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Category: Culture

Slo-Mo
Everybody loves slow motion. It’s the oldest, and still the best, cinematic special effect, and it retains its capacity to fascinate even after a hundred years of use.

Or, I would argue, a hundred years of over-use. It’s had a good run, and many filmmakers have used it deftly and with discrimination to entertain and move their audiences. It is time, however, to stop the madness and end our dependence on time distortion as a medium of artistic communication. By legislative fiat, if need be; it’s gotten that bad.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not an anti-slowmo-ite. Nothing I write here, for example, should be construed as an attempt to limit its use in instant replay on sports telecasts. There, it is employed as a means of ascertaining truth — and in some cases, great wisdom. In that context, it should be used over and over and over again. In Super Slow-Mo, if at all possible.

Similarly, I endorse its use as a tool of science. In fact, I request, here and now, that someone with the proper equipment compile a tape of slow motion sneezes. I am convinced that the resulting catalog of twisted facial expressions and violent expulsions of bodily fluids would be quite enlightening.

As a dramatic device, however, as a tool in the hands of the Hollywood storytellers, it has now been taken far beyond the portrayal of dream sequences and bouts of dementia. The turning point came in 1967. That’s the year Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde opened. You know the scene I’m talking about: the last one, where Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty are blasted full of holes by a battalion of lawmen for what seemed like twenty minutes — all in slow motion.

It is very effective cinematography, no doubt. I can still see them twitching and jerking and spurting inside and around that old Ford sedan. If Hollywood had stopped there and never produced another slow motion depiction of violence, then everything would be fine. But, no: the gates opened, and now the flow of slow-mo is at flood stage. Every film seems to be drowning in it: slow motion bullets, slow motion screams, slow motion homages to slow motion fight scene clichés.

Enough, already. Arthur Penn, if he weren’t already dead, would die of embarrassment. Sam Peckinpah is blushing posthumously. Dziga Vertov is spinning in his grave, probably in slow motion.

I’d like to be able to offer slow motion’s homely cousin, time lapse, as a substitute, but in good conscience I cannot. Let’s face it; “fast-mo” is only good for blooming flowers (aww) or rat corpses being consumed by maggots (eww). That’s kind of a limited repertoire. So we’ll just have to go on without access to time distortion as a special effect. It’s a shame to lose it, but I am sure the creative minds in Hollywood will come up with something. They gave us Smell-O-Vision, didn’t they?
A Freakin’ Genius
Did you hear about Jason Padgett? He’s the affable, 41-year-old futon salesman who became a mathematical genius. All he needed to do to was get beaten practically to death.

Mr. Padgett was jumped by several young toughs one evening as he left a karaoke bar in Tacoma, Washington. He was, among other things, given several hard kicks to the head, and those blows resulted in severe, permanent brain damage.

That, as it turned out, was Jason’s lucky day. According to neuroscientists who examined him after he recovered, his brain responded to the injury by commandeering an area of itself that wasn’t doing much at the time. For Padgett, a college dropout with no history as a numbers whiz, that area happened to be the one responsible for mathematics and mental imagery.

Suddenly, the lights went on in the math department. Cascades of formulae and numerical relationships exploded across his brainpan. Everything he saw, from buildings to mountains to single blades of grass, was instantly translated into precise fractal imagery. Furthermore, he is now able to draw intricate geometrical renderings of the mathematical relationships that have flooded his mind. He had become, through some accidental application of violence, a gifted, brilliant savant.

All of which is very nice — a great story and a stunning rejuvenation of Jason’s unremarkable life. Still, I have to ask: how can the rest of us get in on this action? How do we go about turning on the lights in some dark region of our own minds and so become the next Mozart, the next Einstein, the next Thomas Kinkade? Or, better yet, how do we get all the lights turned on everywhere in our brains? How do we become super-beings with godlike powers? Is that too much to ask?

I suppose you could start by trying to kick yourself in the head, but I can’t imagine that would produce anything more than some amusing clips for YouTube. You could ask a loved one to go at your noggin with a ball-peen hammer, but that might only serve to undermine the relationship. Besides, if all there were to becoming a genius was random, blunt force trauma to the head, then everyone in the NFL would be a Nobel laureate.

So how do we get those lights turned on and grab some super-powers of our own? I figure the only way is for some poor schlub like Jason to be brutally attacked and later wake up with a fundamental grasp of the wiring of the human brain, becoming a kind of accidental neuroscientific savant. Then that guy could tell the rest of us where the light switch is.

Would someone like to volunteer?
Save the Dinosaurs
All the dinosaurs are dead. Deader than dead, in fact; they’re extinct. And yet, the scaly behemoths are everywhere, kept alive by our modern technology and culture.

I confess that, until recently, I have bought into this ghoulish resurrection. As a boy, I was transfixed by Ray Harryhausen’s The Beast from Twenty Thousand Fathoms. That monster, with its prominent (and paleontologically indefensible) canine fangs, scared me more than anything from Jurassic Park. At the end, when a young, sharpshooting Lee Van Cleef fired a radioactive isotope into a gaping wound on the Beast’s neck, I was rooting with all my heart for him to die.

The passage of time and a lot of personal reflection have changed my feelings about the Beast — and more broadly, about all dinosaurs and our abuse of them in our culture. It is the dinosaurs who are the victims here, not civilized society, not melted soldiers, not the one dude doomed to be snatched, still wriggling, from the crowd and chewed to death. No, all of this is a monstrous — literally — slander on these poor, extinct creatures, and they are powerless to defend themselves against it.

Take Barney. Does the name alone fill you with revulsion? Yes, that Barney. A purple, overweight, excruciatingly nice “dinosaur” who cavorts on TV with other such characters and a cadre of excruciatingly nice child actors. Some parents, I am told, actually pretend to like Barney simply because their kids watch the show. This, in my view, is an argument for compulsory parenting classes.

There is no doubt that such a portrayal does damage to the reputation of dinosaurs, but what can they do about it? Nothing. You may suggest at this point that no animal has the power to complain about its appropriation by our human culture, and you would be right. Animals (with apologies to Koko the gorilla) can’t speak. What they can do, however, is walk around being themselves. Elephants still act like elephants — wise, maternal, herd-oriented — despite how disreputable the modern Republican Party becomes. Cats remain cats no matter how many comic strips Garfield racks up.

Not so the fully extinct dinosaur. Its behavior, its personal style, even its color, can only be the subject of an educated guess. Who is to say that T. Rex wasn’t purple, chubby, and repellently cutesy? T. Rexes are not here to put the lie to such cultural whimsy, not here to walk around being themselves, and not here to devour Barney in the most gruesome fashion imaginable.

Save the dinosaur, I say. Stop the slander, stop the abuse, stop speaking ill of the deader-than-dead. Let them remain in museums and books of learning, where they belong. Let them rest easy in their deep graves. And from now on, always root for the Beast against his apish usurpers.
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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee