Silver Bells of the Silver Screen: Non-traditional Christmas Classics to Forget About Your Family With

Greetings of the season everybody! Last week’s blog post was a paltry one, so this week’s will grow three sizes comparatively. A lot of things have happened recently that I could talk about, from stupid movie pulling by stupid movie studios to beloved hoarse-voiced singers dying (RIP Joe Cocker) to my car having things fall off it yet again, but I’ve got one thing to discuss right here and now. As you have probably heard, this Thursday is kind of a big deal to some people. The season my local radio stations have been looking forward to for months has now has finally arrived and will come to its thrilling climax on Christmas day. Speaking of which, have I got some goodies for you. In celebration of the tradition-steeped occasion that is Jesus’ birthday party I am supplying you with a smattering of films that are not exactly the most traditional Bing Crosby-crooning Christmas carols. Sure, many of them have become classics, especially if you’re not into the whole “let’s do Christmas by the book” thing, but they are lovably off-kilter from the usually Rudolph-y fanfare you loved and were probably somewhat terrified by as a kid (and I’m not just talking about that Abominable Snowman) and they all mean a little something to me. I’ll elaborate on each, but know that all of the following films are part of my weird, personal Christmas tradition and are what really get me into the holiday spirit. I’m sure you watch some of these same movies as part of your festivities. Either way, hopefully you enjoy these Xmas Xtravaganzas as much as I do.

Die Hard (1988)

Let’s start with the obvious one. A lot of people are tired of hearing things like, “Die Hard is my favorite Christmas movie,” but for me it really is. Die Hard is fucking awesome, and the fact that it takes place on Christmas Eve is just an added bonus. It gives me a reason to watch a movie I can watch any time of year on a specific date each year. Die Hard is the epitome of the American action movie, and it’s filled with all the essentials needed to ramp us up so much we won’t even care if Santa shows. You’ve got a charismatic and clever villain who is not exactly what he initially appears and is rarely rattled facing off against a guy who’s trying to salvage his already underwater marriage and keep his family together who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time but rises magnificently to the occasion against overwhelming odds. In addition to the leads, there are many great side characters who represent a wide range, from good to bad, expert to inept, quick-witted and witty American to murderous and maniacal German. And let’s not forget the most important character: the building it all takes place in. The Nakatomi Plaza tower complex is the perfect playground for barefoot Bruce Willis to run around and hide from Hans Gruber and his horde of henchman who had everything worked out so well before he announced his presence. That’s still my favorite Alan Rickman line in anything he’s done.

Die Hard is wildly over-the-top and I love every minute of it. I know you want your annoying coworker to stop talking it up as the greatest thing to grace the holidays, but ask yourself which would you rather spend two hours watching: children that aren’t yours butcher “O Little Town of Bethlehem” at a crowded church that smells like a potent collage of cinnamon, grandma’s house, and the perfume tables of a JC Penney’s, or Bruce Willis rattle off one-liners while killing terrorists with guns, explosions, and loose-hanging chains?

Lethal Weapon (1987)

While we’re on the subject of Christmas cops, let’s talk about Lethal Weapon. I refer of course to the original film, and not the 5th or 6th installments put together by an independent group of amateur filmmakers in sunny Philadelphia. Starring Mel Gibson as a crazy guy that we thought was just an act back in 1987, and Danny Glover as the soon-to-be retiree who is “too old for this shit”, screenwriter Shane Black’s first Christmas movie to take place in L.A. is an action-filled fun time highlighted by the incongruous police partners Riggs and Murtaugh not seeing eye-to-eye. Plus it’s got Gary Busey. GARY BUSEY!

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

Shane Black’s go-to formula for making a movie seems to be to throw together a couple of guys who don’t seem to make a good pair at first but work it out through unraveling a criminal mystery set it in L.A. during Christmas. It works with Gibson and Glover, and it works again with Downey Jr. and Kilmer in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Even heavier on the humor than Lethal Weapon thanks a bunch to the chemistry between its stars, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is less buddy cop movie and more modern film noir with Robert Downey Jr. nailing it as a bumbling thief who ends up in Hollywood by hilarious coincidence which continues to carry on for both good and bad for him and his newfound partner, a hysterical gay private eye excellently played by Val Kilmer. This is worth multiple viewings to catch things you missed the first few times around, and because it’s just so much fun.

Brazil (1985)

If Kiss Kiss Bang Bang leaves you confused you may want to steer clear of this one. Unlike Black’s caper, Brazil doesn’t exactly tie up all its loose ends. Well, I guess it kind of does, but it does it more by tying knots upon knots upon knots. None of that matters though, because this is a movie you just sit back and enjoy. It is the work of Terry Gilliam, the guy who made all those crazy cutouts dance around ridiculously on Monty Python’s Flying Circus, after all. His fellow former Python, Michael Palin, also features in a funny role. There is plenty of biting social and political commentary to be found and it is often hilariously presented. Jonathan Pryce is perfect as Sam Lowry, an efficient bureaucrat working for an inefficient bureaucracy who finds solace in his dreams. Fortunately then unfortunately, his dreams lead him to his dream girl who leads him to become targeted as a terrorist by the totalitarian government he grows weary of. Good thing we get to watch them continue to bumble even as his situation darkens. Some brief yet great performances from Robert De Niro, Bob Hoskins, and Ian Holm help make this wild and wacky adventure entertaining throughout. While not as Christmasy as the previous films, Brazil is still worth watching if you’re looking for something really far removed from Frosty the Snowman. Like George Orwell’s favorite Christmas kind of thing.

Trading Places (1983)

Getting back to the Christmas we’re more used to, this comedy has two of the genre’s top dogs from the 1980s: Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd. The former is a clever street-side con artist, while the latter is a high society stock broker who’s just a touch too snobby. The two have their lives shaken up when they are switched to settle a bet between the super rich, old, and white Duke brothers, one’s for the better; the others’ for the worse. When the two learn of the wager they team up to get back at the Dukes with the help of a hooker with a heart of gold (Jaime Lee Curtis) and a trusty butler (Denholm Elliott, you know, Marcus Brody from the Indiana Jones movies).

Elf (2003)

Will Ferrell is a human raised as an elf at the North Pole who ventures to find his biological father in New York City. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, you need to. Easily the most enjoyable Christmas movie of the last 20 years, everyone is perfectly cast. The whole family can watch this with no worries, but there are plenty of jokes that only adults will understand and enjoy.

Home Alone (1990)

You’ve already seen it, and if you haven’t, c’mon man! See it already! It’s great! Watch it again even if you have seen it a million times and observe how everything gets set in motion because Kevin spills milk at the beginning. Seriously, everything in this movie happens over spilled milk. God bless you John Hughes.

Thanks for reading! Have yourself a Merry little Xmas and remember not to have too much of your dad’s famous special  eggnog of bourbon and ice cubes (save it for New Years). Ho ho ho back next week for the comedown from Christmastime.

Yippee Ki Yay,

Alex

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Xmas Favorites of TV

I’m writing this later than usual because I’ve been registering for a health care plan for 2015 and cursing bureaucracy and things that cost me money that don’t automatically gratify me with food or entertainment. I’m assuming the slowness and constant logouts were an indication that I was not alone in this venture today, especially considering it is the last day for it. In case you just uttered a panicked “Oh shit!” then redirect yourself here, my friend, and best of luck. My apologies for the potentially rushed feel of what follows. This was supposed to be bigger, but at least now I’ve got a start on my post material for next week. Merry Xmas anyway.

