SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
April 21, 2019

Really Stupid Shit that Bugs Me

 

When I was very young, I began noticing that an awful lot of really stupid things—mostly involving the public’s response to pop culture—bugged the hell out of me, perhaps a little more than I should have let them.

            Two quick examples from my grade school days:

            When Saturday Night Live had a big hit with their Mr. Bill shorts, which involved a hapless Play-Doh character with a high-pitched voice who regularly came to an extremely unpleasant end, impressions of Mr. Bill became all the rage on grade school playgrounds. Not a day passed when you didn’t hear someone, adult and youngster alike, adopt a high-pitched voice and shout, “Oh no, Mr. Bill!”

            WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!

             I’m sorry, but having seen the shorts myself at the time, and contrary to every last high-pitched impression uttered by an eight-year-old, I can tell you that in the moments before disaster struck yet again, Mr. Bill never once shouted his own name after his trademark “Oh nooooo!”

            In the summer of 1975, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws ushered in the era of the summer blockbuster. In the two years of hysteria that followed (until the arrival of Star Wars), kids everywhere referred to the shark in the film as “Jaws,” as in “Remember when Jaws ate that guy?” Or “What if Jaws came up the Fox River?”

            WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!

            Although the white whale in Melville’s novel was indeed named “Moby Dick” and the giant gorilla in King Kong was indeed named “Kong,” the shark in Jaws was never given a name, and was most certainly not called “Jaws.” The closest it came to having a name was when Spielberg himself dubbed the mechanical shark ”Bruce” during the production, the name being a reference to Spielberg’s lawyer.

            Like I said, these are all really stupid things, but hearing these mistakes over and over again aggravated the fuck out of me. I never said a word, never corrected any of these dullards at the time, knowing I’d be pitting myself against pretty much the rest of humanity. Well, I’ve stopped caring about such things.

            (Oddly, the perennially misquoted “Play it again, Sam,” “You dirty rat, you killed my brother,” and “My little Chickadee” didn’t bother me nearly as much. I’m not sure why.)

            Stupid as it all was, dumb shit kept nagging at me as I got older. Here are a few examples that continue to linger, and since my wife has heard them all ad nauseam, I’ve decided to share them with you.

*                    I don’t know if this is still the case, but during the Reagan administration when Central America was all over the news, earnest and righteous white college Lefties, apparently wanting to show how down they were with the struggles of Central American peasants, began pronouncing “Nicaragua” “Nee-har-OW-wha.” Instead of punching them as hard as I wanted to, I simply began pronouncing other international locales the same way the locals would pronounce them (“TO’KYOOO!”), which didn’t go over nearly as well.

*                    Along those same lines, and this is a recent development, why is it that people, particularly news readers, who otherwise have no glottal stop, suddenly adopt one when they pronounce “Manhattan”?

*                    The Sylvester Stallone crazy Vietnam vet vehicle First Blood came out in 1982 and was a big hit. Rambo: First Blood Part II came out in 1985 and was an even bigger hit. Three years later we got Rambo III.

            WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!

            Mr. Stallone clearly needs to take a course in remedial sequel numbering. It was not Rambo III—it was only Rambo II, or, more precisely Rambo II: First Blood Part III, dumbass.

*                    With the possible exception of his Nebraska album, I fucking hate Bruce Springsteen. I hate his music, his fake working class hero facade, and his fans. Even mention goddamn Bruce Springsteen around me, and I’ll leave. Christ, I had to sit through two fucking Springsteen shows in a single week once, and it damn near killed me. But this thing I’m describing below, I must admit, was not his fault.

            In 1984, the title track off his Born in the USA album was a monster hit, and that’s putting it mildly. Fucking song was inescapable. At the time we were at the height of the Reagan era and American jingoism, and every last rah-rah knothead out there adopted “Born in the USA” as the new national anthem for its rousing celebration of American pride, strength and core values.

            WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!

            The illiterate boobs who latched onto the song clearly only knew the title, and nothing more. They never bothered sitting down and listening to the song’s, y’know, lyrics. The title was all they needed. But it was a song about a kid from a dying industrial town who gets shipped off to Vietnam, then comes home to find he can’t find work at the factory and gets the shaft from the VA.

            Then again, it is pretty fucking funny that the song came to be the anthem of the Reagan years, as it pretty well sums things up. Sometimes I’m almost delighted people are as bone stupid as they are.

*                    The ending of 1939’s The Wizard of Oz is not only confusing and meaningless in terms of the characters, it completely misses the whole point of Baum’s original novel.

            Okay, at film’s end the Wizard rewards the Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion and Tin Man by giving them tangible representations of those long-sought human attributes they felt they lacked—intelligence, courage and emotion. But they’re just meaningless trinkets the Wizard likely picked up that afternoon from one of Oz’s dollar stores, trinkets that still left the characters wholly lacking the attributes they sought. What, a heart-shaped pocket watch is going to give the Tin Man real emotion? And I can tell you from experience that a diploma does not in any way reflect intelligence. It’s all just an empty gesture that means nothing and helps no one.

            In the novel, however, the Wizard rewards them by pointing out how they all expressed solid evidence of the attributes they lacked while on the Yellow Brick Road, that they were in fact in full possession of these things all along. Doesn’t that make much more satisfying sense than a fucking plastic medal that says “Courage?” All this was illustrated in the film, but no one points it out, the idiots.

