Languatron’s Book: A Review

It seems that my Internet arch-enemy, the Lex Luthor to my Superman, the Newman to my Seinfeld, the indefatigable, indomitable and incomprehensible Languatron, has written a book: “Universal Studios vs. Battlestar Galactica: How Universal Studios Mismanaged This Property To Utter Oblivion.”

Actually, to call it a “book” is to be generous, both in terms of quality and quantity. It’s less than 30,000 words in total, and while the author boasts of its formidable 100-page length, he achieves triple-digit page numbering by squeezing his margins by an extra inch and leaving the first three pages blank. As for the content, it’s essentially a “Greatest Hits” collection of everything he’s posted on the Internet for the past eight years, which is succinctly summarized by the book’s unwieldy title. The other 29,987 words of the pamphlet are spent repeating the thesis ad nauseum and disparaging anyone and everyone who doesn’t agree with it.

Now there may be a few lost souls reading this who wonder who this Languatron fellow is. The answer is that he’s Andrew Fullen, a short order cook from Chicago who has also written a few other self-published works in his own name. I actually blew the $2.50 necessary to buy one of those, too – “Netherworld,” a collection of short stories, which reads like pedestrian Encyclopedia Brown fan fiction translated verbatim from its original Flemish.

Languatron first appeared on the scene circa 1999 on a few Battlestar Galactica bulletin boards, most notably the official SciFi board devoted to the original series rather than the dismal remake which debuted in 2003. He even had an article posted at BattlestarGalactica.com under his own name, which, sadly, is no longer online.

Yet somewhere around Thanksgiving 2000, Langy began to publicly pray for divine justice to be heaped out on his enemies, calling down fire and brimstone to destroy Sci-Fi channel’s upper management. It was also about this time where he began identifying those who disagreed with him, even innocuously, as lackeys of Universal Studios. It then became impossible to have a discussion with him. He dismissed even those who were sympathetic to his general thesis as corporate shills secretly hired to destroy him.

All of these traits are on display in this book, which bemoans Universal Studios’ role in destroying Battlestar Galactica for inscrutable reasons. According to Languatron, this movie studio has devoted all of its considerable resources not to film and television production, but rather to “hating” the original Galactica TV series, which has been out of production since 1979. Lest you think I exaggerate, I offer this brief excerpt, with my own emphasis added:

Universal Studios is extremely proficient at hating the 1978 Battlestar Galactica series. The very infrastructure of their entire corporation has been built upon this sad fact. They also have infinite satellite components revolving around their corporation to assist them in hating this series. This includes gullible journalists, industry insiders, studio peers, above the line producing personnel, and actors.

Not to mention caterers, gaffers, botanists, bee wranglers, Farsi instructors, lithographers, trumpeters, carnival barkers, liposuctionists, and vending machines.

This strikes me as a ridiculous assertion, as I always assumed “hating” is an activity that does not require corporate governance. Languatron provides no concrete explanation as to how this works, but he does offer a theory. Apparently, George Lucas’ failed lawsuit against Galactica in its initial run forced Universal to create a “shadow mechanism” that would derail any attempt to revive Galactica faithfully.

What is the exact form of this shadow mechanism? How does it work? Well, I must start off by stating that it does indeed exist, is in operation in full force as it always has… It is a mechanism that slowly creeps over the day to day operations of Universal Studios and makes it’s presence known when historically, attempts to revive the 1978 Battlestar Galactica series have reached a certain point. There is a comfort zone where this mechanism will allow revival attempts to chug along. When revival attempts get beyond the comfort zone, that’s when the mechanism moves in and shuts everything down.

The reader searches in vain for an intricate mechanical description of this ruthlessly efficient shadow mechanism, which one assumes is some sort of elaborate Rube Goldberg contraption with lots of gears and pulleys. Sadly, one is left to wonder how Languatron has the confidence to make such brash assertions with absolutely no supporting evidence. “How does it work?” he asks himself, and then answers by saying “it exists,” and that’s answer enough.

All is not lost, however. We do get an elaborate description of a second, more sinister “sister” shadow mechanism:

This brings us to another shadow mechanism that Universal Studios oversees. Sort of the “sister mechanism” to the one that operates within the studio itself. This one exercises mass censorship and control over the Internet of any information which casts Universal Studios and their handling of the 1978 Battlestar Galactica series in a bad light. It’s a shadow mechanism that exercises absolute authority over certain Internet bulletin boards (www.Cylon.org, www.Scifi.com/Galactica, www.Stallioncornell.com/board) and absolute authority over journalists who post on-line articles.

