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April 29, 2010

Tanning is a bigger deal than I thought

Kardashian with tanlines

When the healthcare reform bill finally passed, one of the odd things to get thrown in at the last minute was a 10% tax on tanning salon sessions. In an earlier version of the bill, it was only a 5% tax on tanning, with another 5% tax on cosmetic surgery. But in the end, they kept facelifts tax-free and doubled the tanning tax for an estimated 30 million people per year.

This decision made more sense today after I read about a recent, crazy study that Sloan-Kettering did on tanning, which suggests that something like 20% of college students surveyed are actually addicted to tanning. Over half of the kids surveyed have done indoor tanning. Even if you look only at the ones who have tanned, 40% of them are out-of-control tanners.

Somehow I'd never noticed this, but tanning is hugely popular. So clearly, this 10% tax was a wise legislative move. If you tax the hell out of cigarettes and alcohol, and we all keep paying higher and higher prices for them, why not tax something else people are powerless to resist?

Salon owners in the $6 billion industry aren't happy about the tax, of course. Sessions only cost about $7 on average, and I can't see a hardcore tanning addict fussing over 70 cents.

Rick Kueber, founder of Indiana salon Sun Tan City, explains why he thinks the tax is unfair because of its disproportionate effect on one segment of the population: white ladies. "Let's call this what it is. It's a tax on working, white women," he says. He points out that wealthy people enjoy their plastic surgery tax-free, and I think is also strangely implying that those lucky Americans with naturally non-pasty skin are getting a free ride through some sort of melanin tax shelter.

I don't understand tanning at all, but apparently there are other studies out there that suggest the UV rays give tanners an endorphin boost, so maybe the appeal is more psychological than aesthetic. I used to work with a woman who displayed a weird tanning obsession, calling furtively to book sessions whenever she was having a bad day, and she really loved tanning even though her 26 year-old skin had all the suppleness of a Slim Jim.

April 26, 2010

R-rated movies and child corruption

The Howling

A recent study found that kids who are allowed to watch R-rated movies are a lot more likely to start drinking at younger ages. The researchers surveyed middle school kids, asking them whether their parents let them watch R-rated movies or not, then surveyed the same kids again two years later and asked if they'd started drinking yet. Only 3% of kids who were never allowed to watch R-rated movies drank, compared to a Goldschlager-chugging 25% of kids who were allowed to watch R-rated movies "all the time".

One of the researchers said the data suggests that it's the R-rated movies themselves that lead kids to drink: "seeing the adult content actually changes their personality."

What it says to me is that, for better or worse, kids with more permissive parents end up drinking sooner than kids with more restrictive parents. But I wonder about those kids who aren't actually allowed to watch R-rated movies, but sneakily figure out how to watch them anyway. Which is probably most kids in the 10-14 age range, especially the ones with HBO. Do they get into even worse stuff than the kids whose parents let them watch some R-rated movies and maybe let them have a little wine at special events? What are those sneaky kids doing by the time they get to 9th grade? Snorting mescaline and watching snuff films?

Using myself as a test case, I thought back to the first R-rated movie I ever saw. Because we're talking about the '80's here, my first experiences were all horror. I watched about half of Children of the Corn at age 11 at a neighborhood party in the TV room where the kids were hanging out. Probably none of the parents there knew their kids were watching it. It could have been a pretty subversive viewing experience, considering I was in a roomful of preteens at a grown-up party watching a movie about kids killing all the adults in town, but unfortunately, it's a pretty terrible movie. Not actually good enough to be subversive. I left the room when things started to get heavy, human-sacrifice-wise.

The first one I watched all the way through was The Howling, a much better movie, at around age 13. This is a great first R-rated horror movie for a kid to see: it's equal parts cool, scary, and ridiculous, and plays out like an investigative conspiracy movie with Dee Wallace as a reporter accidentally mixed up with a colony of werewolves. I loved it. No kind of parental permission was involved in watching this one, either.

