My review of ‘The Casual Vacancy”

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The last post this blog will produce will be a review of J.K. Rowling’s “The Casual Vacancy,” which was the first book Rowling wrote after the Harry Potter series. Like most people, I adored the HP books and I was curious to see what Rowling had written about in her first effort since writing that phenomenon, especially since it wouldn’t involve witches or magic this time. And what made me REALLY curious was that when I ordered this book on Amazon, I saw that it had a rating of only 3.1 out of 5, which, for an author with an enormous fan base, is an extraordinarily low score. Even marginal writers can get a rating of at least a 3.5 on Amazon, so for J.K. Rowling of all people to have a score this low… it intrigued me. Something had to be wrong with this book, for so many of her own fans to dislike it.

And so, with that intrigue, I decided to read The Casual Vacancy, and what I’ll tell you is this: it’s an extremely well-written book, and it has an interesting story, but this was one of the most negative, depressing stories I’ve ever read in my life. Reading about natural disasters would have been more fun.

The story is set in a small English borough called Pagford, where a local council member just died, and now a bunch of people are fighting over his seat. It’s an incredibly small town where everyone knows each other, and in the story, the way one person reacts to another person in the town has a butterfly effect, where the smallest actions essentially alter the shape of the upcoming election for the one guy’s seat. And that part is all well and good. The problem is that everyone in the story has a problem. Every single couple is having marital issues, where both the man and the woman are woefully unhappily; there are at least three or four different affairs going on; there’s murder; there’s suicide; there’s rape; there’s hints of incest; one girl is living in a crack house; another girl is cutting herself and is getting bullied; the semi-main protagonist teenager guy gets assaulted regularly by his father; there are three, count ’em, THREE different funerals in this story. And I haven’t even gotten to the most morbid part of the story, which comes at the very end — which I won’t spoil, but just imagine the worst thing that could possibly happen in a story like this, and voila, it totally happens.

It’s just too much. It’s overwhelming, because everyone in the story is either an unlikeable prick or they’re being put through the ringer, with no hope in sight. This was not a pleasant book to read. I gotta admit, every time I came away from reading this, I found that I was in a terribly depressed mood. I felt like the therapist in The Watchmen, who after counseling Rorscach decided that he hated the world and that life was hopeless. That’s not the feeling that I want to come away with when I get done with recreational reading.

All this isn’t to say that The Casual Vacancy is a bad book, because it isn’t… sort of. J.K. Rowling is a master at understanding teenagers and making them feel like real people — whereas all too often, writers make teenagers sound like overly-brooding, existentially-concerned assholes. The teenagers in this story feel real, and so do the rest of the characters. But, there’s just too many catastrophes in this story, and the positives get lost in it all. Some of the terrible events don’t even seem to have much of a point to the story; we really didn’t need to hear about the girl cutting herself, for instance.

So, what I would say is that if you’re interested in an incredibly-depressing story that gets more, and more, and more unpleasant to read, to the point that you’ll want to take a cold shower when you’re done reading it, then I’d say The Casual Vacancy is right up your alley, because it is very well written. Unfortunately, that’s just not the type of story that interests me, and I doubt it will interest very many people either. And so, to general readers, I would say that you’re probably better off not reading this book, which I hate to write, because I am a massive fan of Rowling’s work. But… there’s only so much depression you can withstand from a fictional story before you’re going to start to resent the source material, and it crossed that line for me.

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Producers are trying to cover for Adam Sandler’s crappy, nauseating, I-want-to-leap-off-a-bridge-now brand of comedy

So Adam Sandler’s new movie is in the news these days — which is depressing, because I wish we lived in a universe where Adam Sandler was living on Skid Row, instead of influencing the future of cinema by signing a multi-year deal with Netflix. Is that too harsh?, you might be asking yourself, to want one of the country’s biggest comedy stars to be living on the streets? It’s not harsh enough, I say!

Here’s a very, very brief snapshot of the script for his newest film, “Ridiculous Six”:

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Because of nonsense like this, Native Americans actually involved in the film have walked off the set — though it probably doesn’t help that, according to sources, members of the makeup team are actually darkening white people’s faces on the set, to make them appear to look more like Native Americans.

Now, in response to all this, here is what the producers were caught, on camera, telling the Native Americans who quit the film: “If you’re overly-sensitive about it … then you should probably leave.”

And here’s how Netflix, who will eventually release this film, responded to the controversy:

“The movie has ‘ridiculous’ in the title for a reason β€” because it’s ridiculous. It is a broad satire of Western movies and the stereotypes they popularized, featuring a diverse cast that is not only part of β€” but in on β€” the joke.”

