If you were going to ask me what my favorite pretend straight edge t-shirt company was,

Punch would not even be my first choice.

My worst nightmare is that everyone will find out what a big dumb idiot I am and every day it comes true.

There are these two people in my office who like talking about the most excruciatingly boring things- think heating oil, insurance payments, commuting, etc. The subject matter is bad enough, but what really gets to me is the tone they use. It’s this brand of incredulity that people use to demonstrate how put-upon they are. People who talk like this seem to think that everything that inconveniences them is the result of the intellectual or moral failure of someone else (while rarely explicitly stated, it’s always implied that the “someone else” in question is the god damned government). So basically, when my co-workers talk about road closures, their main conceit isn’t “the road closure caused problems for me but hey they can happen for hundreds of reasons so what can you do?” but “some idiots closed the roads because they don’t know what they’re doing, but I do.”

Now, in part, this is just a condition of office small-talk. You need to stick to commonalities, which are often the most boring things on the planet. When you start talking about stuff like bills and traffic, you realize about halfway through your thought that there is absolutely no reason to be saying what you’re saying, so you need to introduce some kind of antagonist or central conflict so that the conversation doesn’t just end. Next time you talk about how bad the weather is with someone, see if your conversation can be boiled down to “Earth is really fucking up this week, huh? What’s its problem?” But, I think there’s something in the conservative mindset that amplifies this tendency in relation to how the world works- again, when something adverse happens, it isn’t because of a structure in which individuals have very little impact, it’s because someone somewhere is an idiot.

This is maybe the most unattractive disposition you can have, and I am totally guilty of possessing it. Unlike my two co-workers, though, I’m less concerned with how people do their jobs and more concerned with how people live their lives and carry themselves publicly, which if you think about, is even more egomaniacal. I realized this when I went to the farmer’s market with my mom just now and caught myself feeling disgusted at the sight of every person pushing a stroller, walking a dog, or like…talking to someone? Buying soap? Stuff I do, even! Again, this kind of generalized frustration comes from a sense that no one else is doing it right, but I am. And then I ended up ranting to my mom about it when all she was trying to do was buy some Swiss chard on a beautiful Saturday morning and I realized oh, I’m just an asshole. I don’t have it right. Maybe everyone else is doing it right. I mean, maybe they aren’t. But I think it’s probably good to lose the certainty one way or another.

(Source: Spotify)

I go back and forth on which college major attracts the most despicable people. I think the go-to answer is probably music or theater but alternately, I think it makes sense to throw journalism into the mix as well.* I am philosophically at odds with people who are attracted to these disciplines because their entire worldview is predicated not just on the belief they inherently have a right to exist as people, but that they also have a right to inform other people about said existence. It isn’t this conceit that bothers me: it’s the certainty.

In journalism majors, this certainty manifests itself in two dispositions. One is of a businesslike confidence, wherein you wear a vacant facial expression and always talk like you can’t be bothered, even if you are talking about what you’re going to order at Taco Bell later. The other is what I’ve described before as the “wacky neighbor” effect, in which you act incredulous about everything and/or try to turn everything about your mundane surroundings into a sitcom joke. You might not know what I’m talking about if you haven’t spent time in a newsroom full of these fuckers doing this shit for hours on end, but here’s an example:

Person A is doing something purposefully unusual like making Ramen in a coffee pot in full view of everyone.
Person B sees the opportunity for a set up and asks, with mock offense, why they are doing this.
Person A responds with some predictably unsubstantial answer like “It tastes better this way!”
Person B (and, usually everyone else in earshot) responds in exasperation, more questioning ensues.  Everyone involved in this scenario wears a shit eating grin all the while.

It doesn’t have to be that specific though: often, the wacky neighbor effect manifests itself in an anecdote which is meant to demonstrate how the speaker’s brain doesn’t work the same as yours, and that this is adorable. Much like in the given scenario, everyone will respond accordingly.

Recently something reminded me of a really really disturbing instance of this. There was this guy who worked in the newsroom who always had the tell-tale shit-eating grin on his face. He was inordinately attractive and well-dressed, but his clothes were always weirdly ill-fitting, and while at the time I thought the fact that he was always smiling made him seem like a dick, in retrospect, he was actually just creepy.

Anyway, one time I overheard him telling this story about when he was staying with someone in Boston while he was interning at some magazine. Once, he had a day off, and when his host left the apartment, she told him to help himself to anything in the fridge while she was out.

Apparently, the most appealing thing he managed to locate were a bunch of raw beef tips in the freezer. Yet, having “never really cooked” for himself, he somehow didn’t understand that you were supposed to prepare meat before you consumed it, and after letting them thaw, he ate all the fucking beef raw.

And, accordingly, everyone he told this story to responded in a totally unphased, Chandler-esque (as in Matthew Perry, not Philip Marlowe) way. “Nice one, genius.” Meanwhile, I was sitting at the copy desk in horror, imagining this fucking psychopath sitting alone in some upscale Boston apartment, shoving an entire freezer full of raw meat into his creepy, grinning face.

It’s wholly possible this story was fabricated, in which case the main take away is that this dude is so out-of-touch that he can’t distinguish between the pretty distinct categories of “adorable” and “disturbing.” But if you saw this guy, I think you’d believe it. You’d believe that he would spend an entire afternoon eating raw meat before heading to his National Geographic internship. And that’s just not something I think a music performance major would do.

*Sociology is the discipline I have the least respect for but I don’t want to pick on those people.

Notes on this playlist:

  • I decided to make this list because I recently heard “Lost in the Supermarket” and decided that it was definitely one of my favorite songs. A while ago I made a playlist of my 10 favorite songs, and I thought that instead of knocking one off that list, I’d just make a new one. I think I explain in that post about how top 10’s should really be taken as ephemeral exercises and not as permanent, monolithic statements, so I won’t reiterate that any further. Consider this an alternate top 10.
  • One time I played “Lost in the Supermarket” for a friend who wasn’t into punk and he was like “What is this? What’s with the disco drums? Is this a disco song?” And at the time I was like “No moron, this is the Clash, a punk rock band.” But what’s funny is that it actually is a disco song. I mean, not exactly, but I think that’s what it’s meant to signify. Years earlier I was playing London Calling for my dad and he said it was “highly derivative” of Bruce Springsteen, and again, I was like “yeah right, dad. Shows what you know.” But he was mostly right. I think I bought this album when I was 12 expecting something in the exact vein of the Ramones’ “Leave Home” and was very confused by what I got. I think initially I just listened to “Koka-Kola” on repeat because that is easily the punkest song on that album, though in retrospect, it’s also probably the most forgettable. Anyway, I could probably go long on why “Lost in the Supermarket” means so much to me, and the reasons would probably mostly be the same for my inclusion of Galaxie 500’s “Strange,” so for now, take that as you will.
  • One of the criteria for making a top 10 list, in addition to “what is my favorite,” is “what would I like to be my favorite?” I want you to know that I completely defied this second question by including “There is a Light That Never Goes Out.” You think that feels good? You think I liked putting that on there? You’re wrong.
  • Feel a little weird about including The Connells’ “Stone Cold Yesterday” because it entered my life so recently. But these days it’s rare for me to find a song that I just want to play over and over, and this is one such instance. Ditto Peter Murphy’s “Fall with Your Knife.” Is that song too cheesy? I don’t care.
  • I included Flesh for Lulu’s “Postcards from Paradise” here even though I have previously placed in the “Amazing Hit Song of All Time” category, which was incorrect. Alternately, I was tempted to include the Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love” on this list, but that is clearly more of an “Amazing Hit Song of All Time” and not so much a “Top 10 Favorite Song,” despite the fact that I might like it more than any song on this list. Basically the difference is that regardless of how much I like an “Amazing Hit Song,” there is a possibility that I will hear it when I am at Nordstrom’s with my mom, which is not really for better or worse, just different. This is also one of the reasons “Age of Consent” by New Order is not on this list, because I actually heard it at Nordstrom’s with my mom this weekend. Anyway, speaking of “Postcards from Paradise,” the only version of it on Spotify is this inferior re-recorded version. I suggest checking out the original or the great Paul Westerberg cover of it.
  • Felt like I should include a Husker Du song on this list because they’re definitely my favorite band these days. The problem is that there are few Husker Du songs which are stylistically dissimilar from other ones, which makes it “too hard to pick one” (a thing that cowards say). I think the most obvious choice is probably “Celebrated Summer,” and that would not be wrong. The thing is, that song has been with me for so long and is so transcendent that I mostly associate it with the fact that my life has failed to live up to it. “Celebrated Summer” is like soft sci-fi. You just want to live in its world, but you can’t. So, slightly begrudgingly as the more I think about it, the more pro-Bob Mould I am, I went with “Books About UFOs.” This might seem like a weird choice because it’s kind of a jokey novelty song, but I just love the chorus and the happy piano (?) riff, and considering I spent a lot of my childhood actually reading books about UFOs, I just couldn’t resist. One time a band came through Bloomington and played this song, and I was either the only person there who knew it or the only person into singing along to it, and in retrospect, this was a moment when I probably seemed pretty cool.

