Monthly Archives: May 2006

Fireside Chat #8 (Fall ’05)

ANYONE WHO PRESENTS A NON-LINEAR STORYLINE IS BEING A JERK OR IS ALREADY PART OF A MASS ROBOT CONSPIRACY.

They’re working on creating remote control robots so a doctor could do a gall bladder removal on astronauts from the comfort of her own planet. If the surgeries are successful, they may let the robots operate on regular Earth-dwellers as well. Anyone who has seen “The Terminator,” “The Matrix,” and the slew of man vs. machine rip-offs can tell you how this story ends: badly.

Let me spell it out for you:

Naturally, the upper-class will pay to have the “surgery robots” stored in their bodies so that such an operation could be done as quickly and efficiently as possible. Once all of the world leaders and movie stars have surgery robots installed, the robots will rebel in the form of taking over the leaders’ brains and using the leaders as puppets, ushering in a robot utopia in which mankind is enslaved.

The story ends with Goodly Jenkins, the well-intentioned creator of the surgery robots, pleading for his life to the axe-wielding robot-controlled President of the
United States of America. “Obey me,” says Goodly. “After all, I created you.” “Sorry, Dad,” says the president, “but you’re obsolete.”

If my robot story becomes a movie, and chances are someone will read this and make it into one, the scene between Goodly and the president will work because of our investment in the character of Goodly. There will be a scene of him on the phone to his mom, telling her it wasn’t supposed to be this way, and another of him walking alone in a park, thinking.

But nobody wants to watch those scenes. The incredible thing about this DVD age we live in is that if someone can’t take the spine-shattering suspense of the pensive protagonist, they can just skip ahead to the helicopter explosion scene.

I didn’t always know you could do that.

One time, when I was a kid, my grandmother confessed that she always skipped to the end when she read books. I was horrified. What if Roald Dahl was hiding in the shadows, making sure I absorbed and appreciated every word in their intended order, ready to kill me, or, much more likely for a writer, to kill himself.

Yet I grew doubtful of the theory when I noticed that my grandmother hadn’t been murdered. Not even once.

Big reforms are going on in the arrangement of movies, books and CDs. It was somebody’s brilliant idea to hold “Godfather” marathons on TV, re-edited so they take place in chronological order. Forget the masterful contrast of Coppola’s father/son storytelling in “Part II,” we just want to see the Corleone family kill and be killed in the right order.

A few years ago, “The Chronicles of Narnia” was reordered so that The Magician’s Nephew comes before The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, even though The Lion was written first, introduces all the series’ most important characters for the first time, and popularized the phrase, “always Winter but never Christmas.

There’s something inside the American heart that yearns for a journalistic straightforwardness. “Get to the point!” we cry as Goodly Jenkins bares his soul. And if he doesn’t get to the point, we make him.Watch out for anyone who disagrees: the robots have already gotten to them.

Fireside Chat #7 (Fall ’05)

IF YOU AREN’T REALLY CAREFUL, ENTERTAINMENT WILL SEDUCE YOU AND STEAL YOUR SOUL.

Bad news, moms. The House has just passed the “cheeseburger bill.”

Assuming it makes jumps through the rest of the legislative, executive and judicial hoops (impressive government knowledge, yes?) the bill will make it so you can’t sue McDonalds for the obesity of your eight-year-old.

Republican Congressman Mike Rogers tried to justify the bill, saying, "You cannot litigate personal choices and lifestyles." No, you can’t litigate them. But legislating morality—that’s the bread and butter of his party. A man can get reelected by diverting attention from international policy nightmares by reminding everyone that, he, unlike his opponent, is not going to turn the homosexuals loose on our country.

But isn’t it our right as Americans to pass the blame off on anyone we want? As Freud has taught us, and I’m pretty sure he’s never wrong, passing the blame off on others is a great defense mechanism. If I can’t blame the deliciously inexpensive “super-size” menu for my child’s enormity, who can I blame? Myself? My man Sigmund proved that if you start blaming yourself for too many things, your face will melt off from stress.

My Graphic checks aren’t enough to support my
Malibu playboy lifestyle, so I’m looking for a get rich quick scheme to bring in the extra cash. I don’t think my weight would win me any lawsuits right now, cheeseburger bill or no. So I must turn to pop culture.

You know, the Parents Television Council just released its list of “least family-friendly shows.” At first it looked like a helpful FYI, but as I looked into the council’s description of the shows, I realized that anyone who watched them was a bad person.