Last week I complained about Christmas music. This week I’m exalting Christmas television favorites (of mine). I’m sure you’ve heard of most of these titles you’re about to hear of before you hear of them from me, and you probably have seen and routinely watch some of them every December just as I do.

And so we start with the small screen, where every year I make sure to watch these great episodes of these great television shows:

“The Strike” – Seinfeld

It may not sound immediately familiar, but if you’re a fan of Seinfeld you have definitely quoted this episode many times. In “The Strike” George attempts to save money on workplace Christmas gifts by making donations in his coworkers names to a phony charity. When his boss discovers the charity isn’t real and calls him out on it, George calls upon a traumatic childhood holiday celebration invented by his father, Frank, called Festivus. “A Festivus for the rest of us!” In order to convince his boss that he celebrates the secular Festivus – which is a much more minimalistic, anti-commercial observance – in lieu of Christmas he invites his boss over to Festivus dinner. Unfortunately, it forces George to once again take up such ridiculous practices like “the airing of grievances” and “feats of strength”. No matter what holidays you celebrate this December, be sure you watch this hilarious episode beside your aluminum Festivus pole. Now Fesitivus is actually celebrated (on December 23rd) by people in a somewhat serious capacity – at least as much as one can while wrestling his father and vocalizing his disapoinments.

“Xmas Story” and “A Tale of Two Santas” – Futurama

My favorite cartoon also brought some original holiday trimmings to the table, predominantly in two memorable Christmas episodes. First is the ho ho pride of the second season: “Xmas Story, which explains how the jolly holly holiday that was Christmas in the 20th century changed to the frigid fearfest known as Xmas for the 30th. Turns out while Fry was cryogenically frozen, humanity decided to build a Robot Santa to deliver presents to everyone just like the mythical man everyone loved to think wasn’t their parents. However, a serious problem arose when Robot Santa malfunctioned and deemed everyone to be naughty, so instead of delivering presents every Xmas Eve, he delivers a reign of terror and death to anyone foolish enough to be on the street past sundown. In addition to the funny and fresh take on Santa, “Xmas Story” was great for developing the characters of Fry and Leela as the last of their respective kinds and building their relationship. Not to mention they end the episode with this song.

The Planet Express crew would run into Santa again in “A Tale of Two Santas” where they trap Robot Santa on his homeworld of Neptune and set off to restore Xmas to the Christmas that Fry used to love by having Bender become Santa for the night. Maybe not as touching as “Xmas Story”, but at least it gave us this little ditty from Robot Santa’s elf slaves for the toy-making montage. Plus, anytime we get to see Bender take on a role of responsibility and address it in his own unique and often criminal way is a good time.

“A Charlie Brown Christmas”

Charles Schulz’s Peanuts featured in many a holiday special, but none as popular or resonant as their classic Christmastime is here celebration. I grew up loving it as a kid because Snoopy is awesome. Now I’ve become very aware of its not at all subtle Christian metaphors which I appreciate not so much as an observant Catholic (which I’m certainly not despite 18 years of schooling in such affiliated institutions) but as an aspiring story-teller. Also, Snoopy’s still awesome. Christians have always been good at cleverly packaging their  agenda in a good story; it’s a big reason why they converted so many pagans, barbarians, and general non-believers over the years. “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is a very endearing Christmas special no matter how much of a heathen or non-Christian you are. Very much about putting the “Christ” back in Christmas, it also represents the classic Biblical messiah story of the smallest, most unlikely something or other becoming the central figure of everyone’s harmonious reunion and enlightenment. Ironically, it’s calls for a less commercial celebration of Christmas are now more than ever drowned out by relentless TV ads encouraging you to buy stuff that help ABC stretch the ~20 min show to an even 30.

Thanks for reading! You won’t be so lucky for a short stack next week when I talk about my favorite Christmas movies. Talk to me at monotrememadness@gmail.com about all your blog reading needs and keep on keeping on until next week.

Happy Hanukkah,

Alex

Crap, It’s Christmas Again

Ready or not, here it comes. The ever encroaching celebration of Jesus’ birthday that is the true date of the savior of all (Christian) mankind and has nothing whatsoever to do with being placed on the date of a Roman winter festival that celebrated the sun god, and of course, all of the traditions we celebrate on Christmas today stem from Jesus’ direct teachings and are not at all an assimilation of other cultures rituals in an attempt to convert pagans to God’s Almighty Word. Whatever your feelings on the matter, Christmas is the most celebrated and commercial holiday in the United States and much of the world. It is a day that has grown to become an entire “season” of joyful anticipation of fun-filled time spent with family and friends where we learn to enjoy giving as much as receiving, and good, tasty, food that is sometimes literally sitting in pools of delicious fat awaits us with tantalizing smells and flavors. It is a time for warmth in the midst of cold weather, where we festoon our homes and businesses in bright colors, and the beer is stronger and more spice-filled! Everyone has a smile on their face as they sneeze and spread the flu and cold viruses by pushing through their sicknesses to get those last precious hours they are allotted by the yearly budget. Growing up in a temperate clime where the change of seasons is a beautiful thing to observe, and school breaks for 2-4 weeks, I have always loved everything Christmas has to offer enough to even tolerate sitting through a Christmas Eve mass as a growing agnostic and following it with almost 24 straight hours with my horrendously Polish family whose speech rivals a sonicboom in volume. Yet there is one thing that spoils it all and makes me sick of Christmas before December even begins: mother fucking Christmas music.

We’ve got many ways to listen to our own preferred music these days, but those of us driving cars older than many of today’s chart toppers don’t have access to much beyond the good, old fashioned radio. That same device is playing in the offices of many a workplace and shopping center, so chances are if you go outside of your house between now and Christmas you’ll hear some of the season’s signature songs. All eight of them.

Okay, there’s many more than that, but there can be no denying that only a select portion of all Christmas music ever made is what gets wide radio playtime. And those stations that switch over completely from their usual programming to full-on Christmas usually play the same cluster again and again and again and again and again. Sometimes they’ll mix in different versions as there are plenty, but you stand a very good chance of hearing the same song, even the same version, two, three, maybe more times a day on the same station. There are a few reasons for this. One is that there is an established set of songs that, like many other things related to Christmastime, are considered traditions, and traditions were meant to be done and overdone time and again. This is why hundreds of people have recorded versions of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”. Another reason is that songs outside of that specific set of traditional songs or those that aren’t deemed “family-friendly” (and admittedly, some aren’t) don’t get played, so they stick with the safe-bet, proven classics and nothing else. But there is a greater reason as to why you get the same festive fanfare time after time, and it’s one that I’ll get to right after I vent about Christmas songs I hate and praise those that I like.

Where does one begin in an assessment of music? Why not with the greatest band of all time? The Beatles were so important in increasing the popularity of rock and roll and for changing the formula of not only that genre but every genre of music forever. They made some of the greatest songs and albums ever listened to on this earth. Their Christmas stuff however, eh, not so great. Obviously, their best music was made when the fab four were playing as one, but each made at least one original Christmas song in their careers after their break-up, and none really resound today as good classics, yet that hasn’t stopped two of them from getting way too much radio playtime.

