and I quote

may 2011

click for permalink May 21, 2011

My mother of all people got me thinking about Schwarzenegger today. I believe her exact sentiments were "WTF?!" To be honest, before that, I hadn't given it much thought. But then I remembered I did grow up in the 80s. Try as I might like to, I can't pretend that some of my earliest unchaperoned forays into the world of cinema weren't to watch Arnold unloading seemingly endless belts of movie ammunition into the surrounding landscape, all while bellowing incomprehensibly. I'm not ashamed to admit that even today, some of my favorite How It Should Have Endeds involve Arnold.

But no, this is not me waxing nostalgic about the Governator now that he's apparently fallen from recent grace. Like I said, I preferred the Arnold of the early-to-mid 80s, the cartoon character. Pastabagel, who moderates Partial Objects with The Last Psychiatrist sums it up pretty well here:

Schwarzenegger was the perfect 80's icon. His exploded musculature encapsulated the strength-through-overwhelming-force mantra of Reagan era politics and defense spending... [H]e allowed American men to vicariously live out every macho fantasy they felt was being stifled in the real life era of feminism, tolerance, and multiculturalism.

Yes, looking back on it now, it's amazing that anyone in the 80s actually believed we were living in an era of feminism, tolerance and multiculturalism. Don't get me wrong, even to a child, the backlash and battle cries of wounded masculinity were evident, but what the hell did they have to complain about in the 80s? It's hard to look back on that decade (and not just because of all the Day-Glo apparel) without seeing it as a golden age of testosterone (and we shall not see its like again). They hadn't even imagined what the 90s would bring; malnourished grunge antiheroes breaking the "rock star" mold, heroin chic models stealing the catwalk out from under the heroically-proportioned — and salaried — "supermodels," and a Democrat who "feels your pain" winning America's hearts and minds on Late night TV with a sax solo (and in so doing, putting the last nail in the coffin of that mainstay of 80s music).

In fact, so unrelentingly butch were the 1980s, even our icons of the perfect woman looked more like drag caricatures of femininity; think Brigitte Neilson, Grace Jones, Kelly LeBrock... Margaret Thatcher. Our damsel in distress, the archetypal abused wife who escapes a life of domestic violence, was Tina Turner. And our image of ultimate motherhood was none other than Lt. Ellen Ripley (aka Sigourney Weaver) of Aliens. As complex a symbol as the decade would produce, she was life, death, love and redemption, guts and kept promises all rolled into one and strapped with enough ammunition to earn her the nickname Ms. Rambo by the countless journalists struggling to deconstruct what the universal Mother's latest incarnation meant for our collective unconscious.

Which brings us to the action heroes and it's undeniable that Arnold led the pack, trailed by Stallone, Van Damme, Seagal, Lundgren and Willis. While Arnold was the only one on that list to admit to the use of steroids, few could argue that he raised the bar a bit too high for the rest of America's action heroes (though try to keep up, they did).

DankoThe funny thing about all these lurid stories and sex scandals coming out now is that, for all the screen time he spent stripped to the waist during his years as a film star, there were mercifully few sex scenes to his credit — or rather, to the directors' credit. The majority of them were savvy enough to understand that his audience, especially the female half of it, just didn't see Arnold... as a hunk. It was an odd contradiction — a leading man whose physique was the ultimate symbol of hyper-masculinity but whose inescapable — goofiness — was kryptonite to the leading ladies. (Although he clearly had a hand in casting them. Looking down the list of his female costars, it's easy to detect a pattern in the disproportionate number of feisty brunettes, often of Hispanic or Italian descent — and to suspect that his personal tastes must have held some sway). Not that you could watch him make out with any of them and not want to laugh — he was just too absurd, cartoonish and corny. Although his directors made the most of that sometimes, too (e.g. Red Sonja, Total Recall and my favorite, Red Heat — the 80s action classic one blogger called "the most unintentionally homoerotic movie of all time").

