Thursday, March 17, 2011

Atlas Shrugged

Target demographic:
My antithetical demographic:

I don’t know when my morbid curiosity of Atlas Shrugged developed, but it’s been lurking with me for quite some time. Like The DaVinci Code, it seemed to be mostly of interest to people who did not engender much trust in their tastes. If I ever asked for the opinion of anyone I trusted it was usually unreservedly negative. “Don’t bother,” they would say, quickly followed by, “it’s got, like, a 100 page speech in it.” Now, I don’t usually mind long monologues, after all Conrad’s Marlow can sure rattle off a ridiculous amount of words in one sitting. But, I got the impression that this infamous speech was not designed explore the nature of memory, storytelling and communication. Rather it was didactic, long, and obnoxious. Plus there were inevitable warning about Rand’s harsh philosophy and how it’s a bunch of bullshit. For a long time, I would satisfy my curiosity by reading the exhaustive Wikipedia pages on Atlas Shrugged and Objectivism. I would skim them, come away with a basic understanding of Rand’s philosophy (idealism, free market, whatever) and then promptly forget about it.

But recently, a movie based on the book (well, the first part of it anyhow) was announced complete with a  mindnumbingly unexciting trailer.

Railroads! Rich people! People smoking cigars! Government imposed economic control! And probing questions, such as: Why don’t you let me finish?! and, Who is John Galt? Wait, Who is John Galt? What? Why would I care who John Galt is? That’s such a bizarre question to get me excited, but it’s presented with such thundering percussion that I feel like I’m missing something. Who is John Galt? Oh God, I don’t know! I better go to this movie to figure it out! But first I’m going to read the book to figure out why I should care.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Overton Window

Target demographic:
Beckanalian Beckolytes 
My antithetical demographic:
Squishy bearded liberal. I don't even have Fox News

The cover of Glenn Beck’s novel, The Overton Window, features the typical poorly designed thriller layout: the title in large type at the bottom, the author’s name in even larger type at the top, and paranoia inducing artwork underneath. A Statue of Liberty like figure stares out into a faceless sea of skyscrapers. The tone is all blue and looming, with a spattering of birds flying up into the dark clouds. It’s an awful cover. There’s even a lens flare.

Unfortunately the back isn’t any better. More than half of it is devoted to a portrait of the man himself, Glenn Beck. He’s decked out his standard issue shit-eating, ain’t I a stinker grin.
The rest of the back cover features pull quotes, with the most gushing and, frankly unbelievable, parts bolded and capitalized for easy scanning.

Both sides of the dust jacket are embarrassing for me to display. The front looks awful even without Beck’s prominently displayed name, and the back seethes with his smarmy mug. Since I got it from a library, I can’t even take the jacket off: they taped the damn thing to the book. Carrying it around is a never-ending exercise in Sisyphean obfuscation. The least embarrassing position for this book is open. Unfortunately that’s also the worst position for this book to be in.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Last Airbender

Target demographic:
No one
My antithetical demographic:

In the following review, I will be entirely open about what happens in the movie. Don’t worry about spoilers, though. The movie was spoiled to begin with.

My intention with this blog is to detail my occasional explorations into entertainments that, ostensibly, have nothing to offer me.  I want to emphasize, however, these entertainments were simply never designed for me. It’s not as if they’re entirely useless; they’re just useless to me. If I can’t find anything to eat at a steakhouse, I really can’t complain. It’s a steakhouse; I’m a vegetarian. Instead of becoming annoyed that there’s no food on the menu for me, I want to keep in mind that there’s a whole demographic of people who enjoy the things I have no interest in.  I’m wallowing in unfamiliar milieus, and my revelations should primarily be self-deprecations.

But The Last Airbender doesn’t fit neatly into my preconceptions. I already knew that this movie wasn’t designed for me, but I didn’t immediately realize that it wasn’t designed for anybody. In a way, M. Night Shyamalan probably had a very specific audience in mind for this movie: himself. But somewhere along the line he just said, fuck that guy, I’m going my own direction.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Target demographics:
Carnivores. Grandparents. Lonely Businessmen.
My antithetical demographics:
Vegetarian. Grandson without progeny. Generally-satisfied-with-my-social-life librarian.

As I mentioned in my last post I had originally intended to go to Outback for my initial steakhouse adventure. Since that intention was foiled, and since Ponderosa ended up being even more disappointing than I had imagined, I was eager to get back to the original plan. So, I convinced my friend to subsidize an outing to Outback less than a week after the Ponderosa disaster. We made sure to arrive there a little after four; I'm not sure if I could stand the irony of waiting outside a steakhouse before it opened. That's the type of thing you do at the library when you're eager to learn or homeless. We arrived fashionably late.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Ponderosa Steakhouse

Target demographics:
Carnivores. Grandparents. Lonely Truckers.
My antithetical demographics:
Vegetarian. Grandson without progeny. Generally-satisfied-with-my-social-life librarian.

