Monthly Archives: May 2006

Fireside Chat #20 (Spring ’06)

THE GOOD OLD DAYS (LAUGHING AT FATTIES)

In the 1961 film, “The Hustler,” Paul Newman shoots pool against Minnesota Fats, the world’s best pool player who happens to be hilariously overweight. The joke is a simple one, but it’s enough: Fats is fat.

It’s too bad fat jokes aren’t politically correct anymore.

Nowadays, the greatest way to get away with making fun of the overweight is to disguise it as coming to their aide. I haven’t seen “Phat Chicks” yet, but I read a review that has led me to believe I was going to both sympathize with the empowered plus-sized protagonist and I laugh my head off when she couldn’t fit through doorways.

The king of the “Fat People are People Too But Let’s Belittle Them” genre is the Jack Black classic, “Shallow Hal.” The film boldly explores the question, “What if what is on the inside was what people saw on the outside?” while leaving plenty of time for jokes involving a disastrous poolside cannonball splash, enormous underwear and the song, “Who Let the Dogs Out?”

Still, the film’s moral slant really cuts down on its potential for more fat jokes. It makes me think back to a simpler time when we didn’t have to hide our wicked senses of humor. Call me old-fashioned, but I yearn for the day when I make a joke about people of a particular size, color or gender and get away with it.

Recently, I defended using supposedly “off-color” jokes in the interest of defending free speech, but there’s an even more important reason: They’re funny!

Yessir, I tell you what, there’s nothing like having a few laughs. Laughing burns calories, it acts as a facelift and best of all, it’s free. And the best things in life are free. My pa always said, “Only a sicko would stop a man from having a good ole American chuckle.”

So who is this PC Police coming up in my grill and telling me I can’t have one of “the best things in life” at the expense of some minority that’s probably not even in the room?

Luckily, there’s still one minority group that it’s safe to make fun of: Midgets. Nothing sets off a comedy club like a reference to midget bowling. I think it must be because most of us don’t know any midgets personally. They aren’t people to us so much as hilarious Tolkeineque concepts, like elves and trolls.

We need more concepts and fewer people. There was a time when a white male only had to respect other white males and the rest of the world was fair game for our entertainment. It ended, inconveniently, right around 1984.

It would take way too much energy for me to have a real I-you encounter with every single person I come across. Energy I could be spending laughing.

Speaking of alienating people, see you around, Peppersuckas! I wish I could say that you and I need to hang out in the next few weeks before graduation, but if we’re not spending time together now, we’ll probably lose touch in the next couple of years anyway.  Unless you have a job for me in the LA area, ha ha. Seriously, though, do you? Have a job for me, I mean?

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Fireside Chat #19 (Spring ’06)

LOVIN THAT HYPE MACHINE

By the time I actually heard “I Bet You Look Good On the Dancefloor,” I knew that the Arctic Monkeys had the highest-selling British debut of all time, that they’re dubbed the biggest Brit-rock band since Oasis, that one prominent reviewer had heralded their album, “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not,” as the 5th greatest British album of all time, that their album holds together as a piece of social commentary about the British clubbing scene, that they are taking their newfound fame in stride and that every member of their band is younger than me.

Man, that was some sweet hype! I’d heard so much going into this listening experience that my curiosity was absolutely peaked. Had I heard them on my own, I would have summed their sound up with “two parts The Living End and one part Franz Ferdinand” and I switched my iTunes back to Sufjan. But thanks to the hype, I knew that I’m supposed to really like them but admit that maybe the reviewers went overboard. So that’s what I think of them.

Being the frontman of Biodome 5 (2nd place winner’s of Pepperdine’s Battle of the Bands), I’ve been the subject of hype myself and have studied how it works. Let me break down the “hype cycles” for you:

  1. An advertiser, reviewer or fan gets the word out there. “Have you heard about that Biodome 5?” some freshman says to her RA. “They’re really blowing up.”
  2. Soon, the hype is about the hype itself. “My ears are buzzing with talk about that Biodome 5!” a Pepperdine administrator tells a Caf worker. “They’re all anyone ever talks about.”
  3. Then the hype is criticized. “People talk about Biodome 5 like they’re so much better than The Beatles,” a professor writes in an op-ed letter the Graphic, “but really they’re only slightly better than The Beatles.” That stings. But the freaky twist is that even the criticism of the hype creates hype. When the vindictive professor writes hurtful things about Biodome 5, it creates more hype for Biodome 5. You try to keep us down, but you can’t!
  4. Repeat. Guitarist Alex Moore sets fire to the green room, and all of a sudden Biodome 5 is back in the news.

