Ode to Abreves, Vernacnac, and Neologisms

Recently, my boyfriend sent me an article entitled, “Why I Stopped Being a Grammar Snob.” At first I thought it was his less-than-subtle attempt at curbing my obsession with oxford commas, but it turned out to be an article riddled with all my favorite stuff: linguistics, semiotics, the power of the word “fuck”. It was just a great read, and a great reminder of why I like this thing called English.

I may be the only one on my facebook newsfeed who doesn’t groan as the Oxford English dictionary swells to include words such as “FOMO”, “selfie”, or “newsfeed” for that matter, but languages’ ever-evolving nature is what gives it life. Language literally inhales and exhales to accommodate the culture that creates it. The onslaught of online terms is natural given the time’s dependence on technology, just as abbreviations and hyperboles speak to the impatience and extremism that identify millennials.

Language is meant to communicate (duh). It’s used to articulate a message, yes, but also to articulate the messenger. It presents a code into our culture.

So. If we stopped all this scoffing and snobbery regarding the change of the English language, and actually stopped to think about how and why it was changing, that semiotic sojourn would teach us a lot about ourselves. And if you can’t do that, at least giggle at that fact that derp is now a word. Derp.

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Orange You Glad: How I Almost Overlooked the Perfection of Orange is the New Black

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Here’s some advice: watch Orange is the New Black. Wait a few weeks. Then read this article. Or, if you prefer a short cut, just read this:

Even on the frustrating days, when a script was due and I was convinced I was a talentless hack, I consoled myself by trusting that it felt important to be telling stories about women who are largely ignored in the mainstream media. In my more assured moments, I knew that we were attempting to give a voice to the miles that fall in between black and white, gay and straight, good and bad. That is: giving a voice to most humans.

-Lauren Morelli, Orange is the New Black staff writer

I never really took the time to deeply consider Orange is the New Black, in the same way no one really takes the time to consider the entire can of Funfetti frosting before swallowing it whole along with the spoon. I was so inexplicably absorbed with the show that, for 13 episodes and 2 days, I forgot I was a feminist, I forgot I was an ally, I forgot I was a screenwriter. I was just a fan.

I think that’s something of note: that a fierce feminist and ersatz media scholar such as myself forgot to notice that the show bucked all the good stuff:  gender scripts, racial lines, heteronormativity, body shame, beauty standards, etc. That the show passed the Bechdel Test with flying colors (of orange).

All I could think was, “!!RIGSJNHJGNH11!!!! WHY IS THIS SHOW SOOOO GOOD?!! ACCENT ADROIT, BITCH!!!!!” If I hadn’t stumbled across the above-mentioned article, I’d still be adding !!! to that train of thought.

The fact that I forgot to overthink this show is entirely a testament to the storytelling. The writers did not create this show as a soapbox, nor these characters as poster children. Shows suck when they try too hard to make statements…see The New Normal, see The Newsroom, see the second season of Girls. Orange is the New Black does decidedly not suck. Instead of trying to make a point about race, or sexuality, or the state of the American penal system, it sets out to do nothing else but tell a human story.

That isn’t to say that Orange is the New Black doesn’t speak to larger themes. Because human stories, by their very nature, speak to race, gender, sexuality, socioeconomics, and all those words that make people want to roll their eyes when dropped in a blog post. But the show doesn’t spoon-feed its audience any particular morals or messages. It just sits them down to tell a story.

That being said, now that I’ve read this article, I would like to attach a few more !!! to my review for some other reasons:

  • !!! for strong, complex female characters
  • !!! for a female-dominated writing staff
  • !!! for the relationship between Poussey and Taystee, between Ms. Claudette and Piper, between EVERYONE AND EVERYONE
  • !!! for Nikki’s hair
  • !!! for Dascha Polanco who is hot as all hell
  • !!! for Sophia Burset, and Laverne Cox as Sophia Bursey
  • !!! for the fact I can’t decide whether I want Piper with Larry or Alex
  • !!! for !!! for !!! for !!!

But really…!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(hey, those sort of looks like jail bars)

The Hipster Vortex: I love the Irony of Mumford and Sons’ Self-Irony So Unironically

Since its release like…three seconds ago…I have watched the Mumford and Sons’ “Hopeless Wanderer” video about a trazillion times. Or, for those who don’t accept hyperbolic made-up metrics, about as many times as Mumford and Sons wear tweed and knee-high goulashes. Or, for those who don’t like similes: a shit ton. I have watched this video a shit ton.

