Trouble Thinking

October 26, 2010

Television: Teacher, Mother…Secret Lover

Filed under: Movies, TV — Mrs. Orange @ 3:45 pm


I’ve always considered myself supremely inept at learning different languages. Five years of French, and all I really came away with is “voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?” (and so far, no takers), but I now realize that I have been looking at my incompetence the wrong way: in fact, I am quite fluent in another language—the language of pop culture.

Pop culture really must be its own language, or at the very least, it’s own code; we apply them to certain situations depending on who we’re talking to, and thus assign them meaning based on context. Now having majored in Linguistics, I’m well aware that no one gives a damn about what I have to say about language, but I’m just going to throw one term out there: code-switching. You know when bilingual people will use both languages seamlessly in the same sentence? Yeah, it’s like that.

In the past, I have often half-jokingly lamented that everything I say is just an amalgam of television and movie references, but now I believe that excessive referencing is a viable means of expression. We all have a cache of quotes, be they from television, movies, songs, or books, which we use to communicate with our peers. There are some that have even entered into the collective subconscious (“Luke, I am your father” anyone?), but quoting tends to be more personal and obscure than that. Quoting marks you as a member of a group or serves as a means of reaching out to a new one—I know I’m at a family reunion when Seinfeld lines are thrown around more than original thoughts, and several friendships have been strengthened with a well-placed Arrested Development quote-off.

So you can look at quotations the same way you look at idioms; they are really only understandable to people who speak the “language.” If you try to look at them literally, you are bound to end up in a world of confusion and hyperbolic sadness. When we code-switch between English (or whatever) and pop culture, we are simply looking for other people that understand both codes and are therefore able to fully appreciate the entire meaning of our utterance. If they don’t, it’s akin to using a big word that no one around you knows the meaning of—people are confused and you look like kind of a douche. And—most of the time—we want to avoid that.

We remember lines of the things we enjoy because we enjoyed the experience of watching it, and we quote things we enjoy to see if people have shared that experience. If you quote The Big Lebowski, for example, to a group of strangers, and someone responds to you with, “The Dude abides,” then you know that at some point in each of your histories, you spent two hours the exact same way. You instantly have a shared history and culture. And isn’t that what language is all about?

October 11, 2010

The Continuing Campaign to Crush Small Business in America, Brought to You by Taco Bell

Filed under: TV — Tags: , , — Chris @ 2:09 pm

I know that I just wrote about how I don’t like YouTube, but if we can move past my neuroses and rampant hypocrisies for a moment, I’d like to discuss a certain ad campaign Taco Bell has been running recently.

Now as far as I’m aware, Taco Bell is a pretty big company. Does it strike anyone else as a bit excessive to be picking on this poor sandwich lady? This woman doesn’t have franchises spread out all across the world, or the resources of a multi-national corporation backing her; she operates out of a lone shopping cart in a single office building, peddling sandwiches she made with her own hands to ungrateful douchebags. Taco Bell has an awful lot of competitors: McDonalds, Subway, KFC, but they didn’t target any of them for this ad. Instead, they targeted a single, defenseless, sandwich entrepreneur. This is bullying, pure and simple, and the people Taco bell ought to be ashamed of themselves.

Was she cutting into your market share a bit too much there, Taco Bell?  You couldn’t bear to lose those twenty or so customers she pulls away from you each day, so you had to shift the full weight of your advertising budget behind a nation-wide push to tear away this kind woman’s lone source of income amidst a desperate, struggling economy? You are a sorry set of sons of bitches Taco Bell.

The radio version of this ad is even worse. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find it anywhere online, so let me describe it for you. Unable to show listeners the “sandwich lady,” the ad goes to great lengths to describe her as fiendishly as possible. In a tone dripping with derision, the narrator describes our hapless purveyor of mid-day provisions as some sort of demonic entity, stalking the halls of your office building, forcing her vile concoctions down your gullet, before having the audacity to snatch five dollars and fifty cents from your twitching, terrified fingers. No longer should you live in fear, assures the ad. Worry about that evil, foreign, small businesswoman no more, for Taco Bell, is here to help.

You know why her sandwiches don’t cost ninety-nine cents, Taco Bell? Because she’s not Taco Bell. She’s just a lady. That Taco Bell finds her worthy of their malice indicates a disturbing disconnect with reality on their part. It is a startling insight into the minds of those in charge of a major American enterprise—a petty, brutish lot, who feel they can push around whomever they see fit. Well, I for one, am taken aback with disgust, and will tolerate this behavior no longer! Let this woman be, Taco Bell, find someone your own size to mock, and leave the single serving sandwich sellers of this nation alone.

July 7, 2010

Adventure Time!

Filed under: TV — Tags: , , , — Durandal @ 5:12 pm

So around a couple years ago I saw this

I thought it was a pretty brilliant little short surreal comedy. Plus, it had a magic dog voiced by Bender which was pretty sweet. That’s about all I thought about it until last week, when I found out that apparently it’s been picked up by Cartoon Network because Nickleodeon are too dumb to see glittering comedy gems.

Put simply, Adventure Time is about Jake the Dog and Finn the Human. They live somewhere in a tree and go on adventures to places that are near them. What makes the show is the incredible dedication to crafting exquisitely absurd situations and characters. One episode starts off with Finn asking Jake if he’d ever wondered what a demon heart looks like, then if he ever wondered what one tastes like. Jake’s answer: “Of course, man.” It ends with Finn and Jake stopping a meteor from killing a tower full of wizards.

In another Finn and Jake attempt to help a weeping mountain feel better by making the viking village at the base stop roughhousing and start petting each other, and luckily the vikings are super into it.

But I don’t just love this show for the absurd inventiveness on display. There’s more to being surreal than being “random”. Things need to feel true. This is where a lot of the show’s humor and intelligence come from the use of patently absurd situations to present reasonable solutions to tough problems in a manner that makes it seem cool instead of just proper. Most of the episodes have some morality play elements, but they’re worked in cleverly enough and the situational parallels are ridiculous enough to make it entertaining to watch. It also helps that when there is a lesson it isn’t usually “you need to behave exactly like this to be a good person” so much as it is “try to be excellent to each other”. The morals feel less like they’re laying out a set of rules for you to follow, and more like they’re showing you how Finn and Jake dealt with this and asking you to think about what might be a solution that works for you.

Another nice thing about the show is that Finn and Jake interact more believably than basically any pair of friends I’ve seen presented on television. They have something of the quality JD and Turk had on Scrubs on the best of days, only way less annoying and more awesome.

This is a show that respects the audience. It trusts you to follow the weird trains of thought it runs down and it doesn’t condescend. It has that rare Pixar-movie quality of being completely accessible to children while not boring adults or speaking down to either group. You should check it out whenever you get a chance!

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