(Source: Spotify)

A Belated Review of “American Reunion”

A little over a year ago I watched “American Reunion,” the fourth official installment of the “American Pie” series, and I find myself thinking about it pretty frequently. If you’re not familiar with my opinion on the original “American Pie,” here it is: “American Pie” is wonderful. I hesitate to call it “perfect” only for fear of being taken as hyperbolic. I say this because it simultaneously fulfills and subverts your expectations: it is a teen sex comedy with teen sex which ultimately arrives at the conclusion that teen sex is not that important. The male characters are essentially different types of redeemable assholes and thereby serve as conduits through which to relay your own adolescence (when examining your teenage self honestly, what can you really call yourself besides a certain type of redeemable asshole?). I would say that as far as its effectiveness in portraying a specific mood and time period, it is as good as anything that John Hughes is associated with. I love it. I can’t say the same for the two subsequent sequels. The last time I tried to watch “American Pie 2,” everybody gave up in the middle of the excruciatingly long girl-on-girl/gay panic scene, and I don’t think I’ve seen “American Wedding” since it came out, though I seem to recall someone getting sprayed in the face with diarrhea or breast milk or something. Excluding “American Reunion,” the rest of the American Pie franchise banks on being exactly what you expect it to be.

Now, before I say anything about “American Reunion,” I just want to say that it’s good, and you should see it. I mean, it’s pretty long, there might be some gross sex humor (I honestly can’t remember, but there probably is) and all of its jokes are pretty labored but…the last 30-45 minutes take place at the actual reunion, and it really feels like one, and it might make you feel pretty good.

Like I said, I saw “American Reunion” a year ago and have not watched it since and am not going to because this is not a serious post. Mostly I just want to talk about how “American Reunion” totally inverts one of the major conflicts of the original movie- that being the culmination of the antagonistic relationship between Finch and Stifler. Here’s basically what you need to know: Stifler is an agro frat dude who the audience loves to hate, whereas Finch is a quirky 90’s liberal who you are, maybe, perhaps, supposed to identify with. The two have a competitive relationship throughout the movie: Stifler repeatedly makes fun of Finch’s penchant for leaving school to go to the bathroom, Finch retaliates by spreading embarrassing rumors about Stifler, and Stifler retaliates by slipping Finch laxatives and tricking him into pooping in the girl’s bathroom. The storyline concludes with Finch sleeping with “Stifler’s Mom” at Stifler’s post-prom party. I feel kind of gross calling this a “victory” for Finch but contextually, that’s what it is.

What’s important to note here is that Finch is not a prototypical “nerd.” If there’s a nerd in “American Pie,” it’s probably Jim, the protagonist, who is a fuck up who can’t do anything right. Alternately, Finch is portrayed as having his shit together. He’s the smartest of the group, and his scheme to get laid by the end of the film is weirdly calculated and nearly successful. And given the fact that Finch and Stifler’s relationship isn’t defined by linear abuse, but reciprocation, I tend to think of them as equal yet opposite masculinities competing with each other on an even keel. And ultimately, “American Pie” asks you to favor Finch. And not just because he sleeps with Stifler’s Mom, but because you’re obviously supposed to take pleasure whenever anything bad happens to Stifler. Stifler accidentally drinks semen, and he fucking deserves it.  John Cho urinates on Stifler’s head, and it’s awesome. Stifler never gets laid because dudes like Stifler are the worst, right? And we would all rather be like Finch, right?

See, “American Reunion” completely flips the script on this. The audience’s interaction with Finch and Stifler is a total 180. Whereas in the original three movies Stifler’s agro misogyny is to be taken as deplorable, in “American Reunion,” it’s portrayed as pathetic: he still says offensive shit to everyone, but the emphasis is placed on how much it isolates him. His dated douchebag shtick is really just an ineffective means of making friends. I initially typed that this “was legitimately kind of sad,” but, haha, it isn’t. But it makes sense, and you believe it, which is more important.

Meanwhile, what happens with Finch is really disturbing. He pulls up to the gang’s hangout on a motorcycle and tells them all about how interesting his life is. He’s traveled all across the world. He has weird tribal tattoos. Basically, he’s lived exactly the kind of life you would have expected of him based on the three prior movies. But then, halfway through the movie, it’s revealed that he’s fabricated everything. Finch is an assistant manager at a Staples on the East coast, and he’s stolen the motorcycle from his boss to get to the reunion. Finch is the saddest case in the entire American Pie gang. Even sadder than Kevin, who has become incredibly weird looking and still carries a torch for Tara Reid.

Do you see where this is going? Not only is Finch a complete disgrace, but arguably the driving plotline of the movie is Stifler’s estrangement from and eventual inclusion into the group. The whole movie is about accepting Stifler for who he is. And at the end of it, Stifler has sex with Finch’s mom on the 50 yard line. Stifler is the winner of “American Reunion,” and it blows my fucking mind. How did we get here?

