Archive for August 2012
School starts next week, though I’ll be in for a few hours this week to get a few things set up. If my previous 17 (!) years have taught me anything, it is that preparing things even for a few hours ahead of time will pay huge dividends over the next three weeks.I’m soon to have the “back to school” dream. Every teacher gets it. It’s an anxiety dream is all; actually, a form of stagefright. Our minds are telling us that this is important and we need to be ready for it. We rev our cognitive engines into overdrive starting right about now, and that extra horsepower works its way out subconsciously. There are a multitude of variations on the dream. For me, it usually involves something totally unexpected happening the first day of class… I get twice as many students as expected, I can’t find paperwork, I can’t get the students settled when the boss stops in unexpectedly, or one I’ve had three or four times– I can’t find the school. I drive in endless circles and have even had a car accident in the dream and still lead-footed it to get to school, ever the optimist about getting there on time. To tell you how pervasive that dream has been, I remember having it as far back as 1993 when I was “merely” substitute teaching.
Twelve years ago, I had a “back to school” dream that I consistently and intentionally recall as a reminder of how important it is to have balance and structure in the summer away from work. First, though, know this: As teachers, we are sometimes gifted with a summer that is so ass-kickingly great that it transcends description. Everything is smooth and easy. There’s lots of rest and even more parties, fun, or whatever. You go wherever and do whatever whenever for however long you feel like it. It’s like living in the land of the lotus eaters. I had one of those summers two years ago, and this summer has been pretty decent, but neither matches the summer of 2000. I epitomized the single man those few months, having just gotten out of a long-term relationship, not having any financial burdens, and having Chicago at my disposal. What more could I have wanted?
Here’s how you spotted me: I was the one in swim shorts, a ratty Ball State University t-shirt, sunglasses, and dragging a cooler. If I wasn’t at the pool, I was at the volleyball courts next to the pool. I felt great from running three times a week and logging 10-15 hours of sand volleyball. I had a deep tan, and my skin was soft and smooth from constant applications of sunblock. There were days I wouldn’t wake up until 10am, and wouldn’t shower until midnight that night. Mosquitoes never bothered me– the mix of chorine, perspiration, and sunblock was the perfect repellant. Chances are, too, that I had an oversized drink in my hand.
So the night before school started, I dreamed that I showed up to our first day of inservices without ever having changed costumes from my summertime persona. The faculty had to meet in a room down the hall from mine, and we had to run the gauntlet of the superintendent and principal when we entered the room– they were literally standing on both sides of the doorway and inspecting every teacher who walked through. I somehow managed to get past them with a huge drink in hand that smelled almost like jet fuel. I sat down behind a teacher who had, in the non-dream world, resigned the previous year. I was certain I was going to get busted, so I spilled my drink on the floor. I thought I was in the clear– I couldn’t get in trouble for a spilled drink! But how to explain that chunk of lime floating in the puddle of my drink?
I woke up in a mild panic. I told a coworker about the dream the next day, and her pithy summation has stuck with me: It was like two worlds colliding. What followed was two months in the third circle of Hell. I was constantly behind in my lessons, floundering to get the drama department rolling, and drowning in grad school homework. My summer friends hardly ever saw me, and some of them even supposed I moved. Of course, it was just that I was back at teaching and it was consuming all of me. It could have been quite a bit easier if I hadn’t gone so hog-wild that summer.
But what good is age without wisdom? School starts in a week, and I’ll spend a lot of time this week ramping down the wherever-whatever-whenever-for-however-long and ramping up the structure and discipline.
I need it anyhow.
Death Race 2000 (1975)
Director: Paul Bartel
Cast: David Carradine, Sylvester Stallone
So what’s up with American society in 1975 envisioning a dystopian future ripe with blood sports? Was it a fear that Nixon would somehow come back to power and further ruin the country? Anyhow… In this 1975 vision of the next millennium, the United States has suffered financial collapse and a military coup, leaving the Bipartisan party acting as church and state. Also, it is not only apparent that Ralph Nader is dead, but that the fascists in charge enjoy pissing on his grave. How else to explain the annual Transcontinental Road Race? The objective is for driver-navigator teams to rip across the country at high speeds and kill as many innocent pedestrians as possible (points are awarded based on age and gender). Competitors get to trick out their rides with crazy shit like spikes or machetes on the front bumpers, super-charged engines, and sprayers to lay down oil slicks behind them. If that wasn’t enough, they get to adopt bad-ass racing names like Mathilda the Hun, “Machine Gun” Joe, Calamity Jane, Nero the Hero, and Frankenstein. The only caveat is avoiding The Resistance, which is trying to ambush the drivers, end the game, and overthrow the government.
