I have always known that if I were to become addicted to any substance, it would be one with sedating, rather than stimulating, properties. I am sufficiently nervy already, thank you very much, without taking something that would make me peppier and full of a burning need to conquer the world of 90s advertising.

I am also, however, tediously law-abiding, and so will never be in a position to lay my hands on whatever my dental surgeon gave me when I got my wisdom teeth out.

So what I needed was to find something non-pharmaceutical that would recreate that post-de-toothing bliss, that calm, carefree, unbothered serenity.

In the end, I found two things: Murder She Wrote and Matlock.

It started innocently enough. Murder She Wrote aired on A&E every few hours when I was younger, before that network was taken over by shows about what Jessica Fletcher would be like if she never went out and spent her time arranging her belongings into teetering, dangerous piles and alienating her family. One day, I caught just the last few moments of it - what I call the "Fletcher freeze-frame." At the end of every show, the camera focuses and then freezes on Angela Lansbury's face while she does something like laugh indulgently, shake her head regretfully, or look generally smug. It was so outrageously awful, I had to watch a whole show. In each and every show, children are innocent and sometimes poor and in need of a free bicycle, an easily-identifiable and generally straightforwardly-Biblical motive leads to murder, and some stupid, stupid person thinks an elderly retired schoolteacher probably doesn't have what it takes to solve a crime.

Before long, I was watching it all the time. 

During grad school, when I was in a vulnerable and susceptible state, some station in Kingston started running Matlock at two in the morning. Did I have room in my heart for another folksy old person who brought order to the chaotic modern
world by solving many murders that somehow often involved Patrick Swayze's slightly less successful brother Don? It appeared I did, because before long I was watching as much Matlock as I could get.

It never ceases to amaze me that it was Murder She Wrote and Magnum P.I. that had the cross-over episodes, and that Jessica and Ben never shook their heads complacently at one another and then brought someone unscrupulous (inevitably played by a guy who also guest-starred on the Love Boat, or Don Swayze) to justice.

When I watch either show, my heart-rate slows and I feel like I am being hugged by a loving grandparent who compulsively brings criminals to justice. I used to tell myself that I watched these programs ironically and so made a point of chortling knowingly to myself during each episode. But how many times can you watch Andy Griffith play his ukulele or trick someone out of money to buy himself a hotdog before your cold, unforgiving post-modern heart is conquered by a warm, forgiving, pre-modern kind of love? 

So I am profoundly grateful for Angela Lansbury and Andy Griffith, even if they have inspired unrealistic expectations about how when I'm older, I'll be really successful and happy while all around me, people drop dead.

Also, I've been planning to write about these shows for days and days, but the post ended up being unexpectedly, and regrettably, timely.

Andy Griffith June 1, 1926 – July 3, 2012

POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough.
A pleasant corner of my subconscious circa 1985.
Last week's post got me thinking about how few positive female role models there were in the '80s for talkative young ladies.

I'm not going to include perky, unrelentingly upbeat, not-particularly-bright women, either. Women like Meg Ryan or Melanie Griffith, who bubble up and sparkle and giggle and probably wouldn't be resourceful and cold-blooded during a physical fight. I've decided they don't count for the purposes of this particular (one-sided) discussion.

I spent much of last week thinking about this, taking breaks only to watch The PBS News Hour and The Choice (Joe Jonas should have obviously have chosen Gwen Ifill). I was only able to come up with TWO positive fast-talking female role models, and one of them is the one I mentioned just last week.

1) Jordan, Real Genius
Real Genius is one of the greatest movies ever made, and features a Val Kilmer who was still devastatingly attractive and not yet distressingly bloated. It was one of the first movies I ever saw that suggested that smart young people could have friends and kiss each other and both create and destroy space weapons. This photo captures Jordan (love interest of the other main character, Mitch) in a rare moment of not talking. She is a super-genius and doesn't sleep and spends her time while not sleeping thinking of serious scientific things and knitting sweaters. She really only talks so much because her brain is so full of smarts. 