If you’re not aware, today is the 34th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder, and while I love almost all of his musical work, I’m gonna kick him while he’s down about one song that I don’t particularly care for. I know I’m not the only one who groans at the opening whispers and notes of Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)“. You know, that depressing Xmas tune that begins with the bland then accusatory lines, “So this is Christmas / And what have you done?” Who are you to judge me, John Lennon? Okay, technically it’s a song by The Plastic Ono Band, Lennon’s post-Beatles group named after his wife/Beatles-break-up-scapegoat that he powered to unfortunate notice. Inspirational dreamer that Lennon was, even he wasn’t daft enough to believe the lines, “War is over / If you want it”, was he? Sadly all it takes is one crazy person to push the button or pull the trigger. I’m going to give Yoko credit for those lines.

It’s all good though because I’m more of a Paul man myself and it’s not like he had a bad Christmas song like – oh… yeah, that’s right. I tried my damnedest to forget “Wonderful Christmastime“, the seasonal song filled with a bad synthesizer score and stupid simplicity. There’s good minimalism, and then there’s crap like this. Sir Paul is forgiven by me especially for putting on the most memorable concert I’ve ever seen in July 2013. It was the best thing to happen for me in Indianapolis until this past weekend.

George Harrison also had a fairly successful career that included a Christmas album after the Beatles broke up. His original holiday song “Ding Dong, Ding Dong” is more of a New Year’s song and is definitely the best by a Beatle yet with a video that is classic wacky George to accompany it. Does this mean it’s a good song? No. Catchy yes, enjoyable every December-January, uhhh, not tremendously.

As expected, Ringo Starr followed suit with his own abomination, “I Wanna Be Santa Claus“. Do you really want to be Santa Claus, or are you just saying it because your friends made original Christmas songs?

The one thing that is to the credit of each of the Beatles’ songs is that they are original. Some Christmas classics are just fine, like Bing Crosby’s oft-covered  “White Christmas” (just make sure your university doesn’t draw upon that as a theme for a winter formal dance bearing the name “I’m Dreaming of a White Cleveland” without realizing the potential reaction from the student body), and even the more recent yet still established “Last Christmas” by Wham!, a more modern romantic narrative that has been covered a few times itself, including recently by Taylor Swift. (What! Taylor Swift chose to cover a song about a break-up? What a departure from her usual subject matter!) Nevertheless, other songs have some issues with aging. Radio stations have kept alive many older (and to their credit, often original) versions of songs that probably should have been left to die out in peace. Some just suck when you hear them millions of times though. Gayla Peevy’s been asking for a hippopotamus for Christmas for the last six decades and I don’t think she’s getting one anytime soon. While we’re on the subject of animals involved in Christmas songs let simply say, fuck those chipmunks and that goddamn donkey. And if I have to hear Andy Williams one more fucking time – and we all will at least a dozen or so times this week probably – I’m going to scream. Thankfully, not all updated versions of songs are bad. While it probably is going to help along little Billy’s nightmares and therefore won’t make it onto most family stations, I love Alice Cooper’s version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” aka “Santa Claws is Coming to Town“. Gotta love how it accentuates the inherent creepiness of lyrics like “He sees you when you’re sleeping / He knows when you’re awake” with Cooper’s special freaky flare.

Now I’m sure some of you are like, “Whoa! Alex! I like some of those songs you don’t!” and your tastes are probably different with some songs that I like as well. For example, I really enjoy Bruce Springsteen’s rendition of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” (which is much more in line with the traditional lyrics than Alice Cooper’s) but I know a few people who aren’t crazy about The Boss talking to his band before they jam out. But c’mon, it’s funny to hear him lose his composure and laugh at the Santa laughter done by one of his bandmates.

In terms of more serious sounding songs you gotta love “Thank God It’s Christmas” from Queen, sung by the best rock vocalist to ever live. Where’s this on the radio?

Some good dark-humored original Christmas songs do get played, albeit sparingly, including The Kinks’ “Father Christmas” and Slade’s “Merry Christmas Everybody“. Then there are those artists who live for Christmas humor in their music, such as Bob Rivers, who usually misses for me, but “The Twelve Pains of Christmas” is pretty good. “Now why the hell are they blinking!” If you liked that then you’ll probably also like Red Peters’ “Holy Shit, It’s Christmas“. But nobody outdoes the master of harmonious humor, even on Christmas. Weird Al Yankovic has two holiday gems in “The Night Santa Went Crazy” and “Christmas at Ground Zero“.

Those are certainly original or original takes on Christmas songs, but if you’re pining for some real Christmas music then all I’ve got to say is man, this is Christmas music!

Now not every original song is going to endure as a classic. Take The Youngsters song for sobriety “Christmas in Jail“. Drink responsibly this Christmas folks.

Thank goodness for my favorite Christmas song, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You“. Yes, it really is my favorite, and no, it’s not for the video. I think I have female parts somewhere inside me.

As you can hear, not all Christmas songs are bad, including some covers of old classics, but that’s not really the issue here. It’s become an American tradition for musical artists to make a Christmas album when he/she/they come to a certain level of recognition. This is the only reason Bob Dylan actually made one; he felt obligated to do so. Barbara Streisand made a few, and she’s Jewish! Christmas itself is a much more secular holiday than it once was, and despite Jon Stewart’s joking wish for Hanukkah to overtake it as the most popular December holiday, Christmas will always reign supreme this time of year. I recognize that fact and am totally okay with it. I also realize that musical artists will continue to cut Christmas albums and make new versions of old songs. As long as they throw in some new compositions I guess I can live with it.

However, I cannot abide the trend of playing such music out of the confines of the Christmas season. I get that that’s an arbitrary mark, but it is starting earlier and earlier each year and I’ve had enough. Christmas is always going to be on December 25th, so why does our eagerness to get to that date have to be before October 31st now? No joke, I heard Christmas songs being played on the radio during the week before Halloween. Sure, stores want to sell Christmas stuff as soon and often as they can because we’ll buy it as soon as it’s shelved with a price tag, but that’s a separate world from the airwaves. If people want to fight over marked down items at an ungodly hour the day after Thanksgiving that’s fine, and you can start playing Christmas music for them then to pump them up or soothe the throbbing pain in their foreheads from where somebody smacked them with a picture frame.

This once may have been how things worked, but it isn’t anymore. Well, the shopping scuffles are more prevalent than ever, but now the shopping season for Christmas starts prior to Thanksgiving and is causing most big retail stores (way to stay cool Costco!) to open up on the holiday that is meant for spending time with family, eating too much delectably fattening food, and watching the Detroit Lions lose (wait, they won this year?! Wow! Thanks Jay Cutler!). In many respects, it’s a rehearsal dinner for Christmas, but a separate holiday. Christmas can’t even keep out of Thanksgiving’s business from the shopping side of things, and it’s been jumping in with the music too. Herewith lies the big problem I alluded to earlier: Christmas is a chance for radio stations to be lazy and just play a loop of the same songs that lasts a few hours. You cut in some commercials and traffic and weather reports and you’re good to go with as minimal effort/staff as possible. If you’re running a radio station and have this option it’s tempting to stretch it out as long as you can. Who’s going to stop you if you want to play continuous Christmas music before the start of fall? No one! MWAHAHAHAHA!

But that’s just the point. Radio stations have to hold themselves accountable for their material – well, unless they get crazy enough for the FCC to step in, but I’m looking at things in a much more tame way for this. Just because you can do a thing doesn’t necessarily mean you should, and I think that holds true with making the choice between the super easy phone-it-in approach of a long, yet stale family-friendly, multi-month Christmas playlist on repeat versus the still quite manageable mix-it-up-a-little approach of more than just the same old same old cluster of songs (which can still be family-friendly) for just a month: post-Thanksgiving to Christmas (New Year’s if you must). You can do it, American radio stations both local and national! I still believe in you and say you’re not in so deep. You can and must become less Christmas obsessed for the sake of the holiday and our sanity. Regarding the need to bring back the usual listening for a while longer and not fall into the easy and too early ways you’ve exhibited lately, I say this to you American radio,

If you, if you could return, don’t let it burn, don’t let it fade.

