Manic Monday Apocalypso: The Charleton Heston Three

Although he became a right-wing icon, it’s hard to think of the guy who uttered such cynical and dark anti-human sentiments in three iconic apocalyptic films of that cinematic cesspool known as the late ‘60s/early ’70s as being conservative.

Well, okay, it’s hard to imagine Ronald Reagan saying those things. We don’t have to imagine Heston saying these things, because he did.

In the first, and by far the best, movie of the pseudo-trilogy is Planet of the Apes. Heston wanders around a sort-of 19th century desert world where non-human primates struggle with Enlightenment ideas and a hugely restrictive religion that’s bent on covering up a dark past. It’s a grossly cynical movie that works because it’s also a great action film, a Twilight-Zone-esque mystery, and for all its cynicism, does not come across as a nihilistic film.

I should read Pierre Boulle’s novel. If I understand correctly, his story took place in a world more like the world of the 1960s, and I think was more meant as an indictment of consumerism and social satire. Tim Burton’s remake sort of touches on that idea–but that movie is haunted by the greatness of the original and contorts itself into absurdity trying to surprise.

The second film in the trilogy is The Omega Man. This is the second adaptation of Richard Matheson’s classic post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller I Am Legend. I’ve talked about it in the link there, so I won’t rehash it much. This movie is the most wildly uneven of the three: The high points–the horror and action setup–are as high as the low points–the whole hippie-as-vampire thing–are low.

I mean, I’ve been impressed by how good parts are, and also how much other parts make me positively wince.

So, I suppose, it’s fair to argue that Soylent Green is a better movie. Meh. It’s so steeped in the sort of thing that our current science czar believes that I find it too hard to take seriously. And it was meant to be taken seriously–and people did.

Omega didn’t really leave any culturally legacies. Soylent left one really prominent one (and a few lesser known ones). And of course Apes is almost up there with Wizard of Oz as far as iconic screen moments and bits of dialogue go.

Still, it’s hard not to look back at those days and think, “Thank God, they’re over!” At least for me, from a cinematic standpoint, anyway. The ’80s would set its own post-Apocalyptic tone with the highly entertaining Mad Max series. Then the point became not “here’s how the world ends” but more “well, now that the world’s ended, let’s party!”

Kevin Smith and The Haters of Twilight

I follow Kevin Smith on Twitter because, well, why the hell not? I like his movies (warts and all, I almost feel obligated to say) and his live talks are simply awesome. (Wait, what are we saying now, Darcy? Superhot awesome sauce?)

Anyway, he’s at ComiCon right now and partaking in all the nerdiness therein. (I did go to the L.A. Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror convention as a kid and realized I was not as big a nerd as I thought. And it wasn’t fashionable back then.) Anyway, he reports on Twilight fans being booed and points out the stupidity of that on a number of levels. Perhaps the most telling of which is: why the hell do a largely male population want to chase a bunch of teen girls away?

But nerd pride is severe. One simply can’t be seen liking the wrong Star* franchise. There’s probably some peer pressure but more than that, there’s a need to feel better than others. Not just nerds, of course; you see the same thing among sport fans, whether they hate baseball and love football or the other way around.

Smith’s certainly not afraid to rip things he doesn’t like, so his message of peace across nerd factions struck me as kind of nice. (Especially given that he did take heat for it, and surely knew he would.)

Free To Be?

Darleen Click at Protein Wisdom links to a story on a couple raising a child as an “it”. I had some relatives–conservative Christians, no less–who were enamored of the “Free to Be…You and Me” thing back in the ‘70s. I was pretty young when I first heard, and I found it sort of creepy for some reason.

Which isn’t to say that I didn’t believe that gender stereotypes might not have been instituted or unduly enforced by social norms. Or don’t, even. Obviously society is an influence. And as I’ve said, a sane society would encourage norms while tolerating outliers.

I mean, logically, one can loosen certain social restrictions when the mere basics of survival are not at risk, right? Maybe not, but the most easily recalled situations always seem to involve chucking morals out the window. And society follows.

But the ’70s did a number on kids. A lot of girls grew up believing that the traditional female role–mother, wife, caretaker–was an unworthy pursuit. In other words, the “liberation” of women worked out to recasting them into yet another rigid mold which didn’t even have any of the biological imperatives as an advantage.

This can be seen in lots of other areas as well, of course. Ending racism didn’t actually mean ending racism, it meant changing who it was okay to be racist against. Sexual liberation didn’t mean freedom to not be promiscuous. Indeed, few things (if any) sold as “freedom” in recent years have actually amount to more freedom.

I was sitting around the table with my mother and stepfather and sister this weekend, and all of us had, at some point or another, believed to some degree or another in an undue influence of society on gender. But as we watched The Flower and my nieces play–they had set up a dress shop, cobbled together with two decades of toys from various grandchildren–expressions of both femininity and entrepreneurism were as natural as breathing.

