Monday, December 31, 2012

Books Read in 2012

Tim Callahan seems to like lists like these. The dates after each title are the dates I finished reading the book in question. This list only includes the books I finished during 2012. Like many, I have numerous partly-read books that I simply did not complete.

EDIT: Updated with a few words on each book...

  1. The Eternal Husband by Fyodor Dostoevsky (January 13): I remember a sense of dread and awfulness lingering over this. Characters so true to themselves that they cannot avoid tragedy.
  2. Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone by Hunter S. Thompson (February 23): I wrote about this already.
  3. Killing Yourself to Live by Chuck Klosterman (February 27): The final stop on a Chuck Klosterman reread. My second time reading this. Very enjoyable. Klosterman is a writer I never have to work at to read.
  4. Timbuktu by Paul Auster (March 8): The plot concept didn't do much for me... until I began reading the book itself. Touching and wonderful.
  5. The Sugar Frosted Nutsack by Mark Leyner (March 27): One of my favourite authors finally returned with a novel and it was everything I expected/wanted -- which means insane, tedious, self-aware to the point of annoyance, unpredictable, and something of an endurance race. All of which I mean as compliments.
  6. The Kitchen Readings: Untold Stories of Hunter S. Thompson by Michael Cleverly and Bob Braudis (April 8): Some nice stories about Thompson. Nothing too sordid or out of line. A book that both plays to the legend and grounds Thompson within his home.
  7. Avengers Assemble: An Oral History of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes  by Brian Michael Bendis (April 12): I wrote about this already.
  8. Less than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis (April 23): The beginning of the Great Bret Easton Ellis Reread of 2012. Still a slight, pure book. So focused that I cannot help but admire it.
  9. Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis (April 24): A return to the style of his first novel and it was interesting to read immediately following Less than Zero. Not quite as impressive in reread, though.
  10. The Informers by Bret Easton Ellis (May 3): My least favourite of Ellis's work. If only because some stories don't hold up at all. But, there are some wonderful bits and pieces here and there.
  11. The Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis (May 17): The first half is tough to get through because it was adapted so directly in the movie that it feels tired. But, the second half is still surprising and worthwhile.
  12. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis (June 8): I laughed more this time.
  13. Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho by Julian Murphet (June 8): One of Continuum's books from a series on 'popular' books that looked at their place within the culture and how they have been adapted. I have ones for High Fidelity and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle as well. Nice companion to American Psycho with some choice tidbits. Worth it for the bio chapter.
  14. Glamorama by Bret Easton Ellis (June 18): Still my favourite. I laughed more this time, too.
  15. Lunar Park by Bret Easton Ellis (July 3): Ellis mocking himself in the character's planned novel concept was hilarious. The horror elements didn't quite come together at the end for me. Unlike other novels, this one couldn't just fade out as easily as it faded in and that seemed to be a problem for Ellis.
  16. Exile on Main St. by Bill Janovitz (July 19): Part of the 33 1/3 series. I listed to the album quite a bit during this time, too. I need to read more of those books.
  17. American Tabloid by James Ellroy (August 11): I read the first 2/3s over a long weekend at a cottage. Wonderful time.
  18. Winter Journal by Paul Auster (August 26): An amazing example of how, in writing about the specific, a truly gifted writer can speak to the general. I found myself imparting my own self onto the text an alarming amount. A joy.
  19. Waging Heavy Peace by Neil Young (October 27): This reads like a series of blog posts in the best way. Little visits where Young talks about what's on his mind in no order. Just whatever comes to him with lots of tangents. What I was hoping for.
  20. Top of the Rock: Inside the Rise and Fall of Must See TV by Warren Littlefield with TR Pearson (November 24): I read this quickly. It could have been twice as long and I would have still loved it. Oral histories are great.
  21. Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis (December 8): More focused than I rememberd. It could have been longer if Ellis wanted -- and might have been better for it. It breezes by. But, it made me laugh.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Smarkass Reviews: WWE Superstar Collection - John Cena

So, this is one of the first releases of the new "WWE Superstar Collection," a cheap set of DVDs aimed at the more casual WWE fan. This one, along with one for Zack Ryder, came out on Tuesday, each running around an hour and a half total and meant to be just quick catch-ups/spotlights of wrestlers. I'm oddly enthused about this line of DVDs, mostly because it will give some guys who aren't ready for the three-disc treatment DVD releases. That doesn't look like it will always be the case necessarily given some of the guys getting sets in the future (like the October releases, which seem to be Shawn Michaels and Rey Mysterio), but it's fun and something that you can watch in a short period of time. There isn't, like, nine hours of stuff to get through, which is kind of nice.