Alan Moore, the author of the graphic novel, V for Vendetta, has publicly renounced any connection with the Wachowski brothers’ film. In doing so, he only adds to the hype. All of a sudden, it’s important to see the movie and form an opinion about it to see whether or not Moore was just being a jerk. Not that any of us have (or ever will) read the book.

The wonderful thing about all this hype is that it informs our decisions of so that we don’t have to make them ourselves. Yes, it would be nice to make up our own minds about what music, books and film are good or bad, but who has that kind of time?

As long as people keep talking about us, The Arctic Monkeys and Biodome 5 are here to stay. The only way to fight hype is with silence, and silence is, by nature, boring.

Fireside Chat #18 (Spring ’06)

FREE SPEECH TRUMPS DISCRETION

A couple of years ago, a documentary called “Super-Size Me” shocked the world with the news that McDonalds makes food that is bad for you. Morgan Spurlock, the filmmaker responsible for the life-changing film, recently spoke in Philadelphia at Hatboro-Horsham High School’s health fair.

In the speech, Spurlock flexed his public speaking muscles by implementing not one, but all three of the official Tricks to Make Teenagers Think You Are Cool: he swore, made fun of retarded kids and joked about teachers smoking pot. Suffice to say, his street cred went through the roof. He got a standing ovation and was mobbed for autographs after the lecture.

But the administration, as they do whenever anything cool happens at a public school, shut Spurlock down and cancelled the lecture he was to give later that evening.

Spurlock didn’t let the man get him down. "The greatest lesson those kids learned today was the importance of free speech," he said. Amen, brother.

Free speech is the sweetest part of the first and greatest amendment (in close competition with the 21st amendment). It’s a well-known fact that anyone who defends free speech is automatically an American hero, though some of these heroes you might not expect.

The Free Speech Coalition is a watchdog/lobbyist group with a surprisingly legitimate-looking website, considering it is run by the adult film industry. Who’d have thought that the porn producers, responsible for robbing so many lonely men of their souls and healthy sex lives, was actually defending our liberties? Really, the acts cancel each other out.

I won’t be surprised if one day we’re celebrating Howard Stern Day or Larry Flint Day, or just combined them into Perverts That Defended Our Liberties Day.

Then you’ve got bigoted comedians defending free speech. Sure Larry the Cable Guy can set our nation’s equality back decades in one joke ("There'll be a new show out next week called Black Eye on the Queer Guy"), but somebody’s got to encourage hate crimes now and then.

Sure, I’ll admit that when Spurlock makes fun of the mentally handicapped, he’s hurting a few feelings. But can we really stop to wipe the tears from a few sensitive faces when by all of our racist, misogynistic or otherwise prejudiced comments, we’re protecting the world from those who would steal our freedoms?

That’s the real danger here, folks. If the world was kind and decent and everyone made a point be respectful of one another, Congress could quietly pass a law saying, “No swearing” and then pretty soon the government’s got a camera in your living room and you’re trying desperately to keep from committing a thoughtcrime. That’s where your kindness will get you.

This is my challenge to the entertainment industry: shock the world. You don’t need a cause worthy of attention; shock for its own sake. Be as outlandish and profane as possible, especially in situations where you’ll offend. If your mom or priest or conscience tells you that what you’re saying is wrong, say, “Don’t censor me! I’m just keeping it real.”

Free speech isn’t just about freedom from censorship—it’s freedom from being political correct, freedom from restraint and freedom from decency. And it’s fun!