And this is with two completely different styles of parenting. My nieces were actually raised in some kind of limited tech Quaker-type community until recently. I’ve always encouraged the more masculine aspects of my daughters because, well, I’m a guy and that’s what I know, but also because I think it’s good for them.

So far as I can tell, all these girls are as girly as they started out.

And I daresay, we, all of us, felt a little cheated by this unsupported bit of dogma (society is the sole arbiter of gender roles) masquerading as enlightenment, expressed and regurgitated in so many different ways over so many years.

But I think this next generation is going to be themselves, no matter how uncomfortable their transgressive insistence on being very definitely male or female makes the old folks.

Brunat

Last week at the movies, there was an ad for Michael Moore’s latest thing. I used to be a fan of Moore’s, actually. Roger and Me is a brilliant bit of propaganda as, I suppose, most of Moore’s work is.

What turned me against Moore wasn’t really politics. It was his show “TV Nation”. On an episode of that show, he did a story about a hospital where uninsured people who had received services were allowed to pay off their debt by working for the hospital. The people involved were happy with the program, patients, doctors, administrators alike.

Moore ingratiated himself to these people to get his interviews, and then turned around and opened up a slave trade across the street. You see, paying a debt you’ve incurred is morally equivalent to slavery.

I didn’t get the logic. But I’ll never forget the looks on these people’s faces as Moore hounded them for their thoughts about his little circus. Utter betrayal. Confusion. Hurt. He had no concept of his betrayal or empathy for those who had suffered it; people who had after all neither meant (nor committed) any evil–other than, of course, to possibly hold a different point-of-view from Moore. (That really wasn’t clear. The hospital solution was just one possible way to handle the situation. That people were happy with it doesn’t mean they might not have preferred a different route.)

This guy claims that Moore is a narcissist. And builds a good case. I don’t know. I do know he treats people poorly in pursuit of getting what he wants.

As the preview rolled, I realized that this is why I avoid Sacha Baron Cohen. I saw his “Ali G” show for a couple of episodes, but then avoided the rest and his movies. And not because he lacked talent. But because I feel a similar sort of deception going on.

But then Candid Camera used to strike me as kind of creepy, too.

Thinner

Darcy has a post up featuring Daniela Hantuchova, a Slovakian tennis player that she alludes to as having gotten “too thin”, perhaps due to pressure to appear glamorous. This struck me as interesting because an athlete’s first responsibility is to be functional in her sport.

You can’t put the shot and be worried about fitting into a size 0.

In fact, those two goals (emulating a super-model and excelling in your sport) might be contrary. The post stirred a memories of a couple of movies (as most things do) which illustrate–something or other.

First of all: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Captain Kirk is climbing up El Capitan. The close shots, of course, are 57-year-old William Shatner. The reverse angles–the ass-up shots, if you will–are of some guy with a much, much skinnier ass. These shots–presumably masterminded by director Shatner–set the tone of meta-silliness that pervades that movie.

Second of all: Her Alibi. Back when it still seemed like a good idea to make TV icon Tom Selleck into a movie star. Real-life Czech supermodel Paulina Porizkova plays a Romanian acrobat, though completely lacking the body of an acrobat–or indeed, a body that was probably much good for anything, except looking at. Well, and snagging a rockstar husband. (All credit to her, though, since they’re still married 20 years later.)

But whatever a body that thin can do, it can’t do one thing her character could (and needed) to do: Climb a rope. And so we got the reverse of the Captain Kirk situation above. From one angle, skinny Paulina. From the other, a heftier stuntwoman.

I was struck by the fact that–much like Shatner–they couldn’t find anyone even close to the body-type of the actor chosen to play the part.

A propos of nothing, I guess. Just flotsam bubbling up in the ol’ Bit’s mind.

Ed and Farrah and Michael and…Jeff?

Lots of people died this week, as they do every week. But this week, the deaths were especially significant to a lot of people, occurring as they did to people fighting for their freedom, and to people an inordinate number of us are familiar with at some level.

For the Iranians, I cheer and hope and pray. I’ve never met a Persian (which they always style themselves as here in the US) who wasn’t good-looking, good-natured and quick-witted. You wonder how their country could get so far gone.

Then there was a little buzz because Ed McMahon died. I was always surprised he didn’t die before Johnny Carson. He always seemed so much older to me. I loved him as the sidekick icon but always thought the Publishers Clearing House thing was sleazy. I hope he didn’t suffer much.

