g r o t t o 1 1

Peeve Farm
Breeding peeves for show, not just to keep as pets
Brian Tiemann
Silicon ValleyNew York-based purveyor of a confusing mixture of Apple punditry, political bile, and sports car rentals.

btman at grotto11 dot com

Read These Too:

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James Lileks
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As the Apple Turns
Entropicana
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Capitalist Lion
Red Letter Day
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Corsair the Rational Pirate
.clue
Ravishing Light
Rosenblog
Cartago Delenda Est



Cars without compromise.





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12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Saturday, November 10, 2007
19:45 - Goin' South

(top)
The slow downhill spiral of South Park continues apace, it would seem. The latest one I caught this week, the one about Guitar Hero, has reportedly been ill received in forums where the show is generally given great leeway—even the staunchest fans are now calling Trey and Matt on their tendency to revisit not just certain subject matter, but certain thematic conceits that you should only expect to get away with once. The "World of Warcraft" episode was funny, in other words; this one seemed like a repackaging of the same idea.

Now, granted, it's different in that this time it was explicitly supposed to be a parody of your typical trite cliché "rock group making it big and destroying a lifelong friendship through drugs" movie or after-school special. And with that in mind it's not bad, and it does make it different enough from the Warcraft episode that I don't find it quite so annoying as some do. But I do find it annoying that Trey and Matt are allowing themselves to fall prey to one of the pitfalls of comedy writing: overreliance on parody. Sure, parody can be funny; but it's also easy. It's the lowest form of comedy in some ways, because it's such a cheat: half your laughs come from nothing any more creative than reimplementing some well-known cliché in a new medium, like Family Guy is notorious for doing in all its shot-for-shot recreations of famous movie scenes that are "funny" for the sole reason than that it's the Family Guy cast singing instead of the Sound of Music cast, or what-have-you.

It's a shame to see Trey and Matt let themselves sink into this quicksand. Sure, they do it well, arguably better than anyone; but ever since Team America: World Police, with its deadpan delivery of what was explicitly a parody of a typical cliché Bruckheimer blockbuster movie, the duo has cranked out one parodic indictment of one hackneyed movie trope after another, from the "uplifting sports movie where the reunited dad and son hug at the end" and "movie trailer with the record-scratching-to-a-stop sound effect when the announcer mentions the twist" of "Stanley's Cup" to the "moralizing tale of humanity's hubris in the wake of a horrific natural disaster" script of "Lice Capades". More and more Trey and Matt seem to be leaning on the device of parody as a crutch; and "Guitar Queer-O" does nothing to break from that trend.

I think South Park will be seen to have peaked around the seventh or eighth or ninth season, when they were doing things like "Woodland Critter X-mas" and "Stupid Spoiled Whore Video Playset". Things started turning downhill when they began to recast the characters into roles they just didn't fit into, like Cartman as a government interrogator in "The Snuke"—something previously only something one could criticize Family Guy for, e.g. by casting Stewie as a pool cleaner or a lounge singer—or indeed to rummage through their own attic of disused ideas to resurrect them into ill-advised train-wrecks like Towelie in "A Million Little Fibers". Possibly the last unalloyed expression of classic greatness that I've seen was their treatment of the Katrina aftermath in "Two Days Before the Day After Tomorrow"; later attempts to recapture the same energy in a current-events rant, in "Smug Alert!" and "Mystery of the Urinal Deuce" and even "Cartoon Wars", while strong and even meme-generating, were weaker than they could have been, possibly due in large part to the feeling that we were seeing something we never expected out of South Park: a formula.

I'm hearing tell that Trey and Matt are, and in fact have been for several years now, growing very weary of making South Park and wish it would just go away. Every year they decide it's the last year they'll do it, and then one of them talks the other into continuing it on one more season. You can't help but conclude, from things like Team America, that this is a team that isn't ever content doing the same thing over and over again; they've got to keep changing the game just to keep themselves interested. And they may have changed South Park as much as it can be changed while still remaining recognizable as the same show that we all giggled at ten years ago for being raunchy and animated in construction paper.

(I'm sure it can't be just that Chef is gone, can it? I mean... nothing about the recent episodes seems like it would have been better with him around, but the timing sure seems to correspond neatly. Maybe Chef just doesn't lend himself to these grandiose storylines of world events where even Satan, though animated much better than ever before, isn't funny anymore.)


