Brief Movie Synopsis

Based on the trailer I saw, there’s a movie out with the premise, “A hydrogen bomb didn’t kill this thing, so we’re sending in a badass dude with a machine gun.”

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Another Reason Mexican Television is Awesome

I’m in a local cantina and on the TV there’s some sort of quiz show happening. When the contestants get the answer wrong they get a pie in the face. When they get it right, they get a generous shot of tequila.

“Tequila!” the teammates of the most recent correct answer shouted in unison. Good times.

Steroids in Entertainment

There’s been a lot of talk in the last few years about the use of performance-enhancing drugs, and steroids in particular, in sports. But while two of the major sports in the US get most of the attention, what is carefully NOT said is that steroids permeate the entertainment industry.

This entire episode is really an aside for a thought I was developing a while back: Superman does ‘roids. As steroid abuse became prevalent in sports, we the couch potatoes began to form an entirely different idea of what ‘ripped’ was, and the bodies of superheroes naturally had to live up to that ideal. Our heroes, even the fictitious ones from other planets, have been sporting ever-more-sculpted bodies, keeping up with Schwarzenegger and Ferrigno and all the other ‘roided-up bodybuilders of the ’70’s.

Today, while sports-related PED use gets all the press, other branches of the entertainment industry are desperately clinging to a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The entertainment press has no interest in exposing steroid use among actors; infidelity and coke are mainstays of scandal but let’s not talk about how Actor X got so buff for his last movie. Scandal sells, but only the sort of scandal that perpetuates the Hollywood Myth. In a land of smoke and mirrors, only the smoke and mirrors are sacred.

That’s not to say that the sports franchises have come clean.

This is where the picture of Elmer Fudd sitting on a powder keg, fuse almost burned away, with his fingers in his ears and his eyes shut tight would be if it were legal for me to put an image like that here, and/or if my searches for such an image had borne fruit.

Take the NBA, for example. The leadership of the league will tell you that steroids are not a problem in their league. This isn’t based on any sort of science, or on a rigorous testing policy (testing in the NBA is a joke), but rather on the assertion that steroids don’t enhance the type of activities that basketball players do.

Um… say what?

Let’s imagine for a moment that we could jump in a time machine and go back to the ’80’s, and have a chat with one of the greatest basketball players ever to have donned a pair of sneakers. We know Michael Jordan is motivated by winning and pretty much nothing else. So let’s imagine what his answer would be if we told him, “there’s a chemical you can take that will allow you to jump a tiny bit higher, last a little longer on the court, and to recover more quickly from the inevitable sprains and bruises that are part of your game. It’s not exactly within the rules of the game, but you definitely won’t get caught.”

Michael Jordan had that choice. Knowing how driven he is to win, which choice would surprise you more, that he did or did not use steroids?

What a potential nightmare for the NBA.

I have to assume that the use of PED’s is also rampant in hockey. Since an individual star has the least impact in hockey compared to the bigger three sports, the does-he-or-doesn’t-he discussions are less common. A hockey player could juice up until he turned into a minotaur and commenters would say “that line has had some great shifts lately.” Over 82 games the performance boost would be measurable, but wouldn’t stand out so flagrantly. So I think it’s safe to assume that ‘roids are in use, even though no one talks about it.

Then there’s the sport-like entertainment product brought to us by the WWE, called, euphemistically, “wrestling”. You want to see what max-boost steroid use will do to a human? Look no further. Image is what they sell. Back in the day some of the biggest names in the ring were also big tubs of goo. Strong men, and passable actors, but hardly ripped. Now, take a moment to look at the headliners for the next WWE event. Pretty crazy, right? Everyone knows these guys do steroids. As long as no one talks about it too loudly, all parties are allowed to let things continue this way.

So why are we OK with these guys using steroids, but not the athletes in ‘real’ sports? The generally agreed upon reason to ban these drugs is to protect the health of athletes. But is the health of a baseball player inherently more valuable than the health of a pro wrestler? If health were the real reason, then outrage would be consistent across the entertainment industry.

