Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Smurfs at the O.K. Corral

Mack Hall

The Smurfs at the O.K. Corral

We may take this as official: the something-istas who make movies think you and I are idiots. Exhibit A, The Smoking Phaser: Cowboys and Aliens.

Movies are art. They fuse visuals with the essentials of literature, plot, character, and setting, and through this dialectic make something new. This relatively new art is still evaluated by transcendent aesthetics: Is this beautiful? Does this speak well of the human condition? Does this speak truth? Is the audience in some way better or happier for having considered the work?

Films, like other forms of art, tend to follow genres. One does not compare The Bells of St. Mary’s to a Three Stooges wheeze because while both address misunderstandings and portray humans positively, they do so in entirely different ways. We see conflicts of good and evil both in Robin Hood and in Star Wars, but we would be greatly surprised if the Sheriff of Nottingham and merry Robin were to draw light-sabres on each other. Even within a genre the forms of address can be so very different that they could not with integrity be conflated: Support Your Local Sheriff isn’t Red River, nor should it be; each film enjoys its own valid artistry.

Given an aesthetic reality which is obvious to a ten-year-old, what were the producers of Cowboys and Aliens thinking? Not much of the audience, certainly.

However, not wanting to miss out on the possible profits to be ill-gotten from this trend, I offer to modern film producers the following cowboy-fusion treatments for their consideration:

The Smurfs at the O.K. Corral
Bridezillas Meet Jesse James
Sushi Red River
The Ballet Russe at the Alamo
Beavis and Butthead Ride the High Country
The Man from Laramie’s Starbuck’s
The Lone Ranger and Captain Kirk
Sergeant Rutledge on Sesame Street
The Northwest Mounted Therapists
Across the Wide Ganges with Daniel Boone and Mohandas Ghandi
Belle Starr Does Riverdance
Zorro and Princess Leia Save the Harp Seals from the Evil Canadians
They Died With Their Cell ‘Phones On
The Short Texan
Davy Crockett and Ringo Starr Solve the Debt Crisis at Fort Apache
The Santa Fe Email
Gabby Hayes – Vampire
Roy Rogers and Dale Evans in Libya
Buffalo Bill Meets Mussolini
Zorro and Mickey Mouse against the Martians
Gene Autry and the Invisible Copper Wire Thieves of El Dorado Meet Batman
Annie Oakley and the Hell’s Angels in Hawaii
Cochise, Shogun Peace Activist
Pancho Villa and Hercule Poirot in Old Kentucky
Destry Bicycles Again
The Nazi Undead Who Shot Liberty Valance
Ho Chi Minh and the Cosmic Apaches

Gabby Hayes – Vampire. Dude! That has Palm d’Or written all over it.


Friday, July 22, 2011

A Tribute to the Cigar Box

Mack Hall, HSG

A Tribute to the Cigar Box

Cigar boxes are no longer a part of childhood. In an office supply store last week I saw a display of plastic boxes for children for use in school, for storing pens and pencils and glue and scissors and all the other easily-misplaced little impedimenta of very young artists.

Once upon a time, children employed wooden cigars boxes for such purposes; if one’s father didn’t smoke cigars then someone else’s did, and so nice little wooden boxes were as common as 1943 steel pennies. I suppose that if now a child were to carry his art supplies to school in a cigar box he would be sent for therapy and his parents filed on with some state agency for Not Thinking Correctly.

The plastic boxes for sale now contain only air, and to a father that’s disappointing; wooden cigar boxes came filled with, well, cigars, so everyone was happy. Contemporary boxes are filled with nothing more than the chemical aromas of Shanghai, and no one ever celebrated an accomplishment or a birth by lighting up a victory Chinese air molecule.

In another time-space dimension, the birth of a child was celebrated by the proud father handing out cigars to his pals. Upon retrospect one realizes that the young mother probably needed a cigar more than anyone, but such an image would not make an appropriately-sentimental greeting card. One wonders if somewhere there is at least one mother who smokes cigars while holding her infant, in Newton County, perhaps.

For children, though, a cigar box was not about stinky rolls of vegetation being ignited, but rather about creativity. The good old wooden cigar box had two purposes: (1) storage of treasures and (2) as a quarry for building projects.

