Tuesday, April 26, 2011

See You Next Tuesday (Dinosaurs Pt. II)

See You Next Tuesday is the Boomstick's regular column. On Tuesdays, I bring you the week's most laughable scumbags, idiots, and jerks for your reading and reviling pleasure.   If you don't get the name, visit your nearest middle school playground and ask the first kid you see.  You can read previous editions here.  

 It's been a while since I've written about dinosaurs on the blog, which is unfortunate because when I set out to write my Boomstick, I wanted to feature (in order of preference):
  1. Dinosaurs
  2. Zombies
  3. Drunk Presidents
  4. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia
  5. Things Gay People Like
(Those last two were going to make for some delicious contrasts!)  Alas, I've strayed, and now I mostly write about politics and serial killers.  So, when I heard some dinosaur-related stories over the last few days, I decided I'd devote this week's See You Next Tuesday to my old favorite: dinosaurs, the Best and Worst.


THE WORST: 

One of my very favorite blogs, The Animal Review, has been on a dinosaur tirade lately.  (A quick plug for this blog: not only is it deeply hilarious, but the authors were just plucked from internet obscurity to write a book based on the same concept as their blog.  According to Amazon.com, there are ONLY TWO LEFT FOR PURCHASE so it must be doing well, or else their publisher only printed five copies.  Either way, these guys are living my ultimate dream of writing a plainly-designed, niche-funny blog and then getting a book deal where you basically print out the blog you've already written onto real paper and then get to go travel on your book advance.  Oh, and they were also featured on NPR.  So, basically they're living all of my life dreams.)

Anyway, it looks like The Animal Review's authors have recently become as disillusioned about  dinosaurs as I was earlier this year.  (Ed. note: despite the fact that I wrote about this same subject with some witty The Land Before Time jokes back in October, I do not have a book deal.)  In an earlier See You Next Tuesday, I exposed and lamented the total horse-crap LIES that paleontologists have been feeding us for years.  Apparently, palentologists baselessly stuck bones together into shapes they thought would look cool and then gave the bones awesome names and then made children's movies about how awesome it used to be when they all played together and then decided just to omit the part where there was no reason to believe any of it.   In the end, the dinosaurs we grew up imagining never literally existed and the paleontologists literally didn't know what the hell they were talking about.
Next they'll tell us "Dinosaurs!" wasn't a documentary.

This month, Animal Review debunked the Pterodactyl.  Though some pretty badass flying lizards did roam the prehistoric skies, they are not properly called "Pterodactyls," and they do not fit the technical definition of "dinosaurs."  Add that to what I told you about the Triceratops last year, and the fact that the Brontosaurus actually never was, and it's almost enough to make Jurassic Park seem totally fictional.  I don't know about you, but I, for one, am heartbroken to lose my childhood, and outraged that Michael Crichton's credibility as a non-fiction author is in severe jeopardy.


THE BEST: 

The antidote to this sad story is the town of Dinosaur, Colorado.  With a population of 320 people, this town is located next to the totally ballin' Dinosaur National Monument.  The coolest part: it has street names like Brontosaurus Boulevard, Stegosaurus Freeway, and Triceratops Terrace, Cletisaurus Circle and Tyrannosaurus Trail.  I'm seriously considering getting a P.O. Box there just so you can mail me at:

Alison's Boomstick
123 Tyrannosaurus Trail
Dinosaur, CO
United States of Badass

Help me find a Dinosaur, CO second home, and I will See You Next Tuesday. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

See You Next Tuesday ("Literally")

See You Next Tuesday is the Boomstick's regular column. On Tuesdays, I bring you the week's most laughable scumbags, idiots, and jerks for your reading and reviling pleasure.   If you don't get the name, visit your nearest middle school playground and ask the first kid you see.  You can read previous editions here.  

"You have to see last night's Modern Family.  It was so funny, I literally died laughing."

Literally? You literally died of laughter?  Unless this is a Monty Python sketch, I don't think you're actually dead.  And if that episode literally caused you such diaphragmatic discomfort such that you literally anticipated imminent death, why the hell would you recommend it to me, douchenozzle?


Of course, if you said this phrase to me, you probably just meant that you laughed really hard, so hard that you embraced the hyperbolic idiom, "I died laughing."  What you meant was that you figuratively died laughing, the opposite of "literally."  And this frequent mistake is why today's See You Next Tuesday is literally devoted to the word "literally."

A recent conversation about this phenomenon got me thinking: how is it that a straightforward, rather bookish term like "literally" has become so bastardized by popular usage as to mean the exact opposite of itself in common parlance?  None of us would say, "my head was actually spinning," or "I sincerely shit my pants when that happened," but we wouldn't flinch if someone claimed to have literally experienced these things.  

At first discussion, it seemed like the corruption of "literally" stemmed just from ignorance and exaggeration -- the same people who update their Facebook statuses to say, "I shouldn't of taken you for granite because now your gone and I'm board."   But then a friend looked up the word in the dictionary and, egads, my poor grammar alarm went all awry:
Et tu, Merriam-Webster?  By including this second definition in the dictionary, without flagging it as as colloquial or incorrect, the people at M-W were telling me that this subordinate definition must be more than just misuse.  So, now I had to do some real research.  Luckily for me, Slate magazine put together a great article on the subject, so I didn't have to read a real book or nothin'.

