Monday, January 11, 2010

Learning to Fly

It's been a long time since I've done a post that was political in nature. the thing is, I feel compelled to articulate my anger about the TSA's new insistence that they use full body scanners at airports.

My issue with them is not a modesty issue. I am very open about my body and have no problem with nudity. In fact, I think more people should see my penis -- if nothing but for the general good. I grew up in a family where nudity was commonplace and we all still pee and shit with the door open. I was raised to never be ashamed of my body and I'm not... even though I should be because it has gotten horribly doughy and scarred as of late.

But the issue here is - only tangentially - about nudity.

I understand people who are less open like myself having a problem with this. And I don't begrudge them that. In a free society, we should not have to submit ourselves to strip searches.

My largest issue though, has to do with my general distrust and cynicism when it comes to what the government is telling me. Shit just doesn't add up.

The TSA and Homeland Security are making a point of stressing that the scans are not saved or printed and they are done away with as soon as they are done. There is also supposed to be software that obscures the face of the individuals. I'd like to address these two points individually.

First - the idea of saved images... The TSA has gone to great lengths to stress that there is no way that these images can be saved or printed for later exploitation or shenanigans. They allegedly scan you, review them, and delete them. If you believe this, you are collossally stupid. Simple logic would dictate that, the TSA - as a de facto law enforcement organization (they claim they're not, but they well and truly have arrest powers and legal authority far exceeding most federal law enforcement officers)- needs to maintain a chain of evidence. If, for instance, the Mad Arab Abdul Alhazrad walks into Hopkins airport with a bomb strapped to one leg and a copy of The Necronomicon strapped to his gootch, I can guaran-fucking-tee you that - after they dogpile him and drag him off to jail - they're going to need to prove in a court of law why they beat him like a shithouse rat in a burlap bag.

The data and picture has to go somewhere. It's not anti-government paranoia to believe that they're not storing this info somewhere. It's data, and the government loves data.*

Remember that the next time your girlfriend, wife, grandmother, or 8 year old kid get forced through one of these. The assertion that the data is gone, never to be seen again, is a bald-faced fucking lie.

The second point regarding the software that obscures facial features? That's cool... but a simple Google search has found that non-US airports have not implemented these fancy-schmancy new scanners for three reasons: 1) They're butt-ass expensive, and 2)they are not willing to submit their citizens to invasive virtual strip searches, and 3)There isn't software available yet to obscure the identity of those passing through it..

Waitaminute! Heathrow can't obscure the faces, but the TSA can? Who's lying here? Oh wait! We're America! We have Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. I'm sure we just had them write up a proprietary code for just OUR scanners. That's it, I'm sure the government would never lie to us to serve its own purposes.

The simple fact is that the TSA is lying to us and we should not tolerate it. There are those who will argue that a simple scan like this is the price we pay to ensure we don't die a horrible fiery death because some moron with a religious deathwish decided to get his little corner of paradise. They'll argue that we should stop being so uptight. They'll even argue that it's perfectly acceptable to have some unseen person in a room somewhere look at pictures of your naked kid.

And they'd all be fucking wrong.

The simple truth is, to say that TSA's history as far as civil liberty is poor is a gross understatement. They have too much power and are guilty of gross violations of civil rights. The no-fly list is a political blacklist that Joe McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover would have salivated over.

I say that to justify this gross invasion of privacy and to believe the lies the government is telling you would be irresponsible at best, and willfully negligent at worst.

One final point, what sort of testing has been done to determine the levels of radiation these machines are blasting you with? As a cancer survivor, I find it horrifying that - outside of a necessary medical need - the government wants you to submit to a test that has the potential to cause damage to you at a cellular level. X-Rays cause pyrimidine dimers and replication errors to your DNA. This can lead to, among other things, cancer.

I frequently travel for work and have to endure the invasiveness of TSA policy every time. That said, I will NOT be submitting myself to these tests. It's a matter of principal. The argument that we are safer when we sacrifice our civil liberties and dignity is contrary to what makes us a free society, and, truthfully, the rhetoric I've heard from TSA and Homeland security is more in line with what I'd expect to hear from King George Bush the II's reign of idiocy; not that of our current administration.

But those disappointments are the topic of another post...

One final point: The worst part of all of this is the fact that Homeland Security and the TSA are using one underwear bomb as an excuse to implement the machines and further erode our civil liberties.... something they've wanted to do since last year and, now, they're capitalizing on this incident to push it past us. They are arguing that anyone who believes that full body scans are a violation of privacy (and - very validly - a violation of child pornography laws!)merely represents the screamings of a very vocal, but minor, lunatic fringe who doesn't understand the monumental help these scanners represent in the WAR ON TERROR!


* - (Edited to Add: I began writing this on Friday 1/8. This morning, this piece was published by CNN. My only comment is that I am vindicated on some of the points I've made. That is all.)

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Movie Review - The Haunted World of El Superbeasto (2009)

Rob Zombie’s movie efforts have truly been hit or miss. After the mental rape that was his remake of John Carpenter’s Halloween brilliance, I’ve begun to think that maybe House of 1000 Corpses and Devil’s Rejects was an aberration.

I just finished watching his cartoon, The Haunted World of El Superbeasto and I’m conflicted how I feel about it. I’ll get to that in a moment, but first I’ll give you an idea of what it’s about.

El Superbeasto takes place in Monsterland, a fantasy place created by Rob Zombie during his foray into comics. The move from comics to a cartoon seemed the next logical step, and far be it from Rob to pass up a chance to expand his empire (and provide yet another opportunity to let his wife think she’s got some talent.) El Superbeasto follows the adventures of the titular character, a washed up superhero/luchador whose ego is as big as his schlong. He’s a porno producer and, after a night of debauchery devolves into a monster attack, he does what any guy would do – he totters off to the strip club to pick up more easy women.