Languatron has an interesting choice of enemies. Of the three boards Languatron cites as exercising Stalinistic control over the entire World Wide Web, two of them are decidedly pro-1978 Galactica and vigorously opposed to the recent remake, which both boards, along with Languatron, refer to as GINO, or Galactica In Name Only. Yet Languatron cannot seem to fathom the possibility that one can loathe GINO and still think Languatron is a jerk.

To read this diatribe is to enter a parallel world where the rules of logic are identical to those in the “Burn the Witch” skit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In that film, a group of villagers bring a woman dressed as witch before Sir Bedevere, who then proceeds to lead them through a series of deranged logical syllogisms to determine whether or not the woman is guilty of witchcraft. The logic he employs is as follows:

1. Witches burn. Wood burns. Therefore, witches are made of wood.
2. Wood floats in water. Ducks float in water. Therefore, wood weighs the same as a duck.
3. If the woman weighs the same as a duck, she’s made of wood, and therefore, she’s a witch.

Witness, then, Languatron’s similar reasoning.

1. Universal Studios hates Battlestar Galactica. I, Languatron, love Battlestar Galactica. Therefore, Universal Studios is my enemy.
2. Dozens of people on the Internet are my enemies. Universal Studios is my enemy. Therefore, all of my Internet enemies work for Universal Studios.
3. Everyone I meet on the Internet hates me. Therefore, Universal Studios must be in complete control of the Internet.

And thus we see that Languatron spends all of his time on the Internet burning witches made of wood.

Nothing in this book steps off from the treadmill Lang has been running on for the past decade or so on sundry Internet billboards. The same wild-eyed theories with no evidence are recycled along with a liberal dose of personal invective. (I admit to taking sick pleasure in Languatron’s promise, in his final chapter, to “kick [my] ass to the Moon” if he ever meets me. One struggles to recall Woodward and Bernstein making similar threats to their journalistic subjects.) For the newcomer to the whole Lang experience, there may be some goofy fun in encountering a truly warped perspective for the first time. For me, a battle-hardened Lang veteran, I found the experience tedious. The only relief to be found was in his brazen contempt for the English language, as evidenced by these unvarnished excerpts, along with my editorial comments in brackets:

“Way to go Universal, you dolt!!”

[I think he meant “way to go, Universal Studios, you dolts!!” but his original sentence is open to so many more interpretations. Can a dolt truly go universal?]

“You can get the Toys-R-Us wind up version of Richard Hatch by the way, by sending in three box tops from specially marked boxes of Fruity & Cocoa Pebbles breakfast cereal.”

[One could probably, by the way, go to Toys-R-Us and just buy Richard Hatch in person.]

“The Bermuda Triangle of Death houses the existence of Ronald D. Moore’s GINO series in the most sinister way.”

[It presumably rents the existence of other television shows in semi-serious ways.]

“No form of art is being expressed by Edward James Olmos’s bad acting, and no profound subliminal statement is being uttered. ”

[I choose to believe that uttering subliminal statements is a form of art.]

“Ronald D. Moore is a man, an unremarkable man. Like all other television producers who go through it, Ronald D. Moore has made a television series that flopped.”

[Go through what? Maybe “it” was unremarkable, too.]

“Ronald D. Moore fit’s the bill quite nicely, doesn’t he?”

[“Fit’s?” Meaning what? “Fit is?” Something that belongs to Fit?]

“How is that for an effective cult, huh?”

[Huh?]

You get the idea.

Anyway, the book is available for download here. Languatron is reportedly using the proceeds of his book sales to frequent strip clubs. What he doesn’t know is that we Universal executives have already planted our agents in all of the clubs he frequents.

How’s that for a con’spiracy, huh?

Neverland

So I wrote a musical.

Not many people do that these days. That’s because new musical is expensive to produce and exceedingly likely to flop. Once upon a time, show tunes were hit records, and musical adaptations swept the Academy Awards. Nowadays, a musical comes along every decade or so that captures the public imagination, but most of the time, nobody pays attention.

When I was working at the Tuacahn Center for the Arts, I decided that Tuacahn ought to devote its time to producing new musicals. So I wrote one that I thought they could use. And, for a variety of reasons, they didn’t. I still think they should, though, since the musical is actually pretty good.

PeterPan2The show is called “Neverland,” and it’s a sequel of sorts to the classic story of Peter Pan. I chose Peter Pan as a subject because:

A) It was a concept that would have built-in name recognition and mass appeal, and:

B) The characters in Peter Pan are now in the public domain, so there’s no sticky copyright issues to worry about.

I’d rather not summarize the story, as I still hold out hope that the thing well actually get produced someday, but I thought you folks might be interested in the four songs from a demo CD we recorded. An old friend of mine who now teaches at BYU hired the singers and musicans and orchestrated the arrangements, and I wasn’t present for the recording session – I wrote all the songs, but I don’t know any of the people who are singing them.