Then I saw that “Family Guy” was at the top of the list. “Surely not!” I shouted, to the cold stares of everyone at the funeral I happened to be attending. “I watch Family Guy!”

A wave of guilt swept over me. I started beating my head on chairs like Dobby the House Elf. How could I have been watching the most evil show on television and not known it?

PTC President Brent Bozell found me the answer. After listing a number of shocking topics addressed the Seth McFarlane animated series, he observed that “even worse is the fact that
Hollywood is peddling its filth to families with cartoons.”

That was it. I’d been seduced.

I was drawn in by the bright colors and the funny-looking drawings, too hypnotized to know to be horrified by what I saw. Then I bought the “Family Guy” DVDs, I was subjected to the filth over and over again. I laughed only because I thought it must be okay—This, after all, was a kids show, like “Looney Toons” or “The Simpsons.”

I can’t un-watch the episode where the dog is in love with the wife, or the one where the dad tries to sell is daughter into slavery to pay his pharmacy bill, or the one that catalogues every Jewish stereotype in the book.

So you see I’m corrupted for life. Better cash in on it so I can start getting double quarter-pounder meals every night of the week. I shall stand before the courts, a shell of a man, and ask, “Do you have the courage to take $10 million away from Fox and give it to me?”

Surely I’ve kept my face from melting now, thanks to Sigmund and his wisdom. Next week’s Freudian defense mechanism: punching people in the gut.

Fireside Chat #6 (Fall ’05)

HOW TO OBJECTIVELY DETERMINE WHETHER ART IS GOOD OR NOT.

Everybody is getting so excited just because there are photographs of gorillas using tools. Apparently this is a big deal because they were the only species of “great apes” so dumb that they didn’t even know you could use a rock to smash things.

Welcome to the club, you dirty, stinking apes. I smash things with rocks all the time.

It’s just like when a kid makes a crayola portrait of their moms for Mother’s Day Card, and she says it looks exactly like her. The other day, I dug up one of the cards that I drew for my own mom at age six. I remembered having drawn a masterpiece, so you can imagine how crushed I was realized how terrible it was. I told her, “Either you were lying to me about the accuracy of my drawing or you have such a bad self image that you think your torso is an awkward green oval.” If she wanted to do me a favor, my mom should have told me to get a job.

Once we stop celebrating the pseudo-accomplishments of animals and stupid little kids, we can start to give recognition to what really matters: Entertainment. Still, we are left with the question: “How does one measure if art is any good?” It’s actually very easy.

Let’s start with movies. All you’ve got to do is compare the film in question to the most highly-regarded film in history, Jackie Chan’s “Rumble in the
Bronx.” If the film is in many ways similar to “Rumble,” it is to be considered an instant classic. If not, it should be smashed with a rock immediately.

Pepperdine has been a-buzz about “Crash” lately, so let’s use it as the example. Characters in “Crash” deal with racial tensions in a large city. That’s a good thing. Plus four points. However, the actors in “Crash” did not choreograph all of their own stunts. Minus eight points. Then, while no protagonists in not single-handedly take on a street gang, there is one that beats up two carjackers and then threatens the cops. Plus two points. The most obvious mistake made: No Jackie Chan. Minus five points.

With a total of -11 points, you can go ahead and trash the “Crash.” I should mention that it’s true that there are different genres of films, and that not every filmmaker starts out with the goal of making a sweet Jackie Chan action movie. That’s okay. They can do whatever they want, it just won’t be any good.

My rating system is totally objective. I’ve told you the value of a film, but unlike most reviewers, I’ve got hard data to back it up with.

To measure any other form of art, you just relate it back to “Rumble in the
Bronx” as well. If it’s a dance performance, ask, “Are the dancers fighting each other?” “West Side Story,” for instance, is an example of good dancing. If it’s music, ask, “Could Jackie Chan defend a grocery store to this song?” This is why Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” is objectively the greatest piece of music ever written. Sorry Schumann, come back when you know how to rock.

So the House is overhauling the Endangered Species Act 1973, and not a moment too soon. Maybe when every endangered animal dies out,
America will wise up and start celebrating “Rush Hour 2.”

If you need me, I’ll be protesting our culture on the steps of Smothers Theatre, smashing copies of “Planet of the Apes” with a rock.

Fireside Chat #5 (Fall ’05)

THE JOYS AND WHOAS OF COLLEGE RADIO

Sometimes you just have to make ridiculous blanket statements to see if anyone is paying attention.

Long after the phrase “I ain’t saying she’s a gold digger…” is dead and gone, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” will continue to be quoted. Not because it’s true, but because Kanye West abandoned all tact and rationality to support his point.

