The Invention of Crap

A few Saturday nights ago I treated myself to a pay-per-view movie. I settled on The Invention of Lying because I’m not allowed to watch scary movies alone and I like Ricky Gervais, the main actor, co-author and co-producer. Though billed as a comedy, it never once cracked my lips in a smile. I wasted $4.99 on it (and 99 minutes of my life. Luckily, my time isn’t worth much (as evidenced by my blog’s theme)).
So, if you haven’t seen it (and I’m betting you haven’t since you are certainly a more discriminating spender of time than I am (as evidenced by the blogs you read)) here it is nut-shell-wise:

The movie takes place in an alternate reality that is just like our reality except people can’t lie or even conceive of an untruth. Enter Mark (Ricky Gervais), a sad sack if there ever was, who inexplicably realizes he alone can tell lies and even benefit from them. Then montage meets montage and begets another montage: He gets un-earned money, convinces a hot stranger to have sex, evades a DUI, comforts a dying parent, talks a suicide out of taking action, and deceives his love interest, Anna (Jennifer Gardner), who has no interest in him. It’s unclear why anyone would bother to construct a new world chronicling the very reasons we all lie in this one. It’s as if you were suddenly given wings and used them to fly to the park-and-ride to catch a bus to work.

Not to be out-done by their own tedious predictability, the writers also have Mark invent religion complete with a Moses-style two-tablet public presentation of commandments that were so milquetoast I wanted to crisp them in a bit of fire and brimstone. Ricky Gervais is an out-spoken atheist so I guess he thought it was subversive to equate religion with lies. In fact he proved that given any starting point, Christianity is inevitable. This is an important reminder to writers: maintain tight control over your content or risk making a point directly opposite from your intent.

Now, for my criticism:

The way the characters demonstrate their inability to lie is by saying absolutely everything just as soon as it pops into their heads no matter how rude or inappropriate it may be — and it’s almost always rude and inappropriate. For instance, the first scene features Mark showing up to collect Anna for a date. She announces that she’s not looking forward to it, only agreed to go as a favor to a friend, that she’s way out of his league, and by arriving early he interrupted her from masturbating. Now, maybe I took a big dump after I watched this movie, but not including that in my blog is not lying, it’s just keeping my mouth shut — something no one in the movie can do. It gives all the characters a maniacal, self-obsessed quality that is off-putting and, worse, much worse, unfunny.

As expected, Anna has the lion’s share of not lying. She can’t get through a single scene without saying how tickled she is by her own impeccable appearance and enviable financial situation and fashionable clothing and expensive jewelry and how desperate she is to produce the ultimate accessories: adorable children. In between skewering Mark for his physical flaws she also notes a couple of positives: Mark is fun, would make a good husband and father, and is her best friend (a claim unsupported by any scenes in the movie). The problem — the entire, singular problem — is that he’s ‘not able to contribute the DNA she wants to combine with hers.’ Does he have an incurable and devastating disease running through his genes? Well, yes, if one considers being fat with a snub nose just that kind of disease. And she does, she so does. And since she can’t lie she is compelled to say it a billion times. No exaggeration. If it takes one second to tell someone he’s fat with a snub nose one billion times, it’s only 31 years — about half as long as the movie feels.

The worst scene (with all others running a close second) happens late in the movie. Mark and Anna are chatting —awkwardly as ever — on a park bench and he’s trying to explain that she might be missing something if she only values people for their apparent genetic fitness. Dumb as she is beautiful, Anna finds this concept baffling. How can he simplify it? Hmmm. If only someone had coined a phrase about judging books by… A-ha! He’ll use the other park-goers as examples. Mark points to a man napping in the grass and asks what she sees: “Sleeping, ugly fatty. He’s a loser.” Darn it. Well, what about that man in business attire hurrying across the lawn: “Short, sweaty, bald guy.” This may be harder than he thought. What about that pair of quirky twenty-somethings flirting with each other: “Two nerdy losers in hats.” Anna, still missing the point, but enjoying the ‘game,’ asks Mark what he sees in her. He decides to tell the truth (ironic!): “You’re pretty. Got a wonderful smile. You’re the sweetest, most caring person I know. [Some crap about a freckle he finds endearing and] you’re the most wonderful person I’ve ever met.” And there it is: Primarily he loves her physical beauty and secondarily he loves attributes she doesn’t even possess. Mark isn’t a good man overlooked by a world obsessed with looks. He’s a judgmental ass in love with another judgmental ass – he’s just on the wrong side of what’s attractive.

That weekend I also watched another movie (for free) with almost the exact same premise. While not more funny, the second movie was a slightly less cynical effort. So, congratulations Gervais and co-writer, you were one cut below Paul Blart: Mall Cop.


The TAG Effect

I always knew my blog would have an impact on the world, but this was a surprise even to me.


May 21, 2010 – TAG’s inaugural post.

June 2, 2010 – TAG’s second post.

June 29, 2010 – Larry King announces his long-running show on CNN will end in the fall.

July 1, 2010 – Larry King’s shoulders are said to be in talks for a suspender-related reality show.

July 2, 2010 – Larry King’s shoulders shrug off rumors as unsupported.

July 6, 2010 – TAG’s fourth post.

Nancy Grace, I'm coming for you next.



[The following is the transcript of a recent appearance on Good Morning, This Morning.]

Welcome back. This morning I’m joined by Dr. Agnise Garters author of A Sky Without Stars: Predicting and Preventing the Coming Age of TV Celebrity Deficit. Thanks for coming.

Thanks for having me.

So, I understand that you’ve just written a book and the central theme seems to be that you’re worried we’re running out of TV celebrities?

Well, yes, in a sense, but that’s something of an over-simplification. My concern is really about the rate at which we are losing TV celebrities vis-√†-vis our current production levels.

