Saturday, June 15, 2013

known some call is air am

non sum qualis eram

Last October around my birthday Mark Z. Danielewski performed his book “The 50-Year-Sword” in San Francisco and I went to see him.

also here is me being sassy on my last birthday
holy crap did i lose that shirt i haven't seen it around forever
this could be bad i should look for it

Danielewski is one of the big cult writers of the last decade.  Like a lot of young people a lot like me there were few books I bonded with more than his book "House of Leaves."  Its like the premier example of ergodic literature while still being this adorb melange of horror story, love story, and affectionate sendup of critical theory.  It's also about monsters inside and out, and internal spaces with internal darknesses, and being consumed by these things like by black sharks in very deep water, and is in general as frightening and charming as a book can reasonably get.

(I actually started writing a better description but I ended up with like a five-paragraph intro to an academic paper focusing especially on ash-tree symbolism and like three of my favorite poems so screw that also as they say in Little Britain "that's not for here.")

if you've read it though this parody is probably super charming to you

Here are three reasons why I loved House of Leaves so much:

1.  Being ergodic it is quite literally architectural, and those kinds of stories--narratives/books as paths and structures--are like porn to me.  As such, though, the book owes one million to Borges and Nabokov and Bioy Casares BUT THAT'S OKAY because, guess what, I love those books.  I've read "Garden of Forking Paths" like one million times, and "Death and the Compass" has one of the few quotes I remember:

“‘The next time I kill you,’ [he] said, ‘I promise you that labyrinth consisting of a single line, which is invisible and unceasing.’  He stepped back, and very carefully, he fired.”


also i can draw/write you this on command should you ever need this replicated immediately and without question, which i mean that happens all the time I'm sure.

2. I am a sort of synaesthetic reader/person and the specific flow and choice of words in his books is like this sparkling psychic barrage that just pierces and hooks you and then carries you along and it is just so good, ok.

3. Suffice to say that I read it at a very strange time in my life (and I mean that in the Palahniuk quote way) when I was living in Utah and I bonded very profoundly with it and it helped me navigate my less favorite parts of BYU life.

But House of Leaves was 15 years ago now; MZD was performing his (relatively) new book, the 50-Year-Sword.  It’s more of a clever little dessert piece to House of Leaves’ main course, and is stylized to perfection.  

The 50-Year-Sword, which is bound just like the eponymous sword but also in such a way where it will not sit nicely on your bookshelf, so.

You could almost read it to a (strange) child, and in fact it is framed as a story told to children although the narrator starts out like this to the kids:

“‘I am a bad man with a very black heart,” he warned them.  ‘And it is only that badness and blackness which forced me to seek out what I have carried now for many years and brought this night for you.”


I say he performed it; I mean it.  He was onstage with a music stand and a conductor's baton.  He had piano accompaniment and someone doing sound effects in the rafters of the venue.  What was stylistic in HoL had been boiled down into prose poetry, and he spoke and sang and hissed his way through the entire novella.

As he said later, the inspiration for T50YS was when he accidentally cut himself really deep with a razor blade when he was younger, while making an airplane model.  How it unfolded fascinated him--the initial swish of cold pressure, then this sort of anticipatory hang like you're tipping over a waterfall, and then of course comes the sharp bloom of pain and blood.  

And that's it, that's the book--it’s about a man who found a sword whose cut would take 50 years to bloom, and the book takes place in that sick hang as you slowly realize what he’s done 50 years ago and what is going to happen shortly.  

It shows in the words—it’s supposed to written in that like language of injury, cutting and percussive, with motifs of swords and blades and stitching.  And of course like all of his books it plays with semiotic tropes which I just really can’t get enough of.

Even the packaging of the book reflects these themes—wrapped and locked up like the sword was supposed to be wrapped and locked, and the use of threads and stitching and the violence inherent in needlepoint are made tremendous use of, with red thread snarling and clotting like blood around piercings in pages.

The performance was just so aggressively charming, although I admit I am like the ideal and target demographic for that sort of thing.  All of us just grinning with delight the whole time, in the crowd of grad students and people who are so clever that they are too self-conscious for their own good so no one was relaxed at all, except in the first part, sitting in the dark and listening.  

The venue was the Swedish-American Hall, so dark woods and deep fabrics and the prim heavy lines that make up faux-Scandinavian places.  Everyone with dramatically dyed hair or hair so purposefully untouched that it was a point of pride.  Everyone with moleskins and either wearing a lot of leather or layered knits.  

