"Elias Nebula is practicing Japanese but no one knows."

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"Compleat Cobblers."

I have stopped watching Dog the Bounty Hunter because I think that I have seen every episode several times. Nothing more depressing than sitting through episodes trying to recall whether you have seen them or not. Waiting for a dim light of doomed recognition to bleerily alight at the bottom of your weary medulla oblongata. Waiting for a stray quip from Beth that "rings a vague bell," or a memorable facial tic, a harelip or a squint, something unique and familiar about the perp.

Now, in the absence of a regular stream of Parking Wars episodes, I have elected to watch River Monsters to feed my appetite for cable reality guff. It naturally doesn't feature the same high-grade repartee as Dog the Bounty Hunter, but on the positive side it does have gigantic freshwater fish.

The gist of this show is the same as Dog anyway: hunt down a perp, wherefore 95% of the show is wholly devoid of direction, necessarily devoted to building up the putative "thrill of the chase". When the perpetrator (or here the "fish") is finally identified, located and caught, there is that same familiar sense of anti-climax, and the corollary pang of intense self-loathing, felt by the viewer. However on River Monsters, for better or for worse, the presenter does not take the giant fish onto the back seat of an SUV, offer it a cigarette, and try to turn it to Jesus and redemption.

In today's episode, the English extreme-stunt-fisherman presenter (or "EESFP" - his name escapes me and I can't even be bothered to look it up) was hunting down a monster killer fish described in Eskimo legends. He was in Alaska. In other programs this would of course be cue for a volley of jokes about Sarah Palin but River Monsters is not that show. It never will be. If you want Sarah Palin jokes switch to Letterman.

After much exposition and shrill shilly-shallying, and interviewing less-than-credible "witnesses" (half the time I felt like I was watching Teeth Mountain testifying on Judge Judy Christ sake) the EESFP found himself in the unenviable position of trying in vain to catch a common or garden sockeye salmon. When he finally hooked one, a baby bear came over and stole it from him. I'm not making this up - it really happened. The camera crew were so vexxed by this baby bear stealing their salmon that they reported him to the authorities. Really.

I couldn't work out the relevance of the capture of this salmon to the larger narrative (which is, lest we forget, the capture of the mysterious Esquimaux Death Fish) anyway. It was not properly explained. They were trying to ascertain whether there was a "viable food source" for the Mystery Monster Fish I think, but I would have thought the mere presence of the salmon alone was sufficient to conclude that there was a food source. Anyway, after the baby bear chased them off the river they blithely abandoned the hunt for sockeye salmon with utter equanimity. They said, "Well there are pike and salmon in the river so the monster fish could obviously eat them." So what was this whole folderol scene for?

It seems to me, as a lowly layperson, a landlubber and no "piscatorean," that the whole scene was cooked up purely to get a scene with a grizzly bear hovering in the background. The presenter kept pretending to be nonplussed, prattling on about absolutely nothing, while there was a bear idling on the opposite bank of the river. Like he was a tough guy, unfazed by bears. This was just the usual prick-teasing that goes on on American television. They keep you watching narrative emptiness waiting for the punchline. Obviously they decided that the baby bear did not have the cinematic cachet that an adult one would, but still he made the EESFP and his crew look like bunglers and cowards.

So they shopped the poor bear to the park ranger.

Wonder what happened to him.

I hope he wasn't shot.

Anyway, after that - and with no "useful data" extracted from the sockeye salmon - the EESFP went up in a small plane where he interviewed a female anthropologist who told him in detail about a giant monster fish she had seen from the air last year. Why didn't they use her testimony in the first place? Without the capering on the riverbank amongst our ursine cousins?

From this "expert testimony" our intrepid guide quickly asserted that the fish was - must be - a "Massive White Sturgeon". The rapidity and ease with which he arrived at this diagnosis just from the female anthropologist's scanty and bored testimony was suspicious to my critical and cynical eyes and ears. It smacked, I say, of a put-on. Then he says, with equal blitheness, "Well I could spend forty or fifty years trying to catch a sturgeon on this body of water but you and I in televisionland don't have forty or fifty years to spare so I am going to go down to Oregon waters, there to catch a sturgeon." To anticipate his viewers' obvious disappointment, he insisted "I am still catching the same fish, just in completely different waters several thousand miles away. This is not, I repeat not, a cop-out."

