Monthly Archives: July 2011

Most stand-up comedy is loud, angry, about penises, or a combination of the three. The best stand-up, however, is none of those things. Tig Notaro is a purveyor of the best kind of stand-up comedy. Notaro’s comedy has been a hit with critics and comedy colleges for years, but with the upcoming release of her new record, Good One, is sure to introduce her to a wider audience. You may recognize Tig from The Sarah Silverman Program (she was the cop), Last Comic Standing, a guest-spot in last season’s Community, or her podcast Professor Blastoff about topics both broad and philosophical (it’s really weird, check it out!) Notaro also just finished a summer of playing some of comedy’s hippest gigs–both SXSW and Bonnaroo–and we had an email chat while she was on her way to Ireland. Good One! is online today! Go download it!

AHG: Why’d you tape the record on your birthday? Do you not really care about birthdays? Was it a way to throw a combination birthday/record celebration party? Any standout gifts from that particular birthday?
Tig Notaro: I was on tour with Sarah Silverman on my birthday week and we happened to be driving thru Bloomington, IN (where my label is based.) I still hadn’t recorded my CD that was way overdue, so my label suggested they put together a show for me after I opened for Sarah, to get me recorded and the CD production going. I obviously agreed, Sarah opened for me this time and I ended up turning in my CD recording (which in a way ended up feeling like a birthday present.) Oh, AND birthdays barely matter to me.

AHG: So you’re on Secretly Canadian, David Cross and Eugene Mirman are on Sub Pop and Neil Hamburger is on Drag City. Why are comedians releasing albums on indie record labels!? How does a music label treat stand-up? Does that  “independent spirit” of Indie music cross over into how Secretly Canadian makes a comedy record?
TN: Absolutely! SC feels as Indie as you get, but without having a hobo in charge. That particular set up would be a little too indie for my taste. My CD was recorded in an old house that bands usually use, but my session was slam packed with a live audience. Pretty amazing concept, if you ask me. Secretly Canadian is the only label I’ve ever been on, so as far as I can tell they are totally treating me and stand up as equally as important as their music releases. It feels like my good friends are putting out my CD, and being on an Indie rock label, I think will help me stick out a tad more. We shall see.

AHG: Before I forget, how’s Tig Has Friends going?! What made you want a talk show? Was it a cool dumb-luck opportunity, or have you always wanted to try the format?
TN: I never wanted a talk show. It was just a regular live show I did in LA and sarah silverman had the idea to try to sell it for TV, so she’s executive producing it with me. So yeah, dumb luck.

AHG: Is it out of the pilot stage? Besides having both Tig and friends, what makes Tig Has Friends different from other talk shows?
TN: We finished the pilot and are now just waiting to find out if its picked up or not. If the show goes to series, each week I’d have either a TV cast, a movie cast, band, comedians, etc., (it’s a themed show, in that all guests have to be the same somehow) and I interview everyone in a ridiculous way — nothing about their latest project or who they’re dating. Then my guests also provide the variety by doing a hidden talent of some sort (sing, do a back flip, balance spoons on their faces, etc.) then I go into the audience and do a Q & A where the audience gets to ask the questions that I didn’t care about. For the pilot we had cast members from Mad Men.  They were great!

AHG: Have you been working on Good One’s material for a while? How’d you pick what was going to be on the CD?
TN: Its pretty similar to any given live show. I always mix in new stuff, some standards and there’s always a little bit of improvisational elements added in. That way I’m happy, the guy that came to hear his favorite joke is happy, and I don’t get bored because no two shows are alike.

AHG: I read someone describe your comedy style as “one that attacks a joke from every angle” Do you agree with that? Are you trying to squeeze funny blood from a proverbial comedy rock?
TN: I’ve heard that from different people here and there. Basically, my mind goes a little cartoon-y and I love details like crazy, so that makes it hard to stop sometimes.

