Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ice To See You

Today was a welcome relief from the recent stifling heatwave. I even earned the right to complain about the high temperatures after spending all of Saturday grilling alongside the meat at a sweltering backyard BBQ. In my brief time outside today I enjoyed the seemingly forgotten feeling of a cool breeze again and, at the end of the day, gladly welcomed walking back to the car in a thundershower. Ironically, the cooler weather made the building turn down the AC so it actually felt a lot warmer than usual in the office. The day wasn't exactly like the twist in the "Twilight Zone" episode where the earth kept moving closer to the sun until it turned out that it was only a dream and that the earth was actually moving away from the sun so everyone was going to slowly freeze to death; but it was still a notably refreshing change of pace.

So in honor of this terrifically temperate day and in step with maintaining the balance of the universe, given the last heat-centric post, I figured I should blog about something cold; and really what's colder than three random personal thoughts on long time Batman villain "Mr. Freeze" (thought I was going to go with the Snow Miser didn't you? Well here's the song as a consolation prize):
  • I become quite heavily reliant on AC during the last few days. I spent most of my time as a sort of prisoner to whatever room or building that had a functioning air conditioner. Only under the most necessary of circumstances would I have left the comforts of recirculated air for the baking oven that was the natural world. I suppose this must be a taste of what it's like to be Mr. Freeze. Anytime he walks out of his random freezer hideout or his cold suit springs a leak or he leaves the special cold area of his prison cell, it must be like walking into the worst heatwave imaginable. I can kind of relate to that now, it sort of humanizes the character (definitely a lot more than the whole mourning over his frozen wife stuff. I ain't married).
  • Speaking of Freeze's trademark handicap, I also came to a realization about Arnold Schwarzenegger's portrayal of Mr. Freeze in the much maligned "Batman & Robin". His character's notorious compulsion to drop a never-ending stream of increasingly ridiculous, groan inducing ice related puns makes a lot more sense if you go into the film with the assumption that, in addition to constant sub-zero temperatures, his unfortunate condition actually forces him to keep spouting cold based one-liners to stay alive. It's like his body cannot stop producing terrible freeze themed jokes and if he doesn't find an outlet for them he'll suffer a stroke or a maybe aneurysm. Why else would he keep saying those lines? It's definitely not to be funny or amusing.
  • Of course as wacky as the film adaptation of Mr. Freeze was, it was practically cinema verite compared to any of the character's portrayals on the wonderfully campy 1960s "Batman" TV series. The series Mr. Freeze went through three different incarnations featuring three incredibly unlikely guest actors. He was first played by Academy Award winner George Sanders, who instead of using that sophisticated yet sinister Shere Khan/Addison DeWitt voice spoke with a clunky German accent. He was then replaced by acclaimed director Otto Preminger in one of his rare acting roles. This was the Mr. Freeze I always remembered grown up (also it always feels more right for Mr. Freeze to be bald); at least the German accent was more legit this time around. Finally, the third version was played by the immortal Eli Wallach (seriously he's 95 and still actively working) who looked downright pixieish in the role; sort of like an elf who went rogue from Santa's workshop. Really a strange trio and it is fairly debatable who was the best.

Friday, July 22, 2011

So How Hot Is It?

I don't know about you but it was pretty hot day. I guess the Siberian fans of the blog can't really relate but I'm pretty sure most of the US is currently in the midst of a stifling summer heatwave. From all the comments I read about the high temperatures on the old Facebook wall, it's almost as if we were all suddenly in that episode of the "Twilight Zone" where the earth kept moving closer to the sun and all of society started agonizingly melting apart from the hopelessly extreme heat.

It was indeed a scorcher, probably the hottest day in recent memory. Walking across the scorching black pavement of the parking lot from my car to the office, I felt like a sizzling pat of butter on a large hot skillet. The few times I went out during the day the heat felt like hot sand being thrown in my face. And when I left for the evening it was just as relentless and suffocating as the morning. It was hot.

However as I was driving home, in my comfortably cool air conditioned car I wondered to myself: was it really that hot? I mean between leaving my air conditioned home to commute in my air conditioned car to my air conditioned office and back again, I experienced maybe a grand total of five minutes tops of exposure to uncomfortable temperatures. If anything the prevailing sensation of the day for my was probably chilliness from the over compensating central air in the office. All these record breaking triple digit temperatures and heat indexes might as well have been abstract concepts to me; it could just as well been 150 degrees outside. Thanks to the comforts of modern climate control technology I really had nothing much to complain about, and I suspect more than of few of these people out there complaining were in the same boat.

