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say what?

In which Metroland writers defend the (not quite) indefensible

Golf is not a sport

The American Heritage Dictionary defines a “sport” as “an activity involving physical exertion and skill that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often undertaken competitively.”

OK, golfers—it’s time to face facts. The only physical exertion required for 18 holes of golf is walking from cart to tee, tee to six-pack and back again. And you don’t even have to carry your clubs. So stop whining about making golf an Olympic sport—and for everyone’s sake, stop trying to convince the world that Tiger Woods is a real athlete. Woods’ “physique” is more Steve Urkel than Charles Atlas. He may stand out from the crowd in golf, but that’s because he’s surrounded by body doubles for the Michelin Man. Professional golfers belong in the same class as professional bowlers, and their game—like darts, foosball and competitive yo-yo—lies outside of real sports.

Where’s the risk in golf? From broken spines to missing ears, real sports have real consequences. Golf, on the other hand, has the threat of grass stains.

Where’s the defense? Try to come in under par while avoiding a nasty hip check or sliding tackle, and maybe—just maybe—I’ll give your green jacket some respect. Better yet, instead of hitting a stationary ball, try to hit the sucker off the bounce at 90 miles per hour. Then compare your little hobby to real sports like cricket (or tennis or baseball).

Sure, there are a slew of real sports where you’re flying solo, but I’ve never heard of anyone negotiating a business deal while tossing a javelin or arguing their high-jumping skills after a few beers and an expensive cigar. Trust me—I’ve tried golfing drunk and I’ve tried pole-vaulting drunk, and one of the two didn’t end well.

So it’s decision time, golfers. You can keep trying to cram a game where nobody breaks a sweat under the same banner as football, basketball and hockey, or you can grab a six-pack and a nine-iron and try to enjoy a sunny day. I recommend the latter—it’s easier on the heart.

—Rick Marshall

The Lord of the Rings movies sucked

It’s time, by now, to acknowledge that Peter Jackson’s screen adaptation of The Lord of the Rings was a dismal failure.

It’s gorgeous; the scenery, costumes and props were unimpeachable. But with that, all praise must end. Unlikely adventures are thrilling; implausible ones are dull. Real soldiers do not dive cheerfully into 10-to-1 odds. We wouldn’t expect a strong man to survive standing on a gorilla’s head; who will believe pygmies jumping on a giant the size of a Winnebago? Why would Cthulu wave Frodo in the air rather than drowning him thirty feet away? Jackson’s sub-Conan grasp of physics doesn’t help: Masonry doesn’t rock back and forth before it falls, and it transfers force when it hits. Evil wraiths aren’t saturated with kerosene. (Examples from the first installment; I cannot be arsed to watch more of this.)

Jackson’s vestigial loyalty to Tolkien hurts him: He skims over a hundred incidents like stations of the cross. The hobbits enthuse over mushrooms for 1.4 seconds, then bolt; Legolas walks on snow, but goes nowhere; we pause to bid farewell to the packhorse, never before seen. If you’re happy to make changes in general, why shackle yourself with these bizarre feints and allusions? Better to cut Legolas, Gimli, Boromir, Elrond, Galadriel, Saruman, Merry, Pippin and Sam if that would give the survivors three dimensions.

But Jackson makes splatter flicks, with cool effects. Impatient with scriptwriting, unmoved by niceties of character and mood, he casts legendary actors and then, distrusting them, covers their faces with animation at their best moments, floods tomblike subterranean ruins with overwrought soundtrack, and doggedly advances the plot using no other tool than drab, literal, forgettable expository dialogue.

And this is the uttermost root of the movie’s malaise. Jackson simply doesn’t have, or miss having, the gifts of a storyteller.

—Robin Skyler

EBay is worse for children than Internet chat rooms

It’s true. Oh sure, both mediums slowly chip away at the quality of human communication and the quality of the English language, like the Bush administration chisels away at our right to oxygen, water and due process. But eBay is far worse.

Why? Because sadly, its denizens are the future of commerce, and our children are learning from sleepless zealots, the uneducated, the unloved, the terminally unemployable and the emotionally handicapped. It’s the online equivalent of a nonprofit corporation board of directors. And unlike the carpetbaggers of yore who just ripped you off and disappeared, these creeps will stalk you if they perceive you unjustly left bad feedback or didn’t communicate effectively. They will establish false accounts with fake addresses and bid preposterously high on your sale items and never pay you. They will submit your e-mail address to ancestry Web sites, who in turn sell it to third-party data miners who will spam your inbox with porn, Trojan horses, home- mortgage offers and online college-degree ploys. It is a passive/aggressive person’s wet dream, and they will pass these traits to the youth like an earnest strain of herpes.

You may opine that chat rooms are worse because sexual predators have been known to target them. But statistically, your child’s chance of actually hooking up with the next John Wayne Gacy online is about the same as getting leg-humped and eaten by lemurs in British Columbia. At least chat-room stalkers must eventually reveal themselves. EBayers can remain anonymous forever, torturing your stinking soul from anywhere on Earth. And, if allowed to flourish, an eventual nation of illiterate, corpulent, uncompromising thugs will soon rise to the helm of our corporate American health, spending money on things they don’t need with money they don’t have. Ooh, wait. They already do that. Nevermind.

—Bill Ketzer

Nirvana didn’t change anything

The BBC recently called them “the most important band of the last 15 years.”

Bunk.

It would be tough to discredit Nirvana’s place in pop culture (or at least their role as a catalyst for hygienic decline), but to say they were “important”? Bah. Nirvana were nothing more than the figurehead for a movement that started years before their own existence. They changed nothing. By his own admission, Cobain bit his best hooks off the Pixies. So why don’t they get the credit? Maybe they’re smart enough to not want it. Or maybe it’s just that Cobain was a lot cuter than Black Francis.

As the last 15 years go, we should rank an act like Radiohead higher in importance. At least they’ve challenged listeners, and inspired creative knockoffs. All Nirvana spawned was uninspired poop like Candlebox, Bush, Creed, and Puddle of Mudd—knockoffs of knockoffs, really.

Nirvana’s legacy is constructed around the idea that they ushered out the era of showboaty hard rock and pop-metal, but that stuff was already on the decline. (Refer to the chapter on the Power Ballad Years.) Groups like Nine Inch Nails and Alice in Chains had begun changing the shape of heavy metal; “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was merely more palatable. It sounded like metal, so it was welcomed.

And why was the demise of hair metal a good thing, anyway? Music used to be entertaining. Bands were unafraid to write stupid songs about girls and drugs and good times, and every one of those songs had a killer guitar solo. The joyless “Head Like a Hole” was the real mantra for the changing of the guard: “Bow down before the one you serve, you’re going to get what you deserve.” Boy, did we.

So Nirvana were the poster band for the movement to make music suck. But don’t give them credit they don’t deserve—it’s really Trent Reznor’s fault.

—John Brodeur

There should be no victims’ memorial at the World Trade Center site

Don’t build a memorial to the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center. To do so only reminds the world how effective the terrorists were that day.

Memorials go against the core of every major religion in the world, which is that your treasures should be built not on Earth, but in the next life. It would be far better to direct the millions of dollars going for the memorial into a living tribute.

How about a foundation for impoverished children in New York City? Or, how about using the money for training so that the New York City fire and police departments finally learn to work together?

And if there are more catastrophic attacks on the United States—as the Bush administration keeps promising us there will be—how many times can we go through the agony of memorializing thousands of deaths?

The World Trade Center memorial effort has so far left many people feeling bitter and betrayed. Already, a dispute between some victims’ families and New York City is heading toward litigation, over the question of what the city should do with the landfill soil that contains pulverized human remains.

And remember: A memorial to the victims of a World Trade Center attack has already been built. The simple granite fountain inscribed with the names of the six victims of the 1993 bombing, which stood in the plaza outside the towers, disappeared in the Trade Center’s collapse.

The memorial’s sculptor, Elyn Zimmerman, reflected on the loss during a February 2002 symposium at the International Foundation for Art Research in New York City.

Said Zimmerman, “What occurs to me is that you can build a lot of stone memorials, and if people are determined, they’ll be destroyed along with everything else.”

Amen.

—Darryl McGrath

You don’t deserve a pet

Down, boy! Easy. Eaaasy. Sit!

No, not you, Chivas, Porter, Rusty, Lady, Ginger, whatever your name is. And, obviously enough, no, not you cats, either—talking to you guys is a total waste of time. Why anyone even bothers to name you is beyond me. See, watch: Here, Sebastian. Here, Cleo. Here, Daisy. Hey, cat! Nothing.

No, I’m talking to you pet owners: You with the photos of your dog on your desk; you with the “I heart my short-haired, snub-nosed West Batavian crotch-sniffer” bumper sticker on your car; you with the endless anecdotes about the cute things that your drool hound does, as if it had the expressive range of Olivier, and was not, essentially, exactly the same as every other dog in the world since we conned ’em out of stealing our kill in exchange for two squares and a flannel bed from L.L. Bean.