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It’s not exactly difficult to pinpoint the reasons why this video is so virally contagious. It’s a little more difficult to decide which reason is my favorite, but I have whittled it down to a short-list:

  • 1. Jason Sudeikis’ earring.
  • 2. Ed Helms’ “I’m cold” shiver in the boat.
  • 3. Will Forte’s beard. And the fact that Ed Helms kissed that beard.
  • 4. Not only does this video feature a same-sex kiss, but also that same-sex kiss is somehow not the most talked about part of the video. This is less to the credit of Mumford and Sons– who did admittedly turn to homosexuality for humor– and more to the credit of like, the shifting culture in general. So good for you, culture. Good for you.
  • 5. Tear-licking.
  • 6. The barbershop quarter dance, which I have very promptly memorized and mastered to show-off at dance parties. Don’t worry, my roommate has learned it, too, so I won’t look silly bowing to and skipping by myself.
  • 7. Fist-playing the piano.
  • 8. EVERYTHING. THIS VIDEO’S EVERYTHING.

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I think this self-parody is exactly the right move for Mumford and Sons to make. Before this masterpiece, the band has garnered some serious criticism for popularizing and polishing folk culture for the masses. But this video, by winking at their own hipster-by-number image, re-imagines the group as self-aware in their hypocrisies as a mainstream indie-folk band. Mumford and Sons has become to hipster culture as Ke$ha is to club culture. Lady Gaga to pop idols, and Nicki Minaj too..well…no. I haven’t figured her out yet.

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But the point is, our culture has become so post-modern that successful bands have to market themselves as self-parodies and campy caricatures. Which is weird. Like, if I start to think about this video too long, I get caught up in a vortex of irony: hipsters being ironic about being ironic is like facing a mirror to a mirror, infinitely disorienting but also inexplicably mesmerizing. I just can’t look away.

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And with that face staring back at me, who would want to?

A Literary Love Letter

I realize I’ve been a bit remiss regarding this blog and, although I was itching to update this site with something, I had no real desire to actually create anything new. (But more on that later).

I began to dumpster dive my old documents, searching for something that could pass as a post without actually putting in any effort. Someone’s trash is another person’s new blog post.

Today’s treasure–although entirely self-involved and limited to my own writing experience–hopefully has a larger impact as a important writing exercise. As an assignment in my BFA class, we were asked to write a letter of intent regarding our project. We were told to write about our inspiration, our influences, our hopes and dreams…all that sort of hippy dippy nonsense that I–always more a craftsman than an artist–generally poo poo. But, reading back on my letter, I realize how much these first words on Alumnus bled into not only the script, but my entire writing philosophy:

Dear Self,

Well this has been a long time coming—for almost eight years, I’ve been working on Alumnus. Only, back then I titled the stories Cliché and it wasn’t so much a feature length screenplay as a life long epic, an alternative world where I knew everything about the characters—from birth to death. With a dedication to detail only acceptable in sci-fi writers like Tolkein or Rowling, I explored everything about Mason Black and his friends…and enemies…and acquaintances…and their acquaintances…

I truly tried on every scenario with these characters, living up to the name Cliché. Alcoholic parent? Check. Nasty teenage rebellion stage? Check. Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll? Check, check, and then some. When I started, I was only thirteen or so, unironically finding Mace’s alcoholism artistic and interesting. However as I grew older and more confident in my writing, I realized how to warp the expectations of conventions and I eventually learned to play with storytelling to create what I hoped was something modern and mosaic.

Developing this story helped me develop as a writer. I’ve truly grown up with these characters, but I also feared I grew past Camden. Maybe Mason was nothing more than a glorified imaginary friend, aiding my self-discovery as an adult and as a writer.

But if that’s true then I wasted a whole bunch of time, dreaming about nothing. And I refuse to accept that. It is now time to leave the dreams behind, and get behind the desk. Now it’s time to commit everything to page, and do myself a favor and just write.

So, when I push aside all of the very intricate details such as graphology (Mace has a heavily looped g) and class roster ranked by physical appearance, what is the story of Alumnus about?