And, you know? I can get therapies for my sore knee that professional athletes can’t. Does that make sense?

If not health, then what is the reason? Is it fairness? I think mostly yes. As the system stands, people willing to break the rules have an advantage over those who behave ethically. Particularly in my favorite country, the United States, that rankles. It sure bothers me. So ‘real’ sports, where there’s actual competition, try with varying levels of success to catch the cheaters.

Unless you consider the NBA a real sport. (It’s borderline for me.) There’s really not much effort to enforce their drug policy. They do have random testing, sure, but they can only test a player four times each year. After the fourth test, a player is off to the races. Even before that, the tests are easy to beat.

Interestingly, this continued state of denial, of not doing anything meaningful to police the use of performance-enhancing drugs, puts the NBA in a position to bring about meaningful change. Were I king of that league, I’d pass the following edict: People pay to see the top performers in our sport. We will provide that product. To maintain fairness, we’ll allow all athletes in our league to take whatever PED’s are legal in this land, and we’ll even provide responsible medical supervision.

Bickety-bam, prohibition is over. And while there will still be cheaters who do unhealthy amounts of performance-enhancing drugs, the advantage they gain by doing so will be diminished. And when your favorite athlete comes back from an injury more quickly, everyone wins. Seriously, how can it be a bad thing when someone gets well more quickly? There are some big-name athletes with shadows over them because of ‘miraculous recoveries’. They must have cheated, right? What kind of messed-up system makes recovering from an injury too quickly a bad thing?

So let’s put on our Goggles of Reasonableness and question the assumptions behind the prohibition of performance-enhancing drugs in sports. And while we’re at it, lets recognize a simple truth: We want to watch enhanced performers.

A Worthy Subplot in a Cop Show

There are a lot of cop shows on TV these days. Also a bunch of lawyer shows, which are hard to tell from the cop shows. All about bringing bad guys to justice. In these shows, it would be terribly inconvenient if the suspect du jour asked for a lawyer rather than confessing. It would be even more inconvenient if the police had to follow rules of evidence or even get a warrant to search a place.

A pithy phrase that I didn’t make up but don’t know where I first heard it and now can only approximate: That legal technicality you’re complaining about is actually a civil right. These are rules to prevent cops from punching you in the face until you confess, to prevent cops from planting evidence or destroying evidence. These aren’t technicalities, they are what protect us from tyranny. Whenever they are discussed disparagingly, the speaker is undermining your freedom and mine. This is never as obvious as it is on cop shows.

So a great minor arc in some big, overblown cop drama would be the Evil Judge Who Doesn’t Give Boss Cop What He Wants. Boss Cop smacks a guy and ransacks his apartment, and Evil Judge reprimands Boss Cop and the guy walks! Holy crap where is justice!? Boss Cop asks for a warrant and doesn’t get one; Evil Judge is a hardass that way. Jesus how’s a cop supposed to do his job with all this law getting in the way?

Boss Cop still gets the bad guy; Boss Cop is a badass. It’s just more work. Boss Cop is always right, though.

So by episode six of the season Evil Judge is not well-liked by the viewing public. What’s his problem? Does he hate America? Is the mob paying him off?

Then… the twist that must happen in every cop drama. Boss Cop stands accused. It looks bad; evidence against him is coming out of nowhere! What the hell? That’s not real! End of episode nine: Facing damning evidence, Boss Cop walks into court and sees Evil Judge presiding (this is unrealistic, they would know the judge long before, but this is TV after all). His nemesis! Evil Judge knows how Boss Cop feels about him.

Next episode: Evil Judge turns his skeptical eye on the evidence presented by the prosecution. Shakes his head. Chucks out the case. “No substance,” he says, “Numerous violations of civil rights.” Or something only slightly more subtle.

The courtroom rises to a frenzy, but the noise fades as Boss Cop and Evil Judge exchange a look across the well. “Always remember,” Evil Judge communicates with a wise smile, “it could be you.”

