Thursday, June 5, 2008

Two Girls, One Cup, and a Fabulous Piece of American Culture

I think I would be quite hard-pressed to find anyone who hasn't at least heard of the now-infamous sapphic erotica-turned-fecal delicacy viral video sensation that swept the internet last year known as "2 Girls, 1 Cup." I remember my first viewing of as I am sure many in my situation seeing it do: the minute that soft-serve poo came forth from the dialated sphincter of one of these women, I screamed in fright with a smattering of sickened and shocked laughter interspersed. It didn't take long (around the point where vomit was introduced as the new cast member) for a wave of nausea to hit me (the three MGDs I had in my stomach certainly not helping; don't ask me why I was drinking that bear piss), and I had to turn and stagger away as my other friends nearby cackled with evil glee. To this day, I still haven't watched the video in its entirety.

So why has this piece of viral culture even become a piece of viral culture? What made this become part of the cultural internet lexicon in the first place? What made it become this online sensation and since when has it even been a "sensation" to watch two women smear shit all over each other and give each other these excessive Roman Showers? "2 Girls, 1 Cup" is the current three-legged dog, or train wreck, if you will (better yet, it can also be seen as the new "Dancing Baby" video from the internet's days of old). Despite it apparently now costing money to view this video (which apparently is only a TRAILER for the film Hungry Bitches...I can't even imagine what the whole video is like), I somehow doubt its momentum and popularity will slow anytime soon. This has made me wonder where the appeal came from in the first place; I wondered this quite literally seconds after it was over and even posed the question to those with me who forced me to watch it. The mix of responses mostly boiled down to "'Cause it's fuckin' awesome!" As Chuck Klosterman says in his essay on internet porn and its recent proliferation, pornography is "the place we go to see what we don't admit to wanting." Does that mean that on an unconscious level we are all a group of depraved, mangy coprapheliacs? Of course not (though I obviously can't speak for EVERYONE who's seen this video). But being exposed to taboos is something that we seem to pathologically seek out. It's quite similar to this recent glut of horror films that have been lovingly dubbed as "torture porn," such as the Hostel or Saw films, which have grossed absurd amounts of money for, what many people have said to me, films that are simply about disgusting the audience. But this is very telling when you look at the box office grosses for these films (the first Saw film, made for 1 or 2 million dollars grossed over 100 MILLION DOLLARS worldwide!); we clearly WANT to be disgusted. Look at Youtube when you search for "2 Girls 1 Cup": there are over 16,900 videos, most of them devoted to people's reactions to the video, a lot of them with many million views. One of my favorite trends in a lot of these videos of people reacting is the response that comes from some of them, which is to cover their mouth and nose with their t-shirts, as if the most foul, rank stench has emitted from the computer they're watching this on. But a lot of them continue to watch.

Most people, before the proliferation of "2 Girls, 1 Cup", probably didn't even think (or want to think) that there were people out there with a love for doo-doo-smearing/eating. What was so amazing and important about the way this video was spread was how whenever someone would be told that they "really needed to see it," they were never actually told what it was that they would be soon watching. It was this unspoken certainty that people wouldn't want to watch this if they knew what it was beforehand. Now this is true, and at the same time untrue. They were told (eventually, at least) that what they were going to see was going to be revolting, but they were rarely told exactly what it was, and that is what made it so sensational. The mystery of what could possibly be so disgusting to warrent all of this attention is what drove people to watching it, ultimately. But I think that we'd have watched it even if we had been told what it was. I think this because I get this sense that my generation is a generation of boasters; we want to say that we've seen something, or heard something, or done something, so we can essentially be "in on it." It can be seen like referential comedy, like Family Guy: if you haven't experienced what it is they're referencing, you won't get the joke. In this case, if you haven't seen "2 Girls, 1 Cup", you won't be in on the viral sensation sweeping the country. Plus, we like to shock ourselves, as I was saying before. When you put these two factors together, it is perfectly understandable why it's appealing to watch to women smear shit and vomit all over themselves. It's a matter of being able to say you did it. Even people who got angry/sick from watching this video still sat through it because they can now say that they not only saw one of, if not THE most revolting thing on the internet today, they saw "2 Girls, 1 Cup", and therefore, they are in on the sensation.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Tom Cruise Dilemma

Upon recently watching Magnolia for the first time in at least a year, I came to the conclusion that all of this tabloid-errific kerfuffle on Tom Cruise is, without a doubt, complete garbage. In Magnolia, Cruise plays a very detestable character. He flashes that multi-million dollar smile quite frequently, but you almost expect a serpentine tongue to come snaking out from between his teeth as he pontificates his theories on life (which somehow connect to his mantra "Respect the cock and tame the cunt"). This character is reprehensible and thouroughly dislikable. But he has depth and you even feel bad for him by the end of the film, thankfully due to the amazing job P.T. Anderson did when writing this film and specifically this role. It's a very complex character and it needs to be remembered that Tom Cruise chose to do this role. Now you look at this film and then you look at say, Vanilla Sky or The Last Samurai, films that critics and viewers have over-zealously and cynically referred to as "vanity pieces" for the versatile and charismatic actor. I just need to first of all say that if Vanilla Sky was a vanity piece for ANYONE, it was a vanity piece for writer-director Cameron Crowe, since when you watch the behind-the-scenes featurette on the DVD, he never seems to shut up. Now moving on. The term "vanity piece" is a cheap cop-out for critics and viewers to use when they are made uncomfortable by the stardom onscreen. Is it jealousy? I don't know. What I do know is that no one seems to be pinning this claim of "vanity piece" on people like George Clooney for Michael Clayton or Matt Damon for the Bourne trilogy, when those movies so clearly focused on their respective stars. Also, this claim for Tom Cruise taking on "vanity pieces" didn't seem to truly surface until semi-recently, and selective amnesia seems to have taken hold over everyone when movies like Magnolia are mentioned. So I beg the question that sounds just as ridiculous as it actually is: why is everyone picking on Tom Cruise?

