Pop Culture

Taking Stock of the Bonds

Time to weigh in on a controversy I wasn’t aware even existed.

I always thought there were certain universal constants. Some facts or central truths that everyone could more or less agree on. That the Earth rotates around the sun, for instance, or that we should all use the Base-10 numbering system.

Or that Sean Connery is the best James Bond.

But it turns out that that last little tidbit isn’t quite as commonly accepted as counting to ten. I recently observed a conversation between my wife, someone tangentially required to be a Bond fan, and a friend of mine who proudly professes herself as a fan of the franchise. I say I observed this conversation, and did not partake in it, because it would have been hard to enunciate with my jaw upon the floor.

“Who’s your favorite James Bond actor?” the agent of Blofeld friend asked.

“Well, my husband says there’s only one answer to that question,” my wide responded. “I know I’m supposed to say Sean Connery, but I’ve always really liked…”

At this point, I think I blacked out. I tried to focus through the haze in my vision, the buzzards flying through my ears. My wife couldn’t have just listed the worst Bond of all time, the one who had made a mockery of the character and the franchise, as her favorite.

“And for looks alone, you’ve gotta love…”

Did she just do it again? Reference my second-least favorite actor? Has she seen the same movies as me? Is it too late to reference George Lazenby in the Pre-Nup?

So I guess it’s now on me to write the definitive list of the six James Bond actors from best to worst. I won’t countdown from last to first, because there shouldn’t be any suspense at the top of the list. I won’t rank (or even reference) every movie, because if I wanted to write 50,000 words and waste fifty hours of my life, I would’ve just done NoNoWriMo . And even if you put a Golden Gun to my head, I wouldn’t be able to recount what happened in The Man with the Golden Gun.

  1. Sean Connery.

Let me put it simply for anyone that is confused: Sean Connery is James Bond and James Bond is Sean Connery.

Go find a James Bond book. Any book. It doesn’t have to be an Ian Fleming one. Now read a passage and try to envision anyone other than Sean Connery as the person performing those actions. It can’t be done. He is the definitive version.

                Does it help that he went first? Sure. Does it help that he never shot laser beams in space? Absolutely. Does it help that he was named the Sexiest Man Alive twenty years after leaving the role behind, at the age of sixty? That certainly doesn’t hurt.

When you ask a random person to describe James Bond’s traits, the most common answer is suave. That’s all Connery. Despite our little imagination check two paragraphs ago, it’s not how the character was written. Ian Fleming put a certain vulnerability to the character. He was a flawed man in a flawed world.

But the James Bond that we have come to know is a non-powered superhero. The only time he is vulnerable is when a Russian lady is kicking at him with a poisoned knife or if Goldfinger has a laser pointed at his crotch.

And how does Bond react in that laser scene? Roger Moore would have hammed it up with a few puns. Daniel Craig would have stared down Goldfinger until the opponent withered. Pierce Brosnan would’ve just chilled out and waited for a machine gun or explosion to save him because he’s too attractive and cool to die.

But Connery shows his mind racing while his forehead is sweating.

“You expect me to talk?”

“No, Mr. Bond,” Goldfinger responds in one of the greatest lines in cinematic history, “I expect you to die.”

But Connery talks anyway. He uses his wit before resorting to weapons or gadgets or… whatever the hell Roger Moore uses.  What people who grew up with the later Bond actors don’t realize is how understated the character should be.

Some people have said Connery was the least believable Bond in the fight scenes. They’re probably right, but the character isn’t supposed to be a hulking stuntman.

The one major drawback to Connery was that he clearly stopped enjoying it after Thunderball. He kind of mailed in You Only Live Twice, before leaving for one movie and coming back for Diamonds are Forever. And really, we can’t blame him for that last one.

  1. Daniel Craig. I haven’t seen SPECTRE yet, and if it’s as good as Skyfall, I might be willing to put Daniel Craig as 1a.

Remember what I said about Connery creating the movie version of Bond, but not following the book version? Well it took fifty years, but someone finally played the literary James Bond, and that’s Daniel Craig.

The character is supposed to be dark. He should be focused on the task at hand. He should always be wanting out of his lifestyle, but knowing there is no way out. If he’s ever reckless, it’s because he assumes his own mortality, not because he’s an invincible, cavalier playboy.

The definitive Daniel Craig exchange happens not long into his first movie.

“Do you want it shaken or stirred?”

“Do I look like I give a damn?”

Oh, snap! Did he just pull the rug out from every other actor? Because he’s right, James Bond should never have been focused on how his martini is watered down. He’s got way too fucking many things to keep track of and keep his eyes on.

I’ll be honest, when I first heard there was going to be a blond Bond, I thought it was a horrible idea. They should all look as close to the source as possible. But by the time his third movie rolled around, I couldn’t imagine anyone taking over for him.  I fear whoever’s next might get the Lazenby treatment.

In fact, I would have loved to see Sean Connery play the caretaker in Skyfall. Even though Albert Finney did a great job, It’s obvious the roll was written with Sir Sean in mind.  It would’ve been a cool bury the hatchet/pass the baton moment, but alas, it was not to be.

Allegedly, one of the myriad of reasons they didn’t pursue Connery for the roll was that they didn’t want the sideshow to distract from the main actor. And while that would have been an issue for any other Bond actor, I think Daniel Craig could have held his own starring against Sean Connery. Hell, he held his own against Judi Dench, the best M in history.

My only hope is that Craig is serious about not coming back for a fifth movie. If he wanted to come back, I’d welcome him back. But if he ends up coming back only for the money, he might be tempted to mail it in.

  1. Timothy Dalton. This will be the first surprise on the list for most people.

Timothy Dalton only had two movies, and one of them might be the worst Bond movie of all time. But he was a precursor to Daniel Craig, someone who gave Bond the seriousness and gravitas he deserves, but at a time when people had come to expect nothing but camp from the character.

I feel sorry for Timothy Dalton, as he came into the franchise at a horrible time. Not only was the Cold War wrapping up, but the rights to the character were going through legal issues. The six-year gap between License to Kill and GoldenEye almost killed the franchise.

But it wasn’t Dalton’s fault.

In fact, I’ll put The Living Daylights up as one of the top five or six Bond movies of all time. The Living Daylights had it all. Just enough gadgets and explosions without going overboard. A James Bond that is unflappable and smooth.

Then came License to Kill. Ugh. It was 1989, and although the Wall hadn’t come down when they filmed it, the whole glasnost and perestroika thing was going on. How could they make Gorby the bad guy?

So instead, they made it a personal vendetta story. Yes,  I like my Bond dark, just like my coffee. But a rogue agent stalking and killing someone without the backing of the British Secret Service? That’s not dark roast, that’s ground-infested sludge. Bond is a secret agent, not an assassin.

So there’s Dalton for you – one really good movie, one horrible movie, then a legal battle which ensured he couldn’t prove which one was really him. It’s worth noting that Quantum of Solace was Daniel Craig’s second, and worst, film. How much higher esteem would we have for Dalton’s run as James Bond if his third movie had been like Skyfall?

