is WRONG!) to the quixotic (Spending Time Away From My Family is Something I’m Proud to do — Selfless Service: One Of The Seven Army Values!) to the freaking bizarre (Flying by the Seat of your Pants: Part of our Military Heritage!). Some of them seem to have been made for the sole purpose of filling airtime. It’s hard to think of any other possible justification for the interminable “50 States” series. (I was the first state to sign the Declaration of Independence! My state fruit is the tennis ball! What state am I — 12 second pause — DELAWARE and my capital is Wilmington.)

There’s something almost endearingly guileless about the propaganda commercials that you don’t see at all in corporate advertising. They would almost be menacing if they weren’t so unbelievably corny. Imagine the voice the telescreen would use to tell you that your chocolate ration has been increased to 35 grams a week, only it’s telling you to wear a bike helmet, reflective vest, knee and elbow pads, mouth guard and goggles when you ride your bike to the PX. Oh, and it was filmed in Italy 15 years ago. Having been exposed for 25 years to the full spectrum of Madison Avenue trickery, it was something of a shock to have the TV just straight up TELL me to do things.

As much as I was amused by cartoon pigeons with Brooklyn accents telling me the difference between a general and a special power of attorney, when I redeployed I had a renewed appreciation for the creative effort that goes into professional advertising. Imagine for a minute that I were to walk up to you on the street, show you a can of pomade, and tell you earnestly that if you put this goo in your hair, attractive women like this one here will have sex with you. You would look at me like I was out of my fucking mind before calling the police on me for harassment and/or pimping. Yet this is exactly what the Unilever Corporation tells millions of people every day, with apparent success. The chutzpah, the calculated disdain for the reasoning powers of the average person, the mind-blowing cynicism of a system that will focus some of the finest artistic minds in the world to convince people of that objectively ludicrous premise have always inspired a kind of awe in me.

It’s the same kind of awe that one feels when looking over an ancient, beautiful monument to some long-ignored belief system. It’s marvelous to contemplate the immense effort, creativity and craftsmanship that went into convincing people that Pharaoh Controls the Floods, Rodrigo Borgia is God’s Viceroy on Earth and King Louis is a Wise and Powerful Leader. Graffiti artist Banksy laments the fact that advertising has drawn skilled and creative people away from more meaningful pursuits and directed them towards crass, degrading or even harmful causes. But this is true of countless products of human creativity that only seem grand hundreds of years after the fact. It’s only our proximity to advertising that keeps us from appreciating it objectively, just as the Moses’ proximity to the pyramids probably kept him from truly appreciating their grandeur.

So, no, nothing you put in your hair will make women have sex with you, any more than Pharaoh made the Nile flood. But I hope we can all step back for a minute and admire the audacity and skill that it takes to convince millions of rubes otherwise.

* Some cynical hearts would say that the military has entirely mastered wasting your time. This is correct.

 

 A Long, Boring Story

(Keith thinks up a killer pick-up line, seven years too late, June 2008)

This is a long boring story with a profound insight at the end. Bear with me.

So, one time back in high school I was out at a movie with this girl I liked. We were sitting in the theater talking during the ads when, after a particularly awkward pause, she came out with,

“Which celebrity would you most like to sleep with?”

I was literally dumbstruck. Then as now I paid little attention to celebrity culture, and I can honestly say that I was hard pressed to think of anyone at all whom one could plausibly call a celebrity. After what seemed like whole minutes of awkwardness, I finally answered Cheryl Crow – not because I am particularly attracted to her, and certainly not because she’d edged out any close competitors on some mental list of mine, but because that damn “Soak up the Sun” song had been stuck in my head for approximately three weeks.

I hear that’s how she snagged Lance Armstrong.

She, of course, had an answer all ready to go, but it is telling that while I remember what it was, I can’t think of his name. He’s the guy who played Spider Man, and who was in The Cider House Rules. You know the one.

You can imagine how the rest of the evening went.

Fast forward to just the other day, when I was in the grocery store, thinking about something completely different. Apropos of nothing, the correct answer to her question popped into my head:

“Why, you of course, your majesty!” (Followed by a kiss on the cheek or a punch on the arm, depending upon her immediate reaction.)

Now, obviously this would not have gotten me laid, but that’s not the point. The point is that that question has been floating around in my head, unbeknownst to me, for apparently the last seven years. All this time, while my conscious mind was working on other things – high school, college, several jobs – my subconscious was running a tiny background program called “Witty Comeback 1.0” – presumably when it should have been, say, remembering to pay the phone bill, or figuring out how to do calculus.

This was most disturbing. What else is in there, soaking up precious mental RAM? I have no idea, of course, and am not prepared to take the drugs necessary to find out, but the fact that my mind has a mind of its own, so to speak, makes me question myself just a little.

What’s going on in your brain that you’re not aware of? Would you sleep with someone who tried that line? Was “Signs” the worst movie of all time? You may not post a comment, but don’t be surprised if the answer comes to you in spite of yourself, perhaps many years hence.

 

The Worst Thing in the Entire World, Ever . . . Seriously

(Broke, unemployed, living with my then-girlfriend in Seattle, I was at a loss for something to do and dove into the world of slash fiction — as many have,  June 2007)

DISCLAIMER

Before we begin our tour of the darkest reaches of the human soul, I have been advised by our lawyers to insist
that ladies, young children, and gentlemen of weak constitution leave the room at this time.


