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Making Fun of Hitler: A Brief History

September 11, 2009

Hurray, The Butter is Gone

I wrote this for my company’s blog, Social Media World, but they haven’t posted it yet. Maybe I’m the only one who thinks Dada has something to do with the Internet?

Hitler can get really mad. This shouldn’t come as much a surprise, considering the well-recorded history of World War II and the Holocaust. From his attempts at genocide to trying to take over Europe (not to mention some of North Africa), the man must have had some serious, deep-seeded anger. So it’s no wonder that when he gets banned form X Box Live, when his favorite band split up, when his favorite soccer team lost, he’d have an outpouring of rage. You would think he’d get angry too when he found out that he’d been made fun of for his many fits, that they had spread like wildfire across the Internet, archived for ever on YouTube. And you’d be right. Since early 2007, nearly 2,000 clips have stacked up on YouTube of Hitler—as played by Bruno Ganz in the 2004 film The Downfall—yelling about something or other. The German-language film—the first to include Hitler as a central character—features cleverly (and sometimes not so cleverly) altered English subtitles that re-imagine Hitler’s rant as a reaction to any variety of bits of contemporary news and culture.

Video mash-ups like this have these have been popping up on YouTube since the website launched in 2005, with parodies of Brokeback Mountain being another popular meme. But when it comes to Hitler, satire and collage, the history reaches much further than the short if not highly influential life of social media, the Internet and even the first computer (baring the abacus), back to the dying days of Weimar Germany.

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Jacko’s Crown Jewels

April 28, 2009

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We were asked to walk along the white line, to make sure our vantage point was just right. You need to the right angle, the man said, so you can see what it would look like if you were really there. “There” is Neverland Ranch, Michael Jackson’s former home which was foreclosed on a year or so back and is remembered in infamy by many for its role in Jacko’s child molestation court case in 2004. So we walked along the white line, the open gates of Neverland in front of us, a banner with an image of the same gates as they stood at the ranch hanging above. This, apparently, was the right angle to look at it from—the gilded, iron gates with their huge heraldic crest welcoming visitors. Behind the gates stood a faux red carpet scene, complete with a police motor bike, a few velvet ropes and a Rolls Royce limo, vintage Michael Jackson selections playing over the loudspeakers. $40 later, we were behind the velvet rope, so to speak, and browsing the extensive, terrifying collection of Jacko’s possessions, which had been up for auction until just the day before, when a judge had ruled that everything could be given back, that the auction would not be going through as planned. So it was a rare opportunity, really—instead of being dispersed throughout the world, novelty decorations or conversational pieces in any number of homes around Los Angeles and beyond (where, theoretically, there’d be a chance of seeing them again—or an even slighter chance having something small in my own apartment), the stage costumes, the video arcade games, the gold and platinum commemorative records, the baby-sized chaise lounges and the many, many jeweled gloves (and socks) would most likely end up in Jackson’s current (and almost certainly smaller) home. Or storage. This was the one chance to take it all in.

You can’t blame Jacko for not wanting the auction to go through. The collection was massive—the complete catalog, spanning five volumes, was going for $200 and most likely had a page count well into the 1000s. Not only would it be terrible, for anyone, really, to have so much of their personal possessions sold off, but in the particular case of Michael Jackson, this mass of belongings is easily the deepest, most thorough and often completely terrifying look into his psyche—a look he would certainly not want so many people to take.

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There were a number of life-sized, fully dressed sculptures of human figures scattered throughout the show—butlers in tuxes or old ladies sitting at tables. Surely just decorative touches, placed there by the exhibition designers to give context to the items, right? Wrong. They all had lot numbers, having once been displayed at Neverland. Also on display were countless portraits depicting Jackson as a king, dressed in elaborate robs, holding a scepter and a crown. While these could easily be excused by his title as the King of Pop, the image of Jackson joyfully skipping ahead of a column of giggling children as they make their way along a path leading across a thoroughly bucolic meadow, cannot. Nor can the electric cart with the airbrushed image of him as Peter Pan on the hood. Or the cast resin sculptures of giant books, inscribed with Jackson’s own poetry, exalting the moments when babies smile—not to mention Edward’s scissor hands, the actual prop from the film. It was fascinating and deeply surreal stuff to see. In the room full of arcade games, many of which were plugged in, I sat and played a race of Cruising USA, just reaching the finish line before a security guard asked me to stop, but also confessing to crossing the room rather slowly so that I might “get a good feel for it.”