Then there was Farrah. I never had the poster, never would’ve had a pinup in my bedroom. (Even now, my breasts posts here are way gaucher than I’d ever be in real life.) But my proud and enormous mind was definitely mesmerized by “Charlie’s Angels”. I thought Jaclyn Smith was the prettiest at first (and a few years later, Kate Jackson), but Farrah had the smile–and I’ve always been a sucker for a big smile.

I saw the mediocre Sunburn (with Charles Grodin) and Saturn 3 (with Kirk Douglas), and then I didn’t see her much any more. I lostr track roundabout the time of The Burning Bed–which I think pioneered the modern tradition of sex symbols frumping it up to be taken seriously as actresses–a role that she earned praised for but which didn’t seem to lead to anything else.

Then it all seemed to be about the dysfunctional private life. Not a lot to smile about there.

Shortly thereafter, of course, Michael Jackson caused entire TV schedules to be upended with his heart attack. My dad said back around ‘83, when he hit it mega-big, that he thought Jackson would be dead by 40. Only off by a decade, there, pop.

I never bought an album and had completely lost track of Jackson by the time of Thriller. (Too busy playing my own music, I guess.) Catchy stuff, for sure, but not my kind of stuff. Not exactly the Paul Simon level of poetry or the Randy Newman level of irony or the John Lennon level of imagery. But the kids seemed to like it and you could dance to it….

Then Bad seemed to be the begining of the end. (I guess, again, not following closely.) Then all the child molestation accusations.

I make no claims to knowing the truth about that; it’s very easy for me to imagine that he was both remarkably inappropriate and yet not sexual. Find someone without an ulterior motive, you know?

Lastly there was Jeff Goldblum, who didn’t die but instead had the honor of being the fake death on the day when Farrah and Michael died. (Have you ever noticed that? Celebrity deaths are often followed by a fake celebrity death. I thought that immediately when I heard the rumor.)

Weird as it might sound, I’d probably take his death the hardest. I’ve always felt a kind of kinship with Goldblum whether he was turning into a fly, running away from dinosaurs or chasing lectroids across the eighth dimension.

So, glad you’re still with us Jeff. I’m afraid Walter is probably next in the queue.

Core Muscles

I forgot to mention in the Wii post that the Wii Fit talks a lot about core muscles.

I had not heard of “core muscles” prior to the Fit, though I did intuit what they were. Especially when they became “those things that hurt” after doing the Fit’s balance games–which are, in essence, all about leaning slightly one way or the other.

Althouse has a post about this, though with not much commentary, referencing a New York Times article on how people are wrecking their backs in the quest for washboard abs. I had a couple of thoughts.

Like, first, if they meant “abs”, they would call them “abs”, not “core muscles”. There was no stigma attached to “abs”, such that they, like stewardesses, had to seek a new name. If the secret to great abs was just “exercise your abs a lot”, well, that wouldn’t be much of a bloody secret now, would it?

Second, I used to be really skinny. This was a time when I could crank out a hundred sit ups, and was required to, actually, as part of my martial arts training. Never had six-pack abs. I never thought of it as something to strive for. In fact, I thought–and still think–it’s a little effete to focus on that sort of thing.

Third, when did washboard abs get to be the thing everyone had to have? What’s wrong with a nice, flat stomach? Or even a slightly rounded one? And if they’re so gosh-darned important to have, why can’t people face just doing what needs to be done to get them without wrecking their bodies?

OK, I’ve gone into full Andy Rooney mode, which means it’s time for this post to end.

When Numbers Get Serious

A week ago, The Boy and I took one of our not infrequent road trips to visit the dietitian. I’ve been a little suspect of his devotion to the whole regime of vegetables, and I thought he’d been a bit lax with some of his supplements (vitamins and minerals).

But the numbers came back great. Mine came back pretty good, too, which sort of surprised me, since they’d been so bad before. I’m allowed to exercise a little and eat a little meat. (This diet discourages heavy meat eating. Three times a week, maximum.)

I spent a year and a half as a mostly-vegetarian. That is, I didn’t eat any meat during the week, but since I went home for weekends and mom considers vegetarianism a personal affront, I did eat fish then. It was actually very difficult for me to start eating meat again. I mean, just contemplating it was sort of appalling.

Weird, eh? Well, I just spent six weeks as an actual vegetarian and I assure you my celebratory hot turkey sandwich was quite welcome. (I’m not even a turkey fan but–well, I’m not going to food blog just yet, but the sandwich will be back.)

I could observe that I continue to benefit from this program, and The Boy continues to reduce his insulin, but I see the government has already established that alternative forms of treatment are pretty much universally bunk.

Well, not really: They’ve apparently spent $2.5B paying other people to test them, in God knows what fashion. I’ve linked to this guy, Phil Plait, instead of to the direct article because he captures so well the attitude I’ve seen of some: It’s vitally important to them that nobody ever believe anything that can’t be proven in a double-blind study.