Childhood is even now manifested in little treasures: a Christmas pocket knife, a rock from the beach, a few illicit firecrackers, coins, marbles, an old watch that doesn’t work. The best pirate’s treasure chest for these valuables is a cigar box, carefully hidden under the bed or in the back of a closet, away from snoopy siblings.

A wooden cigar box was equally useful in its parts for construction projects – wood and those tiny little brass nails. The sides suggested airplane wings, and often became such. The top and bottom could, with care, be split into spans useful for the cabins of aircraft, hulls of boats, or the bodies of cars. With glue and rubber bands and the tiny nails a child could cobble together something that, well, it looked like an airplane to the kid, and no other audience got a voice in the matter.

Children now carry bottled water and little plastic thingies that light up and make noise. If they want to make an airplane they call up a program on one of their little plastic thingies that light up and make noise, tap on its screen, and look passively at a flat image of an airplane. The computer program will even make the “Zoom! Zoom!” noises for them. Oh, well, at least they won’t prick their little fingers with little brass nails.

Last week I had occasion to visit a little storefront on Decatur Street in New Orleans, and inside the store men were rolling cigars and smoking cigars. I bought a few stogies, and the nice young man included with my purchase a real cigar box, made of wood, made in the Dominican Republic. I’m going to have to find a boy to give the box to, maybe around Christmas (“Gee, thanks, Mr. H, a box. Wow. Just what I asked Santa for.”).

And as for the cigars that came in little wooden boxes in the long ago: those of us of a certain generation remember our fathers, strong and lean, young survivors of the Depression and World War II, work-stained in overalls or khakis after a long day on the farm or in the refinery, leaning on the pasture fence and looking over the cows grazing, celebrating life with a gasper, far happier than we can imagine at the joy of simply being alive, of being able to raise a family, of being able to feed their children. No longer rationed by desperate poverty or by whatever supplies survived the trip to the battlefront, they could enjoy more than three cigarettes a week; they could even splurge on that glorious, for-the-silk-hat-set-only luxury, a box of cigars. The cigars weren’t very good, but that wasn’t important. That there were cigars at all was the hard-won celebration for men who had not known much in the way of food or clothes or shoes in boyhood. To them, every cigar was a victory cigar.

They were men – may their eternities include their cigars; God knows they deserve them.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Blue Bell Ice Cream

Blue Bell Ice Cream commercials are as annoying as screaming children on a long flight. The only mercy in them (the commercials, not the screaming children) is that the narration is not yet whined in a fake Australian accent.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Governor and the Guru

Mack Hall, HSG

The Governor and the Guru

Wel coude he rede a lesson and a storye,
But alderbest he soong an offertorye

- Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, General Prologue, 711-715

Last week the President was pleased to host the ever-fashionable Dalai Lama at The People’s House, while Governor Perry was sued for planning to attend a Christian prayer service in August.

The thesis here seems to be is that hanging out with a Buddhist of very questionable background who claims to have been reincarnated fourteen times rocks, dude, but associating with Baptists is a crime.

Folks are inexplicably drawn to trendy gurus, and without much thought in the matter: the Tibetan in Dorothy Lamour’s old sarong, Fred Phelps, the Hale-Bopp spaceship guy, John Corapi, and other opportunists all the way back to Chaucer’s Pardoner (General Prologue 671-716). They may have their eyes on the Heavens but their hands so often wish to reside in your wallet.

President Bush I, President Clinton, President Bush II, and President Obama have all had the Dalai Lama over to the White House for some greeting-card theology, and no one seems to know why. But, like, hey, the Dalai Lama’s, like, cool, y’know. One would like to think that presidents exchange, like, hey, ideas, and, like, stuff, y’know just to annoy the Chinese, who have in effect commanded the President not to receive the DL, but one never knows. The fourteenth incarnation of the Dalai Lama posing in the White House is no more significant than Elvis visiting President Nixon, and no more substantive.

The President didn’t wear a tie for the occasion, but then, neither did the DL.

The last time the DL visited the President he (the DL, not the President) had to leave by the back door, next to the Presidential garbage cans, The Garbager Can-ers of the Free World. Well, hey, can you claim that of your garbage can?

The Dalai Lama, channeling Oprah Winfrey, said of his visit to our own Dear Leader that “we developed a very close sort of feeling for each other.” Good grief, couldn’t these two just Facebook each other?