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Job Hunting with Craig

March 12, 2009

I am not one of the 8.1% nationwide that is fully unemployed right now, but I certainly fall into the much larger percentage of people who are under employed and actively looking for more (preferably better) work. So I have a new daily habit of reading each and every job listing on craigslist for the Los Angeles area—and sometimes the Orange County listings too. On an average weekday, that amounts to around 750 listings, not counting for repeats, spread across a variety of categories, from art/media/design to government to the catch-all etcetera section. Needless to say, there’s a lot of scanning involved and I probably only click on a dozen or so listings a day, dismissing the grand majority by the headline. I apply for about 4 or 5 a week. This daily obsession hasn’t come even close to panning out for me yet. I got one job, at an art gallery in Los Angeles, by responding to a craigslist post back in September and, since then, the closest I have come to finding work through Craig was getting a callback from a sculpture who needed someone to hammer bottle caps flat, paying per cap. I didn’t take it.

Many of the job listings are totally mystifying, especially those in “sales.” Apparently, “sales” is a completely general talent, having nothing to do with that which is being sold. If you can sell insurance, you can sell luxury cars—there’s absolutely no difference, as long as you’re a Closer. Closers need only apply. Even if sales were my “passion”—a very common wording for these posts, I should note—I don’t know how I would choose amongst sales jobs when the majority of them fail to mention what, exactly, is being sold. I can sell food. I had some minor success selling books. However, my ability to sell has nothing to do with my passion for the act itself, but solely for the product I am selling.

But my confusion is somewhat solved by reading some of the postings that do mention the product or, in this case, service, is being sold.

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I loved Six Feet Under and this job has some echoes of the sunny-on-the-surface-dark-at-the-core sensibility the show embodied, making it darkly humorous to me, in that light. But I imagine it would be a nightmare of a job, passion for sales or not. Sure, it is one of those someone has to do it positions, but could you imagine cold calling funeral homes, asking them to promote your burial at sea services? Having to pitch the Catalina cruise package (check out their webiste) to a grieving spouse, kid or sibling? And even if death is, in essence, recession proof, I can’t imagine that business is booming right now.

The polar opposite of working in the funeral industry must be working as a baker. That may not read quite right—a maternity nurse would be closer to the literal opposite. But if you think about it, being a baker must be the ultimately fulfilling job: You sell people sugared bits of happiness, a far cry from a boat to scatter ashes off of. This is an image I have long held . . . until I saw this listing seeking employees for Sprinkles, the cult cupcake bakery in Beverly Hills. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that a bakery located just off of Rodeo Dr. could find a way to cast some terrible corporate culture pall on my image of being (and, in addition, working at) a bakery. Why, I must ask, is it necessary to referrer the people selling cupcakes as Cupcake Associates? Would that make the kid serving ice cream at Dairy Queen a SoftServe Associate? The bartended a Liquor Associate? Why Associates? Why not serves or cashiers? Sprinkles is a massively successful business and has spawned countless Sprinkles-inspired rip-offs throughout the country (never mind that they jacked the concept from Magnolia Bakery in NYC), so they are entitled to a Big Business mindset. But why they feel the need to bring that Big sensibility to their retail staff is beyond me.

With my image of working at a bakery shattered, the next best thing may be “The funnest job on earth,” or, in Sprinkles terms: Medicinal Marijuana Associate. There are plenty of typos on craigslist and online in general (I’m sure there are a few in the post, try as I might), but this one is priceless.

I met a girl who works at a Medicinal Marijuana dispensary in Long Beach and was fascinated to learn that, not only did she work as a volunteer, but that she got tips and “other perks,” as well. Of course the people working at dispensaries are pot heads—how could they not be? But other perks? Can you really make off with government weed that easily? It would seem so, as this listing offers not just an hourly wage, but “benefits.” And tips? Does anyone tip their pharmacist? You must, however, have extensive knowledge of marijuana strains, plus a bunch of professional sounding referrals—areas I am sorely lacking in, unfortunately. Since Eric Holder has called off the Fed raids on California dispensaries that were such a regular occurrence during the Bush Years, this could be a totally interesting and now much safer job. To watch the people of all different walks of life coming in to get their stash would be incredibly interesting—not to mention those “benefits.” Best of all? “Please send us a resume to – designbystein@aol.com
with “TAKE ME TO THE TOP” as the subject.”

