Welcome to Dallas

August 7, 2011

[Scene: Brunch at the Grape, famished, drinking bloody marys with my buddy at the bar and waiting for our friends]

Redheaded girl, to boyfriend: Hey! Wanna, like, get married??

Cleancut boyfriend: [To us] I asked her that six months ago. She’s just catching up.

Redheaded girl: Marry meee!

Cleancut boyfriend: [Silently paying the bill]

Redheaded girl: [Leaping up, throwing her arms around him] Let’s go tell our parents!

Cleancut boyfriend: We did that six month ago too.

Redhead girl: [Running full speed out of the bar, chanting] LETS GO TELL OUR PARENTS! LET’S GO TELL OUR PARENTS! YAY!

[Boyfriend grabs her purse and rushes out after her.]

It may have taken her awhile, but I’ll be damned if she isn’t enthused about it now.

Hello new people

June 8, 2011

You’re probably here because of this article I just wrote, or because of my new gig over at the Dallas Observer. On this blog, you will find a slightly outdated resume, some magazine reviews I found really funny while I was writing them (but which are probably not actually all that funny), some reminiscing about that five-year period where I was a record store clerk, and an obnoxiously large number of F-bombs and other naughty words. Sorry about all of that. Please come visit me on Twitter  or drop me a line at the email address listed on my contact page, and thanks for stopping by.

Magazine Review: GQ

May 1, 2011

I so rarely get to be the weirdest person on the subway. There’s usually quite a bit of competition. But last night I was heading home, wearing a really insane-looking skirt/dress combination, for reasons that aren’t really relevant here, cackling hysterically while reading Chris Heath’s totally delightful profile of Werner Herzog in this month’s GQ. I think I was creating kind of a scene, but it was just such a great piece. It touched on all the best stories: Werner eating his own shoe to settle a bet, Werner walking a thousand miles to propose to his first wife, Werner getting shot in the groin (with an air rifle, but still) and nonchalantly continuing his interview as though nothing had happened. But the other stuff Heath got Herzog to talk about was equally amazing. Some choice quotes: “I think there should be a holy war against yoga classes. It deters us from real thinking.” And, “If an actor knows how to milk a cow, I always know it will not be difficult to be in business with him… I can tell from miles away, yes. Woody Allen is not ever going to milk a cow.”

You could argue that some of this is just Werner Herzog’s innate, awe-inspiring weirdness, but the piece was also incredibly adept and well-structured. Some people would be overawed by the subject matter, but Heath did a great job balancing what we know about the man with new material. GQ’s feature well is just really strong overall. I willingly read a piece about sports for maybe the second time in my entire life, about a former NBA point guard (I don’t know what that means) named Stephon Marbury who then went to join a team in the Chinese Basketball Association. There was also a really smart, sad, funny piece on infertility treatments and the various indignities of giving a semen sample.

I can’t remember seeing this many great features back to back in a so-called “women’s interest” magazine, like, ever. Why is it that mainstream ladymags print so many bizarre, awkward-sounding sex tips and listicles about how you’re doing everything wrong while men’s magazines are running stuff like this? GQ’s only misstep was the style section, which advocated braided leather belts. Guys, no. Not if you’re trying to attract women. We see that thing and think, “Summer camp,” and then it’s all over, I promise you.


Flossin’

April 19, 2011

Yay! Check out my new FCC complaint quiz on mental_floss! Now I have to figure out what to do with the giant file filled with complaints about Glenn Beck’s potty mouth I have sitting under my desk.

This is a curiously joyless music magazine. It seems to be little more than a collection of brief band profiles, almost like a textbook you might pick up if you were cramming for a big final exam on boring indie pop. It’s virtually unreadable. I kept trying to absorb the article on the Decemberists’ new album or whatever, and then getting so fidgety I could be distracted by almost anything else, no matter how mundane: Is that lint on the carpet or a giant bug? I should really do those dishes. Why does everyone in all these band photos look so god damn miserable? I guess I would be pissy too if my pants were that tight, etc. Your eyeballs just slide right off the page. There’s no scene here, no writing, no personality. If I still worked at a record store, I would probably glance at this occasionally to know what I needed to make room for on the shelves. I don’t see any other reason to pick this up ever again, unless I’m making a collage of skinny, sad white people with overlong bangs.

Note: I keep having to write these magazine reviews for the seminar I’m taking. I’m usually a little punch-drunk with exhaustion and staring at my computer too long by the time I do them, so they often turn out weirdly funny. I’m going to start running them here. This is the one I did last night.