Pastabagel concludes his/her requiem by saying:

Schwarzenegger is a spent force, and everything he represented has been cast aside and replaced by new mythologies and new icons. What you are seeing play out now is Schwarzenegger being flushed from the American psyche once and for all.

I would only add that this is a fitting and proper final chapter. He was first and foremost a creation of Hollywood — "self-made" in the most literal sense of the words, sure — but after all, his political aspirations could never have culminated in their "logical conclusion" — a bid for the White House. And in Hollywood, it's a rare breed of action hero indeed who gets to grow old gracefully and beloved until the end (e.g. Newman, and Redford presumably). The next best option is to morph seamlessly into a character actor, an extremely tricky move but a goldmine if you can swing it (e.g. Eastwood and every black action hero). The costs of failure at this move are steep and the casualties too numerous to name, but one star who seems to be right in the middle of a successful transition — much to everyone's surprise — is Travolta.

After that, your remaining options plummet in desirability; they include vanishing from the public eye (e.g. Brando, Biehn, Machio), becoming a genuine recluse or staging a clever comeback, but unless you're prepared to spend at least ten years out of sight, you won't get the desired effect. The next category is the most populous, a shadowy realm littered with once-legendary (or at any rate entertaining) action heroes who just don't know how or when to quit (e.g. Cage and Kilmer). But it's the last category that I believe Arnold is in the process of parking his monstrous, gas-guzzling Hummer of a legacy at the entrance of — it is the valley of the fallen, peopled entirely by former masters of the multiplex who lost their way, and often their minds, in full view of the entire world (e.g. Gibson, Sheen) and there they wait for the opportunity that may never come, a scene right out of the action playbook, where the hero we saw fall to certain death is miraculously resurrected to triumph in the end (e.g. Rourke, Downey). But there's a long valley ahead for the Governator before the audience will be ready to buy that sequel.


click for permalink May 17, 2011

I spent almost an hour today wading through the bowels of Windows 7 propelled by an unfounded faith that I must — indeed, I would — find a way to make it stop assuming that every time I drag a window to the side and out of the way, I must want to maximize the window, then helpfully doing so unless I spot the telltale "I'm about to maximize" signal in time to stop it when the glowing outline leaps into the corner, as if the window, unable to contain its manic glee, is silently calling out, "I'm going over there!" If you yank the window back and forth, like a toy in the jaws of an overly playful dog, or wait it out, the halo disappears and you can release the window, relatively safe in the knowledge that it will stay where you damn well put it. But, god, it's like the vengeful soul of that motherfucking paperclip has taken over the entire operating system. ("It looks like you're trying to move a window! Here, let me get that for you — whoopsie! Look what you've made me do!")

I wish I could say it was just Windows but, as you're no doubt all too aware, this kind of helpful, predictive, presumptuous, maladaptive, counterproductive, time-wasting, user-abusing behavior is everywhere, and it's spreading like the worst kind of virus — the kind that wants you to believe it's good for you.

Mr. Pink and I have seen the accuracy and relevance of our Google search results grow increasingly unpredictable and random over the last few years, just as our geographic location became locked-in, more a predetermined limitation than a convenience. If it wasn't so infuriating, it would almost be a culture-jamming thrill, watching Google's former brilliance and ubiquity implode as its algorithm tries to analyze and monetize our combined search habits as if we were a single, multiple personality-disordered individual with improbably eclectic tastes, and who never sleeps. I realize they're called personal computers, but I refuse to believe that the only two people in the whole wired world that still share a computer are me and Mr. Pink...

e-wasteWell, okay, not a computer. I mean, I have my "work" computer and we share a laptop and then we have about a dozen Jim Crow computers (you know — two-thirds?)... various laptops in need of upgrade or reinstallation, external hard drives full of data waiting to be useful again, ghostly desktop towers with side panels removed; structurally unsound frames with their CPU fans encrusted with a decade's worth of dust, jagged sound cards gleaming like bear traps lying in wait for a careless hand to get too close; a handful of CRT monitors — okay, a closet full, arranged in tight formation across the floor creating a solid sub-level, on top of which two old desk tops are arranged, and stacked on top of those is a second layer of things we actually need to access. Then there are three old school iMacs — all those, of course, are in perfect working order.