(It is so funny to be so entirely a stereotype.  Like when I was lost finding the Nick Cave concert venue so I just followed all the people dressed like me and it worked.)

Danielewski did not look/sound how I expected.  His sister was a pretty famous goth rocker that I adored as a teen and I guess I expected him to look like that—lean and blond and fine-boned.  He is actually extremely tall, and broad-shouldered.  Black eyes that, like the eyes of all seriously clever people, crackled with intelligence.  Combine that with black hair and really good cheekbones and I immediately developed a searing and crippling crush because I am just always going to be fourteen I guess.  This crush hit peak crisis point when he put his arm round my waist to take a picture but by that time I had already spoken to him so I didn’t embarrass myself EVEN MORE after that.  


I am including this picture even though it is not the best picture.  I hope the little hearts spinning cartoonishly around my head are evident oh my god.

What was cool was that I got to talk to him about Provo.  Danielewski and his sister spent a lot of their childhood in Provo as their father was a film professor at BYU.  

Their father haunts both of their work.  

But so does (I always thought) spending so much time in a very particular place being a very particular kind of person.  And how the way I saw the world and myself echoed and enhanced by these narratives.  And so what I did was I got to talk to him about living in Provo, and how important his books were to me there.  And he was gracious and brilliant and confirmed my suspicions and it was just a very gratifying/palliative interaction actually.

If some genie or god or whatever granted me a wish to do anything extremely well, it would be to construct narratives like that—that bite and bleed and hook you somewhere sub-verbal and sense-bound.  That’s it I guess; that’s my thesis.

Writing this blog post was a little demoralizing however--realizing how much I haven't changed, even more than half a year later.  Ugh.  I thought I'd be further.  I thought things would be different.  I guess there's always a part of me that believes you can reform yourself and narrative completely, despite all evidence to the contrary.

That you don't have to be what you were before.

But oh well oh well.  In the meantime--San Francisco is the best.  People I know are the best.  I get to go to Washington and Florida in the next couple of weeks and I'm doing well at work even though it's kind of a stressful project.  I have a lot of cool projects that I'm procrastinating by writing blogs.  What more could you want.

Monday, June 3, 2013

every love story is a ghost story

The line from the book that inspired the play
(and probably 3293892 other tender lil undergrad short stories but still)

Like most people I think my various anxieties sort of pulse along in sine waves, so that when one is hitting a peak of intensity others are bottomed out and dormant so it mostly evens out into emotional stability.  But then sometimes all the insecurity sine waves (the worst kind of wave, really) will all peak at the same time like right now.  Zero stars do not recommend.

So but while I wait for things to pick back up again I thought I'd talk about something that both made me happy and that I was proud of--that time I wrote a play for Austin's yearly fringe theater festival, Frontera.

My little sister Madeline is an actress among other things (film producer; chihuahua enthusiast) and has a tremendous ability for seeking out opportunities that I am envious of. 

Her rocking Holden Caulfield.
Fun hobby--ask her about her feelings about Catcher in the Rye  I guarantee you will surprised and delighted and frightened by the severity of the rage so par for the course for our fam I guess.

A couple years back, she decided to do a one-woman show for Frontera (which is my personal idea of hell but man she rocked it); I wrote a good deal of the monologues.

You can tell because leather jackets and knives

And the monologues about sharks

Last year, she approached her longtime mentor/former teacher/sometimes director (called here: S) to write a play for her and her friend/fellow actress Amy.  He agreed, and in turn approached her for some book recommendations for a favorite student of his.  Madeline has like an encyclopedic knowledge of plays and playwrights but is not as at home in contemporary literature.  I’m the opposite, so she asked me for some recs over gchat; she copied and pasted and emailed our chat to S.

The answers were so charming and hilarious (spoiler alert we are incredibly charming and hilarious) that he decided to base the play around a pop culture/intellectual discussion between two young women.  He sent us a list of questions, we had at it, and he started formulating a script for Madeline and her friend based on my answers and our conversations.

He named the play DFW because of our shorthand referring to (teenage me's fave author) David Foster Wallace being the same term as the shorthand for the Dallas Fort-Worth Airport.