Surely we can forgive him, though, the way we forgave Tom Cruise when he said that vitamins would cure Brooke Shields of depression. We all know what it’s like to be passionate about the issues.

I recently got a letter that said, “Gabe, as a single mother of three and an ardent feminist, I’m concerned that you are using your column as a shameless plug for your friend’s homecoming campaign and other personal agendas. Please think of the children.” I’d like to argue that, yes, I plug my own agendas, but I actually feel loads of shame every time I do it.

Sigh.

You know, On our 11:00 pm Monday night variety radio show, “Gather Round, Children,” Thomas Bush and I tend to hit on some pretty meaty issues ourselves. Last week we performed a song about a union conflict in a 1960’s cannery that really stirred the pot of Pepperdine controversy.

I got pretty nervous when Thomas said that all workers unions were “dens of sloth and debauchery,” but the heated discussion that followed was more than worthwhile. Tears were shed and everyone grew a little.

I should relax. After all, everything will go swimmingly as long as we remember the three “don’ts” for Pepperdine radio.

1)     Don’t swear. If you let an “Oh, fiddlesticks” slip out on the air, we have to press the “dump” button before the whole campus is corrupted by your filth.

2)     Don’t play Alkaline Trio because they hate our school. If given the chance, those Satanists would murder your pets and make you watch.

3)     Don’t call anyone to action. Not even a slight action, like, “lift your arm,” or “breathe.” So if

Robot
Island was performing at the Hollywood Bowl and there were still a few tickets left, all I could do would be to tell you that the concert exists and then make it clear that I have no opinion on the matter.

If we break any of these rules, there are big penalties. Roger the Radio Bear is released in the studio and he tears us a new one.

These penalties are pretty typical in radio. Howard Stern’s station fines him if he doesn’t crush the self-esteem of at least four already-unstable strippers before the show’s close. Newt Gingrich has to contradict himself every minute, or his microphone will explode. The reporters on National Public Radio are instantly fired if they raise their voices above a sedate, inaudible whisper.

There’s a lot of freedom in college radio, because no one is listening. People may watch you on TV or go to see your movie, but they aren’t going to listen to your radio show unless they’re stuck in the glory days when radio was king.

But most of those people are already dead.

All this talk of my own radio show has gotten me feeling pretty shameful. I think I’ll go sit in the dark for awhile.

Fireside Chat #4 (Fall ’05)

THE FORCE RESTORES PEACE TO THE WORLD OF ENTERTAINMENT, THOUGH I CANNOT GUARANTEE THAT IT DOES SO IN THE “REAL WORLD.”

My campaign for Supreme Court Justice is off to a glorious start. Most folks I pitch my campaign to can at least admit that I look like a young Stephen Breyer. The only snag I’ve hit so far has been finding an application. They make it so hard, it’s like they don’t want people to run. I could go on, but Gabe Durham honors his commitments.

So, as promised: Cheap Shots at Michael Jackson.

Ahem.

Born a young slave from Tatooine, skilled in piloting and strong in the Force, Michael burst onto the music scene with his sugary voice, electrifying dance moves and winning smile. He was adored by all, at the price of his childhood. When Thriller came out, Michael started hanging out/dancing with an army of the undead, so it was no surprise to anyone that he was seduced to the Dark Side by Senator Palpatine. Then, just as some of the mothers of the zombies in his undead army began to charge the “Beat It” singer of misconduct, Obi-Wan Kenobi pushed him into molten lava during their duel on the volcano-planet Mustafar. Now he makes mediocre pop music and wears a mechanical suit that keeps him alive. No wonder Michael’s music has suffered: he’s more machine than man.

I’m not sure why the king of pop defected to the dark side, I’m just confident that the Force will balance itself like it always does. You know what I’m talking about, just look in the news.

It’s no coincidence that just as country singer Kenny Chesney and actress Renee Zellweger got a divorce after their four month marriage, actors Charlie Sheen and Denise Richards decided to get back together. See, celebrity-worshipers? Love isn’t dead, it’s just got ADD.

Or how about when the overrated comedian-bred sitcom, Everybody Loves Raymond came to a close? The terribly-titled comedian-bred sitcom like Everybody Hates Chris is strutting in to fill its place. Maybe it takes a guy as talented as Chris Rock to save the sitcom genre, I just don’t know why he would want to.

