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Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Confection Currents

Thanks to reality TV, there's a lot of talk these days about the return of "bread and circuses," i.e., the tendency of the ruling class to distract the plebians with meaningless entertainments so that those plebians don't think too deeply about more important matters.

Of course, the days of bread and circuses never really left, but what today's distractions are beginning to lose is subtlety. On "Rebel Billionaire," contestants face genuinely life-threatening challenges every week, and on tonight's premiere episode of "The Real Gilligan's Island," a faux-Skipper was rushed to hospital after collapsing during the first challenge. He lived, but had to bow out of the contest early.

If this trend continues, I wouldn't be surprised if someone gets killed. If that happens during the taping of a reality show, will the producers or network choose not to air the episode? I wonder. The ratings would skyrocket. But would the reality show genre survive the backlash?

I think they would. Look at car racing - some people watch them only for the crashes, and hundreds of professional drivers have been killed in front of huge audiences. And yet the sport continues. It has become an accepted part of the culture. People are bloodthirsty, and when someone dies on television, it's exciting, it's dramatic. And if we're really wrapped up in the sport, we experience the powerful catharsis of grief. In a rational culture, sports with such high mortality rates would be banned - the loss of life would far outweigh the social and economic benefits.

But the races go on, to no purpose that I can see. And so will reality shows, even if Donald Trump fires the next apprentice from a cannon.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Roleplaying Games Without Frontiers

I finally figured out what Peter Gabriel is singing at the beginning of "Games Without Frontiers." It's "Jeux sans frontiers" - i.e., "Games without frontiers" in French. Duuuhhh. Well, it was news to me.

Every two or three weeks, I get together with friends to roleplay. Most people are at least vaguely aware of the concept, thanks to Dungeons & Dragons or drama classes. My group is playing Forbidden Kingdoms, a pulp-era roleplaying game. I play Cain Hood, a grim, bloody-minded crimefighter. Here's his character description:

Taciturn, ruthless, violent, fiercely loyal to the Commonwealth, dedicated to protecting the innocent…and perhaps just a little insane: that’s Cain Hood, born on Jarvis Island (a usually uninhabited British possession in the south Pacific) to a Welsh father and an Indian mother, both adventurers, both dead, murdered by agents of the Divine Claw (see below).

Cain is a tall man, over six feet, heavily muscled, but agile. He has a short shock of jet-black hair, dark eyes, and pale skin. He is thirty-six.

Cain is a master martial artist, expert torturer, and merciless foe. His chief weapons are his fists (often complemented by brass knuckles), his trusty Tommy gun (nicknamed, for reasons known only to Cain, “Jenny”), liberally thrown sticks of dynamite, and a sap.

Cain is, at heart, a decent man, not without a sense of humour (if a somewhat macabre one). He has a weakness for children, beautiful women, and marine life, particularly dolphins.

Lately Cain and his compatriots have been searching for a scientist, a man who went hunting for Bigfoot (such creatures actually exist in this world) and went mysteriously missing. Travelling from the UK to British Columbia to Yuma, Arizona, Cain and the band found themselves fighting sword-wielding werewolves, cyborg monkeys, suspicious townspeople, aggressive homeless persons (dispatched with a great deal of guilt with a sap to the teeth), and, of course, Nazis.

Below I attempt to dramatize a fraction of last weekend's adventures:

A night of carousing every once in a while keeps a crimefighter'sinstincts sharp. You can learn a lot about people when they drop their guard - and you can learn a lot about yourself when you let your own defences down.

But sometimes, letting those defences down has deadly consequences. One minute I was tossing back a shot glass full of Jim Beam...thenext, I was flat on my back in a six by six prison cell, head pounding. I went through my pockets. All the weapons were gone, of course, but I still had my Zippo. I tried lighting the door on fire, thinking that might draw the attention of the guards I presumed existed beyond the walls of my cell, but the wood stubbornly refused to catch. Not a surprise, really, but I had limited options.

I surveyed the room. Adobe walls, tin roof - rusted. My decidedly non-gilded cage had only a bare wooden bench and a chamberpot to adorn it.

So I did the only thing I could: I filled the pot.

With urine, ofcourse. I knew that someone would come eventually, and I needed to be ready.

So, chamberpot in hand, I waited. And after a while, my patience was rewarded.

'Stand away from the door!' someone barked - a German, from the accent. I stood my ground, and the door swung open. They were German,all right; one was bending over to place a tray on the ground, a tray laden with water and gruel. The other held a submachinegun levelled at my chest.I flung the chamberpot. The heavy tin bucket struck the standing guard in the face, spraying his eyes with urine.

'Was is dist?' he cried, 'Mein coupon!'

I immediately kicked the crouching man in the face. His teeth shattered,and his nose broke into deadly splinters, sundering his brain. He died without a sound. I pivoted forward, snapping my other boot into the first guard's groin. He grunted; I'd missed his privates by bare inches. But another kick found its mark, driving the family jewels up into his throat - I'm sure he was tasting his testicles, and I hoped they tasted bitter indeed. He fell into a foetal position, retching. I took his submachinegun and pistol, found another pistol on the man I'd killed - and a ring of keys. It was time to break my colleagues out of their cages. And then there would be hell to pay.

Gruesome and violent, I know, but the pulp era was...well...pretty pulpy. After getting my buddies out of jail, we went on to kill a few more Nazis, then battled a giant, fang-shooting spider and some zombie Nazis. There was also a film cannister filled with teeth and a purple phosphoresent skull, but those are stories for another day...

The condo is looking better and better. Sylvia had the carpet cleaned, her friend is coming over to re-do our hideous "feature wall," and I got the wireless network working. Wow, I'm a computer geek now. w00t! Fear my l33t skillz!!!!1111!!!!one!!1one!!!!111

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Earl's Bad Jokes of the Day

So Arthur the assassin goes to the grocery store and whacks a trio of targets, garroting them. His employer gives him a shiny new loonie as a reward. The grocer sees all this and asks, "Why do you work so cheap?"

The assassin points to a sign in the produce section: "Artie chokes three for a dollar."


Q: What do prostitutes use to clean their teeth?

A: Heidi Floss.