Cool Rules: Audience participation! A retirement home along the route celebrates Euthanasia Day each year by wheeling its sickest patients out to the road. Fan clubs sacrifice their members to help their favorite drivers score points. Drivers can also run down the race organizers and even their own pit crews. Bonus rule for drivers: Your navigator is also your friend—with benefits!
Probability of dying while playing the game: Pretty high. Even though the drivers are doing the killing, horrific smashups are common, and The Resistance lays down lots of traps designed to kill the participants.
Likelihood of playing the game in real life: Low, unless you commute on the 91 and 405 freeways around Los Angeles, where all of this would seem normal.
The Running Man (1987)
Director: Paul Michael Glaser
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Richard Dawson, Maria Conchita Alonso, Jesse Ventura
It’s 2019, and things are looking a wee bit dystopian (go figure, right?). The country loves violence on T.V. and the government has done away with inconvenient things like The Bill of Rights. If you’re thinking this 2019 looks a lot like 2000-2008, you’re not the only one… Anyhow, the government airs the wildly popular The Running Man, a reality show that gives convicts the chance to win their freedom by playing what is essentially American Gladiators on…well, we were going to say steroids, but that seems redundant. Essentially, a contestant runs a city-sized maze populated with superhero-themed goons, each with a gimmick like a flame thrower, a jetpack, a razor-sharp hockey stick, or being an ex-Navy SEAL/pro wrestler/future governor. Enter Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character Ben Richards, a pacifist wrongly accused of butchering the innocent citizens of Bakersfield, CA. What follows is 1980’s action movie gold as Ahh-nold dispatches each boss on each level of the game, kills the show’s host, and ultimately exposes the government conspiracy behind the game. Oh, he also proves his own innocence and presumably shags Maria Conchita Alonso.
Cool Rules: There appear to be no rules during the game, but the audience gets to bet on who they think will win. If you manage to win and somehow topple the government (no easy feat), you can spend the rest of your years shooting steroids, sexually harassing women, serving as a state governor, and banging your Mexican housecleaner (who knows? Maybe she reminds you of Maria Conchita Alonso…).
Probability of dying while playing the game: Certain—even if you win! Richards learns that you can’t trust network producers at all (who would have guessed?) when he discovers a pile of charred bodies of past “winners.” So, much like Guantanamo Bay, once you get in you never get out.
Likelihood of playing the game in real life: Very low. This show would never make the airwaves, especially since the FCC had the foresight to publish the report Violent Television Programming and Its Impact on Children twelve years before The Running Man would air in real life. Good job, guys. Now go back in time and stop Mama’s Family from airing.
The Dead Pool (1988)
Director: Buddy Van Horn
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Patricia Clarkson, Liam Neeson, Jim Carrey
In a present-day, non-dystopian (but still weird and dysfunctional) San Francisco, a group of hipsters plays a sick and twisted pop culture game called The Dead Pool. Each participant makes a list of celebrities who they think might die soon. Whoever’s list is completed first wins the game. When hard-bitten SFPD inspector “Dirty” Harry Callahan reaches celebrity status after testifying against a mob boss, his name appears on a film director’s Dead Pool list, along with a drugged-out heavy metal singer. Never mind that Callahan only finds this out while investigating the singer’s mysterious death while the director is filming a video for the singer’s hit song “Welcome to the Jungle”—all that just muddies the plot up nice and good while Callahan tries to figure the shit out and shag Patricia Clarkson. Regardless of the outcome of the game and the tying up of the plot, some questions remained unanswered: What dipshit had the idea to sell Guns-n-Roses’ signature song to promote the lamest film in the Dirty Harry series? Also, since Callahan had already solved the Zodiac murders, busted up a cadre of vigilante cops, defeated the People’s Revolutionary Strike Force, and stopped Sondra Locke from shooting more dudes in the balls, why did it take him so long to become a local celebrity? What the hell does a guy have to do to become famous in San Francisco?
Cool Rules: Everybody knows that Inspector Harry Callahan plays by his own set of rules which, coincidentally, can oft times be characterized as “dirty.” That usually means Harry finds some type of over-sized weapon with which to waste the bad guys shortly after he solves the case (this time, it’s a harpoon). As for the actual game, the only cool rule is that you can throw anybody you want into your Dead Pool.
Probability of dying while playing the game: Almost non-existent. The participants are merely casual observers. Sick and twisted casual observers.
