Showing posts with label Humor. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Humor. Show all posts

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Top Five: Why Richard Simmons is Awesome

So the first request of our First Annual APLV Reader Poll was for more Richard Simmons, but Simmons is a man–nay, a presence–we should have discussed long ago. Mea culpa! Inimitable, indomitable, occasionally incomprehensible, Simmons is a pop culture phenomena of epic, decades-long proportions. Pop stars and their ephemeral tunes have come and gone, politicians linger past their prime, actors fade into obscurity, but Richard remains. It's not hard to understand why, though.

5. He's Powered by a Fusion Reactor

I teach, but anyone with a performative bent to his job–actors, musicians, courtroom lawyers–knows that performance is exhausting. So is engaging large audiences. As a teacher, I find that I simply must have more energy than the rest of the class combined. You need to project volume, yes, but most of all enthusiasm. Simmons one-ups us all by, beyond engaging big audiences, engaging them with strenuous, nonstop exercise. He just doesn't stop. There's no chance to lose focus or be diverted. He's just pouring out energy and drawing everyone in like a tie-dyed, calorie-burning vortex enthusiasm.

4. He's Positive

Everybody has a shtick. There are the macho trainers, who help you get huge. There are the sculptors, who want you to get sexy. Then come the tough guys, who break you down. Richards is pure positive energy, attached, fascinatingly, to nothing. It's just all good juju. You can apply it however you want. It's like plugging yourself into raw, limitless, positivity.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Things I Don't Get #5: Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

Toward the end of the holiday classic Meet Me in St. Louis, the Smith family is set to celebrate their last Christmas at home before moving out to New York. Young Tootie weeps from the fear that Santa Claus will never be able to find their house after they move, and to console her little sister, Esther (Judy Garland) sings the tike a comforting tune, the famous Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. Garland and O'Brien are splendid here, the former showing a great versatility moving among the quite different songs of the musical-movie, and how truly sad Tootie looks! The song, however, flummoxes me.

We start off fine:
Have yourself a merry little Christmas, let your heart be light
Next year, our troubles will be out of sight
Have yourself a merry little Christmas, make the Yule-tide gay,
Next year all our troubles will be miles away.
Once again as in olden days, happy golden days of yore,
Faithful friends who are dear to us gather near to us once more.
Wistful, yes, but full of hope too. Put aside sadness, we are told, for we can choose to be happy. Now is no different from the happy days of the past because our loved ones are still here for us. Then bam! things go dark pretty quickly.
Someday soon we all will be together, if the Fates allow, 
Until then we'll have to muddle through somehow,
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.
How did the Fates get involved in this? Did Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos (Κλωθώ, Λάχεσις, and Ἄτροπος), the Greek Μοῖραι, or goddesses of apportioning, who spun out, measured, and cut the thread of human life, really just show up in Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas? And this is the cheered up version?

Worse still is that this is how Esther tries to cheer up her sister? "Tootie, I know you're sad, but by the way there's no Santa Claus and ancient Greek goddesses control the world. They're coming to kill your family and they've also decided when you're going to die. Merry Christmas."

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Article Man

With apologies to They Might be Giants.

Particle man, particle man
Doing the things a particle can.
What is that? Not a lot.
Particle man.

Is he an adverb, maybe a suffix?
When he's in a sentence, does he inflect?
Or does the sentence change him instead?
Nobody knows, Particle man.

Particle man, Particle man,
Particle man hates Article man.
They have a fight. Article wins.
Article man.

Article man, Article man
Declines all the forms that an article can,
Subject, object, even place where,
Article man.

accordion solo

Verbal man, Verbal man
Making things happen throughout the land
His name means word
Verbal man.

He can change the time at which he exists,
And even his number can do the splits.
When the noun agrees it's a happy land.
Powerful man, verbal man.

Inflection man, Inflection man,
Size of the entire language man.
Changing his form to suit his mood,
Inflection man.