Then shortly after that, some friends and I sneaked into a movie theater showing Action Jackson, an awful movie that made a lot of money and didn't quite destroy Carl Weathers' career. I loved sneaking into the theater, but hated the movie. Things got a lot better with repeated, obsessive viewings of The Lost Boys on video.

Even though my parents didn't actually give me permission to watch any of these movies, they definitely let me drink a little bit at summer parties and the odd holiday dinner. I wonder what happens to kids who watch higher quality R-rated movies than I happened to see? If a 12 year-old watches Fargo and Chinatown, will they actually start drinking at a later age because they're more likely to turn into film geeks and spend their Saturday nights staying in and watching TCM?

What was your first R-rated movie? Did it corrupt you?

April 22, 2010

Bob Saget frat party

Bob Saget at a college party

A few months ago, I saw an article about a new reality show coming up on A&E that will feature Bob Saget going around America, spending time with various sub-cultures and documenting all the weird things they do. Some of the show's sub-cultures would probably be biker gangs, mail-order brides, a survivalist cult, a fraternity, and the Amish.

Obviously this sounds like an excellent show, but I was especially excited because it sounded sort of like a TV version of some of David Foster Wallace's best essays about sub-cultures and regional cultural events around America that are full of people who are part of a very specific sub-culture, though often are not at all aware that their culture is different or notable in any way.

If you think about DFW's essays where he interacts with people who go on cruises ("A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again"), people at rural state ag fairs ("Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All"), or people at local food festivals ("Consider the Lobster"), they could have a lot in common with watching Bob Saget at a barn raising or at a frat formal. Saget will probably be a less brilliant and analytical (and, OK, neurotic) guide through American sub-cultures than DFW, but I bet he'll be just as eager to blend in and become an accepted temporary member of the group.

Anyway, production of the show is happening right now at Cornell, where Saget is spending time at Seal & Serpent, an independent society that was apparently more open than the mainstream Greek frats to letting TV crews in to record their secret rituals and underage drinking. Producers apparently went to initiation (a friend who was a member of S&S back in the day says Bob Saget would have made his own initiation "a lot cooler") and will also record a weekend party and that most bizarre of college events, where teens put on dressy clothes and behave like feral libertines at an orgy, the fraternity formal.

Cornell students are excitedly following Saget all over Ithaca, and I would bet Seal & Serpent's party this weekend will be really well attended.

April 20, 2010

Mars and Venus make a movie

Women are from Pluto, Men are from Uranus

The latest insanely popular relationship self-help book to be made into a movie will be early 90's juggernaut "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus", a book I was almost as happy to see fade from public consciousness as the marginally more odious "The Rules". I'm sure you remember this book. There was a time that every single person on the planet was reading it, or one of its thousands of spin-offs ("M&V On a Date", "M&V In the Bedroom", "M&V Starting Over", "M&V Grit Their Teeth Through Endless Years of Tedium and Despair"). And by "every single person" I mean women who can't stand their insufferable husbands/boyfriends.

Time for Mars & Venus: The Movie! Which sounds exactly like last year's He's Just Not That Into You: The Movie, except with even more rigid and stereotypical gender roles.

The book was a giant step backwards in terms of breaking down useless and stifling assumptions about what men are like (i.e. rational) and what women are like (i.e. emotional), and reinforced the notion that you can make generalizations about men and women so outrageously broad that you can claim things like this:

"In Chapter 3 we'll discover the different ways men and women cope with stress. Martians tend to pull away and silently think about what's bothering them, while Venusians feel an instinctive need to talk about what's bothering them ... In Chapter 5 you'll learn how men and women commonly misunderstand each other because they speak different languages ... You will learn how men and women speak and even stop speaking for entirely different reasons."

As to what kind of pseudo-chick-flick nightmare this movie is going to be, you can pretty much imagine. On the upside, I can't wait to read Manohla Dargis's eviscerating review, which will probably spit as much venom as her HJNTIY review.