Fireside Chat #17 (Spring ’06)

SOUTH PARK’S INEVITABLE DOWNFALL

I think we’ll all remember exactly where we were when we heard that Isaac Hayes quit “South Park.” As for me, I was sitting in Payson Library researching a topic for my weekly column.

If you’ve been living in a bomb shelter the past decade (like Brendan Fraser in the hilarious 1999 hit film, “Blast From the Past), Isaac Hayes has been playing the role of “Chef,” the children’s lovable, over-sexed life advisor on “South Park” ever since the show’s creation.

Now “South Park” has always been edgy, but Hayes’ departure is irrefutable, indisputable, ill-reputable proof that their “Trapped in the Closet” episode has gone too far.

It was all in good fun when “South Park” masterminds Trey Parker and Matt Stone took on controversial topics like sexual harassment, immigration, home-schooling,
Canada, Mormonism, Judaism, Christianity and Pokemon, but Isaac Hayes and I draw the line at making fun of Scientology.

In the 11-16-05 episode, Stan spends his bike money on an e-meter reading that tells him he is a reincarnation of the religion’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard. By the end,
Hollywood heartthrobs John Travolta, Tom Cruise and their religion have all been ridiculed. The episode aired as usual in November, but when Viacom was threatened with a lawsuit, they pulled the episode from the show’s rerun roster.

Rightfully so. Scientology is nothing to poke fun at. They’re into activities like protesting the use of any prescription drugs, cutting off all ties any family members that publicly denounce the religion and charging exorbitant amounts of money for church membership—nothing that Christians haven’t tried at one time or another.

Also, like any cool secret club, Scientologists get their own buzzwords. I used to think I was cool for understanding “sanctification” and “exegesis,” but these guys have their own dictionary. To name a few: Apparency, automaticity, beingness, and destimulate. They’re the kind of nearly-plausible words that make you angrified at Microsoft Word for not recognating when working on a paper late at night.

If pressed to name my favorite thing about Scientology, it’s the saying, “You get what you give.” Me, I get a lot, which tells me that along the way in my billion-year lifespan (twenty-two of which I’ve spent in this mortal shell), I’ve done a few things right. Now all that previous-life good work is paying off, and I’m not even tired!

It’s also nice to know that the homeless are not merely economically inferior to me, but ethically as well, because if they were better people they wouldn’t be homeless. Now I can actually feel good about myself as I refuse to look them in the eye and pick up the pace when asked for spare change.

More than anything, we have to respect Scientology because of all its beautiful members. In addition to the obvious Tom and John, you’ve got Priscilla and Lisa Marie Presley, Juliette Lewis, Jason Lee, Jenna Elfman, Kirstie Alley, and of course, Mr. Isaac Hayes himself. Celebrities wouldn’t be celebrities if they were not better than the rest of us, so surely their religion is to be at the very least respected if too expensive to join.

Good luck, Trey and Matt, trying to cook up more episodes without your precious Chef. Be warned: If the new episodes aren’t funny, I’m suing you guys faster than you can say, “Upgrading to a sexier religion.”

Fireside Chat #16 (Spring ’06)

SO MANY ROADS TO FAME

Osama Bin Laden’s niece, Wafah Dufour, is getting her own reality show that will chronicle her quest for stardom in modeling and singing. Isn’t that great? I’ve always said, “When your uncle is the world’s most notorious terrorist, it’s time to cash in.”

In a way, it would be a dishonor to Bin Laden’s victims for Dafour not to launch a pop singing career. Wafah is just a girl finding a little silver lining (stardom) in the storm cloud (mass murder).

Really, having an evil uncle is ideal. You don’t want evil parents because they would probably lock you up in the pantry for months at a time, feeding you gruel and frozen waffles through a doggy door. But an evil uncle is more of an occasional weekend thing. If Uncle Demento says, “Come into the backyard, I want to show you how my death ray works,” you just make plans to sleep over at the neighbors’ house. 20 years later, you’re in the movies. Fair trade? I think so.

Granted, we don’t all have evil uncles. But there are so many ways to break into the entertainment industry, it’s a wonder you and I haven’t done it yet.