The John Cena set only has four matches and one of which kind of annoys me (the triple threat with Shawn Michaels and Triple H), because it was featured on his most recent three-disc set, the John Cena Experience. I don't see why they felt the need to include a match already on a John Cena DVD set (one that's only a couple of years old at that). It's a bad case of double-dipping when they had a variety of other matches that could have filled that spot like a Cena/Big Show match from 2010 or maybe the Cena/Triple H/Randy Orton triple threat from 2010, or even one of Cena's matches with Batista from 2011. None of those have shown up on any recent compilations and would have fit in pretty well, because Cena's disc here is really just a random collection of matches that show off Cena's ability. I think this is especially problematic when John Cena is one of those guys who the more casual fan will buy the DVD of, so there's an increased chance that fans will be getting the same match twice when there's really no reason for it.

Aside from that conceptual problem, let's go through the matches and see how this set fares...

Match #1: World Heavyweight Championship Match - John Cena (C) vs. Chris Jericho (Armageddon 12.14.08)
At first, I thought this might be a duplicate for me from the History of the World Heavyweight Championship set, but that has their previous match, from Survivor Series, where Cena won the belt off Jericho. I pay attention quite well... I remember seeing this match in the bar where I watched every WWE PPV (aside from Armageddon 2008) from the fall of 2008 through Backlash 2010, and it was dead. Completely dead. It was a little awkward, because Michelle and I aren't big drinkers. I'd usually get a pitcher of coke (maybe a second later in the show), while she'd get a pitcher of pop, too, if I recall correctly. I think one other person turned up to see this show. This match was a disappointing at the time, because it seemed to mark the end of Jericho's awesome 2008 where he became the best wrestler in the company by pretty much all standards. The tap out at the end seemed so rushed. Rewatching it for the first time since then, I liked it. Jericho was more vicious, even using headbutts against Cena early on (I can't recall him doing that any other times really). The story was that Jericho wanted the title back, but also wanted to utterly destroy Cena, because Cena was his son's favourite wrestler. Nice to see Jericho step up the aggression for a story like that. It was a match where Jericho was in control more often than not, but usually not for extended periods of time. There was a lot of back-and-forth and counters with few down moments. They kept up a steady pace and avoided the usual 'heel beats on Cena for long periods of time' style. It's a subtle thing to have the heel dominate without long periods of just beating the shit out of the face, but they managed that through the simplicity of the counter. Cena would break the rhythm by trying to hit a move and Jericho would counter it. It was a sign of life on Cena's part without him actually getting any offence in. Clever stuff. The finish still seems a little rushed with Jericho's tap out to the STF coming pretty quickly, but they'd built up enough fake-outs and near wins for Jericho that you buy the idea that he was mentally worn down -- also, he'd tapped out at Survivor Series, so there could be a sense that he knew he couldn't escape, so why suffer? Jericho has a habit of delivering good matches with Cena and, while this isn't their best bout, it definitely fits that trend.
Winner and STILL World Heavyweight Champion: John Cena [***1/4]

Match #2: Triple Threat Match for the WWE Championship - John Cena (C) vs. Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H (Survivor Series 11.22.09)
This has one of my favourite openings to a match. This was the semi-end of the 2009 DX reunion (or the beginning of the end at least) and, going into this match, the question of how Michaels and Triple H would behave was a big driving point of the story. Cena against a tag team, basically -- but both tag partners would want to win, right? So, the bell rings and Cena is in one corner, facing both members of DX and... Shawn Michaels superkicks Triple H! The look on Cena's face of sheer surprise sold the moment so well. It just came out of nowhere and was fantastic. The match itself was basically told in four parts: Cena vs. Michaels; Cena vs. Triple H; Michaels vs. Triple H; and Cena vs. Michaels vs. Triple H. It's an interesting way to structure a match like this and all of the parts weren't equal (the Michaels/Trips part was pretty short compared to the rest), but it kept things clear and fresh. A trio of short singles matches before all three men collide in the finale? I can think of worse ways to approach a triple threat. It's a nice build and, when things started to collide in the final stretch, it worked quite well. Moves blended together -- I loved when Cena had the STF on Triple H and Michaels put the Crossface on Cena before Cena countered and put Michaels in the STF. They got into a nice rhythm/flow that paid off the trio of one-on-one moments earlier. They made you want to see all three guys at once instead of simply giving it to you right away. I complained about the double-dipping of this match on Cena DVDs, but I can't complain about the quality -- there's a reason why this is on both this and the John Cena Experience.
Winner and STILL WWE Champion: John Cena [****]

Match #3: Superstar of the Year Match - John Cena vs. Randy Orton (Monday Night Raw 12.14.09)
This is an epilogue match to the 2009 feud between Cena and Orton that a lot of people shat on at the time, but I've enjoyed whenever I've gotten the chance to see their matches from that period. This was for the Superstar of the Year Slammy Award (it used to be awarded like any other award, but they began holding matches in 2009 for it) and it's not an amazing match. It's mostly a competent Cena/Orton TV match, but I like the idea that, after their One-Hour Iron Man Match at Bragging Rights that we got a small epilogue TV match. One last regular match between the two where they show how well they work together. Orton dominates, Cena comes back, they tease their finishers until Cena puts him away. Solid stuff and I'm not sure you'd find a much better Cena TV match to put on this set.
Winner: John Cena [**1/2]

Match #4: Steel Cage Triple Threat Match for the WWE Championship - The Miz (C) vs. John Cena vs. John Morrison (Extreme Rules 05.01.11)
A bittersweet match, because is basically the End of the Miz as a Main Eventer. I really like the Miz's work in the WWE and am still annoyed that losing the WWE Championship here killed his validity as a main event performer (more because of how he was handled in the wake of losing the belt than anything else). But, this is a pretty good match. Each man has clearly defined roles: the Miz is the cocky champion that knows he's hated by everyone and has to bust his ass to keep his belt; John Cena is the powerhouse face that is the favourite, but somehow can't beat the Miz; and John Morrison the agile and quick newcomer that has a history with the Miz and is this close to proving he's just as good as his former partner. Within that framework, the three men work well -- lots of quick escape attempts by Morrison, the Miz frantically alternating between the two men, the two faces sometimes working together to beat on the Miz... there aren't a lot of Cena/Morrison moments, but that fits the story. The spot of the match is easily Morrison's modified Starship Pain off the cage onto the other two. R-Truth's involvement doesn't work as well when viewing this match out of context, but it did put the focus on the real story, which was Cena finally ending the Miz's reign as champion. Despite this being a triple threat match and Morrison's history with the Miz, the Cena/Miz stuff was the heart of this match, and R-Truth's involvement put it back in focus.
Winner and NEW WWE Champion: John Cena [***3/4]

Overall, this is a decent set. Nothing too special, particularly if you buy PPV DVDs, but it's an hour-and-a-half of good matches -- and another reminder that Cena is better than most online give him credit for.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Some Brief Thoughts on Celebrity Apprentice 5

Tonight is the finale of Celebrity Apprentice 5 where Clay Aiken and Arsenio Hall will square off to determine who is the fifth Celebrity Apprentice in the weakest season of the show I've seen yet. I've watched every season except the first and, on the whole, this one has been a frustrating, dull, disappointing experience. The line-up of celebrities had potential, but quickly devolved into the same tedious problems week after week, not helped by this season skewing wildly away from fundraising tasks towards 'creative' ones (I hate that fucking word now), creating a fairly repetitive pattern of tasks week after week. But, nonetheless, here are some thoughts on the season:

* The first episode was a genuine 'game changer' for the show, I think. Paul Teutul, Sr. winning the fundraising task because of one donation of $305,000 basically gave a big "Fuck you" to fundraising tasks. It was a cheap win that made everything we saw completely worthless. Of course, fundraising tasks have always been worthless and ripe for someone to exploit them like this. I don't think it's a coincidence, though, that the season began with this and only featured one other fundraising task (before the final task, which is part fundraising, part 'creative' as always). Usually, the show tries to keep things relatively even and Paul, Sr. looks to be the man who killed the fundraiser.

