• So you love the original "Exorcist," but you can't bring yourself to see the critically savaged Instead, take half a minute to watch You the bunnies' take on "Jaws," "The Shining," "Titanic" and "Alien." All are well worth the tiny time investment.
• I've but I admit to also having a soft spot for Homer's "Mmm ... [insert current favorite foodstuff here]." The fabulous Simpsons Archive offers . My favorite is "Mmm ... unexplained bacon."
• What, are you telling me that those hip-hop artists weren't born with names like Lil Bow Wow and Yo Yo? matches up their musical monikers with birth names. (Via .)
• As an entertainment editor, it's my job to stay up-to-date with the latest classy entertainment. So of course I went to see (What? It was hilarious.) As a Minnesotan now living on the West Coast, I miss those little White Castle gut bombs. But apparently the restaurant name means nothing in Europe (sacre bleu!), so there the movie is called Munchies, it appears, are universal. (Via .)
• Never seen a White Castle burger (slyder, slider, gut bomb, take your pick) before? Oh, you poor soul. You can watch the little square burgers get made via on the White Castle site. Uh-oh, now I've got the munchies. . .
The simple side of the Olympics
As impressive as the feat of merely qualifying for is, there are some events that get all the attention. Gymnastics, basketball, figure skating in winter, these are the glamour sports of the Games. They have more fans and garner much more press coverage, even though the medals in the other events are just as golden.
I admit, I really enjoy watching the glamour sports (although really, figure skating hasn't been the same since Tonya Harding left for Celebrity Boxing or whatever she is doing now). But I also like to tune in to the non-glamour sports when I can — though sometimes, it's darn hard to find television coverage of them.
A few days ago I tuned in to a sport I would never have thought I'd be a fan of: . I don't know any of the athlete's names, their personal stories, and most of them come from nations I'll likely never visit.
Yet weightlifting holds such a simple, basic appeal. You walk up to the weight. You pick up the weight. You either lift it above your head, or you don't. If you lift a heavier weight than the other contestants, you win. A child could understand it. Possibly my cats could understand it.
Weightlifting has no fancy costumes, weightlifters wear no glitter on their faces. There is no music. Judges cannot be bribed in weightlifting, there are no fractional scores or deductions for stepping out of bounds. One weightlifter cannot score higher than another because his or her routine was more difficult from the get-go. In this event, there can be no excuses, no tears over untied skate laces.
You lift the weight. Or you do not. There is a lesson in that somewhere if I were smart enough to learn it.
‘Daily Show’ gets serious
It's been fun watching scare old-school politicians. As Stewart's hilarious and smart program gained more and more viewers, you could almost see the panic spreading. that "A lot of television viewers — more, quite frankly, than I'm comfortable with — get their news from the Comedy Channel [close Ted, it's Comedy Central] on a program called 'The Daily Show.’ ”
Makes you wonder if Ted's ever seen Stewart do his thing — after all, it's only a half-hour — and if he has, if he understood it. Newspapers and network news programs alike have worried for years about losing the younger generations. You'd think they'd all have hired consultants to frantically dissect such a successful venture as "The Daily Show" in an attempt to leach some of Stewart's success into their own entities. Instead, they collectively turn up their noses at the idea that news can be funny, or presented in a different format. Yes, "The Daily Show" is a comedy program first, but a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.
The horrified reactions of some elder statesmen and newsmen to Stewart makes me wonder if they learned nothing from previous generations' reactions to the Beatles ("What's with that LONG HAIR?") or to Elvis ("Do NOT move that camera below his waist!"). New generation, new era, new style.
That said, I was eager to watch Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's appearance on "The Daily Show" Tuesday night. The swirling controversy over the Swift Boat ads and who said what to whom and where was Kerry when is exactly the kind of political nonsense that Stewart and his show skewer so precisely.
Stewart's show Monday night had been right on point with this very topic, with a deft pairing of video of a Swift Boat vet dissing Kerry in the controversial ad, followed by video of the same man effusively praising Kerry for his Vietnam valor in video from 1996.
And Stewart started off Tuesday's show with his usual deftness (after revealing his Secret Service code name: "Stinky.").
"We are not a news show, obviously," Stewart said. "Some people confuse us with a news show . . . and that either says something terrible about the state of news in this country, or something terrible about the state of comedy on our program."