While there, El Superbeasto (voiced by Tom Papa) meets and falls in love with Velvet Von Black (who is voiced with deliciously profane gusto by one of Dr. Z’s favorite and lust-inducing actresses – Rosario Dawson). Before he can put the moves on her, though, she is kidnapped by Otto – the gorilla sidekick of Dr. Satan (Paul Giamatti). Dr. Satan needs Velvet Von Black (and the 666 birthmark on her ample, curvy ass) to fulfill his destiny and destroy the world. El Superbeasto decides to save her because he really has to have sex with her, so he enlists the help of his superhero step-sister, Suzi-X and her perpetually horny robot sidekick, Murray the Robot.

The plot devolves into absurdity and is the weakest part of this whole sordid affair. Does it really matter what happens?

What’s important here is that this cartoon is not Bugs Bunny and most definitely something to watch when the kids are around. It is profane, raunchy, and filled with more animated tits and nipples than anything this side of the average Japanese, hentai, tentacle rape anime.

And this is where the conflict occurs for me. I love the concept. Monsterland is filled with all of the Halloween trappings and characters that Doctor Zombie so loves. It’s like an Eric Pigors love fest. Ever major horror franchise and icon is referenced and it is good. (Ironically, there is a scene where El Superbeasto hits Michael Meyers with his car, killing him. I’m sure it was meant to be a cool nod to Rob’s involvement in his aborted attempts at Halloween, but all I could think was that maybe Rob was acknowledging the hit and run job he did on those movies. I could only hope that he has that level of self-awareness. But I doubt it. ) The animation is beautiful. It has the feel of the old Ren and Stimpy cartoons, but with a significantly higher quality that is beautiful to look at.

It had ghouls, demons, vampires, Nazi zombies, werewolves, hot rods and all the things that are guaranteed to make Doctor Z. shiver with ecstasy.

But the story and writing were terrible.

This, I think, is Rob’s fatal weakness when it’s come to his forays onto the silver screen. The humor and dialogue were meant to be edgy and crass and completely over the top. You almost feel that Rob was shooting for an anarchist’s response to the pressure to tame his other movies by going completely the other way. Instead, one is left with the feeling that a couple of immature twelve year olds who just cracked the profanity technology got a hold of a camera and discovered that they could say “Shit”, “Fuck”, and “Pussy” on YouTube. A lot. Like every other word. Like, when you’re at a loss for something to say, say a profanity, because that’s funny.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not offended by the profanity. Doctor Z. is an adult and I LOVE to fucking swear. But when it doesn’t help the story or is done simply because… it becomes uninteresting.

That said, there is some funny dialogue here and there. Everything that Rosario Dawson says is hilarious. And that’s what saves Rob’s poor script… the voice casting.

Rob has made a cottage industry out of employing his friends in every movie he does. There’s entire groups of actors out there who are making money solely because of Rob Zombie. And they’re all here --Brian Posehn , Sid Haig, Danny Trejo, Clint Howard, Dee Wallace, Bill Moseley, and even the epitome of nepotism – Rob’s wife, Sherri Moon Zombie.

Add into this some of the greatest voice actors out there today (including SpongeBob Squarepants hisself – Tom Kenny) and you have a cast that raises the inadequacies of the poor story to a level that makes it worth watching. I’ve already mentioned how brilliant Rosario Dawson was. The rest of the cast are incredible. Not being a fan of Tom Papa’s comedy – I was surprised at how well his voice matched the swagger and bravado that El Superbeasto embodied. Paul Giamatti is at his best when he’s being a bad guy, and he made Dr. Satan believable and awesome in his evilness.

In fact, and it really, really pains me to say this, even Sherri Moon Zombie did a great job. Her squeaky annoying voice was not so squeaky or annoying and - I think – this medium may be better suited to her negligible talents. What I’m saying is, she has a cartoon voice – and it works in cartoons. So there’s that.

Finally, we come to the score. Rob’s go-to music guy is Tyler Bates, and he wrote a variety of songs that were as expletive-laced as the rest of this outing. Every major character has a theme song, and the songs themselves are not anything brilliant (songs like this have been done before, and better, by the likes of Trey Parker and Danny Elfman) but there is some good here. When the soundtrack’s not singing about genitalia and variations on the word ‘fuck’, there are some high points. One of those high points is in the Nazi zombie theme. A surf punk sound, the song has an earworm effect that’s not wholly unpleasant. Also, during a cat fight scene between Velvet Von Black and Suzi-X where the end up all nekkid – the lyrics of the accompanying song assure us that “It’s okay to beat off to cartoons, the Japanese do it all the time. So beat off for America.”

That’s fucking funny.

Although, a quick perusal of the internet shows that there’s no actual soundtrack out there, I don’t think I’d buy it anyway. It’s not good enough for frequent listening and – truthfully – I’d have to hide the cd in my Jeep with my Tenacious D cd’s – where they too would never get listened to because my kids are always in the car.

So, overall, how did I rate Rob Zombie’s Haunted World of El Superbeasto? I actually rate it pretty high. It’s not high art, and it’s definitely not horror… but the horror references were gratifying and the voice actors made it a good time. The animation was top notch and – on subsequent viewings – I’m sure that I’ll see other things that will please me. In fact, when considering the totality of Rob Zombie’s oeuvre, and to be honest with myself and you, dear reader; I would place this film on equal footing with House of a 1000 corpses and The Devil’s Rejects. Which is light years past the Halloween attempts. Is it worth it to buy it? Absolutely.

So that’s good right?