AHG: If I was describing your comedy, I might say “Wry Steven Wright observations mixed with a sardonic, Todd Barry deadpan” Were you ever consciously going for that subdued–or “quiet” maybe?–style, or is that more just a reflection of your personality?
TN: Just a reflection, I suppose. I mean, I can certainly be loud or obnoxious here and there in life, but it doesn’t seem to follow me on stage very often. I will say that my shows always build. By the end of the night, I’m rarely still talking as low as a preschool teacher. I just realized after that last sentence that anyone reading this who is unfamiliar with me, probably lost all interest.

AHG: Who are you comedy influences outside of stand-up?
TN: My mother certainly influenced me and my comedic sensibility. She’s a wilder version of me. She would tell me as a little kid to tell everyone that had a problem with me, to go to hell. I’m thankful for that. I also love the singer Chrissie Hynde and her whole attitude in general. My mother and Chrissie make zero apologies, so that influences elements of my thoughts in and out of comedy. I mean, I’m certainly not one of those annoying, insincere Bill Hicks wanna be’s, taking myself too seriously, but I try to just do what I want, how I want and when people don’t like it, tell them to go to hell in my own friendly way.

AHG: On WTF you mentioned that the American south has its own type of wit. Can you elaborate on that?
TN: No. To be honest, I’m typing this interview on my blackberry while traveling in Dublin and to answer that would be way too involved. Just know that its a place worth visiting with people worth meeting. So essentially, that question can go to hell.
Good question, but to hell with it.

AHG: So, in that joke about trying to get a milkshake at 3AM: you’re making the “throat-slit-you’re-dead” motion right? Do you have to think about how you’re conveying stuff when you only have audio?
TN: Correct. I am making the slit throat motion. I think if I put out a mime album, that might be tricky, but the physical things I do on the CD wont lose listeners. The rest of the story or joke makes the whole visual fall in place.

AHG: Well, I heard a rumor that you have a 12 minute bit where you push a stool with your pelvis–is that true? I spent WAY too much time googling combinations of “Tig + stool + pushing + pelvis” with terrible/ellicit/scatological results. Does this bit exist?!
TN: Partly true. I use my hands, not my pelvis. Someone was clearly trying to make the bit way sexier than it is. As for the length of the bit, it ranges from a couple minutes to maybe six. I’m more than happy to go longer, but its all contingent upon the reaction of the audience. Before I push the stool, I explain why I’m doing it, so I’d rather the readers see it live and hear why I’m doing it, rather than read why I’m doing it. I will say its a very divisive bit.

AHG: I read you worked for Sam Raimi for a while. Did it involve more zombies, less zombies, or the typical amount of zombies found in other jobs?
TN: I was just an assistant at his production company. I really had a great time and he, along with my other co-workers were tremendously supportive of my career, which at the time was just open mics. I reached a point of going crazy and just wanting to do comedy non-stop, so I was probably the main zombie most of the time around the office. I was terrible at my job. Anyone can tell you.

AHG: On Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast you talked about doing open mics at laundry mats and pizza parlors. What’s the weirdest open mic you’ve ever participated in?
TN: Probably the open mic I set up at the top of Runyon Canyon, which is a popular hiking trail in Hollywood. I hiked there regularly and noticed several other comedians went there to hike, so I jokingly said I was going to start an open mic at the top of the canyon. Then I did. Hikers would stop and listen and then keep moving after a while. It was pretty ridiculous. We used an orange traffic cone like a megaphone as the mic. I called it an open-meg.

AHG: Have you seen any open-mic sets that just really erked you? Recently, I saw a guy sing a parody country song about his girlfriend breaking up with him called, “You Put the Cunt in Country” Not only was the song awful, but the guy didn’t have enough material planned for a full five minutes, so he just played THE SAME SHITTY SONG TWICE IN A ROW! Did you ever see that guy?
TN: Never saw the guy, but if Secretly Canadian reads this, I wouldn’t be surprised if they signed him too. Seems right up their alley. As far as being erked, I’d have to say I don’t feel that way with open mics (or megs) because its pretty much always bad or new comedians with the occasional mentally ill person that just needs to talk in public. I’m getting all nostalgic as I type… I get more erked by stupid dumbed down comedy by professionals. But even then, I really don’t care what anyone else is doing.