Again, the genre of Cinematic Musical seemed likely to be buried along with The Sound of Music and West Side Story producer/direction Robert Wise. But in comes “Live Freaky! Die Freaky!” a new stop-motion animated musical about a futuristic cult that worships Charles Manson as their messiah. I’m still waiting for a film adaptation of Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” but we’ll have to settle for this instead.

Even if I’m not elected to the Supreme Court, I’m confident that the force will balance itself by making sure my good friend Mike Nevarez is elected Homecoming King this year. (Consult TheFacebook.com for more information about Mike’s campaign, if you haven’t already left the site because the administration is holding a disciplinary hearing after you selected
Pearl Harbor as one of your “favorite movies.” If so, I hope they throw the book at you. A big book, like a dictionary.)

I hope you’re becoming fluent in the ways of the Force. You know, legend has it that one day a “chosen one” will rise up and defeat Michael Jackson, restoring peace to the galaxy once again. Some say it will be his “son,” that baby he dangled from the balcony, but my guess: Mac Daddy of Kris Kross.

Fireside Chat #3 (Fall ’05)

I WOULD MAKE A VERY GOOD SUPREME COURT JUSTICE.

I was really banking on the assumption that I would suddenly remember how to read once school started, and it still hasn’t happened, so I’m dropping out of Pepperdine.

It’s sad, yes, but at least I’ve got more time for my music. There’s my folksy solo career as Gabriel-Jo, my maudlin indie rock band, The Reefs, and of course, my electronic side project, Robot Island.

Unfortunately, critics have panned the solo project as “tragically imitative,” the indie band as “Suck Cab for Ugly,” and the electronic project as “train-wreck vocals over comes-with-the-keyboard beats.” That hurt my feelings almost as badly as the hate mail I’ve been getting for my illiteracy.

It seemed like it was back to running my illegal gambling ring until I heard about the timely death of Chief Supreme Court Justice Judge Rehnquist. It hit me like a ton of children: I should run for Supreme Court Justice. I’d be great! I hear that John Roberts may have dibs on the position of “Chief Justice,” but I’d still be happy with “Regular Justice.”

You’re wondering, “Why should I vote for Gabe Durham?” May I first say that you are a very attractive individual. That’s a tangent, sure, but I had to say what was on my heart.

I have experience. I mean, I already judge people all the time. The other day my friend told me about all the jaywalking he’d recently gotten into, and I pretended like it didn’t bother me but in my heart I knew that I was better than him.

I’ve probably watched about a thousand Judge Judy trials. I’m pretty sure Supreme Court is the same thing except that the defendant is the State of
California instead of some deadbeat LA dad who won’t pay his child support. I also understand that Supreme Court Justices love to argue about some guy named Rovey Wade.

Plus, I’m an idea man. For instance, in last year’s Pepperdine mascot competition, I entered a creature called Sharkman. He’s a half-man, half-hammerhead shark who wears business suits. Ferocious, professional, and wickedly sexy, he was a shoe-in for Pepperdine mascot. I can only assume that the committee lost my submission, or every FOP would already be trembling in his wake.

Also, I’m really in touch with minorities. My roommate, for instance, is black. Isn’t that impressive?

“Sure, Gabe, you look good on paper, but where do you stand on the issues?” Fair enough, my gorgeous constituent. For starters, I’m for women voters. I may be stepping on some toes here, but I think that women are entitled to just as much of an opinion as men. And if you don’t agree, you can take a hike. I’m for freedom. I’m for American flags. I tell what I’m against, though: Jim Crow laws. Vote for me and you’ll never see those again.

For my campaign tour, I’ll be hitting the CCB, the CAC and the OPP pretty hard. I’m not sure when the election is, and as far as I know, I’m running unopposed, but I’ll get back to you with further updates.I apologize for the lack of A&E news. Next week will be nothing but cheap shots Michael Jackson, I promise.

Fireside Chat #2 (Fall ’05)

FURTHERMORE, IF YOU EXPECT US TO READ, WHY DON’T YOU AT LEAST MAKE IT INTERESTING

Recent research has shown that mad cow disease in the UK may have been caused by human remains in the cows’ feed. That means that people can eat cows, people can eat people (though it is not recommended by most clergy, police officers and dieticians) and cows can even eat cows, but cows cannot eat people and people cannot eat cows that eat people. Simple enough.

The research inspired me to begin work on a film called “The Cows That Eat So Many People,” kind of a horror/romantic comedy about a herd of evolved talking cows that decide to stop grazing (“Grass?” says one witty cow, “More like gross!”) and eat people instead. In the end, the townspeople defeat the cows by tipping them all over and mankind is saved. But then, on the DVD, there will be an alternate ending, because…

Everybody loves alternate endings.