And you’re pointing to recent loses such as Gary Coleman, Dixie Carter of Designing Women, Andrew Koenig – who our viewers no doubt remember played Boner on Growing Pains.

Certainly, but it’s really much bigger than that. I’m looking at Bea Arthur, Art Linkletter, Steve Erwin, even Brittany Murphy for her work on the MTV Music Awards - and I would argue, to some extent, her late husband. I mean, we’re down to one out of three Drummond kids at this point, and I think it’s fair to say Todd Bridges is living on borrowed time. Then there’s Corey Haim, which frankly leaves us with the inferior Corey and…

Excuse me, I’m sorry, are you saying you wish Corey Feldman had died instead?

Oh, by no means. No, not at all. Obviously, I would have preferred that they continued their decline into drug use and theatrical irrelevance as documented on A&E’s The Two Coreys. I thought we’d get two maybe four more seasons out of them. And if we had to lose one, it probably would’ve made more sense to lose both in, I’m speculating here, a murder-suicide pact. But it’s important to note that I’m talking less about the individuals, and more about the larger trend.

Now, your critics have said we don’t need to worry about the Coreys, we have Dylan and Cole Sprouse of The Suite Life of Zack and Cody.

I’ve heard that argument. But then take the Olsen twins. How much longer do you think they have? And who’s going to replace them? Do we expect the no-name-Sprouse-twins to cover the Olsens and the Coreys? That’s absurd.

And you think at this rate, we’ll run out?

Listen, I think it's a real concern. And one of the biggest problems right now is that we don’t even have the data to be able to say how well we’re generating tomorrow’s Leonard Nimoy, Jane Curtin, or the Canadian Alan Thicke?

And all those stars are dead. Tragic.

Well, no, they’re not actually... I mean, not yet...

Really? That’s fascinating.

As I was saying, we just don’t even have a way to measure the loss versus the new production. Did you know there’s not one study being conducted on this problem? Not by the government, the NIH, the FCC, the Broadcasters Union. Not one single study.

We’re almost out of time, but in the last twenty seconds, can you tell us what’s your greatest fear?

Y’know, I’m really not that worried about next year or even the next decade. I’m worried about where we’ll be 20 or 30 years from now. What I think about is what I’ll say to my children when they ask me about their TV celebrity deficit. Why didn’t we see it coming? Why didn’t we act when there was still time?

Chilling insight. Well, thank you so much for coming this morning. Certainly is food for thought. And speaking of food, Jim, I see you’re cooking up some summertime treats on the patio. We’ll be back with Jim after these messages.

POST SCRIPT: The night after I wrote this, we lost our third Golden Girl. See you in heaven, Rue.

Inaugural Post!

This week brought the tragic news that Ghost Whisperer has been cancelled. It was unexpected and it hit me right it the gut. To understand my response you have to think back to September 12, 1994 when Party of Five first aired. I had just begun my studies at CU and while I may have seen the show, must’ve seen the show, I have no memories of it. In December of 1997, I graduated, got engaged, and moved to Seattle with my fianc√©. We rented an apartment and tried to make a life together on minimum wage. It was no hill of beans, but it was ours. And we were in love. We talked and talked and when we couldn’t talk anymore, we read Lolita out loud and I cried when Humbert Humbert said to a married, pregnant Lola that it was a mere 20 paces to his car and wouldn’t she please walk those 20 paces with him. And when we couldn’t stand the sound of our voices anymore, we listened to the radio. It just so happened that NPR was featuring Undaunted Courage unabridgedly read by the author or Meriwether Lewis or Methuselah, for all I know. It was painfully detailed, radically slow, desperately monotone, but by god, it was the best entertainment we had. We did our best to cope. There were cigarettes and wine and a sort of heady resignation that only two young people without disposable income can muster.

Then one day everything changed. I came home after work to encounter the biggest television set I have ever seen sitting right in the middle of my living room. Much, much deeper than wide, heavy as lead, old as the gods, and beautiful crowned with the best bunny ears I could find. Cable was unaffordable, but that TV couldn’t have received it anyway. Oddly, even without an antenna, we could always clearly get PAX TV as if it was beamed from some other, darker source than the transmission tower that fed the other stations. Whatever the case, that massive TV brought Party of Five into our little home. It was such a dimly-lit show and on our giant-but-weak television it was almost completely black. We made fun of those Salinger kids as they ate dinner in the dark, argued in the dark, even Claude practiced her violin in the dark. But we watched it because it was one small step above radio and one giant leap for us.

And time passed, as is its wont. And Jennifer Love Hewitt turned into the It Girl. Launched by Po5, she starred in mediocre but popular films like I Know What You Did Last Summer and I Still Know What You Did Last Summer. In 2000 she was cast as the title character in the TV movie The Audrey Hepburn Story. She even did a commercial for Hanes in which she flounced about in various stylish outfits and fought dramatically with an ill-fitting bra. Everyone loved her, how could you not? Her middle name compelled you to do so. And then in 2005 she took a job on Ghost Whisperer. I’ve never personally seen an episode or know anyone who has, but it ran regularly for five years with no buzz whatsoever. Without scandal, Jennifer L. Hewitt showed up every Friday night, season after season. She never went to rehab, or jail, or released a sex tape. No, she simply did her job competently (I assume) expecting nothing in return but monetary compensation. And for that, she should be applauded. The show’s cancellation won’t have any impact on me. It will continue to re-air on ION, oddly enough. But maybe it signals the closing of a certain chapter in TV history. The classic hard-working, straight-living Hollywood gives way to the Lindsey Lohans and Real Housewives and TMZ (whatever the shit that show is). RIP, Ghost Whisperer. Now let’s get on with the blog!