One great way to become famous is to do something crazy or hardcore. There was Aron Ralston, the guy who had his arm pinned under a rock in the mountains and had to cut the arm off to survive. He wrote a book about it and went on some talk shows, and now look at him: part machine, part millionaire.

More impressively, it wasn’t long ago that Johnny Knoxville was just some “Jackass” burro. Now he’s on top of the world, getting roles as a Duke of Hazard and a guy who pretends to be mentally handicapped to compete in the Special Olympics.

The surefire road to fame is to be patient, play the odds and take every opportunity in sight.

If you write enough bad songs, one of them is bound to be a smash hit. Just ask Rivers Cuomo. Three 6 Mafia wrote a mediocre rap song, had it featured in a movie, won an Oscar for it, got made fun of by Jon Stewart, and look, now they’re household names. The fact is, the majority of Pepperdine students are more than smart enough to pump out a song like that.

Or you could make a career out of auditioning for shows where you compete to become the Next Hot Singer, Songwriting, Model, Comedian, Boxer, Skater, Dancer, Breakdancer, Choreographer, Doctor, Attorney, Business Executive, Indian, Policeman, Sailor, Construction Worker, Cowboy, or Leatherman, and you’d be bound to win one of them. But that’s probably too much work.

Here’s the best way, the “Paris Hilton” model: inherit an enormous grip of cash, then using that money to buy your way into fame. Not many people know this, but it wasn’t her acting chops alone that won her that role in “House of Wax.”

So until my parents get their act together and start making a little money, I’m going to have to look deep into my family to see if I’m even distantly related to someone notorious, like Jack the Ripper, Joseph Stalin or Paul Reubens. But I hope not Paul Reubens.

Fireside Chat #15 (Spring ’06)

MODERN MOVIES PART III: ACCESSIBLE COMEDIANS

Woody Allen once said something like, “I won the August Strindberg award for attracting women.” This is an example of what a jerk Woody Allen is.

While I happen to know who Strindberg is because of an internet cartoon starring the morose would-be alchemist and a happy talking balloon, many people aren’t so lucky. What Allen is trying to say is that he is bad at attracting women, but instead of going out and saying just that, or perhaps making a joke about winning the “40-Year-Old Virgin” award (ha ha, remember the scene where he gets his chest waxed?), he makes a joke that says, “Everyone see how smart I am!”

Allen’s ‘insider jokes’ are a dying breed in modern movies, which has led some (me) to say that movies are better than they’ve ever been.

Test audiences have helped a lot. For years, test audiences have honed movies from raw singular visions into theatre-ready entertainment everyone can enjoy. When a main character dies and a test audience tears up, they get to write on an input card, “Make it so the main character doesn’t die” and he won’t.

I hear talk about this kind of “Hollywood ending” like it’s a sign of phoniness. Even if they’re right, this phoniness is a mandate from the people. And who goes against mandates from the people? Fascist dictators.

But while the happy endings are great, even more sophisticated is the joke selection process. They record the audiences for their reactions to the films and if not enough people are laughing at a particular joke, they just take it out and replace it with something more people will understand.

These changes are common because the reasons we laugh have evolved. Laughter used to be man’s happy response to the absurd. If a lemur ran up a villain’s pant leg, it was always hilarious when he danced around in surprise.

Today laughter has become something much more sophisticated: it is a sign of joke comprehension. “Ho ho,” we say, “I understand that joke.”

Example: If a beautiful woman in a movie tells a man he’s about as good-looking as Steve Buscemi, we need to laugh so that everyone knows that we know that Steve Buscemi is not a good-looking man at all.

If I may give a word of advice, well-placed laughter can be used for dating and business connections. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been cracking up in a movie theatre and had a beautiful woman hand me her card and explain that she has written her home number on the back. Let’s keep in mind, though, that I am very attractive.

Therefore, a movie is going to produce a lot of laughter if it has tons of witty pop culture references. I’m not talking about August Strindberg references, I’m talking about references to those on “American Idol,” “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “People” magazine’s “Most Attractive People” list.