What's the point of making a big fuss about the weather if it hardly affects you at all? Especially the temperature, which in modern times has been reduced to one of the least relevant parts of the weather. Sure a blizzard could ruin your commute, a shower can cancel a ballgame, a hurricane and obliterate everything dear to you, but what's the temperature really going to do to you if you have basic shelter? Obviously people do freeze to death and die of heatstroke and the homeless are particularly vulnerable in such extreme scenarios. However for those folks who have a heated place to be in the winter and a cool place to be the in the summer and spend most of their time in them, what's their right to complain?

I think there should be a specific time requirements for people to complain about the temperature. One should be personally affected by elements for at least 1 hour before they can make a critique. I spent the great majority of the day in a generally comfortable climate, I have nothing to complain about (I guess except to complain about people who complain about things). The Victor from most of three years of law school who lived in apartments and drove a miserable car without air had every right to sweat and vent during the summer months. The Victor who spent a sweltering June backpacking in Costa Rica and Panama without experiencing a single kiss of reconditioned air could say a few things. But the Victor from today, who consciously wore a long sleeve shirt because he knew he'd be cold in the office has no standing.

So really, hysterical suffering nation of overheated victims; if you spent most of the day just looking a number that said it was 100 degrees outside, you didn't actually suffer and your point will not be noted. Relax, before you know it you'll be complaining about how bitter cold it is and how much you're looking forward to summer soon enough.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Extended Cut

So it would appear that a while back Youtube extended their video limit to a staggeringly long 10 hours. Upon hearing of this development it didn't take long for the denizens of Youtube nation to respond by posting insane 10 hour versions of already notable Youtube videos. A quick search for "10 hour" videos reveals marathon length editions of viral classics like Trololo, Peanut Butter Jelly Time, and that flying toaster cat thing that all the kids are keen on these days. Actually upon closer inspection almost all of these videos seem to be uploaded by the same insane poster.

While I shudder at the thought of the demented amount of patience and dedication an individual would have to render and upload 10 hour long videos to Youtube (I remember getting frustrated uploading a 2 minute video back in the day; of course that was like 2007, maybe things a lot easier) I sort of dig them; the edited video of Justin Bieber's character getting shot on CSI is down right hypnotic.

My humble request to this dedicated Youtube user or some other benevolent member would be to take the time to put up a continuous 10 hour version of "The 900 Number" by DJ Mark the 45 King aka "The Ed Lover Dance Song" aka the sample from DJ Kool's "Let Me Clear My Throat". I could listen to that funky looping sax solo and breakbeat for forever. I don't think I've ever had one sitting of listening to the track where I felt I've heard it long enough; perhaps 10 hours or so of it will finally satisfy my hunger. If anyone ever gets around to doing this I will actually throw a party with "The 900 Number" playing the entire time in the background (that or the Epic Sax Guy). Of course I could just put a mp3 of it on repeat but it's totally not the same as having one dedicated Youtube video going for nearly half a day. Imagine the sense of accomplishment one would get from surviving through that and getting that end screen with all the other video links at its conclusion.

Internet, you have your orders.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Power Rankings!: Bazooka Joe Raps

Nobody buys Bazooka Joe Gum for the actual gum. It's quite possibly the lowest quality gum available on the market, right below stale gumballs from a machine and Double Bubble. It's like chewing flavored shoe leather and even then the flavor doesn't last more than a minute. No, the only reason anyone would ever willingly purchase Bazooka Joe Gum is because of the sweet comics that accompany it. For over 50 years humorous little vignettes, plus jokey fortune readings, starring everyone's favorite one eyed (I always wondered how he ended up losing an eye at such a young age), blue baseball cap wearing teen protagonist and his ever changing gang of oddball characters have rewarded those willing to purchase a piece.

The success and longevity of the Bazooka Joe comics can be attributed to its many changes over the years to keep up with emerging trends. Through the decades, Bazooka Joe and crew have demonstrated a Madonna-like ability to constantly reinvent themselves; from evolving drawing styles, tweaking fashions, shamelessly co-oping fads, to straight up replacing members of the gang. Sure the eyepatch and cap remained but the modern day Bazooka Joe is a far cry from the moon faced youth of the 50s.