  1. George Lazenby. I might be the only one who feels sorry for Timothy Dalton’s luck and timing, but EVERYONE feels sorry for poor George Lazenby. He never stood a chance.

When Sean Connery announced he would not continue the James Bond role, one of two things was going to happen: either they’d stop making the movies or else he’d have to be replaced. Since they opted for the latter, somebody was going to be the guy that replaced Connery. It didn’t matter what George Lazenby did, or how well he did it, he wasn’t Connery. There’s a reason that almost every Vice President who took over for a dead (or resigned) President didn’t win the next election.

Except for Teddy Roosevelt. And poor George Lazenby is no Teddy Roosevelt.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was one of the last Bond movies I got around to seeing. I assumed it didn’t fit in the grander scheme of movies. It was an anomaly, the answer to a trivia question. George Lazenby was Pete Best. He was New Coke. Why should I bother?

But then I watched it, and guess what? It’s a damned good movie! And George Lazenby? He was solid. I wouldn’t say he knocked it out of the park, but he certainly doesn’t come across as a model who had never acted before, which is precisely what he was.

Then Connery came back for one more movie (not counting Never Say Never Again), and that movie was a sizeable step down.

And in the end, George Lazenby can say one thing that none of the other actors can say – he never made a bad James Bond movie.

  1. Pierce Brosnan. So disappointing to have this guy down this far.

After GoldenEye, I thought the franchise was back on solid footing. Bond was back kicking ass and pleasing every lady in sight. He had just the right amount of smugness. Sure, they had to make the plot based on the Cold War, but this was the first post-USSR movie, so cut them some slack.

I couldn’t wait for him to return.

Maybe he should’ve pulled a Lazenby.

What followed was three movies that were interchangeable. A mishmash of the same tropes and same mailed-in performance. I think it was a trilogy called The World Dies Again Tomorrow.

Am I being harsh? Quick, which one was the one with Denise Richards? And was the one where he got captured in North Korea the same one that had Michelle Yeo? Or was that Terri Hatcher?

That line of reasoning doesn’t hold true with the other actors. If I asked the average fan which Sean Connery movie had Oddjob and which one happened on the Orient Express, it wouldn’t take an imdb.com search.

My biggest problem with the Pierce Brosnan movies is that they turned the character into an action hero. Instead of Bond needing to investigate and unravel a conspiracy that slowly led back to the main villain, it was “Here’s the bad guy. This is where you’ll find him. Now go bang some chicks and blow some shit up for a couple of hours, then get a machine gun and shoot everything.”

I know the actor isn’t responsible for the plot and the script that’s put in front of him. This is an argument that people who like the Worst Bond Ever (see below) point out.  Certainly it’s not Pierce Brosnan’s fault that they made the character windsurf down a Melting-Ice-Hotel-Tidal-Wave.

But I have to think they cater some aspects of the script to how the actor wants to play the character. Maybe if Pierce Brosnan had said “Hey, guys, how about if I put the machine gun down and just kick somebody’s ass this once?”

So a brilliant start and then three duds. Even Roger Moore waited until his fourth or fifth movie before he started going through the motions.

Some people still swear by Pierce Brosnan. The next time someone says he was a great Bond, ask them what they liked about him. Then have fun seeing what percentage of their answer comes from his first movie.

  1. Roger Moore. Wow, what can one say about the actor who played the character in more movies than anyone else? Here’s what I say – let’s include Never Say Never Again, so at least “most movies as James Bond” becomes a tie.

Some people say Roger Moore was good at first, but just hung on too long. To them, I say that Man with the Golden Gun was only his second movie.

Others will point out, as I did with Pierce Brosnan, that he can only read the lines that are given to him.

It’s certainly not Roger Moore’s fault that they decided to go into space and make Jaws a recurring character. I doubt even an android love-child of Humphrey Bogart and Robert de Niro could make Octopussy watchable.

But seriously, Roger Moore, get that fucking smirk off your face. James Bond doesn’t smirk, he doesn’t pan to the camera, and he doesn’t speak exclusively in puns and double entendres.

The best example of Roger Moore at his worst was A View to a Kill, his final movie. It should be a damned good movie. Christopher Walken and Grace Jones as the bad guys, with the final fight scene on the Golden Gate Bridge. What’s not to like?

Other than Grandpa Roger Moore bumbling around, completely unbelievable with actresses one-third his age, desperately looking for a camera he can do a half-assed breaking of the fourth wall into.

What if the producers had decided to pull the plug on Roger Moore one movie earlier? Put Timothy Dalton or Pierce Brosnan in that movie and look how much more kick ass it would be. An actor that played a “Not Taking Any Shit” James Bond would’ve added much more gravitas to the batshit crazy that Christopher Walken can play so well.

Let’s take the definitive Roger Moore line from A View to a Kill:

After sleeping with Grace Jones the night before, Christopher Walken asks him if he slept well.

“A little restless, but I…,” eyebrows raised into the camera,  “got off… eventually.”

Wow. I made better ejaculation jokes in eighth grade.

Ian Fleming is rolling over in his grave.

Let’s see how later actors would’ve reacted to that script and that scene.

Timothy Dalton would’ve looked at that script, and said, “I’m not saying that. I’ll just say fine.”

Pierce Brosnan would’ve asked if he could just take out a gun and shoot Walken.

And Daniel Craig’s scene would’ve gone something like…

“How’d you sleep, Mr. Bond?”

“Do I look like I give a damn?”

Great Scott!

Lots of Back to the Future posts and references the last couple weeks. So why did I wait until this week? Had to make sure that Marty McFly was back to 1985. Now we can talk about him.

On October 21, a number of my friends were proudly posting pictures of themselves holding the Back to the Future DVD, saying they were just about to watch it.  Umm, good luck finding any 2015 there, guys. Cause it ain’t in the original movie. Even a number of the news reports I watched kept getting the release date of the movie wrong. Yes, the original movie was released in 1985, and that is the year from whence Monsieur McFly traveled.  But the movie in which he traveled to 2015 was Back to the Future Part II, released in 1989.

A sequel coming out FOUR YEARS after the original? How archaic!

In fact, when the original movie was produced, there were no plans for a sequel. The “To Be Continued” at the end of the movie did not appear in the theatrical release. In what kind of crazy alternate timeline is a movie released without the next five sequels already being planned and filmed?  And they didn’t even split the last movie in two? The horrors!

Of course, they DID film the second and third movie back-to-back, so that they could be released six months apart from each other. To my knowledge, they were the first to do this now-standard practice.

These are a few of the reasons the Back to the Future trilogy is still relevant, but there are others. And no, this is not just a reaction to Marty McFly’s “arrival date” just passing. Plenty of movies have predictions of future dates, but society doesn’t go apeshit when those dates arrive.  I don’t remember the news media running vignettes on the state of Artificial Intelligence on August 29, 1997, date Terminator predicted Skynet would become self-aware.

