Monday, April 30, 2012

Happy Blogs

I'm calling these "happy blogs" because they're where I go when I need to cheer up or zone out for a bit. There are lots of blogs I waste time on, but some of my faves, like Passive-Aggressive Notes or STFU Parents,  can be more enraging than relaxing if you're already in a bad mood.

"Precious Unborn Fawns, here is a Family Pack of Meat for you to discuss." Oh, Tom and Lorenzo, you make everything better. I'm not a "fashion girl," but when I lived at home I watched Project Runway with my mom and ended up getting addicted to Project RunGay, a blog that recapped each episode's dramas and analyzed each hastily made garment. Project RunGay was a hit, and long-time couple Tom and Lorenzo soon began covering more of the fashion and entertainment world. When I was able to recognize a pair of Alexander McQueen shoes in a music video, I knew they had ruined me forever. But hey, sometimes the day calls for gazing at pretty dresses and critiquing/laughing at the ugly ones. 

The bloggers. Makes me wish the Runway Toons!

The Comics Curmudgeon 

Did you know that there are things called newspapers? And that they feature comics that are not webcomics but comics on paper that are often questionably drawn but somehow have been continuously published for decades and decades and decades? Did you know that there's a blog about them and if you start reading it you will suddenly find yourself dependent upon Josh Fruhlinger's examinations of Rex Morgan, M.D.? It's true! While our nation's seniors find reassuring predictability in Family Circus and Marmaduke, the Comics Curmudgeon sees a repressive cult and a murderous demon hound. But it's not all malice; Fruhlinger is certainly bringing these comics to a wider audience. Before this blog, did anyone under 30 know there was a thing called Apartment 3-G featuring the world's most hardcore BAMF, Margo? 

Thank you, Josh, for bringing Margo into my life.

Kitten photographer extraordinaire Laurie Cinotto has been documenting her work as a foster parent for kittens for the Tacoma/Pierce County Humane Society for years. My family has fostered many kittens for the Humane Society too, but not nearly on this scale! Homeless kittens that are too little to be adopted yet are placed in foster homes so that they can get lots of socialization and love. Laurie, her husband, and their own kitty, Charlene Butterbean, raise the fluffy babies into happy, adoptable pets. With Laurie's great photographs capturing each kitten's personality, you'll fall in love with every tiny stray that passes through her home!

The Darling family is one of many litters fostered by Laurie.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Poem in Your Pocket Day

This year's poster.

This Thursday, April 26, is Poem in Your Pocket Day, part of National Poetry Month. It's a day for carrying around a poem to share with "co-workers, family, and friends." If that sounds kinda awkward (especially co-workers. "Here are those TPS reports...and a copy of Marlowe's "The Passionate Shepherd to his Love."), you can also participate on Twitter with the hashtag #pocketpoem, post a link on Facebook, email a poem to friends, or just shyly hoard your poem if you're a total introvert.

Other National Poetry Month traditions include NaPoWriMo (for National Poetry Writing Month, modeled on the writing-a-book-in-a-month event NaNoWriMo), where you write a poem every day in April. I was too lazy to do that this year (and most years, TBH), and now it's the 24th, but at least Poem in Your Pocket Day is something I can commit to!

But which poem(s) to choose? My first thought was "OMG 'The Waste Land' duh! :D !!!" (my first thought for most situations), but then I realized that's not very pocket-sized, so I'll have to keep thinking. The Academy of American Poets has tons of ready-to-print suggestions here, with favorites like Robert Frost's "Design," Emily Dickinson's "I'm Nobody, Who Are You?" and Shel Silverstein's "Where the Sidewalk Ends."

More places to find poems:
Verse anthologies & volumes on Library

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Wasting Time on Youtube 3

Youtube is the worst. It's the ultimate time suck. You get stuck in a loop of "one more video" and then it's 3am and somehow via "suggested videos" you've transitioned from a link your friend posted on Facebook to the midst of the turtles-humping-pigeons subgenre you didn't know existed. That's why it's so great when you find a new favorite prolific channel - hours and hours of videos to catch up on and no ventures into that "weird part" of Youtube. 

Wasting Time on Youtube 1: Smosh, Mr. Arturo Trejo & Amigos, Kids React, Epic Rap Battles of History
Wasting Time on Youtube 2: The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, Cute Win Fail, California On/AsKassem, Mythicbells Persians

Ryan Higa is one of the superstars of Youtube, and with his good looks, expressive face, and joyous enthusiasm, it's easy to see why. He became well known for his faux infomericals (infauxmercials?), which give him the opportunity to showcase his ShamWow-ready speed talking. He's also made some very popular music videos with Chester See, my favorite of which is this tale of bromance, which includes guest appearances and frolicking through LACMA's Urban Light.

This is stupid. It's so stupid. But I can't stop watching it. Flix uses the internet's surplus of cat videos to craft short, totally unrelated scenes of a telenovela featuring cats. The drama includes the forbidden love of Ramon the lizard and Felipe the cat and the danger of the ruthless cat cartel played by Shiro and friends. Which brings us to...