2. Amanda King, Scarecrow and Mrs. King

I'm not even sure this character would still strike me the same way, because the last time I saw her get up to no good, I was eleven. It's possible she was actually perky and empty-headed, but I prefer to remember her as ballsy and irrepressible.  There was one episode of this show (which featured Kate Jackson as a housewife who ends up becoming a spy, and Bruce Boxleitner as a handsome spy who ends up having to mentor and reluctantly fall desperately in love with her) that really affected me when I saw it at some point between the ages of seven and eleven. And I (inevitably) found a fan site on the internet that (thrillingly) somehow managed to scare up the print ad for the very episode that I'm about to talk about:
I can't remember whether the ruthless hit woman who looked exactly like Kate Jackson was supposed to be some kind of scientific-experiment-produced clone, or whether the fact that they looked exactly alike was supposed to be a kooky coincidence. Doesn't matter - either way, it was both dramatic and plausible. At the end of the episode, both Kate Jackson and ruthless-hit-woman Kate Jackson are hanging from the side of a building, having somehow managed to fall off the side of it simultaneously. 

Bruce Boxleitner, whose courage and handsomeness cause him to appear in the nick of time, is forced to figure out which woman who looks exactly like Kate Jackson he should save. One Kate Jackson says something noble and reasonable and convincing. The other babbles indignantly about something and then babbles indignantly some more. Bruce Boxleitner, proving he sees with the penetrating eyes of a super-spy and the discriminating eyes of a lover, immediately pulls the babbler to safety. 

It was a great comfort to me then to think that one day my compulsive chattiness might save my life. It was also a great comfort to me to think that if a suave, smooth-talking, sophisticated version of me ever showed up, she would turn out to be a no-good criminal and then promptly fall off a building.

POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough.

I owe AMI-tv an apology.

AMI, which stands for "Accessible Media Inc.", is a television station that broadcasts all programs with open described video and closed captioning. I have passed a number of hours with the station because for a few, brief, fulfilling weeks it showed Magnum P.I. reruns on Friday afternoons, and it continues to air Perry Mason on weekends (Raymond Burr calms me). At first I was startled when I discovered that these shows were "open described" and that "open described" meant that a sonorous voice explained what was happening while it was happening ("Magnum smiles cheekily at the scantily-clad waterskier'), but now I've gotten used to it.

The only problem is that now and again, the sonorous voice says things I'm pretty sure are wrong. It describes a character as "downcasting his or her gaze", and/or as averting someone else's gaze. I've been known to make mistakes about such things (I know this because my father has the right to make grammarian's arrests as a result of the authority vested in him by the Oxford English Dictionary), but I searched the internet, and the only people using "downcast" as a verb appear to be those writing Sonic the Hedgehog fan fiction (not kidding) and unsolicited sequels to Pride and Prejudice (also not kidding).

I have been cultivating described-video-related indignation for a while now (and withheld-described-video-related indignation, in that AMI has now replaced Magnum with one of those Law and Order spin-offs that doesn't star Richard Belzer), but, as is so often the case, I've come across something that makes the downcasting of gazes seem downright adorable.

Dancing on Ice, a British reality television show that presumably features both of those things, has recently come under fire for close-captioning the dancing and the ice in such a manner as to confuse, insult, and concern deaf viewers.

The National Deaf Children's Society has called ITV (the network involved) out for providing such captions as:

  • "Across the ice and the Samaritans and speedo you."
  • "Right is affecting their partnership. Pulled your ball up."
  • "The jump just walk straight in the fridge."
  • "...dolomite go horribly one when you got your Blades Court..."
The BBC, unfortunately, is not in a position to feel smug, as it has, in its close-captioning past: a) referred to the Labour leader as the "Ed Miller Band", b) called the head of the Church of England the "arch bitch" of Canturbury, and c) indicated during a report on pigs that the pigs "like to nibble anything that comes into the shed, like our willies."

