Thursday, July 21, 2011

I AM THE GREATEST: Meditations on Swagga

by Jack Solowey


Brian Urlacher has it. He advertises a dank (good smelling) deoderant by that very name. He also has over 1,000 career tackles in the NFL – both cause and consequence of his undaunted swagga.

Muhammad Ali is a swagga O.G. Correction: triple O.G. He murdered a rock and injured a stone. He made medicine sick.

He floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee. Down goes Frazier! Up with Muhammad Ali.

Bill Buckner does not have swagger. LMFAO 1986 World Series.

“As sure as night is dark and day is light” Johnny Cash has swagga. Nowadays we might not immediately see the swagga in a lovesick countrysinger. But come on people, far lesser men than Mr. Cash could have crooned the copper off a coin if only they had Johnny’s voice.

Does Bob Dylan have swagger? You may now be shaking your head, Muhammad Ali and little Bobbie Zimmerman on the same list? What’s the weight differential there?

But I say, is being scrawny a crime? Joan Baez didn’t think so. Mmmmmm. Alright Bob, ok.

Lest we forget that Bob Dylan stood side by side with Muhammad Ali saying “Hell no we won’t go!” to the virtueless and vexing violence that were the Vietnam War and Cambodian clusterf***. Furthermore, Johnny Cash GAVE the man his guitar. I mean Johnny Cash literally went over to Dylan, took the guitar off his back and said, “Here Bob, take it. Just have it bro.”

I rest my case.

Frank Sinatra? The man did it his way. He flew us to the moon.

You better believe Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin have swagga. Even that third guy that nobody remembers, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins has it. The man left the planet. Have you?

Werner Von Braun?

He built some pretty sweet rockets. But the sonofab*tch was a Nazi.

“Vonce ze rockets go up who cares vhere zey come down said Werner Von Braun.”

Werner does not make the cut, but Tom Lehrer sure does!

Nazis, by definition, are antithetical to all other human beings on this list.

Killin Nazis, however, now that is a different story. Sgt. Donny Donowitz makes the list. You may know him better as the “Bear Jew.” “He bashes Nazi’s brains in with a baseball bat ‘swhat he does.”

As for the real life version, have you heard of Yonatan Netanyahu?

Lemme tell you ‘bout my boy Yoni.

This Israeli paratrooper landed in Uganda dressed as Idi Amin, busted into a terrorist controlled airport guns ablazin. Thrice Uzi-ed to death a score of terrorists, and saved 100 hostages. He had more than a little help from the Sayaret Matkal. They all make the list.

Yoni also made the Dean’s list at Harvard University, but I won’t hold that against him.

This brings us to the issue of using swagga for good. Now Peter Parker’s uncle, Ben, understood the subject well. Peter Parker himself contains the dichotomy of swagga-morality. Whereas Spiderman represents the use of one’s innate swagga for good, Venom represents its use for evil.

Kanye West has been portrayed as having dealt with the Peter Parker dilemma.

He did sing the song on swagga, so he should be a shoe in.

One day, on the corner, Kanye West surveyed his surroundings and came to the realization that no one else in the general vicininty possessed the same degree of swagga. T.I., M.I.A., and Jay-Z all came to the same conclusion, and without question have got swagga.

Kanye, however, has been villified in the press for allegedly having been impolite to Taylor Swift at some awards ceremony or something. Let me go on record here and say that Taylor Swift’s melliflouous narration of the struggles of a teenaged girl dealing with the pressures of popularity and image-consciousness deserves a swagga nod.  But Kanye was right, so too does BeyoncĂ©. It should go without saying that she makes the list. I’m sure all the single ladies agree.

Now closing the book on the Kanye is simple. The man loves his mama. If you don’t understand why this gives Kanye an unequivocal thumbs up, then you don’t deserve an explanation.

Speaking of Mamas, Margaret Thatcher has sooo much Swagga (eventhough the British Miners union wouldn’t think so).

The Lady survived an assasination attempt, and told the commies to kiss her arsenal.

So, you might now be saying, alright Jack, I see what you did here. But who are you? I mean, who gave you the right to declare who has swagga and who doesn’t?

First off, let me respond to that query by saying, these fine ladies and gentleman do not have swagga because I say they do. They just do. I am but politely directing your attention to the high concentration of swagga particles in these individuals. I mean, these men and women are 99th percentile, 3 whole standard deviations above the mean.

Second, if I myself did not have swagga I might say something like: I’m sorry mister, I’m just a kid with poor to mediocre hand eye coordination, please don't hurt me. 

My real answer to your question though is: That was me, then I started using swagger from Old Spice. 

Who’s laughin now?


Friday, July 15, 2011

Harry's Valuable Lessons: Coming of Age with Voldemort and Osama

by Jack Solowey

(Spoiler Alert: reveals the ending of the Harry Potter saga and the fate of the Al Qaeda terrorist.)

This morning, at 12:00 am the final installment of the Harry Potter movie series, The Deathly Hallows Part II, was released in American theatres.

To the viewing public, Voldemort is now dead, and so is Osama.

On the night we learned that American special forces successfully killed Osama Bin Laden, a large number of American college students went out into the streets to express their emotions. Many waved American flags, some cheered, others sang the national anthem, and several answered questions for reporters.

The next day, in the media frenzy that surely had to follow the killing of the world’s most wanted mass-murderer, many voices criticized these students.

Pamela Gerloff of the Huffington Post wrote, ‘Celebrating’ the killing of any member of our species--for example, by chanting USA! USA! and singing The Star Spangled Banner outside the White House or jubilantly demonstrating in the streets--is a violation of human dignity.”

The Guardian’s Mona Eltahawy decried, “No Dignity at Ground Zero,” “It didn't take 10 minutes for the frat party atmosphere to sicken me.”

Rather than condemning personal acts of catharsis, Neil Howe, the scholar credited with naming my generation the Milennials, sought to explain these acts of “celebration” in the context of my generation’s experience. 

"It's like Voldemort is dead," Howe declared. "It's a Harry Potter world. For this generation, there's either pure evil or pure good. There's no anti-hero. They're out to get rid of these terrible forces and have a celebration. A happy ending. This is very defining for their generation.”

I take exception to this absolutist categorization, as both a member of the milennial generation and a fan of the Harry Potter series, which Howe would probably say is a redundant statement.

Howe is entirely right that the Harry Potter morality play informed my generation’s moral identity, but for that very reason his assertion that we embrace a primitive black and white view of the world is dead wrong.

In condemning the Milennial’s reaction to O.B.L.-K.I.A., Gerloff and Eltahawy tried to portray us as frivolous immoral jingoists. Based on the Pew Research Center’s recent publication Milennials: Portrait of a Generation, however, Gerloff and Eltahawy would aptly be described as factually incorrect journalists. Pew: “This generation is the most culturally diverse in the history of the nation, college-focused and more tolerant than any before them. They believe that good parenting, successful marriage and helping others are among the most important things in their lives.”

It should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the Harry Potter series, that a generation said to have learned valuable ethical tropes from those books is the most tolerant in history. In the Harry Potter saga, Voldemort and his “Death-Eater” followers seek to purge the wizarding world of “mudbloods” – wizards with non-magical family. Voldemort and the Death-Eaters wage a campaign to impose racial purity, in a manner akin to Hitler and the Third Reich. Harry and his cadre of protectors give shelter to the non-Aryan wizards and seek to defeat Voldemort’s wehrmacht.

While this is surely a tale of good vs. evil, it is not as Howe suggests, without nuance or shades of gray. In the days preceding the rise of Voldemort, Harry tries to warn the Ministry of Magic (the government of the wizarding world) that the “Dark lord is back.” The head of the Ministry, Cornelius Fudge, however, refuses to acknowledge the danger in a Neville Chamberlain move. When Harry refuses to be censored, the Ministry declares him a terrorist and the press labels him public enemy number one. Nevertheless, Harry continues his quest to reveal the truth and protect the community.