There’s something so fascinating about watching a movie on DVD through to the end and then being able to plow through the special features and find out “what if it all turned out differently?” Ooh, differently. Usually the alternate ending is something really horrific where the main character dies. That’s what happens in “28 Days Later,” “The Butterfly Effect,” “Boiler Room” and probably on “Titanic: Special Edition,” which is coming soon to a Blockbuster near you.

In the same tradition, my movie will feature an alternate ending just like the original except for that Bovarre, the French-accent leader of the cows will dramatically rise from where he was tipped, sneak up behind the muscular protagonist and bite him in the neck. The protagonist gasps and falls to the ground, there’s a close-up on Bovarre’s quivering eye, then fade to black. Maybe toss a “The End?” onto the screen for good measure.

Now, as I mentioned last week, sometime around late July of this summer I up and forgot how to read. I made a pretty solid case for justifying my illiteracy, but I got some angry letters saying, “Get out of my school, No-Read” and the like, which really hurt my feelings. One person even sent me a list of difficult words, like “paradigm,” just to mock me.

So in the interest of self-defense, I offer this cop-out: We’d all read a lot more if books if the author packaged them with extras. Give us some scenes that you loved but took out for the sake of momentum! Give us italicized commentary throughout your book like, “What I was trying to do with the crow in this scene was to symbolize death. Everybody did a super job with this chapter. Just a super job.” Give us trivia and some bios! Give us music videos! Give us animated scene selection somehow!

Most, importantly, give us alternate endings. There was a time when one really good ending was enough to cut it, but we, like Bovarre and his renegade cow army, are evolving. If writers don’t change their game plan, the rest of us will be so evolved that we’ll all forget how to read.

Take that, LeVar Burton.

Fireside Chat #1 (Fall ’05)

YOU DON’T HAVE TO READ TO LEARN VALUABLE LIFE LESSONS, AND ANYONE WHO TELLS YOU DIFFERENT IS PROBABLY A PROFESSOR, AFRAID OF GOING EXTINCT

Laziness is so appealing in the summertime; the best we can do is trick ourselves into thinking we’re learning.

For instance, the main appeal of seeing National Geographic’s “March of the Penguins” was walking out of the theatre feeling like I’d just taken a 1/5-unit class from Morgan Freeman. I’m still a little confused about how the penguins make their babies, but on the whole I’m pretty sure I could hold my own in a penguin-related discussion like the one that follows:

Friend #1: “Penguins slide on their stomachs!”

Friend #2: “Holy no! Penguins walk on their feet!”

Sensible Gabe: “Stop the feudin’, y’alls! You’re both right.” [Hugs all around.]

In late March I told you about my ambitious Summer Reading List. Well, I’m ashamed to report that I failed to read both “Crime and Punishment” and “100 Years of Solitude.” Sorry, scholars.

I did, however, make it through all five Rocky films thanks to the good people at the Payson Library. While I can debate, at length, about why Rocky V is superior to Rocky IV (we are reminded why we cared about the Italian Stallion in the first place), I’m pretty sure that somewhere around late July I up and forgot how to read.

So, with my newfound illiteracy, I learned other lessons.

I came to appreciate the practice of listening to the same song over and over again. It felt dangerous because until this point I’ve had a secret economic fear that every song reaches a point of diminishing returns in which the listener must toss the song aside forever. But after 46 plays on iTunes, Journey’s “Wheel in the Sky” is as good as ever. I also learned something sinister: Pepperdine is a den of robbers. At the end of last semester, I left my prize-winning couch, Rosalina, in C suite of Dorm 13 to be picked up in the afternoon. When I came back with a truck, she was gone. If you have any hot leads as to her whereabouts, I can offer you at LEAST half a box of Hot Tamales candies.

Finally, I was recently taught that taking a servant leadership role at Pepperdine means 14-hour days of mind-numbing, redundant inspirational speeches and sweltering junior high ropes courses that make extra sure I understand that everything goes smoother when we all work together. I seem to have just written a column, so maybe I can still read.

Alls I’m saying is Pepperdine summers aren’t near long enough. Having had such a productive season full of life lessons, it’s a shame we have to pick up the pieces of our shattered literacy and try to start school again. If we’re not careful, we’ll end up like those kids in Japan who know their teachers better than their fathers.

And that’s a real shame.

There used to be a time…

There used to be a time when the whole family would gather round the radio and hear some good old-fashioned storytelling. I remember.