So maybe I shouldn't feel so aggrieved when the smooth-voiced AMI man averts my gaze; at least he's not telling me to pull my ball up.

POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough.
Maybe a bit hyperbolic (and inaccurate), but it does rhyme.
The other day, I was talking to some friends about the bizarre and mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of Neil Hope, "Wheels" from everyone-of-my-generation's favourite "teen issue of the half-hour" show, Degrassi. From Degrassi, I learned all about teen pregnancy (difficult), doing acid at rock concerts (devastatingly awful), and changing into revealing clothes in the school bathroom every morning so your parents won't think you're a slut (ingenious). In this day and age (that phrase always makes me feel decisive and authoritative, whatever comes after it), when celebrity corpses are followed from death-bed to morgue by crowds of avid TMZ-ers, it's almost unbelievable that Hope's death went unnoticed and unreported for five years. He might not have been Whitney Houston, but most people my age would have recognized him, celebrated him, and said annoying things to him at bars.

So my friends and I were discussing the fact that he had died in a Hamilton rooming-house, and my talented actor friend mentioned that, while Hope might well have been battling various issues that led him to a rooming-house life, it was understandable that he was down on his luck, as Degrassi actors of his era received no residuals. I thought that sounded totally outrageous, and so the next day looked it up online so that I could gently correct him. Instead, I found (on a website that, despite the fact that it features a background made to look like a sheet of lined paper, I choose to trust) the following:

"Today's actors would not 'screwed over' [sic] financially like the original Degrassi cast, who receive no residuals on reruns at all. There is more information accessible to younger people out there, thus there may be less exploitation of younger actors. Syndication residuals (money made from reruns of the show) get distributed to the producers of the Degrassi TV series but not the actors."

Dan Woods (Mr. Raditch) backed up the creator of this distressingly informative Degrassi website when he explained in an interview: "Well, it wasn't a union shoot. But they actually paid better than scale. However, we were on a buyout so there are no residuals. But those are tough to get. The producers have to really want you on the series to get residuals." He also commented: "Well, it's still on a lot here! One hour every night on Showcase. My wife calls Thursday's Dan TV. CCR at 6:30, Then DJH at 7, then DH at 7:30. And I'm still broke!!!!!"

So maybe my other friend wasn't kidding when she said that half the Degrassi cast was working in some food-service capacity at the Bayview Village mall complex during the '90s.

I'm not claiming that the Degrassi producers were utterly evil child abusers, or that Wheels would not have ended up alone and broke even if he hadn't had a small-screen career that led only to jobs at Money Mart and United Furniture Warehouse. But it's certainly depressing to find out that these kids, who taught us all about alcoholism, and depression, and sex, and unfortunate adolescent rock bands, were rewarded only with the nostalgic attentions of 30-somethings and empty pockets. 

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In order to really effectively and profitably catastrophize, it's occasionally a good idea to brood about something that on the surface may appear to be not much more than surface. This adds variety to the habit of obsessively worrying about things, and allows you to later reproach yourself for being petty and superficial. 

Which brings me to the upcoming Muppet movie.

There are a number of things that went into forming me. I will now enumerate the ones that are least embarrassing: Star Wars, the Beatles, Doctor Who, and The Muppet Show. The recent incarnation of Doctor Who is not awful (although I seem to be the only person not charmed by either River Song OR Amy Pond); I never liked Paul very much, so the fact that he turned out all earnest and chipper and jowly doesn't really bother me.

Which brings me to Star Wars. I don't need to belabor this, because I seem to recall others discussing this a number of years ago... I went to see the prequels, young and full of hope and excitement, and left, an old and broken woman without wonder. George Lucas, who took a break from cultivating his McCartney-esque jowls to break me, romped through the memory of a generation and pooed all over it.

It remains to see whether we will now be pooed on by the Muppets. A new movie is being made. Jason Segel is making it. Jason Segel is kind of charming. Therefore the new Muppet movie might be kind of charming.