Alumnus is about human growth. I suppose the appropriate—albeit douche-y—word for it is bildungsroman. With an etymology dependent on education and self-discovery, Alumnus is a very belated bildungsroman. Despite his IQ of 151, despite his diploma from Camden and the school of hard knocks—he never did learn the most important lesson of all: who he was. And because of this he, like Peter Pan, could never truly grow up.

Mace’s inner conflict is very similar to my own as a writer. Mason is stuck in the past—not out of nostalgia, but out of fear. When at Camden, he was told he was enriched with something genius. He was pampered with preparation and pep talks about his potential. Yet, the closer he got to graduation and the “Real World,” the further he was from figuring himself out. All he knew is what he could be—not who is was in the present.

Twenty-four years and a mental break down later, Mace is forced to revisit his past. And while reluctant, it will become to be the best thing ever to happen to him. It forces him to reexamine his past, and reconcile all the contradictions and hypocrisies within himself.

In the same way, I know I have to return to Cliché—or now as it’s known, Alumnus—and finish what I’ve started.  Revisiting a place of your past is extremely telling, because as Holden Caulfield noticed in his trip to the Museum of Natural History “Nothing’d be different. The only thing that would be different would be you.

So, let’s get started shall we? I’m interested to see what’s changed, what’s changing and what remains the same…

Best Writing,

Kerri

This letter is my acknowledgement that, for me,  writing is a convenient construct to allow me to play pretend in adulthood. As such, all my work will be washed with nostalgia, the struggle against maturation, and mild escapism and fantasy fullfillment. Should it be any other way?

Interestingly enough, I still find myself struggling to grow past the Alumnus world. I’m still mildly in love with Mason Black, and constantly use these characters as template in my other works. I wonder sometimes if I have any other story to tell, or if I’m stuck forever with these imaginary friends.

In finding this letter, however, I think I’ve found an important exercise to help me start a new project. The articulation of intent acts as a contract of content, a promise to yourself that you are moving on to a new oeuvre adventure. For an extra dose of fun, seal the letter, and only open it at the project’s completion. Did you stay true to your original idea or did the process take you somewhere entirely new?

God. This is starting to sound like an awful how-to-write blog. Gag me. Remember in the beginning of this post when I chided artistic processes and hippy rhetoric?

TALK ABOUT BETRAYING YOUR ORIGINAL INTENT. UGH.

Anyway. For wishy-washy writers  who can’t quite commit to a new cast of characters: write yourself a letter. Write your project a love letter. Not only will it help you kick-off the process, but it’ll give you an easy-bake blog post a few years later.

Magical Bubblegum

So I’m currently writing an action-adventure short about magical bubblegum that has the power to resurrect famous historical women in order to fight misogynistic douchebags everywhere.

This is what happens when you sign up for a flash screenwriting competition, under the delusion you’ll pull an easy genre like comedy or dialogue-heavy-diatribes-about-books-and-tweed-and-maybe-a-gay-man. That’s a genre. But no, I get action-adventure. And they get…magical bubblegum.

 

Annotated Adolescence

Yesterday, I unwillingly played “let’s pretend we live in the the colonial ages” after my apartment lost internet for a few hours. We still had electricity, of course, but what good is that if I can’t stream episodes of Real World: Portland or stalk myself on facebook. We may as well have been in a three-day black-out.

To occupy myself, I browsed through some of my old school books for no reason at all, really, other than to see my illegible chickenscratch lacerate the great literature of high-school syllabi past. But really. I over-annotated the similes out of these books. I starred every page, underlined practically every sentence–as if wouldn’t fully understand a word until I slipped my pen past it–and added a few too many heart-punctuated exclamation points than I would care to admit. I really loved John Proctor. It was weird.

While I still find some of my thoughts insightful, or at least legitimate, I stumbled across a few marginal notes that just…nope. There is no way that passage means anything, or deserves any further attention.  Below are some examples of quotes you probably won’t find in Cliffnotes or WikiQuote, but teenage Kerri thought were just grand.

Catcher in the Rye

“I brush my teeth. Don’t give me that!”

You might think this quote could have importance within the context, but…nope. Nothing. Didn’t stop me from circling it though

I ordered a scotch and soda, which is my favorite drink, next to frozen Daiquiris.

I guess I was worried that Holden’s second-favorite drink would be on the quiz…

She had really big knockers.

To which I wrote beside it, “nice!”