I know, I know. Self-lacing shoes are way more relevant to our future on this planet than self-aware technology. Who cares about the future of all human life if we can’t even get a goddamned hoverboard, right?

The Back to the Future trilogy is unique for a number of ways.  Going back to that whole 2 and 3 being shot back-to-back and released six months apart from each other. Six months! Even by today’s Fast and the Furious/Hunger Games standards, that’s fast. Twenty-five years ago, it was unheard of. The standard wait time between sequels back then was a good three years. I assume the conventional wisdom was that audiences would be disinterested in going back to see the “continuing adventures” so soon.

So at least in that one sense, Back to the Future Part II was as relevant as Godfather II.  Prior to Godfather II, movies were released like theater shows. First they would premiere in New York, and maybe Los Angeles, followed a few weeks later by the other major cities. They would then filter through the less-major cities, and if you lived in Omaha, you’re probably waiting a few months for the movie to hit the one screen in town.  The producers of Godfather II, released two years after the original, said “screw that.” They knew the public was clamoring to see the sequel, so they circumvented the powers that be and just released it everywhere simultaneously. It worked, and has been the standard ever since.

So you can thank Back to the Future for the fact that the Twilight craze wasn’t dragged out for another decade.

The trilogy itself was also unique, in that the three movies are so markedly different entities. The first movie was just your run-of-the-mill teen movie. Just take out Lea Thompson and add in Molly Ringwald, and you’d scarcely notice the difference between it and Sixteen Candles. The standard John Hughes tropes are all there. Geeky boy secretly pines away for beautiful girl, who is oblivious to his existence, because girl is enamored with foxy mysterious boy. Something about underwear, and then the geeky guy is encouraged by foxy mysterious guy to stand up to school bully and get the girl. And the space-time continuum is saved.

Wait, that last part wasn’t in Sixteen Candles? I must be thinking of Pretty in Pink.

The second movie is really the one that defines the trilogy.  I remember a lot of people complaining when it came out that it was too complicated. They had taken a cute little reverse-Oedipal story and added layers and complications. All these people wanted was another simple story about a boy trying to ensure his own birth, and those bastards went and added things like alternate timelines and divergence points. And sports gambling.

“Whatever,” I remember my pubescent voice admonishing people, “I’ve been reading comics for years. Alternate timelines? Big whoop.”

The second movie also did a good job of keeping some of the original themes going, but adding a little bit more gravitas to them. Now it’s not just Marty that will cease to be, but all of society. They also make squeaky-clean, save-the-world Marty the bad guy. Or maybe not the bad guy, but responsible for everything that went wrong. After all, he was the one who bought the sports almanac with the intent to make a quick buck in the past.

Then there’s the special effects. Having Michael J. Fox play multiple roles in the same room at the same time while not looking two-dimensional was new. And the last half-hour of the movie, where they actually are added into the original movie, was spectacular. If there’s a second Deadpool movie, maybe they can have him pull the “I was there during all of the earlier X-Men movies.” He does that in the comics a fair bit.

Oh, and they re-shot the final scene of the first movie with a different actress and barely anybody noticed.

I’m not sure which is more impressive: a scene in which one actor plays three roles or a scene in which two actresses play the same role.

Then came the third movie, a Western. That’s right, we went from teen movie to sci-fi head-scratcher to Clint Eastwood. Literally Clint Eastwood, since that’s the name Marty used in 1885, when the movie takes place. Imagine the balls on Bob Gale, the writer. He just decided he wanted to do a Western and, hey, the fans are clamoring for more Back to the Future, so here you go.

Imagine if the Return of the Jedi was suddenly about elves and dwarves. Or Return of the King showed Frodo and Sam spending a day in Saturday school. Or if the final Indiana Jones movie threw in aliens.

Wait, they did WHAT in Kingdom Skull? Okay, never mind.

The point is you can’t completely change the genre in the finale. But Back to the Future did. No more sports almanacs or alternate timelines or Michael J. Fox fading out of existence. But there was still enough of the standard tropes to connect the three – the Tanners are dimwits, benefiting from knowledge of the future, the time machine has lost power so a vehicle has to get up to 88 MPH. And trains. And horses.

And you know what? It worked!

So now that Back to the Future Day has passed, let’s stop with our obsession of how much it got right. No more hoverboards or shoes or Cubs. And let’s focus on the trilogy itself, and how groundbreaking it was. They influenced how trilogies could be filmed and marketed. They informed writers that, if you have an engaging premise and characters, you can do whatever you want with them and people will follow you.

Even if the hero abandons his girlfriend on the porch of a stranger’s house in a violent, dystopian present that he himself had created.

Sexism in Comics

There’s been a lot of buzz recently about sexism in the comics industry. The comments tend to specifically attack two things: the lack of relatable female superheroes and the oversexualized manner in which the existing female superheroes are drawn.  As a lifelong comic geek, I can one hundred percent acknowledge and agree with both criticisms. That being said, it also feels like much of the criticism comes from people on the outside, and a number of their attacks and assumptions are more about making noise than change.

I’m not going to defend comic books. The overt sexualization of the female characters, which has always been around, has gotten worse. My friends and I used to joke that every female superhero had an additional power of gravity-defying bosoms. If a horny teenager that gets excited seeing a bra strap knows they are drawn over the top and unrealistic, there’s a problem.

Some of the defenders of the comic industry point to that socially-awkward, horny teenage boy as the poster child of the comic fan. They say that, since comic book companies need to make sales to those boys, they need to draw the women that way.  This is bullshit, because I was buying plenty of comics without any women in them. I never once remember buying a comic because of a nice rack on a superheroine. Nor did I ever put a comic back because the women were too plain.

This is borne out by comic sales. The most voluptuous women appear in Zenescope comics. These women aren’t just sexualized, they are straight-up fetish. Fairy tale characters wearing knee-high stockings and garters with panties visible under their Britney Spears-esque school-girl skirts. Little Red Riding Hood, Dorothy, and, hey look, Alice is giving you a glimpse of her very own Wonderland. Go ahead, look at their website.

So if sexy women drove comic sales, Zenescope should be a marketing force to deal with, right? Grimm’s Fairy Tales should regularly wresting the top spot from the various Animal-Related-Men. But nope. In January, their best-selling comic ranked #276, ranking right above Scooby Doo, Where Are You? And not far behind such modern-day powerhouses as Flash Gordon and Powerpuff Girls.

So if it’s not for the fans, why are the women drawn that way? I’m pointing the finger at the artists. Let’s be honest, many of them started as those very same awkward teenage boys. I was never able to draw worth a damn. Still can’t, which gives endless entertainment to my students when I try to draw a cow or a map of Europe on the white board. But most of the guys that I knew in high school who had the ability to draw tended to draw the same thing over and over: the hourglass shape from a woman’s armpit to her mid-thigh. Well, that and penises, but I’m guessing Marvel and DC frown upon overt phalluses in their comics. (I mean, come on, it’s not The Little Mermaid.) So when the guys that spent their teenage years drawing idealized female forms get hired to draw comics, we get controversies like the recent Spider-Woman cover.

So although the sexist drawings draw more ire from social activists, I don’t think they have much of an effect on comic’s fandom. Even if every woman (and man, I suppose)were drawn “normal,” I don’t see a lot of the people who are up in arms about this flocking to their local comic book store to drive up sales. The lack of bona fide female superheroes, though, might be more on topic.

Here again, the general argument is the overwhelming majority of male comic book readers. But we could be looking at a chicken-and-egg argument here. Do the lack of female readers equate to fewer female superheroes or do girls not flock to comics because they have no heroes to identify with?

Most of the female superheroes that exist today are derivative. Batgirl. Supergirl. Spider-woman. She-Hulk. Most of their stories are derivative, as well. And I can’t tell you how many times they need to team up with their male counterpart to truly accomplish anything.  She-Hulk might be the one that breaks the mold, seeing as she is a lawyer and she can keep her rage under control. Very rarely is there a Hulk/She-Hulk crossover.

Wonder Woman is one of the few well-known female superheroes that is not just a carbon copy of an already existing male superhero. And really, Wonder Woman only stands out as cool because she’s on the same team as Aquaman.

A lot of this, however, is endemic of another major problem in comics today – the lack of new creative characters.  Most of the characters I mentioned, both male and female, are over fifty years old now. There were a couple of golden ages of character creation – the DC characters in the late-1930s, the Marvel characters in the early-1960s. Most of the characters the average American has heard of (the possible exception being Wolverine, from 1974) came from one of those two eras.  And the comic book writers from that age were absolutely sexist. As was pretty much everyone in America. And the idea of gaining female readers would be laughable.

Since then, there have been concerted efforts to add more diversity in comics. Some have been successful, but most have not. Part of this is because they seemed to pander. But part of this is indicative of a larger lack of creativity, not just with female or minority heroes. None of the heroes created in the past forty years have gained much resonance with the public.  Exhibit A is Dazzler, a mutant created during the disco era who can turn sound into light. She wore roller skates and a silver disco-ball suit. Since then, she has lost the roller skates, but do we honestly wonder why no female readers today are identifying with her?

And lest you think Dazzler is weak because she’s female, bear in mind the male equivalent of Dazzler, the Hypno-Hustler, thankfully disappeared after disco died. The fact that Dazzler still around as a viable character speaks to both their attempt to diversify, as well as how sparse the landscape of “new” heroes is.

Comics have also gotten darker over the years, so sadly the one female character to stand out over at DC is Harley Quinn. But just because Kevin Smith named his daughter after her, one should not think she’s a hero. She’s borderline psychotic and is obsessed with the Joker. So instead of focusing on the halter tops she wears, we should maybe, I don’t know, be looking at her as the villain she is.

That being said, there are still a large number of very good female characters, especially in Marvel.  The problem is that they don’t have their own books. They are members of teams. I’ll put Kitty Pryde up as one of the most fully-realized characters out there. She has her strengths and weaknesses, she has grown from teenage rookie to effective leader. Storm was also the leader of the X-Men for quite a long time. Invisible Woman, despite being often portrayed as “mother first,” is clearly the glue and moral center of the Fantastic Four. Although the Phoenix force has been overdone and was ruined in X-Men: The Last Stand, in the original telling, Jean Grey proved to be one of the most grounded and tragic characters in the Marvel universe.

Recently, perhaps in response to a lot of that criticism, Marvel has been trying to put more female led comics out there. Carol Danvers is now Captain Marvel (she had been Ms. Marvel for years) and has her own comic and allegedly a movie coming, although the merging of Spider-Man into the Movie Universe has pushed back the release of this movie, as well as Black Panther, the first African-American superhero.  So once again, we see a desire to promote diversity, but only until we can jam another Spider-Man movie in.

The new Ms. Marvel, taking Carol Danvers’ place, is not only female but a teenage Muslim living in New Jersey. And as an added bonus, she’s drawn in an in-no-way-sexualized manner. Thor, as I’m sure you have heard, is now female. And this new female Thor ended up taking it from both sides: some complained that it was pandering and others complained that she was too hot.  Um, those people do know what the male Thor looks like, right? Most of the women I know thought Thor: The Dark World would have been much better if they had just extended the Chris Hemsworth shirtless scene for 120 minutes.

This is where it gets placed on the people purchasing the comics. The female-led comics don’t sell well. Thor has done okay, but I wonder if that will drop after they reveal who the new female Thor is. She-Hulk was canceled, Captain Marvel has trouble breaking the top 100. Storm currently stars in her own series, but in February it came in at #152, right behind Batman 66, a comic based on the old Adam West TV Show. Pow! Zap! Whomp!

There is an all-female X-Men title and it is usually the worst selling X-Men title. Fearless Defenders was another all-female group. One of the best issues of any comic book last year had all of the Fearless Defenders’ boyfriends whining and getting in fights at a bar, waiting for the ladies who were busy kicking asses, to show up for date night. This comic lasted a whopping 12 issues.

So at this point, you can’t overly blame Marvel or DC for looking at the sales and relative popularity of their comics. They might really want to give Kitty Pryde or Lana Lang (who is currently being written as an awesome non-powered character in Action Comics) their own series, but when they look at the numbers, they just decide to add another Batman title.

What the people that complain about sexism in comics ought to be doing is not maligning the entire industry. They ought to be finding the comics that do have strong, reasonably-drawn females, and encouraging people to buy them.  But what fun would that be if they can make more noise by NOT purchasing the comics, then complaining loudly to whatever media are near when they get canceled?

Selfie Immolation

I guess the world and pop culture moved on while I was taking my one-month writing sabbatical. Not sure who the hell gave them permission to do that. But now I have to catch up.

So am I here to write about the horrors of Ferguson? Or maybe the effect that the midterm elections will have on Obama’s second term and place in history? What about the spread of Ebola and its implications on civil liberties?

Nope. I’m here because those bastards cancelled Selfie!

Most years I have two reactions to the first round of TV cancellations. The first is “Really? That sounded like a stupid show” or “I totally saw that coming.” Next, I expunge my DVR of the remaining episodes of whatever show was just canceled. I can usually read the tea leaves and hold off watching a few shows until they get the pick-up. This year, I’m still waiting on Forever.  I watched the first few episodes and thought it was okay, if a bit thin, but I can see its ratings and don’t want to get too vested.  If it somehow makes it to the end of the season and gets picked up for another, I guess I’ll get caught up over the summer.

This year, I aired my rare third reaction. It’s a mixture of “Man, you didn’t even give that a chance” and “What precisely did you think would happen with that show?”  Although I saw it coming, this was my reaction to Selfie.