However, recent reports indicate that Frank Oz is not happy with the new movie. Veteran Muppet puppeteers considered dissociating themselves from the film. 

So either: a) Frank Oz is right and I will no longer like Jason Segel and another childhood memory will be tarnished; or, b) Frank Oz is just upset because he didn't get to make the movie and is not, in fact, a glorious and magnanimous person, in which another childhood memory will be tarnished.

Muppets fans desperate to reassure themselves in the lead-up to the premiere are reminding themselves that Oz might not be a reliable source in any case, as he was also involved with the Star Wars prequels. At least we know that since Oz isn't involved with this reboot, he won't make Kermit shoot Greedo in self-defense. 

POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough. Also, I'm not very good at copy-editing, so if something looks wrong, it was put there by accident.

Finally, the CBC has come up with a new way to humiliate itself! I thought it might be content to rest on its crappy scripted non-laurels (e.g. Being Erica) and its crappy unscripted non-laurels (e.g. Don Cherry), but the CBC seems to have decided it would like to be denigrated by more than just people who don't want to look at that guy from Da Vinci's Inquest anymore. 

Apparently unaware that its audience is made up of people who focus on how much better the CBC is than some unavoidably inferior American tabloid news station instead of how much worse anything it airs is than even the vaguest ramblings of Jim Lehrer, the CBC has decided to dress up in American right-wing grown-up clothes by allowing some really smug, annoying guy to say outrageous things. I am not going to make a snide comment about Peter Mansbridge at this juncture, as we all know that he is never outrageously anything.

The guy I'm talking about is Kevin O'Leary, a man who looks like a sleek and malevolent seal and has apparently made a career for himself out of making money (fair enough, I guess) and saying abrasive things he clearly think are hard to take because they're so steeped in bitter truth instead of because they're positively drowned in a sea of completely baseless self-regard.

For some reason, the CBC, desperate, perhaps, to employ someone who's not Nicholas Campbell or Eric Peterson, has allowed this man to appear on approximately 85 television shows. He's on Dragon's Den, where he dismissively tells people dismissive things and manages to be neither insightful nor funny, and on The Lang and O'Leary Exchange, which, when I thought about it all, I thought was a 1970s movie about hostage-taking.

The other day, he bravely faced off against Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges on the topic of the Occupy Wall Street movement. I say "bravely", because Hedges is obviously smarter, classier, and more celebrated than he is. 

O'Leary defends principles of journalistic accuracy and integrity by reminding Hedges that he called him a "nut bar" and not a "nut case". He apparently intends to disparage a largely grass-roots, anti-corporate movement by calling it "low budget." He leaps delightedly on the "you probably drove a car to the demonstration" point because he just KNOWS that charge of hypocrisy will oblige Hedges to give him his Pulitzer.

While watching this on the internet, I thought "Sun TV must have a larger set budget than I thought, and money for more than one camera-person." Then I discovered that my blessed ignorance of Canadian television had protected me from the knowledge that O'Leary was speaking as an employee of CBC. This is a CBC show. This man is employed by Canada's public broadcaster. He's not just biased, and combative, and insulting to his guest; he's also complacent and stupid and paid for with tax dollars. 

The CBC seems to be trying desperately to make itself relevant by employing more and more abrasive, shit-talking, smug sons of bitches. I don't see why they don't just replace everyone with Don Cherry. Surely, that would be more cost-effective.

POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough. Also, I'm not very good at copy-editing, so if something looks wrong, it was put there by accident.
The Self is often misunderstood in Society.
It's been an exciting week for disapproving of things. Many of the things offered up by the world for my disapproval were offered up at the CNN Tea Party GOP Presidential debate. 

When Wolf Blitzer, who always asks my favourite hypothetical-comatose-patient questions, asked the candidates who should pay for the care of an uninsured coma victim, and responded to Ron Paul's response with "Are you saying that society should just let him die?" a number of audience members I would very much like to meet and date cheered and someone yelled "yeah!"