Horrible Bosses proves you can still make a lukewarm, star-studded comedy blockbusters in 2011 just as well as you could make lukewarm, star-studded comedy blockbusters back in old-timey Hollywood. Sometime in 2005, Michael Markowitz, the man that brought you CBS’s Becker and USA’s Duckman (the only cartoon courageous enough to ask, “What if George from Seinfeld voiced a mystery-solving duck?”), was given a paycheck for something around five million dollars. That large paycheck was compensation for a very mediocre script. After six years, tons of director changes, new talent contracts, and vague attempts to make the movie semi-relevant to shitty economy, Horrible Bosses was born. Is it a good film? No. But, is Horrible Bosses funny enough to warrant a heat-escaping summer matinee? Certainly!

Since it’s a star-studded blockbuster, let’s take a closer look at our star. Jason Batemen plays an adroit, yet uptight businessman who’s constantly hassled by moronic authority figures. So, Batemen is Michael Bluth again. So without George and Lucille, who antagonizes Batmen? Kevin Spacey! Spacey plays a devious villian who’s both smarmy and snarky–again, nothing new. The other Jason–Jason Sedakis from SNL–is another mild mannered business man, but his character is a loveable sex addict. Sedakis’ boss is Colon Farrell, a coke addict with a bad combover–besides the bad hair, this is not much of a stretch for Farrell. Finally, we meet Charlie Day, a dental hygenist who proudly upholds the commitment of marriage by refusing to have sex with Jennifer Aniston (his devious dentist boss). The three guys hatch a scheme to kill each other’s bosses and zaney hyjinx insues. Story is not Horrible Bosses’ best asset.

Thankfully, Seth Gordon (director) allowed the three TV funnymen to do some improv and turn Horrible Bosses into a comedy–this is where the film does succeed. Day in particular is Bosses “break out star”–he’s this summer’s “Quirky Bearded Comedian” (see you later, Galifnakis). Day’s spontanious weirdness, Batemen’s on-edge straightman routine, and Sedakis’ really low voice actually are quite funny. There’s no take away message, moral, or really point to Horrible Bosses–those things don’t do too well at the box office. It’s just a mediocre comedy that goes well with soda and popcorn.

I’m preemptively sad about seeing The Deathly Hallows Pt. 2 because it’s going to make me re-confront my mortality. That’s the point of a supernatural coming-of-age story, is it not? The hero’s epic quest overlaps with his maturation into adulthood; defeating the ultimate nemesis is synonymous with surviving puberty. When our protagonist faces death, he can leave childish things behind him. That’s why Harry dies at the… Well, I’m getting ahead of myself!

The Harry Potter franchise makes me feel old. At the start of Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry was ten ­— I was eight. I’m twenty now. Because of publishing delays, eventually my age matched Harry’s: I was seventeen when Deathly Hallowscame out — and I read it in 29 hours. I felt like the last book didn’t mark the real end of the franchise because there were still movies, but now those are finished, too. I can’t help but feel nostalgic at the dissolution of my childhood iconography. Harry Potter is arguably the biggest pop-culture sensation of the “Millennial” generation. Not much of anything gets as popular as Harry did, especially something based on a dumb, “dying-medium” book! But serialization allowed Harry to grow up with his audience, and the franchise turned a sad single mother into a multi-million dollar sensation. Perhaps coolest of all, like no other books from our childhood, Harry Potter made little kids genuinely enjoy reading — even if it’s just four thousand pages of witchcraft and wizardry.

Rowling did not invent the fantasy bildungsroman genre — for that, we can thank C.S. Lewis’ proselytizing Narnia books or Lloyd Alexander’s criminally under-appreciated Chronicles of Prydain. What makes Rowling’s novels unique is the way the characters aged with the novel’s readers. If you started reading the books at the right time, your teenage angst overlapped with Harry’s teenage angst; your first kiss overlapped with Hermione and Ron’s first kiss. When children of the future read these books, they’ll be able to read them all in one big binge. But we had to wait for years before we found out how Harry would beat Voldemort. While writing about maturation, coincidentally, Rowling’s prose style matured with each successive book — the stories got longer, and characters dealt with increasingly “complicated” problems (i.e. making out). The Sorcerer’s Stone seems like a bedtime story compared to the sprawling epic of The Deathly Hallows. But Rowling’s influence reaches far outside Potter. Children’s book publishers soon noticed all the money being raked in by the nerd with the lightning bolt scar. Much to the chagrin of media watchdog groups across middle America, witchcraft, the occult, and the supernatural are perhaps the primary genres of contemporary young adult lit. To this day, Harry Potter-inspired books proliferate the kiddie shelves: Artemis Fowl,  BartimaeusSpiderwick Chronicles and even Twilight wouldn’t exist if Harry Potter hadn’t reaffirmed the marketability of teen fantasy. Anyone who says books are a dying medium must not have seen the lines outside Barnes and Noble when Order of the Phoenix came out.