Don’t worry, I’m not about to wax lyrical about the brilliance of this show. And I’m not going to malign the multitudes for not watching. Had I been blogging when Better Off Ted failed to find traction, you would all be getting a stern finger wagging. But Selfie was no Better Off Ted. It wasn’t a great show. But in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t bad. In a world where Two and a Half Men and Everybody Loves Raymond can each reign supreme for a decade, there should certainly be room for Selfie.

A number of shows, particularly sitcoms, need a little time to find their way. It’s always worth noting that Cheers got horrible ratings in its first season. Truthfully, Cheers is still a show that takes a number of episodes for a new viewer. It is an wkward show to introduce people to, no matter what season you’re watching, because so much of the humor involves knowing the characters and all of their foibles. Think about it – the brilliance of the episode where Cliff goes on Jeopardy is lost upon someone who hasn’t spent many weeks listening to him as the know-it-all that annoys the whole bar with his inane trivia. Trust me, I’ve tried a number of times to show some Cheers episodes to my students. Episodes I find hilarious fall flat, and it’s not just because the times have changed. Show them an episode of I Love Lucy or Welcome Back, Kotter, and they laugh at all the right spots. But not Cheers.

And let me reiterate, I’m not saying Selfie was anywhere close to Cheers, only that some shows need a season or two to figure out what they have. I thought the Robin Williams sitcom last year fell into the category of shows that get better in the second half of the first season when they figure out how the characters should interact. It started out trying to put Sarah Michelle Gellar on equal footing with Robin Williams, but then they realized that a) Sarah Michelle Gellar isn’t a comic lead, and b) there were three other very funny actors next to her. The last half of the season, it turned into an ensemble behind Robin Williams and it was much better.

Of course, the viewers didn’t come back to the Robin Williams show, because once you decide the show is a lost cause, you don’t check to see if you’re right later in the season. So Selfie never would have gotten to where they needed it to be. But it wasn’t the show’s fault.

Selfie also had some good ensemble actors to work with. Poor John Cho just can’t get a break. For a guy who started his career out as the “MILF Guy” from American Pie before starring in a slew of Harold and Kumar movies, the guy actually has some acting chops.  He was pretty good in FlashForward, a drama that lasted only one season. Last year, he played alongside Matthew Perry, another guy who can’t seem to gain any traction post-Friends. That show only lasted a year. Seeing a trend? I would say he is becoming this generation’s Ted McGinley, except that Ted McGinley brought about the demise of established shows, not new ones.

But any question about John Cho’s ability to act should be answered by Star Trek. He plays a Korean ensign who will grow up to become a Japanese captain. I mean, that’s some ability!

As for Karen Gillan, I’m not overly familiar with her ability, because I was late to the Dr Who party. I’m currently on Martha Jones, who is at least two companions before Amy Pond, the one played by Karen Gillan, and I only watch over the summer when shows like Forever don’t get picked up for a second season. Friends have assured me that Amy Pond was a good companion. I will have to take their word for it. They have also informed me that Karen Gillan is attractive. I am proud to announce that I have verified this information.

In Selfie, her character didn’t seem to have much consistency.  The writers seemed to have trouble growing her beyond the vapid narcissist that the show was based on. The same could be said for John Cho’s character. The only consistent characters were the aloof boss and gossipy receptionist. This seems to happen a lot in new sitcoms, as the writers realize the main characters have to become more well-rounded than the initial kooky-crazy person created for the up-fronts. But the lesser characters don’t have to evolve. They can stay with their shtick. And if the show lasts as long as The Big Bang Theory or How I Met Your Mother, those quirky characters might even become the focus. Yes, I said it. Sheldon and Barney were never intended to be the front characters. And I think both shows suffered when each character grew from random comedic interjection to focal point.

The failure of Selfie lies squarely at the feet of the TV execs for a number of horrible decisions in the placement and promotion of a show that had a chance. The main problem was its place on the schedule. The horrible name didn’t help. Oh, and selling it as a modern day My Fair Lady. Boy, nothing says hot and modern like referencing a 60 year old Broadway play. And the ultra-ephemeral name was just seen as overcompensating. But really, really. Those weren’t the major problems. The major problem was where it was placed on the schedule.

ABC put it on Tuesday night opposite NCIS, which is one of the top, if not the actual highest, rated shows on television. Okay, whatever, something’s got to go up against it, and maybe they draw from different crowds. Plus everybody has a DVR these days, so no biggie. I managed to record both shows for a few weeks despite the fact that they were on at the same time.

After those two weeks, though, CW added The Flash to their schedule.  This is a show I’ve been looking forward to for a year, ever since it was announced. So a few days before it was set to air, I thumbed forward in my channel guide and set the DVR to record.  I was then informed that The Flash would not record due to two other conflicts. I checked what the two conflicting shows  were. NCIS? Nope, not skipping that. Selfie? Sorry, buh-bye. You were cute for a couple of episodes, but we’re done now.

I haven’t looked at the ratings, but I would be willing to bet they dropped when The Flash came on. Let’s look at who Selfie was catering to. The show stars somebody that has been in the last two Star Trek movies and another person who was on Dr. Who. Plus, let’s not forget Karen Gillan was in a little movie this summer called Guardians of the Galaxy, albeit bald and in green skin. Oh, and throw in Harold and Kumar. So who is going to check this show out? Geeks. But when push comes to shove, those geeks are going to pick The Flash over a sitcom still trying to find its way.

I assume someone at ABC knew it catered to geeks and put it on the same night as Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. But Marvel is on at 9:00, an hour after Selfie was on. Isn’t the spillover effect supposed to go the other way? I could maybe see somebody watching one show and leaving it on the channel, but who turns on a channel because a certain show will be on later that night? Are the execs aware that we have these new-fangled remote controls?

I did end up watching the rest of the episodes online. Like I said, it was nothing spectacular, but  a fun show nonetheless. The interactions between the characters was getting better. One of the last episodes featured Eliza (Karen Gillan) and Charmonique (the receptionist) try to fill out an online dating profile for Henry. They end up setting him up with a roomful of people who look exactly like the two of them. Sure, it’s been done a thousand times, but what sitcom trope hasn’t? At least it wasn’t continuous menage-a-trois jokes from Charlie Sheen.

There were a couple of other sitcoms that debuted last year that had similar dynamics to Selfie. Both had an ostensible star, but featured an ensemble that developed their shticks and interactions as the season went on. The first was Undateable, starring Chris d’Elia, who had previously been the boyfriend on Whitney. The other was Ground Floor, with  John C. McGinley, no relation to Ted McGinley (as far as I know, neither of them have invited me to their family functions).

That’s two Ted McGinley references in one blog post. If I bring up Revenge of the Nerds, do I win a prize?

Interestingly, both Undateable and Ground Floor featured the same female “lead,” an actress named Briga Heelan in a budding relationship with a supporting actor.  Both shows seemed unsure if that particular relationship should be the focus of the show or not. Undateable, in particular, lost her for the second half of the season, presumably because she was filming the other show.  That forced the show  to feature some of the other actors. One of them, Ron Funches (don’t worry, you haven’t heard of him) stole almost every scene he was in. Rory Scovel was quickly becoming the star of Ground Floor’s first season, although I worry his kooky, quirky character is starting to go down the Sheldon/Barney path, becoming way too much of a focus. Of course, I assume the producers would be perfectly fine following in those characters’, and their shows’, footsteps.