Other memorable listings I’ve come across include the Creative Genius (his words, my caps) who was looking for someone to write down his random ideas. The CG claimed to come up with all sorts of great ideas for stories and fantastic dialogue constantly, but couldn’t be bothered with the drudgery of actually putting it to paper. The hyperbole was amazing, really, and I would quote it for you here, but the post was flagged and is sadly no more.

The porn jobs that come up are usually an entertaining read, in a middle school-humor kind of way. They often come across as being totally straight-laced, with a quick aside at the end about having to view adult material. But try as they might, some have great innuendos mixed into the position titles (no Porn Associates), like Quality Control. What exactly does a Quality Control person do for a porn company? Actually, I’m not sure if I really want to know . . . And do I need to make a joke about applicants needing to be skilled in oral communications?

The craziest job listing of all, to be sure, was for a position as an in-home caregiver for an elderly man who believes aliens are hunting him. The post links to a website with further information about the job, being offered by Dream Life Gaurdian, as well as a message board for people to air their thoughts and beliefs about aliens—which I guess is some sort of vetting system for applicants? I don’t know. The webpage describes the man’s condition in the following paragraph:

There is another important element staff should know: Our client believes in aliens. Wholeheartedly. He blames the death of his wife to aliens. He claims that she fell down the stairs while she was trying to make her escape. Until now, he claims he’s their test subject and they continue to make regular visits.

The message board on the website, which you really need to read for yourself, comes across more like a support group for the alien-hunted than the protectors of the elderly and mentally disabled. Skeptics and hoax-criers have contributed as well, not to mention a few political conspiracy theories thrown into the mix. My favorite post (of the bit I’ve read) was written by someone who claims to have held this job previously:

my friends i must tell you the truth about this awful hell-house! did you ever see the story “amityville horror?” well that is what it like — but so much worse. first, the place looks like a bunch of pig people lived there for like a hundred years. then i meet the old man. his teeth looked like he hadn’t brushed them in weeks. i mean they looked like had sweaters on them. or something. and don even get me started about those toenails!! i mean i thought michael shermer’s feet were awful, but these were like cottage cheese. ugh, gross-out city! the boss-lady told me when i first started that i would get 3 fifteen-minute breaks a day, plus a lunch break, but never once did nobody from “headquarters” ever check in on me or the old man to see how we were doing? does that sound normal no it doesn’t. every day i practically died of thirst because godforbid i drank anything i would have to take a bathroom break later and leave the old man alone– nevermind that bosslady already told me that if i ever left the old man unattended that it would be grounds for revoking my visa and i could be put on the next plane home! and I am a U.S. citizen!! so goo d luck to you if you apply for this job and you get it. just remember they have cameras up all over the house even in your bedroom andbathroom. it’s so disgusting.”

The old man’s Victorian house has no staircase—it was removed after the death of his wife and replaced by an elevator—is described as having “many interesting qualities.” No stairs? Aliens? Is it bigger on the inside than on the outside too? Maybe this is a hoax for a new Mark Z. Dainelewski novel, a sequel to House of Leaves?

It is definitely a luxury to be able to talk shit about jobs that are available out there, especially with the economy being so terrible. I am lucky to not be in such a position that I am able to look at these as comedy instead of viable options for work. But even if I was considering any of these positions as jobs that I might hold myself, there’s probably little chance of me landing any of them. Case-in-point: The high school janitorial position in Ohio that brought in close the 1000 applications. I found a post for a “sign twirler” position in Downtown L.A. recently, a position which seems like the ultimate bottom rung, something that would require no skill or previous experience as an applicant. Apparently, things are quite as straights forward. Applicants not only have to undergo a background check, but some sign twirlers compete in nation-wide competitions. So, in theory, I could be competing for this $8/hour job with this guy:

Which brings the line from Swingers to mind: “They went with someone who had more theme park experience.” I don’t know if I could handle not getting a sign twirling job, even if I did loose out to fancy trick boy from the video. So I’ll just keep applying for the jobs I’m somewhat qualified for and, until that magic, mystical moment when I find myself fully employed, laughing at the bits of comedy that craigslist throws my way.