Of course there are exceptions. “Family Guy” constantly makes references to TV shows that were big when I was two years old, “The Daily Show” makes jokes that only people who read newspapers can appreciate and Woody Allen, at the age of 110, is still making snob comedies. But leave these exceptions to the old people in training by avoiding the small, independent theatres that probably don’t even have stadium seating.

Fireside Chat #14 (Spring ’06)

MODERN MOVIES PART II: BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE

A gorgeous brunette 30-year-old puts on a pair of glasses in front of the mirror. “You’re hideous,” she whispers to herself. When she shows up for high school that day, she trips in front of Dash Handsome, captain of the football team, and someone throws a sandwich at her. “Oh,” the audience says, “This high-schooler a social outcast. We’re not supposed to think she’s good-looking.” But she is.

This example is further proof of my thesis that movies are better than they’ve ever been: Beautiful people get every role nowadays.

You’d think that it would be a downer when gorgeous people make themselves look unattractive for their roles, but when Nicole Kidman and Charlize Theron play ugly women, they get paid millions and win awards.

While it’s true that casting agents could have found a much cheaper ugly woman for the role of Virginia Woolf just by going to the park or Burger King, there’s no fun in that. If it is heroic for an average woman to risk her life to save her child from a burning house, surely it is even more heroic for a sexy woman to wear a prosthetic nose.

Actual ugly people are a harsh reminder of the world that we try to escape by going to the movies. This is something that the BBC has never quite grasped, and it may have something to do with why we pounded the British so hard in the American Revolution.

This trend has extended to animation.

Back in the day, cartoon characters were played by “voice actors,” potentially ugly nobodies with a talent for tailoring their voice to a character instead of the other way around. If you ignore the Silver Rule of Remakes and watch “Snow White,” you’ll be disgusted then bored when you don’t recognize the voice of a single dwarf.

When Disney cast Robin Williams as the hilarious genie in Aladdin, the floodgates opened up for Pixar and Dreamworks (Pixar’s idiot kid brother) to bring star appeal to a previously starless business.

“Shrek” may be the most remarkable example. You put the voice of Cameron Diaz in the mouth of a gross green ogre and somehow the ogre is easier to look at because we recognize the voice of a beautiful woman. We even become a little attracted to the ogre. That is, um, other people might, not me. (Cough.) Anyway, the result is, we pay Cameron Diaz millions of dollars and it has nothing to do with her dime-a-dozen voice and everything to do with her smokin’-hot bod.

Mel Gibson is “The Man Without a Face” but it’s okay because in real life his face is both intact and chiseled. Andy Serkis should count his lucky stars for having made it into the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. If Ben Stiller had played Gollum, he’d have won an Oscar for it.

As a movie star gets closer and closer to that perfect Platonic human form, we don’t care whether she’s in geometry class or teaching it. We’re just happy to get the chance to gaze at and listen to her for a couple of hours of our boring, homely lives.

Fireside Chat #13 (Spring ’06)

MODERN MOVIES PART I: THE REMAKE

You know who says that movies today aren’t what they used to be? Old people. But you and I not to trust a generation that judges a film’s worth based how easy it is to fall asleep to and how often the protagonist calls his mother.

Movies are better than they’ve ever been—that’s a fact. The action is more intense, the jokes are edgier and the stars are sexier. And now the excuse to see any movie made before 1986 has been stamped out with one word: the remake.

In the last year we’ve seen incredible reincarnations of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “King Kong,” and most notably, “Bad News Bears,” all of which have been light years ahead of their predecessors.

After all, The Golden Rule of Remakes is this: “Any film that is remade will be better than the original.” If the remake wasn’t an improvement, what would be the point of it?

It’s not the stars’ faults that old films are so terrible. Sure the actors don’t look as good, but it just wasn’t possible. Back in Marilyn Monroe’s days, cosmetic surgery hadn’t even been invented yet, nor had bulimia.

And it’s not the screenwriter’s faults. Plenty of fine scripts were being churned out before 1986, like the screenplays for “Ben Hur” and “Bloodsport,” but often these scripts called for the kind of jaw-dropping action sequences that did not yet exist. Did you know that the original script for “Casablanca” called for a final showdown between Humphrey Bogart and a team of CGI Nazi robots? They had to do a rewrite when the director asked what CGI was.