A Streetcar Named Desire

You can almost feel the warm breath of the brown river warehouses with their faint redolences of bananas and coffee.

I circled “bananas and coffee” and wrote “exotic!” next to it. I guess basic breakfast foods are exotic to 14-year olds.

“Gracious, what lung-power!”

…I mean…okay?

“Well, honey, a shot never does the coke any harm!”

This quote actually did prove useful later in life.

The Odyssey 

“True, my friend,” the glistening one agreed.

I think I just liked the idea of a Greek man glistening. I was a pervert in eight grade. For example, I also underlined this…

Once they’d bathed and smoothed their skin with out with oil, they took their picnic, sitting along the river’s bank and waiting for all the clothes to dry in the hot noon sun.

And this…

Muttering so, great Odysseus crept out of the bushes, stripping off with his massive hand a leaf branch from the tangled olive growth to shield his body, hide his private parts. And out he stalked, as a mountain lion exultant in his power.

It should also be noted that I skipped books 9-15 in the Odyssey. Sorry Ms. Creany. There probably weren’t enough oil-slabbed gods in those parts.

And finally, perhaps the most poignant passage of them all from my favorite play, The History Boys:

You are very young. Grow a mustache.

Now For the Story: Arrested Development and the Comeback Cult

In case you’ve been living under a rock—or a Bluth model home in Iraq—the critical and cult darling of the early 2000s, Arrested Development, returns to its loyal fans this Sunday on Netflix. You would think that seven-years of separation would have subdued the fanaticism surrounding the series, but the years away from Fox and broadcast television have actually sired a rabid fan base through DVD sales, Netflix, and other online streaming sources. Like Van Gogh, Kafka, and I guess George Sr. that time he faked his death and watched his own funeral from the attic,* Arrested Development  has earned posthumous fame and fandom. In the years following its cancellation, Arrested Development has gestated its cult status, a status that will reach its apotheosis tomorrow.

Even for those who don’t enjoy scholarly pursuits, Arrested Development is easily–if not somewhat vaguely and esoterically–identified as a “cult classic.” Entertainment Weekly, for instance, ranked Hurwitz’s series 3rd in its list of 26 Best Cult TV Shows Ever. In its explanation, EW stresses the metatexuality, in-jokes, and heightened absurdism as its cult characteristics:

WHY IT’S CULT The critically acclaimed comedy jacked up the bar on what to expect from a network show: fast, delirious, interlocking jokes that don’t pander to the masses; winky gags (e.g., fake preview scenes for the following week’s episode); and a cast of absurd characters, including a mama’s boy named Buster (Tony Hale) who has a hook for a hand because a seal in a bow tie bit it off.”

But is that what it means to be cult? Witty lines and winking-eye alcohol suggestions? Where does that leave the unironic but undeniably cult Casablancas, or the straight sci-fi Star Wars?  This definition rules them out, while media scholars and semioticians have repeatedly referenced both as paradigms for the cult construct. What gives, cult? What gives?

According to Sara Gwenillian-Jones and Roberta E. Pearson–popculture specialists and two chicks who were clearly born at a Renaissance fair– cult texts can be assessed in the following three fields:

  1. textual characteristics (archetypal appeal, completely furnished world, meta-textuality, etc.)
  2. reception (audience participation, fans quoting and quizzing)
  3. mechanisms (nontheatrical distribution, independent film, and television exhibition)

The reason EW’s analysis of Arrested Development is problematic is because it only focused on the first field, textual characteristics. I mean, duh, Arrested Development was written as a cult text. Umberto Eco (really, the parents of media scholars must own one trippy babyname book) speaks of cult texts as “a museum, so to speak” saturated with references, narrative clichés, and genre expectations. It’s not exactly straining to find such things in Arrested Development. The show’s very structure–right down to the Ron Howard narration and mockumentary aesthetic- plays with genre convention and narrative structure. The show boasts both intratextual references (hop-ons, hands, Lucilles and loose seals, etc.) and intertextual references (Barry Zuckerkorn doing the Fonz, Rita’s post-surgery picture , and perhaps most obscurely Buster’s Mr. Roboto dance). Furthermore, Hurwitz made a conscious effort to build a continuous, completely furnished world–although the Bluth world is ironically, but intentionally, shoddily furnished as a nod to the limitation of TV sets and bogus model homes. In fact, the model homes’ less-than-model workmanship is another example of an intratextual reference, as well as an effort to establish continuity in the world through running visual gags–from Cloudmir Vodka ads to Tobias’ blue handprints wallpapering the mise-en-scène…sometimes both!