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Governor Rick Perry, a Methodist, is being sued by something styling itself the Freedom from Religion Foundation because he plans to spend a day in prayer at the holy temple of Reliant Stadium, nee’ Enron Field. When you think of prayer you just naturally think of Reliant Stadium’s home plate.

If the Dalai Lama shows up, maybe to share some Green Beret stories with John Corapi, will the Freedom from Religion Foundation call off the lawsuit?

This event is being hosted by the American Family Association, which is wonderfully vague. The prayer service is billed as non-denominational and folks are encouraged to come and bring a Bible and a notebook (is the material testable?). No mention of a Rosary, though.

Governor Perry has urged other governors to declare the 6th of August a day of prayer, which implies that the 5th and the 7th aren’t. We’ll have to check in with Fred Phelps and the good folks at Westboro Baptist to see if all this caesaropapism stuff is cool with the 10th Amendment.

We haven’t heard if some large guys in leathers and Tats for Jesus are going to rip apart telephone books. Perhaps that’s how St. Paul got the attention of the crowd at Ikonium.

Security could be an issue at St. Reliant Stadium – rumors abound that Rupert Murdoch is going to try to hack in to Governor Perry’s Bible. This would be pretty easy since Rupert owns Zondervan, said to be the world’s largest publisher of Bibles. How’s that for news of the world, eh?

And speaking of security, we can only hope no one falls from the bleachers while trying to catch a pop Our Father.

The Secret Service may have to be deputed to guard the first-base ikon of the Theotokos from metal thieves.

And when the 6th of August ends, will folks leaving Notre Dame de Reliant Stadium consider the old, old question: “What went ye into the desert to see?”


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Veggies du Mal

Mack Hall, HSG

Veggies du Mal

The President may cultivate his little vegetable garden at the White House without fear of let or hindrance, but such freedom of agriculture does not obtain in Oak Park, Michigan, where the oaks had better be oaks; no apple trees need apply.

Julie Bass’s lawn was dug up because of repairs to the sewer system, and she chose to re-plant part of her own yard with cabbages, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, and herbs.

You and I, Julie’s fellow Americans, do not possess a veto in the matter, nor do we want one. Julie owns her yard and pays her taxes, and if she wishes to plant salads instead of grasses, such is her small expression of the freedom we all share. We are free to approve or disapprove of her horticultural aesthetics, and she is free to ignore us.

Your ‘umble scrivener highly approves, not that anyone cares or should care. A tomato plant is aesthetically pleasing, all pretty and green in the summer sun and, with care, soon accented with attractive red spheroids which are also edible.

One of Julie’s neighbors, who is not into freedom, turned her in to the Oak Park plant police, the corn constabulary, the marrow marshals, the veggie vigilantes, the cabbage carabinieri, the potato Peelers, the gourd Guardai, the carrot crop cops, the mustard green Mounties, the soybean shore patrol, the broccoli bobbies, the hominy highway patrol, the garlic gendarmerie, the peas posse, the dandelion deputies, the shallot sheriffs, the chive Cheka, and the sweet potato S.W.A.T.

Oak Park’s Planning and Technology Director (that is a real title) ruled that Julie’s veggies are disruptive. No kidding. Disruptive. And he wrote her a ticket for growing vegetables in her own yard. Your peppers, please, comrade.

T. H. White, in The Book of Merlin, posits that the rule of an ant colony is “That which is not forbidden is mandatory; that which is not mandatory is forbidden.” Such is not the rule of a free people, but such is, alas, the rule of Oak Park, Michigan.

How infinitely ant-colony-y of Oak Park to spend scarce public funds on the pumpkin patrol; in these troublesome times every American walking a lonely street fears assault by a drugged-out rutabaga or a gang of feral Brussels sprouts.

We have elected a federal government which has sent thousands of illegal automatic garden trowels across the border to Mexican garbanzo gangs who in turn used the garden trowels. Given this, there is no logical reason why assault garden rakes in America should not be registered and regulated. Thus, Julie and her disruptive vegetables may be sentenced to 93 days in jail, and perhaps her unlicensed hummingbird feeder confiscated.

What a country – a woman may kill her baby with the approval of the courts but she can be jailed for raising a row of carrots.

Perhaps the problem is that vegetable gardens, like Julie, are productive, and don’t gee-haw with the current behavioral template of passivity and dependence.

