“And on the subject of burning books: I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their physical strength or their powerful political connections or their great wealth, who, all over this country, have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and have refused to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those titles. So the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House or the Supreme Court or the Senate or the House of Representatives or the media. The America I love still exists at the front desks of our public libraries.”

A Man Without a Country | Kurt Vonnegut (via lifeofliterature)

Where the Wild Things Are is Poetic and Beautiful

If that title isn’t enough of a warning for those looking forward to a live-action cartoon that will remind them of their childhood, let me warn you that it’s not a Michael Bay rendition. If you go expecting that–if you go expecting something like Transformers or Fraggle Rock, you’re not going to be happy. If you go expecting Dave Eggers–if you go expecting Spike Jonze, you’ll see a powerful and settling movie.

I talk a lot about there being two types of art (music/books/performances/paintings): those things that make you excited in the moment (think Batman), and those that you chew on and have to digest (think The Darjeeling Limited)–those that stay with you for days, weeks, years. I think a lot of people I know went to Where the Wild Things Are thinking they’d be getting the first kind of experience. When they were confronted with the second, they felt a little bit like they were watching Adam Sandler going punch drunk during a song about Hanukah.

I was trying to put words to why I liked it so much on the drive home. The only thing for now–remember, I’m still digesting–is that Jonze and Eggers presented something real. You can’t really call it magic realism; there’s still an overlying mist of fantasy in Marquez’s stuff. But it does seem ironic that we get to see real relationships and sadness unfold with giant horns and beaks and claws. They manage to give us something that feels honest.

This is Eggers’ strength in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. It’s too easy to turn relationships into either a complete mess or a complete success. We want relationships in our lives and in our stories to have clean boundaries and be easy to describe. Good or bad. Doomed or ordained.

Take Robin Hood for example. We never see his moments of doubt or indifference. You’ll never see him cry or wonder if Marian is worth it. When the lovers are together, we don’t see him confused about what to do with his sword, or trip and fall after he kisses her goodnight. It’s not real-life. Most of us don’t really want it to be, but this is where the poetry comes in. That’s what poetry is: beauty and meaning still existing in our honest, mundane, messy, sticky, confusing, angry, double-standard lives.

So, you should go see Where the Wild Things Are if you’re ready to digest something meaningful and you’re ready to be self-obsessed for a little bit  after watching huge wild creatures pelt each other with dirt clods. If you’re looking for something a little more cartoony, stick with Sponge Bob.

Can’t Focus? Blame Sesame Street

We’re a generation of grazers. We watch clips of TV shows, download songs instead of albums, and turn the channel even if it’s something we might want to watch. I’ve been in the car with someone who would scan for a new song on the radio after each and every song. Every single long-haired slow jam. It’s like we were putting together a mixed tape on the go. Well, pieces of a mix tape at least. I can’t say we ever listened to a full song. She would scan until she heard something by Poison and then stop and say, “Oh yeah” and then when the song ended, we would begin the adventure again.

Point is, I’m part of an entire generation that can artfully jump from topic to topic. We’re capable of starting a conversation about Tiffany (I Think We’re Alone Now) at 1pm and end up high-fiving girls with dark hair and tattoos at Roller Derby by 6. The more lucid among us will wonder how we got there. The rest of us just think it’s a great night.

A lot of people blame the Internet and modern media for this grazing, this skipping from topic to topic, action to action like a baby playing with the buttons on a tape deck. Maybe it was MTV? Maybe we’re just evolving? The next great leap forward: now you can ride your bike, chew your food, speak French, and rub your belly at the same time. Congratulations. You deserve a medal.

Well, you’ll be glad to know I’ve figured it out. It’s not the Internet or MTV or the alien DNA the visitors snuck into our water supply (though I do think all of those things have added to our new sporadic tendencies).

It’s Sesame Street. Sesame Street is to blame, and here’s how I figured it out:

We we’re having one of our conversation slams late on a Thursday afternoon. These conversations do feel a little competitive, like we’re all one-upping each other in weirdness. With three people, the conversation topics went something like this: burritos -> running -> Hunter S. Thompson (Google) -> Whitesnake (Slacker) -> Peanuts -> dog hair -> US mail -> Simon and Garfunkle -> Google -> Sesame Street -> Oscar -> Mr. Hooper -> death -> produce. This leads me to a Muppet Wiki looking at the episode in question and I discovered something remarkable.

The average number of scenes in a 50 minute episode of Sesame Street was between 35-40. That’s a separate scene about every 80 seconds. And these aren’t scenes that are part of the same narrative. We’re not following Ernie around on the streets and each scene is a new house or doorstep. We go from Big Bird -> The Count ->  cat in a dollhouse -> weird pinball machine -> Guy Smiley -> numbers roll call -> the letter H -> the number 4 -> cake -> puppies -> Ernie -> kids on a playground.

Every 80 seconds we get something completely different.

No wonder we’re good at skipping around. Jim Henson did it to us. Snuffy and Maria did it to us. We were conditioned.

So, thank you Sesame Street for teaching me how to count and for ruining my ability to focus on one thing for more than 80 seconds. My life is peppered with oddities because of it.

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