I’m sure I’m not being rude, but it’s just your attitude,
It’s tearing me apart, It’s ruining everything.

I swore, I swore I would be true, and honey, so did you.

Okay, that’s not from a song from this season, but Cranberries are a Christmas staple. Too much of America and Western Society is driven by money, and I know you radio stations all are too, but you can come back from this quagmire of Capitalistic Christmasness. In fact, I need you to! Don’t ruin Christmas before Halloween; that’s not your job (it’s the job of Christmas in July). Your job is to bring us new music and good classics, not so-called classics that only achieve the status because of strong association with the season that dominates the cultural landscape for a time. You did this once, and you can do it again. Be true, American Radio, be true.

Thanks for reading! If you’ve got a question, comment, or a general beef with Christmas songs let me hear about it at monotrememadness@gmail.com. I hope you’re not sick of Christmas yet because I’m going to talk about it again next week, this time about what to watch during this holly jolly season.

Stay Frosty, my friends,

Alex

Coming Soon to a Theater Near You

Happy Cyber Monday everybody! Rest assured that I will not ask for a credit card number or force you to prove you’re a real human being by deciphering captchas.

Last week I was as civil as I could be in my recounting of the biggest sports rivalry on this continent: the annual football game between Ohio State and Satan, I mean the Devil, I mean Michigan. I actually got to go to the 111th game between the teams this past Saturday in Columbus, Ohio, my first time being in the crowd during a match in the storied contest. Somewhat similar to last year, Michigan came in with a lackluster record but played up big and actually led for a concerning amount of time before the Buckeyes prevailed by a tighter-than-it-appears 42-28 score (which meant I got happy drunk instead of sad drunk on Saturday), thanks in large part to Ezekiel Elliott making the play of the game after a devastating blow to Ohio State’s offense. It helped that this happened one minute later. Props to Michigan’s quarterback Devin Gardner, not for his surprisingly effective and for once not completely shitty performance, but for his sportsmanship in going over and kneeling beside and high-fiving Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett who suffered a season-ending injury in the fourth quarter of the game. Even the most bitter rivals can do the classy thing when the game, even The Game, takes a backseat to player well-being. The real concern on Ohio State’s sideline now though is the unsettling discovery of the body of walk-on defensive lineman Kosta Karageorge who went missing last Wednesday and died of an apparent suicide potentially linked to concussions, an ever-growing emphasis of safety in my favorite sport. But that somber topic is for another post.

Today, in the wake of two of the biggest blockbuster movie trailers released days apart last week, I will be talking a bit about the history of movie trailers, specifically blockbusters. Of course, it’ll mostly be my opinions, but you knew that already. If you’d like a detailed history on trailers without having to read further, check out this great video from a great series. But please come back and read the rest of this. So far I’ve just given a glimpse into what’s to come and am just building to the real excitement.

If you’ve been to a movie theater in your lifetime, or watched television during a commercial break, or waited for one of my previous video links to load you’ve undoubtedly seen a movie trailer before. Many people (myself included) enjoy the experience of going to a movie theater to see not only the feature film but the previews for other upcoming films. Trailers provide that first peek at a movie whether we’re familiar with it yet or not. Now more than ever though, our first time seeing a preview is not the first time we’ve heard of the film it is advertising. Nowadays we live in a world (“In a world!“) where a guy dressed as a beer-gutted Wonder Woman can ask a question about what shampoo Chris Hemsworth uses at Comic-Con Minneapolis and it goes viral and has thousands of superfans and amateur critics analyzing every bit of it. This is nothing new for our society though, nor is it uniquely adhered to cinema. Social media on a much faster and connected worldwide web allow anyone to put up anything at any moment, so long as they have the means to do so, and if you’re reading this then you have the means to do so. Obviously it wasn’t always like this, and movies had to get their name out there without the help of Wonder Whoa-man. Posters did the trick to a degree from the very beginning, and they’re still visible everywhere today, but the movie trailer was the home run studios were looking for.

Production studios started showing movie trailers (originally called such because they often followed the feature film) as early as 1916. Movie trailers have since evolved into a separate art form that not so much advertizes for a film as much as it excites audiences already anticipating its release long before it even begins filming in some cases. I speak mainly of the grand American summer blockbuster which has been the undisputed champion at the box office since 1975 when the greatest movie of all time was released. That trailer is terribly incorrect in its description of a shark, but goddamn it filled up theaters and was released in more of them than any previously released movie. Since Jaws gave rise to the summer blockbuster the movie trailer for such films followed its formula and even improved upon it to grab people by face and pull them into fast, loud, and big, Big, BIG trailers filled with everything from explosions to bigger explosions.

Nowadays we’ve got so many of these movies coming out that the big ones – I mean the really big ones – are set on the summer table many years in advance. Next summer is stacked more than the 1992 Dream Team in terms of blockbuster films, and with those upcoming films come trailers, teasers, pictures, interviews, etc. Some of these we’ve waited for a few years to see, others we’ve waited decades. But of course when we do get to see the first bit of each we get just that; production companies know based on the success of previous films that we’ll see the next ones without any need for marketing, so they tease us with a staggered series of trailers. It goes like this:

  • Teaser (itty-bitty)
  • Trailer 1 (aka Extended Trailer 1; longer)
  • Trailer 2 (equal to T1 in length or longer; different and/or more scenes)

They know they’re teasing us too, because they call the first sample scoop of a trailer a teaser. It usually lasts only 10-90 seconds with minimal dialogue and a good amount of short scenes that show characters and places that will factor into the story. Teasers are nothing new; they’ve been used since the 1970s, however the way they are made today is often extremely annoying to me. They either show next to nothing and serve as a mere reminder of a movie you’re already awaiting (which just pisses me off) or they show waaaaaay too goddamn much and spoil the plot or at least show too many climactic scenes (which just pisses me off). They can be done right though. All you have to do is have a few seconds of scenes (that occur early in the movie so when you actually see the movie you’re not wondering when some scene you saw will happen) that show characters reacting to the situation that will serve as the core of the story. It doesn’t have to be five minutes long and show every detail; that’s what the next trailer’s for.

Like them or not, teasers are just the tip of the movieberg and they are often followed by two more longer trailers. These are the trailers that expand upon what the teaser already established about the movie. Sometimes they merely lengthen the teaser (or more likely companies originally make the first trailer then shave it down to the teaser to be released prior to it). The first trailer features more extensive dialogue and longer scenes, and the second trailer has even more talking and scenes, which usually means more potential spoilers. At least now the director of a film gets more of a say in what goes in the trailer then in years past. Poor James Cameron.

I know I may be sounding hypocritical as I earlier stated that watching the previews is one of my favorite parts of going to the movies, but I’m mainly lamenting over the recent trend of essentially having trailers for longer trailers which show me more than I care to see of a movie before I actually go to see it. And I can’t just avoid it as they are bombarded upon almost every electronic device with a screen and made for people to debate and discuss and spread around with a “Dude! Did you see that new Guardians of the Galaxy trailer? Who knew it was in space? Ballin!” This is mainly a problem for blockbusters and comedies as opposed to award-contending dramas, because, again, big movies make big money. Despite all this, there are some very good teasers and trailers out there, and I’m going to further discuss three really good ones that happen to be for the three movies that I am most eagerly looking forward to for next year.