The irony, of course, is that both Undateable and Ground Floor got picked up for a second season. Briga Heelan is going to have to hedge her bets for another year. So why did they make it but Selfie did not? The same reason mentioned above – because the television execs realized what they had, or more precisely what they didn’t have, and that it shouldn’t go up against the powerhouses of Fall TV. The execs in these cases also seemed to realize that it is no longer 1995, and there are different ways to market and broadcast a show now. Ground Floor was on TBS. I’m pretty sure getting ten viewers is enough to be profitable on that channel. Undateable was on NBC, but they held it off until summer, when it was not on against anything else. They then ran two episodes a night for six weeks and were done. And it worked.  Not in the November sweeps way, but in the middle-of-June way.

Seriously, had Selfie been moved to the “death valley” of Friday night, it might have been successful. I know my DVR would have followed it. In fact, why do we still run all of our shows between 8:00-11:00 PM? Had they run it at 3:00 AM, I would end up watching it just as close to “live” as I watch anything. But not if it’s opposite NCIS and The Flash. Really, when is TV going to lose the 8:00-11:00 Prime Time model. Just tell us when the show is on and we’ll set our DVRs.  I know, I know. Live audience, ad revenue, Same Day +7, blah, blah, blah. The world is passing you by, better come up with a new business model.

In the end, Selfie did not fit whatever unrealistic expectations ABC had for it, so it was dumped. Was it going to be the next  Seinfeld or Modern Family? Doubtful, but it certainly was more watchable than about ten seasons’ worth of Two and a Half Men. Or it could have been. But now we’ll never know.

Pulp Fiction Turns Twenty

Pulp Fiction just turned twenty. Wow, right after I turned forty. What are the odds? I wonder what Pulp Fiction was doing when I turned twenty.

I don’t know, but I bet I know what Quentin Tarantino and John Travolta were doing nine months before I turned twenty. Bow-Chicka-Bow-Bow!

They were probably filming a movie. Get your mind out of the gutter.

So happy birthday, with sugar on top. Now go clean the fucking car.

It’s hard for me to classify Pulp Fiction now. For a while, it was one of my favorite movies. I still think it was a game-changer in Hollywood. But I don’t know if it’s stood up to the test of time. I can’t remember the last time I’ve thought “I need to watch that movie again soon.” Part of this, I’m sure, is because so many other movies have copied elements of it, and maybe even done them better. The Matrix falls into this trap a little bit, but oddly, I don’t believe Airplane! does. The other reason it might have lost some appeal is because Quentin Tarantino might just be a one-trick pony. Why bother watching Pulp Fiction when you can check out Inglourious Basterds?

But I don’t want the film’s current status to sully how revolutionary it was at the time.

I was in college at the time, and I don’t remember if there was much buzz about the movie prior to its release. I’ve never been much of a movie aficionado, so if it didn’t have the blockbuster appeal of a Jurassic Park, I wouldn’t have known it was coming. But Pulp Fiction grew like a word-of-mouth slow burn. It feels like I overheard rumblings of this new movie, and a few outright questions if I had seen it or heard of it.

“No, what’s it about?” I would ask.

“It’s hard to, it’s just… Did you see Reservoir Dogs?” was the usual response.

“Never heard of it.”

“Oh, you should definitely go see it. Then rent Reservoir Dogs.”

(Thankfully before seeing Reservoir Dogs. I don’t know if I would have proceeded, or gone in with an open mind, had I already seen the ear cutting scene. It’s now been nineteen and a half years, I suppose, since I first saw it, and I still can’t hear “Stuck in the Middle with You” without cringing.)

I don’t know if these conversations were happening outside of college towns, but I guess they must have been or the twentieth anniversary wouldn’t make the news. It also seems that these conversations were not happening in October. Maybe closer to December or even 1995. Was this movie intended as more of a cult hit but then hit the mainstream? Was it a movie that was added to more theaters as it went along? I’m sure if I were less lazy, I could find out how many screens it was on by month.  But why do that when I can rely on spotty 20-year old memories? Crap, how did “buzz” happen before YouTube?

Truthfully, I don’t remember my exact reaction when I first saw the movie. Obviously, I loved it or I wouldn’t have gone on to see it maybe a hundred times or more in the ensuing twenty years. But it’s hard to extract my thoughts after just one viewing. How many of the scenes stuck with me? Was I confused by the reappearance of John Travolta after he had already died?

But I assume the things that jumped out at me were the same things that set it apart from so much that had come before. The pace, the dialogue, the adrenaline.

Others might say “the violence,” but I’ve always maintained that Pulp Fiction is not nearly as violent as it is given credit for. There are only a handful of deaths. The two guys in the opening scene. Then their friend Marvin. John Travolta’s character dies, but then is brought back due to non-linear storytelling. Zed and Maynard, but let’s be honest, Zed and Maynard had it coming. Plus we’re not entirely sure that Zed’s dead, Butch’s assertion notwithstanding. Only that Marcellus was about to go “Medieval on his ass.” Hard to believe that’s a phrase that did not exist twenty-one years ago.

Am I missing anyone besides those six? I don’t think I am. A few others get shot, my favorite of which was the woman who got shot in the thigh by a dazed Marcellus when she’s helping Butch after the car crash. The reason I love that particular scene is the same reason I think the movie gets credit for being way more violent than it is. The violence in Pulp Fiction is presented in a way to which we were unaccustomed in movies twenty years ago.

A person being shot, or especially killed, in a movie was supposed to be a serious, somber occurrence. Take a movie like The Godfather, a very violent movie. Almost every death in that movie is shown with a heightened sense of tension. When Sonny drives up to the toll booth and all the windows shut, the audience gasps. In war movies or life on the street movies, death is shown as the inevitable end to the unjust  struggle that is life in a pointless world. Even in campy horror movies, they are built up, a steady stream of “Ch-ch-ch, hu-hu-hu” building to a crescendo with the violin in the background. And after each death in these movies, the audience and, often, the characters are given a moment to reflect.

To contrast, when Martin dies in the back seat of the car, Vincent argues with Jules over whether or not he hit a bump. The aforementioned woman helping Butch just screams, clutches her leg and is quickly forgotten. The first murder happens when Brad is bumbling through an answer, so Jules shoots his friend lying on the couch, then quips “Oh, I’m sorry, did I break your concentration?”

So death doesn’t matter. Characters don’t even break stride when violence occurs. Even worse, the violence is often followed up with humor. We are not supposed to laugh at people being shot or killed. So when we leave Pulp Fiction, we talk about how the woman being shot was so funny. Or how awesome the “Dead N—– Storage” conversation was. And how cool it was that when Butch put the chainsaw down and grabbed the sword. This all makes us think it must have been a more violent movie than it really was – why would we be talking with such frivolity and enthusiasm about the death scenes?