What happened next is long and not my story but here are some of my key observations:
  • Reading someone’s writing is by its nature an intimate act, and you must know that when you write you will always reveal more than you intend—esp. to bright readers, and Madeline and I are bright
  • My speech/writing cadence is actually not easy to mimic but I can tell you when you’re doing it badly
  • It is always so funny to see how someone really sees you
  • It is always so funny to watch someone horrible self-destruct

I stepped in when he bowed out, about a month before the performance.  What he had written was really a pretentious soupy mess.  I only kept the fact that there were two young women and the name. And a couple of my better lines he had stolen verbatim.  Everything else I wrote from scratch in about a week.

Pulling from The Pale King and Ingmar Bergman’s “Persona” I made it a ghost story (maybe) about something called a vardøgr, a sort of Scandinavian doppelganger who (unlike the German) does not exist alongside you but ahead of you.  

Oh Persona you are everything everyone complains about in Scandinavian film
but mannnnnnnnnn did you just sear into my head

Since I wrote it so quickly there was not enough time to excise my own favorite motifs/personal preoccupations and so it also included a lot of identity-as-fluid-construction, doubles, and violent imagery.

It also was about moving on.

Usually I almost exclusively write fiction, which is a primarily solitary pursuit where the author is the only god.  You create, you inflect, you know what is in every character’s head as they move and speak and hurt and breathe.  This is a major draw; it can also be incredibly tedious.  Working alone you can only draw from your own head—which yeah, inexhaustible universes of experience whatever but also a really boring known quanitity for yourself.

But writing a script that’s then taken and directed and performed by others—this creative collaboration is the coolest sort of alchemy imaginable.  

Madeline (and her just perfect brilliant co-actress Amy) enhanced aspects and dynamics inherent in the script that I did not play up; they gave autonomy to the characters that I did not.  It was so cool to not know exactly how a line was going to be spoken.  They had an amazing presence onstage and a brilliant chemistry together that just far outstripped anything on paper.

Madeline was Joelle Van Dyne; Amy was Sally

What’s more and especially they went full-creep mode, playing up the inherent sinister power dynamics of the girls’ relationship and the ending, with genius blocking that earned us an OH AHH CREEPY! from the audience as the curtain closed.  (Which is all a a girl wants to hear, amirite. <3)

(Also a plus—people getting all the really pretentious in-jokes I made for myself it was a little mind-blowing.  Like…they laughed.  I was delighted and also extremely unsettled.)

Writing and seeing the play acted was just phenomenal; it also gave me one of my favorite memories of my dad when he called me after he saw it to tell me how great it was and how I should be a writer and it was just really tender and I’m lucky to have such a supportive dad.

Well this is getting sappier than I thought because in short I am super lucky to have such a wonderful co-creator as my sister.

Art is after all nothing but communication, and there is so much to be had in collaboration in that pursuit.

Friday, May 31, 2013

for my last birthday i received murder

When I see lists of love languages I see stuff like:
  • Words of Affirmation
  • Quality Time
  • Receiving Gifts
  • Acts of Service
  • Physical Touch
I never see MY family's love languages listed which include:
  • Sass
  • Murder narratives
This second one in particular very relevant to the women in my family, esp. to my grandmother, mother, and me.

My grandma Day

My mother


Some of my very fondest memories with my grandmother include sitting downstairs in her house on obscenely comfortable modernist couches in a pile of pillows stress-eating super fancy cheese and fruit as we watch BBC murderdramas. 

Also this picture.  Can anyone handle how glam my grandma is here.  

If the Days had a house motto like in Game of Thrones it would be Sass and Cheekbones.

Likewise with my mother, in her bedroom--her on the blue couch, me having started on the bed but collapsed onto the rugs-and-stone floor in anxiety as we mainline diet coke and yell OH NO OH NO OH NO at the screen as interpolations to our running commentary on the attractiveness of the actors.  

We send each other recs and when we get together we've seen all the same shows.  (We can also do pretty solid impressions of true-crime narrators but that's neither here nor there.)

I don't know why this is, exactly; perhaps there is something in that specific type of genre narrative that speaks to our generally dramatic natures.  I do know that like none of us have seen The Notebook but we can pretty adequately discuss the differences between the UK and the Swedish adaptations of the Wallander detective series, so.

Kenneth I say this with love 

So for my last birthday, my mom brought me to Bouchercon, a murder mystery convention.  A+ idea all around.  We'd been before and I've talked about it before; my positive experience at my first one was a big factor in me deciding to move to San Francisco.  This time we were in Cleveland, with a whole group of just BRILLIANT wonderful women and we all made the pilgrimage to Ohio to mix with our people--our fellow murder-and-literature-crazy people.