INTRODUCTION

What is the worst thing? Some would say Hell. Others would say tartar sauce on French fries. They would all be wrong. The worst thing in the entire world is erotic fan fiction. This document is a review, if you will, of the existing literature.

Some of you are already trying to leave the room, but I assure you that it is too late. You are about to enter another dimension: a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. You are about to enter . . .

The Twilight Zone, incidentally, is seemingly the only significant literary, television, or cinematic accomplishment since the dawn of man that has failed to push the sexual buttons of at least one semiliterate dwarf living in his parents’ basement. I know this because recently, while making fun of my girlfriend for her entirely healthy interest in actor Daniel Radcliffe, who plays Harry Potter, I made one lighthearted Google search too many and stumbled upon the world’s largest repository of erotic fan fiction, adultfanfiction.net.

This festering mass grave in the back yard of the collective human psyche is something that we are all vaguely aware of – who hasn’t made a Counselor Troi joke at the expense of some frustrated nerd – but that we’d really rather forget exists. Yet, as with a mass grave, leaving it unexamined leaves us blind to the true horror of what it contains, and the true horror of which mankind is capable. Understanding erotic fan fiction, and the weirdos who write it, helps us to understand many things, from television writing to tabloid publishing, both of which are essentially highly developed forms of erotic fan fiction.

Sit back, relax, and pour yourself a scotch on the rocks in a pilsner glass, because here comes a detailed examination of the worst thing in the entire world, ever. Seriously.

LITERATURE

I choose to divide literature-based erotic fan fiction into two main categories: Harry Potter, and Not Harry Potter. Adultfanfiction.net does essentially the same thing, with an additional category for Lord of the Rings, which I choose to ignore as I have never read anything by J.R.R. Tolkien, and do not intend to start.

As you’ll recall, it was the Harry Potter series that initially led me to this collection of literary travesties. I should admit up front that I have not read these books, either, but a complete hardback set is sitting on my bookshelf, so I feel that I have absorbed the jist of them by osmosis.

AFF.net features some 3,230 Harry Potter-themed erotic stories, broken down according to which characters are involved in the tryst. Here again I am limited by not having read the books, so it is up to you to decide which is the most appalling. I can only note some general statistics.

For instance:

The number of Male/Male stories (1,409) exceeds the number of Male/Female (1,160) and Female/Female (169) stories combined.

492 of the stories feature three or more characters.

J.K. Rowling’s creepiest fans want to see Harry with Snape more than with any other character, by a factor of ten. Snape is apparently a male professor at Hogwarts.

Some of the stories feature an original male/female character (OMC/OFC) in lieu of one of the characters from the book. While several of the characters have stories featuring them with both male and female original characters, Harry alone is featured with only male protagonists. This is particularly surprising in light of the fact that 100% of women surveyed wanted to have sex with Harry Potter. Snape, interestingly enough, has the largest number of OFC stories, indicating that he is the dream guy among both gay and straight bizarre lunatic freak-dorks.

There is also a section for people asking other people to write Harry Potter sex stories for them, demonstrating a startling lack of ambition on their part considering the low literary bar at play here. Some of the requests are frankly quite disturbing, which, coming from a man who has undertaken to write a study of erotic fan fiction, is saying a lot. For instance, the author “Taila” wants:

“. . . this Snape/Harry fic. It involes the Wizarding Child Service, which comes after Sanpe [sic] discovers the abuse the Dursley inflict upon Harry. The abuse includes cutting out the wings Harry sprouts.”

Now, I honestly don’t know if the cutting out of the wings bit is actually in the books or not, but the fact that this person gets off on it made me feel just a little bit better about the hydrogen bomb.

Nearly as disturbing is what is termed “crossover” fiction, of which there are mercifully only 173 examples. This dreck brings in characters from other fantasy universes to get it on with Harry and the Hogwarts gang. Looking at literally the first three examples, I see one involving Dragonball Z characters and another involving Anakin Skywalker from the Star Wars Episodes I-III (themselves basically fan fiction), who pairs up with Lord Voldemort.

Much erotic fiction, including some comparatively literate and respectable stories, includes with the title a sort of code in order to let the reader know what sorts of sexcapades the story contains. This can be a lifesaver, since no one wants to be reading along pleasantly only to be instantly turned off when someone’s fist goes up someone else’s ass. So, for instance, “FMF” means . . . hooray, threesomes! However, the writers at AFF.net tend to go way overboard in terms of content, which leaves us with:

“My Dear Hate

To be hated and loved at the same time is to [sic] much for draco [sic]. As he goes to a mental hospital he finds hate beyond reason…[sic]Or is it [sic]?

Abuse,Angst,Anthro,BDSM,Bi,B-Mod,Bond,BP,Crossover,Death,
F/F,F/M/M,Fet,Fist,H/C,HJ,Humil,Inc,Language,M/F,M/F/F,MC,Minor, N/C,OC,Oral,Preg,Racist,S&M,SH,Slave,SoloF,SoloM,Spank,Tort,Toys,Trans,Violence,WAFF,WD,WIP”

Just in case I haven’t entirely ruined the series for those of you who are legitimate fans, I’ll wrap this up with an excerpt.