Likelihood of playing the game in real life: Pretty high. It turns out this is an actual game that sick and twisted observers of pop culture have played for years, and they were probably inspired by the concept for the film if they hadn’t heard of the game before then. If you check out stiffs.com (among other Dead Pool sites), you’ll see that the folks there have been playing since 1994.
Surviving the Game (1994)
Director: Ernest R. Dickerson
Cast: Ice-T, Rutger Hauer, Gary Busey, F. Murray Abraham, Charles S. Dutton
Chances are you remember reading “The Most Dangerous Game” as a freshman in high school—the Richard Connell story about an evil Russian general who makes sport of hunting men on his private island. Now imagine a group of zit-faced boys at a prep school so into the story that they discretely masturbated under their desks while reading it in class. Now imagine those boys all grown up with white-collar jobs, NRA memberships, and enough resources at their disposal to pluck homeless men off the streets of Seattle, WA and drop them in the woods of the Pacific Northwest for the sole purpose of hunting them. If you can imagine all that, you have this game in a nutshell. The only flaw is that the game lacks a cool name. Maybe they could have called it Kill the Poor or Stalk the Street People. Heck, since this film came out before the internet porn boom, even Bum Hunt would have worked.
Cool Rules: The only apparent rule is giving the prey a head start equal to the amount of time it takes the hunting party to finish their breakfast. Film goers learned another rule, though: Make sure the homeless man you’re hunting isn’t Ice-T. That’s right—those corporate douchebags were too busy watching their money market accounts and sabotaging Bill Clinton’s presidency to realize they were fucking with the O.G. Original Gangsta from the west coast, L.A., who had previously gone on record about his willingness to kill cops. Even if they had ten Gary Buseys in their hunting party, there was no way they could have stopped the O.G. Original Gangsta from shooting them in their muthafuckin’ faces.
Probability of dying while playing the game: Extremely high, unless you are the aforementioned O.G. Original Gangsta from the west coast, LA.
Likelihood of playing the game in real life: Low, unless you go on a hunting trip with Dick Cheney.
The Game (1997)
Director: David Fincher
Cast: Michael Douglas, Sean Penn, Deborah Kara Unger
We all know some asshole who is so focused on making money that he pretty much has no family since they dumped his miserly ass for not giving them the time and attention they deserve. Heck, most of us have someone like that in our own family. Now replace “asshole” above with Michael Douglas (Nicholas) and “family” with Sean Penn (Conrad), and consider that Conrad has given Nicholas an interesting birthday gift—the chance to participate in an alternate reality game created by Consumer Recreation Services that will change his life. Before he knows it, Nicholas becomes a part of the all-encompassing game. His bank accounts are drained and his business is in trouble. He runs away from his problems, meets a hot chick, gets drugged, and wakes up in a cemetery in Mexico. Though it sounds like the game has turned him into Hunter S. Thompson, Nicholas thinks this shit has gotten too real, and wants out. He finds out CRS doesn’t even exist, and when he tries to explain the game to marauding agents, their response is pretty much along the lines of “Game? We don’t need no stinking game!” followed by a hail of bullets. Nicholas soon realizes that he has no choice but to start a new game called “Take Hostages and Threaten to Blow Some Heads Off.” Unfortunately, that game ends with him inadvertently shooting Conrad and then jumping off a roof to kill himself. Game over, and like mom and dad always said: It’s all fun until someone commits murder / suicide.
Cool Rules: Denial! CRS initially screens and rejects Nicholas, making him think that he doesn’t qualify for the game. It’s all part of their tactics to catch the player off-guard and really get his nuts in a vice. And everybody is in on the denial, which explains why Nicholas can’t get any cooperation from the police. From a player’s perspective, there are no rules. The game encompasses your entire life, and as the “player” you can do whatever you want as it seems the company is totally prepared for any type of shit you pull, which includes murder and suicide (they ultimately prevent both courtesy of fake bullets and a well-placed air mattress).
Probability of Dying while playing the game: As a player, you think your chances of dying are pretty high, but in reality the company is always in control and your chances of dying are almost zero. However, Michael Douglas does later suffer from cancer. Coincidence?
Likelihood of playing the game in real life: That depends on how all-encompassing you like your alternate reality games. Most of us don’t have enough money to play this game, or another Michal Douglas ARG that we’ve been playing for years and like to call “shagging Catherine Zeta Jones,” but there are plenty of ARG’s available on more reasonable budgets. Check out “The 5 Most Insane Alternate Reality Games” for some crazy examples of what you have been missing because you were busy watching porn and listening to Nickelback.
