March 27th, 2006



I had planned to write something at least semi-serious about various situations going on in the world, but I can't. I had planned to talk about some of the developments going on in my life, but I can't. What's stopping me? I'll tell you what's stopping me. I just saw the worst movie of all time. Christmas With the Kranks.

Calling a film the worst of all time may seem like a strong statement in a world where Uwe Boll is still allowed to use a camera, but in this case it's not strong enough. Christmas with the Kranks isn't just stupid, it isn't just morally repugnant, it isn't just sloppy and poorly made. It's all three of those things mixed together with something else, a certain essence of noxiousness that the filmmakers must have worked very hard to capture. Their work paid off.

This is a movie that casts Cheech Marin as a police officer with no sense of irony, and then has his partner hold up a sign that says "N. Reeky" for a man named Enrique. Now it doesn't take a genius to know the name Enrique (thanks Mr. Iglesias) but what kind of Mexican doesn't know a common Spanish name? Are we supposed to believe these cops are borderline retarded? It's a moment the movie throws at us purely because that's what the script says is supposed to happen and it offended me more than any racist character spouting hateful rhetoric has. It was like the director was looking me square in the eye and saying "You're an idiot. You're a fucking moron. You're a piece of shit."

The movie has dozens of other flaws as well. From the complete lack of motivations for almost everything the characters do to the fact that it turns Jamie Lee Curtis into a bad version of Edith Bunker, all shrill screams and bizzaro phobias. At one point a big deal is made about obtaining a honey-glazed ham. Later this ham is served at the big party. Later still Tim Allen's character gives away the same ham, unopened and somehow made whole after being devoured, as a gift.

In the end the biggest flaw in the movie is that, in the end, it stands as a ringing endorsement of capitulation and consumerism. The Kranks give in to their horrible neighbors and find happiness by living under the dark, crushing, hand of others demands and expectations. It's like someone made a version of "Good Night and Good Luck" where Murrow eventually decides that McCarthyism isn't so bad and the Reds are probably guilty anyway. Or a version of Star Wars where Luke decides to join his pops in universal domination.

Why did I watch the film then? Sometimes it's worthwhile to plumb the depths of true depravity so you can have a better understanding of virtue. That was my thinking. In the end Christmas with the Kranks fails even in this. It's Mein Kampf at a pre-school level. The only thing redeeming about it is that it ends, and not nearly soon enough.

Sex on TV

One of the advantages to intermittent insomnia is that you get to watch late night TV. Late Night Tv isn't like other TV. Sure some of the programs are the same, a rerun of Star Trek the Generation is just as good at 3 AM as it is during the evening, but the commercials, oh the commercials, they are so very strange.

During normal television viewing hours it is quite unlikely that you will see Erik Estrada pitching time-shares, or if you do it's probable that you've been smoking a little too much weed during a TV Land CHiPs marathon. Late night it is almost guaranteed. Prime-time viewers are exhorted to buy cars and personal computers. If Aliens were to judge our society on late night commercials they'd likely think the entire economy runs on Lynyrd Skynyrd greatest hits albums.

By far the strangest offering of the late night TV set, though, has to be sex. Sex in prime-time is sold discretely. Buy this perfume or these clothes or this breakfast sandwich and you will be more likely to score with the sorts of wholesome hot chicks that populate every commercial not featuring a talking leprechaun. Late night viewers don't get anything that subtle. "Sexy Singles are waiting to hook up with you now" is among the least suggestive sentiments for the late-night viewer. As if the sexy singles awake at 3:30 AM are watching Doctor Who reruns instead of hooking up with other sexy singles at a bar. Even more explicit is the phone sex. "Pick up the phone, I'm waiting." She doesn't mean for her pizza.

The most bizarre commercials have to belong to a new offshoot of the phone sex industry, the sexual text messaging service. Sext messaging (A term I hope will catch on) combines the high prices of telephone sex with the total lack of sexiness inherent in a cellphone text message. Paying 50 cents a pop for some dude in India to send you a message saying "OMG U R so ht. I want ur Bod E" wouldn't seem to be an optimal usage of funds, but late night TV has plenty of such services available for the consumer who wants to get off looking at dirty messages on a 4 square inch LCD screen. Just remember that Sanjay has feelings too and would appreciate you not tell him you'll get back to him in the morning if you don't intend to do so.
The fact of the matter is that Late Night TV is the filthy ID of our consumer society. It is so consumed with the act of selling something, anything, to the poor souls who have nothing better to do that it lets the veil of illusion that obscures most advertising slip and literally tries to offer you things you couldn't possibly need or want at prices no sane person would pay. Somewhere out there may be a person who wants to buy a set of collectible plates dedicated to the band Journey, but that's not who the commercial is aimed at. It's aimed at the person who feels lonely and depressed and just wants to feel some sort of connection to society at large, something they can achieve by picking up the phone for this special TV offer. Operators are standing by. Sanjay is waiting.