It recently started with this, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Joss Whedon’s super-anticipated, super-sequel to the best superhero movie of 2012. I initially steered clear of watching it for fear of finding out too much, but it does just what it should: we see all our favorite Avengers, some new friends (and foes), and witness genuine emotions amongst the ever-growing devastation that shows the forces of badness getting stronger – something that will need to happen to challenge such a super-powered team. Hulk looks like he’s going through some serious shit. It’s also nice to see Tony Stark kind of humbled as his motions and emotions say, “I fucked up.” In fact this thing and it’s following trailers (watch this hunk of gold) is so solid, the biggest spoilers come not from the trailers but the contracts key actors have signed and the announcement of the approximate release times of the next films. Last and maybe best, James Spader is deliciously creepy sounding as the voice of the eponymous villain and the use of Pinocchio‘s “I’ve Got No Strings” (which they can use because Disney!) is unsettling to say the least. It’s certainly the most disturbing instance of an artificial intelligence program reciting an old-timey tune to tie in with its theme since HAL-9000 sang “A Bicycle Built for Two” in 2001: A Space Odyssey (“I’m half crazy…”).

But things really blew up in the last week when we were given a glimpse of the now fully-functioning, no-expense-spared dinosaur-filled fun on Isla Nublar. In addition to the apparent success the place has had as a tourist attraction where people aren’t (yet) being eaten alive by what they’re coming to see, it seems that the park has gone from a prehistoric zoo to a full-on animal theme park that doesn’t place as much emphasis on maintaining the welfare of its inhabitants (which it certainly shouldn’t be keeping in a captive setting) as it does on bringing in more guests and their money in droves (even at the risk of their staff). No wonder the creators of this film opted to call it Sea – er, I mean Jurassic World. I do, however, heartily agree with the decision to hire Chris Pratt to be the voice of reason and official badass who rides a motorcycle alongside velociraptors. Totally a good idea.

This one generated Dreadnoughtus-sized buzz after it’s teaser trailer debuted. When you got to see more than 12 seconds you probably had some great thrills or reserved concern, but chances are you also wished it was June 12th today (especially if you live in Buffalo). One way or another, after watching that you probably thought, “There can’t be a more exciting trailer the rest of this year as the one for Jurassic World, right?” Wrong. There is another. It came out just three days later, and it’s out of this world.

If you didn’t have a sudden discharge of some fluid in your pants when the Millennium Falcon flew into frame then you’re not alive anymore because that was incredible. I was excited yet uneasy when it was announced more Star Wars films were going to be made. Technically it’s not a summer movie anymore either, and many were concerned by the push-back to December, but I wasn’t one of them. Take all the time you need to work out any kinks and get on the same page. After seeing bland or annoying characters in a vastly inferior trifecta of what happened before the best trilogy ever made, it will be very fun to see the loveable motley crew from that holy trinity back in action again. And I honestly have to say – and I’m pleasantly surprised to do so – I liked every single thing I saw in that trailer. I did not feel anything showed too much of the story to come but rather did a great job of setting the tone. This will be a film with new characters and technology, but it also is very much looking like the same good, old Star Wars with some pretty top-notch direction. Way to go so far, J.J.! If only you could stick around for another, or Joss Whedon could step over in between Avengers movies…. Also, congrats to Andy Serkis! Way to work your way into the new Disneyverses and get into both the Avengers and Star Wars trailers. Maybe he’ll finally get that Oscar he’s do for.

As crazed of a Star Wars fan as I am, I don’t have any grand insights into the storyline of the next trilogy, and it’s going to sound rather Sith of me, but I would prefer to stay in the dark and keep everyone else there too. As is the case with the aforementioned movies you almost certainly already are planning to go see them, and in the unlikely event that you’re not another longer trailer probably won’t convince you in the same way that buzz from friends, family, and trusted sources of criticism and analysis (like this blog!) will. So while I would drool profusely over another trailer, I would love to see the Force go back to sleep until May 1st when I dish out my first batch of Mickey money to Marvel. But if you positively need to know more about Star Wars VII, I can predict with absolute certainty three things that will occur in the upcoming film:

1) The film will open with a scrolling crawl of expositional text, followed by a ship racing or cruising through space.

2) C-3PO and R2-D2 will have integral roles.

3) Someone will utter the line “I have a bad feeling about this.”

These are easily the most anticipated trailers for me and many others for the tremendous summer-winter we have before us in 2015. But who knows? Sometimes you see a trailer for a movie you had no intention of watching, but some things are like a train wreck and may entice you to turn your head and walk on over. Isn’t that right, franchise that’s turned illegal street racers into superpowered beings who show that no matter the terrain – or lack thereof – a car is the best vehicle? Daddy’s got to go to work! AHAHAHAHAHA!

Hopefully these films and the others due out next year will not disappoint. I remember seeing the excellent trailer for Prometheus, which followed along similar lines as Jurassic World and Star Wars VII in that it was a newer, more refined special-effect-filled continuation of one of the all-time great theater-packing franchises, but it left a lot to be desired and as pretty as it looked it’s story and characters were full of too many holes and twists that didn’t work out. Avengers is quite new (cinematically) and looks to expand upon its prior success; Jurassic World looks maybe a bit similar but appears to have enough new things to make for an exciting time; and Star Wars looks like a perfect blend of old and new. How will they actually turn out? Fuck if I know! The real frustration is that they are all months away (Star Wars is over a year!) and there’s nothing we can do but wait until the release… of the next trailer. Dun Dun DUN!

Thanks for reading everybody! I hope you enjoyed this post. Comments and Chris Pratt fan-fiction can be sent to monotrememadness@gmail.com. Be sure to watch the full trailer next week when I complain about Christmas music!

Don’t come to play school,

Alex

I’m from O-HI-O!

Last week I discussed the need for humanity to both reach out into the stars and go watch Interstellar in theaters. According to my site statistics that post was read by people from countries around the world such as Brazil, Italy, and Taiwan to name a few. What better way to follow an urging to become borderless and reach out collectively to save our species’ future than to talk about a local football rivalry and the hatred between two states it continues to fuel? And I’m not even talking about the football that most of those countries would be interested in! But then, most everybody has a favorite sports team that they feel unreasonable passionate for. “Fan” is short for “fanatic” after all. My favorite sports team in the whole wide world is The Ohio State University Buckeyes football team, and this week they face off against the most diabolical, demonic, evil collection of scUM that ever flew screaming out of the gates of Hell onto this Earth: the University of Michigan Wolverines, booooooo! But why exactly do Ohio and Michigan hate each other? Why does this week, affectionately referred to as “Fuck Michigan” or “Hate Michigan” week exist at all? The answers are rooted in the creation of the Earth when the mitten of Michigan was jealous of the Ohio River. Okay maybe not that far, but it at least goes back to before the two states were both states, and it played a crucial factor in defining the boundaries within a blossoming America. Brace yourselves folks; this is gonna be a long one. The first major piece is a semi-detailed history of the first major instance of hostility between Ohio and Michigan that may or may not be excerpted from a paper I wrote in college, followed by a more recent account of the football rivalry between the two schools. Enjoy.

During the 19th century, the United States fought the bloodiest war in its history with itself for a number of reasons, the most prominent being America’s core value: freedom. The American Civil War was a four-year nationwide conflict that ultimately eradicated slavery in America and kept the country in one piece, thus defining it as one of the most important periods in our country’s history. Every American knows the significance of our Civil War, but how many are aware that there was an earlier war between northern and southern states?

The Toledo War was not a true war like the Civil War; there were no military battles and no documented instances of bloodshed, but it was important for establishing the boundaries of Ohio and Michigan, and for finalizing Michigan’s bid for statehood.

The Toledo War was “fought” from the turn of the 19th century through the 1830s. Although it is most well known for being a border dispute between Ohio and Michigan, it began as a result of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which established the governing structure for the entire Northwest Territory, which stretched from Ohio to Minnesota. (Obviously, what is considered the Northwestern portion of the USA has shifted somewhat farther west now.) This legislation expanded upon earlier ordinances for the Northwest Territory and described the procedure for its territories to become states. Ohio was the first of these territories to complete that procedure which not only set the standard for future states within the Northwest Territory, but for all future states. In regards to Ohio, the Northwest Ordinance decreed that its northern border would follow an east to west line that would be parallel with the southernmost point of Lake Michigan. Congress believed that this line would meet the western shores of Lake Erie north of where the Maumee River empties into it. This line was declared as Ohio’s northern border once again in the Enabling Act of 1802, which all but finalized Ohio’s status as a state. The boundary line was again referenced when it was declared as the southern border of the newly established Michigan territory in 1805.

The line that was now the boundary between the two territories was convenient for use in the legislations that established them, but it served as the central problem in what escalated into the Toledo War. Back in 1802, while Ohio’s Constitutional Convention was drawing up its primary legislation, a fur trapper informed the delegates that the southern point of Lake Michigan extended farther south than they believed, meaning their documented northern border was actually south of the mouth of the mighty Maumee. In Ohio’s own constitution that was enacted in 1803, the delegates maintained that the mouth of the Maumee River should be entirely within Ohio’s boundaries. They requested that a line be drawn from the Lake Michigan line to the northernmost point of Maumee Bay. The United States Congress accepted this claim, yet never officially established the new boundary line. As a result of Congress’ negligence, the Michigan territory began to feel cheated by Ohioans as it developed into a hopeful state candidate. Way to go, Congress.

In order to assuage the border situation, Congress ordered the boundary to be surveyed in 1812, but the survey was delayed by a little conflict called the War of 1812, aka American Revolution 2: The Empire Strikes Back. The survey was conducted after the war on the authority of Edward Tiffin, the Surveyor General of the Northwest Territory. In 1817, Tiffin, who was also Ohio’s first governor, sent William Harris to survey the northern boundary of Ohio based upon its description in Ohio’s Constitution. Lewis Cass, the governor of the Michigan Territory, sent John Fulton (who is not the namesake of Fulton County, Ohio, which is now part of the area in question; it is named after Robert Fulton who invented the steamship) to conduct a survey based upon the line described by the Enabling Act of 1802. What arose was a 468 square mile strip of land between each of these lines that became known as the Toledo Strip. The Fulton Line placed the greater Toledo area within Michigan, while the Harris Line put it within Ohio’s bounds. Obviously, Michigan favored the Fulton Line, while Ohio desired the Harris Line to be put into effect.

Tensions became increasingly strained for Ohioans as Michigan neared statehood in 1833, for many believed that if the Toledo Strip was not officially declared to be Ohio’s land before Michigan became a state, then Michigan would win the disputed land as part of their induction as a state. This worry was justified because Michigan had been governing the area, and those who lived within the Strip participated in Michigan elections. After urging the federal government to make a decision, Ohio received support from the United States Senate. Nevertheless, the House of Representatives did not agree with the Senate. The states of Indiana and Illinois also sided with Ohio as their own northern borders were further north than the Harris Line (which meant the area now known as South Bend would be securely in Indiana if the Harris Line was accepted – remember this for later). Michigan’s territorial governor, Stevens Mason, a feisty fledgling who was 22 years old in 1833, requested the creation of a commission to discuss possible solutions. Ohio’s governor, Robert Lucas, rejected this request. 1835 saw the Toledo Strip reformed into counties by Ohio’s government. The county that contained Toledo, the grand prize city for the winner of the Strip, was named Lucas County after Ohio’s governor, thereby adding fuel to the fire already burning hot within native Michiganders.

While the Senate and fellow states supported Ohio’s claim, Michigan was not alone in their fight for the Strip. Former President and accomplished lawyer, John Quincy Adams sided with the northern territory and went so far as to say, “Never in the course of my life have I known a controversy of which all the right so clearly on one side and all the power so overwhelmingly on the other.” What he referred to as “all the power” was the overwhelming number of political personnel Ohio had at its disposal, due in part to its position as a state, compared to Michigan’s one non-voting representative. This political advantage was what allowed Governor Lucas to reject Michigan’s requests regarding the Strip. Michigan attempted to combat this by passing the Pains and Penalties Act which allowed the government to fine anyone within the Strip who was not a Michigan resident or a federal officer.

As tensions rose, both sides activated militias and sent their troops to the border. Governor Mason pleaded to President Andrew Jackson to stop the battle before it started, so Jackson sent two representatives to conduct a negotiation with each sides’ representatives. The initial proposal given by the federal government was that both Ohio and Michigan govern the Toledo Strip until a better solution could be worked out. Ohio agreed to this arrangement, but Lucas still provided the militia with $300,000 to prepare to seize the Strip in the case that Michigan did not uphold its end of the bargain. Michigan responded by providing their militia with $315,000. That is a lot of moola for those days, so clearly both Ohio and Michigan meant business. Ohio’s militia advanced to the southern bank of the Maumee while Michigan’s looked across from the northern bank. This was the closest the actual fighting forces from each state got within each other, yet neither attacked the other. Michigan did “enforce” their Pains and Penalties Act when they arrested nine Ohio surveyors and supposedly fired their muskets at some other Ohioans who fled, yet no one was hurt. The only violence that occurred happened when Ohioan Two Stickney (now that’s an 1800s American name) stabbed, but did not kill, a Michigan Sheriff in a fight.

In 1835, Mason became increasingly perturbed with the political process and with Jackson’s lack of action, and Jackson became equally annoyed with Mason who was not cooperating with his representatives, so Jackson replaced Mason with John Horner from Virginia. Much to the chagrin of Michiganders, Horner did not fight the federal government or Lucas, and on June 15, 1836, Jackson approved an agreement that ended the conflict: the Toledo Strip would officially become part of Ohio, and Michigan would get the 9000 square mile Upper Peninsula added to its territory. Furthermore, Michigan’s request for statehood would be reviewed, and on January 26, 1837, Michigan was admitted as the 26th state. They did have to abandon their original building location for the University of Michigan though, as it was supposed to be in Toledo. Today there is a plaque in downtown Toledo that marks where UM was intended to go.

Michigan apparently commemorated the Toledo War in a song that describes the major events and the brave and honorable actions of Michigan’s political figures, especially Mason, against those nasty Buckeyes who stirred up trouble. I couldn’t find that song, although I’ve got a few more modern ones from the Ohio side that primarily focus on football. We’ll get to them later.

Some people feel that the spirit of the Toledo War lives on today in the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry and that the annual football game is a modern extension of the battle that never was. Today, there are many rivalries between states across the whole nation that are exhibited in athletics, differences in culture, and a variety of other forms; nevertheless, none of these other state vs. state contentions have the almost bloody history that began the relationship between the states of Ohio and Michigan. The Toledo War is one of the most unique conflicts the United States has ever experienced, and its occurrence probably helped to encourage Congress to handle future territory and state boundaries more carefully. It is unlikely that we will ever see another situation like the Toledo War again in the United States; history may repeat itself, but I think we’ve probably learned from this mistake here in America.