“Hermione stood on her balcony watching the plant city come alive. She had always loved Corusant at night. She was so lost in her thoughts, that she didn’t hear the man walk up behind her.

“Beautiful isn’t it?”

“Ooohhh! Obi-Wan don’t sneak up on me like that,” she gasped.

“I didn’t mean to frighten you milady,” Obi-Wan Kenobi smirked.

“I forgive you,” she smiled.

Hermione sighed as he wrapped his arms around her waist. Despite it being forbidden for a Jedi to fall in love, Hermione and Obi-Wan had fallen in love anyway. Somehow they had kept it hidden from the Council.

“Where’s your Padawan?” she asked.”

Hell if I know what a padawan is, but I think you get the idea.

Non-Harry Potter literature-based erotic fan fiction is relatively much less bizarre. Some of it practically writes itself, as with the pair of stories about The Picture of Dorian Gray. One of them is as follows:

“As You Wish

When Dorian Gray mourns over the loss of Sibyl Vane, who else could possibly comfort him like his good friend Lord Henry? H/C, Oral, Slash.”

It has been about five years since I read Dorian Gray, but what surprised me most about this story was the fact that it apparently did not actually happen in the book. It was certainly implied, since the book was used as evidence in Oscar Wilde’s criminal trial for “gross indecency.” Lord knows what happened in Wilde’s imagination, but rest assured it was probably better written than whatever tripe “Avara,” the author, could come up with.

Whereas in Dorian Gray the sex was more or less written between the lines, it is hard to imagine the type of person who gets turned on by, say, Charlie and the Chocolate factory – seven stories’ worth of people, apparently. Likewise, it would seem that some of the people reading the Left Behind series aren’t getting hard so much from the stories of infidels roasting in hellfire as from the vision of the antichrist sexually dominating his chief minion, a male journalist named “Buck.” The fact that the people reading these books like to write gay erotic fiction poses as many questions as it answers, of course, but I can’t say I was surprised. If you’re gay and guilty, “Bible Belt” Christianity seems like a natural choice, as Ted Haggard demonstrated so hilariously of late, while imagining sexual urges as stemming from the devil could keep you just sane enough to avoid killing yourself.

Incidentally, “Buck” is the name of the character in the books, not the creation of the online author. That makes this one of the very few cases where the erotic fan fiction is better written than the original book.

MOVIES

Unlike a lot of the books that get twisted into sinister urges in the minds of readers, a good number of movies made in the last, say, fifty years already have a lot of sex in them. This makes the erotic stories that people come up with a little less improbable. Who saw Hostel and didn’t wish he or she could visit a youth hostel in Eastern Europe full of hot, willing women? Nobody, that’s who. On the other hand, since movies don’t leave so much to the imagination, the urge to actually write this crap is less understandable. Ten people saw fit to add on to Cruel Intentions, but after a certain point you’re basically just writing a sequel. Don’t think Hollywood hasn’t thought of it — or hired these same people to write it.

Adultfanfiction.net features many more movies than books, many of which I have not seen or do not really remember. Fortunately, all but a few have only a few stories written about them, which makes it easier to find something to make fun of. The downside to this is that the ones with a large number of stories don’t have them categorized in any way, which makes it harder to draw sweeping conclusions about the authors without actually reading every one of the stories, something which I am not about to do. With less data to go on, my analysis of movie-based erotic fan fiction will have to be confined to a quick look at which movies most inspire the public imagination, plus a survey of the most freaking bizarre examples I can find before my coffee gets cold and I finally leave the apartment for the day.

Unsurprisingly, Brokeback Mountain outscores most other movies, with 88 stories to its name. I don’t need to tell you what those stories are about, but it’s surprising to me that these people feel the need to go beyond what the movie already has to offer, which seems pretty extensive. The only movie that outshines Brokeback, surprisingly, is Predator, with 90 stories, though this isn’t really a fair comparison, as Predator is more properly a series. Unlike Brokeback Mountain, the Predator stories seem to be mainly by straight writers, which doesn’t make them any less bizarre or bad. To wit:

“Nine Lives

A girl, her cat and one damn sexy alien. Angst, Humil, Language, M/F, OC, Other, Violence, Xeno
Author [Sinvisigoth]

. . . Under normal circumstances, I have a very pleasant singing voice; my best friend once told me that if I was in a room with the world’s twenty best singers, I would not be the worst singer in the room. And I love him beyond words for that, the most beautiful truth anyone has ever told me. These circumstances not being normal by any standard, I chose to torture my kidnappers with Blue Grass sung in the voice of Daffy Duck…mostly to the tune of It’s a Small World After All. They showed their great appreciation by silencing me with what looked like a pygmy’s jock strap. Feeling around with my tongue, I had to admit that pygmies had a raw deal when it came to stereotypes; there was serious room in this thing.”

This goes on and on for pages. As near as I can tell, nothing even remotely sexual happens, and the story ends with the narrator’s cat rescuing her from her captors by clawing them. In reality, no cat would take the trouble to do any such thing. I can’t see where the “erotic” part comes in, unless the author is turned on from talking about herself – something that happens to all too many people, in my experience.

A few other movies that drew a lot of interest are Sleepy Hollow (18), Van Helsing (79), and The Matrix series (79). High School Musical has 22 stories written about it, proving that pedophiles are regular contributors to the corpus of online sex lit.