But as I was saying, the markets of the world have evidently decided that nobody shares a computer anymore. You're the market of one, and everything you see and touch is all about you, everything from your operating system settings to your iTunes library to your search results is personalized to predict what you want to see and do, whether you like it or not. As much as I hate search engine personalization, at least Google makes a pretense of "learning" from your behavior and supposedly returning what it "thinks" you want — unless of course what you want conflicts with the desires of whatever company owns that particular search term you've just entered; then you'll see whatever GE or Zappos or TD Bank or Netflix wants you to see.

I finally found it, by the way — the setting that puts a damper on your windows' compulsive "helping" behavior, so you don't have to spaz out and wrestle control back from the damn computer every time you want to move a window where you want to move it. It's called "Snap" (for many obvious reasons, this seems to me like the perfect name), but just because it's got a name, don't let that fool you into thinking you can find it by that name anywhere in the Control Panel or All Programs menu or Accessories or the Task Bar or Start menu. No, no — it took an utterly defeated act of last resort on my part to find the first clue as to where this setting might be hiding. I was in the "Help" menu and I finally typed into the search box: "make windows stop maximizing." I could have sworn I sensed a moment of hesitation. The wording of the first search result in the list was tentative — almost disbelieving. "You want to stop windows from activating the Snap feature?"

I jabbed at the touchpad, afraid that the question would disappear before my eyes with a taunting, "Well, ya can't! Ahahahahaaaaa!"

I followed the Help menu directions and found the option buried several screens deep in the Accessibility menu, alongside options like "Turn on high contrast" and "Narrate events onscreen," under the rather misleading heading "Make my mouse easier to use." How this fiendish Snap feature makes my mouse easier to use is so far beyond me... What was so hard about maximize? Has somebody been writing plaintive emails to Microsoft all these years, begging them to make it easier to maximize a goddamned window? Not even if it could literally read my mind and maximize the window a split second before I clicked the button could it possibly be any easier than it already is.

("Snap" is not, by the way, referred to as such in the Accessibility menu, which is the only place it can be turned on or off. And — unlike every other accessibility feature — it is ON by default. So, although it probably could infer such things from our usage habits, Windows 7 does not assume its users are impaired by default... with this one exception.)

The funny thing is, since my work computer was upgraded a couple of months ago, I actually kind of like Windows 7 — but I'm sure it's only because precious anything would have been an improvement after nine months on Vista. Even so, it was overshadowed by the ordeal of personalizing my settings all over again, of trying to go about my day and having my progress constantly impeded by these insidious, infuriating, helpful features that I would have to hunt down and deactivate before they drove me batshit crazy... Display settings, keyboard shortcuts, mouse gestures, touchpad sensitivity, language and regional settings — oh, I know everyone has their own set of petty grievances about overly aggressive, incorrect spellcheck, but my American brethren will never have to know the torment of having to track down every last vestige of British/Canadian language formatting, month/date order, usage of a comma instead of a period for the decimal place, etc. because the operating system has been personalized and it thinks "Canada" is synonymous with England, possibly in the 19th century.

Curly Quote FAILBut that's nothing compared to the nightmare of personalizing your Word and Outlook spelling, grammar, autocomplete and autocorrect preferences; because Outlook has now helpfully integrated Word's internal dictionaries for spelling, grammar and formatting, but fails to pull in the preferences you've set in Word, so you have to do them all twice. That helpful "Add to dictionary" button that comes up every time Outlook sees your name until you've added it? Twice. Uncheck autocorrect to replace quotation marks with "Smart Quotes?" Four times.

There's an awesome new TED talk about search personalization. If you've never given much thought to what a "market of one" means, you really should watch this: