Dog Poo in Motion: A Political Fable

My sister- and brother-in-law are down visiting, and, much to our cats' dismay, they've brought the dog. Tonight, when I stepped out onto the back porch to smoke my pipe, I found a medium sized, curled up dog turd off to one side. I made a point not to step on it, but otherwise ignored it while I smoked, until I realized it was moving. It turns out that a dark brown slug had decided to change course, and had curled around himself, obscuring his antennae and inadvertently masquerading as something else entirely. As I watched the slug straighten out and choose a new path, I realized there's a political moral to this story.

Large groups of people, like political parties or entire nations, are like slugs in some ways. They move slowly. They are bloated. Politically speaking, they are basically shaped like slugs, with a few people on the far right and far left but most people spread relatively evenly on a spectrum in the middle. They choose their directions slowly, ignorantly, and greedily. Once they get moving, they are basically propelled by a combination of momentum, some undetectable undulations, and slime of one kind or another. And, most importantly, when they can't decide which way to go, they begin to look like something of a mess.

I think both our country and both its major political parties are at such a point right now. I have my preference about our direction (universal health care, gay marriage, a genuine response to global warming, a more moral distribution of power and wealth), which incline me to want the Democratic party to figure out a unified direction and start heading there. Frankly, I think the Dems, especially in Congress, are so indebted to moneyed interests, so focused on being nice and bipartisan, and so fearful of hazy, vague taunts of "socialist" and "liberal", that they can't inspire. However, I also know that real debate is essential for a healthy democracy, so I'd like to see the Republican party choose a new direction, even if it's one a don't agree with, rather than circling around leadership like Governors Sanford and Palin and contributing about as much to the national debate as Jon and Kate Plus Eight. Both parties are spiraling around themselves, and, as a nation, we've curved into this fetid, unsanitary shape. We should acknowledge what the slug is teaching us: From a distance, one could be forgiven for mistaking us for a dog turd, so we'd better get moving somewhere fast.

Clensing the Palette with Sarah Marshall

Tonight Paige and I watched M. Nigh Shyamalan's "The Happening". I'd read the reviews, and had pretty low expectations. I had my smarmy remark all planned. Credits would roll, and I'd say, "Well, that happened." I'd say it with such a complete lack of passion that it would convey that I knew the line was unoriginal, but I didn't even care about that.

Well, the movie managed to disappoint, to the extent that I couldn't manage to say, "That happened," unless by "that" I meant a painful waste of time, strung along by some hope for the fabled M. Night Shyamalan surprise ending, which, it turns out, was an endangered species in the beginning of his career and is now officially extinct. Not only was the ending bad, but the whole movie made me wonder if he'd agreed to the basic premise on a dare. Someone said, [Spoiler Alert] "Hey, M., I'll bet you can't make a movie where the villain is a plant! And I'm not talking about some kind of mobile plant monster, but just a regular old rooted plant."

And M. said, "Well, can it be more than one rooted plant?"

"Um, I guess."

"Can it be all the plants in the world? 'Cause I think I'm onto something here!"

"Oh, crap. What have I done."

Yep, I'll bet that's how it went down. And down, and down, until it fell into a steaming pile that was this movie. And I'm not even trying to be gross, but the movie was a lot like poop. Imagine someone taking a dump in public. You'd be horrified, and you wouldn't enjoy it, but you'd have trouble looking away at first just because the whole scene would be so surreal. That's what the first few minutes of this movie were like. But when the crazy person pulls up his drawers and walks away, you wouldn't saunter over and stare at the poop for another hour and a half, would you? Well, maybe you would if you thought that, at the end of that time, the poop would do something really amazing which you couldn't possibly have expected. Only, it doesn't. So now you're the guy who stared at human feces on a sidewalk for two hours. How do you feel? That's how I felt after "The Happening."

Paige went to bed, but I couldn't just take that feeling into the dark. It's one thing to go to bed scared by images in a horror film. That's a part of the experience. But it's altogether different to go to bed angry, imagining the bodily harm you'd like to inflict on some arrogant, over-rated filmmaker. My psyche doesn't need that.

So I watched our next Netflix offering, "Forgetting Sarah Marshal". Judd Apatow, the producer, gets a lot of credit because he produced this, which seems a bit unfair to me. I'm sure the director, Nicholas Stoller, contributed more than Apatow, but I think the most credit should go to Jason Segel, who not only played the lead roll but wrote the script, played the songs, and even operated a puppet. The guy was amazing. The movie is very funny at times, but the thing that struck me the most was the fact that the characters all seemed amazingly believable. I don't actually know any Hollywood actresses or rock stars (or, for that matter, pot-head surf instructors) but the characters all broke free of cliches and, more than that, of their archetypal parts in the standard machine of a romantic comedy. I can't recommend it to my Creative Writing class (not appropriate) but that's a shame, because it's a good lesson in how to avoid two-dimensional characters, even when two-dimensional characters seem like the kinds of tools that will allow you to claw your way through a plot. Kudos, Jason Segel! And thank you for washing my mouth out with your (pretty filthy) movie, to clear away the toxic "Happening".