            And I’m not even going to get into Dorothy’s crack about missing the Scarecrow most of all. What the fuck was that all about?

*                    I hate contemporary news stories, especially in supposedly respectable outlets, that consist almost exclusively of Twitter posts. If I wanted to know what some fucking loser moron thought about a fight on the subway or that week’s mass shooting, I’d go a few houses down and knock on my neighbor Ritchie’s door.

*                    Those of us of a certain age will remember the time when, if you wanted to pick up a fundamental album by, say, The Ramones, Stooges, Velvet Underground or Heartbreakers, you went out and picked up the same album everyone knew and loved and that was that. We could all partake in that collective cultural consciousness.

            This is no longer possible. Say you want that one and only studio album the Heartbreakers released. Your only choice nowadays is to buy a fucking six-disc set containing EVERY LAST GODDAMN OUTTAKE OF EVERY GODDAMN SONG. The same is true for all the above mentioned bands and more. I just learned this morning Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland is now only available as an eight disc set, and I don’t even want to know what the story is for the Stones, The Beatles, or Pink Floyd. If all you wanted, you moron, was that one classic album without all the extraneous crap, well, you can still pick it up used, but since it’s now out of print the prices have been jacked up to Jesus.

            I realize this is a reaction to the impending death of compact discs as a music format, that record companies are scrambling to squeeze whatever they can out of those of us who refuse to listen to music online while they still have the chance. I’m sorry, but I just don’t fucking care that much. Sure, these sets are great for geeks who want to spend their afternoons arguing whether Iggy’s vocals were better on take eight or take thirteen of “Search and Destroy,” but I’m not going to get into such debates, and I’m not interested in listening to fifteen takes in a row of the same fucking song. Just give me the one they decided to go with in the end, and I’ll be happy. I just don’t want to pay sixty goddamn bucks for a whole big batch of crummy versions of great songs.

            That said, I must admit for the last couple of years I’ve been writing liner notes for repackaged reissues of classic Residents albums, each packed to overflowing with bonus tracks, the most recent of which runs six discs. BUT THAT’S DIFFERENT!

*                    In 1943, Universal found a new formula for success when they tossed Frankenstein’s monster and the Wolf Man together in the same movie. A year later in House of Frankenstein they upped the ante by adding Dracula to the mix, which only made sense. That too was a massive hit, and so a year later they came back with House of Dracula, which again employed the services of all three iconic monsters.

            The trouble is, in those last two, Dracula never encounters either Frankenstein’s monster or the Wolf Man at any point. His storyline remains completely independent of the other two, and he is always killed off before audiences can get what they came to see. It wasn’t until 1948’s Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein that all three monsters appeared on the screen at the same time. I love all those pictures, but that little oversight always bugged me. I mean, these were not stories exactly known for their subtlety, logical coherence or complexity. How goddamn hard would it have been for the screenwriters to figure out some way to bring all three stories together? Unless it was a grand practical joke on their part, and if it was I can respect that.

*                    Although I likewise also love the oft-maligned and dismissed child-friendly entry into Toho’s kaiju eiga canon, Godzilla’s Revenge, it always bugged me that the film, given its ending, falls into a standard Hollywood structure that always irked the hell out of me. It can be seen in lots of crappy movies (like the crappy 1982 Ron Howard comedy Night Shift). We’re presented with a geeky, nebbishy protagonist who is endlessly harassed and abused by bullies and blowhards. Then at film’s end the nebbish in question heroically stands up for himself by becoming a bully and blowhard and exacting revenge. So in short they’re films about how assholes are created. At the end of pictures like these, I always find myself thinking, “Man, that guy is gonna be really fucking insufferable in a couple of days.” But I guess audiences are supposed to see a geek becoming an asshole bully as a good thing, as asshole bullies get stuff done. Or something.

            Interesting thing to note, it’s that same trope which has led to the myth that most school shooters were bullied kids, so it’s the geeks and nebbishes you have to look out for, not the assholes who harass them.

*                    The original Star Wars (technically known as A New Hope) came out when I was twelve, which was of course the perfect age for such a thing, and I got sucked into it as much as anyone at the time. I went back to it a few years ago while researching this or that nonsense.

            Now, sometimes when I go back to films that completely captivated me when I was young, films that stuck with me for one reason or another, I realize they weren’t quite as amazing as they were to my ten-year-old self. Sometimes they are, but not always. It’s a vaguely disappointing revelation, and not much more than that. But when I went back to Star Wars? It’s godawful. Just a terrible, terrible film with some of the worst, most painful dialogue and line readings that side of Barfly.

            Beyond merely being vaguely disappointing, something I could dismiss with a shrug, this pissed me off no end. How could I have been so stupid? Worse, how could everyone on the fucking planet be so goddamn stupid? It’s telling that despite the movie’s blockbuster status, despite the oodles of money he made off it, and despite being introduced to a whole new generation of fans, after Star Wars came out Sir Alec Guinness was deeply and openly embarrassed by his own involvement in the picture. That it turned into an overblown and bloated franchise that’s worshipped by people my age (who still bow down to that first one as the greatest achievement of modern cinema) is both mind-boggling and deeply sad. But I guess there you have it, and I’ve learned to simply stop listening the moment anyone says anything at all Star Wars-related. Fucking hate that hack George Lucas.

 

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