As far as casting goes, the movie could go a few different ways. The standard Hollywood movie star route would probably go with Jennifer Aniston and Bradley Cooper (who were both in HJNTIY). The really horrifically unfortunate cast would be Katherine Heigl and Ben Affleck. The luckier cast that might create an OK movie could be someone like Emily Mortimer or Rosemarie DeWitt, and Adam Goldberg or Paul Rudd. But would actors like them want anything to do with a movie like this?

In an ideal, admittedly psychotic, world, I would love to see the Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus movie starring David Cross and Jane Adams as the hostile, bickering couple from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind who appear throughout the movie, staying together while loathing each other. Here's a short video clip of one of my favorite scenes ("I am making a birdhouse!")

April 14, 2010

Exit Through the Gift Shop

exit through the gift shop

Someone finally made a good documentary about street art, except it's only partially about Banksy and other actual street artists, and mostly about a crazy, obsessive French fan who followed them around with a camera, Thierry Guetta.

The best thing about the movie is Banksy himself and his totally self-effacing sense of humor. It's not so surprising that he's a funny guy: most of his art is funny in a sly, dark way. But the man is also a master of comic timing, telling the strange story of how he befriended Thierry Guetta, only much later realizing how mental he was, like he's been crafting a whole other career as a performer. We never see his face or hear his voice without distortion, but you can still tell he's not only a great artist but a hilarious storyteller, too.

The movie was directed by Banksy, but almost all the footage was filmed by Thierry Guetta though his obsessive recording of pretty much every moment of his waking life. Guetta started hanging out with LA street artists sort of by accident, and claimed he was making a documentary even though he had no intention of cutting all his miles of tape into anything like a movie. As Banksy eventually realized, he wasn't really a filmmaker, but "just someone with mental problems who happened to have a camera." It's not a very flattering story for Banksy, but he's honest in showing that his relationship with Guetta was based on Guetta's total adoration of him and willingness to do whatever he asked. Even cool street artists are susceptible to ego-stroking.

After Guetta's monumentally successful debut as an artist himself (as Mr. Brainwash), the street artists he had followed around didn't want anything to do with him. Guetta copied their styles and techniques, and threw together hundreds of meaningless pieces that blatantly rip off every major pop artist of the last 50 years. It's easy to dismiss all the people who got suckered into buying his bad art as trend-seeking morons, but I admire that Banksy also included footage of his own media circus of an LA art exhibit, with celebrity buyers and a stunt involving a baby elephant overshadowing the actual art. As the title suggests, street art has become something you buy in a museum gift shop. Banksy's art is in a different category than Mr. Brainwash's, but the hype that surrounds both of them is equally silly.

One of the best parts of the movie is a beautiful and inspiring opening montage of street and graffiti artists at work on brick walls, trains, tunnels, and sidewalks all over the world, set to Richard Hawley's "Tonight the Streets Are Ours". You can see most of it in this extended trailer. In spite of all the money and attention that a pretend artist like Mr. Brainwash might get, it's so awesome to watch the real ones out there doing it and risking getting hurt or busted by the cops because they love it.

April 13, 2010

Genetically-engineered movies


Director Andrew Niccol seems like he has it all figured out. He wants to make sci-fi movies, like his first movie Gattaca, but he wants to be able to plausibly fill his movies with conspicuously gorgeous people. So he makes his story about genetically engineered characters who are literally scientifically perfect. Enter Uma Thurman and Jude Law, hot sci-fi stars.

Niccol's next movie, titled I'm.mortal, is about a world in which the aging gene can be turned off. The wealthy elite never age and can live forever, while the poor struggle to buy the most agelessness they can afford (it sounds a little like Logan's Run.) Voila! You can fill your cast with 23 year-olds! No need for any aging hags, and no regard for realistic age differentiation whatsoever. Dakota Fanning can play Chace Crawford's mom and Megan Fox's great-grandmother. Why not?

Unfortunately for Andrew Niccol, his scripts that require his cast to be abnormally attractive haven't been so successful in the past: all three movies he's directed (Gattaca, S1m0ne, Lord of War) have been bombs, and the only real success he's had is his script for The Truman Show. Which actually sort of follows the same model of engineering a story to get the cast you want: it pretty much required that Truman be played by a universally beloved huge star, and Jim Carrey is probably a big reason why the movie did so well.