I’ve mentioned before that Bo Ledman and I talk about all kinds of crazy stuff when we ride bikes in the summer. It’s not a sometimes proposition–every week when we ride from The Duck Inn to Independence Grove and back, we stumble upon some crazy tangent and end up exploring some deep angle of it. Late last summer, we somehow got to talking about fictional games characters have played on TV shows and in movies. The longer we talked, the more we came up with. Before the end of the ride, it hit me: We have an idea for an article we could submit to Cracked.com- America’s Only Humor Site.
I’ve been a follower of Cracked since its inception (and I’ve linked to it here since I moved to WordPress). They’ve evolved into a site known mostly for their pop culture lists, and more times than not after my daily fix of Cracked, I’m left thinking that somebody came up with a pretty cool idea and got me thinking about something I hadn’t really thought about before– and the renowned Cracked irreverence is always good for a laugh or two. It helps that Cracked accepts reader-generated ideas and the staff writers will even help develop those ideas into full-length, featured lists. I thought the idea Bo and I had about fictional games would be a shoe-in, and convinced him that we should go for it.
We spent a lot of time brainstorming every fictional game we could think of. I was pretty impressed with our list, which we kept on the dry-erase board here in the editorial suite of The Seeker.
Writing, though, is plagued with obstacles. I wanted to make sure that we were doing something original, and it turned out that we weren’t. I found a website where someone had created a list of fictional games similar to ours, and that pretty much torpedoed our original notion. But this is why we brainstorm as writers, and why we need to have visual representations of our thinking. I looked at our list, and started to notice entire movies that were based on certain types of fictional games. Bingo! I thought… there’s our angle: Seven Movies Based on Sadistic Fictional Games. It still echoed of our original idea, but was also tightly focused, which in my mind made it even better.
Bo and I settled on a structure, took turns writing and editing the seven different entries over the course of a few weeks last September, and pushed our idea to the folks at Cracked. As I said, I thought we’d be a shoe-in. We were insightful, funny, original, irreverent… everything Cracked goes for. I think we had the most fun imitating the Cracked style of writing, which I found librating in some ways.
Unfortunately, the folks at Cracked had different thoughts on our thoughts. The rapid feedback they provided was best summed up by the third person who looked at our idea:
7 Movies Based on Sadistic Fictional Games by Jeff Burd and Bo Ledman
If there’s one thing we all love, it’s a feel-good sports-based film, whether it’s an underdog overcoming a long shot (Rudy, Hoosiers), or a fact-based account of athletes winning out despite differences (Chariots of Fire, Remember the Titans, Miracle). Sometimes we end up with a sports-themed tear-jerker (Pride of the Yankees, Bang the Drum Slowly), and sometimes we get a riff on the sports theme and get a movie based on a game instead of an actual sport (Searching for Bobby Fisher, The Hustler). But what happens when some wise-ass writers and directors get together and subvert our beloved sport- and game-soaked culture, showing that when you break it all down, sports and games can just as frequently reflect the poorest and most depraved aspects of our society and can even be used to manipulate the masses? We thought you’d be curious about that, so we are happy to enlighten you by telling you about the following films.
The 10th Victim (La Decima Vettima) (1965)
Director: Elio Petri
Cast: Marcello Mastroianni, Ursula Andress
In a not-so-distant dystopian future, a game has been invented to supplant aggression by doing the exact opposite: Allowing certain people to be as wantonly aggressive as they need to be to win, which pretty much means you’re expected kill the shit out of the opponent. But before you get any crazy ideas, it’s not a total free-for-all—you have to be licensed for this! Once you are licensed to kill (cue James Bond music…), you are an official hunter-killer, and you are pitted against other officially licensed hunter-killers to see who kills whom. The fun comes in as a hunter-killer tries to figure out who is pursuing him and then strategizes against that person. The big money is rewarded to a hunter-killer who can survive ten rounds each as a hunter-killer and a target. The game is played in public, so kills can happen in front of people watching movies, eating at sidewalk cafés, or discretely masturbating on crowded busses.
Cool Rules: Anything goes! Mastroianni scores a kill by blowing up his target with a pair of riding boots rigged to explode when the heels are clicked together. Andress rigs her bra with a set of guns and shoots her target with her boobs (not only inspiring the Austin Powers fembots, but also striking a blow for feminists tired of men remarking about a woman’s “killer rack”).
Probability of Dying While Playing the Game: Extremely High. Duh!
Likelihood of Playing the Game in Real Life: Low, though the early rounds of American Idol would be infinitely more watchable if Fox executives found a way to mash up the rules with The 10th Victim.