Not that I’ve seen “Casablanca.” No, I adhere to The Silver Rule of Remakes, which is, “Any film worth seeing will be remade.

This isn’t as difficult as you would think. Even supposed classics like “The Godfather” have been alluded to and satirized by the likes of “The Sopranos” and “Shark Tale.” Until Tim Burton puts his own dark spin on the series, I can get the “best of” quotes from other sources.

If the fault for the poor quality of old movies lies with anyone, it’s with the inventors who didn’t come up with the technology fast enough. Thomas Edison, I’m looking in your direction.

But I’m not here to point fingers at the dead. All I can say is thank goodness for George Lucas. Every time I get bored as I watch “Star Wars: Special Edition” because Yoda is on some Buddhist rant about clearing your head of distraction, the film cuts to a scene of spaceships blowing each other up and my interest is renewed. Then, when making the new trilogy, Lucas was smart enough to make his characters so stoic and unrelatable that there was nothing to distract audiences from the bowel-dropping action sequences.

Despite all the insurmountable evidence, still there are those who claim to prefer the original films. These snooty naysayers can be characterized by their thick-rimmed glasses, unnaturally black hair and, when questioned about any musician, writer or comedian, their tendency to say, “I prefer their early work.” 

We have a term for them: Old people in training.

Fireside Chat #12 (Spring ’06)

MY ALL-TIME MOST HATED FICTIONAL CHARACTER

I always used to think that a computer was like a woman: be good to her and she’ll be good to you. Then a Moroccan gypsy and a Dell Latitude broke my heart.

When my laptop crashed on Saturday, so did my incredibly insightful column on the current state of film. So instead of trying to recreate the experience for you, I’m going to speak right from the heart.

My all-time most hated fictional character is Eeyore, the donkey from the book/film/TV/toy series, “Winnie the Pooh.”

Look, firstishly and most importantly, he’s such a downer. When everyone else at Pooh Corner is just looking to munch on some honey, grow some carrots, or hop around on a coil-shaped tail, Eeyore just imposes his negative vibes on everybody else.

In one of the stories, Pooh Bear says hello to Eeyore, and he replies, “Good Morning, Pooh Bear. If it is a good morning. Which I doubt.”

Here we see that Eeyore starts his day assuming that it will be bad. So at the beginning of each day, he renews the downward spiral of negativity that will most likely end in a self-fulfilling prophesy. When Eeyore does have a bad day, he gets the sick satisfaction of having predicted it.

When Pooh Bear goes on to ask him how he is doing, he says, “Not very how. I don't seem to have felt at all how for a long time.”

What kid of smart-mouth answer is that? He knows Pooh is reaching out to him, trying to be a nice guy, and he has to be a jerk about it. We never get anything but sour grapes out of this guy, yet his friends keep hanging around with him.

Segundo, what’s with that stupid safety-pinned tail? It falls off all the time and Eeyore makes everybody stop what they’re doing to help him look for it, like they don’t have better things to do. This donkey is so insecure that he needs the tail to feel good about himself, when the whole gang knows it’s fake. If he’s so set on having the thing, why doesn’t he get Christopher Robin’s mom to sew it on?

Thirdfully, Eeyore leads a completely sedentary lifestyle. When he isn’t bothering Pooh Bear, he mopes around his dumpy little hut. I extend this criticism to Pooh Bear as well. While many of the characters seem to lack motivation, I would argue that it is Eeyore who acts as the de-motivators, or deadweight that holds everyone else down with him.

“No, Gabe,” some psychologist is saying, “Eeyore is cool, he’s just depressed.”

Fine, continue to like him if you must, but I’ve found that the best thing you can do for a depressed friend is to shun him until he realizes that he’s alienated everyone he cares about, pulls himself up by his own bootstraps and apologizes for having been such a downer. “It’s okay,” you tell him. “Just don’t be so stupid next time.”

There comes a time when you need to write a friend off as a lost cause, and for Pooh and the gang, that time came long ago. And I’m writing off my friends at Dell. Mark my words: my next laptop will be an iBook.