We’re waiting for the telly reality show: Vegetable Cops – Houston. In tonight’s episode, Inspector Digg Durt is in hot pursuit of a dozen crazed cucumbers who have hijacked a tomato tray. Tomorrow – Durt goes under groundcover and gets the dirt on a woman reportedly smuggling concealed potash.

And what if the Oak Park comrades were to picket the White House and demand that the President surrender his sweet corn? Imagine the protest signs: “Beer Summits, Yes; Fresh Vegetables, NO!” “No Irish Potatoes in Our Country!” “We Demand to See the Guest List in The Old Farmer’s Almanac!” “No Vegetation Without Representation!” “Sweet Corn is Not in the Constitution!”

Oak Park’s most famous resident was Ernest Hemingway, the Gabby Hayes look-alike who never met a tyrant he didn’t like, especially his pal Fidel Castro. His socialist ideology has indeed come home to Oak Park. Perhaps Julie Bass should give up gardening to become a writer. Her books might include: The Sunflower Also Rises, But Only With a Permit; The Old Man and the Unmutual Seeds; For Whom the Bell Pepper Tolls; Across the River and into the Government-Approved Trees; The Short, Happy Life of a Socialist Cucumber; A Moveable or Else Feast; and A Farewell to Broccoli.


Sunday, July 3, 2011


Sometimes you risk a few dollars on a DVD based on a book anticipating that it will probably disappoint, and are pleasantly surprised to learn that the filmmakers have done a good job.

This was not one of those times.

Cartoons, cliches', and drivel.

Bubble-Gum Government

Mack Hall, HSG

Bubble-Gum Government

George: “Did I ever tell you dudes that I was once in a band?”
Ben: “You rock, dude!”
Tom: “Dude, what did you riff?”
George: “Dude! We were, like, y’know, a fusion of neo-Caribbean folk-punk, indigenous African mountain vegetarian-dysharmonic, and, like, y’know, Tibetan urban squalor existentialist nihilism.”
Ben and Tom: “Dude! You’re so, like, ready to be, totally, commander-in-chief of the army of the rockin’ new republic!”

- A conversation not attributed to George Washington, Ben Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, Republican candidate for president, was pettily faulted by some, oh, artist, for playing one of his screeds in her campaign. Anyone who follows politics even casually will recall the lengthy catalogue of Republican candidates who have been forbidden to spin some rockin’ platters of bubblegum music despite having paid off ASCAP or BMI in order to do so.

The rational Republican faults Congresswoman Bachmann for bringing cheap music to an occasion of rational discourse. But she’s not the first politician to patronize the American people; Senator Bob Dole’s long-ago campaign riff, “I’m a Dole Man,” is still cringe-making.

At what point in history did soft-rock mucous – um, music – become obligatory in any political campaign beyond running for parliamentarian of the junior high school student council?

Consider Abraham Lincoln hiring a garbage – um, garage – band to sing “California Dreamin’” as an intro at Gettysburg.

Imagine Winston Churchill, in Britain’s darkest hour, prefacing his “We shall fight on the beaches” speech with a recording of “Heyyyyyyyyyyyyy, heyuh, baby, why don’cha be my gurllll!”

Perhaps President Reagan should have bracketed his memorial to the Challenger astronauts by twanging out a few chords from “Hang on, Sloopy.”

Think of the combined houses of Congress waving their hands in unison and singin’ along to “Heartbreak Hotel” in response to President Churchill’s “Infamy” speech.

No. Let’s not do any of that.

Democracy is not grounded on a soundtrack; democracy is grounded on a collection of documents which promote the dignity of man based on reasoning from natural law and from divine revelation.

But is music important? Of course it is, along with literature and the visual arts. However, someone standing for political office does not drag along a swiped Shoney’s Big Boy statue to show he’s one of The People sculpturally.

And music has long been employed in political campaigns, John Philip Sousa, for instance, and a bit of Aaron Copeland. These fellows ain’t Mahler or Wagner, but they celebrate an outward and exuberent America in a way that the whiny, introspective me, me, me-ness of adolescent roller-skatin’ noise never can. The reality is that contemporary campaign music is to music what rest-room graffiti is to Cezanne and Matisse.

If politicians must have campaign music then let them bring on something a little more grown-up than Peaches and Herb.

Beyond the election campaigns, this country also needs to consider an appropriate sound-track for bombing the he** out of countries with whom we’re not at war. I suggest “There’s a Kind of Hush all over the World” by Herman’s Hermits.