Unfortunately, I think even Quentin Tarantino fell prey to the hype about how violent his movies are. While his first two movies use it sparingly, yet powerfully, it seems most of his later movies use violence (and the N word) as their focal point. The first Kill Bill is little more than violence porn. In porn, the plot is pointless, just a few minutes of dialogue to set up another twenty minute sex scene. Replace the word “sex” with “fight” in the last sentence and you have Kill Bill, Vol. 1.

So discounting the violence, I think it’s the dialogue that sets Pulp Fiction apart. The pacing, the attitude, and the violence are all portrayed through the dialogue. Few movies are as instantly quotable. Oh sure, I can run off a litany of Airplane! or Monty Python and the Holy Grail lines at the drop of a hat. But I don’t often find myself in situations where I can naturally drop a line about swallows and coconuts into everyday conversation. But “Check out the big brain on Brad?” Oh yeah, that one I can use. Even something as simple as “Mmm, this IS a tasty burger,” said with the right inflection, can bring to mind one specific scene from one specific movie. And although I don’t know if I’ve ever said “I’m a mushroom-cloud-laying mother fucker, mother fucker,” I can certainly think of some situations where I could have. I remember when my roommate bought the first computer with Windows 95 – we spent hours cuing up the VHS tape to record all of these lines and more, assigning them to every ding and ping that the computer would let us.

Of course, all three of those lines are said by Samuel L. Jackson. I know the movie momentarily revitalized Travolta’s career, and put Tarantino on the map. But nobody’s career is as closely tied to Pulp Fiction as than man who created Mr. Jules Winnfield of Inglewood. Samuel L. Jackson defines badassery. When you heard he was going to be in a Star Wars movie, you thought, “Oh, there’s going to be a badass Jedi?” He even makes shilling for a credit card company kinda badass. I remember sitting through the Iron Man credits, talking with a fellow comic book guy about the “S.H.I.E.L.D.” reveal near the end, asking “I wonder who they should get to play Nick Fury?” Then the post-credit scene came on and we both nodded. “Yep, nailed it. Nobody but him.”

How impressive was it that a relatively unknown actor would steal the show against such names as Travolta, Willis, Walken, and Keitel? Today, that would surprise nobody, but in 1994, nobody knew who Samuel L. Jackson was. I’m sure he would have made a name for himself anyway. He’s too talented of an actor.  But I have to wonder if he would have carved quite the same niche if he had a different breakout role. Would we be living in a regrettable world without, shudder, motherfucking snakes on a motherfucking plane?

As the years have passed, though, I don’t know if Pulp Fiction stands up to the test of time.  Its impact is still noticeable, but that very impact has made it a bit more pedestrian by comparison.  You can find similar quick dialogue in pretty much any Aaron Sorkin script. Want that brazen mix of humor and action? Just watch any of those Samuel L. Jackson-led Marvel movies.

If the movie is on TV, I won’t necessarily sit through it. To me, this is the definition of a timeless movie. If Star Wars is on, I’m watching it. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is on? Put down the remote control. The Rock, which came out two years after Pulp Fiction, fits this description as well. In fact, there is very little that Pulp Fiction does well that is not one-upped by The Rock. Unfortunately, this includes Michael Bay becoming more of a “keep doing the same movie over and over” director than Tarantino could ever be.

But if I scroll through the channel guide and see Pulp Fiction, my first thought is not “Click!” but “what part of the movie is it?” If it’s the first twenty minutes, I’m probably changing the channel. If it’s near the end I might or might not tune in for the Bonnie Situation and the diner scene. But if it’s anywhere near the black hole of a middle that is the back-to-back Oral Pleasure/Cab Drive scene, forget it. And if I did tune it in to watch those early scenes, I’m going back to whatever else I was doing as soon as Uma Thurman gets the adrenaline shot in the heart.

Unless it’s the edited-for-TV version, because that is a whole nother level of unintentional entertainment. But that is a subject for another post.

So happy birthday, Pulp Fiction. Like most big birthdays, let’s focus more on the zany, brilliant days when you were setting the world on fire, and not on the bloated, middle-aged Al Bundy you have become. And the less you mention those kids, Django  and Jackie Brown, the better.

And to those of you who disagree with my assessment, allow me quote Jules… “I don’t remember asking you a goddamn thing.”

Why You Gotta Be So?

Why I gotta be so?

I often get in love-hate relationships with elements of pop culture. Usually it’s a TV Show I keep watching only to justify the amount of time I’ve put into it. The last two seasons of “How I Met Your Mother” fit into that category. In the middle of almost every episode, I would ask myself, “Why the hell am I watching this?” And the usual answer was “Remember how funny that one episode in the first season was?”

This summer’s love-hate entry is a song. So the good news is that it should be much more ephemeral, lasting only four minutes at a time and already waning from its peak rotation. But this love-hate is different than most, in that I truly can’t decide if it is an excellent or horrible song. Yet when it’s done, I’m filled with that same “end of the chip bag” sense of introspection.

You were singing that at the top of your lungs, weren’t you? Yeah, how does that make you feel? Boy, you’re going to regret that one in the morning.

It’s just so catchy. The music is great. Just the right instrumentation, rhythm, movement. A peppy little reggae beat that I can twirl my three month old baby to. And isn’t that why we listen to music? Because of the music? So what could be wrong with it?

The lyrics. The lyrics are horrible. And dammit, it’s the lyrics that I have to sing along to whenever it pops up on the radio.

The song is “Rude,” by Magic, and although it started the summer obscure, it listed as the number one iTunes download a few weeks ago, so it now exists in the zeitgeist. If you know the song, you might even be humming it right now. Hell, if you’re anything like me, you knew which song I was talking about four paragraphs ago. I was referencing it while teaching the other day, and all I had to say was “What’s that catchy tune with the really stupid lyrics?” and two or three students offered up “Rude” before I could even describe it further.

The radio station I first heard the song on encourages people to text them if they like or dislike a song. Of course, this seems to be encouraging people to text while driving. I, ahem, have of course, cough, never texted my opinion on a song while driving. I mean, that would be illegal. And please believe me when I say none of this happened anywhere near a moving vehicle of any kind. Honestly, officers, no need to check my phone records.

The first time I heard the song, I was grabbed by the perky, upbeat rhythm and went for my phone. I had already thumbed in the word “like” when the crystal clear singing got to chorus. If one can have a spit take whilst not only not drinking but also driving (er, standing completely still nowhere near a car), I might have done just that. The lyrics, and the entirety of the song, are stupid.

I’m the first person to say that in most songs, the lyrics don’t matter. I can’t understand the lyrics for most of the songs on the radio in a given day. I’ve even karaoked a few songs only to say “Oh, that’s what he says there?” when the lyrics pop up. “Rude” is a song that might have benefitted from a bit more Eddie Vedder style mumbling.