Hello, New Readers!

March 9, 2009

WordPress tells me that I am, understandably, getting quite a few new reades due to the link on the NYT’s Wordplay blog.  Thanks to Jim Horne for posting the link and to all of you for coming by–please do check me out again in the future!

Will Shortz Can’t Keep Me Down

February 25, 2009

It’s Tuesday afternoon and I’m still working on the Monday New York Times crossword puzzle. As pathetic as this may seem, it’s a regular occurrence for me—I’m far from being an ace and will be quietly impressed with myself if I do manage to finish. I’ve only started to attempt the puzzle with any kind of regularity in the past few months, even though I have had a connection with it for my entire life. The NYT crossword is something I feel like I should be good at it, not just because I happen to be literarily inclined and am very much a geek, but because of my great-grandmother, Margaret Farrar. In 1942, she became the first crossword puzzle editor at the NYT, a position she held until 1968. From adding in the black boxes—as the family lore goes—to being one of the first people to create and publish a book of collected puzzles, she had a major role in making crossword puzzles into what we know them as today. But for me, this bit of family history had never really engendered any passion beyond a passing interest. It was just an interesting story to tell, a nice conversation point to bring up with a puzzle geek or whenever I happened to play a game of Scrabble (an idea she had herself, but never acted upon). And, strangely enough, I think this is more-or-less the case for the majority of her offspring and descendents. Sure, my parents and sister have all benefited from a Christmas present or airplane ticket or weekend of snowboarding bought with the bit of money my grandmother—who says the crossword makes her feel stupid, so she doesn’t do them—gets from the puzzle bank Margaret Farrar started—and have been grateful for it. Beyond that, there were a few half-hearted attempts at a puzzle—usually on an airplane or in a doctor’s office—and all were utter failures. But then, for me, it got personal: Will Shortz insulted my intelligence. Sort of.

 

I emailed Will Shortz, the current crossword puzzle editor at the NYT, just after the documentary Word Play came out a few years ago. Shortz had been heavily involved in the films and it included a very nice section about my great grandmother, for which I thanked him. I also mentioned my pathetic track record with the puzzle, to which he responded: “And I’m sure, with perseverance and maybe a little more life experience, you can solve a least Monday-through-Wednesday New York Times crosswords!

 

Monday-through-Wednesday? More life experience? The heir to my great grandmother’s puzzle throne doesn’t think I can handle anything late in the week? The gauntlet, clearly, had been laid. And taking the challenge oh-so-seriously, I started in a month or two ago—meaning nearly three years after the fact—by picking up a New York Times every Monday and taking a shot at the puzzle. Sometimes, I end up with the more readily available LA Times, or once, a Long Beach Press-Telegram. But as Jon Stewart said in Word Play, they don’t make me feel good about myself. For me, it’s about family, about history, about not letting Will Shortz keep me down. And someday, Will, I’ll make it to Sunday.

Speaking of Boyle Heights . . .

February 21, 2009

This is a review I wrote on yelp.com, but I didn’t want to go “live” with my blog when it only had one post, so I borrowed this.
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I was working at an art gallery in Culver City a few months ago and my boss (Chicano, East LA native) would bring in tamales for us about once a week. He’d never say were they were from (“just this place over in East LA . . .”) but they were the best goddamn tamales I had ever had. Heavenly, flavorful masa (not too dense), meat that was tender without being overly stringy and a good dose of wonderful chili-based sauce stuff. Talk about the Breakfast of Champions. I could eat one or two in the morning and be fine for the rest of the day. 

I eventually found that these little parchment and corn husk-wrapped pieces of heaven were from La Mascota Bakery and after looking at the yelp reviews, I knew I had to visit. The pastries I’ve had there are fantastic–the guava and cream cheese one is my personal favorite. The pastry is the kind that shatters all the way through, like the best French croissants. And you can’t beat the taste sensation that occurs when guava and cream cheese collide.