There is a centerfold in Cat Fancy. A cat centerfold. I think that, combined with the magazine’s name is, how do you say, unfortunate. I also think this is perhaps the most earnest, irony-free publication I’ve ever seen. I read page after page about treatments for tapeworms and the charms of the Chartreux (variously described as shaped like a “potato on toothpicks” and “a football player with ballerina legs” – how could you not love such an oddly proportioned creature?), searching for a glimmer of humor, a little archness. There was none. This is a magazine for people who really, really love their cats, and worry about them, and write very serious, anxious letters to magazines asking about how to plan for the cat’s care in the event of the owner’s death. There was even an ad for a Tiffany lamp shaped like a calico cat. Cat Fancy takes place in a totally cat-centered universe. Unlike the general interest publications we’ve been looking at, or even the music magazines, there is literally nothing else in here but all cat, all the time.

For a non-cat centered individual, it can be a bit of a suffocating read, like when a particularly chubby tabby falls asleep on your chest. But around the third spin through it, I started to love Cat Fancy with a peculiar, protective intensity that I can only compare to the way you love that one weird relative who always gives you sweaters that smell like mildew. I think I’ll pick up the annual kittens issue for my roommate, which will probably cause her to fall into some sort of joy-related coma.

… Please excuse the mess around here. This website will be undergoing a bit of a face-lift in the coming weeks. Until then, check out my published work at The Uptown Chronicle and many of my past Good Times articles here.

I’ve done a lot of work I’m very proud of this year at the journalism school. Much of it isn’t published anywhere yet. If you’d like to see more raw copy, please get in touch with me at this address. Thanks for your time, and also make sure to come visit me over on Twitter.

Updated to add: Blame it on journalism school-related fatigue — the email address I put down was very slightly wrong – it’s anna.merlan@gmail.com. I’ve also corrected the HTML. Whoops/d’oh.

Highway 1

March 9, 2011

I took a long drive alone up the coast a year ago today.

I think I would like to extend my theoretical teleporting powers to include occasional trips northbound between Santa Cruz and San Francisco.

Fake Spring

February 19, 2011

It was fun being warm for a day, anyway. Some nights I wish I could teleport to New Mexico in the summertime, just for a couple hours…

Central Park certainly is lovely in late autumn, unlike this review I wrote.

Look, I’m almost certainly going to lapse right back into not writing here, okay? My life is not my own. Even if it was, the kindly professors of the J-school have made me so god damn paranoid about writing anything at all personal on the Interwebs, for fear it will permanently Fuck My Shit Up professionally, that I am paralyzed every time I edge over this way with writerly intentions.

But.

I have written a review of Jackass 3-D, and it is sure as hell not getting published anywhere else, no sir. So here we go.

Jackass 3-D and its discontents: a discourse with dick jokes, by Anna Merlan

There’s a sad moment in Jackass 3-D. There are several, actually, but the first comes not long in, when Steve-O stands shivering in front of the camera, dressed only in a pair of droopy tighty-whiteys and some regrettable tattoos. There’s a T-ball on a stand, and a man poised behind it, ready to bat it into his groin. “I’m Steve-O,” he begins, ready to give the customary introduction the Jackass-ers deliver at the beginning of each stunt: his name, along with the clever, punny title of whatever foolhardy thing they’re about to attempt (in this case, fittingly, I guess, it’s “Tee-Ball”) But instead he stops, groans, and looks down at the plastic ball about to administer yet another insult to his already much-battered groin. “Why do I have to be Steve-O?” he asks, only half-joking. And I’m afraid neither this film nor, likely, much of its audience, has any good answers for him.

Let me be clear: despite my age, gender, and Judaism, I have become a huge fan and frequent defender of the Jackass franchise. For several years, a poster of head jackass Johnny Knoxville – with aviator shades, fish-hooks slung firmly through both his nipples, and a tattoo reading “Madison” above his heart — hung on the bathroom door of whatever house I was living in.   At its best, the sly, surreally silly humor of Jackass was an antidote to TV’s worst tendencies: in place of inflated production values, over-surgeried actors and formulaic plots, Jackass was rude, free-form, and gloriously, anarchically stupid.  And, for the most part, the show managed to be riotously funny without ever being truly mean (with the exception of Bam Margera, the cast member who should probably win the award for Most Likely to Be a Poorly-Disguised Psychopath).

The TV show’s ethos of manic glee even managed to infuse itself into the surrounding culture of MTV, long beset by horrible dating shows and bereft of actual music. The best episode episode of Cribs ever filmed is the one where Jackass cast member Chris Pontius brings the film crew back to his luxurious pad — which turns out to be the grungy pickup truck he’s living in. “Let me show you to my bedroom,” he says cordially, climbing into the cramped backseat and throwing aside an errant stars-and-stripes-patterned G-string.