Is he depressed or is he a mess?
Is he upset English uses him less?
Who came up with Inflection man?
Degraded man, Inflection man.

accordion solo

Article man, Article man
Article man hates Verbal man.
την and einthe and an,
Article man.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Things I Don't Get #4: Gilligan's Island Does Hamlet and Carmen

Perhaps no television program is better remembered for silly, cheesy gags than Gilligan's Island. Yes, there's appeal in its warm characters and their plucky attempts to get off their tiny Pacific island, but for a show that only ran for  three seasons and didn't have the opportunity to grow decadent or exhaust ideas, Gilligan had some preposterous plots. With guests ranging from cosmonauts to Zsa Zsa Gabor to the Harlem Globetrotters, from giant spiders to mad scientists, anything was possible on Gilligan's Island.

Yet one of their funniest bits consisted of nothing less than a scene from Hamlet set to the Toreador song from Bizet's Carmen. I don't know how this scene came to be in this show. Maybe it was an experiment or a gag on the part of the cast or writer. Perhaps there is some measure of cleverness in its mix of the serious and silly, high art and low comedy. At the same time though, there's an internal logic to the scene. The use of Bizet's song about the excitement of the bullfights makes an ironical commentary on Polonius' advice to his son for keeping his virtue abroad in France. Does it not seem to mock, and intelligently, the ridiculous Polonius? To boot, Alan Hale Jr., with his sweet-natured face in that bushy beard, isn't even a bad casting choice as the earnest, foolish Polonius. The scene is at once absurd and intelligent,  a clever staging of a serious play, cheekily acted, which is well-received by the characters within the ridiculous TV show. And it's all set to operatic music. Incredible.

It's funny too, and I can't explain that either. Maybe it's Phil Silvers' astonished eyes peeping from beyond the plastic shrubbery, the castaways' bamboo theater, Jim Backus' face as he hams up that last word, the sing-song end rhyme, or just the incongruity of it all (Gilligan as Hamlet!), but the scene is hilarious. Toréador, en garde!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Things I Don't Get #2: Michael Caine on a Bee

He was Lieutenant Bromhead at Rorke's Drift in Zulu and he was Canfield at the Battle of Britain, he was Alfie and Jack Carter and Harry Brown, Ebenezer Scrooge and Captain Nemo, and he's on a bee.

He fumbled his love-addled way through Hannah and Her Sisters, and he's on a bee. Batman's butler and the father of Austin Powers is riding a bee. Granted he's acted with muppets and he came out of the water bone dry in Jaws 4, but that's still Michael Caine riding a bee.

One of the worst things to happen to art has been the artist's transformation from humble craftsman, working for patron or employer, to primping auteur who answers to no one and expects unlimited praise and resources, but that's Michael Caine riding a giant bee. And I don't get it.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Some Classics Whimsy: Coloring Pages

Some will tell you it is debt, corruption, and slackening moral standards that threaten the prosperity of today's children. I, however, point to a different scourge sabotaging childhoods throughout the land: inferior coloring pages. Oh yes, it's the high point of hot June afternoons and days when teacher just can't stiffen the sinews enough to teach, but what kind of pages are we giving our kids? Coloring should be a joy not bound by cheap photocopies.

Ah coloring. Whatever the means it's pure delight to open that box and take in the polychromatic splendor, watching one color fade into the next. There's no bad tool either. Who doesn't love the smooth roll of the crayon and its waxy sheen on the page. What a treat to watch a marker's ink slowly bleed into the paper, tincting it fiber by fiber. Pencils, though, were always my preference, with their superfine points you can nudge into every nook of the page. How soothing too their scratchy scraping on the paper.

Whatever your choice, you budge the little stick from its special rank and file and you're ready to color. Still we ought to support the joy of coloring not just with quality implements but worthy subjects.

I came across today, then, an old book of paper dolls, although both ignorant and indifferent to just what a paper doll is, I continue to refer to my findings as coloring pages. I noticed immediately their fine quality, especially the varying thicknesses of the lines which delineate the areas. More noteworthy though are their historical subjects, still more they're so far from the beaten path, and most of all that they're not simply generic drawings but sketches or composites of ancient artifacts. Take this page of Sappho, modeled off actual korai:

click to enlarge

To my astonishment its publisher, Bellerophon Books, is still in business and selling a variety of similar books which I hope are of similar quality. While Bellerophon offers a number of classically-themed books, their medieval alphabet looks perhaps the most fun to color. Imagine filling those swirling letters intertwined with their figures, bramble, and borders.