After a couple of other bits, Kerry was introduced about halfway through the program. The senator walked out wearing a suit with a pale blue tie, an American flag pin, what looked like a , and a huge smile that never left his face. But once he sat down next to Stewart, it was as if the normally quick-moving show ground to a halt.
Stewart started him out with a nice easy one: "I watch a lot of the cable news shows so I understand that, apparently you were never in Vietnam." Kerry gave that one a good laugh and what seemed like some off-the-cuff remarks about how yes, he'd like to know too exactly where he was. That felt unrehearsed and human.
But when Stewart asked if it was hard for him not to take the attacks personally, Kerry started talking about how it was disappointing for the American people, who'd like to have an intelligent conversation about the issues. Which is fine, heck, which is true, but the question as put to him was so personal, the answer, so impersonal.
Kerry did make me think he was going to personalize his answer when he said "I've been through worse," but then he left it at that. That statement reminded me of reading an article about the dedication of the World War II Memorial, in which someone asked one of that war's vets if they had been afraid to travel to Washington, DC because of terrorist threats. The old vet said no, never crossed his mind, and the unspoken statement was "I've been at Iwo Jima, why would I be afraid in Washington?" I would have liked to have come away from "The Daily Show" appearance with that sense about Kerry. But when he was handed the opportunity to go deeper, to get a little personal, the senator seemed to shy away.
Stewart seemed to have a comedy bit prepared that he didn't finish, in which he read off Republican charges against Kerry and asked the candidate to answer them. "Are you the number one most liberal senator in the Senate?" was one. Kerry's answer: A simple no. Ooooohkaaaay. Surely he's faced down that charge before, and surely he's had time to concoct a bit of a snappier answer than "no"? It's possible Kerry thought Stewart was going to just fire charges at him rapid-fire and he'd have to just refute them all, but this bit somehow devolved into Kerry discoursing about the meaning of "compassionate conservative."
Near the end of the show, when Stewart asked if it was true that Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, got a nickel every time he used ketchup, Kerry's answer was true : "Would that it were!" he said.
Would that it were? "I wish!" might have expressed the same sentiment in a more relatable way. "Not true, but every time you use mustard, she has to pay a nickel," might have been a way to have fun with it. But "would that it were"?
Whether it was Stewart's questions or Kerry's tendency to start naming off talking points when given a chance to speak, I'm not sure. But Tuesday's "Daily Show" felt awkward and a wee bit dull. Maybe it was because of all the stress on his shoulders as he treads the campaign trail, maybe it's just his natural reserve, but Kerry seemed stiff and unsure for the entire appearance, even as he smiled gamely away.
Kerry may earn points just for having the guts to go on "The Daily Show," and the brains to know it appealed to a huge, young audience. But if any of the older generation of politicians or newspeople watched Stewart's show for the first time Tuesday night, they're bound to have turned off their sets even more puzzled than ever about why the show has such a huge appeal.
What would we do without d'oh?
We have many phrases for which to thank "The Simpsons." Ay, caramba! Monorail, monorail, monorail. Canyonero! Eat my shorts. S-M-R-T. To the book depository! Mmm ... donuts. Worst. Episode. Ever.
But I could get by without all of the above phrases, if I had to. There's just one "Simpsons" phrase I'd have trouble doing without. It's only three little letters and one punctuation mark, but it's become such a part of modern vocabulary that I don't want to give it up. Whatever did we do before "D'oh"?
D'oh wasn't even originally in the script. It's part of "Simpsons" lore that creator Matt Groening originally conceived it only as "annoyed grunt." (There's even an episode titled and the best part of that is that most fans immediately got the joke.)
, who voices Homer, turned it into the sound we all know and love. claims that Castellaneta first drew out the phrase, copying old-time actor , but later sped it up to the "d'oh" we hear every week on the show.
"D'oh!" has become such a part of the show's history that it's even come in for a skewering in several episodes. In one, Homer says "Do'eth!" to an Amish farmer, and in a classic bit, Homer runs over a deer, yelps "D'oh!", and then watches Marge and Lisa chime in with "A deer!" and "A female deer!"
The joy of d'oh is that it fills a void in our language we didn't even know we had. Like the German word "schadenfreude" for "shameful joy," there's just no other English word that says what "D'oh!" does. Since 2001, it's even been in the Oxford English Dictionary, "Expressing frustration at the realization that things have turned out badly or not as planned or that one has just said or done something foolish. Also implying that another person has said or done something foolish." Not that you needed to define it to any "Simpsons" watchers out there.