Director: Norman Jewison
Cast: James Caan, John Houseman, Maud Adams
In the dystopian future of 2018, the world is dominated by mega-corporations that control everything from transportation to food. The upside is that the conservative fascist douchebags who are no doubt in control have eliminated war, having replaced it with Rollerball, a sport more asskickingly great than mixed martial arts, football, boxing, rugby, lacrosse, and quidditch combined. To compete, and to kick as much ass as possible, teams deck themselves out like members of GWAR and skate around an indoor track, a la Roller Derby, trying to possess a ball used to score points. The game is so popular that nobody seems to mind that the mega-corporations have stripped individuals of their rights and even manipulate historical records. It’s like neo-Communism all over again in a futuristic setting.
Cool Rules: In addition to being allowed to maim and/or kill the opponent, each team can use three players on motorcycles to tow team members or run over the opposition.
Probability of Dying While Playing the Game: Very High, especially if (spoiler alert!) you play for New York and face James Caan’s Houston team for the championship (unless you are the one player he spares at the end).
Likelihood of Playing the Game in Real Life: Low. Despite the ever-present threat of douchebag corporations taking over the world, a sanctioned blood sport would have little chance of securing a TV deal critical to sustaining the league and transforming it into a bloated cash cow with an untold amount of Byzantine broadcast regulations (because the NFL Network already has the corner on that market).
Happy Birthday. As I recall and have passed down before herein, it was on this day in 2008 that I claimed a place on BlogSpot to kick off The Seeker, all while sitting in my friend’s basement in Nashville, TN. That was 256 posts ago.
Most is well here at the editorial suite of The Seeker (and by “editorial suite” I mean the spare bedroom of my condo on the west side of Gurnee, IL, complete with laptop, desk, dry-erase board, and the leftover furniture from my past 3 apartments). I say “most is well” instead of “all is well” because a quick rundown of blog stats over the past year tells me that there has been a sea change in blog content. Once I got things rolling and it found an identity, which took about 4 months, I decided that The Seeker would be a metacognitive journal about writing. It was helpful at the time–The Seeker took on that voice because I was writing my thesis to graduate from the Northwestern University writing program and happened to be doing a lot of thinking about writing, and I knew that for at least the next 9 months, I would at least have something to write about. But lately, the blog has become more about baseball. Small surprise there for those of you who know me… I wrote about baseball 14 times in the past year, while I wrote about writing 11 times. A small crisis, but one worth noting since I bill this as “a metacognitive journal about writing… plus other stuff.” It just so happens that the other stuff is usually baseball.
Something else significant happened this year on The Seeker: I wrote more about my job as a teacher than I ever have before. I hemmed and hawed about that for a couple of years and settled on not writing about teaching much at all since I already spend so much energy in the act. But life drops things in your lap sometimes, and something like going on strike last January is bound to give any decent writer something to write about. All in all, I posted 8 entries about teaching in the last year, and most of them were about the strike.
New records were also set on the The Seeker this year. On June 23, a new single-day record for views was set at 57. The previous record had been 56 on August 17, 2010, which happened to be the day a private investigator went apeshit over a post in which he was featured (BTW… that content is still available if you contact me!). I was happy to see the old record for views in a single day buried in the same way I’m happy to see old trash buried. Three months ago, I posted my rant against Marvel’s The Avengers. I think it is going to be the most-viewed piece ever on The Seeker. It’s currently outpacing the post which had previously held the record for most views, which was a rumination a year and a half ago about being the proud owner of a Cade McNown jersey. The calendar year stats posted by WordPress at the end of December will probably bear this out, but in the meantime, each time I check stats on my dashboard, there have been 10-15 views of the Avengers post.
Like I said, this is entry 256 on these pages. That works out roughly to an entry every 5-6 days, which is about the same as it was last year. I guess I’m comfortable with that pace. Some other numbers of note:
– The Seeker has hosted 7 different guest bloggers, including one who has gone on to publish a book that includes original content first seen on The Seeker
– The Seeker has been viewed over 6,500 times since it moved to WordPress in the spring of 2010
– 23 people follow The Seeker
– 144 comments have been posted in response to posts on The Seeker
So what does The Seeker look like in its 5th year? I can never say for certain because it depends on what I’m writing outside of the blog and what interesting and unexpected events are happening in my life. Film is a frequent topic of discussion herein (8 posts last year), and I know with a new James Bond film coming out soon that I’ll be writing about that. I have a couple of rejected pieces of writing that I’ll be posting pretty soon (next, actually). Beyond that, who knows?
It’s been a good year on The Seeker–good enough at least for me to keep writing. I owe a debt of gratitude to all you readers, too. I can’t ever seem to say it enough: You have no idea how much you inspire me to write. Thank you, and stay tuned.