The density and, god help me, texture of Arrested Development‘s textual characteristics initiates the second cult characteristic–reception. Good ol’ Mr. Eco says that a cult text  “must provide a completely furnished world so that fans can quote characters and episodes as if they were aspects of the fan’s private sectarian world, a world about which one can make up quizzes and play trivia games so that the adepts of the sect recognize through each other a shared experience.” Oh, you mean quizzes like…this? Trivia like this? Or this? “The performance of the audience becomes a sort of supertext with its own rules and constraints,” Phillipe La Guern explains, “implying a complete apprentice through its assumption of previous knowledge of the film and its dialogue.” In other words, it is literally the personal mission of every single person on the internet to prove that they are Mr. Manager of Banana Stand, President of the Bluth Company, Coverstory of the proverbial Poof.

The third cult characteristic of Arrested Development, mechanisms, is pretty boring to analyze…that is, until you consider its 2013 revival. Save a few webseries such as Dr. Horrible, Clark and Michael, and Childrens Hospital–the internet isn’t generally the mechanism for initial release of cults; it is the mechanism for tetriatary texts like fanfic, memes, and gifs as well as the mechanism for post-release binge watching and audience participation. The choice for Arrested Development to return not as a film–the most mainstream medium–but as a straight-to-Netflix webseries represents the choice to fully embrace its countercultural, and thus, cult status. With its online, simultaneous, virtually-free release,  the new season caters to its cult following entirely. It promotes obsessive consumption, repeat viewings, and Easter Egg hunts. Most of us have committed ourselves to a Memorial Day under house arrest, playing the AD Drinking Game, while restaurants and cooking blogs prepare eight-course meals featuring Mayoneggs, Hot Ham Water, and $10 bananas. Goodwill employees everywhere scratch their heads at the inexplicable spike in denim cut-off sales.

The marketing and pre-release hype mirrors the embrace of cult status, as Netflix, the AD cast, and virtually the entire internet cultivates the supertext performance of the audience. Promotion has been anchored in interactivity: insert Tobias into any movie, record your own #chickendance, hunt for hidden easter eggs on a secret Netflix page. Wait for hours in line for the pop-up, peel-down Bluth Banana Stand, run by Jason Bateman and Will Arnett themselves. (Mr. Bananagrabber didn’t make an appearance…I don’t think they had animation rights.)  The show has snuck up everywhere, as ubiquitous as Gene Parmesan. And sometimes as ineffective as Gene, too. In catering to the cult fandom, Arrested Development may have jeopardized the exclusivity and countercultural element definitive of cult. Some people are starting to backlash against the over-saturation online, and one writer declares the series “the internet’s longest meme”–destined for the same fate as the once-popular, now-insufferable Harlem Shake or Call Me, Maybe.

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Now, I have the utmost faith in Mitch Hurwitz’s writing and wit. But there’s a fine line between referencing and recycling, and a lot of the new season previews have unfortunately skewed towards the latter. Juice boxes, stair cars, and kissing cousins fall flat, the return of the bees/beads joke didn’t add anything new besides an actual swarm of bees. Any fanfic writer can quote a few catchphrases, rerun a few running gags, and win a few laughs…but I didn’t wait seven years to watch a filmed fanfic.

The question is how seven-years of cultivating cult status has influenced the creative process. As I’ve mentioned, the textual characteristics of Arrested Development have always been cultist…therefore, the textual characteristics shouldn’t change by a heightened cognition of the show’s cultism. But the shifts in  Gwenillian-Jones and Pearson’s other two characteristics–reception and mechanisms–might change the show. With increased audience interaction and participation, will the new season cater too much to the fans, compromising the integrity of the show? Enshrouded in an online and social media blitz, has Arrested Development become too hyped to meet expectations, or too mainstream to retain its edge? Or–and this is what I am hoping for–has the heightened self-awareness of its own cult power unlocked another layer of metahumor that will make this season the best one yet?

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*But, let’s be honest, George Sr. was sort of already famous, what with the Cornballer, Boyfights, Caged Wisdom, and that whole bromance with Sadam.