I tend to love things pretty intensely and sort of unwillingly (news to no one) and mostly I love these things by myself.  (WHAT is UP, german expressionism and comics and ergodic literature, you alienating little hobbies, you.)  But conventions of course are designed to alleviate that sort of resentful loneliness.  It is just so enchanting and relaxing to be in the same place in a giant crowd of other people who continue to think murder puns are hilarious after 4000 of them have been made over the course of three days.  (You could say they're TO DIE FOR ahahahahahaha)

I am actually the literal worst at taking pictures but here's one I had of the hotel and everyone milling around having feelings about things

We tended to split up during the day, with Mom skewing towards the panels on procedurals and true crime, while I was like front row at all the high-gothic-opera and Scandinavian-chill-horror stuff.  But we both went to all the Sherlock stuff because Sherlock.  And there was a lot of Sherlock stuff.

A Sherlock panel.

I know I've talked about Laurie R. King's Mary Russell series before.  Mary was my baby boo.  Like a lot of kids my reading level far outstripped my age and this was before YA and female protagonists were such a thing so I didn’t have many to choose from.  I bonded with Mary because she was smart in a world that didn’t welcome that, and she was a girl mostly alone in a world of predators.  (See also: Clarice Starling; Dana Scully.)   And of course she got to hang out with Sherlock who has been my literary boyfriend since age 10.

awww yeah baby

Since Mom's (and my I am claiming them) friends are like crazy connected I got to go to a dinner with her and talk to her.  I got to really talk to her this time; she is as composed and sassy and bright as one would expect. 

i'm the one on the right who is way too jazzed

It's odd being any sort of consumer of art--being a silent recipient in a communication.  Still.  I know for a fact that I am one of many women who as teens read those books and were super affected by a protagonist they could identify with.  If I ever have a daughter (or I mean let's be real about my prospects, a niece)  I am def. going to give her those books.

And of course the convention and being in a new town was just delightful--three days of running around, looped with tags and pins and carrying canvas totes and free books full of blood and death and author signatures.  The rows of velvet chairs in too-large rooms.  Cleveland: flat and clear and broad, next to a flat clear broad lake like the ocean.  The Rock and Roll Hall of fame's influence on the rest of the town, with Bowie just popping up out of nowhere like the freaking Virgin Mary.  

this was in the hall of fame so okay also killer legs kiddo

this was not and it was not the only one that was not

In the conference hotel all day, collapsed in corners like on high school trips.  All in all just a really pleasant relaxing time.

Especially because it came hard on the heels of like 12 corporate conferences I got shipped to over the summer.  

This will surprise actually no one but I do not have the temperament of a businesswoman and am not the largest fan of the Ballardian cold sterile hostile tedious world that is corporate life.  We'll see what sort of escape plan I can figure out.

Monday, February 18, 2013

what do you think, sirs?

Never Show a Good Movie in the Middle of Your Crappy Movie: Modeling the Enjoyableness of MST3K Episodes

Bradford Tuckfield, Bridgette Tuckfield, David Tuckfield, Emma Tuckfield, Madeline Tuckfield, Rebecca Tuckfield, Robert Tuckfield, Sophie Tuckfield

We have identified the criteria that predict the enjoyableness of an MST3K episode.  In this paper we specify a model of the enjoyableness of MST3K episodes as a linear model: Y = B0 + B1X1 + B2X2 + … B18X18+e. The model can be interpreted as follows: Y represents the final evaluated enjoyableness of a particular episode.  Each X variable represents a measure of the degree to which each criterion was met in the episode.  Each B variable represents the coefficient corresponding to each criterion, measuring the extent to which a unit increase in the measured criterion corresponds to increased enjoyableness. To evaluate the model’s validity, we will compare our predictions with other statistics indicating enjoyableness, including user ratings and surveys.  This model will contribute to better understanding of MST3K, the fans it attracts, and the culture of riffing.