Hostel, mentioned earlier, has only three stories, all written by people who apparently thought it didn’t have enough gay sex in it. This lack of interest may at first seem surprising in a film with so much raw material, but that abundance means that if you’re going to get off to Hostel, you probably don’t have to use your imagination very much at all. More surprising, to me, was the fact that Tank Girl had ZERO (0) stories written about it, which perhaps says more about me than it does about anyone else, though admittedly the comic book Tank Girl was far sexier than the movie. Moving on.

Two sub-categories in the Movies section of AFF are Star Wars and Pirates of the Caribbean. One would think that these would be comic gold-mines, but this is not so. Pirates of the Caribbean stories are almost annoyingly predictable: women want to have sex with Jack Sparrow. So do gay men. We get it. The Star Wars section has the opposite problem. Those of you who have ever been to the sci-fi paperback section of a large bookstore may be able to guess what I’m getting at. Star Wars has an enormous preexisting body of not so erotic fan fiction, much of which has already been published by real, legitimate publishers with their own printing presses and everything. Much of this is only tangentially related to the original three movies from the 70s, and instead exists in a sort of complete fictional universe that I can’t begin to comprehend. This same universe provides the basis for most of the stories on AFF. For instance, we have this:

“Aerodynamic

After Jaina’s horrifying betray, Jagged Fel needs to learn to get over her. Can Neela, a Twilek Imperial Engineer, help? COMPLETE, H/C, M/F, OC, Oneshot
Author [Violetlight]

He had thought she loved him.

Try as he may, Jagged Fel could not get the images of betrayal out of his mind. What had happened to the Jaina he had loved, the fiery, determined “Sword of the Jedi”? How could she have betrayed his love, his respect for her by Joining with the enemy? That was the question repeating over and over again in his mind: Why?”

I have only seen episodes IV-VI of Star Wars, so I have literally no idea what to make of this. I don’t even know what some of those words mean, let alone the back story of the characters. Perhaps if this essay becomes my master’s thesis at some point in the future, I’ll go back and figure out the Star Wars Universe enough to do some original research, but for now I really can’t be bothered. So, if anyone else wants to take a crack at making fun of this stuff, be my guest, but chances are that if you know enough about Star Wars to laugh at the jokes, erotic fan fiction is as close as you’ll get to having sex with another person.

TELEVISION: THE CONCLUSION

Researching television-based AFF gave me some of the same problems as did the movies: there are thousands of programs, of which I have seen relatively few. At this point I should probably brag that we don’t even own a TV. This means that the more recent the program, the less likely it is that I’ve heard of it, let alone watched it. That said, there’s so much material that I should have no trouble writing as much as I care to, and if you are disappointed that I didn’t cover your favorite soap opera, feel free to do your own research, God help you.

To begin with, we have the obvious shows: The X-Files (144), Xena (101), That 70s Show (19), and Friends (30). One would think that people who watch the X-Files would want to see Mulder and Scully get it on, as the show’s writers intended, but a quick look through the directory shows a surprising number of gay-oriented stories featuring Mulder with Skinner, which apparently makes David Duchovny a gay icon up there with Harry Potter and Marilyn Monroe. In contrast, Xena has a surprising number of M/F pairings, considering the fact that Xena and Gabrielle actually ARE gay icons. In the first two pages, containing about two dozen stories, I found only two stories in which the author wants to imagine Lucy Lawless getting it on with another girl, and in neither case was it Gabrielle who, to reiterate, is Xena’s girlfriend on the show. Go figure. I quit trying to decipher these people long ago.

Friends and That 70s Show, refreshingly, follow the pattern that you’d expect. Friends-based writers, working off a program whose entire dramatic base stemmed from unfulfilled sexual tension between characters, seem to almost always just tack a barely-modified alternative ending onto existing episodes. The exception to this is one fellow who introduces his story with the tagline: “In this world, Chandler is a gay slut.” Likewise, That 70s Show stories mainly cover the sex that always happened off screen in the actual episodes, with a few of the seemingly obligatory “what if everyone was gay” stories written by gay authors.

Star Trek provides ample base for AFF, as one would expect. TOS comes in with 54 stories, outshining Enterprise, with 48, TNG with 37, and DSN with 29. I don’t think this would surprise anyone, as obviously Kirk got a lot more alien pussy than dopey Jonathan Archer ever did. Enterprise had more and better regular female characters than TOS, which means a relatively greater percentage of the stories are M/F pairings. This is regardless of Kirk’s obvious status as a space player, which is demonstrated in no fewer than four episodes, as well as Star Trek II in which he is shown to have an illegitimate son.

Star Trek Voyager, of course, outshines them all with 72 stories. Seven of Nine is a popular character, seeing as she brought about the first lesbian kiss in Star Trek history. Likewise, if you ever wanted to read about Chakotay topping the hell out of Captain Janeway, as she obviously wanted him to do from the very beginning, you’ve got your choice of really shitty authors to get it from.

Two short paragraphs about Star Trek are all I dare write, lest I further reveal my familiarity with the show.