You know, I’m not sure it’s right to claim that Native Americans will be “in on the joke” when the ones directly associated with this film think it’s offensive. And besides, that’s the lamest justification for crappy humor I’ve ever heard. The whole purpose of putting out a bad stereotype is to showcase that it’s bad, but that’s not what’s happening in this Adam Sandler movie: those crappy stereotype jokes are the HUMOR. They’re essentially reinforcing the stereotypes, and regardless of whatever lame self-justification they come up with, the fact of the matter is that the white producers and the extremely white Adam Sandler haven’t exactly earned the clout to speak on behalf of Native Americans anyway.

Or, I could be wrong. Perhaps I’m missing the deep societal messages that will be told to us from “Never Wears Bra” and “Beaver Breath.”

But this is the deal with the devil that Netflix made when they brought on Sandler. They want that sweet, sweet Sandler boxoffice money, and they can’t risk rupturing that lucrative deal, which is why they have to pretend that Sandler’s Ridiculous Six movie is actually quite respectful to Native Americans. It looks bad from a PR perspective; the optics of producers calling people who are upset with this “overly sensitive” does not exactly make Netflix look like the bastion of humanity. But hey, they don’t care. They would rather lose face and take on the wrath of critics than risk losing that Sandler movie moola.

There are a couple aspects of this story that are upsetting — beyond the humor, which is more lame than anything else. The first is that Hollywood has shown time and again that they’d rather take a white guy and stick him in redface (ala Johnny Depp in The Lone Ranger) than actually use a real Native American, which is all kinds of not cool, and this movie will apparently continue that trend, by just using white dudes in redface in spots where they couldn’t find a real one. And the second is that Sandler is seriously a blight on movies now. It’s so sad, because I used to sort of defend him by default, being that I’m Jewish and that he’s a famous Jew. But Christ almighty, the dude doesn’t even try anymore. I mean, it’s one thing to make bad movies, but can he at least do it without dipping into stereotypical humor from the 1880’s?

Anyone else dealing with outrage overload?

(image courtesy of Flickr)

(image courtesy of Flickr)

So, I’m not the biggest fan of Facebook. I log on it frequently because it’s a convenient way to access my fantasy team (speaking of which, feel free to stop being terrible, Alexei Ramirez. I’m THIS close to dropping you…), but otherwise, seeing other people’s posts about life has always been weird to me. Am I supposed to be happy that other people are purporting to have amazing lives? I guess so, but more than anything, it just makes me feel like I’m living a terribly ordinary life. Which I definitely am, but I don’t need a reminder about it.

Anyway, I like going on Facebook even less these days, ever since they’ve implemented a trending section, ala Twitter, that cannot be disabled — because that’s what I like from websites with user-generated content: the ability to change NOTHING. Also, I can’t wait until Twitter and Facebook inevitably steal enough from each other that they become the same platform, which they can merge together to form “Twitbook” or “Facer.” But anyway, I’m going off-topic. (This is kind of a stream of consciousness post. Don’t judge me!)

I hate that trending section, because I’m invariably drawn to look at the headlines every time I log on now, and the headlines are always about controversies. Everyone’s upset about something that someone said, or something that someone did, and I get the sense that the whole reason people like reading about stuff like this is because it gives people the satisfaction of being upset about them. But then, the outrage always seems to be fleeting, because whatever people were mad about yesterday is quickly forgotten about the next day. Remember when people were furious at Roger Goodell, and how they were demanding that he be fired? Don’t hear about that anymore. It’s like we’ve been caught in an endless cycle of outrage, where we read a story about someone who did something we didn’t like, we get mad about it, and then we forget the story even existed, and hold zero residual feelings towards any of the people involved… until they get in ANOTHER controversy. And if they get in enough controversies, then by god, we’re allowed to just hate them outright! (See: Justin Bieber, Paris Hilton, anyone moderately famous)

The ultimate irony is that as upset as we get over the tiniest things, we’re also incredibly quick to forget them. Mike Tyson was convicted of rape, and yet he’s so ubiquitous in pop culture that he has his own cartoon show; Ben Roethlisberger allegedly raped a woman, and yet every time Ron Jaworski talks about him on ESPN, he mentions his great “character” and rambles on about how great a guy he is. Meanwhile, for all the terrible things that happen in politics each day, the controversies people focus are nothing, and yet are made out to be smoking guns in their character or something. Hillary Clinton didn’t leave a tip… Chris Christie is fat… Marco Rubio drank his water too slow. Who cares???? Has our quest for 24/7 stimulation gotten that bad, that literally anything anyone does can be submitted to the public for people to be outraged about it?