I.                   INTRODUCTION

Mike and the bots groan when Raul Julia’s character, the heroically named Aram Fingal, cues up Casablanca at the beginning of Overdrawn at the Memory Bank.  It’s an ill-advised move.  Despite Memory Bank's best efforts, it does not remotely approach the quality of the older film, as it lacks a compelling story, believable dialogue, quality cinematography, or other common criteria used to judge film.  “Never show a good movie in the middle of your crappy movie,” they say to the screen, and it’s hard to argue.
Despite this, Overdrawn at the Memory Bank is arguably one of the best MST3K episodes.  MST3K is unique - any comparison to other shows or films will inevitably fail. Thus, the quality of a given MST3K episode cannot be judged using the same criteria that are commonly used to judge film.
MST3K episodes are of variable quality; this is certain.  But unlike traditional films such as Casablanca, the quality of a particular episode is more difficult to define.  The base movie has to be bad, yes—but it cannot be too bad.  In addition, it has to be bad in specific ways.
We proposed to determine exactly what characteristics the base movie should have in order to make the MST3K episode enjoyable. To make this determination, we estimated an ordinary least squares regression model with fan rating as the dependent variable, and discover that there are indeed specific criteria that directly and significantly correlate with the enjoyableness of a particular MST3K episode.

II.                METHODOLOGY

First, a quick definition of terms: Here, “movie” refers to only the base movie that, combined with riffing and host segments, comprises an episode of MST3K.  It does not include the riffing and host segments or any other MST3K overlay.  “Badness” refers to the movie’s deficiencies when compared to classics such as Casablanca, and specific components of how “bad” a movie are found below.
In our study, we estimated an ordinary least squares regression model with fan rating as the dependent variable. Our model can be stated as follows:

            Fanratingi = α + β1predictor1 +…+ βnpredictorn + εi

where i indexes all rated movies, error terms εi are i.i.d. random draws from a normal distribution, and the predictors are the criteria described below. Because our sample size was relatively small (N=19) and was actually less than our number of criteria (22), we did not estimate a full model with all predictors, but rather (with a few exceptions) estimated single-predictor models for each criterion. We will report point estimates and significance levels for each of these models.
Fan ratings (used as the dependent variable), are from an independent fan survey conducted at the MST3K fan “Discussion Board.”[1]  Participants were asked to rate episodes on a scale of one to ten for enjoyableness.  Although votes per episode varied due to the release status, votes averaged 10.802 per episode, varying between six and nineteen votes.
In order to maximize the variance of the dependent variable, we chose ten of the lowest-ranked episodes and nine of the highest ranked episodes to watch and score according to our criteria.  We watched two movies as a group to informally ensure that our ratings were well-calibrated and that we had a high level of inter-rater agreement.

The movies chosen were:

GOOD (Highest-ranked):
Manos: The Hands of Fate
The Violent Years
Beast of Yucca Flats
Night of the Blood Beast
Jack Frost
Girl in The Gold Boots
Pod People
Final Sacrifice

BAD (Lowest-Ranked):
Lost Continent
Blood Waters of Dr. Z 
Castle of Fu Manchu
Swamp Diamonds
She Creature
Invasion USA

Gamera vs. Zigra
Mighty Jack

We created a score sheet to record measurements.  We included subjective, objective, and meta-data criteria on the score sheet, as detailed below.

A.     SUBJECTIVE CRITERIA (graded on a scale of 1-7)

We determined 5 criteria that were “subjective” to opinion, based on overall plot and execution.

1)     MONOTONY—depended on scene and character changes; visual interest to film.  A movie that scored 1 would have almost no scene or character changes, visual interest, or modulation in soundtrack/dialogue.  A movie that scored 7 would have a great deal of all of these, probably to the detriment of any storytelling.

2)     INTERESTING PREMISE OF MOVIE—referred to novelty and interest of plot, conflict, and stakes. Or in other words, if someone just told you the plot or premise of the film’s plot, how engaged or intrigued would you be?  Is an interesting story promised by the film?  This was ranked on a scale of 1-7, with 1 being cliché or incredibly dull and 7 being fascinating.

3)     DELIVERY OF PREMISE: referred to how well the film acquitted itself in presenting and exploring the conflict inherent in the plot, no matter what or how engaging the premise? 1 meant utter failure to deliver; 7 meant completely successful delivery.

4)     OUTLANDISHNESS (PLAUSIBILITY) of MOVIE: Differing from suspension of disbelief, this related to the overall premise of the movie.  1 meant the movies was completely outlandish and you must suspend all sense of reality to watch; 7 meant high realism.

5)     QUALITY OF FILM:  Covered the quality of the film without the riff.  It took into account traditional film judgment qualities like finesse of direction, realism in character dialogue and interaction, emotional resonance, quality of cinematography.