How this guy gets to keep making movies after so many failures is beyond me.

Anyway, maybe after I'm.mortal (that is one overly complicated smug little bastard of a title), he'll write a script about a world in the not-too-distant future, where genetically perfect teens have evolved to a state where they no longer need to wear clothes for protection from the elements. Birthday Suits? Na.kids?

April 9, 2010

Ride pimper, possible wife killer

Monica Beresford-Redman

This is a photo of the cute and sassy Monica Beresford-Redman. I'm assuming it was taken in the mid-90's, judging from the cigar. She's the owner of an LA nightspot that every news story refers to as "the Zabumba bikini bar", and the wife of Bruce Beresford-Redman who created MTV's "Pimp My Ride" and produced some "Survivor" episodes. Bruce was detained by Mexican police yesterday when Monica was found dead in the sewer system of a hotel near Cancun where they had been staying.

He was released today, but has been asked not to leave the country. It's not looking so good for Bruce: guests and staff at the hotel heard them fighting (probably because she had just learned he was cheating) and saw him try to hit her on Monday night, when she was murdered. It looks like she was scratched and choked, and Bruce has scratches on his face and neck, which if you're even a casual viewer of "Law & Order", you know is highly suspicious.

(Note: I realize that you can't really use crime-solving strategies from TV and movies to investigate real crimes. But, OK. In addition to the usual, face-scratches = guilt calculus of many "Law & Order" episodes, there are instances in pop culture when scratches on a suspect's face do not ultimately point to guilt.

One example is Sam Raimi's fantastic and probably underrated movie The Gift, in which an abusive and monstrous Keanu Reeves is initially suspected of killing Katie Holmes, in part because they were having a secret and probably really hot affair, and also because he got scratches on his neck the night she was killed. It turns out that his explanation for the scratches--"Stray cat. She didn't like it when I killed her."--though absurdly over the top in trying to make his character seem menacing and evil, was actually legitimate.)

But in the case of Bruce and Monica Beresford-Redman, I'd say those scratches were likely not from a stray cat. The night of their fight and Monica's death, their hotel door was also opened and closed "at least 11 times". Remember how in Rear Window, Raymond Burr's series of comings and goings late at night from the apartment complex was part of what led Jimmy Stewart to conclude that he had killed his wife.

Bruce B-R probably didn't set out to kill his wife that night (assuming he actually did it) but started hurting her in a moment of anger and poor judgment and, oh, whoops, she's dead. But if he'd spent more time watching crime dramas, he might have know how to cover his tracks better.

April 6, 2010

No Blizzards™ for troops = Outrage

Dairy Queen Blizzards

A couple of weeks ago, Command Sgt. Michael T. Hall announced on his blog that most of the fast food chains currently on military bases in Afghanistan will not have their contracts renewed, and will be closing. Dairy Queen, Burger King, Pizza Hut, TGI Friday's, and that old mainstay of mall food courts, Orange Julius, will all be heading out of Kandahar and other big bases.

The reason, he says, is that using limited transportation resources to bring in Whoppers and P'Zones can delay the delivery of essentials, like "ammunition, food and water." Clearly, what Command Sgt. Hall is implying here is that he does not consider Dairy Queen's Fudge Brownie Temptation Waffle Bowl Sundaes (960 calories!) to be food.

There's some real uproar happening in the comments on the Reuters article about the announcement, "No fries with that: fast food axed at Afghan bases". Many angry responses from readers stem from an assumption that buying a hamburger and fries while stationed on a military base is a precious luxury.

They're either angry that our government would deny our hard-working troops something so wonderful and comforting as crappy fast food, or they're angry that they (the reader) didn't get any fast food options when they were stationed in Korea, and these guys today are a bunch of wusses. But they're not especially angry that young Americans have been fighting a war in Afghanistan for 8 1/2 years, and in all that time, we've failed to find Osama bin Laden or bring peace and stability to the country.

