Monday, September 29, 2008

Newman's Own Legacy

Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, Orville Redenbacher, Paul Newman? ... It's been a few days since Paul Newman's death, and it occurs to me, I'm 30, and I really only know Paul Newman through movie roles I've made a point of going back to look at—Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Long Hot Summer, Cool Hand Luke, The Towering Inferno. Yes, he has done some modern projects, but his contemporary fame is no competition for the A-List status he once held in Hollywood. So I wonder if people 10 years younger than me and beyond will come to know Newman primarily from his branded image on his product packaging. His cartoony, smiley face—a caricature of the genius he was.

Newman began the food products company—Newman's Own—to promote charitable giving. He called it "shameless exploitation in the pursuit of the common good." One can assume he meant exploitation of his own celebrity image and endorsement.

It will be interesting to see if that image becomes his enduring legacy for generations to come ... or if his outstanding body of film work is enough to outshine the pasta sauce and dog treats people see every day in the grocery store.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Bookstore Fail

Another good one from Failblog, one of my favorite sites for killing time.

fail owned pwned pictures
see more pwn and owned pictures

Thursday, September 25, 2008

British Comedian Stewart Lee

A clip from the very funny and very cerebral British comedian Stewart Lee.

Near the 6 minute mark, he discusses a controversy that has been created by a British columnist who thinks newspapers there are being too politically correct. Apparently, they have a habit, when a teenage prostitute dies, of writing that she was a "woman who worked as a prostitute," instead of simply saying she was a "prostitute." One can imagine, they are trying to do the young ladies and their surviving families the dignity of not identifying them solely by their sad profession. But it's just too much for this particular columnist.

The rest of the clip is fun, too :)

Q&A with an obituary writer

A fascinating Q&A with Bruce Weber, an obituary writer at The New York Times. He addresses issues like handling controversy in obits, writing advance obituaries, what questions are hardest to ask surviving family members, and who gets "the verb." (In The New York Times, only one obit per page receives a verb in the headline. That obit is considered the most important. It's another way to rank people by class and stature even after their lives are over. The Times loves systems of power and influence, especially when they're in charge.) Well worth at least a quick skim.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Goth will never die


The very word conjures up images of black, dark, heavy fabrics; pale skin; intentionally depressing music—it's a word associated with willful rebellion. Regardless of its roots in early Germanic tribes and Medieval architecture/design—or maybe because of them— the term has now become the ultimate static force in rebellion.

At the same time, Goth also connotes high glamour, Victorian elegance in a way that we don't normally indulge in today. Gothic fashion often involves full, flowing gowns, top hats, waistcoasts—elements long forgotten in most modern wardrobes.

It's not surprising that this combination of rebellion and style draws a steady stream of subculture participants.

But maybe it also pulls part of the mainstream culture, at least in an insincere, inauthentic way. Once a year, around Halloween, the whole world seems to get drawn into Goth culture a bit. And I fully expect it to be insulting to a movement that aligns itself with anti-commercialism and creativity over consumerism to find itself commercialized because of a cheesy holiday.

But nevertheless, I wanted to share these images from Pottery Barn.

I expect a little death in Halloween decorations ... but the tags are coffins that say "RIP" and the skull is literally being served up on a plate. Everything is slick and black, or in sequined, silvery relief. So over-the-top for a mall store. I was a little taken aback. It's all very Goth, both in the sense of being, dark, black, and rebellious ... and also in the sense of being high-glamour and bordering on Victorian.

But at the same time, it was so death-centric, it was a little disturbing.

As the toddler who entered the store as I was leaving said "It's Halloween. That's why it's decorated like death."

Friday, September 19, 2008

ghosts have unfinished business

Why is it, that no matter whether the depiction is serious or light-hearted, every time we see a story about ghosts, the assumption is that they're hanging around because they have some unfinished business to take care of?

Here's a preview from Ricky Gervais' new film Ghost Town.

And here's from the classic horror film The Sixth Sense.

Why can't ghosts ever just be here because they're here? And where do these movies assume they go once the business is done? With all the mystery surrounding afterlife and whether ghosts even exists, it's interesting that everyone is so certain the storyline purpose of a ghost is unfinished business.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Disease and Beauty

Earlier this week, Lynn Kohlman passed away. Kohlman was a muse, model, photographer, and sometimes fashion designer. She had a long-time friendship with designer Donna Karan, headed up the DKNY brand when it first began and was one of the original creative minds behind Tommy Hilfiger's success.

She died of brain cancer, a disease she had battled for several years. Before that, she also faced breast cancer, which was treated with a double mastectomy. In 2005, Kohlman published a book called Lynn Front to Back. Most notably, the book addresses learning to live with life-threatening illness.

At the beginning of the book, there are photos honestly showing Kohlman's appearance before and after her cancer surgeries—staples in her head and all. According to her obituary in the New York Times, she wanted to show that her body was more beautiful than ever.

I love the strength and presence it took to embrace the beauty of her new, post-illness body. It's difficult to accept a new identity after diagnosis of an illness. I can't imagine being a model who has to come to terms with a mastectomy and staples across the head. The strength she exhibited is something to celebrate.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Death is the road to awe

A poetic line from lovely film I watched last night called The Fountain, with Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz. The movie deals with death and what comes after. It suggests we should embrace death as a chance to learn and experience, rather than fearing it.

