Y Marks the Spot: The Selfish Gene

Back in 1963, a comic book guy named Charles Xavier rolled around in his wheelchair and wrote the book on “differently abled.” As what his creator Stan Lee dubbed a Mutant – a blanket label with a scope ranging from chesty telepaths to five-assed monkeys – Professor X led a crusade for equality that was unprecedented in comic book history. Lee’s intention in this landmark title was to mirror the current struggles of the Civil Rights Movement, with Xavier filling the role of Martin Luther King Jr. and his friend and nemesis Magneto playing the reactionary side of Malcolm X. Throughout its history, through its great and not-so-great story arcs, the mutants have held a unique status of being dyed in the wool heroes who don’t quite get along with those they protect. (An argument could be made for Batman being the forerunner of outcast heroes, but then again, why is he in the Justice League – and why was he played by Adam West?) As opposed to the cheers heard at the end of most Golden Age comics, the X-men are as often as not pelted with bottles and run out of town by mobs and killer robots. The obvious reason why is because they’re different, other, freaks.

This ongoing theme of bigotry and nobility in spite of it has resonated with the public, and has made the X-men one of the top comic franchises in history, and for good reason. But there has always been a problem with the series, one which has grown more obvious in recent years as storylines in the Marvel Universe have grown more Orwellian.

Let’s start at the beginning. Our pal Chuck operates his team of young superheroes within the veneer of an academy for “Gifted Youngsters.” Now, we all know what gifted means in this case; Chuck’s running a safe haven for mutants, where they can feel safe and learn to control their powers, when they’re not rising (en masse, it seems) to save the world and make it more tolerant. Much is made of Xavier’s King-like dream of peace between mutants and non-mutants.

So here’s the problem. Why doesn’t Chuck teach non-mutants? In reality, any norms who show up on campus are, here, the freaks.  You’d think that making a mutant school open to non-mutants would be a significant step toward unity and reconciliation. Nope. Instead, this school is insular and, ultimately, a defensive construct. With all the bastards trying to kill Chuckie and the Gang, walling up like this is partially justified. Nonetheless, making a school that preaches tolerance mutants-only throws the baby out with the bathwater, denies normies the opportunity to mingle with the freaks and realize that they’re not all that bad. Wasn’t integration a crucial aspect of the Civil Rights Movement? The X-men could have faced a George Wallace-like villain who stood in front of the X-Mansion, refusing to let non-mutants in. Would have been a blast.

I’ll give you a nerd catch-up on the present. In recent storylines, the mutants have suffered mass genocide at the hands of giant robots, after which the not quite dead Magneto became a Che Guevara t-shirt. His daughter went crazy, created an alternate Happyland where Magneto rules, but then all-but erased mutants, leaving less than 200 on the planet. It’s here where the X-men (who, of course, emerge unscathed) become their most insular and paranoid, dropping almost all greater altruism in favor of keeping the laser beam dodo alive. The team’s heroism becomes more narrow and embattled, focused solely upon events’ effects upon its own people. While this isn’t totally out of line, there’s more than a little persecution complex bigotry here, which ruins the original dream of peace and harmony.

This is a problem caused by the taking of sides, of tribalism, of a social Selfish Gene Theory.

The saying which comes to mind in explaining this is, appropriately enough, an Arab proverb: “Me against my brother, my brother and I against our cousin, and my brother, cousin, and I against the stranger.” As humans following (mostly invented) differences, each person finds their cultural niche, their side, which fulfills both the need to belong and the need to have enemies. The person as individual and the urge for self-preservation are obscured and replaced with delusions of serving the greater good, turning saints into monsters and martyrs.

We’re seeing this play out in Gaza, where Israel and Palestine are abusing eons of history to mandate their current savagery against each other. We’ve seen it play out in our politics, where the two-party system has created an either/or, top/down mentality. We see it in the selective acknowledgment of atrocities perpetuated throughout the globe. We see it in the absurdity of asserting that an all-loving God would have a chosen people. We see it every time someone brings any form of social category into play. A friend and I once agreed that, should the current forms of bigotry someday come to an end, humans will simply move on to hating each other based on what entertainment one consumes.

A life defined by social categories and mass-market ideals is one lacking in vitality. It’s alright to be selfish; self is critical, original, the vendor of hope. Bratty entitlement and greed are different, equally as dangerous as factioning. But each life is lived alone. In this, the only sides that matter are inside and outside. The balance between determines everything.

Y Spy: Less than Jake goes to TV Land

TV/EP

On their latest release, veteran ska punk band Less than Jake has taken an amusingly odd turn.  As a title like “TV/EP” may indicate, this is a covers collection of 16 theme songs and commercial jingles, few longer than one minute, reformed into the Less than Jake style.  It works out really well.

Trombone and bass player Buddy Schaub described Less than Jake’s newest offering as in keeping with the band’s tendency to veer off into strange territory.  In our conversation, he noted other precedent-setting ventures from the band, including the Travolta-channeling ‘Greased’ EP, which would make an album like TV/EP feel inevitable, yet great fun nonetheless.


Y Spy: TV/EP is a brilliant idea.  What led you to make it?

Buddy Schaub: Back in our early days, we used to cover [the theme songs of] Laverne & Shirley and Happy Days.  We used to do that live at shows and at some point we recorded a few of them.  They were thrown together and half-assed, so for the last few years we had been talking about really doing it for real.  The idea kept escalating, and eventually it came to be what it is now.

The idea kind of came from how you can get those CDs that are all TV show themes.  I’m pretty sure that some other band has done this, but we tried to do a completist ideal.  The concept was like you were sitting on a couch in front of a TV, changing channels.  If you go to our website, we put a continuous stream of the commercials and TV shows that go with each song.  I actually did the video myself.  Having the videos go with the music was the culmination, the truest form of what the idea was.  It’s definitely more of a complete picture, and there’s a little teeny clip of us I snuck in there.