Essentially, that is what the Toledo War was: a mistake. Poor procedure from Congress coupled with inaction left a legal gaffe that created unrest with Michiganders. This combined with the stubbornness of Ohioans nearly led to an armed conflict. Fortunately, the conflict was resolved without physical fighting, but there was plenty of legal combat featuring notable American figures on both sides of the border. Initially after the issue was “resolved”, it seemed that Michigan had come out on the losing side. Nevertheless, the mineral deposits and woodlands of the Upper Peninsula provided Michigan with enough revenue to more than make up for its “losses”. Thus, the Toledo War was not a real war, and there were no real winners; however, considering the wealth Michigan obtained within the Upper Peninsula which most likely would have become part of Wisconsin had it not been awarded as Michigan’s consolation prize for relinquishing Toledo, it seems that the Badger State was the lone loser of the bizarre conflict before it even became a state.


Now that you’ve had an extensive history lesson about why Ohio and Michigan were never really besties, allow me to tell you about why their annual football rivalry is the fiercest in the sport.

Starting in 1897, the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry was always a bitter feud but rarely an even one. Michigan is the winningest college football program of all time and a big reason why is because they were about the only consistently good team for many of the early years of the sport. The second meeting was a scoreless tie, but Ohio State didn’t beat the Wolverines until their 16th meeting. A three year Buckeye win streak began, but was followed by the Wolverines winning six in a row. This streaky trend of Ohio State getting a few consecutive wins, then Michigan getting a few more continued until 1951, when Wayne Woodrow “Woody” Hayes was hired as head coach at Ohio State.

Woody Hayes is regarded as the greatest coach in Ohio State history, and for good reason. The man knew how to win football games and was especially good at beating his rival, which he refused to name and instead called “the team up north”.  Woody Hayes beat Michigan 12 times in his first 18 years, shifting the dominance in the Big Ten Conference from the maize and blue school up north to his scarlet and gray Buckeyes. But the rivalry really got a blast from its spice weasel when Bo Schembechler, a former assistant and personal protegee of Woody Hayes, took the head coaching job at Michigan in 1968. They say Satan was God’s favorite angel. Bo did the unthinkable and coached his players to a victory over the defending national champion Buckeyes in 1969. So began the intense Ten-Year War.

Woody was pissed. Well, Woody was always pissed on the field, but he was really, really pissed after this. He vowed revenge, and the next year he got it. The Ten-Year War saw a back and forth battle each season. It would have lasted longer, but Woody Hayes’ temper got the better of him in a bowl game at the end of the 1978 season and he punched a player who intercepted a pass to seal a Buckeyes loss. Ohio State kind of had to fire him after that. The Ten-Year War was a hallmark period for national notice for the rivalry as the dramatic off-field history between the two elite coaches produced some great games on the field and the winner almost always went on to play in the Rose Bowl. Plus there was that year they tied! All in all, the record during the Ten-Year War favored Bo’s blue bastards 5-4-1.

Woody was replaced by another of his former coaching assistants, Earle Bruce. Bruce racked up a 5-4 record against Bo’s Michigan teams, capped off by his team’s upset of the Wolverines a week after he was unjustly fired (he didn’t punch anybody) in 1987.

John Cooper was the next Ohio State coach, and while he won some major contests and recruited some excellent, talented players who went on to NFL Hall of Fame status, he just couldn’t win the one that mattered. The 1990s were a dark time to grow up a Buckeye fan as Cooper posted an abysmal 2-10-1 record against Michigan, losing three times with a previously undefeated team. He was fired in 2000 for a few reasons, but we all really know why. Cooper is now known more for his shortcomings at Ohio State than his accomplishments, like the legendary 1997 Rose Bowl.

Hope would return to Columbus, Ohio for the 2001 season. Hope dressed to impress in a sweater vest. Jim Tressel was part of a legendary coaching family for lower division college football, but it didn’t take him long to establish himself at a major Division I program. When he was introduced he told the OSU student body and fans at a Buckeye basketball game, “I can assure you that you will be proud of our young people, in the classroom, in the community, and most especially in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Michigan on the football field.” Atta boy Jim! He made good on his promise too, beating Michigan in that hole in the ground sardine can of a stadium (they built in the ground so that it would be closer to Hell) in Ann Arbor for the first time in 14 years. His second year he beat them again (and 13 other teams) en route to a National Championship. Michigan won the next game, the 100th in the rivalry, but they never beat Tressel again. He posted a 9-1 record against them before resigning in the aftermath of an NCAA investigation. The “Tattoo Five” fiasco brought NCAA sanctions down onto Ohio State’s program, and they vacated the 2010 season and lost a postseason bid for the 2012 season. Tressel returned to Ohio Stadium in 2012 for a 10 Year Anniversary celebration of the 2002 National Championship team, causing many national football “experts” (often the less talented brothers of some NFL player) to wonder why Buckeye fans cheered on the man whose tenure was ended in shame and was perceived as the primary reason Ohio State could not go to a bowl game that year. I’ll tell you why they cheered him on: in addition to most Buckeye fans believing that Tressel fell on the sword for higher-ups (a debatable point), he has the highest win percentage against Michigan of any Ohio State coach ever with at least five seasons (a certain fact). You could steal every Buckeye fans’ first born child and still be forgiven if you beat Michigan 9 times. Kids are temporary; beating Michigan’s forever.

Tressel’s biggest win over Michigan came in 2006 when the two teams played the true Game of the Century. Both were undefeated at 11-0 and had beaten tough teams along the way. There was even a question of whether they might play again in the National Championship if it was a close game. And it was. I have never seen a more entertaining back and forth slugfest like that game. Ohio State prevailed 42-39 (eerily enough, the Ohio Lottery Pick Four that night was 4-2-3-9) and went on to the Championship game against not Michigan, but Florida. After a promising first play, the Gators got the better of the Buckeyes and then some, but it all worked out in the end for OSU….

After a season of trying out our linebacker coach, Luke Fickell, at head coach in 2011, Ohio State hired briefly retired Urban Meyer to carry on the program. Meyer was an assistant for Earle Bruce and a proven champion; while at Florida he did orchestrate the upset of the 2006 team I just talked about after all, as well as another championship win a few seasons later. Of course, he did have our Lord and Savior Tim Tebow on those teams. He hasn’t needed Tebow so far though. Meyer has won his first two games against the Wolverines and looks to get a third this Saturday. Despite a so-so record coming into the game last year, Michigan gave undefeated Ohio State all it had in a surprisingly contested match that resulted in a 42-41 Buckeyes win. Michigan scored the final touchdown of the game in the last minute and made the bold decision to go for a two-point conversion instead of kicking the easier one-point field goal to tie and go to overtime. Thankfully Tyvis Powell saved Ohio State’s season with an interception at the goal line. After that thrilling heart attack of a game I texted a friend saying, “I don’t care what happens with auburn-alabama or florida state-florida or in any of the later rivalry games today because what just happened cannot be topped!” Then off course this happened. Hahaha, seriously, what kind of devil magic did Auburn have last season?

