Thursday, April 29, 2010

What "Pretty in Pink" taught me

So the movie "Pretty in Pink" was released almost a quarter of a century ago. Like, of course, every other person my age, I was absolutely transformed by this movie, which made me the person I am today. Except really.

Okay, it's just a dorky little teenage "flick", about as 'timeless' as the "come on people now smile on your brother" song of the sixties or the "emo" hairstyles of a few years back, but there are some crucially important life lessons that can be gained from it. To whit:

1. When Republicans are in power, class consciousness is old-fashioned and Trickle-Down Dignity is the way to go! "Pretty in Pink" is one inch away from being a communist call-to-arms - it's message throughout is clear: the rich hate the poor and the poor have to stick together. Until the later-tacked-on Hollywood-fantasy ending, of course, where the girl gets her (rich) man after all and confirms that the rich actually are our agents of salvation, not destruction.

2. All evil people are blonde. Not exactly that all blonde people are evil - we have to make an exception both for Mary Stuart Masterson in the follow-up clone "Some Kind of Wonderful" and for the hot-chick-ex-machina flown in out of nowhere at the end of the Hollywood ending to make it "all worthwhile" for Duckie. But - male and female alike - in this movie you can clearly tell how mean the person in question will behave towards Molly Ringwald merely by considering the colour of the person's hair. Ah, if only real life were so simple...

3. That was some darned good music we had back then. Well, the Psychedelic Furs use the theme song to confirm that the saxophone was, without exception, a scourge on music from 1980 to 1989. But the music is far and away the best thing about this movie. New Order make "Shellshock", a song which takes a full two minutes of musique-concrete to actually coalesce into a song. And God Himself makes a songwriting contribution in the form of OMD's "If You Leave" - far and away the best thing about the movie's Hollywood-ending.

4. All your alcoholic deadbeat father needs is a good screaming and then he'll get himself sorted out. Who the hell needs AA when screaming "She's gone!", crying and hugging will do the job just as well? A decade or so later in "Good Will Hunting", Mork from Ork taught us that the same technique can stop misunderstood geniuses from living lives of crime as well.

5. When you're currently as old as the 'old person' in a teen flick, this should bother you. Cool-big-sisterly Annie Potts sighs in an "oh, you kids-of-today" fashion about her prom of fifteen years ago. Molly smiles in a "get away from me, you senile old coot" fashion in consideration that she would have been two at the time. When Duckie kisses Annie Potts, it's shocking in a "he-kissed-the-old-lady" kinda way. My prom was fifteen years ago. Damn it.

6. True love will make you wear shoulder pads. No, this doesn't make sense to me either. But it's true. You can tell Annie Potts has found true love by her decision to start dressing in a "power suit" yuppie fashion. I can't even begin to comprehend it, but it seemed to make sense to the casting agents of "Designing Women".

7. You can apparently practise kissing on melons. This amazing revelation came as a complete shock to me 20 years ago when I was a sensitive and naïve preteen. Now that I'm an old and wizened git, it still comes as a shock to me. Maybe because I have no idea whatsoever how that would work (I've hear of other things you can do with melons, but never mind). It just proves to me, like a Taoist monk, that I still have much to learn about the true nature of the universe.

Unfortunately, about five years after this movie, John Hughes went comatose. And five years after that, he stopped making movies. The world is a far less rich place without him. But a place in which people dress better.
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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Constable Dionne

First Lady Nancy Reagan waves from the Statue ...Image via Wikipedia
Constable Dionne, you came to our class
Once a year, every year
With your cop hat
And your cop uniform

Constable Dionne, you came to us
To teach us right from wrong
With your cop moustache
And your cop badge
And your little Zip-Loc bags
Spread out across the desk

"Gather round kids, take a look
Know what these are?"
In little tiny Zip-Loc bags

"What do we do when we're offered these?"
"Just say no..."
 "What do we do when we find these on the beach?"
"Just say no..."
 "What do we do?"
"Just say no..."

Constable Dionne, you came to us
To teach us a lesson
To prepare us for the world
With your unblinking eyes
And your unchanging message
Like a mantra:

Just say no...
Just say no...
Just say no...
Just say? No!
Just? C'est non!
Just sane? Oh!
Just say "know".