* Victoria Gotti getting fired in the second week was a big plus, because those 'She's with the mob and may kill me' jokes got old after the first episode.

* Week four was the first sign that this season was fucked. The first three episodes were your typical Celebrity Apprentice bullshit. Episode four was the one where Adam Carolla and Michael Andretti were fired because Andretti didn't want to give Buick a free endoresement, basically. The task was to do a presentation for a new Buick car along with a Q&A about it. The men were obviously superior in executing this task. Not even close. But, the Buick executives didn't like that Carolla was the project manager instead of Andretti, so the women won. The irony, of course, was that Andretti played a big part in the presentation and the execs didn't like him as a public speaker. So, their complaint was that they wanted more Andretti, but also thought he wasn't suited to something like this. It was a bullshit decision that was obviously based on Buick wanting to take advantage of the Andretti name and Andretti obviously not entirely comfortable with giving an endorsement to a product because someone else says he has to (and for free). Carolla was fired when he took responsibility for the loss instead of trying to blame anyone else -- and, then, Trump fired someone else because how dare anyone take responsibility for losing when it's their fault? It was a joke and one of those times where you can't help but wonder how Trump succeeded in business if that's how he runs his company. That Tia Carrere was fired the next week, taking full responsibility and not bringing anyone back to the boardroom made the fucked up fourth week stand out even more, because there was no consistency.

* Inconsistency was a big issue. Trump would waver wildly between blaming people who came up with the initial concepts and project managers who approved and oversaw their execution. Some would praise the inability to predict Trump, but, at this point, it's just annoying. He swerves for the sake of it most of the time it seems.

* The episode that was on the same night as the Academy Awards was horrible to watch. The boardroom began shortly after ten and went on forever into a surprisingly long overrun. If anything makes me glad that the show will only be an hour next season, it's an episode like that. I genuinely wanted the men to lose in those early episodes because I couldn't stand the boardroom with the women.

* It took far too long for someone to point out that Aubrey O'Day spearheading the 'creative' on the women's team and, then, losing is something that they could use against her instead of allowing her to continue to act like she's amazing.

* The Clay Aiken/Pen  Jillette mini-feud was a little lame.

* It was funny how much the women hated Dayana Mendoza and, then, how easily the men worked with her right away much to the horror of Lisa Lampanelli.

* Lisa grew from someone who seemed like they could win into someone you rooted against. Her inability to distinguish between Dayana being upset over 'not being the star' and not being included at all was amazing. Aside from Aubrey, no one had a larger gap between how they perceived themselves and how they came across.

* I will never forgive Arsenio for backing off his rant on Aubrey.

* Dee Snyder getting fired stood out as another big mistake for the show. Same with Penn getting fired. Looking back, if I were to have chosen two people to be in the finals, it would have been those two. But, both of their firings, pointed to a large problem the celebrities had this year: defending themselves in the boardroom. They were pisspoor at making arguments for why they should stay, aside from Aubrey. She was always good at attacking others and mentioning everything she could possibly be credited for doing. Everyone else fell into the trap of trying to be nice and not using rhetoric and logic well.

* I was surprised in a few instances that no one tried to argue with the decision of the judges. The Buick one and the Trump cologne taks stood out as times when arguing against the choices and reasons might have worked.

* I wish someone said to Aubrey "You know how I know you're not really creative? You don't use any other words to say you are!"

* Lou Ferrigno was an endless source of amusement. You know there were drinking games centred around him saying "a hundred and ten percent."

* The biggest flaw of this season was the paperthin abilities of the celebrities. In the past, numerous people stood out as possible winners, while, this time, it seemed like you had a bunch of losers, a bunch of second-tier 'capable' people who didn't stand above the rest, and only a couple of possible winners -- and they were fired. By the time we hit the final five, it was apparent that this was the weakest final five yet and, no matter who won, this season was a dud. That every task save two was a 'creative' task really stopped people with blind spots or gaps in ability from standing out like usual. Changing up the tasks was a way to judge who was well-rounded, not simply good at one thing, and this season didn't do that.

