Tuesday, April 15, 2008

papal choice awards

Pope Benedict XVI is coming to the United States today for the first time in his papal career. The news here in New York City just can't enough of it. The plane the dude is on hasn't even touched American soil and everyone is atwitter.

(Bonus info: The Pope's plane is called Shepherd 1. Shepherd 1!? Isn't that hilarious? And those news casters don't even crack a smile! I'm also quite amused that it is commonplace to refer to the Pope's motorcade as the "Popemobile".)

I'm not sure what all the hulabaloo is about. Is it because the Pope is going to visit President Bush? If I were coming to the United States for the first time as Pope, I'd find better things to do than visit that whackjob. Once the Pope comes up to New York, apparently he's going to hang out with a bunch of rabbis at a synagogue for a few hours. And during Passover, wouldn't you know. Why is this news? Is it all that shocking that leaders of different faiths talk to each other? People, it's not the Crusades anymore.

Not only is the news jumping on the apparently sensational fact that this guy would actually speak to a Jew, they also keep "expecting" the Pope to address the sex abuse scandal that seems to be looming over the American Catholic church.... if the guy does have anything to say about it, it's not going to be terribly surprising that he'll condemn it. Does the press seriously expect him to support it? If anything, this is probably the best public opportunity of any importance to state that the United States is the master at demonstrating to the world to never underestimate the power of denial.

At least Benedict XVI is by no means as decrepit as John Paul II was. Despite how geriatric that guy got, he still paraded the planet like a Catholic rockstar.... no matter how much he grimaced in holy pain or how much baby food had to be spooned to him. The news keeps showing pictures of John Paul II hunched over and waving to people inside a bulletproof-glass box, like he's Eva Peron's corpse or something.

I'm curious though.... During the course of all this Pope-pourri on TV, it occurred to me that this guy goes by quite a number of titles:

--> Pope
--> Pontiff
--> Holy Father
--> His Holiness

....not to mention the endless Papal/Papacy conglomerates. How many synonymous titles does the Pope really need? In any case, the terms "papal" and "papacy" just make me think of the word papilla (which means something shaped like a nipple), or papule or pustule or pimple, or even polyp for that matter. I wonder if all these words have some sort of common etymological ancestor.

Maybe I should refer to the guy as His Papalness.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

naming convention

Let's talk Don DeLillo.

After being eviscerated by Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times (who, in a way, herself has become a cartoon character of vitriolic literary criticism) for his latest novel Falling Man in May 2007, I imagine he's probably working on another massive tome analyzing the trajectory of American culture in a (soon-to-be but not-soon-enough) post-George W. Bush United States. Considering nearly all of his novels are carefully sculpted studies of Americans and American perceptions (I've read six of his fifteen), I suppose this is what the DeLillo fan base is expecting.... The man has enough imagination to create a neverending list of varied events and characters in novels (all of them well-spoken and wont to deliver intricately woven self-aware monologues), so I always have faith that a DeLillo novel will not bore me.

That said, sometimes I get thrown off the wagon. Having just finished reading The Names, DeLillo's first novel to practically pitch him onto the literary scene as a household name and figure in many a Jeopardy answer, I'm stumbling upon a disappointing observation about the works of his that I've read. The Names was published in 1982 (his eighth novel at the time!) and was positioned in his literary career as the predecessor to White Noise. DeLillo certainly has a flair for setting and character, and his novels usually grab me without fail or without too much wriggling, but I reach a point somewhere in the last quarter of the book where I lose my footing. In The Names, for instance, I had been following the first-person narrator of an American journalist/writer-of-some-sort throughout his short time in Greece with his wife and child, to include his separation from that wife, to include his traveling about the Middle East and India, to include his fascination and subsequent investigation of a cult implicated in a serious of brutal murders based on typographical coinicidence.... and then suddenly I'm forced to focus in his 3rd person on a peripheral character who travails the Himalayan foothills of India. There's something about a lady going on a hunger strike too.