This was a reductio ad absurdum if I ever I heard one. There was no proof that the Monster Fish in question was a Massive White Sturgeon except on our eminent expert's dubious say-so; his speculation would only be confirmed by catching the monster fish in question in Alaskan waters. Which he now had decided against. This journey down to Oregon was a fool's errand.

There's no point in getting angry about this. I know: don't sweat the small stuff. You keep telling me that but it's hard sometimes. So he went over to Oregon where there are literally scads of sturgeon idly booping along the sea-floor just waiting to be hooked up. He caught one in about five seconds and it was about three foot long. We all mistook it for a sprat. It swam away as soon as he tried to grab it by the jaw so he fished for another one and made a mighty production of it when he caught this one, which was I think eight foot long. Still, the one in Alaska was meant to be twenty foot long so I felt cheated some more. By ooh let's see twelve feet of fish flesh.

Then he reaches into this micro-sturgeon's mouth and says, "Look the sturgeon has no teeth, just these telescopic gums." He demonstrated this by pulling the sturgeon's gums this way and that for a while, just to demonstrate the toothlessness of the fish. The poor sturgeon just took it with Christianly good grace. He "never said a mumblin' word." This did not seem to strengthen our presenter's position from where I was sitting. This diminutive, pacific, toothless wonder was our threatening Monster Esquimaux Killer?

The conclusion was, nevertheless, that this fish - "or one like it" - was the same monster up in Alaska and that it had capsized all those Esquimaux kayaks not by ruthless biting (since teeth had it none) but by its mysterious habit of leaping out of the water and knocking Esquimaux out of their canoes. This eccentric trick, incidentally, "has never been explained. Maybe it is motivated by panic."


This is some "fish story" indeed! This wasn't even the tale of "the one that got away" - this was the tale of "the much smaller version of the one several thousand miles away which even that one's identification was only deduced by the idlest speculation. And which got away."


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Poem. Inspired by The Sleepy Eyes of Death Series


It is now considered de rigeur
Among the au fait ronin
To disparage the bushido
While wholly upholding it.

[Interior query:

Can you knock a man unconscious
By punching him in the stomach?]

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Funny Eyes of Death

"The sky... the sea... and the Musou-Masamune blade." RAIZA ICHIKAWA

I was watching The Sleepy Eyes of Death 1: The Chinese Jade, and in the fiftieth minute the master of karate Chen Sun (the excellent Tomisaburo Wakayama - the Japanese Lino Ventura) says to his arch-opponent, the ronin Nemuri Kyoshiro (Raizo Ichikawa), who he has a "hard-on" to battle, "Shall we fight?"

To which Raizo replies, "Not now. Let's end this rude interruption." They then fight off a cadre of inconsequential samurai.

I meanwhile misread the subtitles for a moment, and thought that Raizo had made a genuinely subversive and liberating comment: "Not now. Let's wait til the end of the film."
Boring Comics: Narratological Point.

It is a commonplace in Marvel comic books, particularly ones of a certain era, to waste several pages of the narrative with empty scenes showing the super heroes' battle abilities and finesse in generic battle scenes. The locus classicus is the Danger Room scene in The X-Men.
The splash page customarily begins with the X-Men seemingly spiritedly fighting one of their most notorious foes. After numerous pages (which we, the comic's humble buyers, have plainly invested and wasted whole cents in) the scene is revealed to be an exercise and an illusion. These were mere phantsasms - robotic simulacra created by the Shiiar technology of the Danger Room. Cut to a panel of Kitty Pryde at the Danger Room controls. Eating a slice of pizza, stuck in the mid-Eighties, talking her usual Mary-Sue jive.

This generic scene purportedly establishes the powers and pecadilloes of the characters for new, first-time readers. A similar scene is the opener of literally millions of comics: Spider-Man webspinning through New York and breezily espying a mugging in a back alley.

Must we ever be made to behold this sight ever again? Spider-Man captureing the muggers, grinding them down with vapid one-liners that everybody (really, everybody) is weary of. He webs them up and further lightly humiliates them, then turns to their victims who recoil from him and call him a "nasty hooligan" or some similar synonym.

Cut to a scene of J. Jonah Jameson droning on about the "web-spinning menace"; or a Daily Bugle front page editorializing against the infamous Spinner of Webs.

Marvel Comics are boring aren't they!!! I certainly wish they had never invented the Danger Room.

Add Danger Room scenes to my list of boring comics.

Also boring: "Pantheon" storylines that deal with characters from classical mythology.


Further "English Bands That Americans Like"

The full title should be "English bands that Americans like inordinately," but I think that goes without saying. "English bands that the English ceased to listen to in 1986 but which keep coming round on American turntables."

New additions:

Elvis Costello
Echo and the Bunnymen
Nick Lowe

I thought about adding Sting and Paul McCartney to the list. Does anybody in England listen to these two redundant rascals?

Etymology, Blasphemy and Bowdler

Speaking of the Americans-as-Anglophiles, there is a quite new bar under the Williamsburg Bridge called Gordon Bennett. I was in there with Toby Spinks, sat at the bar, and I was explaining to Toby what "Gordon Bennett" signified in England. "It's an exclamation of awe or surprise." I went further than was necessary, delving as I did into the gnomic realms of etymological conjecture. I said, "It occurs to me now that the phrase may have survived and prevailed chiefly as a bowdlerization of 'God damn it'."

Profane people today are unaware that blasphemy was taken very seriously less than a century ago, at least in certain milieux. There was a New York street gang in the 1850s called The Dead Rabbits. According to the nameless author of the entry on Wikipedia,

The name has a second meaning rooted in Irish American vernacular of NYC in 1857. The word 'Rabbit' is the phonetic corruption of the Irish word ráibéad, meaning 'man to be feared'. 'Dead' was a slang intensifier meaning 'very'. Thus, a 'Dead Ráibéad' means a man to be greatly feared.

This sounds like so much blarney to me, begad and beggorah.
(Blarney? On Wikipedia? It can't be!)

Uncoincidentally, the phrase "dod rabbit" was also abroad at this time-- as a canny, insider, subversive, neutralized way of saying "God damn it". When you said it, anybody astute knew what you really meant, and yet you hadn't strictly offended genteel values by saying the real phrase. The same trick persists today after a fashion in the middle-class use of the oaths "Gosh" and "Golly" ("Cripes" and "Crumbs") ("Begad" and "Begorrah"), which avoid breaking the Third Commandment while pointing ingeniously to the blasphemies. Ambrose Bierce published under the name "Dod Grile" (for "God Riled") in his earliest writings.

I submit that the phonetic similarity between "Dod Rabbit" and "Dead Rabbit" is more convincing than some airy speculation about words from Gaelic. This Gaelic interpretation sounds to me like the wilful excesses of academe at its most academic. And yet it endures. I really should write a paper on this subject for Notes and Queries.

Evenings in the university periodical section blandly leafing through back-numbers of Notes and Queries. This, which sounds pathetic I know, also sounds beautiful to me now. Idly flicking through issues of Artforum on a Norwich night.

Anyway, I merely speculated at the bar that the same may be true of the oath "Gordon Bennett!" While I was explaining all this to Toby, mine host the bartender - a generic Williamsburg collegiate laid-back slacker stubbled t-shirted bardude - had the gall to chime in to "correct" me.

He brazenly leaned across the taps and "explained it away" by means of a fatuous scenario: "If we saw a great sports car right now, while an American would say 'Awesome!,' an English person would say 'Gordon Bennett!'"

How was this different from what I had said? He simply situated it in a rather banal context. He then added, authoritatively, that "Gordon Bennett was also a real guy."

So, of course, was Joe Shmoe a real guy; and what's your point?

I looked at him with wan, noli me tangere disdain. Mine host was a total type, known on college campuses the world over (and Williamsburg is, lest we forget, a college campus sans college). The collegiate American Anglophile dude. He has a close equivalent in Australia in Ryan Webb [see past issues of Curiosa Rubberlineana, ca. 2003-6]. He is expert in smalltalk about exotic sports and is a total bore about "guest beers". He has a preferred English football team and follows them closely. He can talk companionably to anybody, as long as they have a dedicated fondness for utter boredom.

I do not. I am not that man. Nor do I take well to being corrected on points of my own national folklore by outsiders. I said, "Pardon my mistake, Herr Doktor Bardude, I had you for a lowly cocktail shaker! I didn't realize you were the doyen of the philology department. I merely grew up in England."

What I should have said: "Gordon bleeding Bennett!"

What I should have said: "And what is the etymology of the word pillock exactly I wonder, hein?"