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Monday, December 31, 2007
With scenes from "The Secret of the Centuries"...
Yes, that's right, Karl Marx was a tool of Satan. (I got my hands on a small mountain of anti-Communist material from the fifties lately, and I keep debating whether it's scan-able. It's not "funny ha-ha" and the humor I find in it is far too James Lileks-ish for my personal comfort. I mean, if finding humor in old anti-Communist material is going to turn me into a xenophobic right-wing crank, I don't want to find it funny, you know?)
The question ads like this always raise for me is: "How expensive was pantyhose and color film in 1973 that this lady is so excited about getting them for free?" Did we just skip the chapter on the Great Pantyhose Shortage of '72 in my history class?
I blame all those people who complained about how they "hadn't heard" of any of the books on last year's list... I mean, I'm sure it's an entertaining book and all, but is it really better than , say Alice in Sunderland or The Salon, neither of which, I note, made it onto your list...was it really the fourth best graphic novel of the year?
*(The title of this post was shamelessly stolen from inspired by Kevin Church.)
So, I've come across a few people here and there expressing confusion over what, precisely, is meant by the term "gay-baiting." I think it's easiest to demonstrate by the compare and contrast method. So, for example, here is 'King Herod's Song' from Jesus Christ Superstar as it was filmed in 1973 and again in 2000.
In the first, Herod is a mincing queen, surrounded, yes, by women, but also by effeminate men with pursed lips and make-up. In the second, he's more of a thirties showman. There are other significant differences in the stagings as well. In the former, we're meant to despise Herod for his queerness decadence. In the second, we're supposed to fear him. In the former portrayal, all we're meant to see is a rather tired gay joke.
Hey, having difficulty finding Holiday gifts for your friends, loved ones and enemies you wish to lull into a false sense of security? Wishing and hoping that some kindly soul would take pity on you and give you a gift-giving guide with the official stamp of approval of a slightly sarcastic web-blogger? Of course you are! That's why this list is here; for you! (That buying anything on this list, or even just clicking through one of the links and then buying something else entirely, helps me afford to buy Holiday gifts for my friends and loved ones [my enemies can go sit-n-spin] is besides the point...)
Doctor Who Junk!
So, we know it's the best science-fiction program of all time. But do you know a fan who doesn't own the first, second or third series on DVD yet? Correct that.
Books are tricky gifts, but I find that it's frequently a safe bet to get something new to the giftee but similar to what they already read. The Wit and Wisdom of Discworld is a great book, but someone has to already be a Terry Pratchett fan to really get the most out of it. For a first introduction to Pratchett, I would go with the religious satire of Small Gods. It's a better introduction to both the fantasy aspects of the Discworld series and the pointed commentary on real world issues the books bring up. The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents is a good choice for a younger reader.
For horror or mystery fans, we're going to cheat and use books that bridge that gap. Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child write good pot-boilers that combine the best elements of trashy pulp books and those "themed" detective novels. Their signature character, FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast, first appears in Relic, but the best work featuring the character is probably The Cabinet of Curiosities. The non-Pendergast novel Riptide, inspired by the Oak Island mystery is worthy of attention as well.
Also of particular note is Phil Rickman's supernatural/mystery series featuring the Reverend Merrily Watkins, a single mother, widow and exorcist, which begins with Wine of Angels. Rickman blends Christian doctrine and the pagan heritage of Britain into stunning fair-play mysteries with strong supernatural overtones. The Chalice doesn't feature Merrily, but it blends a strong mystery, Arthurian myth and occult secret societies into an excellent read.
Film! Sort of!
If you know any fans of British comedy, or anyone who works retail and would love to let their id loose, Black Books is a fantastic show, starring Dylan Moran as a surly Irish alcoholic, Bill Bailey as his well meaning but naive employee, and Tamsin Greig as their friend and sometime neighbor. I mean, look:
For more American fare, there's always the momentarily still available second volume of the Chronological Donald, with the third volume due by Christmas. Now, I'm not saying this because I'm partial to Donald Duck, but he is the quintessential American cartoon star. And I'm not just saying that because he's impatient, quick-tempered and convinced of his own superiority...
If you want a scary X-Mas for someone, the works of Dario Argento are amongst my favorites in the horror and thriller genres. Of his supernatural films, Suspiria is widely considered his best, with Deep Red a popular choice amongst pure thrillers. Now, they're Italian horror films, so the pacing and stylization are quite different from what someone raised on American horror is used to, with much more emphasis placed on staging and tone than pure gore or spectacle. (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, an early work, is still my personal favorite. The opening act, with Tony Musante trapped and forced to witness an attempted murder is one of the most nerve-wracking scenes I've ever seen filmed.)
If you want to add some intellectual discourse to your scary X-Mas, I still consider Men, Women and Chainsaws to be the definitive book on gender in the horror genre, with Monsters int the Closet of comparative quality when it comes to the subject of gay themes in horror.
Speaking of gay themes, no gay film fan's collection is complete without a copy of The Celluloid Closet or the companion film, even if both film and book are somewhat dated and the film in particular is a bit too concerned with not insulting some film-makers who, frankly, probably should be insulted. Beefcake is another essential film. Half documentary, half drama, it's a look at the physique magazine scene. And that was a great era for photography:
Art & Comics!
Got an arty comics snob on your list? LIfe in Pictures, a collection of Eisner's autobiographical works, is both a beautiful piece of work and a fascinating study of the early days of the American comics industry. For what it's worth, the only contemporary artist I think comes even close to Eisner's mastery is Gilbert Hernandez, and his Palomar and Luba stories from Love and Rockets are also out in amazing new editions, starting with Heartbreak Soup, and continuing into Human Diastrophism and Beyond Palomar.
If you're having a gay Christmas, Kyle's Bed and Breakfast is my favorite amongst the current crop of gay and lesbian comic strips, while Stripped provides a great overview of the contemporary gay comics scene. Man to Man offers a more historical over-view of gay photography, and Outlaw Representations is a good choice of companion.
Fun & Games!
The new edition of Talisman is great fun, and wonderfully designed, with spectacular new art all around, and a rules system that was clearly designed by Games Workshop. If you prefer games to be pixelated, Super Mario Galaxy is a no-brainer, but do give consideration to the woefully underappreciated Zack & Wiki. They'll look at you funny when they unwrap it, but they'll thank you after they play it.
For younger kids, there's this gorgeous Coliseum from Playmobil. They have to learn about bread and circuses sometime! Or, if you want to coddle them, there's this Unicorn set. Or, get both! Gladiators fighting unicorns, what kid could resist that?
And lastly, don't forget what every kid wants to find under their tree: the cheeriest little Dark Knight ever!
With some of the rather silly and strained defenses I saw for the "gay-baiting Batman" scene, I'm half-surprised no one went with the obvious defense; that it actually is in character for Batman to be a gay-baiting asshole.
To wit, Detective #570:
So, we have a villain who is coded as gay. How do we know that? Only his right ear is pierced, and he sticks his pinky out when he drinks. Both are accepted visual cues for homosexuality. If you don't know that, well, your media illiteracy is not my fault.
And how does Batman act when dealing with a character that's coded as gay?
Let's go over that again, for the slow of thinking who need symbolism painfully pointed out to them: