Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Today I'd like to walk you down some favorite commercials from my past. I spent many years doing my homework in front of the television in my kitchen, watching everything on Channel 32, the Chicago Fox affiliate, from 4 to 10 PM. The lineup was great: Full House, Family Matters, Seinfeld, Frasier, and most importantly The Simpsons, at 5:30, 6, and 10 PM. I printed out a six-month schedule of every Simpsons episode Channel 32 would play and crossed them off as I saw the episodes, sometimes cross-referencing one of my many Simpsons guidebooks. Although I watched several hours of Fox every day, I did not know that Fox was a conservative network until I got to high school. It was just my entertainment delivery system.

So, let's set the 1997 scene with a little Harvey Danger:

Oh, you thought that was going to be "Flagpole Sitta," right? Psyche psyche psyche!

Empire Carpet commercials were like soothing background noise, always trilling the number to call for carpet tomorrow as I crouched over my science worksheets.

Al Piemonte Alert!

And what could be better than a little Windsong to give me hints about the delicate universe of male-female relationships?

The Moo and Oink commercial I wish I could post here is not available on YouTube, so I'm posting the vastly more famous "Moo and Oink Dance" clip below. But I never saw this flashy clip; the one that I was used to was a fairly rote, poorly made clip with listless employees showing trays of meat to the camera. Please enjoy this much more interesting commercial in its stead.

This Eagleman commercial has surely gained internet fame of its own by now, but I can't begin to count the number of times I watched it, waiting for Daphne and Niles's long-suffering love affair to come on again:

But all of these gems are dulled in the face of the most lovely and subtle of ads, the crown diamond I watched all winter and all summer, when Fox reran of I Love Lucy and Three's Company and I watched although I didn't understand or enjoy those shows, because I was hopeful Bewitched might eventually come on. This commercial is my DNA. It is my blood. It was given to me by my father and I will give it my children.

There is nothing better. The door falling off; the handful of fanned-out cash; the dead-eyed shots of the junkyard: this, truly, is my heritage. Tow me away, Victory!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Like light

Do you know how many photographs of James McAvoy I have on my computer?

So many.

When, as a senior in high school, I developed a terrible crush on Adrien Brody, I tortured myself with the knowledge that it was completely inappropriate because I was so old. Even as I bought an autographed photo of Brody on eBay and cut pictures of him out of magazines, tried to follow his supremely boring lovelife on the internet and traveled alone to a movie theater about forty-five minutes away from my house on the El to watch the middling pre-Brody-Oscar streetlife movie Love The Hard Way, I felt guilty. I was eighteen! I was way too old to, you know, discover that Brody's mother was acclaimed photog Sylvia Plachy, buy a bunch of her hardcover collections on Amazon, and try and cultivate a correspondence with Plachy about how much I enjoyed her work so that we would be best friends when I moved to New York for college and I would become her protegee and she would introduce me to her charming, single son...

You see the way my mind works. But I was eighteen. I was still allowed a little bit of that. Being a senior in high school with a crush on a translucent-nosed Oscar-winner was way more okay than being a first-year master's candidate BitTorrenting British TV like State of Play and Shameless just so I could take screenshots like this one:

It's fitting that I have yet to see The Last King of Scotland, one of McAvoy's more famous efforts, but I have sat through all of the Children of Dune miniseries (what an intersection, my favorite pale Scot playing my favorite post-human Messiah's son!) and the aforementioned "middling James McAvoy vehicle" Starter For 10. Oh man, I should definitely see Rory O'Shea Was Here, the fun-quadripalegic movie whose more restrained UK title was Inside I'm Dancing. That looks right up my alley.

Also, I saw Wanted in a movie theatre in the Czech Republic. Twice.

Why the outpouring of sudden McAvoy love, aside from my inescapable preoccupation with this scene from Atonement?

(Not original, I know. But understandable.)

The Guardian has a Proust Questionnaire-like Q&A with McAvoy up on their website, and honestly, the whole thing is just a bit much for me to bear. I just got out of this crush, McAvoy. Don't drag me back in.

My favorite of his responses:

When were you happiest?
When I was 15 or 16 - I slept really well then. Now I sleep on a bed of anxiety-tipped nails.

What is your most treasured possession?
My lightsaber - it's well cool.

What do you most dislike about your appearance?

What would be your fancy dress costume of choice?
Boomer or Athena from Battlestar Galactica.

If you could go back in time, where would you go?
To when dragons roamed the Earth.

What does love feel like?
Like light.

Be still, my heart.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Pacific Rimjob

I recently received the happy news that I will be moving to Los Angeles, a city I have long admired from afar, this fall to begin a doctoral program. With that in mind, I thought I'd set out on a free-associative sprawl through a culture I'll be somewhat nearer to starting this September: Japan!

What was my first impression of Japanese culture? My parents started feeding me sushi when I was fairly young...

(Note: Not a picture of me)

Around the time I was ten, my mom became aware of Hayao Miyazaki's 1988 masterpiece My Neighbor Totoro. She sent away for a VHS copy, which my sister and I watched with glee.

For years we searched high and low for Totoro merchandise, not easy to find in mid-1990s suburban Chicago. When I visited the Sawtelle neighborhood of LA with my boyfriend many years later, I was blissed out of my mind to find a stuffed Catbus at the Giant Robot store.

On a childhood vacation to Disney World, I discovered Yukito Kushiro's Battle Angel Alita, a manga about a lonely cyborg girl with a mysterious past. I never fell fully into real manga or anime fandom, although I enjoyed plenty of both media.

I also remember being taken to a Japanese restaurant in Chicago called Suntory at some point in my childhood. It served what I would later come to recognize as shabu-shabu cuisine. The waitresses wore full kimono. I very clearly recall that the restaurant displayed photographs of its locations all over the world - including outposts in Sydney and Johannesburg - and yet I strangely cannot find any evidence of its existence on the internet.

At the beginning of adolescence, I became, like most teenage girls who like Hot Topic, enthralled by FRUITS, the bombastic collection of photographs of Tokyo street fashion available in book and postcard form:

During high school I discovered the work of Haruki Murakami, America's favorite Japanese surrealist. Norwegian Wood was my first Murakami book.

I tried, and failed, to custom-order a white kimono to wear to my high school graduation. In college I read Edward Said's Orientalism, which made me feel a little bad about my love of Japanese weirdness. But I also experienced the work of great Japanese filmmakers in depth. I took a course at Facets Cinematheque on the work of genius / idiot savant provacateur Takashi Miike, director perhaps most famously of Audition:

I've also long nurtured a frustrated desire to learn more about the Ainu, Japan's aboriginal people. Two years ago I was lucky to see Tomu Uchida's film about Ainu culture, The Outsiders at BAM. I've still got my fingers crossed for a Criterion release.

I decided to make this post because my roommate and I were discussing ZZ Packer's short story "Geese," a masterful treatment of the outsider experience of Japanese culture. The juxtaposition of the African-American and Japanese cultural experiences reminded me of my new favorite thing about Japan: Jero!

Jero is the stage name of Jerome Charles White, a Pittsburg native who is now a star in Japan. Jero's maternal grandmother is Japanese, and he grew up listening to enka music with her. Enka is a tradition of very heavily sentimental love songs which has recently gone out of style in Japan. For an English equivalent, think of the work of Perry Como, the "Velvet Fog." (With Japanese subtitles for thematic consistency!)

I'll leave you with this CNN interview with Jero. Sayonara!