Here's another page from the volume I have, Great Women. Refreshingly it's not another bland picture of a leggy goddess frolicking in a tunic or toga. It's Boudicca, complete with authentic torc and carnyx.

She comes with a helmet and shield too, and Cleopatra with an array of headdresses. Again for you classicists, the Infamous Women volume includes Messalina and Agrippina.

Yes, these are probably too difficult for the wee ones, but better they scribble over Boudicca a bit, and perchance wonder about her, than fill in time-wasters. I should warn you, though, that these are definitely not for adults. It's not at all fun to look up the original art and artifacts and meticulously color in these pages. They're available on Amazon for about $5 each. Think of the children!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Bring Back the Funny Aesthetes

Complaints about a lack of diversity usually come from politically motivated quarters, but it's not a useless or inappropriate question. Is it not, at least potentially, significant when some person, group, or idea is completely excised from a medium of expression? Being sick this week I took refuge to the television and skimming around I began to wonder: where did all the funny aesthetes go?

Yes, there are plenty of intelligent people on television, in fact there is a superabundance of them, but there isn't any character I've seen in the classical, liberal, or traditionally educated mold. We have nerds, doctors, lawyers, detectives, teachers, and so on and so fort, but none of them live in the world of refined culture. In fact, they don't even visit that world. They're all brilliant philistines. While the aesthetes have never dominated either sitcoms or dramas, their complete absence seems remarkable.

The 1950s and '60 saw an aesthete in the surprising, furry form of Bugs Bunny. From the 40s to the 70s, in fact, the Merry Melodies star had hilarious run-ins with the classics, most notably musical. He fled Porky Pig to Strauss' Tales from the Vienna Woods (A Corny Concerto), became Mrs. Fudd on two separate occasions, to both Rossini's Barber of Seville in 1950 and then Wagner in 1957's What's Opera, Doc? Bugs even takes up the baton himself, the first time in homage to the great Leopold Stokowski conducting one poor tenor to a house-felling finale in The Long Haired Hare. His second turn at the podium is a satire of the conductor's histrionic gestures as Bugs conducts Franz von Suppe's Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna. Finally Bugs turns to performance himself and after a hilarious attempt to get Daffy Duck to pronounce Camille Saint-Saens, tickles the ivories of Carnival of the Animals conducted by none other than Michael Tilson Thomas in 1976.

Although it lacked persistent characters, the '70s also enjoyed the liberal erudition of Monty Python's Flying Circus, who veered philosophical in their philosopher's soccer match, and historical in their infamous sketches The Spanish Inquisition and The Funniest Joke in the World.

The '70s also saw the Odd Couple's neurotic Felix Unger, whose love of the arts ran afoul of his roommate's congenital sloppiness and barbarism. This was a revealing play of contrasts, with Felix ever hoping to show Oscar that the arts are for everyone. The show saw the duo manhandle Carmen and Swan Lake, opera club meetings gone awry, and the occasional poignant turn, like when the two quarreled about whether a multitalented protege should follow his talent for football or the cello.

Perhaps M.A.S.H had the most famous aesthete of the era, though, in the irascible Charles Emerson Winchester. Played by David Ogden Stiers, Winchester found himself the recipient of relentless scorn and pranks from Hawkeye and friends who enjoyed tormenting the major for his priggish pomposity, yes, but also for his overblown longing for the arts and civilization. This premise took turns comic, when Winchester's French horn drives his tent-mates bananas, and painful, as when Winchester treats a soldier who had lost a hand, and in doing so finds out the man had been a pianist.

On Frasier Crane, who spanned the '80s and '90s, it'll suffice to make two comments about it. First, nearly every episode featured some cultural context, whether he and his equally picky brother were arguing over a recording, they walked in singing Wagner, or they were making quips about random cultural trivia from Middlemarch to O. Henry. These touches were slight but voluminous, selling the fact that these guys lived and breathed the rarefied air. Second, there's a consistent thread of Frasier's elitism distancing himself from other people. In one episode, offended by a scurrilous graffito, Frasier tries to open up to the common man, only to find himself swarmed by the masses. One of the show's best bits, typically, is a combination of the highest and lowest brow.