Ponderosa and Outback represent premiere instances of my masochistic explorations into inappropriate restaurants. Like many things in my life, it began totally outside of my own volition. Going to a steakhouse despite my vegetarianism was entirely my friend's idea. We were going to go to lunch one day, but before he picked me up he called and warned, "Look, I know you're going to hate this but I really want a steak, so we're going to a Outback. I'll pay." My reaction to this was split cleanly between the two sentences. Because I'm a vegetarian, the first sentence seemed like the stupidest idea ever. Because I'm cheap, however, the second sentence was very intriguing. My cheapness outweighed my reluctance, however, and I decided to give it a shot. On the way to Outback my curiosity began to germinate. Would they have any provisions for the confused and hungry vegetarian that wandered in? I began to look forward to the possibilities.

Unfortunately, Outback doesn't open until four in the afternoon and we got there around three. I was disappointed. I was looking forward to being disappointed by my lack of options.  My friend suggested we go to Perkins instead, but I've already been to Perkins. I already know I hate Perkins, and didn't really feel like getting that reaffirmed. But I didn't have a better idea, so we ventured off in the general Perkins direction.On the way, however, I spotted a Ponderosa jutting out from the deserted asphalt of one of those large, lonely, weekday afternoon suburban parking lot.

"Hey!" I said, "there's a steakhouse!" 
"Ponderosa?" my friend said, "Is that a steakhouse? Is it even open? Well, I suppose we could go there."

So we made a U-turn into my initial experience at a restaurant entirely opposed to my diet. It turned out Ponderosa was an excellent first choice. Not because it eased me into the steakhouse world. Instead entering Ponderosa was a trial by fire. Ponderosa is like the looking glass world of fine dining.

Monday, July 12, 2010


Lately, I’ve been fostering a morbid curiosity about things that I know I won’t like. I’m not sure when it started, but it may have a base in my vegetarianism. About ten years ago, I became a vegetarian. I made the decision in part because of some vaguely formed morality, but mostly for a girl. I stuck with, and continue to stick with it, almost entirely out of an existential compulsion. I don’t eat meat, because I’m a vegetarian. I’m a vegetarian, because I don’t eat meat.

Such a simple justification is really quite liberating. I worry about the implications of food only when I feel like it. I don’t mind people eating meat around me, and as long as my food isn’t composed of blood and sinews, I’ll happily stuff it in my maw. Most importantly, when people want to go out to eat, I have no qualms with whatever their choice is. I can usually find something on the menu. If anything, it makes ordering easier. I have fewer choices.

Of course, it can occasionally get frustrating. It is sometimes amazing at the complete lack of vegetarian choices on menus. I’ve realized that I just think of food differently than most people. Obviously meat is a non-essential element to a meal for me. It’s like any other ingredient. Some people don’t like lima beans. They don’t order things with lima beans. I don’t like meat. I don’t order things with meat.

That analogy falls apart in many restaurants, though. People that don’t like lima beans aren’t in a lot of danger of encountering a menu filled with lima bean dishes. They probably will never have to ask, “Excuse me, does this soup have a lima bean base?” They probably don’t have a lot of friends that say, “Man, I would really love to get a big bowl of lima beans. Do you want to go to Limey’s House of Lima Beans? Oh wait… that’s right.”

Early on in my vegetarianism, I went to Perkins in central Wisconsin and realized that I didn’t really have a lot to choose from. Even the salads were based around heaping helpings of ham or chicken. There was naught for the likes of me. Sure, I could order a dish and ask them to hold the meat, but that dish was designed with the meat as a fundamental element. Not only would I be paying for something that I wasn’t getting, but usually I would be removing the central feature of the plate. I was initially annoyed with these situations.

Eventually, however, it became sort of an adventure. What scraps could I gather up to make some sort of meal? Sometimes in meatcentric places there’s a half hearted entrĂ©e, but a lot of times I’m stuck with a curious selection of appetizers. But you’d be surprised at how satisfying a meal of cheese sticks is. Ten years on, I’m beginning to enjoy the excursions into unfamiliar territory. When a friend apologetically tells me he has an enormous hankering for a juicy steak, I’m starting to relish the opportunity to see exactly how screwed I would be in a steakhouse. Will there be some hidden concession to the odd vegetarian that ventures in, or will I be stuck with a Bloomin’ Onion.

And recently, I’ve realized that this curiosity extends to other inappropriate demographics. Is there something for me at a sports bar, even though I’m apathetic towards athletics? Am I missing out by snubbing the latest talking and dancing dog movie? Can I read Dan Brown and Dean Koontz and get anything out of them? If I let the barbarian hordes enter my self-constructed Ivory Tower, would I have a wonderful dinner with them?

No. Probably not. But maybe you, dear reader, can get some amusement out of my confusion. In this blog I’ll detail my excursions into entertainment that seemingly has nothing to offer me. I’ll eat at steakhouses and sports bars. I’ll watch movies by Michael Bay and Tyler Perry. I’ll read Twilight and Left Behind. Maybe I’ll find some dregs of flavor for my tastes. Maybe it’ll be like the time that I requested vegetarian at a wedding and got a grilled cheese sandwich.