Even when the lyrics are decipherable, they don’t need to make a lot of sense. I watched Alternative Nation at midnight through most of college, and I was fine with a song about a chick who puts Vaseline on her toast. There’s a Crash Test Dummies song that merely describes three people who had little quirks. No point to the song, whatsoever. Perhaps the point of the song was going to be explained in the chorus, but they just decided to sing “mmm mmm mmm mmm” instead. Then again, I’m pretty sure the lead singer of Crash Test Dummies can sing the Brown Note, so we best handle him with kid gloves to protect our bowels.

So I’m fine with silly, pointless songs. I’m fine with fun lyrics without a lot of depth. I’m fine with not even knowing what the guy is singing about. So what’s the matter with “Rude?”

For those of you who haven’t heard the song, the entire thing is about a guy asking his girlfriend’s father for permission to marry her. Yes, in the year 2014, an entire song is devoted to an action that was already insulting and obsolete fifty years ago.

In the first place, asking a girlfriend’s father for “permission” to marry his daughter is insulting to your future bride. It’s the 21st century and you’re implying she can’t make this decision for herself. After the father gives you permission, will the discussion turn to the dowry? Because I’m pretty sure that’s where the whole asking for permission came from. While you’re at it, go ahead and have the father sign the marriage license, because obviously your new wife can’t be trusted to sign legally binding contracts or anything.

But even more than the insulting nature, in the 21st century, the question is pointless. I think this makes it even more frustrating to have this song sung so earnestly. Honestly, what’s the father going to say? No? Chances are you’re already living with his daughter, and even if you aren’t, you’ve at least got some carnal knowledge, right? So Dad says no and you say “Gosh, Pops, you want me to keep getting the milk for free? Awesome. And just for you, I’ll throw in an extra ‘Who’s Your Daddy?’ or two when I’m shtuping her tonight.”

I do understand the desire to alert your future in-laws. You’re setting the stage for your future with your wife, and that includes her family. I found a nice way to do this was to let them know, but not ask their permission. The night before I proposed, I told my father-in-law “I’m going to ask your daughter to marry me tomorrow. I hope I have your blessing.” I was not asking permission, but I also wanted them to be prepped in case their first response was going to be “You’re marrying that loser?” they had fifteen hours to get it out of their system.

But the father in the song said no. I imagine he saw the litany of poems and songs this kid had written for his daughter and, understandably, felt he had no future writing drivel like that. The guy should have asked permission with the background music playing. Then the father probably would’ve said yes, because, I can’t stress enough, it’s fun and catchy music. Although if the father said yes because of the music, then the song would never be written, and I believe that’s how the space-time continuum begins to collapse.

The singer then goes on to sum up why asking a father’s permission is a pointless exercise that barely deserves a mention, much less a song. He’s going to marry her anyway. So you really weren’t asking permission, were you? Any Catholic can tell you the wonderful difference between asking for permission and asking for forgiveness. Again, my father-in-law comes into play here. He asked my grandfather-in-law permission and was told no. So what did he do? Hint: he’s my father-in-law and my wife wasn’t born out of wedlock. So even 40 years ago, it was understood that asking permission wasn’t really asking permission. Yet here we are listening to some Canadian croon on about a non-issue.

“What the hell is he singing about?” I said out loud, phone frozen in my hand, when the chorus hit. “Is this whole song about… Why, this isn’t a new song at all. It is clearly from 1955.”

I quickly thumbed a “dis” onto the front of the “like” text I had already written. I was just about to hit send when the “marry her anyway” part hit. At this point, the music goes from a 4/4 beat to a 6/8 beat. It’s subtle, a change that most people without music backgrounds might just consider a tempo change or not even notice. And it’s quick, maybe only six measures then back to 4/4, but the effect is to take a straight-forward reggae song and fuse it with something else. I still can’t tell what. Is it reggae-rockabilly? Can that even exist? So I sat there, transfixed again by the music with the phone in my hand, unable to push send on either a “like” or “dislike.”

Which is really where I still am today. I never turn the station when the song comes on. Most of the time I sing along. I’m singing lyrics I can’t stand about a subject I find insulting. But dammit, what else can I do?

Of course, listening to it as much as I have, I now know the lyrics quite well. The more I’ve gotten to know them, my initial hatred has only grown. I know I’m picking nits here, but there are two major errors that I’ve found with the song. Both are semantics, and both would barely warrant a mention if not for the catchy tune that makes me listen to the horrible lyrics.

The first problem deals with grammar. Or not even grammar, but how to write dialogue. The lead-in to the first chorus states the father’s response: “You say I’ll never get your blessing for the rest of my life. Tough luck, my friend, but the answer is no.” Okay, is it just me or does that line start out as an indirect quote, then finish as a direct quote?

“Hey, dude,” comes the retort, “you don’t understand poetry. Every word needs to count. We have to worry about rhythm and rhyme. It’s taken you 2000 words to write about a three minute song.” Touche. I can’t imagine writing poetry. Way too verbose. And I understand that poetry, and by extension songs, don’t have to follow strict language rules. But poetry or prose, you’ve got to be consistent with who is speaking. Indirect dialogue is fine, but keep it indirect the whole time.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject of rhyming? No and know are homophones, I don’t think that counts as a rhyme.

The second language problem I have is the very name of the song. They could’ve gone with “Marry Her Anyway,” which is the catchy 6/8 part and captures the point of the song better. But instead they went with “Rude.” The singer’s response to the father’s denial is “Why you gotta be so rude?” This is the second worst rejoinder in history, topped only by his next line, “Don’t you know I’m human, too?” (Insulting the father’s observational skills isn’t going to win him back to your side.)

But rude? I don’t know that I would classify a man not thinking someone is good enough for his daughter as being “rude.” To be rude, one needs to be deliberately hurtful. If you ask someone out on a date and they say no, that is not rude. If they say “not if you were the last human on Earth,” that’s where the rudeness comes in.

In the song, the father was even nice enough to say “Tough luck, my friend.” That has to be one of the more polite denials I’ve heard. Maybe he just felt you had insulted his daughter by asking someone other than her to make this important decision. I don’t know if this is Alanis Morissette “Ironic” level of mis-definition, but it’s up there. SO Canadians don’t know how to define words in song titles. Is that rude? Stereotypical, maybe.  While we’re at it, Bryan Adams was only nine years old in the Summer of ’69, so Canadaian singers are bad at both math and English. Probably more hyperbole than rude, but getting closer. I’m not saying the test for rude and the test for libel should be the same, but they’re in the vein.

Canadian singers suck? That would be rude, so I wouldn’t say it. Plus if I said that, the lead singer of the Crash Test Dummies would vacate my bowels.

By the way, you asked the father for permission and then ignored his answer. Sounds like he had a justified reason for his answer.

He didn’t even bring up the fact that you tried to rhyme no and know.

See what I did there? That was intentionally hurtful.

I know, I know. Why I gotta be so…?