B.     OBJECTIVE CRITERIA (numbered)

            While watching, we kept score of a number of “objective” criteria whose instances could be tallied.

1)     “OUT OF NOWHERE” OR ANTEATER FACTOR: So named for the moment in “Overdrawn at the Memory Bank” where anteaters are disparaged and the riffers go “Phew!  Huge slam on anteaters out of nowhere!”  We defined this as when an underlying movie does something absolutely out of nowhere—like when Puma Man suddenly leaps into the air and flies, although pumas are not known for their flight capabilities.  Or, when the protagonist of “Cave Dwellers” suddenly finds himself in possession of a working and modern hang-glider. 

2)     SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF: Defined as an instance where the characters do not react in a normal human fashion, or the world does not react to the laws of physics despite nothing that went previously indicating that they wouldn’t.  For example, when a child goes missing, a father might do a cursory examination of the scenery and then move on.  Or, in Manos, when the hero gets knocked out and tied up, and does not particularly seem put out or ever really mention it happening to his family.

3)     NUMBER OF FAMOUS PERSON REFERENCES:  Referred to references made to or jokes hinging upon references to a famous person.  This was chosen to determine whether referential humor affected the quality of the episode.

4)     FAILURE TO DELIVER:  This was context-based.  We tallied the number of times a movie failed to deliver something promised.  For example, a death-cult that might destroy the world as five pasty guys with ill-fitting hoods.  Or, a promise in a film that if a particular truck exploded, a whole city would be taken out—followed by a very insignificant explosion with a minimum safe distance of maybe ten yards.

5)     FAILED SEXINESS:  Referred to times a movie tried to titillate—failure being endemic in the attempt. 

6)     SUPERFLUOUS TYPES OF REPETITION:  Some movies suffered from a particular problem or repeating certain types of scenes over and over—for example, in Plan Nine, at least ten minutes of film time are devoted to watching a very slow police car make its way to the cemetery.  Or, in Final Sacrifice, we are treated to innumerable shots of feet getting into vehicles.

7)     MOVIE-MAKING ERRORS:  These were reserved for things not done on purpose—sound equipment or costume zippers visible, severe issues with sound or lighting, etc.


We also tracked whether or not there was a known actor in the film, the film’s genre, the film’s length, the episode’s host, the season the episode aired, and the film’s box office gross, if obtainable.
The quality of host segments was considered to be relatively constant and uncorrelated with other observed variables, and thus included in the error term of the estimated regression.  Our intuition was that with practice and feedback, the riffing quality would increase over time. Informally, we found that episodes from Season One were the least enjoyable. This matches our expectations since the show had just started and the riffing had not yet reached a high level of polish. When combined with the unpleasant riffed movie, this made the whole experience almost unwatchable.   Upon further review, this was reflected in the data from the initial survey, where Season One was extremely poorly rated, but seemed to swing upwards as time went on.  We believe this was due to the technicalities of hitting their stride as a show and figuring out what worked and what didn’t, rather than a reflection of the movies chosen or the quality of riffing.
The weighted running averages of these movies are found at website known as the MST3K “Discussion Board.”[2]

III.             RESULTS

The point estimates and significance levels of our estimated models are shown below. There were significant relationships between fan rating and monotony, good premise, and length. There were marginally significant relationships between fan ratings and suspension of disbelief and failure to deliver.

Point Estimate
Good Premise
Delivering on Premise
“Out of nowhere” factor
Suspension of Disbelief
References to Famous People
Failure to Deliver
Attempts at Sexiness
Superfluous Scenes
Technical Errors
Including a Famous Actor
Genre: Horror
Genre: Fantasy
Genre: Crime
Genre: Period
Genre: Sci-fi
Genre: Thriller
Genre: Western
Length in Minutes
Mike rather than Joel
*p<.1; **p<.05; ***p<.01

The figures below show scatterplots and fitted lines for the five significant or marginally significant predictors of fan rating.

Or rather, they would have if I could have gotten the scatterplots and fitted lines to copy onto the blog.  But trust me they were awesome and Bradford did them amazingly.

Based on this data, for the MST3K episode to be most enjoyable, the base movie will 1) not be monotonous; 2) will provide an interesting premise, 3) will contain more, rather than fewer instances of requiring a suspension of belief; 4) will implicitly promise, then fail to deliver important plot points, and 5) will be shorter, rather than longer.