To address this fundamental question of the ages is not difficult, but I must rhetorically ask, where did the Tom Cruise from the days of yore (read: the Days of Thunder) disappear to? What happened to America's 1 male star of the 1990s? People clearly haven't gotten tired of his movies; in 2006, Mission: Impossible III made a good $47,743,273 in its opening weekend alone, and over $133,000,000 dollars overall. He also hasn't negated his range as an actor, evidenced by another pretty dislikable turn in last year's underrated Lions for Lambs as a Republican war-mongering senator. The Tom Cruise that everyone loved for a very long time disappeared with the first bounce on Oprah's couch.

Now we've been seeing Tom Cruise chew scenery for years. Though he doesn't do it with the intensity and, well, Pacino-ness of someone like Al Pacino, he does noticably do so, like in the aforementioned Magnolia or in Jerry Maguire. He is not known for being a minimalist actor; in sum, he is quite intense. But for some reason, seeing him be just as intense and crazy in a so-called "real-life situation" (because being on Oprah's show is basically an uncontrolled, unbiased extension of reality), just did not sit well with the American public. For some reason, the people couldn't handle it and there was a tabloid explosion across the country about these "couch-jumping antics." It was forgotten that he was a phenomenal actor and America simply lost touch with what mattered. His career took a backburner position to a tabloid-influenced perception on what his personal life was.

This has indeed happened to many actors, usually when they have become "washed up." In other words, (perceptions of) their personal lives become a lot more important and vital to the cultural zeitgeist than the impact their performances have had on the movies that they have been in. However, like I said before, people clearly do not perceive Tom Cruise as washed up. He makes money for studios, clearly. But Paramount "let him go." All the press releases in the world can say that it was about this or that, but at their bases, they simply were put off by this new and out-of-control Tom Cruise that was making headlines everywhere. So since he clearly was not washed up, what put everyone off about him, anyway? When watching the infamous Youtube sensation that was his 10 minute diatribe about the perfection of his religion, the question need not be asked any longer.

At the end of the day, it boils down to people being put off by his beliefs. Yes, it is indeed his own fault by being so publically vocal about his opposition to prescription drugs, Brooke Shields, and the like. This nonsense about the aforementioned video being "leaked" was most likely just a publicity stunt, sure. That's not the point. What matters is that people have been put off by Tom Cruise's religion; it really is that simple.

However, how could they not be? Scientology, at its base, carries beliefs involving extraterrestrial aliens dropping billions of humans around volcanoes 75 million years ago and dropping H-bombs on them, making their souls cluster together and stick to the living bodies, which is who we are, as humans, today. On top of that, on a personal level, I find it insulting that anyone condemns prescription psychiatric medicine. I do indeed feel that America is incredibly over-medicated, especially for things like anxiety and so forth, but it's absurd to consider that schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder can be recognized by some device called an "E-meter" and that medical care is not needed for people with those conditions (unless of course it's in the vein of Scientology). It's regressive to believe otherwise and if we all lived in a world like that, it would be almost as if frontal lobotomies would be commonplace again. Calling Scientology an "alternative to psychology" is not bullshit, not in the slightest. But to say it's a better alternative is. Clearly, I have my reservations about this religion, and so does a good majority of America.

However, look at the beliefs involving the extraterrestrial beings scattering our souls and whatnot (I forgot to mention that the aliens were led by the leader of the Galactic Confederacy, Xenu). It is obvious that these beliefs are a little more than a tad ridiculous. But...I must express some confusion here. Isn't it...JUST as ridiculous to believe that there was a man who parted the Red Sea with merely a wooden staff and the with assistance of a magical man in the sky? Or what about that one guy who walked on water and professed love and peace and brotherhood until he was nailed onto two pieces of wood to die only to be resurrected a few days later? Seems to me that these stories are just as absurd as those of Scientology. However, we don't see people like Martin Scorsese, a well-known Catholic get ostracized. Hmm...I wonder what's going on here...

The goal of Scientology is to have "a civilization without insanity, without criminals and without war, where the able can prosper and honest beings can have rights, and where man is free to rise to greater heights." (Wikipedia). One cannot exactly argue against a goal like that and nor can they with the (unperverted) goal of Christianity, one of basically the same fundamentals of being kind to one another and supporting one's fellow man, et cetera. To break off with a short editorial (not like I ever do that...), that is my problem with religion. Why do we need all these tenets and writings and speakers to tell us to be good people? The goals are somewhat unrealistic and become at odds with human nature to nasty and brutish (not to sound overly Hobbesian), so it's understandable why they are there, but it doesn't make me any happier than we as a people need these structures of belief to essentially keep us in line. It simply paints us as animals capable of making abstractions...but maybe, at the end of the day, that's all we are. That is a discussion for another day, once the vein in my forehead has ceased protruding.

It's easy for America to discriminate. We're extremely good at it; it's been our area of expertise since 1607 when we fucking landed here. And in this day and age, the celebrity has become the shining flagship of our culture and we typically follow their lives more closely than our own leaders. They are who we hope to become in a lot of ways; they are also who we look up to. But when one of them, one that we have adored for many years because of his movies, betrays us by showcasing what he believes in (which goes against the general consensus and is only weird because our own weird beliefs are the majority), we instinctively smite him from his public adoration.

So all this being said, my final plea for the American public: please lay off Tom Cruise.