"D'oh" is especially useful in this world of e-mail and instant messaging, where it's often hard to tell exactly what a person means. E-mail especially is ripe for misunderstandings. I know I'm not the only one who's read what could be an innocent line in an e-mail message ("Great hat yesterday, Gael.") and wondered: What exactly is this person saying here?
You can play the Marge, and assume that everyone likes you and all is meant for the best ("They love my hat!"), and just move on.
Or you can play the Homer, and take everything the wrong way. ("How dare you criticize my hat! Purple propeller beanies are all over the runways of Paris now, you know ... and if I were someone who wore rainbow-striped flip-flops, I'd be keeping my fashion criticism to myself these days.")
And when you realize your mistake? The only answer possible: D'oh!
Test Pattern Book Club: ‘Masters of Doom’
I've always thought that one of the major problems with entertainment reviews is that they come out almost too early, then vanish. I don't know about you, but I don't always get to read books the day they're published. Ditto for seeing movies, watching DVDs, or listening to CDs. That's why online resources like the , and the customer reviews at are so useful — when you finally get around to the movie or book in question, you can read reviews to your heart's content.
So I'd like to start the Test Pattern Book Club, where I'll occasionally read an older, pop-culture-themed book and report back on whether it's worth the time or not. One of the best things about older books: They're almost always in paperback, and the library rarely has waiting lists for them.
First book: "Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture," by David Kushner (Random House, $15 in paperback).
"Doom" and "Quake" helped change the way many of us look at computer and video games. No longer was it enough to just play against yourself, or the friend sitting next to you. Now you could play against friends across town, strangers across the nation, the entire dorm floor. And the men who guided those games into our hands were John Carmack and John Romero, the semi-legendary founders of Texas-based id Software.
Had things gone smoothly for the two Johns, had they just made a bundle on their games and retired to their mansions, or kept on churning out games together, fewer game players would know their names. Or had they been more traditional businessmen,they might have been allowed to live in near-anonymity.
But that wasn't their style, and if it had been, "Doom" and "Quake" might never have come into being. Carmack and Romero come off almost as extreme as video-game characters themselves — the book calls Romero a "human explanation point." They're not always pleasant characters either: Carmack takes his longtime companion, a cat named Mitzi, to the animal shelter, announcing she was having a "net negative impact" on his life. He buys a cherry-red Ferrari, but the sportscar isn't fast enough for him, so he pays a mechanic to jack up the engine to be twice as powerful. Romero savors the worship he receives from gamers, making a "Doom" shirt that says "Wrote It" on the back and letting fans literally fall to their knees in front of him.
Yet it's hard not to admire their work ethic and their imagination. Over and over again, the Johns work twice as many hours as most people, even when their only reward was the satisfaction of solving a tough puzzle in the game design. They came up with original concepts that are vital to gaming today. They lived the American dream: They came from nothing, and with brains, guts, and a little luck, became both famous and rich.
But if you've ever watched "Behind the Music" or "The E! True Hollywood Story," you know that money and fame can mess up the most stable people, and the two Johns were volatile from day one. In an almost unbelievable display of chutzpah, Carmack decides the relationship is no longer working and hands Romero a piece of paper, saying "Sign this. It's your resignation." Amazingly, Romero does, starting his own game company and setting out with plans to crush his former employer.
If you were at all aware of the world of video games while these events were happening, it's fascinating to let "Masters of Doom" take you behind-the-scenes, learning what was going on while you were sitting home playing, building up thumb blisters. There's a mention in the book of internal company e-mails being exposed on a gamer gossip Web site, and I remember reading that site when those e-mails were freshly posted. But even for those who shun violent games, Kushner does a fabulous job of explaining just exactly why "Doom" was so revolutionary.
But the book would be nothing without the two Johns, and the paperback edition has the added benefit of an Afterword filling us in on what they're up to now. (Carmack is still with id, which ; Romero is working for established game company Midway and recently married a young Romanian gamer he met via e-mail.)
A good nonfiction book takes you into a subculture, immerses you into a world, teaches you its language, its rules, introduces you to its people. "Masters of Doom" does that so well that the subject could have been sheepherding or basket-weaving instead of video games and I think I'd still have been fascinated.