Neverland
In many ways, this is the weakest recording of the four, only because the soprano’s got a really hooty voice that makes it hard to understand the words. I like the arrangement, though, with its groovy Celtic feel and the beautful use of the tin whistle. When the harmony kicks in, I really dig it. This song opens the show.

Hook of the Jolly Roger
Goofy fun, and it includes some transitional dialogue from the show. That’s my old friend, the guy who orchestrated this whole thing, playing Smee. Only drawback: Both this song and the fourth song, Dead, rhyme “dinner” with “innards.” What’s my problem, I wonder?

A Princess Bride
Originally written for an aborted stage adaptation of the movie The Princess Bride – there’s that sticky copyright issue again – the song was altered to fit Princess Tiger Lily’s dilemma, as she has to choose between a prince and Peter.

Dead (The Lost Boys Funeral Song)
I’ve sung this song in public many times. This version needs percussion, but otherwise, it works pretty well. Dead demonstrates that no one really dies in Neverland – a lost boy who is killed at the end of Act I is the one who sings the last verse. It also has the word “stallion” in it.

So whaddya think?

Evolution Poisons Everything

Could some atheist out there explain, when you profess to acknowledge no divine authority, why the Theory of Evolution is sacrosanct? Anyone? Maybe one of these guys?consequences-of-evolution-631I ask this question because Christopher Hitchens, a man I quite admire despite his fiery crusade against all things religious, recently wrote an article about his book tour in support of “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.” In it, he tossed in this snarky aside with regard to the bumpkin-like nature of religious morons like me:

“People seem to be lying to the opinion polls, as well. They claim to go to church in much larger numbers than they actually do (there aren’t enough churches in the country to hold the hordes who boast of attending), and they sometimes seem to believe more in Satan and in the Virgin Birth than in the theory of evolution.”

The first claim, if true, is a legitimate observation of hypocrisy. I fail to understand, though, why it’s so important to Hitchens that evolution be an article of faith among nonbelievers, or why anyone who believes in Satan and the Virgin Birth could not possibly believe in evolution, too.

Hitchens is suggesting that all religious people are incapable of reason, which is an extraordinarily naïve position. It’s as sweeping as the condemnation contained in the title of his book: religion poisons everything. I’ve heard him defend this gross generalization in interviews. For example, a couple of months ago, radio talk show host and practicing Jew Dennis Prager asked him an illuminating question, which I paraphrase here:

“If you were walking in a bad neighborhood in an American inner city late at night and you saw a group of young people walking toward you, would you or would you not be relieved to learn that they had just come from a Bible study class?”

Hitchens didn’t answer right away. How could he? The reasonable answer, no matter what your religious affiliation, would have to be, “Yes, of course. How many gangbangers and hoodlums go to Bible class, after all?” But to so answer would be to concede that religion hadn’t poisoned these young people and had probably improved them. Hitchens tried to change the subject and pretend that the example falls apart if it’s applied to radical Islamists leaving an Iraqi mosque. Prager reminded him that this example focused on an American and not an Iraqi city and a Bible study, not a Koran study.

Remember, to win this argument, Prager doesn’t have to prove that religion doesn’t poison anything; he just has to demonstrate that religion doesn’t poison everything. When pressed to answer, Hitchens said that he would neither be relieved or nor “unrelieved,” and that he hoped they would be coming from a Thomas Paine class instead. (Lots of Thomas Paine outreaches going on in the inner cities these days, I guess.) His answer calls to mind the response of another group of reasoned men, who, when asked by Jesus if the baptism of John was of heaven or of men, answered “we cannot tell.” Sure. Because if either the Pharisees or Hitchens answered honestly, their arguments would utterly collapse.

This kind of nonsense is what makes the atheistic defense of evolution so deeply silly.

Understand this: I’m not advocating teaching the Book of Genesis in science classes. The Theory of Evolution is the best guess that science has been able to assemble to explain life on earth, and, as such, it has a place in the classroom. At the same time, scientists ought to treat it the way they treat every other scientific theory and admit that it’s still a work in progress.

Case in point: recently, two German physicists have claimed to have broken the speed of light, an event which would shatter the fundamental tenets of one of the most respected scientific theories in the world, namely Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. The announcement has been greeted with skepticism, as all new scientific discoveries should be, but will it also be savaged with the kind of fury reserved for those who dare question any of evolution’s principles?

“Oh, you think Einstein was wrong, do you? What, then, you think the Earth was created in six days?”

“Faster than light? Oh, right. You’re one of those religious loons. Maybe Noah has some more room for you on the Ark.”