Dr. Lawrence Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development would place Harry’s actions at the highest level of morality. Harry transcends the “Primitive Ethics” of obedience and punishment in not cowing to the Ministry’s threats. He then rises above the “Conventional Morality” of law and order in refuting the government’s dogma.

Harry exercises rational ethical thought beyond the demands of his id and his superego. Not only is he able to tease out right from wrong in the face of obfuscating authority figures, but he also risks personal harm to do so.

He is an ideal role model for a generation that was gripped by tragedy at a young age. Surely, many children of the milennial generation who lost their parents in Osama’s fires took solace in Harry’s story: his own parents were murdered by Voldemort.

I do not look askance at the 10-year-old boy who saw the Twin Towers destroyed on a TV in his 5th grade classrooom one Tuesday morning in September. I do not question his education when he learned that day that Osama Bin Laden was the face of evil. I don’t shake my head that this boy navigated adolescence reading the story of another brave boy, who selflessly fought to protect his community and friends in the face of withering opposition from the government and the press. 

And I certainly do not have the temerity to question the manner in which this young man chose to respond to his President’s declaration that “justice has been done.”

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Dynamic Dialogue Contest

Your task: Complete the following dialogue with two of your own lines for a prize.

Character A: Honey, I'm home!
Character B: How was your day?
Character A: (your line here)
Character B: (your line here)

Good luck, and have fun!
 Deadline: Tuesday, July 19th, 4:00pm

Monday, July 11, 2011

Freewrite of the Week: Things that are Worse Left Unsaid

by Jacqueline Fauni

Unless you’ve been unyieldingly blunt your whole life, you’ve probably experienced the backlash of saying one thing and meaning another.  And I’m not talking about idioms.  What I’m talking about are the things we say with the often counterproductive hope that people will read between the lines, respond the way we want them to, and -- here’s the tricky part -- actually mean it.  As irrational or futile as this strategy can repeatedly prove to be, it remains a standard device in our social interactions and, as art imitates life, makes a regular appearance in our characters’ dialogues.

Take the "Does this make me look fat?" conversation -- a classic example that has put many a man in an impossibly precarious position.  You’ve seen it in countless films, episodes, and commercials -- a woman grimacing in front of a mirror, turning this way and that, smoothing the form-fitting cocktail dress she has to wear to a gala that night.  Then the camera slowly pans out and you see a guy fidgeting in the corner until she asks him the dreaded question.  His response?  As many different answers as there can be, it must be a variation of "no" if he wants to avoid the couch.   

Of course, fiction or a lot of moxie can get people to respond in a way others wouldn’t (and are advised not to) try at home.  Let’s say Fidgeting Guy was possessed by Rhett Butler and blurted out, "Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn," before jauntily walking off into the fog that has inexplicably filled the bedroom.  Not likely in real life, but much more interesting than a faint-hearted, "Of course not, honey."  Switching things up can turn a nameless couple’s cliched interaction into a scene packed with character and chemistry that is singularly and undeniably yours.  Take the maddening, skillful manipulations of Scarlett O’Hara and add a dash of the dashing, undaunted, and deliciously rakish (yes, I’m a big fan) Rhett Butler, and you’ve got a dynamic that can yield scenes and scenes of explosive energy you know belongs only to Ms. Margaret Mitchell.  

Your task: Write a scene in which one character surreptitiously tries to get another character to say what he or she wants to hear.

Whether you write your characters' interaction as amicable, volatile, decidedly done, or open-ended, just remember to have fun!

Good luck, and happy writing!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

How Many Drinks Must One Man Down, Before You Can Call Him a Man?


by Jack Solowey

There are a lot of similarities between America in 2011 and 1968. In both eras, the United States finds itself mired in unpopular foreign wars and highly partisan domestic politics. It is no surprise then, that the cultural products of that tumultuous year parallel the artistic expression of today. Then and now, protest songs top the music charts and provide anthems for socially aware youth.