Frankly, I don’t think most of these things work, but since placebos (called “dummy pills” now, apparently) have something like a 20% success rate, I tend to think the placebo is under-prescribed. I mean, I doubt those “male enhancement” pills have any effect whatsoever, but if a guy believes that they do and benefits from that belief, how cruel to take that away from him!

Most of the programs I’ve seen that seemed very effective were not really pharmaceutical replacements, they were regimens. Lifestyle changes. You could argue (successfully, I think) that the gains were from a variety of banal things, rather than, say, distilled water or walnut tincture.

And I wouldn’t really care if you did, so long as I’m free to do whatever crazy thing I want.

My concern, of course, is that the government will get both wrong: Prescribing things that don’t work while proscribing things that do. In fact, I can guarantee you that already happens, routinely.

This just in…

…I’m a “cyber millennial.”

Yet I don’t drink at all. (What I love about this link, tho’, is that the ad right next to it shows a bunch of chicks in their underwear using beer bongs.)

I’m a little unclear on the designation, actually. Is it a requirement to drink to be a cyber millennial?

I always liked the generational name “buster” for those of us who came after the “boomers” but I guess that never caught on.

Sonnets and Hosannas

As I grow old(er), I tend to be more convinced of the correctness of core traditional values, but equally so of the correctness of limited government. Hector and I have wrestled over religion before but for right now, I believe that the current Church is too enervated to roll back the tide of libertine-ism.

And, I should note, I’m not really anti-libertine-ism. I think there are probably some people who do the least damage they’re likely to do if left to pursue their own self-gratification.

It just seems to be lacking as a social survival strategy.

I was taken by the use of this sonnet in Adventureland. (Shakespeare’s sonnets are like the “Twilight Zone"s of poetry, they always have a twist ending.) You may recall that the main character sites this sonnet as the reason for his virginity; to wit, that he decided he’d rather forgo sex than have it with someone he didn’t want to be slave to her desires. (My favorite, by the way, has always been sonnet #130, which I take as a 16th century "FACE” to other poets.)

Now, it’s probably not a good idea to encourage kids to pattern their romantic lives after the poetry of 16th century courtiers, much less said courtiers’ actual lives. But it occurred to me that a possible secular solution to licentiousness might be self-esteem.

But wait, you cry! Schools focus on self-esteem! If this were to be true, wouldn’t our children already be experiencing the benefits?

At which suggestion, I point and laugh. And then feel a little bad for you that you don’t know what self-esteem really is, or that it can’t be given through trophies or awards, but must come from actual accomplishment.

Anyway, lacking a connection to their history, lacking any real knowledge or skills, young adults end up not valuing themselves. What’s more, without getting puritanical or priggish, they don’t seem to know from junk.

Now, again, I’m not particularly anti-junk. But I think a steady diet of junk food, junk art, junk accomplishments is naturally going to lead to junk sex, junk jobs and a complete bafflement as to what the hell happened–how one ended up with a junk life.

In Adventureland, the lead has a sense of not wanting his life to be junk. And it’s telling (and accurate, I think) that those around him particularly mock him for those things that he values. (You know, you can’t really be mocked for something you don’t care about, which if you think about it, puts a different spin on a lot of “comedy” today.)

Adventureland is cast in the mold of an ‘80s teen sex farce, which only gave a fleeting nod (at best) to anything not junk. (They were junk, after all.) But that atmosphere pervaded the ’70s, and into the mid-’80s, when AIDS put a damper on things.

Not just sex, either. If I were to try to capture that atmosphere, it would be a kind of nihilistic, materialistic, hedonistic world where good acts of individuals were overpowered by evil organizations. “If only,” the zeitgeist seemed to say, “there were no religions or corporations, we could all live in harmony and do what we wanted until we died, because that’s all there is or ever will be.”

It’s a seductive philosophy–I mean that in the way that a Twinkie is seductive or a $10 whore: That is, if you’re trained to simply take the quickest, easiest, fastest way to satisfy an urge–or worse, you don’t even have an inkling that there is another way, then the conclusion seems logical. Inevitable.

So, the extraordinary thing is how people immersed in this do end up valuing things that the pervasive social message says they should not. It wouldn’t surprise me to survey kids like that and find real accomplishments compared to their peers. (I don’t, by the way, mean to draw any kind of absolute there.) How does someone like James end up the way he does? And how is he able to stick to his guns? (I actually think the current system puts women at a serious disadvantage sexually, but that’s another topic for another day.)

It also wouldn’t surprise me to find that a strong education with an emphasis on historical traditions and an increasing emphasis on skills would reduce the amount of junk sex, and certainly the number of junk lives.

Which makes this one of those things that I write that seems stupidly obvious by the time I finish.