“So you’re smarter than Albert Einstein. You probably believe in Satan and the Virgin Birth, too.”

Hopefully, this announcement will be subjected to scientific scrutiny and not scorn. (As for me, I feel the same way about this as I did about the two Utah scientists who claimed to have achieved fusion at room temperature: I’ll believe it when I see it.) But the fact is that the theory of evolution is pretty good at explaining intraspecies adaptation but woefully inept at explaining how one species evolves into another, or how complex systems like eyes develop out of a series of random mutations. Start asking questions about this stuff, however, and you’re likely to get called all sorts of names, and if Chris Hitchens is anywhere nearby, the Virgin Birth is going to enter into the equation somehow.

Honest scientists, when confronted with legitimate inquiries about evolution, will answer “we don’t know” or “we’ll still working on it.” Hitchensites, however, will call your motives into question, because otherwise they have to admit that they’re either ignoring the theory’s internal contradictions or exercising faith in a future satisfying explanation. The hard fact is that evolutionary principles that don’t stand up to reason have to be accepted on religious grounds.

For Mr. Hitchens, for whom religion poisons everything, that has to be a bitter pill to swallow.

Wist

My parents picked up my ten-year-old daughter this morning on the way to the Utah Shakespearean Festival in Cedar City, Utah. My family has been going to the festival for as long as I can remember, although my wife and I haven’t been there in about three years or so. But last year, my parents decided to take my oldest daughter with them, and the experience proved to be the highlight of her year. She’s now old enough to understand and appreciate something I’ve loved ever since my own childhood. Such events make me wistful, or, as my wife puts it, “filled with wist.” She’s far less nostalgic and far more practical than I am. In short, she’s not a big “wist” fan. She’d rather I spent lest time wisting and more time doing the dishes.

Still, wist has been ever present with me since my 39th birthday last week. (No, I really am 39. You can get on my case next year when I’m 39 for a second time.) My practical wife is much, much, MUCH older than me – she turns 40 in October. We have five children in total, and much of our time is devoted to keeping the bills paid and the household running. My advancing years bring with them added portions of wist, and I start wondering what kind of legacy I’m going to end up leaving behind. I’m reminded of the immortal words of Bonnie Raitt, who sang that “life gets mighty precious when there’s less of it to waste.”

I sometimes imagine meeting my 16-year-old self and listening to him berate me for how boring I’ve become. Back then, I was going to be a rock-star/movie-star/mad-tortured-genius guy. Old boring dudes like me were the bane of my adolescent existence. 16-year-old me would have hated 39-year-old me. My only solace is that when I was 16, I was an idiot.

Still, it’s not like I didn’t give my 16-year-old dreams a shot. I spent 10 years in the world of the theatre as a manager, a director, and a performer. I thought that was what I always wanted, but I was never quite suited for it. And actors really started to bug me. The offstage drama became increasingly tedious, and I eventually lost patience with an actor’s need for constant reassurance and approval, especially when I saw that need in myself. I discovered that anyone who has to depend on the applause of the crowd to validate their very existence ends up lonely and desperate, and that’s not the person I wanted to be. And, ultimately, with my five kids and my grown-up life, that’s not the person I am. I’m very grateful for that.

I’m reminded of a conversation I had with Charles Macaualay, one of my professors at USC.  He was a wise old sage of the theatre who was a little perturbed when I recognized him as a the guy who played Landru in the original Star Trek episode “Return of the Archons.”

“I’ve appeared in every play in the Shakespeare canon,” he once said ruefully, “but they’re still going to write ‘Landru’ on my tombstone.” (That made me laugh then, but it’s bittersweet to recall now, since he passed away just a few years ago.)

Anyway, he told me I could have a career in the arts if that’s what I really wanted, but I had to make it my top priority. I had to sacrifice everything else in my life on the altar of the theatre, and if I didn’t, I would never succeed. I spent over a decade trying to prove Landru wrong. And, ultimately, I came to the conclusion that he was absolutely right. It’s just that I wanted a family and a home more than I wanted to be a mad tortured genius. I’m pretty sure I got the better end of the deal.

Yet here I am, sending my daughter to Cedar City, and she is growing to love Shakespeare as much as I do. My daughter also loves the Beatles like I do, and she can now tell which Beatle is singing lead on any given song without me telling her. She even recognized Ringo Starr singing “It Don’t Come Easy” over the radio at a crowded restaurant. How fun is that?

My other children are also starting to love the things I love, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that they’re the legacy I’m going to be leaving behind, or at least the only legacy that really matters.

Still, with my daughter on the road to Cedar City, I get that old familiar itch that says, “Why aren’t you the one on that stage? You could have been, you know. Who knows? Maybe someday, you can be again.”