Ah, but you knew, Constable Dionne, didn't you?
And Nancy Reagan knew
And Cliff Huxtable and Alex P. Keaton knew
And G. I. Joe knew
"...and knowing is half the battle."

But what was the other half of the battle?
Big kids with bags in their lockers?
Old men on the street near the schoolyard?
Men offering us rides in their cars?

This was war, Constable Dionne
And you were our commander
Knowledge was our weapon
We were the soldiers
Fighting to the death
For the war on drugs
The waaaaaaaaar on druuuuuggggggssss...

"Just say no"
And everything will be all right
"Just say no"
And you will be a success in life

Constable Dionne, sometimes I think you lied to me
"Just say no" wasn't enough
"Just say no" didn't get me a good job
"Just say no" didn't get me a nice car
"Just say no" didn't get me a beautiful wife

But back then everything was simple
Everything was basic
Right/wrong, good/bad, yes/no, black/white

Times are different, Constable Dionne
We have other wars to fight now
If you were here, what would you tell me?
What would you teach kids today?

Terrorism? Just say no?
Global warming? Just say no?
Nuclear proliferation? Just say no?
The slow death of our families and our communities and our nations and our civilisations? Just say no?

Constable Dionne, sometimes I wonder
If your message was the right message
If your mantra was the right mantra
Just say no?
 Don't just say -
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Monday, April 19, 2010

The magazine rack: March 1975

I can't take much credit for this entry, really. It's my reaction to finding, a site that's not overly attractive in appearance but is an amazing inventory of comic and magazine covers. They claim to have almost half a million covers. I looked at some of the comics, but it seems that comics don't tend to put dates on the covers. Months, maybe, but not years. So I scrapped the comics.

Anyway, I decided to use the website as a kind of time capsule. To go back to a certain time and recreate what a magazine rack might have looked like then. I chose March 1975, for the rather selfish reason that that's the month I was born. So as my mother was rushing to the hospital, had she taken a step inside the nearest 7/11 (or wherever people bought magazines way back then), this is what she'd have possibly seen on the magazine rack:


Seems like there was some gloom in the air when I was born. I hope it wasn't my fault. Esquire has a dark picture of a man holding his jail bars so tightly he's bleeing. The title reads, 'Attica: a Time to Die'. I have no idea what the article is about, but it can't be peaches and cream.


Furthering the doom and gloom, here's a sombre portrait of Gerald Ford and Henry Kissinger taken through a window (early papparazzi work?) on the cover of the British newsmagazine The Economist. This was just months after Nixon's resignation, and I'm sure American politics were not exactly filled with hope and idealism. The title reads 'Republican Twilight', a title Sarah Palin might giggle at (unless it referred to social conservative vampires who twinkle in sunlight).


No idea what was going on regarding Israel at this time, but Time was in a shouting mood, declaiming 'American Jews and Israel' in a font big enough to be seen from across the street. The Israeli and American flags are conflated, and some guy smiles, happy to be wearing Henry Kissinger's glasses. Not sad like the Economist, not at all.


But what could be sadder than a cover featuring Donny Osmond? This seems to be a German magazine, taken from an online source (note the web address obscuring the flagrant nudity down there). On the one hand, Donny is wearing a bike helmet and a tablecloth around his neck. On the other hand, how cool is that keyboard he's got slung around his neck? For coolness, he might as well be the fifth member of this austere combo:


I've been going for the nearest issues dated before March 12th (my actual birth date). I think this might be the one after my birthday, but I can't be sure. Anyway, Led Zeppelin. Hammer of the Gods, yada yada yada. They're not my taste in music, really, but I can certainly see the iconic nature of this album cover. I mean, that's some billowing hair, really. And quite the tambourine Robert Plant is shaking. More Nixon/Republican talk on the cover, too. As for cool, though, I look to this gentleman:


Who in the world is cooler than Muhammad Ali? Nobody, obviously. Ali is so cool he can even wear that tie, which he seems to have borrowed from Donny Osmond, and not look like a ninny. This is the cover of Jet, a magazine for Black people. The article seems to concern Ali using his money to help the needy.