The feline performance art troupe Shironeko & Co. They sit in things and on things and balance objects on their heads and paws. That's pretty much it. They are internet famous, especially Shiro. There's even a stuffed animal of him!

Okay, so you've watched Ryan Higa bouncing around and hours of cat footage, and now you'd like something serious and educational. The documentaries and documentary trailers cataloged by Journeyman Pictures are rarely fun (frequent topics include genocide, misogynistic violence, and human trafficking), but they are enlightening and compelling. And with nearly 4.5k videos posted so far, you have a lot to choose to explore.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Black Cats for Friday the 13th

Poor black kitties! Cats are already a little mysterious, and then when they're the color of night, they're associated with magic, witches, Halloween...and unluckiness. Our family has fostered lots of black kittens over the years, and they've all been sweethearts. Here are some lucky black cats for Friday the 13th!

No way you've never seen this.

On posters, notebooks, magnets...this image is ubiquitous, but for good reason. This 1896 art nouveau poster by Theophile Alexandre Steinlein advertising Le Chat Noir cabaret is striking. Looking at it, you can image you, too, are in the late-19th Century Montmartre of bohemian hangouts like the Moulin Rouge or Au Lapin Agile.

It's there, I promise. Look to the right of the naked lady. Farther...

And here's another iconic image from 19th Century Paris involving a black cat. Based on Titian's Venus of Urbino, Manet turned the "Imma paint a naked lady but it's classical or whatever so it's okay" genre on its head with 1863 masterpiece Olympia. This naked lady's a prostitute, she's not coyly inviting the male gaze, and Titian's loyal little lap dog has been replaced with a spirited cat. Critics were horrified.

Behemoth lives on in Kiev!

Behemoth is a fan favorite of Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita (previously discussed here), frequently gracing covers of various editions of the novel. A demon in the form of a large black cat, Behemoth is a charming and wisecracking member of Woland's (Satan) retinue.

"Wednesday Runs" in Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton

Now how can you be scared of a black kitty like this with her excited little face and pink tongue? If this cat crossed my path, I'd be scooping it up for kisses immediately! Kate Beaton is known for her hilarious history comics, but her knack for expressive characters works for kitties as well as Napoleon. It's always a treat when Wednesday shows up!

Illustration by Aubrey Beardsley

Of course, if you'd like something scary on this famed day, there's Edgar Allen Poe's famous 1843 short story "The Black Cat" (full text here). There's a black cat and horror, but the monster's no feline.

Image Info:
Chat Noir poster: Wikimedia Commons
Manet's Olympia: Wikimedia Commons
Behemoth statue: Wikimedia Commons
Hark! A Vagrant Comic: Kate Beaton
Beardsley illustration: Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Hi, My Name is Satan 3: Beelzebub Edition

Hi, My Name is Satan Beelzebub. 

So here and here we looked at artists' representations of the devil, from Power Puff Girls to Hieronymus Bosch. But what about Beelzebub? He's sometimes conflated with Satan and sometimes his own character, and is also known as Lord of the Flies. You might know him from Queen as someone who plans ahead and delegates.


Paradise Lost - John Milton

In Milton's Paradise Lost, Beelzebub is a high-ranking angel and Lucifer's bestie. The whole "war on Heaven" thing comes out of their late-night bitch session about Jesus, and after the Fall, Beelzebub is the de facto second-in-command in Hell. He's the perfect best friend character, too, setting up "but who could possibly be brave enough to venture into Chaos?" situations like a champ.

Lake of burning sulfur? Nothing these two bros can't handle.

The Sandman - Neil Gaiman

Poor Beelzebub. While Neil Gaiman goes with a suave Miltonic Lucifer in his Sandman series, he demotes the Lord of the Flies to a sniveling, literal interpretation. Like Hieronymus Bosch's Satan, Gaiman's Beelzebub is stripped of any vestige of allure or dignity, resigned to the sewers of existence.

He just needs a wig and some speech therapy.

Lord of the Flies - William Golding

If you went to middle school in the USA, you probably read Lord of the Flies, from which you learned that 1) British schoolboys are creepy as fuck, and 2) the totalitarian governments of Battle Royale and The Hunger Games could have skipped the whole "fight to the death or we'll kill you" thing and just thrown a bunch of kids on a beach with the same result. On this adultless island, humanity either fades away or is enhanced to its purest form, depending on how much of a misanthrope you are. Oh, you got a conch to symbolize order and civilized discourse? We raise you a severed pig head on a stake. Not scary enough? Just wait until you start hallucinating and the Lord of the Flies possesses it and talks to you. Humans: the real rotting monster.


Beelzebub - Ryuhei Tamura

Gonna be honest: I have never read this manga or watched this anime. But when my image searches for Paradise Lost illustrations of this character kept turning up not Dore or Blake artwork but a green-haired, clothes-adverse baby, I had to find out why this was. In this manga-turned-anime, a high school student discovers a baby - Beelzebub IV - who has been sent to Earth from Hell to destroy humanity. But first he has to grow up, and this lucky high school student is the one who gets to raise him! Hijinks ensue.