Part I of Three Valentines. S06.E14

It'd be easy to let the science fiction and special effects distract from the high culture of Star Trek: The Next Generation if it weren't so frequent. Whether it's Captain Picard speaking French or even Latin–gasp!–the crew concerts of Chopin and Schubert, or performing Henry V and Cyrano de Bergerac, the Enterprise was not a ship of war but of exploration, a sort of traveling cultural capsule of Earth. Alongside, or inside, also dwelled the android, Data, with his attempts to study and mimic humanity by playing the violin, writing poetry, painting, and acting.

Alongside Frasier, the two other most influential shows of the '90s made few but significant nods to high culture. It was hilarious to see the vulgar quartet of Seinfeld, with their petty concerns, interact with the world of concerts and culture, which they always proceeded to bring down to their level, as when one Pez dispenser destroys a performance of Beethoven. Meanwhile on the Simpsons, in a brilliant but brief bit of satire, the town of Springfield votes to build a new concert hall. Success! The people fill on opening night, and four notes into the first concert, of Beethoven's 5th, everyone leaves. The people, philistines that they were, knew they had to at least make a little pilgrimage to the realm of high culture.

I'm not just talking about hoity-toityness either. There are no classical intellectuals or aesthetes on Downtown Abby, for example, despite the formality of the time and place. Aesthetes often bewail the lack of funding for the arts and the prominence of the arts in our society, and they often do so with just cause. I wonder though that the seemingly complete disappearance of the arts from representations of life, from art, in this case popular television programming, might indicate that the cause is further gone than we thought.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Thanksgiving, 2013

With apologies to J. R. R. Tolkien.

Out with the schola and toss out the chant!
     Graduals down and hymnals up!
There's no tradition we can't replant,
     You'll love it til your all grown up!

Sunder the altar and rip off the rail!
     Hands apart and up in the air!
Now reach across and shake without fail:
     Pray by yourself? Now don't you dare!

So dump the trads in a boiling bowl;
     Pound them up with a thumping pole;
And when you've finished, if any are whole,
     Send them down the hall to roll!

That's what every Catholic does hate!
So, carefully! carefully with the faith!

This year I'm grateful for the Latin mass, for everyone who has preserved it, and for everyone with whom I have shared it. In thanksgiving, my Top Ten Chants.

10. Creator Alme Siderum [YouTube]

9. Pange Lingua Gloriosi [YouTube]

8. Asolis Ortus Cardine [YouTube]

7. Viderunt Omnes [YouTube]

6. Miserere [YouTube]

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Political Campaign Alternatives: A Modest Proposal

Democracy is perhaps one of the most fetishized and least questioned aspects of modern political life. This is not so unusual insofar as a we live in a society where the individual is thought to have personal sovereignty and thus then the liberty to. . . well it gets a little hazy at that point, since democratic elections have been known to produce all manner of illiberal results which get blessed with the democratic imprimatur. At the very least, though, we acknowledge the right to voice concern over one's fate, even if we deny people the actual ability to choose it. This liberty, such as it is, then becomes Sophie's choice between the populist crimes and fantasies du jour. If you don't like those choices then you get branded with the scarlet letter reserved for puppy-kickers and seal-clubbers: you're anti-democratic. You don't love America. You can "take it or leave it." You can "Go to Russia." Your vote for those icky third-party candidates "doesn't count" then.

My favorite of these bromides is the assertion that if you don't vote then you can't complain, as if in not choosing to get poisoned I shouldn't complain when I get stabbed. To fuse Tom Woods and Stefan Molyneux: Choose your cage, citizen. Rejoice. Repeat. Because democracy.

There is, however, something to be said for exercising one's will, if not for picking one's poison. One problem is that people have so many different criteria for what makes a good leader. Some people want businessmen, some rabble rousers. Others economists or reformers. Some want military heroes, others legislators. And so forth. The success of President Obama's carefully curated curriculum vitae is a good example of the dangers of credentials, so perfectly mixed was it to anesthetize moderates' fears of reform and stimulate reformers' hope for change. Everyone saw what they wanted and the perfection of the American experiment was at hand.