Michele Bachmann spoke piercingly about "little girls" (11 and 12 year-olds; still young, sure, but not the pig-tailed, thumb-sucking cuties she piercingly evoked) being given "government injections" (HPV vaccinations) and yesterday managed to up the ante on her own stupidness and lyingness by indicating that the vaccine might cause mental retardation (which it doesn't). When various people, among them quite an unsurprising number of doctors, told her she was wrong, she said, "I am not a doctor. I am not a scientist. I am not a physician. All I was doing was reporting what a woman told me last night at the debate." She's referring to a random member of the public who came up to after the debate and told her the vaccine had harmed her daughter.

So one is apparently allowed to report ignorant, unfounded claims about something as long as one has oneself no knowledge or expertise related to the subject. 

Except when that's not the case. There's an astonishingly discouraging story out of York University this week, for once not related to a faculty strike. Cameron Johnston, a York prof, was teaching a Social Science class ("Self, Culture and Society" - a staggeringly descriptive title) and stated that not everyone was entitled to have and express an opinion. "All Jews should be sterilized", he said, was the kind of opinion that was egregious and inexcusable. At that point, a student stormed out. I assumed it was some kind of free-speech defender, rushing out to fetch Noam Chomsky (who waits out in the car for just such an eventuality), but, no - it was a student convinced that Johnston had just asserted that Jews should be sterilized. Sarah Grunfeld immediately contacted a campus Israel advocacy group, and it immediately sent out news releases calling for his prompt dismissal. 

The best part of this whole story isn't that some poor man who'd really rather be thinking about your Self and its Culture and Society was plunged into controversy by way of a complete misunderstanding, but Grunfeld's response to being told that it was a complete misunderstanding: "The words, ‘Jews should be sterilized’ still came out of his mouth, so regardless of the context I still think that’s pretty serious.”

Actually, Bachmann and Grunfeld have at least one thing in common: both failed to consider the larger context surrounding the words they heard (i.e. some stranger at a public event with an unsubstantiated story not supported by science in the first case, and quotation marks and total condemnation in the second). What's so wonderful and inspiring is that it's the listener who decides whether something should be believed in with no cause or denounced for no reason. I'm so inspired, I might just ambush Hudak after a debate and tell him cuts to social services cause Muskoka cottages to spontaneously burn down. After all, there's a good chance he's no smarter than a potential presidential candidate or York university undergraduate. 

Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HERE. I will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.

POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough. Also, I'm not very good at copy-editing, so if something looks wrong, it was put there by accident.

Unfortunately, circumstances have obliged me to revisit my conclusions of last week. I am often obliged to revisit my conclusions, as they are frequently wrong. Perhaps thinking about things more thoroughly or researching would help, but I avoid such activities on point of principle as they are hallmarks of Socialism.

At any rate, last week I concluded that gender equality would eventually be achieved at least in part through offensive bibs.  But recently, a news item reminded me that we still have a long way to go when it comes to degrading boys as much as girls.

Most episodes of Toddlers and Tiaras are remarkable for their awfulness and for helping you realize that, whatever you might think, your parents were classy and your youthful fashion sense sophisticated (and - full disclosure, I occasionally watch Toddlers and Tiaras. And Hoarders: Buried Alive. There's probably a German word for how they make me feel and why I keep watching them.). The show, though, has now lowered the bar of good taste to unprecedentedly low levels. 

Wendy Dickey, pageant mom and self-professed Good Christian Woman, dressed her 3-year-old up as Julia Robert's Pretty Woman prostitute character, clearly in a misguided attempt to illustrate some of the more obscure teachings of Christ. 

I immediately tried to figure out what the boy-child equivalent would be. A pint-sized Joe Buck would probably go unrecognized by a pageant audience; My Own Private Idaho is most likely too private for the public Idaho and a reference to it would also perplex. And I don't remember The Basketball Diaries being a heart-warming crowd-pleaser or involving snooty retail salespeople getting their comeuppance. 