The most popular show, surprisingly enough, is Power Rangers, with a whopping 197 stories. Now, I never watched the show as a kid, so I could give a shit, but it brings up an important point about television-based AFF. This is that television, much more so than cinema or literature, provides the core of our common cultural heritage, particularly on an intragenerational level. Everyone who was alive during the 50s, say, remembers Beaver Cleaver and instantly understands everything that the show symbolizes and stands for, and can identify the different character types in the show. One can compare someone to Eddie Haskell, for example, or describe a town as “Beaver Cleaverville,” and guarantee certain understanding. Likewise, if you’re my age and want to try chatting with a cute girl with whom you have nothing in common, you can always bring up what a great show Pete and Pete was and guarantee instant agreement and possibly giggles.

The problem with this is that, by drastically altering the content of these programs to suit their own twisted desires, the AFF authors are altering our culture’s most basic common myths and archetypes. It’s as if someone went through Hellenic mythology and re-wrote it all mixed up, because he just HAD to see Athena get it on with a titan. It would alter one of the common reference points to which anyone can allude, making mutual understanding all the more difficult. If all of a sudden for some people Eddie Haskell is Mr. Cleaver’s gay lover, and keeps him locked in a dungeon dressed in leather chaps 23 hours a day, then our culture can no longer draw on those characters as common ground.

In some ways, this is mostly just my outrage at seeing the television programs that we all grew up with corrupted by a relative handful who, armed with the publishing power of the internet, can now spread their twisted fantasies far and wide, such that even I could accidentally stumble upon them.

For instance, one of my favorite television shows, both when I was younger and to this day, is Daria, a Beavis & Butthead spinoff which was one of the last good shows that MTV produced. I don’t pretend that this show, a personal favorite, is a cultural icon on the scale of Beaver Cleaver, but it is well enough known, at least among my generation, to earn the titular character a cameo on Drawn Together along with Fred Flintstone and Scooby Doo.

The freaks on AFF, of course, would ruin Daria forever if you let them. I dare not read even one entire story for fear of ruining one of my fondest childhood memories, but the synopses alone make my blood boil. For instance:

“Fashion Love

Quinn is at a crossroads. Can she reveal her feelings to her true love? Quinn/F Angst, Slave, Yuri, FemSlash, Shojo-Ai, F/F/F, Anal, BDSM, Bond, DP, D/s, Exhib, FemDom, Fet, Fist, H/C, HJ, Humil, Oral, Rim
Author [Love]”

Fucking no. All right? Quinn does not do anal, BDSM, fisting, rimjobs, or anything else up there. She is 14 and likes getting attention from boys but is uncomfortable with sexuality such that she freaks out when she even thinks that her older sister had sex. That is the essence of the character and is entirely normal for a 14 year old girl. That’s what makes it a good show with believable, sympathetic characters, you morons.

It’s not as if the Daria characters are completely asexual – it wouldn’t be a very good show about teenagers if they were – it’s that the overall point of the show isn’t about them getting busy with each other in every possible grotesque combination. That’s what allows it to be a plausible and inspiring coming of age show and why it was continued for five seasons and two feature-length movies. You can make a ten minute porno out of kinky sex alone, but you can’t make a hit TV series, be it Daria, Friends, or Murphy Brown, without dealing with realistic relationships between characters that actually have personalities. Of course, the virgin shut-ins who write this crap have never had a relationship of any kind with a real person, so they don’t get it.

Now, most of you are probably not huge Daria fans, which is fine, but I’m sure all of you can think of some TV show, or book, or movie, that was inspiring or thought-provoking in some way – some fictional role model, or hero, or some situation you identified with, or whatever. That’s part of what makes good fiction, and what lets fiction help us come to terms with the real world. As a people, do we really want to see Tom Sawyer, Samson, and Mickey Mouse in a hot D/s/s threeway? I contend that we do not – nay, must not.

Now, at this point many of you are raising objections to my condemnation of these people, saying that what gets them off is no one’s business but theirs, and that they have a right to free speech. They do indeed have that right, and I’m not suggesting for a moment that the government censor this website or others like it. I’m merely suggesting that if the authors of adultfanfiction.net were to accidentally suffocate themselves while masturbating to A Charlie Brown Christmas, the world would be a better place.

On the other end of the spectrum, some will agree with me and go on to say that AFF.net is just a symptom of our oversexualized culture, with its readily available pornography, scantily clad starlets, and women leaving their burkas at home when they go to the market. I disagree with this also. There’s no reason that the sexualization and proliferation of what can be generalized as “low” entertainment – Pants off Dance Off, Briana Loves Jenna, and America’s Next Top Model – should have any effect on higher forms of culture. The Romans, our cultural ancestors, gave us Marcus Aurelius at the same time that they were watching slaves battle to the death on warships in a flooded colosseum. Indeed, in some ways, raunch culture gives us an acceptable, harmless outlet for our baser urges. All that is important is that we understand the value of our deeper creations and the fact that it is that depth that makes them special.

A broader conclusion might be that every fictional character is inextricably linked to its creator. Comic strips written by committee long after the creator’s death are invariably a shadow of his work, and no fan fiction, even written by professionals and published for profit, ever measures up to the original. If you’re an aspiring writer, dare to create. Let other people’s characters stand as they are: testaments to their writers’ talent and intent.

Incidentally, there is an entire section of AFF.net, containing no fewer than 400 stories, devoted entirely to the band My Chemical Romance, which, as regular readers of alexrock.com are aware, sucks. Just thought I should put that out there.