Alas, he's not been up to the task and citizens are no more prepared now than they have been thoroughly to examine the candidates. As a result, campaigns have degenerate into promises and administrations into quagmires. Thus, I offer a modest proposal which I believe will increase competition among candidates, drum up popular interest, and produce candidates of a higher caliber.

The Presidential Olympics

Round 1: Marathon
  • I'm not asking for a full marathon, but the president should be able to run a few miles in a reasonable amount of time without keeling over. 
Round 2: Feats of Strength
  • An American Gladiators style obstacle course designed to test their ingenuity, dexterity, and guts. 
Round 3: Academic Decathlon
  1. Math (Jeopardy style)
  2. Geography (Jeopardy Style)
  3. English Grammar (Quiz Show style)
  4. American History (Written)
  5. American History (Quiz Show Style) - This consists of information on present conditions including revenues, expenses, military capabilities and positions, economic statistics, foreign agreements, and so forth.
  6. Logic (Jeopardy style) - Candidates must spot the logical flaw in an argument.
  7. Economics (Oral Interview) - Candidates must explain various phenomena and prescribe a course of action.
  8. Economics (Practical) - Candidates must execute a prescribed business plan, and profit.
  9. Art (Guided Tour) - Candidates must plan and give a unique guided tour of an American museum, explaining ten works. 
  10. Important Concepts (Lecture) - Candidates must give 10 short talks explaining specific concepts from various disciplines. 
Round 4: Practical Arts
  1. Change a car's tires
  2. Cook a three course meal
  3. Clean one house, top to bottom
  4. Hunting/Target Practice
  5. Work five different 9-5 jobs in a week without getting fired
Round 5: Debate
  1. Declamation of the memorized Constitution & Declaration of Independence
  2. Deliberative defense, pro and con, of a piece of original legislation
  3. Ceremonial speech praising an American who has been dead for at least 50 years
  4. Moderated debate on select topics against other candidates.
  5. Moderated debate on select topics against a panel of experts. 
Round 6: Following and Leading
  • Follow a commander and then lead a group, through a series of tasks in the following environments: 1) kitchen, 2) classroom, 3) choir/orchestra, 4) sailboat/fishing boat, and 5) a military exercise.
Finals: Games
  1. Monopoly
  2. Risk
  3. Chess
This course would be timed and compressed into the space of one month, replacing the yearslong spectacle of campaigning. Some events would be timed or goal based, and thus objective, and others would be subjective and judged by democratic voting. In the cases of subjective events, this system would at least provide voters with something the candidate actually did, recently, and himself. It would also force candidates to acquire and perfect tangible skills before entering office. Finally, the failures would be educative, entertaining, and of course, democratic. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Celebrate Good Obama: Scandal Remix

Update: This video after several thousand views was blocked by Viacom, evidently because they don't understand the concept of fair use.

Monday, April 1, 2013

A Friend of Mine: Beyond Polyphony

As any APLV readers know, the classical music greats feature prominently on the blog. Please don't think, though, that we neglect that modern music which speaks straight to the heart. Right here we have a great 20th century hit which cuts past those nasty fugal complexities behind us for some toe-tapping elation. In a way this is purer song, finer expression through its liberation from complex harmonies and expressive means. Listen.

First, hear how the symmetry of those opening notes, three pairs of two, is broken by the seventh, lone note. One does not simply write such a groovy theme. One is inspired. Likewise, notice the triplet figure in the bass rolling on and on, as if eternally, reminiscent of a great passacaglia from Bach, Purcell, or Buxtehude. See lastly how yet another figure theme lays atop the bass, there.

Naturally we cannot ignore the text, which is deliberately emphasized by the lack of musical development. The text features rhyming couplets, emphasizing contrasting pairs such as different and same by their end-stopped placement and important concepts such as name, and same by the end-rhyme. Lastly, the imagery references everything from the ancient myth of Actaeon. "Once I tried to run," to the modern morality tales of Dudley-Do-Right, "He is like a Mountie, he always gets his man."