Fireside Chat #11 (Spring ’06)

PRIVACY: A SMALL PRICE TO PAY

Green Day’s tour is over, which means I’ve missed my chance to pay to see one of America’s biggest rock bands play “We Are the Champions,” an experience I’m sure would have boosted my fragile self-esteem for months.

The band’s bassist, Mike Dirnt, recently said it’s time "to call it quits for a while and go home and rejuvenate.” That sounds pretty good to a normal citizen. I mean I’ve spent all of Christmas break sleeping and watching my “Golden Girls Season One” DVD with director’s commentary, but I’m afraid a celebrity band like Green Day has lost its rejuvenation rights.

The old question that is often posed is: Do you have to give up your privacy when you become famous?

The old answer: Absolutely. The minute you apply for that SAG card, you sign away all rights to privacy, seclusion, isolation and alone time.

That’s not to say that privacy is any big loss. Have you ever noticed how creepy people get when they spend too much time in private? It’s almost saying, “Why don’t you want to be photographed? Do you have something to hide?”

Celebrities have no right to complain about invasions of privacy or about anything — they’re happy all the time. It’s just that they operate on such an elevated plane of existence that, at worst, a celebrity is super-stoked on life and at best, a celebrity attains a demigod state of omniscience and satisfaction. The problem is, when they hit a low point of super-stokedness, they don’t realize how happy they are because they are comparing it to the demigod state.

I’ll grant that occasionally, occasionally, it might be annoying to unsuspectingly have your child’s 8th birthday photographed with a telephoto lens from a nearby skyscraper only to have it appear four days later in Us Weekly, but really, when you think about it, it’s kind of awesome too. The Pepperdine intercampus mail system takes three weeks to move a note across the room, and in four days people all over the world knows what kind of cake your whimsically-named kid likes best.

People point to Princess Di’s death as an example of the paparazzi going too far, but what they don’t realize is that when celebrities die, they go to “Paradisio Praeclarus,” (that’s Latin, suckas) also known as “Business Class Heaven.” There, those who achieved fame get many of the same perks they got in earthly life, such as never having to wait for a restaurant table and getting their DUI charges overlooked, but they also get new benefits such as being told the secrets of the universe by Jesus himself and getting to haunt the earth every All Hallows Eve. So Diana is doing fine, trust me.

Sorry Billy Joe Armstrong, Lance Armstrong and even you, Satchmo. You’re in the public eye for good, even after a long tour. If we see you at IHOP, we’ll make you take a picture with us. If you really are the champions, you’ll take it like men.

Fireside Chat #10 (Fall ’05)

LATELY, I’VE BEEN FEELING A LITTLE INSECURE.

You go to a bookstore nowadays and all you see is David Sedaris this, Augusten Burroughs that. All these writers have made a living off of collections of “personal essays, those books that tell little stories from a writer’s life then supposedly show how the stories relate to a larger truth about the human condition.

I’m a big guy, I can take larger truths. But the thematic pitfall for just about everybody who writes personal essays is that they think they’re better than me.

This proving-your-worth-through-storytelling craze goes back pretty far. Mark Twain thought he was pretty cool, so he wrote a travel log, and Lewis & Clark decided they were so great that they would write all about their American vacation and even draw pictures of all the plants and animals they saw.

Even back in the Old Testament days, you had the writer of Ecclesiastes who was so eager to tell everyone that his life had been a huge success, but that he was over it. “There is nothing new under the sun,” he boasted, as if to say, “So if you come up with something you think is pretty cool, I’ve totally tried it and it isn’t.”

Then there are autobiographies and memoirs, which are just really long, extra self-indulgent personal essays. The only people who might have been sincere were those who have had their journals published posthumously.

Anne Frank, for instance, is an example of someone who was keeping it real. But who can read her without feeling guilty? Sure, Anne her diary is an incredible glimpse into the world of a family in hiding from the Nazis, does anybody else think it’s a little pervy that we’re reading the diary of some blossoming pre-teen?