 

Movie Magick

(Jerry Seinfeld as Gregor Samsa, March 2008)

I recently read the book Amerika, by Franz Kafka. It was pretty good, but I don’t really mean to do a book report here. One thing that I thought while reading the book, though, was how much I wanted it made into a movie: not so much because the story is particularly compelling in movie form, but rather because I wanted to see Kafka’s Bizarro America come to life on the big screen.

You see, Kafka writing a novel about the United States is like me writing a novel about, say, Lesotho. I’m pretty sure I could find it on a map, but I’ve never met someone from there and all I know about their way of life is what I’ve gleaned from vaguely remembered National Geographic articles and bigoted stereotypes. Kafka never left central Europe and as far as I can tell from his writing spent the best part of his life sealed in a dark room with his own thoughts. The picture of America that he paints is a strange combination of European caricatures of the country and the unrestrained imagination of a very creative person with only the Austro-Hungarian Empire to draw on for raw material.

I imagine the opening part of the book, in which the protagonist arrives in New York, as a kind of American Tail from Hell. Sailing past the Statue of Liberty, her sword raised aloft in what would be a cutting jibe at the Bush administration if the book had been written 90 years later, our hero helps a stoker get fired and is promptly whisked off to the first in a series of castles (!!!) owned by his uncle, a senator. The castle scene alone would have infinity times more cool things than The Matrix, as it contains both a magic bottomless desk and room-sized shower (2/0), both of which I immediately wanted as soon as I read about them. In Kafkamerika, there are subways everywhere and traffic cops stand in little castles (!!!) high above the road. Who wouldn’t put down eight bucks just to see that world on screen?

An even better Kafka movie would be The Metamorphosis, though I think it would only end up being about fifteen minutes long. I think this would be a good next project for Pixar or Dreamworks, which have extensive experience in creating sympathetic characters out of insects but which can’t seem to get past the “Loveable loser who becomes the hero in the end” plotline. I’d like to see if they could do Gregor Samsa with no dialogue whatsoever, though if they insisted on retaining Jerry Seinfeld he would be welcome to take a stab at the sound of “monstrous clicking mandibles.”

Just because it wouldn’t be a comedy doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be suitable for kids, either. Some judicious editing, to include, say, the picnic scene at the end of the story, could make the trailer seem positively charming. Charming enough to get families to bring their kids, who would then spend the rest of their lives wetting the bed every time they woke up with a headache, fully expecting to have been transformed into a “monstrous vermin” who will soon be pelted to death with rotten garbage by his own family.

It would sure as hell freak more people out than Hostel VII, and in the end, is that not what the movies are all about?

 

Blues v. Firefly

(Who is more awesome — John Belushi or Groucho Marx)

We here at Alexrock.com pride ourselves on asking the tough questions. Questions like, “Who would win in a fight – Erin Esurance or Kim Possible?” and “What else could we turn into a self-propelled automaton?” Today I’m going to attempt to answer the toughest question of all, one which may have no true answer.

Who is more awesome: John Belushi or Groucho Marx?

There’s no denying that between them these two have created some of the greatest characters
and funniest movies of all time essentially without even acting: each just went up in front of the camera and acted as he always did, with some supporting actors to change the context from movie to movie. This is what makes them both infinitely more awesome than, say, Ben Stiller, who made up a hilarious character in Derek Zoolander but has never been funny on any other occasion and was obviously acting the whole time.

Deciding which of these timelessly cool icons of American culture is most awesome is naturally difficult, which is why I’ve chosen to add some structure to the question by breaking it down into categories. Whoever wins the most categories is probably cooler, with the caveat that both are at least twice as cool as the next coolest person on Earth, Bill Murray.

The categories that I came up with are:
1. Career.
2. Sidekick.
3. Babes.
4. Quotability.
5. Personality.

CAREER

This category is meant to take in the whole of the contestant’s acting career and measure its value in terms of contribution to the global culture. Obviously, because we’re going to all this trouble to decide who’s coolest, they must be fairly close, which means that length of career is the decisive factor.

In this respect, Marx wins hands down. Belushi was a flash in the pan in the late 70s and early 80s, producing such hits as Animal House and The Blues Brothers, as well as several of the best Saturday Night Live sketches ever, before being cut down in his prime by an overdose of cocaine and heroin. Marx, on the other hand, lived well into old age – doubtless due to his steady diet of gin, cigars, and saltine crackers. He made a half-dozen movies that I can think of, and then went on to television in the 50s. He was on a game show of some kind whose name I forget, but from what I can remember he didn’t really have what you’d call a “part” in the show – his job was just to sit there and crack obscene one-liners every few minutes. On one occasion his comment was so funny and so lewd that not only did the show’s censors cut the tape-delayed broadcast before it could be aired, but they had to stop broadcasting entirely for several minutes while everyone in the room regained their composure.

You could certainly imagine Belushi doing something like that had he lived, though instead of placidly puffing a cigar and occasionally chiming in with a smart remark, he would have probably ranted and raved across the sound stage like a drunken gorilla – a difference of style, not effect. Alas, because he picked the wrong drugs, we never got to see what Belushi could have been.

Winner: Groucho Marx.

SIDEKICK

No hero is complete without a sidekick. Some sidekicks are lame e.g. Robin from Batman or Superboy from Superman. Others are nearly as awesome as the hero himself, e.g. Spock from Star Trek or Mr. Bush from the Horatio Hornblower series. Belushi and Marx both had sidekicks, so they deserve comparison.