Yet there's still glory to be had on Comedy Central: Drawn Together is really hitting a groove. Having left behind the "animated reality show" schtick it was born with, it's now embarking on a whole new visual trajectory, suddenly becoming more genuinely cartoony than almost anything else I've seen recently. All of a sudden there are all these wild takes and goofy run cycles and silly non-textbook faces that everyone pulls—none of the cookie-cutter CalArts stuff that John K. rails against, but genuinely inventive new animation ideas. It's raunchy as ever—more so than South Park, indeed, which ten years ago would have been seen as a sign of the Apocalypse—but it's honestly fun to watch, a treat for the eyes. Plus it's as sharp as ever: it's highly parody-prone in its own right, as we saw in the recent breakfast-cereal-mascot episode; but somehow when Drawn Together does parodies, it's in a fresh and whimsical way that keeps up a high level of original energy, not the comparatively ponderous and high-handed method employed by South Park or the uninspired paint-by-numbers scheme of Family Guy, to which Drawn Together even implicitly compared itself, in a single deft stroke that seems much more of a biting drive-by jibe than a whole Wagnerian cymbals-clashing two-part mega-episode about manatees picking idea balls out of a tank.

Yet I have to wonder, in the context of the latest episode, in which Toot takes on the role of a literal "sacred cow" to be worshipped by a family of Hindus... is there such a thing as double reverse irony, or something like that, when it comes to racism? I mean, Drawn Together has made its name on the back of racist jokes, which it gets away with by being explicitly tongue-in-cheek about it, by saying "Hey everybody! We're making a racist joke here! We know this is reprehensible, but it's funny just to pretend we're in the 40s for a few ironic minutes!" until they end up with full-blown caricatures of every racial stereotype from now-blacklisted cartoons making regular appearances. But something about this episode's treatment of Indians just seemed... I don't know. Different, somehow. Like just because this was a group that doesn't have the same history of being the butt of jokes in cartoon stereotypes, the intensity and raw forthrightness of the caricatures felt almost like... like they meant it, or something. Like they weren't making fun of racism anymore—they were so ironic that they were applying irony to irony itself, and making an actual racist joke. And what's more postmodern and progressive than that?

I don't know—ignore me, I'm babbling. But I do think it was hella' funny, whether forty years from now Drawn Together is banned from store shelves for being out touch with whatever social mores we have then or not, or whether it's eventually seen as the first show to become so self-referential about the animation industry and society that it loops back in on itself and becomes the subject of its own ridicule. Whereas South Park will be seen as having fallen from favor due to being too staid and conservative; and I think that's just plain hysterical.


Friday, November 9, 2007
09:26 - England has better actors
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/11/08/ngay108.xml

(top)
For a moment, reading this headline and the first paragraph, I thought it was going to say he was for the new law.

Fortunately it says nothing of the sort. You go, girl.


Monday, November 5, 2007
16:51 - FTFFF (the extra "F" is for "Faster")
http://tomkarpik.com/articles/massive-data-loss-bug-in-leopard/

(top)
Here's a trap to avoid assiduously. Fortunately it only happens if you're doing fairly power-usery things (like holding down Command while you drag, so as to save yourself a step in a typical network-transfer procedure); but still, this is gross. But the illustrations sure are pretty.

My only question is, is this bug new in Leopard? This sounds like something that must have failed the same way in all prior releases too, but maybe only now it's exposed more because of the more flexible mount-point configuration in Leopard, encouraging more people do do more network sharing. But if this had existed in prior versions, you'd think this would have already taken its high-profile victims and been dutifully pilloried in the public square long ago...



10:36 - Hosanna to the email gods

(top)
Mail.app might have its problems, and not all its "enhancements" for Leopard really qualify for the name (though, to be fair, this one is hardly Apple's fault).

But something I've been waiting for for years—ever since the Mail that shipped with 10.1, that first started warning you about self-signed SSL certificates and not giving you a way to auto-accept them in the future—is finally here:


Hooray! Now I can launch Mail and forget it, and not have to wait around for it to ask me about all my self-signed mail-server certs! Woo-hoo!

I'm not sure if this counts among the 300+ "features" in Leopard, but it sure makes the cut for me.

Oh yes, and also, now when it can't connect to the most-preferred SMTP server, it gives you a nice visual list of other servers to pick from, and it includes the one that it just unsuccessfully tried! Before now, it would remove the just-attempted server from the list; so if it was just a matter of your SSH tunnel to localhost not being up at the time, you couldn't just start the tunnel and have it resend the message—it would try to send it through the next SMTP server in the list, which might not be what you wanted, and it would keep going until it had removed every server from its list of possibilities and you had to start all over. If you wanted to retry that same SMTP server, you had to cancel the send operation (by saying "Try again later"), and then resend it, using a new SMTP server list that includes your most-preferred one. Perfect example of what happens when the designers think they're being so very clever—they end up making life gratuitously more difficult for power-users for almost no material gain for non-power users. This new solution, where you get to pick the same server and retry (after restarting your SSH tunnel), is worlds better—and no less usable for novices, at that.

Leopard Mail might not have many fans, but I for one will wave a tiny little flag or two for it.

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© Brian Tiemann