But why read a book when you can just watch a movie? What enshrined Harry Potter’s place in our pop culture subconscious is its corresponding multi-million dollar film franchise. Finally, illiterate children and busy adults could jump on the bandwagon! Since the franchise is so long and so potentially-lucrative, it would have been risky to leave the task up to just one director. Each film wildly varies in tone and style because there are more Harry Potter directors than there are Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers. Together, the films make an excellent case study on adaptation. The first two movies were directed by Chris Columbus (writer of Gremlins and Goonies) in hopes of marketing the film toward little kids — if you remember, the first two movies saw “Harry Potter Mania” at its peak. Like any high-concept blockbuster, Harry Potter toys/candies/feminine hygiene products/crap/etc. proliferated Wal-marts and Targets across the country. Remember when people willingly paid money to eat those shitty jelly beans that taste bad on purpose? Weird!

As the books got “darker,” Columbus stepped down, and the films came under the control of more “adult-friendly” directors. Alfonso Cuarón, future director of Children of Men, directed The Prisoner of Azkaban. Cuarón was able to maintain the detail (ex: every painting moves) and the suspense (ex: the scary werewolf) that makes the third book so exciting–and Azkaban is certainly my pick for best film of the series. Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral) headed The Goblet of Fire. For lack of space, I will only say that Newell’s film is very unsatisfying (that is, it’s long, completely loses site of characterization, and generally just sucks shit). Thankfully, David Yates saved the franchise with a more nuanced understanding of the characters (Dumbledore is so badass in The Order of the Phoenix), a grasp on cinematography and special effects and a willingness to take the series in a darker (read: violent) direction. I’m not sure how Yates got the job directing expensive summer blockbusters because besides the Potters, Yates has only directed made-for-TV movies, but the point is moot. Yates picked up where Cuaron left off and figured out the best tone for the series. Who says a kid’s book can’t say “bitch”?

Perhaps what I’ll miss most about Harry Potter is the spectacle that followed every new book and movie. I remember going to a Chicago suburb that transformed their entire downtown into a mock Diagon Alley. They had butterbeer, candy, fake Quidditch: it was awesome. Pending unforeseen remakes, I’ll never bring a wooden stick to AMC on a Thursday at 11:45 ever again. Besides Star Wars, movies don’t usually make people nerd out, buy a costume and shout Latin incantations at strangers. Even though the series is essentially about growing up, Harry Potter also created a world of perpetual innocence; the characters had to learn about the terrifying consequence of unchecked power, but they also had to learn how to take care of dragons and how to fight cave trolls. Magic, by definition, allows anything to happen — it defies logic. And something about that idea only makes sense to the our “inner child”— someone who isn’t jaded and already bitter about the world around them (look out! Things get loftier!). Harry Potter affirms that courage is rare, but essential; wisdom and age have no correlation; companionship and relationships are essentially the fundamental”meaning of life”; and, dare I say it, love really is a force to be reckoned with. Those seem like good lessons and I’m glad I learned them early. Even if I tried, I probably couldn’t think of a better teacher then an imaginary wizard. Thanks Harry!

How to Dress Well is the pseudonym of Tom Krell–an electronic musician who combines the emotiveness of R&B  with the textured sonic layering of ambient, Brian Eno inspired sound experimentation. Krell played in Champaign last March for the Adult Swim Block Party. Unfortunately, I thought it was lost in virtual oblivion, until we found it behind a potted plant. And heck, since How To Dress Well will be playing Pitchfork this weekend, there’s no better time to share it! Enjoy!