Engraving from 1678 edition of John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress
Illustration by Gustave Dore for Paradise Lost 
Sandman panel from Comic Vine
Soul-killing still from Peter Brook's 1963 Lord of the Flies adaptation

Monday, April 9, 2012

Art & Revolution: Hunger Games

Adrienne Rich died last month, on March 27. In her poem "What Kind of Times Are These" she wrote, "this isn't a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here, / our country moving to its own truth and dread, / its own ways of making people disappear." The poem was written in 1995, years before secret overseas prisons and the NDAA entered the mainstream news.

I finally saw The Hunger Games this weekend. I read the book and enjoyed it, but seeing it onscreen somehow made all the parallels all the more eerie. The absurdity of the extreme wealth concentration in the Capitol. The ease with which narratives are controlled via the media. The calculated fear tactics of a repressive government. In one poignant scene, Haymitch, a broken, alcoholic winner of a past Hunger Games, watches in quiet anguish and anger as a parent buys their child a cheap plastic-wrapped plastic souvenir: a sword so he too can "play" Hunger Games.

In our world, you can buy Hunger Games nail polish. To be fair, the collection from China Glaze is called "Colours from the Capitol," suggesting that by wearing it, you too can be a Capitol citizen drowning in excess while watching less fortunate children fight to the death. 

After the rebellion, there was only smoke and ashes. And glitter.

But who am I to snark? Aren't I a Capitol citizen too, with my Foxconn-produced iPhone?

I wonder what author Suzanne Collins thinks. For her is it just a story? Did she hope readers would absorb something more? Does she, like Upton Sinclair upon seeing the reaction to his inhumane factory expose The Jungle, think, "I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident hit it in the stomach"? In his review of the film, Roger Ebert notes of Panem, the name Collins gives the book's country, "Mrs. Link, my high school Latin teacher, will be proud that I recall one of her daily phrases, 'panem et circenses,' which summarized the Roman formula for creating a docile population: Give them bread and circuses. A vision of present-day America is summoned up, its citizenry glutted with fast food and distracted by reality TV."

The Hunger Games juggernaut has become a circus critiquing a circus. But even with the nail polish, the made-in-China action figures, the millions reaped in merchandizing for corporations, The Hunger Games still has a feeling of rebellion in it. But does that lead to anything? Disney clearly had no reason to fear that after watching Wall-E, audiences would shun mass-produced, landfill-destined plastic Wall-E tsotchkes.

Brave New World, 1984, Fahrenheit 451. No free-thinking utopia sprung from these works, but they did give us more ways to talk about freedom and oppression.

Is it enough to be a scribe? To let others know, yes, I see it too? To let future generations know that not everyone agreed with the status quo? That that there was discontent and that a few tried to make it tangible in words? I don't have an answer right now, and this isn't supposed to be a complete exploration; I'm just rambling and wondering.

Maybe we are forever in T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" and forever both embracing and railing against it.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Bunnies for Easter

After last week's Easter eggs, my bunny-obsessed friend Betsy suggested a post on Easter bunnies. At first I wasn't convinced. Aren't bunnies a bit cloying and pedestrian? But as I searched my brain for bunnies in art, you could say I fell further down the rabbit hole. Or even that I...

Which brings us to one of the most famous rabbits: the White Rabbit from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. As the impetus for Alice's journey, the White Rabbit has become a symbol for searching for purpose in life/waking to a new reality/drugs. Isn't that right, Jefferson Airplane? Helping the White Rabbit and so many other characters from the book reach icon status was John Tenniel, who did the illustrations in the original 1865 edition.

Grace Slick hopes that's a pipe.

But the White Rabbit isn't the only rabbit in Wonderland. There's also the crazed March Hare, who, along with the Mad Hatter and the Dormouse, is trapped in a perpetual absurdist teatime. 

If you ask Alice, she'll tell you these guys have the real drugs.

In 2010, a new edition of Alice in Wonderland was published by Harper Collins, lavishly illustrated by superstar artist Camille Rose Garcia. The nightmarish-but-beguiling tea party was a perfect fit for her style.

Told you they have the good stuff.

Mysterious white rabbits have also appeared in the work of contemporary artist Marc Burckhardt. Although delicate, his rabbits have a quietly lethal vibe, whether battling snakes or seeming to have traces of blood on their paws and mouths.

Burckhardt's "Mirror" on the cover of the Indiana Review.

With their implied silence and keen observational eyes, his rabbits remind me of those in the backgrounds of the famed "Lady and the Unicorn" tapestries from late 15th Century Europe. 

Two of the many background bunnies.

Along with many other animals, the prolific rabbits watch the actions taken by the central figures of the lady, unicorn, maidservant, and lion. 

Alas, then there's how the Dutch do rabbits.

Melchior d'Hontecoeter, Still Life with Peacock, Rabbit, and Spaniel, c. 1660

Camille Rose Garcia illustration: PAPERMAG 
     -More of Garcia's Wonderland illustrations at Merry Karnowsky Gallery
"Lady and the Unicorn" tapestries: Cluny Museum.
d'Hontecoeter painting: image from PopArt Machine, owned by Legion of Honor