Marx’s sidekicks were the rest of the Marx Brothers, without whom none of his movies would have been complete. There’s no question that they held up their end of the various movies and provided a light-hearted repose from Groucho’s rapid-fire delivery. On the other hand, their gags were only good for so long, and while Groucho had an extensive solo career, no one ever invited Zeppo to be on a game show.

Belushi didn’t have a memorable sidekick in Animal House, unless you count his good friend Jack Daniels. In The Blues Brothers, on the other hand, he had an extremely cool sidekick in the form of my personal hero Elwood Blues, played by Dan Aykroid. Elwood made that movie what it was by providing the straight man to Belushi’s Jake Blues, yet didn’t miss a chance to kick the ass of an entire Winnebago full of country music singers, brilliantly sabotage an elevator in a way that I’ve always wanted to try, and deliver some of the best deadpan shtick in the history of the universe. What’s more, Aykroid went on to make The Blues Brothers 2000 which, even without Belushi, was still a good movie, even if it didn’t measure up to the original.

Dan Aykroid is pretty awesome all by himself. As Belushi’s straight man, he rules.

Winner: John Belushi.

BABES

Groucho Marx was always hitting on Mrs. Teasdale, who wasn’t all that hot but was apparently loaded, which shows that he had his priorities straight. After all, if your wife is rich, you can always hire a hot Latina maid. On the other hand, John Belushi almost married Princess Leia, then blew her off, probably to play the blues and/or get smashed. Case closed.

Winner: John Belushi

QUOTABILITY

Both Belushi and Marx are intensely quotable. Quotability is good because it allows laymen to pretend for only an instant that they are briefly almost as cool as the man who made up the quote. Who hasn’t watched Bluto Blutarski and pals call for “a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part” and wished that he could somehow be in that exact same situation, saying that exact same thing? It’s stirring in the same way the Gettysburg Address is stirring.
The flip side of this is that, as the Gettysburg Address is only useful in a very limited set of circumstances, so are most of Belushi’s best quotes. Alex Rock and I drove well over a thousand miles so he could say “hit it” like Belushi, and we were 106 miles from Chicago in the wrong direction. Most of us will never lead a banned fraternity in a spectacular raid on a homecoming parade, no matter how awesome it is when Belushi does it.

In contrast, some of Marx’s best quotes are one-liners that are widely applicable. Anyone who’s ever been asked to join any club of any kind has had the opportunity to bust out, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.” Marx’s snappy punch lines are much easier to adapt to everyday situations, which makes it easier to pretend that you’re as cool as he was.

Winner: Groucho Marx

PERSONALITY

This is a deliberately vague category that I included to capture that unique quality that made each man who he was. How could this article be complete without mentioning the incident in which John Belushi stole the Bluesmobile while on a bender during the filming of The Blues Brothers and took off without warning or provocation, only to be arrested in Iowa the next day for driving recklessly, while intoxicated, without a license, in an unregistered, un-street worthy vehicle. How balls-out can you get?

Likewise, Groucho Marx is classy beyond words. Sure, Belushi makes the “COLLEGE” sweatshirt and the plastic sunglasses look cool, but when I first got to college there was a credit card company offering free “COLLEGE” shirts, just like Belushi’s, to anyone who signed up for a card. Over the next week, I saw every skinny nerd on campus wearing one – and at Case, that meant like 9,000 people. It’s cool when Belushi wears it, dumbass. Not you.
On the other hand, Marx’s brand of cool was classic. There is no person in the world who couldn’t benefit from nose glasses, a top hat, and a cigar. That means everyone, from Courtney Love to Osama bin Laden. Groucho Marx was cool while still being restrained and gentlemanly, which makes him far more accessible to the average Joe.

The winner is clear for the purposes of this essay, but the result is not without controversy. Feel free to chime in. I’m off to go drink gin and smoke a cigar.

 

Glenn Beck is a Loathsome Rat Bastard

(I add this only to point out that I hated Glenn Beck before it was cool — when George Bush was still President, the Tea Party happened in 1773, and Beck himself was still on CNN.  I was reading a lot of Hunter Thompson at the time that I wrote this, April 2007)

Glenn Beck is a loathsome rat bastard.

For those of you fortunate enough to have never heard of this shitbag, Glenn Beck is the host of CNN’s oh-so-creatively named “Glenn Beck on Headline News” TV editorial-splosion. I hear he wanted it named “The Glenn Beck News Program With Glenn Beck,” but it wouldn’t fit on the screen. Anyhow, if you want to experience this jabbering, vacant windbag in all his glory (you don’t) his show is on like three times a night. He is the personification of pompous ignorance and jingoistic douchebaggery; a zombie Joseph Goebbels in a pink sweater.

If you don’t have a TV, you can go to his website. The effect is not the same, because just reading his words doesn’t fill you with the same visceral urge to kill that watching him does, but at least you can get a sense of it.

Also, his fleas spread pestilence.