And maybe I can. Maybe if I wanted it more, I’d be there now. But in the meantime, I’m here, watching my daughter walk out the door, leaving me alone with my wist.

I should probably go do the dishes.

A Religious Treatise

A Sunday blog entry requires some deep religious treatise, which calls to mind my Mormon missionary days in the land of Scotland lo these many years ago. I was training a new missionary in the paradise known as Drumchapel, a Glasgow slum where a guy sold drugs out of his sweetie van and the nighttime sky was aglow with flames from burning cars in the middle of the street. Needless to say, it was a pretty rough area, and the church building was right in the worst part of town. Missionaries dreaded being assigned to “The Drum,” and the office had even changed the name of the area to “Milngavie” to soften the blow of being condemned to the gulag of the Scotland Edinburgh Mission. It turned out to be no worse than any other place in Scotland. Now matter where I was, the omnipresent rain always soaked me to the bone as I knocked on doors for ten to twelve hours a day. It wasn’t really that cold, but I was always wet, so there was no way to truly keep warm.

One day, my companion and I were invited in to the home of a church member after a long day of slogging through the streets, and he let us sit next to his freshly-lit coal fire in the living room. It was fairly late in the day, and the stifling warmth of the room was intoxicating. It also made it next to impossible for me to keep my eyes open.

We sat and listened patiently as he rambled on and on about something or other, and my mind started to wander. He wasn’t expecting either of us to speak, which was a welcome relief, but I also started to panic as my eyelids started to droop, and once the drooping begins, there’s no way to snap back into full consciousness. There are some techniques that produce some positive results, like tightening your sphincter as hard as you can, but their effects are only temporary. I struggled valiantly to stay alert, but I knew it was a lost cause. I’m not sure if I nodded off completely, but at some point in the middle of the conversation, I felt it necessary to make the following announcement:

“I have a cousin with Down Syndrome.”

I said this apropos of nothing, interrupting the church member in mid-ramble. Everyone in the room stopped and looked at me, which startled me back into the real world. My companion was aghast. I was aghast. It was an entirely inappropriate thing to say, and I wasn’t, at the time, even sure if it was true.

But, on the plus side, at least I was wide awake.

For he IS the Frumious Bandersnatch!

The end of Harry Potter left me looking for something else to read, and, to ease my withdrawal pangs, I needed a new series I could love just as much as the Hogwarts chronicles. None of the new stuff on the shelves at Barnes and Noble was turning my crank, and I desperately needed a book to take on vacation. So, on a whim, I picked out the 40th Anniversary edition of Frank Herbert’s “Dune.”

I’d always thought that I’d read the novel “Dune” prior to this year, but I don’t know when or where, and I certainly couldn’t have told you anything about it. The only scene I could recall prior to rereading it this summer was when the Duke dumped a glass of water on the ground and made everyone else follow suit. A few of the moments in the book had a familiar ring to them, but, for all intents and purposes, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I was reading this masterpiece for what seemed like the very first time.

Which is not to say the book is easy to read. Like Harry Potter, “Dune” creates a fully realized fictional universe, which, in detail and scope, is far more expansive than Rowling’s wizarding world. The fundamental difference is that Rowling goes out of her way to make her world accessible to the average Muggle, while Herbert does exactly the opposite. His book is loaded with jargon that requires constant reference to the glossary in the back. I kept asking things like “What’s a ‘gom jabbar’? What does he mean he’s a ‘mentat?’ And what the Sam Hill is a ‘Kwisatz Haderach?’” Reading the first few pages was extremely tedious, and it made me wonder if I had actually read the book before or if I had just given up when I realized I neither knew nor cared about Kwisatz Haberdashers.

Jargon, in my mind, is an elitist storytelling device. It’s designed to be exclusive, and it usually indicates a condescension on the part of the author –  i.e. if you were only as smart as the guy writing the story, you’d know what was going on. At worst, it’s just plain silly, as in the case with “Battlestar Galactica,” when people use words like “centons” and “yahrens” to describe seconds and years. We’re suspending disbelief long enough to pretend these offworlders are speaking English, so why clutter the language with incomprehensible nonsense? Centons and yahrens are typical of what James Blish used to call “shmerps.” He pointed out that some writers will describe a fluffy, hopping animal with long floppy ears, soft white fur, and a cotton ball tail as a “shmerp” instead of a rabbit, just to make it sound more alien. To me, a rabbit by any other name is a pretty stupid idea.