And to bring this full circle, I hate being on Facebook because I hate seeing those knee-jerk, pointless outrage-fueled headlines of nothingness — where people bask in how terrible someone is by mostly saying “smh” a lot. (I also hate Facebook for the Candy Crush invites and the Marilyn Monroe quotes, but that’s another story.)

Honey Maid capitalizes on Indiana’s religious freedom bill controversy

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I think this is pretty brilliant on Honey Maid’s part. For one thing, they get free publicity off of this whole Indiana religious freedom bill controversy, which, in case you didn’t know, is a bill that makes it legal for shop-owners to discriminate against gay and lesbian people (although the proponents for the bill claim that totally won’t happen, although, come on). For another, it actually increases brand loyalty, as the vast majority of people think that gay people deserve to get treated like everyone else. So from both an ethical and economic standpoint, this is a solid line in the sand for Honey Maid to make.

Also, I have to wonder how many crackers they went through before they were able to precisely crumble a cracker in such a way that it resembles the state shape of Indiana.

80’s Cartoon PSA’s… which I wish we still did

Because we recently discussed PSA’s in class, I figured this is as good a time as any to promote some of the Public Service Announcements that were attached to cartoons in the 80’s. This was very silly stuff, but they’re kind of charming to look back on these days. It makes me wonder why we don’t do this with modern cartoons though; it’d be pretty hilarious to watch a Spongebob PSA against the evils of smoking. Oh well.

Did anyone else find the reporting on Eminem’s daughter to be a tad creepy?

bcy6gpKcLSo, one of the trending topics on Facebook recently (I site I know I should check more often) was that Eminem’s daughter Hailey, who he once wrote a song about, is now 19. And apparently she’s like a healthy and normal member of society. Which is cool and everything… except that this became this giant story last week because she’s good-looking, which didn’t sit well with me.

From the Huffington Post:

Scott, 19, looks gorgeous in her recently updated Twitter profile photo. Although her account is private, the profile shot is visible and shows the teen smiling with her blond hair in curls and dark eye makeup.”

Eugh. It’s the complete lack of irony in the words “Although her account is private” that I found rather creepy, because maybe her profile was private because she didn’t want legions of unknown people to flock to her Twitter account. And beyond that, I feel like media organizations should respect the privacy of, well, anybody — and not just celebrities, or daughters of celebrities. So to build an article entirely around the fact that the profile picture of her private account is “gorgeous” comes off as stalkerish to me. And hey, maybe that’s just me; it’s very possible no one else is slightly disturbed by this. But I feel like the media is becoming more and more invasive, and I’m afraid that the day will soon come where a HuffPost article will soon read: “Although her private residence was locked from the inside, we were able to peak a camera inside her living room, and wow is she gorgeous.”

In short, if someone’s account is set to “PRIVATE,” maybe that person deserves some PRIVACY.

Time magazine totally added horns onto Hillary Clinton

6eb29d60-c99f-11e4-b4b4-cdd9a1e4637f_B_51hXjUkAA_U1x-jpg_largeHey, check out the new edition of Time magazine. See anything odd about the cover? I mean, besides the tiny blue triangle devil horns that have been carefully situated atop her head…

Now, Time has responded to the kerfuffle over the cover by denying that they purposefully added horns to her, saying, β€œAny resemblance to cats, bats or devil horns is entirely coincidental.” Which is a bunch of phooey. It’s balderdash! After all, this is the same magazine that a few years ago printed a cover with Chris Christie on it, entitled “The Elephant in the Room,” in which the only part of Christie’s face that was illuminated was his mouth, as though he was a human vacuum, AKA a big, fat elephant. So let’s not pretend that Time’s editors are so blissfully unaware of their typeface that this Clinton cover was just an accident.

See, I don’t even mind them being provocative if they want to be. If Time wants to blast Hillary, then whatever (although, lordy, this email controversy is like the most boring IDGAF scandal I’ve ever seen in my life. But anyway…) Time has the right to do that. But, can they at least be honest about the cover? Do they really expect us to believe that Hillary’s silhouette, by mere coincidence, happened to be positioned in such a way that the M-gap triangles are PERFECTLY centered above her head? Again, keep in mind that we’re talking about a silhouette here. The entire process of doing a silhouette cover is gauging how the figure looks against the background; the odds of Time printing the tiny devil horns without anyone in the room seeing it is virtually zero. Seriously, the people who create the Time cover aren’t gibbering morons — they knew exactly what they were doing.

I’m not even upset about the cover, because it’s honestly tame compared to a lot of the political rhetoric out there. Still, Time should at least have the chutzpah to be honest about it. I mean come on, just own up to it, you magazine people. Confess!