Complemented by the timeless look of leather vests and pelvic swaying, this video is simply electrifying. Zap!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Dear Lazy People

We've found you. Yes, at long last we know exactly who you are. It's taken us a while but we've done it. So how did we finally track you down?

Well, it wasn't easy. Everyone has bad days, right? So it wasn't so much your unkempt attire, your frequent complaints, or your lateness that gave you away. Nor was it your recycled work or the fact that you never have the correct or enough materials.  It wasn't the soggy fries you served or the parallel fifths in your song or the stretched out, pixelated images on your cover. It wasn't that you complain when there's a lot of work. It wasn't even that whenever the topic of laziness comes up, you admit to being lazy. Do you know what gave you away? 

Incidentally, yes. Yes, we see all of those little shortcuts, the reheating, the copying-and-pasting, the surface-cleaning, crib-noting shortcuts you think are so neatly concealed.

Anyway, what gave you up was how, after you admit to being lazy, or after someone criticizes your work or corrects you, you laugh. We all fall short here and there, but you laugh at the thought. We don't know why you laugh, whether you're amused at yourself or you're suppressing something, but you laugh. And so we're onto you. 

We haven't decided what we're going to do with you yet, right now we have Gordon Ramsay out there yelling at some of you, but we're onto you. In place of a verdict on your fate, please accept this meme.


People Who Care
People Who Value Excellence
People Who Make Things Work
People Who Make Things Look Good
People Who Don't Insult Others By Giving Them Junk
and Perfectionists

Friday, January 25, 2013

Top Ten: Things Which Annoy Classicists

Classicists are a curious bunch. We come in all shapes and sizes and with all manner of creeds, but generally it's a smart and elitist crowd. We're also rather. . . picky.

Most of us find the following vexing. Utter these at the risk of being denounced on an epic scale. I tried to keep the list focused on the discipline and not academia.

10. "I know Italian/Modern Greek. . .

. . . can't I just pronounce/read it like that?" It's not the ignorance of the cradle of Western Civilization here that galls so much as the unwillingness to invest in learning about it.

9. Fouling up quotations

Quote foreign languages at your own risk. "Arma virumque cana" is an epic fail.

8. Duckworth, Balchazy-Carducci, and Cambridge

Aside from the varying quality of the commentaries, the first two fall apart about an hour into reading and there is no force in the universe which can keep a new Cambridge propped open.

7. Random Translations

It's admirable that you added the $4.99 bargain edition of The Odyssey at checkout, but the Derpy McDerperson translation is not helping anyone or anything. Ask for assistance.

6. Lack of an Apparatus Criticus

You mean we don't have perfect original manuscripts? What?!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Tax Zone

With apologies to Rod Serling.

Tiberius Quartermain had just returned home from another day of trading Triscuits on the wheat exchange. "What peace!" he thought, pacing through the last steps of daily journey back to his door. Anticipating the liberty of the evening, weary Tiberius hung up his overcoat and unlaced his bluchers. He finished the day's last duty by feeding Bimperl, his wife's Pomeranian, and then for himself he prepared some tea. At last like every other Friday, Tiberius, with his Earl Grey steeping beside him, sank into his lounger to dilute amongst the noble lays of Schwanda, der Dudelsackpfeifer.

Just as Tiberius began to list asleep the telephone rang. Tiberius, who could bear no cacophony of any kind, vaulted from his cozy repose to arrest the clamor. "Hello," he gargled, before clearing his throat.

"Hello is this Teeberoos Quarterman?" the woman asked. Tiberius heard enough of the faint voice to recognize his mangled nomen.

"Yes, this is Tie-bee-ree-uhs Kwor-ter-mayn," Tiberius articulated as he lifted the head off the record.

"Oh good, Mr. Quarterman." the woman replied, "We're so glad we found you and boy are you going to be glad we did."

With Schwanda silenced Tiberius resigned himself to the conversation. "Yes and whom do you represent, madam?" he asked.

"We've called to tell you about our special program which we know you will–"

"Pardon me madam, please," Tiberius interrupted, "but whom do you represent."

"I'm from the government," she replied, "and I'm here to help."

But no one could help Tiberius now, for although he didn't know it, he was in. . . The Tax Zone.