I finished The Names and considered it an okay read, but I was disappointed that the ending felt like a shoehorned non-sequitir. That said, I never lost confidence in DeLillo's intent on telling this story, despite pulling a ninety-degree turn on me.... I just kind of wanted him to finish telling me the story he started with. This is the same exact problem I ran into when I finished reading Running Dog, predecessor to The Names.... Running Dog had a much more playful story (it's about a porn/snuff film starring Adolf Hitler, yes, Adolf Hitler, and about the madcap crew of murdering underground art dealers that will do anything to get their hands on the footage), but the end seemed to trickle off with a seocndary character reenacting some kind of wartime training in the deserts of west Texas. Both Running Dog and The Names span a lot of locations, the former taking us from New York to Washington DC to Texas, the latter volleying between Greece and Jordan and India.... but neither novel has much of a commitment to circularity, oftentimes throwing us off the horse we rode in, in terms of both character and story. It seems what either of these novels is about, so to speak, doesn't really matter as the novel comes to a close.... they both seem to lift up into some existential ether that I'm not prepared for.

It's funny, because I can ascribe similar feelings to DeLillo's post-White Noise effort Mao II. Arguably a much easier read than the other three, Mao II seems to lose focus by switching between the dual lives of a Salinger/Pynchon-style hermit writer and his hidden passion for suicide-bomber-directing duties.

There's part of me that wishes that DeLillo would deliver on his promise from the get-go of his novels. Even the tail end of White Noise seems to derail into a meta-comic meditation not exactly congruent with the tone of the rest of the novel. He exhibits such control and a good sense of pacing, but it seems that somewhere around when the ending should appear, he gets bored or decides to ninja star his way through what he started and put us somewhere new. In the case of White Noise I'd say he's most successful.... and I'm not saying that because it's one of my favorite novels of all time. Terrorism, of all kinds, is an unarguable theme through the lot of DeLillo's work, but I think sometimes it gets the best of him.... whereas the world of White Noise is terrorized by a noxious cloud of gas, Running Dog and The Names and Mao II seem more apt to transport us from a world we know and are firmly established in for 200+ pages into a somewhat-sensational boobs-booze-'n'-bombs spyglass. For instance, when I start a novel about a reporter on the hunt to find a mythic Hitler porn film (already a plot description that sells for me all the way), I don't want to end the book crawling on hands and knees through sagebrush and in Texas with an black ops army trainee turned art broker turned terrorist trainee. There's something about that that I didn't sign up for.

Monday, April 07, 2008

silver tranny ferocia

Perhaps one of the greatest SNL parodies in recent memory. The best way to skewer a cartoon character borne of a reality show is to play it as close to real life as possible.

Amy Poehler = comedic impression genius

Thursday, April 03, 2008

my television is still on

Instead of apologizing to my faithful readership of three about the infrequency of blog posts, instead I shall apologize for the lack of literary oomph that I wish I gave these infrequent rantings. By literary, I mean books. I'm reading all the time and never seem to comment much about it, usually reserving my soap box steam for how television shows are f-ing up the chance to actually do something worth quality.

But before I get to the books.... I might as well revel in my standard charms:

* I recently got turned on to the SciFi channel's "Battlestar Galactica".... I haven't heard one bad word about it in the midst of its current four year run, and now I see why. Having barely scraped the tip of the iceberg in Season 1, this show has all the tight writing and tricky reveals that I want without being overtly smug or unconfident. (Did you hear that, executives of "Lost"?) I want to fly up to speed on this show because the fourth season premiere is.... tomorrow, I believe.

* "Top Chef" has returned for a fourth season in a conspicuously summery Chicago, and although the game is the same (Padma predictably gorgeous, Colicchio predictably cranky, Gail Simmons predictably part-time, and Ted Allen predictably useless) I'm starting to see some cracks in its reality-competition facade. There is a small part of me that wants to believe that the judges actually do vote off those whose dishes don't come up to snuff, but the last two episodes have shown some blatant favoritism for those who have the potential to stir up drama down the road. Two weeks ago they voted off biker-with-a-heart-of-gold Erik in favor of Zoi, who composes 1/2 of the four-year-long lesbian relationship "Top Chef" threw in to stir the pot. And this week they dumped Manuel, who I guess came off as too boring on screen, in favor of Spike, who is a shit-eating-grin scruffy-faced bowler-hat-wearing douchebag.