For the most part, though, people who write about themselves are just trying to impress. I mean, I don’t care, really, I just feel sorry for them.

David Sedaris thinks he’s so great just because he lives in
France, he was almost killed while hitchhiking, he tried to get his sister run over to get his mom’s attention, he worked in a mental institution, and he’s felt compulsive urges to touch the heads of children. Having done all these weird, outlandish things, he’s pretty much saying, “I live a full life and you don’t.”

But I do live a full life, David! I’ve thought about picking up a hitchhiker one time, only I didn’t because it was too dangerous. Oh, and I lived overseas for a year. Sure I just hung out with Americans the whole time, but
America is the greatest country in the world so who wouldn’t?

Want to hear about my weekend trip to
Ireland?

We flew RyanAir, which is cheap. And we saw Guinness and we saw some rolling hills and sheep and one time we got really close to the sheep. One morning we made omelets then rented bikes and rode them. There was this girl who worked at the hostel named Brigita and she gave me her email but I never emailed her. But I loved her. And there was this guy who we kept running into who tried to sell us drugs but we said, “no way.” People spoke Gaelic. What a great trip. Heck, I could write a book!

So you see, those guys on the bestseller lists aren’t so great. My life is just as interesting as theirs, if not more so.

Fireside Chat #9 (Fall ’05)

FACE-SAVING ‘SATIRISTS’

So I stumbled across this news website called “The Onion” last week, and the top story was “Trick or Treaters to Be Subject to Random Bag Searches.” I said to myself, “It’s about time. The streets should be as safe as an airport. After all, children are the future.”

Then this sad-about-a-breakup, glasses-wearing emo kid looked over my shoulder and said, “You like ‘The Onion’? That site is so funny.”

“Funny?” I said. “What could be funny about our children’s safety, you lowlife degenerate?” Well it turns out that when you peel this “onion,” what you find is another of these satire imitation websites that look real. And it stinks.

Entertainers have had a long, annoying history of saying the opposite of what they mean. I had to read Jonathan Swift for school one time, and I was right there with Johnny all the way through “A Modest Proposal.” In the essay, Swift makes some striking points about how maybe we should solve the hunger crisis by eating our children. At first I wasn’t sure that I agreed with him, seeing as how children are the future and all, but by the end of the essay I was convinced that Swift’s proposal wasn’t just an option—it was a necessity.

Then some loves-math-so-much-why-doesn’t-he-marry-it, glasses-wearing nerdo told me that Swift’s essay wasn’t serious. “Well thanks for nothing!” I thought. “Now do us a favor and come up with an actual solution to this hunger plight we’re all in.”

And don’t get me started on allegory! I loved Animal Farm—animal uprisings and pigs that learn to walk on two legs. It was funny, like that Mel Gibson movie, “Chicken Run.” But I read the afterward, which was all about Josef Stalin. I’m pretty sure J-Stal was not mentioned once in the book, so I’m a little confused as to how it’s about him. Give me a break, George Or-not-so-well!

Yet Swift’s insightful essay and Orwell’s delightful book were so good outside of the realm of satire that I devised a theory: Nine times out of ten, people don’t actually intend to write satire. They are just so scathingly honest that their contemporaries don’t know to take them seriously. Once Swift was applauded not for his sound advice but for his dry wit, he just went with it. “Oh, it was funny?” Swift said. “Good, good—yes, of course it was satire.”

Because we all just want to be liked. A few weeks ago, some bull-taunting, glasses-wearing matador said, “Gabe, I liked the column when you pretended that you were running for Supreme Court Justice, seeing as how everybody knows that justices are appointed by the president, not elected.”

First I was excited that someone besides the Graphic staff that edits out all my profanity had read the column. But then, when I realized what the Spaniard had said, I felt like a grade-A, first-rate fool. I thanked him for appreciating my razor-sharp wit, and went on to say that “some people had thought I’d been serious, ha ha!”

I immediately ripped down my campaign posters from all over school and sobbed in my room for a week.

But if you’re reading this, Mr. President, I understand that there may still be an opening for Supreme Court and I’d be very happy to conform my own political views to yours if you choose to appoint me. Seriously.