So, we're left with Arsenio and Clay and... both are safe, crowd-pleasing choices. Neither stood out too much, good or bad. No one will be upset if either wins, I imagine, though most probably lean one way or another. Maybe this show has run its course.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Fraternizer-In-Residence Spoof Article (2007)

In my final two years of undergrad at University of Western Ontario, I wrote (and edited in my final year) for the Arts & Entertainment section at the school's paper. One of the traditions there was the April 1 (approximately) spoof issue. It was always fun to mock university events or poke fun at ourselves. When I moved onto grad school at the University of Windsor and became friend with the Arts editor at that paper (she was a fellow grad student), I began writing there as well. For that spoof issue, I wrote one of my favourite articles, one that actually got one of my profs a little upset. The prof who taught my creative writing class was also the head of the department that I mentioned in my spoof article. Except, the use of his name wasn't intentional on my part, because, at UWO, we always used fake names. Obvious fakes, but fakes nonetheless. It was part of making sure the issue came across as a jokey spoof issue. At Windsor, they used real names. That led to a fun moment in creative writing when the prof mentioned the artcle as an example of great satire and I revealed that I wrote it (my name wasn't credited) much to his surprise. He was obviously annoyed at it, but had just praised it, so... Either way, I figured since it was just April 1, I would post this here. It was a fun article to write and semi-inspired by some problems the department had had before I arrived at the school. Name in square brackets were meant to be placeholders for whatever fake names the paper had settled on. Enjoy.


The English Department at the University of Windsor has had numerous scandals over the past few years concerning students and faculty. In most cases, students and faculty can interact without problems, but, sometimes, things have been taken too far, resulting in rumours, questions of professionalism, and, even, firings. The problem: fraternizing.

To rectify the problem of students and faculty sleeping together, the Department has taken a bold new step that has some applauding and many outraged. Beginning September 2007, the English Department will have a fraternizer-in-residence.

“The position does not necessarily entail having sexual contact with students,” Department head [Karl Jirgens] said. “It is merely someone who will be open to having a more casual, non-academic relationship with students. Whether there is anything sexual going on is up to the individuals.

“We hope that the fraternizer-in-residence will be a longstanding program here in the Department and will help avoid unpleasant situations between students and faculty. By having a professor-like person on staff that can mingle with students, maybe both faculty and students won’t feel the need to seek each other out.”

For the position, the Department interviewed many candidates, but finally settled on adult film star William Bigspear. Bigspear is known for his literary-themed films like Paradise Lust, Jane Bare, and A Portrait of the Pizza Boy as a Young Stud .

As well, Bigspear has written, directed and starred in over a dozen Shakespeare-based films, such as Much Ado about Fucking, Julius Pleaser, The Horny Wives of Windsor, and Pleasure for Pleasure. [Jirgens] said his knowledge of Shakespeare also helps the department fill its current hole until a suitable candidate is found.

University President [insert name because I don’t know it] issued a statement saying that he supports the new program on a trial basis. If it’s successful, the position may become permanent and other departments may receive funding for a similar position.

[Last name of the president]’s scepticism is shared by various campus groups, including [the women’s group]. [WG’s leader] said, “The position is deplorable. It assumes that women all want to sleep with their professors and that that is somehow a problem. Women can make their own sexual choices whether the University likes it or not.”

As well, the newly formed [men’s group] has begun circulating a petition for an additional, female fraternizer-in-residence. “It is sexism, pure and simple,” [Aaron Lang], founder of the group said. “Men want to sleep with faculty just as much as women, but the Department has only hired a male fraternizer. I thought we lived in a society that valued equality, but apparently we don’t.”

[Jirgens] has responded to criticism by referencing Bigspear’s alleged bisexuality: “If you watch his performance as Fellatio, best friend and sidekick of Prince Came-Lots than you’ll know that Mr. Bigspear will service any student, male or female. If you close your eyes, oral sex is oral sex. This is an English Department and I think some of the students just need to use their imagination a bit more. And to not be so homophobic.”

Criticism also comes from within the Department as a professor who wishes to remain anonymous said, “One of the reasons I became a professor is the readily available co-eds. If all I wanted to do was teach and discuss literature, I would work at a high school, but I want to teach and discuss literature and have sex with barely legal women. It’s a perk of the job and they are trying to take that away.”