The other main African American magazine has Barbara Jordan, a Democratic congresswoman, on its cover. As charismatic photos go, poor Ms. Jordan unfortunately can't hold a candle to Ali. But that smile on her face probably has something to do with her not being a Republican.


There was a real pastoral theme in the week of my birth. Almost creepy, really. For the 2500th issue of the New Yorker, a man in a suit in a greenhouse holds a little plant. No words, no context. No idea. Let's get used to it.


This magazine with the same name less a definite article and an '-er' has plants on its mind too - rather too literally so. 'Secrets of the plant people', it calls out, with four well-dressed plants calling out for a rather horrible horror film to be made. Oh, and more Republican doom-and-gloom too.


'The magazine for good living'... er, yeah. Trees in winter. That's the life. A careful examination shows that these trees are being tapped, perhaps for maple syrup, which might explain the 'gourmet' connection. But it seems like everyone's got trees and plants on their covers. Strange.


Even Popular Mechanics! Now you figure this one out for me, because I'm lost... Here's a couple gone camping - or hiking, rather, with huge backpacks. 'Better Camping in '75!', the headline shouts. Trees everywhere. Rustic, charming, lovely. But... but... but... This is Popular Mechanics! Could someone please explain to me what on earth camping has to do with mechanics?


This is mechanics, right? Solar heating... hm. How forward-thinking for 1975. Perhaps the only cover so far that doesn't seem shockingly dated. I mean, don't get me wrong: those fonts and that concrete are very seventies. But solar heating and flat-screen TVs? How prescient. And, er, a vacuum gauge for your car, whatever that is.


Speaking of cars, three car magazines here. The least interesting one first: this is all text, all ugly. A piggy bank, possibly something on 'electric cars' and 'Chevy's new notchback', whatever that might happen to be. I don't know from cars. This one is white and boxy. Shrug.


This is an AMC Pacer. Red, slightly less boxy, and stuck in a field somewhere. It's a 'son of sedan', apparently. It's probably still in that field, 35 years later. Still the same colour too. Oh, and apparently the 55 mph speed limit won't work. Has it?


Green this time. And angular. Kazoo-shaped, you might say. This is a Maserati, a car that gets car-folks all excited. R&T calls it 'exotic', and asks whether exotic cars would survive. Yeah, since 35 years later the major car companies are so healthy. It's certainly parked in front of a pretty palace. Oh, and the AMC Pacer gets a shoutout here too, as does a $16,000 Lotus, which seems impressive, except for all the inflation that's gone on since then.


Even Gentlemen's Quarterly is on about cars. Or 'wheels' rather, which are frequently found underneath cars. Like this silver car driven by the smiling man with the plastic hair. The square jaw behind him is riding a Honda motorcycle, and both of them are clearly on their way from starring in some action drama TV show where they carry huge guns and infiltrate drug cartels.


Good old dependable MAD Magazine has Alfred E. Neuman, from behind so we don't see his gap-toothed face, about to ski into a rapidly-dissipating crowd. I must confess I don't get the joke. His skis are crossed. I guess the point is he's not a good skier, but the most expert of skiers would still cause panic if about to launch themselves into a crowd, right?


MAD's 1970s competitor in the 'comedy magazine' category, National Lampoon tended to be a bit more adult-oriented. But it leaves me just as confused this time out. We've got the caption, 'Good-Bye to All That' accompanied by five little illustrations. The centre picture is a portrait that reminds me of Jackie Kennedy, though I have no idea why. Each of the other pictures might feature her too, I can't really tell. In one she's accompanied by two men in tradiational Indian headdress. None of it makes any sense. There are two tiny trees too, because, well, March 1975 is the Month of the Tree.


Another 'national' magazine, another source of confusion. I thought this was more trees: some autumn illustration of tree leaves turned red (after all, here's a magazine you might expect to actually be discussing trees). But it might equally be a man walking in front of a huge eruption of lava from a volcano. I'm confused. 'Which Way Now for Argentina?', the main caption, tells me nothing. Does Argentina have volcanoes? Perhaps. Trees? It's likely.