AHG: How to you recreate your music for an outdoor, festival environment?

TK: This is the question I’ve been asking myself… First off, I’m a pop musician and I preform like a pop star; I have backing tracks and I preform a live vocal. I like to think of the show more of a performance along those lines, rather than a performance like a “rock ‘n roll” band. It’s really interesting I’m going to be playing outside, it’s hard to know what to do with that. Usually, I like playing special venues where I have control of the ambiance: fog, lights, video (I do all the design for my show with help from a friend for the videos). I try an use an eye to create a certain affective ambiance.

There’s a big difference between How to Dress Well on record, and How to Dress Well live. For me, the record is really quiet and intimate; I listen to it on headphones, when I’m lonely, or when public spaces make me wanting something more. I make music from this possession too, so live, when the music’s loud, it’s really different. I think people find it challenging to have a public experience with my music because it’s really intimate for them.

My music is really affective, emotional, and spacey and weird. How to accommodate that in a live space is something I struggle with and think about a lot. When I make my music I try to let myself feel really murky and foggy. I often find my mind will be flooded with abstract emotions and images, so I try and create my music from there. I think the people who are into my music listen to it and are moved affectively and I try to recreate that ambiance. I try to create the live space to accommodate the fragility of my voice and the songs I make.  My thinking right now is I would encourage people to respond to the music live, just as they would on the record. I’m always honored by people who are into my songs. If you get it that means you really listened, and let your heart open up. That’s really humbling and… Dope?

AHG: You said you think of yourself as a “Pop Star” Could you elaborate?

TK: Basically, I think of the live show as designing a show for a pop performer get to do. That sounds like such a fun job to me. Obviously I don’t do costume changes, or crazy entrances, or exits, or whatever. That’s all just an extension of what I’m trying to do. I think it’s cool that pop music is becoming more democratically available. You don’t have to be a rich guy with a full studio in your house to make pop music anymore. Likewise, you don’t need to have a $300,000 touring budget to do pop performances live. I think a lot of people still don’t know how to respond to this new trend, like what to do with pop music live. People are so used to seeing bands and listening to new guitar solos to make it a live experience; or going to heavy shows and watching people freak out. A quietly, emotional pop performance is challenging for people, but I really love doing it. I’m very new at doing the live stuff, so I’m still feeling my way out. It’s interesting to think what a live performance is supposed to mean and do.

AHG: How do you define pop music, because I’m pretty sure you don’t mean “What’s popular.”?

TK: For me, what makes pop music special is that it’s an immediate access to the emotion, or affect, or pathos of the song. When you listen to free jazz, you have to have an esoteric knowledge to get into it–you have to know a special sequence of signifiers. With pop music, those signifiers are the most superficial emotions. But I think pop music is simple out of profundity. It understands that the surface of things is really important. My music is right on the surface; what I discovered, in order to convey complex emotions, I didn’t need to go deep or profound. I could do it right at the surface, with pop music. The way I think of my music is that it’s really superficial, but really complex emotions.

AHG: Do you describe your sound as low-fi?

TK: Not really. To me, when someone says the term low-fi, I think of a three piece garage band–really heavy, fuzzy, etc. I like to think that my sound on Love Remains as “soft focus” or “low resolution,” rather than low fidelity. Love Remains sounds the way it does for a reason. I had an opportunity to rerecord everything as a “high fidelity” album, but that just didn’t like the right form for the content of that record. That’s not to say I will never make a hi-fi record; it’s a specific record for me and it demands a specific sound.

AHG: How would you describe the emotions your music invokes? I’d say sad, but maybe that’s an oversimplification.

TK: Yeah, very sad. It’s very sad. I hope the sadness is more complex than whatever emo bands are popular now. I think it’s a more complex, confusing, and ambiguous sadness. The problem with emo–and the reason that teenagers like it, and most people grow out of it–is that it’s not sad enough. The tragedy is so excessive that it just falls flat. Once you’re still depressed, but no longer a teenager, that depression stops feeling exciting and it’s just fucking up your life.