This is not the first case of a fraternizer-in-residence, the position first appeared on the campus of the University of Western Ontario in 2004 after similar problems of students and faculty having inappropriate relationships. Western President [Paul Davenport] hails the program as a big success and has implemented in every department on campus.

“The fraternizer-in-residence program has lowered complaints of unwanted advances from both students and faculty, and has also increased faculty productivity by 40%. It has been an unequivocal success.”

[Jirgens] said, “We saw how successful the program has been at UWO and decided it was worth trying here, at least on a trial basis. I’m sure all criticism will fall by the wayside once people see what the program can accomplish and the positive results it will not doubt yield.”

Friday, February 24, 2012

Some Brief Thoughts on Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone

I finally finished reading Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone, a book collecting Hunter Thompson's writing for the magazine, today. Before reading my thoughts, you should read Rory at Totally Gonzo's review of the book, because he sums up the biggest problem with it: namely theheavily edited versions of Thompson's writing that we get. Now, I can live with that more than he can, because I get the whole thing about wanting one book, size limitations, wanting to represent everything, etc., etc., etc. I think they would have been better off doing excerpts like Rory mentions, especially for the pieces already collected in other books. They did a decent job of this with the bit they took from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, because, honestly, you don't need to put much of that in here.

I only wish they'd done something similar with his 1972 campaign material. I wound up skipping over those pieces because I'm planning on rereading Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72 sometime this year like I do in every US election year. What we get here takes up about 150 pages of the book when, honestly, some choice excerpts at about a third of the space would have done nicely.

The main draw for me was the uncollected pieces he'd done for Rolling Stone. Stuff like "Polo is My Life," which hasn't appeared in any of his released books yet -- or that piece on the 2004 election. There isn't much that hasn't been collected somewhere ("Fear and Loathing in Elko" appears in Kingdom of Fear, I believe), but I'd hope that the material that can't be found in other collections appears unchanged. Probably not, though.

Despite these problems, I'd still recommend this book -- at least to someone who's just getting into Thompson's writing. His writing for Rolling Stone was something that shows where he was at almost every stage of his career, so this book functions as a sample at the very least. It may be chopped up, but, even in that state, it's still Thompson -- it's hard to hide his style and talent. If you want to read complete versions of the articles, there's always The Great Shark Hunt, Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Songs of the Doomed Better than Sex, and Kingdom of Fear.

I liked the introductions to each article/section of articles and the use of letters surrounding the article/section of articles. That was one thing Jann Wenner got right in his editing of the book and something that makes this a better book to give to first-time readers of Thompson. Because, honestly, that's who the audience is. There's the appeal of the odd thing that longtime readers haven't seen (unless they got the original issues of Rolling Stone), but, otherwise, it's a taster's menu of Thompson's writing throughout his career tied to one magazine.

Now, what I need is The Mutineer, something that has all of the "Hey Rube" columns not in the print collection, and the promised unreleased stuff...

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Smarkass Comments: Randy Orton: Evolution of a Predator

In December, I got Randy Orton: Evolution of a Predator and I'm amazed at how little mention I've seen of it online. It was one of the more DVD releases from the WWE in a while. Obviously, a Randy Orton DVD set isn't surprising: he's basically the #2 face in the company behind John Cena. You could maybe argue that CM Punk is #2 now, but I don't think so. Orton is at the point where's just over in a big way no matter what. That he hasn't had a DVD set yet is a surprise, honestly -- not as surprising as the set itself. It features a documentary on the first disc and two discs of matches, which is the WWE's most common way to structure these sets. The surprising thing is the content.

The main documentary feature presents two stories basically: the first is Orton's journey from Elimination Chamber 2011 to WrestleMania XXVII, while the second is the usual biography. The first part is interesting, walking the lines between the reality of working as a wrestler for the WWE and limiting the exposure to the scripted element of the company's product. We see Orton backstage before events, but never see any discussions of match construction, who's going over, or run-throughs (as I've heard are had for group matches like the Elimination Chambers). They keep that stuff off screen, instead presenting Orton like a 'real' competitor. They also show some of the media stuff he does and charity work, a few bits at home, stuff like that. One of my favourite moments in this portion of the documentary (it skips back and forth between this and the bio) is Orton discussing how difficult he finds media appearances and how much he's worked at it. Wrestling is stage performance, working for the live audience, and that means being over-the-top. Orton is fairly restrained usually, but still.