There are a fair number of shmerps in “Dune,” but they’re fully developed, well-thought-out shmerps. Herbert has created a world much in the same way Tolkien has – it’s clear the world came first, and the story is almost an afterthought. I don’t think Herbert was being silly or elitist in his use of jargon. I think the “Dune” universe existed so clearly in his mind that by the time he started crafting this story, he had almost forgotten how little the rest of the world knew about sietches and such. I’ve never seen a more intricate tale of science and religion, woven together seamlessly like this. Once you get acclimated to the bizarre language and enter Herbert’s “Dune,” the book becomes a very rewarding experience.

Upon completion of the novel, I had a strong desire to see the movie that everyone seems to loathe. I steered clear of it back in ’84 during the summer of “Gremlins” and “Ghostbusters,” and the impression my friends gave me was that I wasn’t missing much. After reading the novel, I understood very clearly why the movie was reviled, even without having seen it. I came away from the book with the impression that this story was entirely unadaptable to the big screen. So much depends on what’s going on in everyone’s head, particularly Paul’s, that I can’t imagine how you could put it on the screen at all.

Which is why David Lynch’s “Dune” movie is so singularly remarkable.

I say that without irony. I loved it. It’s an amazing achievement, and I will likely watch it several more times. But that’s not to say it’s a good movie. It isn’t. But it’s not really a movie, per se. It’s like an illustrated storybook, with moving pictures accompanying the written text.

Characters stand still as chunks of the novel are voiced over to explain their thoughts. The entire movie is nothing but exposition, and I can’t imagine anyone who hasn’t read the book being anything but baffled unless they stopped the show every few frames to consult the glossary in the back of the book. Still, it’s faithful to the novel to a fault, which shows that Lynch had tremendous respect for his source material. As one who has just completed the book, it’s fun to see Lynch’s cinematic illustrations.

From a design standpoint, the film is almost note perfect, from the sumptuous emperor’s chambers to the House of Atreides to the rugged stillsuits of the Fremen. (“The House A-who-ides? Stillsuits? Fremen?” Read the book.) True, they made the Baron Harkonnen a bit too foul for my taste, what with the pustules and the spittle and the heart plugs and all. And what’s with the bug drinking and the cat milking? Geesh. And, yes, the effects are spotty in places, and the mounting of the worm is ridiculous, particularly with the Toto guitar power chord we get at the top. But the miniature work is strikingly effective, even today. I’m glad this movie was made pre-CGI. It’s extraordinarily inventive, and, visually, it holds up pretty well.

The cast is outstanding, and it was delightful to see a pre-Picard Patrick Stewart in a heroic role. The only thing I’d ever seen Brad Dourif in before “Dune” was “Lord of the Rings,” and I’m curious now to see if he performs every role with his right hand at his face and his left hand holding his right elbow, like some demonic Jack Benny. The sore-thumb exception to the great cast rule is Sting, who stinks. He’s a high-school actor in a professional film, and it’s painful to watch him bug out his eyes occasionally to feign menace. I’ve occasionally wondered why his film career never really went anywhere. Now I know. Still, given the high jargon quotient this film carries, it’s amazing how much gravitas this cast is able to milk from lines like “The spice IS the worm! The worm IS the spice!” And the chick who plays Lady Jessica is hot, even when she’s bald. The creepy kid who ends the movie weirded me out, though.

In the final analysis, the real reason to love the film Dune is that Michael Bolton bangs a drum in it. I saw him and did a double take. Take a look and tell me that’s not him.

 

Why? Because I’m a (D-word)!

So I told a friend of mine that I have a new blog up and running, and his first question was “why?”

And I didn’t have an answer, yet I continue to blog.

I still haven’t been able to explain the Moist Board to anyone, including myself, so it’s hard to say why I find writing this stuff interesting, let alone the arrogance to assume that anyone else would.

Part of it is that I make my living writing crap.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s GOOD crap; I write ad and web copy and whatever else anyone will pay me to do, and I’m proud of most of it. But none of it is stuff I want to write. I dabble in trying to finish long neglected novellas and plays begun in the days before poopy diapers, but most of that requires an intense focus that I can’t sustain. (I hear lots of men have that problem.) So my dabblings on the web are a release – a way to write what I want to write, when I want to write it.

That’s not to say that none of my writing gigs are any fun. The first time I was actually paid to write stuff, I was working for a newsletter called the “Entertainment Research Report,” which reviewed movies on behalf of prudish families who wanted to know the content of these films before taking their kids to see them, especially the R-rated films that they shouldn’t even be considering in the first place. So I got twenty dollars a flick to go in and count the swear words, chronicle the acts of sex and violence, and write it all up in a clinical report suitable for filing. Witness my “review” of “Indecent Proposal,” the utterly forgettable Robert Redford/Demi Moore/Woody Harrelson sleazefest:

What I failed to mention when I turned this thing in was that I got there about five minutes late and missed the big makeout scene at the beginning. So there may have been more groping, fondling, and ogling that went unreported.