I got this cover from And yes, it was important enough for me to include Playboy that I went hunting around for it. Sigh. I'm just a leery old man. When you look at Playboy international covers, you're immediately taken by how many countries' editions show nudity on the front cover. Not the main American edition, however. But it turns out that in 1975, that wasn't the case. Several of the covers that year showed nipple. Surprising. This one doesn't, but it's a clever visual illustration of the magazine's contents, with a fully clothed woman 'ripping' the magazine cover to reveal her naked self underneath. Cute.


And let's finish with the bizarre... Scientific American pushes the cutting-edge of trail-blazing journalism with its, certainly Pulitzer-tempting, pictorial on 'Deadly Mushrooms'. Yes, the cover of this issue features an illustration of four mushrooms. This must have flown off the shelves the month I was born.


The Post, famous for its covers by Norman Rockwell, which are in turn famous for, I think, evoking some foggy nostalgic sense of a long-dead America that some people seem to miss, went a rather different route this month. Here we get... a cocker spaniel. Or rather, what I think is a needlepoint of a cocker spaniel. I have no idea why. From what I can read of the headlines, there's weightier stuff inside: 'Thou shalt not kill', 'Transcendental meditation', 'Indira Gandhi', 'Sex, power and politics in Washington'. But none of these, it would seem, were as worthy of being the cover subject as... a knit picture of a dog.


But weird is nowhere best illustrated (or not, literally) like Fate: 'true stories of the strange and unknown'. Like Reader's Digest, it uses its front cover as its table of contents, and the wonders to be held include 'Doomsday for 10,000 People', 'Skier Goes Voodoo', 'Salt Will Calm a Hostile Spirit' and 'Parrot Plays Watchdog'. If only the Republicans had some salt with them back in March 1975... all those years ago.
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Sunday, April 11, 2010

The 15 Worst Flags of the World

A month ago I compiled a list of my favourite flags, which you can see here. Yes, flags can be lovely things. But flags can also be horrible things, and let's face it - we love reading lists of worsts more than we like lists of bests. So here's fifteen eyesores from around the world, compiled for, appreciation? Revulsion? I'm not even sure myself.



Let's start off simple... or perhaps not, as I don't have the first idea what a 'flag of Buddhism' can possibly refer to. Where do you fly a 'flag of Buddhism'? Do other religions have flags? If so, do they look anything like this hopeless test pattern, which ought to be accompanied by a high-pitched beep at four in the morning on a TV channel? This eyesore is proof enough of why religions shouldn't have flags.


Keeping it simple, then, is Wallonia, the part of Belgium that speaks French. The French (as in the inhabitants of a neighbouring country) have long been identified with the humble and not-very-evocative rooster. The Walloons here seem to like cock enough to throw one, in red on yellow, atop their flag. Cock-a-doodle-doo indeed.



Connacht, one of the four classical provinces of Ireland, seems to have made its flag by sewing together two scraps from two entirely different flags. The black eagle on white might have been a nice flag. The white arm-with-sword on blue would have been uglier, but serviceable. But half of one and half of the other? That's a bird who's been eating its spinach.


This is a county in Lithuania, and thus nothing of great importance to anyone not Lithuanian, if not for its amazing flag featuring a man with Rice Krispies pouring from his palms. I think this man is supposed to be sowing seeds, but it's ridiculous however you put it, and the series of jigsaw puzzle pieces around the outside do little to give it dignity.


Switzerland was my first exposure to the existence of ugly flags. Its famously square white-on-red plus sign is appealing enough, but the cantons? There be horrors within. I might have included Uri's bull's head, except that it's actually vaguely cool. Instead, here's Glarus: a frowning monk with a halo, a book and an antenna, all in yellow. Being square can't save this flag. Being shaped like the Nepalese flag wouldn't save this one.


In my list of the best flags, I included Nunavut, the Inuit homeland whose flag features an inukshuk. But there's actually two: Nunatsiavut is another Inuit homeland in northern Labrador. And their flag has all of the Inukshuk with none of the charm. Looking like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters, this flag must give nightmares to Inuk children everywhere.