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It’s All in the Light

I was watching (without sound) some show that features a guy who may (or may not) be the the showbiz illusionist Chris Angel. The show was called something like “I’ll wear anything and fight anyone to get on TV.” Nothing to do with showbiz magic. Probably-Chris Angel’s job was to chat with the other host and interview stupid people. (I assume they were stupid; I suppose they may have been discussing quantum mechanics.)

What struck me as I watched this silent farce was the remarkable brightness in Angel’s eyes compared to everyone else’s. His eyes caught the light from the camera in a way no one else’s did. Was this intentional? I don’t know. But he focussed intently into the camera, and his dark eyes did the rest. The result was that he just looked… special compared to everyone else.

Keep the Shovel

The official sister of Muddled Ramblings has on occasion told me about a show called “Pimp My Ride.” In this show, photogenic people turn their old, crappy vehicles over to a bunch of talented and resourceful people who “pimp it out”, as the kids say. In this case “pimp” does not mean to use the car to promote prostitution, rather it means convert the vehicle into one a pimp might drive. This means it must have “bling”: conspicuous and profligate disregard for cost, a desire to attract attention at the sacrifice of taste. Money for money’s sake.

Today for the first time I saw (but did not hear) the show. It opened with many scenes of a frighteningly cute young woman driving an old, beat-up Land Cruiser. The vehicle had no doors. I *heart* explosives, a sticker on the front bumper proclaimed. On the left front fender a short-handled shovel was anchored. When you’re in deep sand, a thousand miles from home, a shovel can save your life. Various people in hip-hop attire were shown posing next to the sticker and the shovel. The seats had four-point harnesses and the speakers were in black-spraypainted wooden boxes rattling around in back.

The bubbly young lady was shooed away and the pimping began. In my head, I was imagining how I would trick out this particular ride. They gave the thing new paint (yellow!) and front ironwork with lights. Nice. That eliminated the bumper sticker that everyone had made such a big deal of, but I was sure that the ‘explosives’ motif would be honored some other way. I mean, shit. Explosives.

I was wrong. The pixie came back, jumped up and down with terrific excitement, and fawned over her transformed vehicle. My thought: where’s the shovel? Apparently all that time spent posing next to the shovel was to bury it, not praise it. These urban ride-pimpers had no respect for the rural, self-sufficient, working-man characteristics of the vehicle. What I thought had been a great chance to build up and enhance an iconic vehicle was just another makeover, like taking a great singer and cramming her into the conformity-box of American Idol. A wilderness hero goes Hollywood.

Apparently Little Miss Sunshine, whom, based on her vehicle, I had judged to be an independent desert rat, a rambler, in fact was just in the wrong car to start with. That, or she was good at pretending to be happy.

And you know what? Even in Hollywood, that shovel should have stayed. The businesslike seats should have stayed. The ride would have benefitted from a little bit of badass (big tires on shiny wheels are often mistaken for badass, as they were in this case, but you know the real thing when you see it). All the time the people spent posing next to the shovel is proof that it made an impression.

There were lots of cool things the ride-pimpers added to the vehicle, and I have to admit that if I’d not seen the original I would have just written the result off as another toy truck that some rich kid bought. Knowing its history, though, I know that truck could have been so much more.

Whatever you’re doing out there, make sure you keep the shovel. The shovel is where the soul is.

Really, Hollywood?

I’m catching the start of the American Football season, a game between two very good teams that I find myself interested in despite myself. Often on Thursdays I go to a bar to have a beer or two and watch sports and crank out a blog episode or three.

I’m at home this week, a change that may merit its own episode, or maybe not. I’ve got the game streaming to my computer in our office, commercials and all. Ain’t technology grand?

I just saw an ad for a movie coming out sometime soon. It looks like a very expensive version of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots. On closer look, the movie looks like… an expensive version of Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots that you watch rather than play. Much of the allegedly gut-twisting action is watching machines damage each other in a boxing ring. Yippee.

Although they give the movie some name that does not include the words ‘rock’ or ‘sock’, I would be very disappointed if at no time does one robot punch another robot in his shiny metal chin and make its head pop off.

Well, except for the part where I won’t actually see the movie at all.