Earlier today, someone suggested to me that I pen an article about surströmming, which is a northern Swedish delicacy. As with any food that is considered a delicacy of a very specific region, yet has not made the official menu of well-known cliché ethnic foods from its nation (in Sweden’s case that would be meatballs, lingonberry sauce and whatever that whacky Muppet is cooking up), I knew it would sound gross. And it does. Surströmming is a fermented Baltic sea herring whose odor is allegedly so horrendous it has been banned from two major airlines and the Stockholm airport.
It’s an “acquired taste”, I’ve been told. This is a puzzling psychological concept to me, and would make for a more interesting kilograph than some terrorist cousin of the anchovy family.* There are foods I have tried and loved from the first bite – Kobe steak tartar, key lime pie, crème brulé, among others. But it’s true that sometimes a particular gustatory journey requires baby steps before the palette can truly hit its stride. Why is that?
Even beer. When my beloved aunt and uncle gave me my first can of O’Keefe’s Extra Old Stock (my father passed on this rite of traditional bonding; he was more a drinker of wine and A&W Cream Soda), I hated it. Maybe that was because it was crappy beer, but I really think my tongue just needed some training wheels before it could appreciate what hops and malt could become. It’s a curious thing.
* Actually, the airlines claim they feared the tins might explode, it had nothing to do with the smell. Right.
Babies are born with a predilection for sweet foods and a natural disdain for bitter or sour stuff. We don’t generally lean toward salty eats until about four months, but once we leap off the boob into a heaping bowl of solid foods we become suddenly very adventurous. This might explain why those little two-nub pieces of Lego can so easily find their way into a toddler’s gullet (though I suspect Freud would say that has more to do with a penis obsession, the sick bastard). Not long afterward, neophobia sets in. Read more…
Whenever I’m feeling a little too happy, a little too comfortable within the overstuffed throw-pillows of our culture, I like to remind myself how easy it is to unzip those cushions and catch a whiff of the rancid stuffing inside. We may pride ourselves on our Breaking Bads, our Blue Jasmines, and our Elvis Costello & The Roots records, but this is the same twisted species that also spews out crap-heaps of TLC shows, a nonstop cavalcade of Madea movies, and… well, these musical offerings.
I have devoted 19 of my 733 days to exploring the crowd-roasted excrement that has squeezed through the virtual anus of our corporate culture-makers, only to be (usually) swallowed up by the masses in some deluded mass-hysterical case of collective scatophagia. Maybe I’m trying to understand why we persist in the dank shadow of quality. Why do we support drivel and detritus when the crests of artistic brilliance have showered us with so many more palatable alternatives?
There are questions of taste, and subjective preference should always be approached with a cautious and respectful gait. But then there’s crap. Pure crap. So much pure and loathsome crap.
Some artists can get away with songs that serve no other purpose than to introduce themselves. Bo Diddley’s “Bo Diddley” is a great tune with a magnetic rhythm. “(Theme From) The Monkees” was literally the theme song to the band’s TV show. But 80% of “Cheeky Song (Touch My Bum)” by the Cheeky Girls involves the two lines: “We are the cheeky girls” and “You are the cheeky boys.” Seriously, those lines are repeated about sixty times. We get it. It’s a pun. Read more…
A long weekend shackled with sub-zero temperatures means a full-arm scoop of old movies to pass the hours. This is where problems arise – my years of scholastic film study have nurtured my snobbish instincts, thus distancing my criteria for an enjoyable feature from those of my family. Stupid and fun and Will Ferrell’ed will still get me to tune in. But I also savor the unlikely crane shot, and the precise and unrelenting lighting of what I have been trained to call a well-made picture.
Yes, I would watch Fred Zinnemann’s 1948 film Act of Violence again before a second viewing of The Avengers. Not that the latter didn’t kick the unsuspecting ass of that part of me that still longs to be a superhero (it’s not too late). But Act of Violence features lighting that cuts across the frame like a wicked antagonist, a twisted plot of convolution and darkness, and a permeating air of anxiety and unease in every frame. It moves me, which at times is more satisfying than fun CGI.