Nothing against the dogs. They know—in their limited instinctual way—a good deal when they see one. Respect. And the cats . . . well, the cats are up to something, and are not deserving of trust, but, yes, they’re cute, too. Fine. But can we please stop pretending that pet ownership, in itself, is somehow noble? Face it, you’ve got a slave whose only job is to give you an object (yes, yes, yes, I know. I mean it in a grammatical sense) on which to heap the love you’d give people if you weren’t afraid of them. The more you hate people, it seems, the more you love the animals.

And, really, that’s OK. Just be honest about it. If that’s the arrangement you want, that’s your business. You want to confuse nutritional dependence with love, it’s your call. After all, an animal’s probably a better choice than a struggling musician. But why don’t you go stay at their place for a change?

—John Rodat

Thelma and Louise is not a feminist movie

OK, it’s true: The fact that women who kill rapists, batterers, and would-be rapists get treated more harshly by the legal system than, say, men who kill cheating wives, is a feminist issue. So in that way, Thelma and Louise could be considered a feminist movie—and so could any movie that shows a rape or an oppressed housewife or an anorexic.

But after all the hype about Thelma and Louise’s trailblazing feminist content—not to mention the buttons, T-shirts, blah blah blah, that it spawned—I expected something more profound than a terrified gunshot turned accidental murder.

Feminists are concerned, rightly, with stereotypical and derogatory images of women. So how’s this for a miserable specimen of liberated femininity: Shortly after being nearly raped, causing her friend to commit murder, and going on the run, Thelma recovers abnormally quickly and apparently decides that it’s very important to sunbathe in practically nothing next to the motel pool. Or later to naively take a sweet-talking stranger into her bed. The dialogue alternates between starry-eyed and dopey.

You could say that these things were evidence of just how far women have internalized their roles and restrictions and self-objectified sexuality. And you’d be right. But we never see them break out of that mode and become someone I, for one, would want to identify with. In fact I spent most of the time (and I watched twice, figuring I must have been in a bad mood the first time since everyone else loved it so much) just feeling vaguely ill.

Is shooting out the tires of a misogynist truck driver and not going home again, even if it means driving over a cliff, really so wildly liberating? Oh boy, I’ve shifted from the subservient domestic stereotype to the crazy bad-girl stereotype. Woo hoo!

Fact is, this was just a shoot-’em-up, buddy-road-trip, American-rebellious-outsider movie, with a few quasi- feminist trimmings and some girl talk. A brilliant marketing move, but not particularly radical.

—Miriam Axel-Lute

Grassroots organizing is a waste of time

Nothing on earth makes my flesh crawl in quite the same way as a celebrity pimping “people power.” Remember the clueless millionaire, John Lennon, prattling on about “power to the people?” Or the earnest poet, Patti Smith, droning on that “people have the power?”

Aside from being pompous and annoying, Lennon and Smith were wrong. People don’t have the power. And people working together under the misapprehension that they do are kidding themselves.

There are glib and nuanced arguments regarding grassroots organizing. First, here’s the glib version: The game is fixed. The house always wins. Entrenched political interests are so greedy, experienced and determined that nothing short of gross criminal stupidity will lead to their displacement. It’s like the scene in Preston Sturges’ brilliant political comedy The Great McGinty, in which the graft-addicted city machine boss realizes that he’s gone as far as he can with his current, scandal-plagued mayoral and city-council puppets, and dumps them for “reform” candidates: “Sure, we’re the reform party. We’re all the parties.”

And when entrenched political powers are displaced, it isn’t by the peasants with pitchforks. It’s by another powerful interest equally intent on keeping power, and its prerogatives, to themselves.

But, you may ask, what about the recent triumph of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine? Yes, that movement was the result of a tremendous grassroots organization orchestrating a brilliant series of carefully controlled protests. Or, closer to home, the triumph of David Soares in the race for Albany County district attorney? That, too, was an instance of smart, dedicated grassroots organizing.

This is where the nuance comes in: grassroots organizing on its own is a waste of time. If the U.S. government hadn’t kicked in money and logistical support, and the Ukrainian secret services hadn’t worked against the incumbent regime, the scene in Kiev would have looked a lot like Tiananmen Square. And if the organizational muscle of the Working Families party hadn’t been behind Soares, and the fat wallets of anti-Rockefeller-drug-law advocates like George Soros and Edgar Bronfman hadn’t opened, loathsome Paul Clyne would still be D.A. Without allies among the elite, people are genuinely powerless.

—Shawn Stone

Reality TV is really good for America

Anyone who says reality tele vision is bad for America clearly is not watching enough of it.

Watching reality TV poker is like watching paint dry, but watching paint dry on reality television—from your ugly couch in your UGLY apartment—is pretty darn cool. In fact, it’s downright dreamy.