The bio feature is where I was surprised. The story is basically 'Randy Orton used to be an asshole and now he's not.' Showing wrestlers in a negative light isn't something new to WWE DVDs. How can it be with the antics of Roddy Piper, Ric Flair, the Ultimate Warrior, Hulk Hogan, and so many other wrestlers from the past? There's a big difference between showing the negative side of 'legends' and your #2 guy, though. Orton's attitude problems aren't news to the online smarks, but to the average viewer? To kids? You have Orton and pretty much everyone else they interview call Randy Orton a complete asshole up until a couple of years ago. You have John Cena saying that he hated Orton and that he was only kept around because he was good in the ring. The closest thing to someone saying something positive about Orton outside of the ring then is Triple H saying that Orton never acted that way around him because he knew that Trips would have had his head. A combination of talent and coming from a wrestling family kept Orton employed despite every story or quote telling us what a nightmare he was backstage.

One part of Orton's life that I'm very surprised they kept on the DVD is his time in the military. He joined the marines in 1998 and hated it. He hated the dehumanising culture of the military, but figured that, after basic training, things would get better. When they didn't, he went AWOL, figuring they'd come after him and throw him out. They didn't, so he returned, was told they didn't want to kick him out, and did everything he could to get out until they court martialled him and he served some time in military prison. Considering the WWE's close relationship with the US military, that they put this part of his life on the DVD is shocking. It paints the military as a place of bullying, a place where a guy like Orton was miserable because of the treatment he received. Obviously, you could make arguments that place the blame on Orton or that things have changed; except no one even comes close to that.

Basically, the honesty of the feature is surprising. They bury 80% of the time Orton was in the company, trash the military, and it makes for good viewing. It made me realise that Orton's career path is very much like Shawn Michaels's in compressed form: he came in, got a big ego, was a nightmare to work with, and, then, settled down a little with his family, realised his spot is secure, and focused more on delivering great matches. Some people have talked about how good Orton was in 2011, how he seemed more focused on in-ring performance than anything else, and I think doing this DVD helped. He was already heading in that direction and doing a project like this is the sort of thing that could have made him think more about his behaviour and spot in the company. He's over. He knows he's over, so why worry about titles and pushes? Why not just go out and deliver great matches?


I haven't watched a lot of the matches yet. I've skipped around a little and what really caught my eye was Orton's match against John Cena at Breaking Point in 2009. It was an "I Quit" match for the WWE Championship where Orton would lose the match and the belt if anyone interferred on his behalf. An "I Quit" match is where the only way to win is to make your opponent say "I quit." It's a step beyond a traditional submission match where the only way to win is to make your opponent tap out. Now, tapping out and saying you quit are, basically, the same thing, of course. The thinking is that actually saying you quit is worse -- something that's harder for wrestlers to do. Tapping out is ending the match, but saying you quit is to admit total defeat. It's an act of cowardice in a sense. At least, that's how I always viewed the distinction. And "I Quit" matches have slowly become John Cena's 'match.' Edge has TLC, the Undertaker and Triple H both have Hell in a Cell, and John Cena has "I Quit." His gimmick is one where he doesn't quit. He doesn't give up. He's never lost an "I Quit" match. Logically, any time he has to pick a stipulation for a match, you'd assume he'd choose "I Quit," but that would mean, like, nine of those a year. Still, you see Cena in one of these matches and you know who's winning.

Breaking Point was a PPV that only happened once and was based around submission matches. I've never seen the entire show and didn't hear anything really positive about it. It seemed like your average WWE PPV, either a little above or below average depending on who you talk to. A forgettable show. The Orton/Cena match didn't get a lot of praise either, but it's become one of my favourite matches after seeing it on this DVD set.

As a storytelling medium, the wrestling match is limited. The few times I've discussed wrestling with Tim Callahan, I would defend it, but he was always right in saying that comics have far more options for telling a story and communicating ideas. There are a lot of things wrestling matches can be about, but the most common, obviously, is violence. These are fights -- what else would they be about 99% of the time? Even when other stories are told, they're told through violence. Yet, wrestling doesn't often try to tell stories about violence in a meaningful way -- or to play with the concept of violence. Because it's such an integral part of the text, it rarely becomes subtext.

