Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Incivility is Where You Find It

There's a lot of media attention focused on the bad behavior of some elements of the Tea Party movement, and it's quite true that some of it is heated, hostile, and reprehensible.  But there's plenty of incivility to go around.  Tea Partiers don't hold a monopoly.

An interesting example can be found on Amazon.com and is centered on Michael Lewis's new book The Big Short.  In the Customer Reviews section of the book's Amazon page, a lot of Kindle users are complaining because no electronic edition is available.  To express their displeasure, they are assigning the book a meager one-star rating.  Other Amazon customers are pushing back at the Kindle crowd, slapping them down for posting "reviews" of a book they haven't read yet.

Some of the posted comments and replies are pretty ugly.  Seems like the perception of anonymity--whether in a crowd of protestors or on the internet--brings out the worst in some people.

To make this point, I came up with a quiz called "Tea Party Rhetoric or Amazon Review?" which you'll find on The Huffington Post.  See if you can tell which nasty comments were made in a heated Tea Party exchange and which were posted on Amazon.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Lexorcist

Back in his standup days, Woody Allen had a joke about a project supposedly undertaken by Noël Coward: "He had acquired the rights to My Fair Lady, and was removing the music and lyrics and making it back into Pygmalion."

I'm reminded of the line as I consider the ever-expanding library of monster mashups--classic works of literature that have been rejiggered with a fantasy or science fiction element in order to weave a thread of bloody horror through a familiar tale. The latest example is Dawn of the Dreadfuls, a prequel to the bestseller that started the trend, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

You'll also find Jane Slayre, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Zombie Jim, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, Mr. Darcy, Vampire, The Undead World of Oz, and so on. And coming soon: Android Karenina, Little Women and Werewolves, Little Vampire Women, Romeo & Juliet & Vampires. . .

It has become clear that our literary heritage is being overrun by the powers of darkness. What's needed is a literary or lexical exorcist—a lexorcist—who is willing to take on these mutant mashups armed only with garlic and holy water and a really big blue pencil. Just as Woody had Noël Coward saving Pygmalion by gutting My Fair Lady, this lexorcist must have the fortitude to cut and slash mercilessly until every vestige of evil has been excised from these classics and they are restored to their original condition and pronounced clean.

The danger, of course, is that the lexorcist will go too far, wading into the wrong books and exorcising monsters that rightfully belong there. Imagine Frankenstein without the Creature—it's just the story of a callow medical student with some kooky ideas. Take the Count out of Dracula and all you've got is a group of tedious Victorians hitting on each other. Eliminate the brutish Mr. Hyde and you're left with the bland Dr. Jekyll, who never does anything the least bit naughty.

For this reason, the lexorcist must have a keen eye, excellent editorial instincts, common sense and good judgment. As it turns out, I am known to possess all of these qualities—I'm sure I saw them listed on my résumé. I think I just created a new career for myself—unless the undead Noël Coward wants to take it on.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Last-Minute Amendments to the Health Care Bill

Here are some last-minute amendments to the health care bill that I've asked my congressman to lobby for, which he promises to do pending the outcome of his ethics investigation:
Patients waiting to see their doctor of 15 years can no longer be asked by some nurse they've never laid eyes on before if they have a referral.

Magazines in the waiting room must be current and can not be about knitting.

Close-up photos of revolting skin conditions and disgusting cutaway diagrams of the parts of the eyeball will be removed from examining rooms, to be replaced by pictures of sad clowns and dogs playing poker.

Nurses can no longer greet hospital patients by asking "How are we today?" Henceforth they will ask "How is us doing?"

Doctors and patients will show each other proper respect: Primary caregivers will be addressed as "Doctor," and patients will be addressed using the appropriate formal salutation. At least until the first rectal exam--after that they might as well be on a first-name basis.

Nurses who are drawing blood can no longer call in their colleagues for a good laugh when a patient faints because it's humiliating for the patient, and anyway I didn't have breakfast that morning.

Doctors must be ready with a thoughtful, considered answer whenever a patient asks, "What's up, Doc?"

Doctors who look like George Clooney or McDreamy will no longer be allowed to see patients. This is especially true for my wife's doctor.

Doctors can no longer recommend a trip to Lourdes as the best treatment option.

Because laughter is the best medicine, a $20 copay will now be applied to really good jokes. Generic jokes will be available for as little as $5.

TV ads promoting nursing as a profession will no longer feature that guy warbling "You're a nurse/You make a difference," because that song inflicts more pain than any nurse could possibly alleviate.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Which Is More Interesting, E-Books or E. Coli?

All you hear about in the publishing news these days is e-books and e-readers--important topics, to be sure, as they are transforming the entire industry.

Still, you can reach a level of e-book saturation. I mean, the terms "e-book" and "e-reader" are u-biquitous. There's a certain monotony to seeing them repeated endlessly in everything you read. Frankly, it gets a bit tedious. And that "e" sticking out at the front starts to grate.

I came up with a trick that helps keep the publishing news interesting. As I explain on The Huffington Post, it's a simple substitution system: Every time you come across the words "e-book" and "e-reader," simply substitute a different, more interesting word. As long as it has an isolated letter tacked onto the front, it qualifies. The title of the piece will give you the idea: "If E-Books Were G-Strings."

Try this experiment: Next time you're socializing, tell your friends "I'll be happy to share my e-reader with you." The reaction is likely to be a polite "thanks" with an unspoken "whatever" as the subtext. Then say "I'll be happy to share my E. coli with you," and see what kind of stampede results.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Over the years I've noticed a strange phenomenon:  An author will write a bestselling novel, which then becomes a successful movie.  When the time comes to write a follow-up, the author writes a sequel not to the original novel, but to the movie!

On The Huffington Post I offer four examples of writers who've done this for various reasons:  Alistair MacLean, Brian Garfield, David Morrell, and Paul Gallico. 

Those examples go pretty far back, but I suspect this is still going on.  If you know of any more recent examples, please share them.

And think about this:  Does this ultimately have to do with a film's power to supplant its literary source material in the minds of its audience--and perhaps even in the mind of the author?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Pluto Files

Neil DeGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist, director of the Hayden Planetarium, and constant media presence, had a hand in the controversial decision to take away Pluto's status as a planet (it is now classified as a dwarf planet).  Late last year DeGrasse Tyson published a book called The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planetin which he discusses that decision and the backlash it engendered, including hate mail from third graders all across America.

As demonstrated in this video, which came to my attention via GalleyCat, DeGrasse Tyson has also drawn heat from some heavy-hitting media figures as well, including Diane Sawyer, Brian Williams, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.  The video promotes a PBS special airing tonight, also called The Pluto Files.  For Pluto fans it promises to be simultaneously entertaining and infuriating.

My own rant on the subject, To Boldly Go...To Pluto, somehow wasn't included in the documentary.  I'm sure if you asked the producers they'd claim it was some sort of unfortunate bureaucratic oversight (that's after they stopped saying, "What? Who?"), but clearly it was just too hot for them to handle.  Anyway, I'm happy to share it with you now.