In an effort to justify my love of classic cinema to my family, who will hopefully allow me to indulge my inner drooling cinephile this weekend, here are some of the cinematographic ways a movie can slap me back into my seat.
The first use of a zoom lens showed up in the latter days of the silent era. And while early-era cameras were difficult to move around given that they were about as cumbersome and heavy as a small aircraft, early filmmakers found a way to slap some wheels under them and make them move. But it wasn’t until a second-unit director of photography named Irmin Roberts came along that someone put the two ideas together. Read more…
Tomorrow night your little angel may be hitting the streets, going door to door to beg for candy like a gin-soaked hobo with nothing left to lose but his last shred of dignity and the Tinky-Winky costume his mother had bought him. But tonight your angel’s older brother or sister could be up to something decidedly more sinister. Tonight they might be dancing on the dark side of the law.
The ‘trick’ side of trick-or-treating gets very little attention these days. Buying bulk boxes of mini candy bars and quietly judging the quality of each little kid’s costume as they come to the door is practically routine. Once when I was indulging in the ritual as a child someone asked me to sing a song. I’ll never forget, this guy wouldn’t give up the goods without being entertained. I was offended. Fortunately I was also unusually formidable when it came to belting the German rap verses of “Rock Me Amadeus.”
Also, I dressed as Falco every single year.
So where were the TP’ed trees and egg-stained houses of my childhood? Was it strange that I never felt a tremendous urge to deface some stranger’s property? Sure, I probably would have splattered my rebellious mark upon one or two walls had I anything resembling talent with a spray paint can. But that yen to inflict senseless damage simply wasn’t there.
Well, I shouldn’t imply that it was never there. I oozed a bit of irresponsible behavior in my day. But there was never a calendar-designated reason for it. If only I had been told of the wonders of Mischief Night. Read more…
The moment I enthusiastically smashed ‘PUBLISH’ yesterday morning, propelling my dreary (yet hopefully at least moderately pithy) tribute to some of history’s worst music onto this site, I surpassed a significant milestone along the rickety trail of this project. Yesterday’s article signalled one year until the epic conclusion of my journey, a day which will no doubt be anticipated with equal fervor and online theorizing as this week’s Breaking Bad finale.
So one year from today my fingers will be silent. Unfortunately, this also means that one year from today will be the day when I bid adieu to my youthful exuberance, to my lower-risk insurance bracket, and to my thirties. It sends a quiver of squishy discord to my midsection when it occurs to me that I have been counting down the days to my fortieth birthday since January 1 of last year.
One more year. Of course this means I’m now 39, and for some folks that’s a lot more daunting than forty. 39 carries with it a stigma. Some – and here we’re talking about an admittedly illiterate and excessively superstitious some – even call it a curse.
It’s a scary pitchfork! Look how terrifying this number can be!
For this saucy slice of human weirdness we’ll need to travel to Afghanistan, a place where logic and reason often nap in the back seat while fanaticism and wonky hoodoo take turns at the wheel. But as trepidatious as our society may be when it comes to the number 13 – skipping from floor 12 to 14 in building construction, hiding in fear when Friday lands on that date – we’ve got nothing on the incalculable insanity undertaken by paranoid Afghanis who believe in the Curse of 39. Read more…
“The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind.”
This quote beautifully sums up how easy it is to find quotes about dreams by using a search engine. Actually, you can learn a lot about interpreting your dreams on the internet, just as you can find a thousand contradictory horoscopes or even insane fan-fiction in which Donnie Darko sleeps with that woman from Medium.
But the thing about dream analysis is that people often believe the first site (or book or Cosmo article or whatever) that they read, as though there’s some repository of knowledge when it comes to dream analysis, and that source is simply tapping into the same vein of information as all the others.
Ever the skeptic, I don’t buy it. And I want to have some fun with it.
I was going to do a run-down on the history of dream interpretation, from the ancient Greek belief that dreams predict the future to the Freudian concept of dreams being residue from the previous day’s experiences, to the modern psychoanalytic precept that everything in your dreams probably represents a penis. Then I got an idea. What if I selected three ‘dream dictionary’ sites and skimmed through them in search of weird or contradictory information? Read more…