The last time I went was in the evening and I tried a taco from the stand out on the sidewalk. I had a carne asada taco (having just stuffed myself with Mexican pastry, I couldn’t do more than one) and it was probably two of the best bites of food I’ve had in my life. Smoky, savory meat–straight of the grill (charcoal, thank you very much) and freshly shredded by a sizeable cleaver–pilled on a tortilla that started as a fistful of masa pulled from a cooler the second I placed my order. I haven’t been living in the LA area for very long, so you can take my opinion on these tacos with that in mind if you’d like, but I tried El Taco Loco #3 down here in Long Beach–which was touted by the LAT not too long back–and their tacos didn’t even began to approach the perfection of this slick little sidewalk operation. Every time I get on the 710 I’m tempted to jet up to Boyle Heights and eat tacos on the sidewalk until I die.

 

Mapping LA

February 21, 2009

 

guadalupeAfter providing the ultimate example of cutting of your nose to spite your face by doing away with the California Section—a supposed money-saving move that could only be thought up by a “local” paper which answers to an office in Chicago—The Los Angeles Times has turned around and given its city the new Mapping LA project. This new addition to latimes.com is a collection of interactive maps featuring the boundaries of the city of Los Angeles’ 87 neighborhood—as according the Times’ staff. The maps are certainly informative, especially to someone like me who has only been living in the area for half a year. But the wonderful thing about the project is that it allows readers to comment on the supplied maps and to create their own alternatives, stretching the blue boundary lines out or in by a few blocks or past a certain freeway according to their own understanding of the neighborhoods they call home. Browsing through the maps, comments and border rebuttals will quickly do away with any non-Angelinos belief that LA is nothing but a one gigantic suburb masquerading as a city—these may all be Angelinos, sure, but their neighborhood pride easily rivals that of the inhabitants of the five boroughs on the opposite coast.

The most heated debate—one that predates the Mapping LA project, but has been reignited since it went online—is over the boundaries of the Eastside. Not to be confused with East LA, the unincorporated area east of the city limits, the Eastside, as defined by Mapping LA and supported by the local blog LA Eastside and KPCC’s Patt Morrison, consists of the Boyle Heights, El Sereno and Lincoln Heights neighborhoods—essentially all of Los Angeles that lies east of the LA river. The controversy, as I understand it, started with the gentrification of neighborhoods like Echo Park and Silver Lake. These new-ish hipster enclaves—the West Coast’s answer to gentrified Williamsburg and, more recently, an ever-expanding swath of Brooklyn—began being referred to as the Eastside in order to not be associated with the more posh and well-polished Westside. East Hollywood, a much more apt description of the neighborhoods, seems to be avoided for similar reasons. The bloggers at LA Eastside have definitely been the most vocal in their defense, calling out the similarly named Eastsider LA—and Echo Park resident—as a fraud and holding a “ritual burning of some fake ass “eastside” shopping maps.”

Before checking out the Mapping LA site I had always thought of the Eastside as being the neighborhoods east of Downtown—which is relatively close to what the Eastside defenders define at the Eastside. I had heard more expansive references to the Eastside as well, including Silver Lake and Echo park—both west, except for part of Echo Park, of Downtown—and had wondered myself why they were referred to as such. There certainly is a difference between the Westside and what Mapping LA calls “Central.” Silver Lake and Echo Park have their own vibe, their own style that flies somewhat in the face of Hollywood. But as these neighborhoods continue to be gentrified, they’re tending more and more toward the Westside. When a “dive” bar like the Short Stop, on Sunset in Echo Park, has a line down the block and bouncer at the door on a Saturday night, its about time admit that the jig is up. The True Eastside, on the other hand, is one of my favorite parts of Los Angeles. Completely unpretentious and full of sense that they are living and breathing as a whole community instead of a collection of individuals living in close quarters, what Eastside residents are defending are neighborhoods in the truest sense of the word.

After humiliating themselves with such poor, online “journalism” as the story about Tupac’s murder, which they were forced to apologize for after reports arose that the sources quoted were false, its good to see the LA Times is finding ways to utilize the internet that benefit the community the paper serves. While their print edition continues to flounder—it is arguably the poster child for the current plight of print-based media—Mapping LA is the kind of interactive, web 2.0, community-driven digital content that could very well be the future for such institutions. If they must go through with cutting the California Section, a move that has been met with considerable resistance from citizens and politicians alike, they will have to come up with more online content in a similar vein in order to keep the paper rooted in the city from with it takes its name. If it can’t manage to do that, then they might as well start placing Chicago Tribune newspaper dispensers on every corner in the Southland.