In 2002, Michael Chabon wrote an essay for McSweeney’s that defined two kinds of short stories: “the contemporary, quotidian, plotless, moment-of-truth revelatory story” and “plot” stories usually found in genre fiction (e.g. detective, horror, suspense, romance, historical fiction, etc.) The former boasts introspective characters, dynamic prose, and “lofty thematic resonance”; the latter, fast-moving narratives, clever twists, and writing that’s actually fun to read. Let’s imagine this binary as a spectrum: Flannery O’Connor sits on one side, Stephen King is on the other. Smack dab in the middle is National Book Award Finalist Jim Shepard: Williams College creative writing professor, and one of the best American short story writers currently published. His latest book, You Think That’s Bad, might be his best collection yet. It blurs the line between genre and literary fiction and makes the aforementioned binary opposition look pretty silly.

You might find You Think That’s Bad on a table labeled, “Great Dad’s Day Read’s!” at Barnes and Nobel. That makes sense. Shepard’s stories are almost always told through the first person perspective of hyper-masculine protagonists–soldiers, mountain climbers, scientists, spies, and general adventurers. These characters show up in a variety of–meticulously researched–time periods, allowing Shepard to make good use of the seventy-some texts referenced in the acknowledgements’ bibliography. Each story reads fast and can be digested in one sitting (most are about 20 pages). You probably could use Shepard’s stories to convince men (and teenage boys) who don’t read often that books are “totally badass.”

But, Shepard’s prose sets him apart from the other “pulp” writers you’ll find on the Dad’s Table. His style osculates between visceral imagery, obscure historical facts, and hyper-distilled existential profundities. For example:

Visceral Imagery–First Western Woman to Explore the Arabian Desert: “The sky at sunrise was clear, barring one pink cloud. We peered for our bedrolls  at a radiant solitude and a horizon of mountain ranges. The only other sound as my companions began the breakfast fire was that of the wind on the sand, endless grains slipping into and bouncing out of equally endless hollows (16).

Obscure Historical Fact–Mountain Climber:  “When not working, Kolesniak read to us aloud from something entitled Reign of Blood, about Idi Amin’s dictatorship. From this we learned that Amin kept his ex-wives severed heads in his kitchen freezer in order to keep his current wife in line (207-8).

Existential Profundity–Particle Physicist: “The overarching lesson from science in the last century…is that my experience isn’t going to help all that much, not in terms of providing a guide to yours (117).

Shepard converges non-fiction, philosophy and adventure; then, synthesizes them into eclectic mix that seems to consciously paying homage to other pulp idols. “Minotaur”–a look at the lives of spies and the consequences of secret keeping–could have been a more-serious Ian Flemming story. “Boys Town”–a stark profile of a veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder–has the pessimism of 70’s Bukowski or the depression of Nick Flynn (only our saddest readers know that one)

Aesthetics and technical achievement aside, Shepard examines the source of conflict that marked his previous work from a totally different angle. His novel, Project X, is a response to the Columbine Massacre and an exploration of a troubled teenage psyche; his last story collection, Like You’d Understand, Anyway, looked at a similar theme of sons pining for their father’s attentions (“Trample the Dead, Hurdle the Weak”), sibling rivalries (“The Zero Meter Diving Team”) and more angsty adolescents (“Courtesy for Beginners”). In You Think That’s Bad, Shepard mostly abandons those themes and instead focuses on the Father perspective. A theme in YTTB  is deadbeat-dads with important jobs: particle physicists (“Low Hanging Fruit”), climate scientists (“The Netherlands Lives with Water”), high profile business men (“In Cretaceous Seas”) and–from my favorite story of the collection–the creator of Godzilla (“Gojira, King of the Monsters”). These are men who chose work over family; Shepard lets them squirm so we can watch the consequences.