IV.              CONCLUSION

In our lives as American consumers, we are served up a lot of crap, through life and what is presented to us as entertainment.  Life is hard, and sometimes the only movie playing at the local theater is Transformers II.  We find ourselves identifying with Mike and Joel and the robots, forced to consume despair-inducing junk because there is no other choice—and, in fact, it is sold to us as quality.  We are told these things are good, and they present themselves as enjoyable and desirable even though we know they are not.

There is a palpable despair in contemplating this cognitive dissonance.  Is this all there is?, we can feel like asking. Is this supposed to be what resonates?  Is this it?
While one cannot outright reject difficulty and despair, one can confront it rather than giving in.  This is done, as the hosts demonstrate, by banding together with others and calling out absurdity through camaraderie and humor.
Most people’s lives have variable and engaging premises with a certain understanding that variable and engaging things will be delivered—the American Dream.  Yet life can fall into monotony that more often than not fails to deliver anything overly spectacular.  It’s in this strange groove that the best MST3K episodes fall—the episodes cannot be too awful, or they merely incite boredom.  No, there needs to be a palpable despair induced by the promise of entertainment and escape, and then falling so spectacularly short of it.
It seems the best MST3Ks are little microcosms of an average human existence.  But instead of quietly accepting this and being driven mad by the despair (as the Mads hoped Mike and Joel might) it is best confronted through humor and unity.
A good MST3K episode can transcend ages.  Young kids enjoy it just as much as the adults, so the entire family can enjoy them together, and as a family of eight with kids spanning 11 years, we have done just that.  Not only does the family enjoy watching MST3K together, it provides years of continual bonding.  It provides a source of inside jokes for the family.  Comedy can unite even perfect strangers.  For example, when two strangers who know the story of “Alice in Wonderland” bond when, after the first tries to get his broken watch working, the second says "but it was the best butter."  So too does the family or group build bonding ties when in certain situations someone comes out with an appropriate memorable quote, such as "Huge slam on anteaters out of nowhere!," or "‘Sidehackin’ is the thing to do," or "Don't be splayed, don't be splayed!" or "McCloud!" or, even "Rowsdower!"  These become inside jokes for all members of the family, lightens the mood, and creates more unity—just as poignant, in its own way, as “Here’s looking at you, kid.”
We, the authors, have watched Casablanca as a family and in groups, and it is indeed an amazing film with great personal and human resonance and cultural relevancy.  But like many great films, it is a great personal experience, while a good MST3K is a group experience in overcoming despair, and fostering unity and friendship.
Never show a good movie in the middle of your crappy movie; it will ruin the fun.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Punk Cancan

I was going to try and justify having this as a title image by like being "life in SF is a punk cancan amirite" but really I just really like neon word art.

Some things about now: I officially wrapped up my first project today, and currently the biggest problem I am having is I keep putting my chai cup too close to my dark chocolate square so it keeps melting.

Everything is lovely and is only getting lovelier.

I feel very much a different person--which is always strange.

Now is also the time I wanted to catch up on the past months--mainly by going through my pictures and seeing what stands out.

One of my interests (as you know) is being not only abnormally interested in things, but abnormally interested in why I'm abnormally interested in those things.  I finally figured out the big through-lines through a lot of my preoccupations were transformation and performance-as-identity.  I cite as proof mythology, superhero comics, and David Bowie.  This has been lifelong, but was certainly honed by the type of identity code-switching it takes to get through BYU and then start in the vaguest and most corporate of jobs as a consultant.

Lately this has translated into a heightened interest in the world of couture, which I think was kicked off by the Jean-Paul Gaultier exhibit at the DeYoung I went to a looong time ago.

They carved out the whole bottom floor of the DeYoung, which I used to think was this beautifully jarring geometrically Bauhaus construction in the middle of Golden Gate Park, but I later found out it is in fact designed to blend in with its scenery especially when the copper it’s covered in oxidizes to green in a couple of year so shows what I know about architecture.  

Really, though?  It's not like organic.  I love it, but am I wrong? 

They grouped the whole exhibit into sections, starting with the signature Gaultier looks like the stripes, and the religious and mermaid iconography.  They achieved this with creepy-as-eff mannequins with superimposed filmed faces.  David Bowie liked this so much he used the effect as the entirety of his first music video in TEN YEARS REALLY??  REALLY DAVID THAT'S WHAT YOU WENT WITH COOL AWESOME.  