The world of reality TV shows is vast, and there are plenty of guilty weaknesses to go around. But reality TV can be useful and intelligent too. Don’t forget that This Old House is reality TV, and that Morgan Spurlock, who directed Super Size Me, is taking a whack at reality TV. And there is no substitute in the world for watching Senate hearings on C-Span.

But even besides the stuff we can convince ourselves is noble and useful, at its most exciting that glorious idiot box can momentarily transport us to a tropical isle, a new neighborhood or a new job. We can imagine ourselves competing on America’s Next Top Model or Project Runway while we’re in our pajamas, munching on corn chips. We can feed a desire to compete without having to participate in the contest, and be voyeurs without having to leave the couch.

Reality television shows us the trials some Americans will endure for hard, cold cash. I’ll admit that I’m not the type of gal to go for the torture by tarantula, but I appreciate the opportunity to see our culture, warts and all. Isn’t it just so beautifully American to want to outdo each other by eating maggots?

—Ashley Hahn

Anti-drunk-driving groups do more harm than good

For the record, I don’t advocate drunk driving. I don’t think it’s a good idea to operate a one-and-a-half-ton death machine when you can’t see straight.

I also don’t think it’s a good idea to drive when you can’t stop yourself from exceeding the speed limit. Or when you can’t remember that a red light means “stop.” Or when you think it’s OK to tailgate or cut somebody off because you’ve decided they’re in your way.

Basically, I don’t think it’s a good idea to be on the road in a car if you think you have a god-given right to get where you’re going as fast as possible with as little interference as possible from lights, road signs, pedestrians, weather, other cars, etc.

And yet, this is exactly what millions of us do, every day.

And as a result, about 120 of us die in traffic accidents, every day.

The carnage on our roads is the biggest public-health scandal of our time. And yet, we continue to design our environment to accommodate even more driving. And our automobile-centrism breeds ever-more aggressive and arrogant drivers.

Alcohol is not a factor in a majority of fatal traffic accidents. And even when it is a factor, often there are others—like speeding. And yet, if you talk to Mothers Against Drunk Driving or Students Against Destructive Decisions, or visit their Web sites, nary a peep about speeding (a big problem, especially among young people) or other dangerous driving habits. The message: If only we can stop drunk driving, the roads will be safe.

My message: You’re dead wrong. Drunk driving is the tip of the iceberg. Driving itself is unsafe—and we’re so addicted to it, and so indoctrinated to automobile culture, that we don’t have the will to acknowledge and change it. And groups like MADD and SADD deflect our attention from the more serious underlying problem. But hey, if you don’t believe that MADD (intentionally or otherwise) is doing someone’s dirty work, look at the organization’s biggest donors: automakers, oil and insurance companies. They know what’s good for business.

—Stephen Leon

Performers don’t owe you a good performance

If you’ve been to more than a dozen or so musical performances in your life, chances are you’ve seen one that just, well, sucked. And if you’re a Bob Dylan or Cat Power fan, you’re now thinking, “I only wish I had that kind of luck. Imagine, 11 good shows.”

And if you’ve gone to two, three, six or more dozen shows, and therefore seen a handful of crappy ones, you’ve seen some red-faced attendee huffing on the sidewalk after the show, “That was the worst performance I’ve ever seen. [So-and-so] should have paid me to attend. I should get my money back.” The next day, or later, depending on the publication schedule of your favorite critical rag, you’ve been able to read the lordly indignation of some expert beating the tar out of the choke-prone artist, rambling on about professionalism, or obligation, or respect for the audience or something like that.

It’s crap. If your general contractor or your plumber or your roofer or, god forbid, your doctor screws up, then you’ve got a soapbox to stand upon—if not a front porch, a dry living room or a right leg. But when an artist “blows it,” he’s probably doing you a favor; you just don’t know it.

He (or she) is doing you a favor by being something other than a practiced hack, with 2-year-old moves, moth-eaten banter, and a sleepwalker’s repertoire of Greatest Hits; he’s doing you a favor by reminding you of the risk, and therefore the beauty, of a public performance of something that, ideally, came from a mysterious and often inaccessible place; he’s doing you a favor by taking on a challenge of emotional and artistic communication that you—seat B11—are not at that moment taking on yourself.

—John Rodat

Iraq is the right war for the wrong reasons

At the risk of never eating lunch in this town again, I’ll play Devil’s advocate and tell you how the Iraq war could be justified.