In many ways, I find this review more titillating than the actual movie. Reading about “passionate kissing, petting, and graphic sexual motions” is more arousing than having to suffer through Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson going through said graphic sexual motions.

This movie was pretty mild compared to some of the refuse I had to endure. The record for F-words was 273 in Reservoir Dogs. That’s right – 273. In an hour and a half. That’s just over three F-words per minute. Quentin Tarantino only knows about six words, so he has to reuse them with offensive frequency. (Everyone thinks “Goodfellas” has more F-bombs than any other flick, but that only had 254. “Dogs” is the true F-bomb champ.)

So here’s a trick of the trade.

In order to track the number of F, A, and silent Q words in a movie, you have to write them all down at the moment they’re spoken. You can’t just write the word once and put a tally mark next to it every time an F-bomb explodes. I was carrying a Franklin Day Planner at the time, and I was using extra paper in the back to keep track of my reviews. At the time I had this job, I was dating the lovely woman who is now my wife, and one fine day she started thumbing through my planner just to be nosy, and her eyes bugged out when she got to the pages filled with profanities. It took her awhile to believe that Tourette’s Syndrome was strictly a verbal condition.

To sum up: Languatron is an A-word.

Hey, Rove! Divide This!

Karl Rove’s departure from the White House has renewed media interest in the word “divisive,” which is typically hurled about by pundit types as some sort of epithet. The action line reads as follows: “Rove was a scumbag! A weenie! A living turd, animated by his own hellspawn bile! And why? Because he was divisive! DIVISIVE! DIVISIVE, I tells ya!”

I honestly don’t understand this.

Politics, by its very nature, is – and ought to be – divisive. If you believe in one thing and your opponent believes in something else, that principle divides you – hence, division: a product of divisiveness. Show me a politician who is not divisive, and I’ll show you somebody who doesn’t stand for much of anything. THAT’S the guy we want back in Washington – the guy who’s everyone’s buddy. So on the day when he’s asked to cast a vote on, say, whether or not we go to war, he takes a long lunch and, when the tally is counted, he makes excuses for his absence and gives all the other senators hugs. This would inspire complete unity among those who knew the guy – 100% of them would think the dude was a total boob.

So am I a jerk or what? What’s wrong with me? Can’t we all just get along?

Actually, we can, which gets to the root of what I think the “divisiveness” weenies are really whining about. They want us to keep our divisions in perspective and be pals. And it’s true that some divisions are relatively unimportant. Actually, most divisions are relatively unimportant. Coke and Pepsi drinkers can set aside their differences and make out with each other, provided the lust that unites them is more important than their divisive taste in carbonated drinks. And how many folks refuse to speak to the people who think John Lennon was more talented than Paul McCartney? I mean, besides me?

I’ve spent quite a bit of time on the Internet being divisive, mainly because I’m pure evil. It makes me chuckle to see how upset I can make people when I tell them that the new “Battlestar Galactica” (i.e. Galactica In Name Only) sucks. I thoroughly enjoy the fact that there’s a loonbat who thinks I’m on the payroll of Universal Studios. The truth is that I’d be happy to go to dinner with a GINOid or a Universal hack. I’m not willing to spurn a human being who likes different TV shows than I do. (I would likely spurn Languatron if I met him in person, but I’m betting I could justify that on hygienic grounds.)

We overlook tiny divisions and manage to work, live, and even have children with people with whom we have disagreements. Most of us can muddle through the whole squeeze-the-toothpaste-tube-from-the-bottom-or-the-top dilemma without coming to blows. But bigger disagreements have to be settled in inherently divisive ways. And that’s probably as good a definition of politics as anything.

I remember back during the election of 1996, Stephen R. Covey was on “Hardball with Chris Matthews.” Matthews asked him what advice he had for the two candidates, and Covey, who was on Seven-Habits-autopilot, said that the first thing that Dole and Clinton had to do was to “think win-win.” When Matthews noted the obvious, which was that elections are “win-lose” by their very nature, Covey scoffed at what he considered to be Matthews’ “outdated” thinking. (He didn’t offer much in the way of what thinking was up to date at the time.)

As near as I can tell, divisive elections are the only ones that work. Dictators are pretty good at getting unanimous vote totals, but they also kill people who vote against them. I like divisiveness better than death squads.

By Covey’s reasoning, every football game would end in a tie, which would mean a lot fewer people would be interested in football, which would be fine by me, because the football season usually pushes the start of the new season of “The Simpsons” almost into December. But I divisively digress.

Rove is divisive? For heaven’s sake, life is divisive. Politics is probably a better solution to this than bloodshed, but sometimes even going to war is necessary if the division is deep enough. And, yes, I recognize the divisiveness of that position. But if you want to kill me, I’m not interested in finding middle ground. That’s why I scoff at the folks who self-righteously stand on platitudes like “war is not the answer” or “there’s got to be a better way.” There’s got to be a better way? Well, what is it? Because I’d love to hear it, but I’m not going to let someone drop a bomb on my family while you’re trying to figure it out.

I’m just divisive that way.

So was Karl Rove divisive during his tenure in the White House? Sure. And good for him. Abraham Lincoln was pretty divisive, too. Then again, so was Adolf Hitler. Being divisive isn’t inherently a good thing. It’s just the nature of the beast. What really matters is which side of the divide you’re on.

Languatron ought to bathe more often.

On Being Stallion Cornell

The name “Stallion Cornell” requires some explanation as I launch my own eponymous blog.

It’s not my real name. It’s also not my “porn star” name, a la George Costanza’s “Buck Naked.” It’s just a name that I thought sounded funny, but it’s taken on a life of its own.

It all began in the mid-eighties, when I was in a weird little show in LA the summer before my senior year in high school. I was the narrator for said show, and my written script was fairly fluid. I therefore introduced myself with a different stage name every evening, and “Stallion Cornell” was the one that got the biggest laugh.

After graduating from high school, I took a creative writing class during my freshman year at the University of Southern California. The conceit of the class was that each of us would fulfill a weekly assignment, and the teacher would “publish” the best entries in a packet she would distribute to all the students for discussion. One week, I wrote an assigned poem under my own name and then, on a whim, wrote a second poem and attributed it to “Stallion Cornell.” It was a love poem to a sheep. It got a much better response than my other poem did. Since then, Stallion has been my alter ego of choice.

I was a theatre major at USC, and, as such, it was my duty to dig up a string of monologues for class assignments, and, invariably, the same monologues kept being recycled, and I can only take so much Christopher Durang. So I started writing my own and, to be sure that I was being judged on my acting and not my writing, I attributed them to a fictional author, the good Mr. Cornell. (I sometimes changed the first name to “Sam,” just to be safe. But Stallion would not be denied. Sam’s day is done, and I mourn him not. )

These monologues got goofier and goofier, and they usually involved bizarre situations with really loud people. The first of these, which included all manner of shrieking punctuated by the phrase “I’d offer you a biscuit first, but I don’t like you very much,” still remains my favorite, although the one where a guy rips out his own heart and smothers it in mustard remains a close second.

Perhaps the highlight of my university education came when a classmate and I wrote and assembled several of these monologues for a one-night-only performance of “An Evening with Stallion Cornell” at USC’s Bing Theatre. Great actors performing truly stupid monologues is a joy forever. And this guy’s performance, which involved ripping out a heart/KFC chicken sandwich from his chest and proceeded to pour ketchup all over it and eat it, still makes me laugh every time I think about it. (He was supposed to use mustard, but I freely forgave the departure from the script.)

Stallion followed me through my checkered theatrical career, as I went on to manage a small theatre in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I always got Stallion’s name somewhere in to the program – once he was billed as “psychic nutritionist,” a title I stole from “Superman III.” But Stallion got his big break at the Tuacahn Amphitheatre in Southern Utah, where I was commissioned to rewrite the musical extravaganza “Utah!” to make sure that it didn’t offend anybody. The end result proved to be less than spectacular, but I thoroughly enjoyed seeing thousands of playbills printed with the credit “Revised book by Stallion Cornell” printed on the cover.

Stallion is also my online presence at several Battlestar Galactica discussion boards, including my own, Stallion Cornell’s Moist Board, hosted at this very site. Again, many have asked what “Moist” means, and some have inferred a prurient sensibility thereto, but it’s just a word I think is funny. (And, deep in your heart of hearts, you think it’s funny, too.) Online Stallion also has an arch-enemy – Languatron, a lunatic who thinks all who disagree with him are being bought off by Universal Studios executives. It seems that the Internet is a silly place, indeed, but you already know that, seeing as how you’re still reading this dreck.

Stallion lives on. I’ve written an unproduced screenplay titled “Stallion Cornell,” an Oxford-was-Shakespeare historical play, and many other stories plays and ditties attributed to Mr. Cornell, including “The Ballad of Stallion Cornell,” which I seldom perform unaltered in public since it callously mocks fat people and has the word “slut” in it. I’ve written many songs since, but that was the first song I ever wrote on the guitar.

(I can soften the fat references and replace “slut” with “nut,” but it’s just not the same.)

Spewing stuff since 2007