I have a lot of theories on this subject, most which I’m pretty ill-equipped to discuss, but look, a lot of things happen in my brain when I think about Stifler having sex with Finch’s mom and I don’t know what else to do about it so please humor me with regards to the following:

I think the most obvious factor in determining Finch’s fate in “American Reunion” is the abject failure of the left during both terms of the Bush Jr. administration. As I said, this is not something I am particularly equipped to talk about because of my age, but from what I can discern, the relative economic prosperity of the 1990’s, coupled with a lack of prolonged military conflict, had a massive hand in cultivating the “slacker” aesthetic of the decade- an aesthetic which proved utterly futile and derived of charm when confronted with the chaos of post-9/11 America. In the 2000’s, 90’s liberals failed to stop the war, but more importantly, they failed to get Bush out of office, which, let’s be real, is crazy (If you’re my age, you probably weren’t cognizant of John Kerry’s uselessness at the time of the 2004 election, but having briefly observed his behavior as Secretary of State, I think I can conclude that his presidential run was pretty much a joke). And not only did liberals fail to invoke actual change, they even failed to create convincing discourse. Again, young person here, but looking back at Bush’s second term, it seems like the most prominent left wing talking point was “Did you know that fundamentalist Christians exist? Isn’t this offensive?” Trip out on the fact that Janeane Garofalo started as an edgy comedian whose material was mostly derived from not having her shit together, then became a voluntary punching bag for Fox News pundits in the 2000’s, and now no one knows where she is.

Earlier, I classified Finch as a “90’s liberal,” in part so I could extrapolate that the trajectory of his life is akin to that of the American left during the interim period between “Wedding” and “Reunion,” which I think makes sense. Doesn’t it make sense to think of the (seemingly) inconsequential Clinton years as a kind of adolescence? Doesn’t it make sense that what was charming and promising in said adolescence turned out to be totally futile in the tumult of your adult years (Bush Jr) and that you would ultimately end up working at Staples? I don’t know, maybe. See, classifying Finch as primarily a “slacker/90’s liberal” mostly just hinges on the fact that he’s kind of an intellectual and drinks espresso, so I don’t know how much water it holds. To be honest, Finch is not really an archetype for anything. Still, I have a suspicion that if people ten years younger than me watched “American Pie” for the first time, they might classify Finch as a hipster, which opens another can of worms.

I’ve been thinking about the perpetuity of hipster backlash recently, and if you’ll allow me to continue to speak in broad, sweeping terms, here’s my theory. Deplorable traits typically associated with hipsters include superficially esoteric taste, a vindictive sense of superiority, and obsession with self-presentation. Simultaneously, anyone who is under the age of 30 and is presently using the internet to do things or communicate with people is constantly at risk of exhibiting these traits, regardless of what kind of bands they like. Have you ever had an older relative ask you to define what a hipster is and discover that you can’t do it without being nuanced as shit? That nuance and complexity is at the root of hipster backlash, which could be more accurately called hipster panic or hipster paranoia, the whole culture of which is derived from a narcissism of minor differences. People who perpetuate hipster paranoia 7 fucking years on do so because, as is conditional of the times they exist in, they’re constantly on the verge of becoming what they supposedly hate.

And this may ultimately have contributed to Stifler banging Finch’s mom on the 50 yard line. Not only does Finch tellingly wear weird dated clothes that denote his self-awareness, he also takes pains to manipulate his image. In the first movie, Finch’s scheme for getting laid involves paying Natasha Lyonne to spread enticing gossip about him. As mentioned earlier, he blatantly lies about himself when he shows up in “American Reunion.” He’s also obnoxiously in your face about his quirks. He is the kind douchebag who would so something as calculatedly eccentric as setting up a putting green in the high school quad. So Finch is an obnoxious, affected hipster douche, which might have been opaque in 1999 but is transparent in 2014, right? Nobody wants to be Finch because we are all two tweets away from being him at any given moment.

Look, if given the option of being Stifler or Finch, I will pick Finch every time, though perhaps with some reluctance. This is what disturbs me about “American Reunion:” that we’ve collectively come to loathe people like Finch so much that we are willing to revise history and say that all this time, Stifler really deserved to get even. Stifler, the agro dude whose persona faintly resembles an Ace Ventura impression that never really went away. And while I disagree, I understand. Stifler is a reality that isn’t available to us anymore. He’s blissfully unaware and unabashed while never being held truly accountable for his actions. And we want to go back to that. And, when viewed through this lens, Stifler could potentially be seen as an underdog. Finch got laid. Stifler got peed on. Maybe it was Stifler’s story all along.

This has been 2,000 words on “American Reunion.”

You think you’ve got it bad now? Just wait, fucker.
My dad said this to me while he was eating a cupcake last night.

my downstairs neighbor’s dog is so cool and I totally hope it doesn’t fall into a woodchipper.