And of course there’s mountain climbers! Two stories in YTTB deal with mountaineers: one from the perspective of a man out to climb a mountain to avenge his brother accidental-avalanche death, the other focuses on Poland’s best mountain climbers scaling one of the world’s tallest mountains and restore pride to their motherland.–however, their wives see their mountain climbing much differently. A mountain climber is the perfect metonymy for the type of man Shepard explores in YTTB. A man who is driven to success, yet is cold, distant, and immersed entirely in himself. These characters are responsible for their own unhappiness because they were damned by circumstance, locale, or maybe biology. Shepard’s genre/time-period hopping drives home a clear message: human existence is founded upon discontent. Perhaps the title is saying, if you think you’ve got it bad, read these eleven stories to see how wrong you are. The only “good” thing on which we can consistently rely is the next page of a Jim Shepard story.

There’s only one reason Transformers  3: Dark of the Moon was released July 4th weekend: Transformers 3 is the distilled essence of American patriotism. Now, some skeptics may argue that TF3 was released on July 4th because that’s one of the year’s highest grossing box office weekends; Paramount will do anything (tons of commercial spots, toy store over-saturation, exclusive Slurpee flavors) in order to recoup the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on this movie–this movie literally cannot afford to fail. Well skeptic, we’re saying the same thing! What you’re describing is rampant consumerism, and that my friends, is the distilled essence of American patriotism. There’s a reason Optimus Prime is red, white, and blue!

Let’s take a closer look at those wacky, tacky, robot/cars: our automaton friends are rough and tumble cowboys who shoot-first-and-etc.-etc.  They’re brash, inarticulate, crude, brave and ideologically aligned with the agenda of the military-industrial complex (Optimus comments on the “price of freedom” multiple times throughout the film). They display their product placements with pride! Our human protagonist, Sam is a young man who finds himself constantly bombarded with feelings of fiscal inferiority–because of his lack of robot/car, his job, his girlfriend’s douche-y boss–yet he manages to articulate the fears of the modern American male through his cries of existential longing. “Will I ever be able to buy a Mercades?” “I went to college! What the hell do you mean I have to work in the mail room?” “I want a hot girlfriend, but I don’t want to have to consider her feelings or safety!” He’s summed up everything inside my heart and soul! I’m not crying; I’m leaking salt-water of patriotism. There’s also some stuff about space–which explains the title’s clunky Pink Floyd reference. Essentially, evil robots want to reclaim their teleport-machine from the moon. It’s a delightful pretext for 3-D explosions and a big metal worm.

Shia LaBeouf, in an odd parallel to his hyper-capitalist characters, is essentially getting payed twice for reprising his role in Wallstreet 2. Megan Fox is gone, but she’s replaced by Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, an exact damsel-in-distress, Fox replica made in the silicone factory of male sexual fantasy. Thankfully, a lot of the racism from TS2 is gone, but another similarity Transformers and America share is that racism always lingers. Ken Jong seems to be inTF3 strictly for an excuse to make jokes about the word “Wang”. The black-face robots from TF2 are gone, but other robots with quirky-semi-racist white people accents take their place (Scottish, British, etc.). In fact, all except three people in the 157 min. movie are white–so good try Michael Bay, but I think you owe me $25,000. The Transformers movies are too long, they comes on too strong, and they don’t know when to give up–just like America. I can sit here making comparisons all day, folks: I’m a literature major.

Yet it is time I bear judgment: is Transformers 3 worth seeing? No, not really. You already saw it twice. But, like America, I have a strange fondness for the movie. It gives exactly what it promises. Nobody could call Transformers 3 pretentious in any sense of the word: the trailers, posters, and press tell you exactly what you get–explosions, T&A, and robot/cars based on a popular line of toys. Stuff you can look at and hope to buy in the future. Let the holiday fireworks clang in symphony with Transformer’s explosions, for it is a beautiful revelry. Buy more popcorn, buy some candy, buy another ticket–celebrate our nation’s birth with more high-fructose corn syrup! I stand up and salute thee, Old Faithful: God Bless America!