But I digress.

Most of them were speaking if you got up close which was totally charming and not at all the worst uncanny valley experience ever; the Gaultier stand-in was reciting interviews.

The mermaids all walked on crutches because of their tails--this was pretty cool to see on film as they jerked and hobbled their way down the catwalk, literally handicapped in such an unforgiving environment.

The next section featured a lot of his designs inspired by undergarments--but like, foundation garments instead of lingerie.  This includes the famous cone-bra corset from Madonna's Blonde Ambition tour, but it was a bit boring so I didn't get a picture.

Scaffolding and exoskeleton for the human body as dress.

This jeweled skeleton-corset getup is one of the more famous pieces I think.

I know this is because I've read too much Paglia, but even though I am not really that interested in the phenomenon of body modification I do like thinking about the idea of fashion as forms superimposed on the sort of formless mutable human body--in this case literally conforming and shaping, as beauty.

Here, have a quote from Camille Paglia that this section made me think of: “Beauty is our weapon against nature; by it we make objects, giving them limit, symmetry, proportion. Beauty halts and freezes the melting flux of nature.” 

(I mean and she's literally talking about beauty in the Kantean beautiful-v-sublime dichotomy here re: fashion and as such it is not as complimentary as it sounds but fashion is a problematic art form at best anyways so I feel good about using it.)

Oh yes and of course there was the bondage-sexy-room.

Which was extremely dooo-hoo-hoo-aren't-we-NAUGHTY which I think I would have gone the precisely opposite tack to really isolate the pretty incredible aesthetic from the sexually utilitarian underpinnings and influence but whatever.

The other rooms focused on the more culturally relevant (for the time) pieces--I guess couture was not always the experimental artsy thing it is now.  A lot of pieces were chosen for the pomo cultural mashup/juxt they were, which seems pretty old hat now but I understand was significant for the time.

This lady had it going on, however.

In the room with all the punk stuff was this moving catwalk of more traditional French-style pieces get it Punk Cancan GET IT.

But so even though I didn't quite get the cultural relevancy of the pieces, I really enjoyed seeing them.  There’s a great silliness and fun to them.  They're all pop-culture and couture and juxtoposition and boundary-blurring—drawing on bringing the inside outside and the outside inside.  It's pinning a culture and identity on a malleable human form.  And in fact there was a brashness and a joy to the pieces that was just like infectious.  Everyone was walking around smiling; there were little kids.

There was also the best hat of all time ever in the world ever.

Hands down though my favorite part was the rooms dedicated to his film collaborations--with a special emphasis on The Fifth Element, aka the one where Milla Jovovich wanders around in an orange wig going LEELOO DALLAS MOOLTEEPAHSS and Gary Oldman is a Cajun arms dealer in a plastic suit.  

But of course is so suave even in his character sketch.  (I live for character design.)

The only actual costume they had was Ruby Rod's, which is all I will say on the matter.

In addition to The Fifth Element, the other two really significant film contributions Gaultier made (I feel) was designing costumes for Jeunet's "City of Lost Children" and Almodovar's "The Skin I Live In."  Although he's kind of a bizarre match for Jeunet's grimy dreamlike aesthetic, he's perfect for Besson's self-conscious drag-splendor weirdness.  He's WONDERFUL for the content of "The Skin I Live In," and the thematic freakiness of literally carving and cutting out and sewing a new identity, of wearing a body like a disguise.

It reminds me of Michael Chabon's essay "Secret Skin," about dressing up as superheros and the awesome impossibility of superhero fashion: "It's not about escape, I wanted to tell [my teacher] was about transformation...the superhero's costume often functions as a kind of magic screen onto which the repressed narrative may be projected. No matter how well he or she hides its traces, the secret narrative of transformation, of rebirth, is given up by the costume."

WOW this got realllly silly really fast.

In conclusion:

I love silly clothes.  I love San Francisco.  I love my life and all my awesome opportunities.  I can still quote a good bit of the Fifth Element.  I miss my family in Austin.  I bit off way more than I can chew for the next few months, writing-wise.  My orchid is still alive.  I may soon finally realize my ambition of presenting a paper about Batman and Norse mythology AT THE SAME TIME.  Being a consultant is pretty cool.  I love San Francisco.  

I can't wait to see who and where I'll be in another year.