The first two feature films based on the show frequently offered more of the same giddy ridiculousness. There’s a sublime moment in the first movie, for example, when Knoxville challenges a heavyweight boxer named Butterbean to a bout, which they conduct, naturally, in the middle of the athletics section of a department store in Japan, surrounded by horrified onlookers. Butterbean batters Knoxville into submission in seconds, and he falls to the floor, pausing only to hit his head on several nearby clothing racks. He’s stunned, or possibly unconscious, for several moments, lying sprawled behind a jewelry case.  Then he opens his eyes, looks up feebly, and asks, “Is Butterbean okay?”

Jackass 3-D has almost none of the bizarre setups or deadpan humor that made the other films so much fun to watch. In its place, we’re handed a $17 ticket price, a pair of oversized 3-D glasses, and a bunch of stunts that involve poop, urine, dildos, and cast-member’s, um, members flying directly at the camera. The 3-D device is mostly not very interesting – I went long periods of time without even remembering it was there. The film also over-relies  on slow-motion  action for comic effect. One recurring bit is called “the Rocky,” and it involves cast members slugging each other on one side of the head while dumping cold water on the other. You spend a lot of time looking at water droplets arcing slowly across the screen and thinking about the incredible elasticity of the human face.

In fact, the best, and weirdest, stunt comes first, and it’s one that doesn’t need any added special effects to be funny. It’s simply an enormous rubber hand set up like a catapult behind a door, flying out of nowhere to smack various people backwards as they walk onto the set, sleepy-eyed, first thing in the morning. “Hey dude,” Jason “Wee Man” Acuna says nonchalantly to Margera. “High-five!” Seconds later, Margera is sprawling backwards, looking mildly stunned. The size of the hand, the suddenness of the hit – it’s low-brow pranking mixed with a kind of high-concept modern art. In Margera’s case, it also involves several bags of flour taped to the hand, making an unholy mess when they hit their target. “Motherfucker,” he mutters good-naturedly, picking himself up off the floor and ineffectually brushing at his whitened hair.

But that’s Jackass 3D at its highest point. Let’s return to the the Tee-Ball stunt, which illustrates many of the things wrong with this movie. It is, first of all, unimaginably tired as a comedic set-up. It’s nothing more than a typical “Ow, my crotch” moment, one that we’ve seen a thousand times, on Jackass as well as America’s Funniest Home Videos and about every second show on Spike TV. Is there any other insult these bros could impose on each other’s genitals that they haven’t before? It’s much funnier, actually, when you realize that the men of Jackass routinely walk around the set with one hand firmly over their family jewels, anticipating the blows, pokes, and prods that they know are imminent. Much has been made of the fact that Jackass seems to take place in a totally woman-less universe; perhaps they should consider bringing in some female cast-mates just to have a new type of privates to make fun of.

But there’s something larger that’s wrong with “Tee-Ball,” and it’s Steve-O himself. It’s certainly not his looks – after a years-long, much-publicized battle with addiction and a stint or two in rehab, it comes as a surprise to realize that he’s a handsome man. Once gaunt and wild-eyed, he looks pulled together, calm, and gives the distinct impression of having seen a toothbrush and a shower sometime in the last week. But standing in front of that T-ball stand, he looks miserable – exhausted, tired, afraid, and much too old to be doing this.

You see the same mixed expression of fear and resignation on his face during a stunt where he’s strapped into a Porta-Potty that’s attached to a bungee cord and filled with pounds of dog shit. He’s 36 years old, and about to be rocketed towards the stratosphere and drenched in feces. He’s not excited.

“You’re takin’ it to a whole other level,” Knoxville offers sweetly, checking his harnesses.

“Yep,” Steve-O says flatly.

“You look pretty happy about it,” Knoxville drawls, before sending him skywards and poo-bound.

The audience I watched this with went totally silent during this stunt. It wasn’t funny, and it wasn’t clever; it was merely terrifying. It was hard not to think about what a waste it would be if Steve-O were to have finally gotten clean, only to suffocate and die under a mound of inter-species feces. You could feel a collective sigh of relief go through the room when he descended back to earth and staggered, gasping and filthy, out of the toilet.

And this, sadly, is the hard truth behind Jackass 3-D: these men have gotten too old and, shockingly, too wise to tip over occupied portable toilets anymore, or stand around sticking fireworks in each other’s rectums and lighting them. Some of them even have wives and children (a truly amazing feat, when you consider what their reproductive organs have been subjected to). “If you’re gonna be dumb, you gotta be tough,” goes the Roger Alan Wade tune that’s become a Jackass theme-song (and which is sung beautifully by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs over the closing credits of this film). The men of Jackass have been dumb, and they’ve been tough, for ten years now. I would submit, with respect, that now it’s time for them, simply, to be done.