Y Spy: Why did you choose the particular themes and jingles that are on the album?

Buddy Schaub: I don’t know.  Laverne & Shirley we had done before, so we wanted to give that a fair shake.  That was one of the first ones, and while we were practicing we’d brainstorm ideas.  JR stays at my house when we’re doing stuff, and Chris came over a few times and we were going through YouTube videos.  Once you Google one old 80s commercial, 65 of them come up and you keep going through.  We picked songs that we thought we could pull off, stuff that was a bit of a variety and wasn’t all one time period.  Yet there wasn’t a completely methodical plan to how it went.

Y Spy: Was the making of the album a quick process?  There are a lot of tracks on TV/EP, but they’re all really short.

Buddy Schaub: It actually came together really fast.  I thought it was gonna take a little longer than it did.  Once we had taken what we were gonna do we worked it out at the Warehouse a little bit.  At a certain point we just started recording them.  We did it all at Roger’s house.  Once we got the drums down and started putting down the basic tracks it was really easy to start layering the other stuff.  You don’t have to worry about writing lyrics because they’re already there.

It was a great experience because the songs are short and the commercials are even shorter.  But they pack so much songwriting into that little bit of time.  There are crazy harmonies, still a verse chorus verse, a bridge sometimes.  They still manage to pack a full song into a minute, so it was really cool to get into the head space of people that write jingles and TV show themes.

Y Spy: Are you going to be playing these songs live?

Buddy Schaub: We’ve been doing a bunch of weekend shows and throwing them in there.  We’re not going to do the whole album or anything, but we’ve been playing four or five of the songs.

Y Spy: One of the great things about this album is that you’re not taking yourselves too seriously as musicians, and you’re just having fun.  Was the intention to get out of your usual mindset and do something a bit sillier?

Buddy Schaub: Yeah.  We were getting ready to write some new stuff, and we hadn’t done it in a while, and we thought it was a good way to get back into the swing of things.  We still had to do some sort of writing for this and make the songs our own.  It was a good warmup.

Y Spy: You’ve announced a new U.S. tour.  What are its details?

Buddy Schaub: We’re coming back in January after going to Japan and Europe.  It’s starting mid-January, we end somewhere in California in February, and we fly over to Australia to do the Soundwave Festival. It’s pretty much all over the U.S., and it’s with two bands called the Supervillains and Off with Their Heads.  We’re still figuring that out.

Y Spy: Are you preparing a full album?

Buddy Schaub: We’re definitely writing songs.  I’m not sure exactly what we’re going to do with them yet.  We’ve already got ten shelves of songs that we got done before this onslaught of touring that we’re getting ready to start up.  After we come back in January, we’re gonna either try to finish demoing out some of the ideas or see how far we can get with them.  I’m not sure what our plans are yet, but there will be new material.  Hopefully you’ll be hearing original music from us in the upcoming year.  Never fear!  There’s always new stuff to be written!

TV/EP is available now.  More information can be found at www.lessthanjake.com.

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Mega Shark versus Giant Octopus

 

Fight!

 

Movie: Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus (2009)

Director: Ace Hannah

Starring: Deborah Gibson, Vic Chao, Lorenzo Lamas

Written by: Ace Hannah

The thing I don’t like about any of the Monster versus Monster films that have popped up over the past decade is that the ending is almost invariably the same.  Some dick humans are going to get caught up in the film’s epic conflict and somehow, improbably, they’re going to come out on top.  Even if they don’t take out the combatants outright, enough innocent bystanders are going to escape the arena.  It’s the same problem I have with the shitty new Transformers movies: human beings should have no place in the plots of what are essentially gladiator films.  At best, Johnny Human should be a shocked bystander; more often, he should be cannon fodder.

Thus, while I was easily excited by the prospects of a film with such an awesome title like Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus, I knew that some shaved ape jackoffs would inevitably stick their noses into this epic aquatic combat.  I was not disappointed.  Yet having ex-teen pop star Debbie Gibson in the title role provided an interesting way for the humans to triumph.  After all, what better way to defeat underwater monstrosities than by unleashing the Electric Youth?

 

Instead, she breaks out the White Lightning.

 

Sadly, this film does not heed by my punny strategies.  Instead, Commodore Gibson must combat the menaces at the behest of Lorenzo Lamas, the Steven Seagal of television.  Lamas plays a dickhead government functionary who forcibly recruits Gibson, her Irish mentor, and her soon to be Japanese lover (soon to be her lover, I mean, not imminently Japanese), into war against the monsters.  While her boyfriend joins his countrymen to combat the Octopus, Gibson, Lamas, and the teach board the USS Electric Youth – captained by a guy who looks disturbingly like the great Chris Penn – to go after Mr. Shark.  The humans lead the beasts into each other’s presence, and a nautical argument which might have resolved peacefully goes sour.

 

What Would Captain Chris Penn Do?

 

This movie is a titan of bad CG and absurdity, but there are two scenes which deserve special praise.  The first comes after the opening credits, which takes a panoramic view of mountains and helicopters, two places traditionally safe from sharks and octopi (in theory).  In her stolen minisub, Commodore Gibson is shown in certain shots typing with a left hand bearing black nail polish, while her right hand, in a different angle, features clear nails.  A naval code, perhaps?  Yet when her right hand is shown typing, it also has black nail polish!  Durr.

But the greatest thing in this movie?  The scene in which THE SHARK LEAPS OUT OF THE OCEAN AND DESTROYS AN AIRPLANE.

 

Jesus Fucking Christ.

 

They’re making a sequel, and Urkel’s in it.  I’m not joking.

* * *

[As a bonus, here's how things would have really gone down.]

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