In a way, learning not to fear death is the ultimate journey to learning to have joy in life. I think that's the message of this film ... and I think that's, on one level, what this line "Death is the road to awe" is saying. And indeed, once the main character of this film learns to embrace death, he reaches a different plain of reality and enlightenment. (I know I'm making it sound peagan and freaky, but it really is beautiful.)

Joseph Campbell teases this message out of the riddle of the Sphinx from Oedipus. The riddle says "What is it that walks on four legs, then on two legs, and then on three?" The answer, of course, as Oedipus deduces, is man. Four legs as a crawling child; two legs as an adult; three legs as an old man with a cane.

Campbell tells us "The riddle of the Sphinx is the image of life itself through time—childhood, maturity, age, and death. When without fear you have faced and accepted the riddle of the Sphinx, death has no further hold on you ... The conquest of the fear of death is the recovery of life's joy. One can experience an unconditional affirmation of life only when one has accepted death, not as contrary to life but as an aspect of life."

The Fountain, in a way, is a visual representation of coming to terms with the Sphinx's riddle. There's nothing to fear in the inevitability of death, and once that is realized, the real beauty of life opens up.

Monday, September 15, 2008

David Foster Wallace, 1962–2008

I'm too profoundly sad to write my own comments on the suicide of David Foster Wallace today, but here are some lovely words from Laura Miller at

"Perhaps someday we'll be offered an explanation for why David Foster Wallace took his life on Sept. 12, but any reader can see how his fiction had, in recent years, moved into greater darkness. ...

Every author wants to sell books, to please his or her publisher, to reap critical accolades and to bask in the admiration of colleagues, and Wallace did want those things, at the same time that he was more than a little embarrassed by such desires and acutely aware of the fact that none of it could make him happy. However, all great writers -- and I have no doubt that he was one -- have a preeminent purpose: to tell the truth. David Foster Wallace's particular vocation was to allow us to see just how fraught and complicated, how difficult yet how necessary, that telling had become -- not just for him, but for all of us. What will we do without him?"

And the full piece is here.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Letting Go and Not Letting Go

My grandmother still has my deceased grandfather's voice on her answering machine. So, when you call her house, if no one is home, it's grandpa who tells you that you can expect a call back, even though he's been dead for nearly a year. It's completely disturbing and sad to everyone who calls. But grandma can't seem to let go of this particular concrete reminder of him. Which I guess I can understand. I have a nice voicemail from my boyfriend saved on my cellphone. It's not public, and other people do not have to listen to it. But is it really that different?

Friday, September 5, 2008

Microsoft Seinfeld Ad: Where's the Branding.

Today brings the relase of the much hyped Microsoft ad with Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates ... and it's terrible. First of all, it's not funny. It's embarrassing. Who came up with the idea of Bill Gates adjusting his shorts? And Seinfeld went along with that? Isn't he supposed to know comedy? Can we say sellout?

Secondly, and more notably, there's no branding. If you watch one of the ads from the competing Apple comercials, they are hipper and wittier, but they are also spot-on brand message.

Take this one for example. The "Mac" is dressed in jeans vs. the "PC" in a suit. That says macs are casual, not stuffy and strictly for the corporate world; it says students use them, artists use them, casual offices use them. The "Mac" is a little bit younger and a little bit more stylish. And then there's the more blatant message of Macs not needing to be restarted as frequently as PCs. It's a clever ad, and it's on brand.

I'm not sure what Microsoft was even going for in their ad. It seems like they just blindly stumbled into the realm of humor to soften the edges of the way consumers perceive them. But it doesn't work for me.

Stolen Summer

Took a jog around Greenlake with B. last night. After a mostly cold and wet August, we've finally got some summer weather back in Seattle. It was clear, sunny, and 70 degrees—and it felt good to stretch my legs into athletic activity outdoors, engaging in autonomous camaraderie with dozens of happy people, happy simply because that big orange orb had come back out. That's how we are in Seattle. Give us the sun, and we've got the joy!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Quick Update on Accidental Death Stats

About three weeks ago, I posted about the top three causes of accidental death:
1. car crashes
2. poisonings
3. falling

The information comes from Amanda Ripley's awesome book, The Unthinkable. Well, car crashes are pretty obvious and self-explanatory.

But one of my commentors asked for more information about how people would die by poisoning or falling—does poisoning include drug overdoses; does falling include when the elderly fall and suffer brain injuries, etc. Great questions.

I can't find exactly the information I'm looking for, but I am still searching. However, I did find this piece from the Washington Times, about two years ago, that announces accidental falls are the leading cause of death for people over 65. The information comes from a study by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. I think this is a good indicator for why the statistics show falls as such a high cause of accidental death.

Regarding poisonings, I found some sources online that I don't think are solid enough to rely upon, but they suggest the poisonings do include drug overdoses. Logically, oI think it must; otherwise, where could so many poisonings be coming from? But I'd like to find a good source.