The Randy Orton/John Cena "I Quit" match is a story about the futility of torture. Because of that, it's actually a fairly unimpressing match on the surface. For 95% of the match, Randy Orton beats the living hell out of John Cena. He uses weapons, he uses handcuffs, and he delivers a ton of punishment. It's an incredibly one-sided match, especially once Orton pulls out the handcuffs and begin slowly torturing Cena. He toys with him by taunting him, by beating on him in a casual 'I can hit you, but you can't hit me' fashion before making it more serious. At one point, he hangs Cena from the ringpost by the handcuffs and hits him repeatedly with a Singapore cane, pausing in between the violence to see if Cena will quit. Once the handcuffs come out, it becomes a torture session where Orton uses violence to try and break Cena's will. Every time Cena refuses, Orton becomes more frustrated and responds with even harsher punishment. That continues until Cena finally escapes the cuffs and mounts an offence of his own. But, that's not enough, because Orton could still take control. It's only when Cena handcuffs himself to Orton and puts Orton in a submission move after Orton tries to obtain the keys (just barely out of reach) that Orton gives up almost immediately.

Orton barely took any punishment, especially compared to the amount of violence Cena endured. But, that's the point: this was a match where the violence didn't actually matter. It was a contest of wills where Cena's ability to stand up under torture eventually broke Orton. Once Cena got the upperhand, even briefly, Orton knew he couldn't win. He had brutalised Cena so much that more violence wouldn't do any good and his only option was to quit, because he knew he couldn't last that long. Orton is the coward who can dish it out, but can't take it -- at least not to the extent that Cena can. Orton tried to torture Cena into quitting and it backfired, and handed Cena a relatively 'easy' victory in how quickly Orton gave up when confronted with opposition. It's a surprisingly smart match with a story that goes beyond the usual sort you see in wrestling. A violent contest designed to make another person bend to your will where the message is that violence is ultimately futile at making someone bend to your will. Fantastic.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Books I Read in 2011

Really, these are the books I finished in 2011. I read bits and pieces of other stuff, I'm sure. Books I began and never finished. Short stories from other books. Who knows. Offered without any comments since Tim Callahan said he just wanted to see the list and I'm not in the mood to do more. The included dates are when I finished reading the book in question...

1. The Curse of Lono by Hunter S. Thompson (January 12)
2. Sunset Park by Paul Auster (February 3)
3. A Lion’s Tale: Around the World in Spandex by Chris Jericho with Peter Thomas Fornatale (February 10)
4. Undisputed: How to Become the World Champion in 1,372 Easy Steps by Chris Jericho with Peter Thomas Fornatale (February 13)
5. after the quake by Haruki Murakami (March 17)
6. The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami (March 22)
7. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (April 3)
8. Pinball, 1973 by Haruki Murakami (April 7)
9. Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Matthew Strecher (April 7)
10. Screwjack by Hunter S. Thompson (April 7)
11. Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami (April 27)
12. Marshal Law: Origins by Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill (May 7)
13. Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon (May 29)
14. Noah’s Turn by Ken Finkleman (June 15)
15. The Living Daylights by Ian Fleming (June 18)
16. Quantum of Solace: The Complete James Bond Short Stories by Ian Fleming (July 8)
17. Casino Royale by Ian Fleming (July 17)
18. Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville can Teach Us about being Human by Grant Morrison (July 28)
19. Et Tu, Babe by Mark Leyner (August 21)
20. Comfortably Numb: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd by Mark Blake (September 1)
21. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (September 17)
22. Eating the Dinosaur by Chuck Klosterman (September 25)
23. The Girl with the Long Green Heart by Lawrence Block (October 4)
24. Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman (October 13)
25. Fargo Rock City by Chuck Klosterman (October 22)
26. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (November 14)
27. Ghosts by Paul Auster (November 20)
28. The Locked Room by Paul Auster (November 25)
29. Invisible by Paul Auster (November 29)
30. Travels in the Scriptorium by Paul Auster (November 30)
31. Man in the Dark by Paul Auster (December 5)
32. The Velvet Underground and Nico by Joe Harvard (December 9)
33. Pretty, Pretty, Pretty Good: Larry David and the Making of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm by Josh Levine (December 26)
34. The Visible Man by Chuck Klosterman (December 30)