The ground was not especially sticky in Little Women when Louisa May Alcott wrote that "the land literally flowed with milk and honey," nor was Tom Sawyer turning somersaults on piles of money when Twain described him as "literally rolling in wealth," nor was Jay Gatsby shining when Fitzgerald wrote that "he literally glowed," nor were Bach and Beethoven squeezed into a fedora when Joyce wrote in Ulysses that a Mozart piece was "the acme of first class music as such, literally knocking everything else into a cocked hat." 
While Sheidlower can chart the word's frequent literary use as a magnifier through the 17th and 18th centuries, he notes that employing "literally" to exaggerate only became a faux pas in more recent times.  It wasn't until the early 20th century, nearly a hundred years after Jane Austen wrote of being"literally rocked in our bed" by a storm, that writers began condemning the word's dual use.

But it's not just the history behind the word that swayed me; Sheidlower also points out that we criticize word usage "unevenly."  Other words have dual and contradictory meanings (Sheidlower cites "cleave" and "peruse") and other words with literal roots don't always mean exactly that (where's all the outrage over "really?" You aren't really about to kill someone, are you?) to prove his point.  And I think he does it well.


So instead of chastising the careless speakers who use "literally" to mean "figuratively" in today's See You Next Tuesday, we've gone all Mr. Rogers on this grammar and actually learned something.  I guess the moral of today's See You Next Tuesday is not to take yourself too...literally?  And, of course, not to take grammatical pet peeves for granite. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Explosive Elizabeth Taylor

There's not much to be said about Elizabeth Taylor that writers closer to the source haven't already said, but I wanted to mention her passing on the blog in my own form of tribute.  I waited a few weeks past her death, avoiding the initial outpouring of memorials and obituaries, because I wanted to stake my own ground, and totally not because I wrote this post on my iPhone in the back of a car the day she died and forgot about it because I had to do a lot of law stuff all the time.


But sincerely, I figure it's better to be amateur and tardy than silent.  I've always been a little mesmerized by Liz, in the way that everyone alive was in the 1960s.  Her sexuality, her lavishness, her papal condemnation for "erotic vagrancy" that no obit can omit.  Vanity Fair published a summer cover story this year about Liz and her fifth-and-sixth husband -- the Antony to her Cleopatra -- Richard Burton.  I poured over the piece, and it read just like Liz and Dick: somewhere between classic and tabloid, marvelously juicy and full of gossipy scandals, but not inelegant and tawdry like today's more popular paparazzi fodder. 

Through all the husbands, the diamonds, the utter unearthliness of Liz's life and beauty and her phenomenal film career, to me, Liz and Dick were always George and Martha, the characters they played in Mike Nichol's movie version of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf?  I'm not the first one to point out a hovering similarity between this volatile, passionate, perversely sexual on-screen couple and the tempestuous, "erotically vagrant" pairing of Taylor and Burton in real life.  Maybe the movie is a close approximation of their real relationship, and maybe it's not, but the constant comparison certainly highlights a popular desire to see the inner workings of Liz and Dick, to get inside the insane, romantic, living, breathing entity that was their life together.

I tried unsuccessfully to get my family to watch Virginia Woolf when it came on television Christmas day (why network execs chose to air that movie on Christmas is a mystery to me, unless they thought the booze-soaked feuds, bickering, and purging of family secrets would make people feel better about their own families).  And, my family wasn't wrong to change the channel: Albee's seething, scathing script is at times tortuously uncomfortable.  But it also happens to be nearly perfect in every way.  (So subtly escalating, so complex, so probing, so witty! I digress...)  And with Mike Nichols (The Graduate, The Birdcage) behind the camera and Liz and Dick in the leads, the whole thing is just, well, merry Christmas to me.

But, what I noticed at Christmas, watching disjointed snippets of the film during the commercial breaks in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, is that no matter where you come in, Elizabeth Taylor always looks like she's about to explode.  Not get mad, but literally, explode.  Like, her wig is going to fly into the air and her clothes are going to burst open at the buttons and her shoes are going to shoot off her feet and she's going to bypass Burton and the set and the camera and streak out into the atmosphere and then start to really stretch and shine.  She was just too big for the room, too big for her space, too big for just one persona, for just one man.  Liz was famously quoted once saying, "Everything makes me nervous - except making films."  And that's because the only place in the world that could fit her was the cinema screen; Elizabeth Taylor was otherwise uncontainable.  No wonder Vanity Fair titled its story about Liz and Dick, "A Love to Big To Last.

If this at all piques your interest, I encourage you to read the profiles out there about Liz - there've been lots in the last month since her passing.  She lived a mythic life in the spotlight, and in many ways defined the role of today's celebrities.  And don't forget -- though today it's no longer a prerequisite for staggering fame --she was also extraordinarily talented.  Do yourself a favor and watch her work.  I'll leave you with my top five Elizabeth Taylor must-sees films, and a heartfelt goodbye.

Giant

A Place in the Sun

Cat on Hot Tin Roof

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Cleopatra

Monday, April 11, 2011

Is the Prescription More Cowbell?

Ben Sheehan's got a fever. 

If you're  a regular reader, you might remember my friend Ben Sheehan's other videos from the blog, like,"Global Warming's Good for You," "I'll Be Watching You (Miss You Coco)," and "Christine!" (about Christine O'Donnell -- you've got to scroll down through all my libertarian ranting to get to his parody).  Ben's latest, "Bieber Fever," has been making the internet rounds, and I wanted to put it up here so that I could milk some traffic out of his rising fame support a good friend in his artistic ventures.  Enjoy:


As I was putting this up, I realized I missed posting a quality piece of Sheehan gelt (don't let the name fool you; he's totally a Jew): "Israel and Palestine."  So enjoy everyone! (And Ben, you can thank me with some gelt later.)