My list of best flags had a lot of praise for Japanese prefectural flags. But obviously they can't all be genius, as this hastily cribbled "RII" proves. It's actually apparently the Kanji for 'Ishikawa', though that would appear to be:


Er, vive la difference, I guess. Since I'm in Asia, I ought to note that Wikipedia gives a series of truly horrendous flags for the cities and regions of South Korea, like Daejeon, whose flag Wikipedia claims is the phrase "It's Daejeon" written in a font frighteningly similar to Comic Sans. But outside of Wikipedia I see no evidence that this is a flag and not just a wordmark/logo, so I have to defer to the 'Wikipedia doesn't know what it's talking about' theory, and leave out what would otherwise top my list of ugly flags easy.


The flag of Guam shows up on many an online list of ugly flags, and for good reason. That little island scene, with palm tree and boat, would be ugly enough if it was a 3rd grader's art class submission. But on the flag? And with the name Guam in capital letters over top of it? It's a truly hokey flag, and its cute little red border can't save it.


Originally, I figured I'd have many an American state flag on this list. As it is, a lot of them are pretty bad, but not horrid. And Virginia sports an awesome flag with both violence and nudity happening... but a pelican momma feeding three pelican babies? Well, it gets worse. Apparently they changed it in 2006 to add the drops of blood. The pelican, you see, is feeding her babies her own blood. Yikes. And there's a motto, too! One which appears to be missing a comma, unless 'union justice' is a concept I'm unfamiliar with.

10. RWANDA (1962-2001)

Have I really not looked at a list of flags in ten years? Rwanda always stuck out in my head for 'ugly flags', with its generic pan-African tricolour vandalised with a giant letter R in the middle - ugliness defined. But it turns out that that flag reminded people of the genocide, so they changed it to a much prettier flag. Sniff... I shed a tear for all those giant Rs lost in the mists of time.


Speaking of civil war... here's a country that's been divided for ages now. It was perhaps this ridiculous flag that caused Turkey to invade. Generally speaking, putting a map of your country on your flag is never a good idea (are you listening, Kosovo?), as it means that schoolkids can never draw the flag. Plus, saying "it's too boring; let's stick some branches in there" is no good idea either. All on white. Hey, isn't a white flag a symbol of surrender? Bet you guys are kicking yourselves over that one, aren't you?


I wanted to include some Canadian flags here, and really several of them are worthy of inclusion - stand up, BC, PEI and New Brunswick. But in a bit of neighbourly friendliness, I defer to the tiny piece of France off the coast of Newfoundland. This deeply ugly, and apparently unofficial, flag consists of three other flags, representing the Basques, the Bretons and the Normans, and a really big boat, which has more than a bit of cartooniness to it. The end result looks like a quilt, and is one of those overly busy flags that unfortunately fly in places around the world. A few more overcrowded flags follow.


Chimbu is a province in Papua New Guinea, which is also called Simbu, which apparently, according to Wikipedia, means 'Sipuuuu' (yes, four u's), which means 'thank you'. Whew. Not thank you for this drapeau, though, which is every bit as messy, overcrowded and thrown-together as many of the Papuan flags. You've got the Southern Cross on black and the bird of paradise on red, from the Papuan national flag. In fact, you've got the whole national flag, wearing a sash. That's where the ugly comes in. You've got a pearl necklace intersected by two olive forks and a swizzle stick. All on green. Charming.


Veneto is a region in Italy that used to be the Venetian Republic. It has the lovely city of Venice, but to counter that it has what must be the busiest flag ever. The main focus of the flag is a lion with wings reading a book - I swear this to you - and it's surrounded by enough border-style decorations to choke a winged lion, plus seven tiny little flags. Yes, seven of them. Or maybe they're coats of arms. I can't tell - the ugliness of this flag obscures my vision.


But leave it to Italy to out-ugly even itself, vexillogically. By far the worst flag I've ever seen, this is technically merely a triskelion, like the flag of the Isle of Man, with the head of Medusa and three sheaves of wheat. What it actually is is some kind of quasi-pornographic horrorshow, as a three-legged woman gives birth to a winged baby and some agricultural products. How Sicilians can look at that flag and not snicker, or lose their appetite, I'll never know. Ah, Italy, how I love thee.
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