Really, a caring Christian mother looking for the male equivalent of Roberts' beloved movie prostitute would find herself at a loss. I guess she could always stick to the Pretty Woman theme instead, and dress her beloved Bentley or Ethan or Jayden up as a knee-high Richard Gere. My utopic vision of a future in which both and girls are equally objectified and in much the same way might never be realized, but I'm somewhat comforted by the prospect of toddler hookers and toddler johns.

Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HERE. I will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.

POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough. Also, I'm not very good at copy-editing, so if something looks wrong, it was put there by accident.

Every now again, some book is written or documentary is made about how psychopaths are all around us. How psychopaths don't all end up being crazed killers, and often go on to become successful realtors and portfolio managers. After reading or seeing such a work, I generally spend a few days seriously considering whether that terrible person I once worked with who said awful things about that nice woman on extended sick leave was, in fact, psychopathic, and then I forget about it again until the next 60 Minutes special. 

I was reminded of the existence of the non-lethal - but still pathologically thoughtless and monstrously callous - breed of psychopath by the news coming out of Britain about the New of the World. You know, about how people from that paper who seem to do nothing but randomly wiretap Pippa Middleton hacked into the voice-mail of Milly Dowler, a 13-year-old girl who'd gone missing. They proceeded to erase voice-mail messages in order to free up more space for new messages, and did so before the police had had an opportunity to listen to them. Because they  kept erasing messages, concerned family members were convinced she was still alive. Who else could possibly be emptying out her mailbox? Her body was discovered six months later.

We're all familiar with the kind of psychopath who collects toes, or looks like James Van der Beek, because Criminal Minds is on every hour of every day. But these non-violent ones, the kind who knowingly interfere with the search for a girl's killer and cruelly allow her relatives to hope in order to get fodder for a tabloid newspaper - they don't get as much airtime. So someone round up Mandy Patinkin, or another Dharma and Greg alum, and start shooting Criminal Minds: Repellent Behaviour so that the News of the World and others of its kind can be publicly reviled on A&E each and every afternoon.

Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HERE. I will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.

POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough. Also, I'm not very good at copy-editing, so if something looks wrong, it was put there by accident.

It seems there are only white people in Canada. Canada is so smug about its multiculturalism, you'd think it would actually make a point of showcasing its diversity in ways besides making visible minorities share the small screen with Sheila McCarthy. But two recent television-watching experiences have led me to question whether this country is, in fact, populated only by Caucasian, sweater-sporting executives and their blonde, Queen's University-attending children.

First, there was Top Chef Canada. I was willing to look beyond the host (Thea Andrews, who, coincidentally, is blonde and graduated from Queen's University and calls to mind that episode of Seinfeld in which Kramer suffers from Mary Hart-related seizures) and the fact that a strangely high number of the contestants appear not really to be able to cook. What I find hard to accept is that they couldn't have included one contestant of a non-pale hue. Apparently, the show's (unnamed) defenders claim that "the contestants were chosen based on ability, not on location, gender or race". That just means that there happen not to BE any women or minorities who are as good at cooking as these white men are, which is especially distressing as most of these white men appear not be very good at it at all.

Then there was the whiteness of the recent election debate. I'm not referring to  the fact that all four leaders and the host were white (and also men - although Steve Paikin is a Prince Among Men, which sets him slightly apart). I'm talking about the fact that all six citizens whose videotaped questions were shared were white. They were careful to balance the sexes (three women [all blonde, as far as I can remember], three men) and the regions represented, but made no effort to vary the colour scheme. One of the women had an accent, but that was about as diverse as the evening got. 

Are Canadian television producers so obsessed with regional diversity and not looking like the only place they care about is Toronto that they forget there are other forms of inclusiveness? I find I have been retroactively protesting their lack of inclusiveness for years by forgetting about the existence of Canadian television.

Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HERE. I will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.

POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough. Also, I'm not very good at copy-editing, so if something looks wrong, it was put there by accident.