If Foucault wrote books that were fun to read on the beach, he’d write books like Jon Ronson. Like the Foucault, Ronson has an unyielding curiosity to figure out what exactly “crazy” means. Ronson himself admits that he gets his best material from exploiting people on the edge of sanity: his previous books, Them: Adventures with Extremists (interviews with Al-Quida oppratives and the Grand Wizard of the KKK) as well as the source material for a George Cloney movie, The Men Who Stare At Goats (an investigation into the U.S. Army’s research into paranormal combat initiatives) were essentially profiles of crazy people in positions of power. In his newest book,The Psychopath Test, Ronson instead looks at more typical crazy people–psychopaths. Ronson finds them passing undetected in society, as well as psychopaths who have mastered strategies that play up to their devious strengths. He then shines his focus on the people who have the power to define what the word “crazy” means–and Ronson wonders if medical professionals, university bureaucrats, pharmaceuticals manufactures, and even journalists who report on the “Insanity Industry” aren’t a little crazy themselves. In only 270 pages, Ronson has written an unbelievably ambitious book–amazingly, he succeeds more often than he fails. Perhaps a more accurate (albeit, pedantic) subtitle for The Psychopath Test could be, “Madness & Civilization in the 21st Century.”

Now, a nerdy joke: what do journalists, psychiatrists, and private detectives have in common? Answer: strong research skills, an insatiable–perhaps existential–desire to find truth in the messiest of places, and fancy shoes. The Psychopath Test borrows from all three  of the aforementioned professions. Ronson writes Gonzo journalism, or New Journalism, or whatever you want to call it. Essentially, Ronson’s journalism is one that uses “I”, one with flowery scene-setting introductions, witty conversations and a condensed narrative timeline; however, Ronson takes pains to stay honest with its bias, sources, and arguments. His style is overtly self-aware; he keeps his other books and personal experiences close for referencing, but by clearly showing his logic for each argument he allows readers a healthy skeptical distance. So, it’s almost impossible to discuss Ronson’s book without talking about Ronson himself since Ronson is essentially our protagonist.

Ronson became a pseudo-psychologist in researching The Psychopath Test.  Ronson recounts the history of former psychopathic treatment methods, the origins of the DSMIII, and a collection of in-depth interviews with Robert D. Hare, the creater of Hare Psychology Checklist–the most commonly used test to assess psychopathy. Psychology in the 60’s was pretty wild–like giving psychopaths LSD and conducting naked group therapy sessions kind of wild–but Bob Hare’s test is worth the price of the book alone. Ronson provides the list itself so any amateur psychopath spotter can use Hare’s list to prove that their every roommate/ex-girlfriend/bad boss was an “obviously-raving-lunatic psychopath” (professionally administering the test requires the accompanying 300 page book, a weeklong certification seminar, and a doctorate in psychology). Ronson combines the empathy of a psychiatric professional with tenacity of an old-school detective in his search to find examples of psychopaths to see if he can properly use Hare’s test. The “psychopaths” Ronson finds are varied in background: there’s a man who’s either trapped in the Kafka-esque nightmare of being trapped in a mental hospital insisting your sanity while being continually told that only makes you look crazier, or that man is as evil as Alex from Clockwork Orange and should certainly be retained in a mental hospital. There’s a genocidal despot from Haiti, a business man who takes relish in firing others, and an weirdo who keeps sending Ronson puzzles in the mail. Plus, Scientology, 9/11 conspiracy theorists, and talk show talent agents all make an appearance in Ronson’s book. At times, The Psychopath Test makes you forget it’s non-fiction and instead feels like a strange detective novel looking for the key to human sanity. You’d certainly be hard-pressed to say that the book isn’t entertaining…

…but since we’re dealing with non-fiction, it’s pertinent to ask if the book proves its points. Many complementing (as well as not-so-compelling) arguments run through The Psychopath Test; it seems Ronson is trying to introduce a collection of ideas, rather than definitively prove one exclusively. Overall, Ronson seems skeptical of the entire institution of psychology and this argument is at its strongest when Ronson shows psychology’s sometimes troubling origins, ties to the drug industry, and what seems like arbitrary classifications of new diseases. Ronson’s argument wanes when he argues that something about 21st century fame and the entertainment industry encourages crazy, psychopath-esque behavior. Whatever the outcome, Ronson shows how blurry the line can be when distinguishing danger sociopath from self-absorbed douchebag from eccentric-yet-harmless weirdo—and he proves his point with a pretty crazy story to boot.