As someone who came of age in the 90s, it's that 90s era Bazooka Joe gang (actually "gang" was replaced by "and Company" due to negative connotations with all the gang violence going on at the time. Hey this was the same decade the the Bullets become the Wizards.) of Bazooka Joe, Metal Dude, Mort, Zena, and Ursula that I'll always associate the comic with. In addition to the hip new 90s cast, the comic creators also co-opted the emerging new genre of "Rap" music by releasing a set of Bazooka Joe "Raps" comics featuring all of the characters laying down some laughably crude rhymes about themselves and their wild gum fueled times together. Of all the comics I read then, these definitely stand out the most prominently in my mind; I'm afraid to admit I can probably recite a couple of these from memory. So given that I've had about 20 years of reflection and hindsight, here are my definitive Bazooka Joe Raps power rankings:

7. Bazooka Joe (#37)
Bazooka Joe may be "extra cool" and the iconic leader of the gang but his rap skills leave much to be desired. Here he's sort of all over the place. He starts with a possible shout out rap about his loving girlfriend Zena and then suddenly he throws in a line about how he likes to prank on people (and yes he actually used the word "jive") only to end with essentially a promotional message to buy Bazooka Joe gum. I guess since he is the namesake of the product he has to plug whenever he can. Overall, the weakest of the Raps.
The fortune was pretty clever. I liked the visual pun of the upside down message; not easy to pull off. Additional points for being a line that could actually be a fortune, some times Bazooka Joe fortunes are merely just punchlines.

6. Bazooka Joe (#15)
The bottom two Raps and they both turn out to be ones by the great Bazooka Joe. While the fact that he is the only character that gets multiple raps does make it more likely that he would be pulling up the rear, it's still a poor showing. Once again, Bazooka is done in by the lack of focus in his lyrics. The image on the left of a football uniform wearing Bazooka with a hockey stick and a basketball is symbolic of his slapdash approach to these Raps (plus, as we all know, the Chicago Bears Shuffling Crew has been the only hip hop artists to successfully merge the disparate elements of sports and rap). I also get the feeling that he's dissing on baseball, since his one positive line about ballplayers is they "pose for cards". Compared to the high praise he heaps on the other 3 sports, it does come off a little insulting. He also once again concludes the Rap with another plug for his gum. Give it a rest, Joe.
Fortune: Some nice word play there. It may be an irreverent pun, but it also has a relevant implied message about the importance of independence and being self reliant.

5. Zena
Our first contribution from a member of Joe's crew. I will give Zena credit, her Raps' themes of gross materialism and conspicuous consumption are a bit ahead of their times for the early 90s. I could totally see Lil' Kim or Nicki Minaj dropping similarly themed lyrics, perhaps with a bit more complexity. Had she stayed on her original topic for the whole rap she would have been ranked higher. However Zena loses significant points for turning her rap into a declaration of love her for beau Bazooka Joe. You can't talk about how bad you are and how much you drop at the mall and then say how all those things are secondary to your love of Bazooka Joe.
Fortune: This one sounds like a real fortune that you'd get from a fortune cookie or wherever. The humor element is a bit too subtle for what I expect from a Bazooka Joe comic. The best ones are groan inducing and read like they need to end with a rim shot. It's still good advice I suppose.

4. Bazooka Joe (#23)
Bazooka Joe comes back for his third and final appearance on the rankings. It's not that much of a leap forward from the previous two Raps but I do like how it gives a nice overview of the entire gang. Metal Dude may be a wild man but I don't know how well he'll take being labeled a "maniac". As for his view of Ursula, nobody wants to brag about a new pair of sweatpants. Really this should have been the first Bazooka Joe Rap in the series but going by comic numbers it's apparently the fourth. While the rhymes are lacking I do have to admit it's quite impressive how he can spit them out while blowing a gigantic bubble gum bubble. Of course no Bazooka Joe helmed rap can be complete without another aggressive push for the gum.
Fortune: This one is even more a straightforward fortune than Zena's. I can't really find the joke here. Nevertheless it's a good message about living for today and making every moment count. You won't get that from a pack of Chiclets.