A few choice examples:

  • What will they cut next? Clean clothes?
  • Came on guys! our Soldiers need to be feed and feed good!
  • if was getting SHOT AT EVERYDAY i would like to enjoy a whopper in my free time
  • When I served I was in indian country, tree bark was the meal of the day. It's a lot better that the GI's don't eat the garbage that these companies put out. I've also heard that mcdonalds meat will not decompose in a compost pile, nor will french fries.
  • eat you big mac and shut the fuc & up and enjoy the freedom you have, given to you buy people who are willing to die JUST FOR YOU! dumb ass. SGT U.S. MARINES ret!
  • When our other two sons came home from Iraq they couldn't get enough candy, fast food, etc. (One son lives on pizza and slurpees for two months!) I'll be happy to give my boy(s) any kind of junk food they want when they are safely back home.

And a couple of comments from people who were stationed in Afghanistan or Iraq earlier in the conflicts:

  • I am prior service, and currently work in this region, I am a professional Chef cooking for the troops. As far as the fast food joints go they are ripping the solders off with the prices they are charging $11.00 for a 6 inch pizza get real, $7.00 for a burger and fries and the burger taste like camel meat and yes I know what camel taste like.
  • I don't see where any of these companies should be on base. When I was in we had chow halls making specials all the time. The worst thing I can say about the food was that they over cooked the seafood and sometimes you could taste the iodine sterilizing solution we cleaned with. But that was before somebody decided to privatize our soldiers food. Now who knows what they are being fed for someones profit. Semper Fi.
  • I recently returned from a 15 month tour in Iraq. It used to piss me off seeing all these fast food places, and all the out of shape soldiers scarfing this crap down. I felt embarrassed just watching them. You want to do something on your down time? Go lift some weights.

Only a few comments suggested that instead of giving our troops cruddy junk food to buy as some sort of imagined treat, we could let them buy beer like European soldiers can. Also, hardly any comments mentioned another change coming to military bases that's in the same article: fewer first-run movie screenings. I'd be outraged.

April 1, 2010

Duff McKagan: a man I never wondered whatever happened to

G n' R back in the day

I love my Guns N' Roses albums as much as anyone who grew up in rural America in the '80s, but I haven't followed the post-GNR career of bassist Duff McKagan, aka the tallest guy in the band. Since GNR he's had some bands and solo projects, and played in Velvet Revolver along with Slash.

But the really interesting stuff is what he's doing now. Duff just announced that he's now a member of Jane's Addiction, he's a columnist for Seattle Weekly, where he writes twice a week about music, and for Playboy, where he writes my favorite column in the business press, a finance column called Duffonomics.

I had no idea he was writing those Seattle Weekly columns until reading the Pitchfork news piece today, but they're pretty fantastic. A couple of recent notable ones:

  • Duff used to be a big Bauhaus fan.
  • The first time Guns N' Roses played sold out shows in a decent-sized club was in London in 1987, a few weeks before Appetite For Destruction came out. "The real reason we were here, of course, was to fucking rock. I must say that back in that period of the band's career, nobody did it with more purpose, sneer, and reckless bad intent than us. When we walked to the Marquee on that first night, we were met by the crowd that was in line surrounding the block. We were absolutely fucking amazed that all these people came to see us." Those must have been some really, really fun shows.
  • As a recovering alcoholic, Duff still has a lot of problems controlling himself around Girl Scout Cookie season: "I just ordered 90 boxes of Thin Mints and chocolate macaroon cookies from my sweet little daughter, didn't I? They arrived two days ago. Fuuuuuuck! That first night, I ate two whole boxes. I felt like that guy with melted chocolate all over his face and hands, crying uncontrollably, watching a sappy soap while listening to Celine Dion."
  • And a really incredible and great piece about being on the same flight as Kurt Cobain a couple of days before he died.

As of today, I'm a bigger Duff McKagan fan than I've ever been in my life.

About April 2010

This page contains all entries posted to Amy's Robot in April 2010. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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