The United States knew that the U.N. sanctions it had vetoed all attempts to lift were killing sick, elderly and young Iraqis. According to UNICEF estimates, 1.5 million Iraqis died in between 1991 and 1998 as a result of the sanctions, which were part of the policy of containment adopted after the first Gulf war. We were therefore practicing selective genocide, and it had to stop.

That had nothing to do with Bush’s decision to invade, of course—after all, does this man even care about the elderly, sick, and young here at home? The war was instead fought over a three-part lie: Saddam had WMD, he was tight with Osama, and he was going to give him the weapons to use against us unless we kicked butt quick. That was bullshit, of course; controlling Iraqi oil and advancing U.S. global dominance were far more likely reasons. No WMD were found, and former U.N. inspector and Bush administration critic Scott Ritter’s contention that Saddam’s WMD were destroyed following Gulf I was vindicated.

Nonetheless, in 2003 the news media reported that Saddam intended to restart his nuke program when U.N. sanctions were finally lifted. Given that nuclear-armed rogue states are among our gravest threats, and that continuing the U.N. sanctions was de facto genocide, it is quite arguable that removing Saddam was the best option. The war ended the cruelty of the sanctions, albeit at a high price. And in hindsight, we may well find we were better off eliminating a nuclear threat from Saddam sooner rather than later.

—Glenn Weiser

There’s no reason to care about “indie” cinema

The rise of high-quality, af fordable digital video cameras and editing software will, we have been told, usher in an era of independent cinema such as the world has never known. No more shall the tastemakers of Hollywood dictate what kind of entertainment the people can consume, as an edgier, more personal cinema will lead to a new era of artistic achievement.

Frankly, it’s hard to see this as anything but a disaster.

For a couple of grand and with some basic computer skills, any chucklehead can point, shoot, download, click and—voila!—call themselves a filmmaker.

Hey “filmmaker”: just to set you straight, you’re not an artist. You’re a glorified hobbyist. Go ahead, set up a Web site where folks can access your work. The chance that you’ll make anything anyone other than your mom or spouse would be willing to sit through is slim to none. (And your mama’s just being nice.)

Capitalism has its uses, and one of them is to provide a filter. Yes, good stuff is sometimes filtered out—but so is a whole lot of crap.

Granted, the classic studio system—version 2.0, the one that emerged after the original production and distribution monopolies were ended in 1949—is broken. But it’s you, the moviegoing public, who killed it. You’re the ones who love plotless event movies like Twister; turn out in droves for pointless remakes of TV shows like The Honeymooners; and have made star directors out of incompetent hacks like Pearl Harbor’s Michael Bay and Rush Hour’s Brett Ratner.

And it’s you, the moviegoing public, who have also provided the big studios with the economic reason to create a production mechanism for smaller films, in the form of studio-based “indie” divisions like Universal’s Focus Films (The Pianist, Lost in Translation) or Fox Searchlight Pictures (Napoleon Dynamite, Sideways).

So, “filmmaker”: get your picture picked up by one of these studio boutiques, and the quotation marks will magically disappear.

—Shawn Stone

Reading is a waste of time

You have a short attention span. Not you might; you do. So what makes you think that you can sit down and read a newspaper? I’ll bet that, by the end of this paragraph, your eyes have trailed off to elsewhere on the page at least twice. You’re wasting a lot of time here.

Want a good solution? Television. Sure, The New York Times has some good writing, but it’s nothing that can’t be summed up in a 30-second blip on CNN. Plus, your hands won’t get covered with newsprint. Bonus. Time and Newsweek, meet your replacement: Dateline. More of a People person? You’re probably not much of a reader anyway, but you can get that information from about 375 different TV shows.

Oh, sure, nothing could replace books. What’s better than relaxing in bed at night with a good book? Here’s what: sleeping. Try a book on tape instead—you can “read” Anna Karenina or some other awkwardly translated classic on the drive back and forth to Boston. And let’s not forget movies! Entire 875-page manuscripts, whittled down to the most vital—or visually stimulating—100 minutes. Speaking of visually stimulating, let’s not even discuss how poorly nude scenes come across on page. Yikes.

The best part about these alternatives is that your hands are free to do any number of activities while you take in your news and entertainment. You could be knitting right now. Can’t do that while reading, can ya? How about playing the piano? Installing a bathroom cabinet? Surgery? Drinking? OK, you may be able to drink while reading, but remember how furious your girlfriend became when you spilled red wine on her copy of The Da Vinci Code? My point exactly. That time spent fighting could have been avoided with a click of the TiVo.

Save time. Fuck reading. They’ve already cast Tom Hanks for the movie anyway, and you love Tom Hanks. But order your tickets in advance: You wouldn’t want to waste time standing in line.

—John Brodeur

 


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