3. Ursula
If I were the sort of person to rely on broad generalizations and unfair stereotypes I may have assumed that Ursula, being the only black member of the group, would have been the odds on favorite to top the Power Rankings. Fortunately I don't see color and it's not the case here. Overall Ursula's risque gym room rap is commendable and does come up in the top half of the the rankings. I find Ursula's steamy rhymes about looking hot in tights, checking out the sights, compromising workout positions, and making many "friends" at the gym to be the perfect compliment to Zena's previous rap about her obsession with shopping and her envious high end lifestyle. Put those two together and you get the ultimate empowered female rapper. This Rap also looks like the comic version of Oliva Newton-John's music video for "Physical" with its mix of sexy exercise chic and rampant homoeroticism.
Fortune: Now this is an example of a classic Bazooka Joe fortune. It starts off with a well known saying and then flips it at the end with a cheesy one liner. The fact that the joke is about jokes itself, just makes it all the better.

2. Metal Dude
Metal Dude's Rap is quite an important and pioneering track. Instead of insulating himself in his familiar genre of heavy metal rock, he took the impressively progressive step of incorporating his metal with the emerging rap sound. As far as I'm concerned, Metal Dude's Rap is right up there with Anthrax and Public Enemy's "Bring the Noise" as critical landmarks of 90s rap metal. You also get to see a rare vulnerable side to the usually wild and outrageous Metal Dude when he talks about his admiration and loyalty to his friend and shockingly admits his long held secret that he is actually deaf. Heavy stuff, dude.
Fortune: This is one of those fortunes you get from a cookie where instead of predicting anything it just gives you a random observation about yourself. It still has a bit of the classic Bazooka Joe cheekiness to it.

1. Mort
Full disclosure, I admit that there is a little bit of personal bias here. Mort was always my favorite Bazooka Joe character and the Mort Rap comic is by far the Rap I received the most growing up. I'll probably be able to recite it until the day I die. That being said, I also remember it so well because it's a pretty decent rap. It stays true to the Mort character (gifted in the sciences while lacking even the most basic of social skills) and the lyrics don't sound as arbitratry or forced. Anyone else always suspected that Mort's unseen lower face was horrifically scarred, possibly from an unfortunate lab accident?
Fortune: A solid Bazooka Joe fortune pun, having fun with another tired old saying. Compared to a lot of the other fortunes, however, that preach seizing the day and being self sufficient, letting nature takes its course and hoping for the best seems somewhat incongruous.

Finally, I would like to give a hearty shout out to The Bazooka Joe Page at Caltech, clearly a holdover website from the early days of the internet when only members of large research universities had the technology and the time to create websites devoted to trivial pop culture minutiae, which featured quality scans of all 90's era Bazooka Joe comics.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

An Alternative Approach

About a week and a half ago I gave my armchair adman commentary on a recent TV campaign featuring Nutrigrain Bars; praising how, through subtle editing, its creators cleverly managed to tie a product of questionable nutrition and wholesomeness with an effective message of all purpose wellness and self improvement. I thought it was a pretty nifty bit of soft selling.

In STARK contrast to those ads, here is a previous Nutrigrain Bar spot from around five years ago I found that also promises similar themes of great self improvement using what I can be considered an alternative approach:

From what the ad indicates, it would appear that Kelloggs was experimenting with a new line of Nutrigrain Bars containing significant doses of PCP in the mid oughts. While the current spots says choosing to eat a Nutrigrain Bar will bring you happiness and self improvement by leading you to make other modest but effective positive lifestyle choices, this ad seems to say that eating a Nutrigrain Bar will bring you happiness and self improvement through reckless and insane decisions and actions. What I don't understand is why is everyone else also insane? The main character is the only one who actually ate the laced Nutrigrain Bar. Shouldn't they all dismiss his wild eyed, hyper intense behavior? Maybe that's just how powerful these new bars were, they would give you the power (in addition to invulnerability from physical attacks) to get everyone on your side (whether it be quitting your job or having hundreds of babies), no matter how ludicrous your proposition was, through sheer force of will.

Now is this a "good" advertisement. Well, people remember it and I'm writing about it for free aren't I? Did it move Nutrigrain Bars? I'm not sure. I suspect that this ad might not even have aired publicly. It's all part of that age old advertising debate of whether the quality of an advert is judged solely on it's effectiveness in the market place or is there an inherent creative, cultural value regardless of sales? Ideally it should be both but more often it's one or another. As for me I don't know, I just liked the ad (Nutrigrain Bars still sorta suck though).

Also, did you notice the protagonist's friend Larry was handling woman's lingerie right before he burst into his office to tell him he was quitting? I must have seen video like five times before I spotted that. Not sure how that contributes to the story.