Moving on, why is Glenn Beck such a goddamn swine? Now, I’m not going to start talking about “conservative bias” like some of the other people who hate him. All news is biased to one degree or another, so I can’t single him out for that per se. Calling Glenn Beck a conservative is like calling Nicolae Ceauşescu a liberal, and I’d hate to sully the name of decent conservatives everywhere. So, other than that, Glenn Beck is a dick because:

1. Glenn Beck is a cad: One time, he had some woman on his show, and they were talking about how stupid it is to post naked pictures of yourself on the internet and then not expect your co-workers to eventually find them. I forget the context, but it’s not really important because right after this woman made her final point, Glenn Beck had the damned impertinence to invite her up to his office so that he, Glenn Beck, could take naked pictures of her. See for yourself.

Naturally, the woman is like, “WTF?!” but then they cut to commercial and you don’t get to see his balls being kicked into his throat, which is a pity, really. This is CNN, you bloody scoundrel, not Howard Stern. If the guest gives you a hard on, you’re supposed to keep it to yourself. Time was, that sort of shit would earn you a duel from the nearest gentleman wearing gloves, and it’s a shame that that can’t be the case today.

2. Glenn Beck hates America: Glenn Beck hates Truth, Justice, and the American Way in a way that Superman villains couldn’t even begin to fathom. He favors torture and thinks that immigrants don’t deserve access to the court system. He hates kittens, apple pie, lesbians, baseball, and the right to peaceably assemble. What’s worse, he calls the comic “Marmaduke” delightful. Marmaduke should be put in a duffel bag with rocks and thrown into Lake Erie, along with his owners and the cartoonist who draws him.

I digress. America is the place where all of the craziest, ballsiest people in the world come to do whatever they goddamn please. It always has been, and that’s what makes it great. If Glenn Beck had his way, we’d be a nation of Glenn Becks, and would be deservedly overrun by barbarians.

3. Glenn Beck is a jingoistic blowhard: By this, I don’t just mean that Glenn Beck supports this policy or that policy with regard to the war in Iraq. No, I mean to describe something deeper — a frame of mind, if you will. In another life, Glenn Beck must have written propaganda posters during World War One, because that’s the only thing I can think of that has the same feel. They both have the same unreasoning, clueless xenophobic boosterism.

Every time he gets up on TV and explains in his asinine way how the Iranians are “evil, pure and simple,” or refers to the apparently-ongoing “third world war,” I can’t help but think of Hugh Laurie in Blackadder Goes Forth when he talks about “giving the Huns a jolly good British-style thrashing,” just before charging into machine gun fire. I wish Glenn Beck would charge into machine gun fire.

4. Glenn Beck is an unbearable, pompous twit: He makes Bill O’Reilly look like Voltaire. If MAJ Burns from the early seasons of M*A*S*H had a TV show, he would be Glenn Beck. He’s uneducated and boorish, can’t read and doesn’t bathe. He is all that is detestable in mankind shoveled into one cheap suit. Case closed.

In conclusion, Glenn Beck and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should be locked in a cesspool together with spurs and rusty scissors and made to fight to the death. The winner gets the luxury of starving to death.

Shut Up Yeats

Why is this website called that?  The short answer is that, prior to the 2012 expansion of allowable web address suffixes, all of the good website names were taken.  I tried to register about a half a dozen sites with various names, only to find that everything including my own name was already taken up by a site hocking penis pills.  The only way to have a website was to think up a combination of letters that had never before been used in English.  Apparently, no one (except maybe Maud Gonne) ever told William Butler Yeats to pipe the fuck down, so there you have it. 

The longer answer is that it was derived from a short comic that I wrote in 2010 while I was deciding whether or not to re-up.   I didn’t publish it online, or even finish drawing it, because unlike much of my work, which would best be described as “based on a true story,” it’s directly autobiographical, and 100% of autobiographical comics by 20-and-30-something rich white people, including this one, are aggressively navel-gazey and dull.  I have much more important stories to tell than my own, which you should be aware of if you’ve read this far.  About the only thing in this comic that I stand behind without acute embarrassment is my description of Portland, OR as the city where “you can’t throw a brick without hitting a Suicide Girl.”  Because holy fuck, Portland, I don’t know where they all come from, but they are everywhere. 

Anyway, the name of the website is sufficiently inexplicable that I should probably include this.  Just don’t take it too seriously.  Of note, the final panel is a joke based on Yeats’ 1919 poem, “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death,” about a guy who is fighting in World War One not because he cares who wins, but because he thinks his life was pretty meaningless anyway, so why not?  I am not that conceited, but it’s a reference that will help you get it — Yeats has hit too close to home, and I don’t want to hear it.  If you must take anything away from it, read everything that Harvey Pekar and Nelson Algren ever wrote, because they are god damn heroes. 

PAGE 5:

ALGREN: Look, you.  This place is a playground for over-educated, pretentious white kids, and who wants to live in a playground?  Do you really want to live the rest of your life without anything to have nightmares about, without having to pull a gun on anyone, or having to watch blood pool and congeal on pavement?

PAGE 6:

PEKAR: The real challenge and beauty in life is with ugly, flawed people trying to make a life for themselves in circumstances beyond their control, day after day, in the hopes that something will turn up.  That’s all there is.

PAGE 7:

ALGREN: The truth is with the ugly things; everything else is just there to hide it.

PEKAR: Hey, want to go shoot pool with Jesus and Hemingway?

ALGREN: Bastard owes me money. (they vanish)

PAGE 8: No action, just staring into space.  Cut to other view for PAGE 9.