Katy Perry is the Joan Baez of my generation – a subtly sensual bohemian princess, shunning makeup and campaigning for civil rights. Baez belting out “We Shall Overcome” with Martin Luther King Jr. during the March for Freedom and Jobs at the Lincoln Memorial never fails to give me goosebumps. Equally chilling, is Katy Perry’s cognizant articulation,Pictures of last night
 Ended up online, I'm screwed, oh well
 It's a blacked out blur, but I'm pretty sure it ruled!”

Perry even alludes to Baez’s 1967 arrest at an anti-war protest: “With my favorite party dress,
 warrants out for my arrest,
 Think I need a ginger ale, 
That was such an epic fail.”

Right on Katy Perry! The Containment Policy was an “epic fail!”

Whereas Katy Perry is married to the skinny rockstar Russel Brand, who goes by the stage name Aldous Snow, Baez once had a famous fling with her own name-changing skinny man: Robert Zimmerman, a.k.a. Bob Dylan.

In 1968, Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix tag-teamed the legendary anti-war song “All Along the Watchtower.” When Hendrix covered Dylan’s lyrical brilliance with his far-out guitar strumming and soulful voice, the single shot straight to the Billboard top 10. Hendrix's opening chords melt your face like a blast of napalm on the Mekong Delta. The same can be said for LMFAO’s bass-thumping #1 hit “Party Iraq.”

“Party Iraq” opens with the stirring lyrics:

“Party Iraq is in the house tonight
Everybody just have a good time
And we gonna make you lose your mind
Everybody just have a good time.”

The first line references the house-to-house fighting that took place in the deadly Battle for Fallujah in 2004. The United States Marine Corps and 82nd Airborne Division consider their fight against Zarqawi’s Al-Qaeda in Fallujah the “heaviest urban combat” since the battle for Hue City in Vietnam in 1968. LMFAO’s line “And we gonna make you lose your mind” pays hommage to the high incidence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder among the US veterans who served in Fallujah.

With young Americans laying down their lives in combat overseas, the youth at home would not and will not rest until societies reevaluate their principles. In 1968, The Beatles performed their iconic “Revolution,” lending a nuanced voice to the call for rebellion. In spite of extremism and destruction, The Beatles assuage “Don’t you know it’s gonna be all right.” In 2011, Hot Chelle Rae offers a similar message, declaring, “It’s all right, all right, tonight, tonight.”

While The Beatles lend support to the popular calls for reform, singing:

You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world

Hot Chelle Rae takes demands for revolution one step further, chanting:

La la la, whatever,
la la la, it doesn’t matter,
la la la, oh well,
la la la

In 1964 and 2008, Americans elected change candidates Richard Nixon and Barack Obama respectivey. Both candidates campaigned on promises to end costly wars started under previous administrations. Years into both of these presidencies, however, the wars in Vietnam and Iraq dragged on, and new operations began in Cambodia and Lybia. 

Disillusioned youths in both generations turned to artists to vocalize their dissatisfaction with an unyielding status quo. The 1960s countercultural, civil rights, and anti-war movements were ultimately successful in bringing about lasting change. 

As for the fate of this generation’s struggle, the answer my friend is blowin in the wind.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

DEADLINE EXTENDED: Seriously Short Fiction Challenge! Take it!

About a week ago, two interns created a flash fiction contest. Sadly, they only received 2 responses. They didn’t know what to do with the fabulous prize they picked out so they decided to extend the deadline.
The triumphant smile was wiped clean off her face when she saw the time. 4:01. Shoulders slumped in defeat, her eyes lit anew - an extension!

Short stories long -- Since we understand that post-4th-of-July haze has prevented a lot of you from accepting the SERIOUSLY SHORT FICTION CHALLENGE, we've extended the deadline to Tuesday, July 12th at 4:00 pm. Good luck, and happy writing!