While that is one truly incredible example of how Ohio State-Michigan has not been as relevant to the national landscape of college football when it comes to determining a national champion as it once was and as other rivalries have been lately, it still stands as the greatest sports rivalry in North America and quite possibly the best outside of soccer worldwide (that’s right, I said soccer, not futbol!) Everyone is attached to their own teams, I know, and this will not be a welcome statement to people reading this in the state of Alabama. But we can all agree on two things. First, Michigan sucks. Even when they’re good, they’re still a team that nobody but their fans like. Ohio State’s is fiercest, but it seems like everybody has a rivalry with Michigan. Michigan State hates them, Minnesota hates them and has the oldest college football trophy with them, and remember when I told you to remember that detail about the disputed territory and South Bend, Indiana? Well there’s this school there with a football team you might have heard of that isn’t necessarily a fan of the Wolverines either. Why the hell they’re ending (at least for now) their annual games against each other I have no idea. No wait, I do, it’s just stupid reasoning is all.

The second thing everyone can agree on is that Ohio State really does have what Woody Hayes called “The Best Damn Band in the Land”. Even if you’ve never cared about football you may have seen some of what Ohio State’s Marching Band can do, like the greatest college sports tradition of all time: Script Ohio. Forget where the inspiration for it came from (it originally was done – albeit certainly not that intricately – by Michigan’s band in 1932 when they spelled out “Ohio” to honor their rivals) ever since Ohio State perfected the formula in 1936 it has been dropping audiences’ jaws with the impressive maneuver. A senior sousaphone player gets to dot the “i” every time it’s done, except on very rare occasions when an honorary non-band member gets to do it. Often it’s an alumnus or other person connected to the university or Ohio who is chosen, like Woody Hayes, Bob Hope, and Jack Nicklaus. John Glenn and wife Annie Glenn dotted the “i” when the band spelled out “America” in 2012 to honor Glenn’s service as an astronaut and Ohio senator.

Temporarily off topic, I usually hate teaser trailers, but this was awesome. Anybody else notice that nasty looking storm system on the right screen in the control room? When will they learn? At least they hired the right man to wear that vest. If you do love you some Jurassic Park then watch this. You shouldn’t skip any of it, but the dinosaur arrives at 5:45. Did you notice what he ate? Here are some other gems from that greatest of bands: a subtle expression of their opinions on the state up north and Ohio’s official rock and roll song. That four second pause is perfect time to spell out O-H-I-O!

If you like that band’s music and also things that are lovably insane you just might like the Dead Schembechlers. Named after the “accursed one” and dressed like Woody Hayes, they are a wild rock band that plays passionate shows during Hate Michigan week and cuts records about the greats of OSU and the awfuls of scUM during the rest of the year. Here’s my favorite from them, and a fantastic interview with lead singer Bo Biafra filmed before the Game of the Century.

And ladies, if you’re wondering, yes, being a Michigan fan is a dealbreaker for me.

Thanks for reading, especially if you did manage to stomach the whole thing. Direct any questions, requests, or applause to the comment section at the bottom of the page or at monotrememadness@gmail.com. If any Wolverine fans wish to leave a comment go to fuckyourshittyteam@fuckmichigan.com. Thanks to the official state websites of Ohio and that shithole to the north for historical facts, and to Jack Park and his encyclopedic The Ohio State University Vault which lent a lot of football info to this post. If you or someone on your holiday shopping list is a fan of college football there are University Vault books for most major programs. Just be sure you don’t buy any blue and yellow ones in an Ann Arbor bookstore. Run to daylight back to this endzone next week for a more worldly topical post, and have a Happy Thanksgiving in the meantime.

Go Buckeyes,

Alex

P.S. Oh and Fuck Mount Union and that stupid rule about spiking the ball with less than 3 seconds on the clock. Go Streaks!

The Necessity of Impossibility: Why We Need More Shit in Space

“It’s not possible.”

“No. It’s necessary.”

OH MY FUCKING GOD!!!! Only an actor of Matthew McConaughey’s caliber can deliver such a cheesy line and make it so powerful in a movie as big, intellectual, and incredible as Christopher Nolan’s latest (and for many greatest): Interstellar. If you haven’t seen it already don’t worry, I won’t spill any secrets, but I will give you this piece of sincere advice: go fucking see it NOW. Stop reading this and go watch the next showing of Interstellar. Then come back and finish this because there is a recent real-life story that runs along a similar line that I want to talk about almost as much as that movie.

In the event that you haven’t seen it or heeded my urging to immediately do so, I’ll just present you with the basic premise of Interstellar: In the not-too-distant-future, mankind has used up almost all of its resources and is facing extinction thanks to ever-present dust storms and the last batch of crops dying off from disease. But hope to find a new habitable planet to become our next homeworld opens up when a wormhole mysteriously appears in our solar system. A small group of scientists venture through, and the greatest adventure in our species’ history begins. I know what you’re thinking. How’s that not the featured synopsis on the film’s IMDB page? Oh, you want to know what this has to do with a current story. Well, I tell ya.

Perhaps it’s fitting that I saw Interstellar on the same day that mankind made a tremendous interplanetary achievement. At 4:30am EST last Wednesday November 12th, the European Space Agency (ESA) saw the fruits of its labor begin to ripen as its Philae lander detached from the Rosetta satellite that was sent into space on March 2, 2004 on a 10 year journey around Earth a few times and Mars once in order to enter into the orbit of the comet known as Churyumov–Gerasimenko, aka 67P. It came into the celestial body’s orbit earlier this year and its operating scientists monitored it in anticipation, especially as the Philae lander began its descent to the surface of the 67P comet. Seven hours later it made contact, but some issues with the landing gear made it bounce a couple times before it finally anchored itself onto 67P, marking the first time man has landed a probe on a comet.

Everybody’s heard of a comet, but what is it exactly? A comet is a collection of dust, rock, and ice that can vary in size as well as orbit. Comets are marked by their signature “coma” and “tail”, which help to differentiate them from asteroids. A coma is the super thin atmosphere of the main body of the comet, called a “nucleus”. The coma is formed when gas and dust from inside the comet is hit by solar radiation, or in simpler terms when the comet gets closer to a star it is orbiting (like our sun) its insides heat up and form a cloud around it. These inner materials also vaporize and trail behind the comet in a tail of particles. Often what is seen are the large quantities of ice frozen onto the rocky nucleus. Sounds like what’s outside my window right now, am I right Midwest?

Drawing upon the classical and past keys to discovery as space programs so often do, the Rosetta mission is named after the Rosetta Stone, a large stone block that bears a decree issued by King Ptolemy V in 196 BC. The stone contained three translations of the decree – one in Greek, one in Egyptian Demotic, and one in Egyptian Hieroglyphs – which allowed scholars to translate and read Egyptian Hieroglyphs (also useful in this endeavor was the Philae Obelisk from Philae in Egypt that is the namesake of the spacecraft’s lander.) This is why a language learning program was also named after the stone. With the spacecraft, we are also trying to work out a translation of information. We seek to figure out what comets are comprised of beyond what we already know, as well as see what we just stumble upon while there. What might we find? Who knows? But I’ll let everybody’s favorite Science Guy tell you about what he thinks may come from it.

Someday we will probably have to leave Earth for another place to live. We don’t necessarily have to abandon Earth, but we should find somewhere else to start residing in addition to our already established homes here. The world’s population is every growing, as is the rate we use its resources. Not to mention we are constantly changing the Earth’s environment through factors like deforestation, as well as pollution that directly destroys natural places and species and leads to climate changes that bring about rising seas, fiercer storms, droughts, desertification, acidification, etc. So the shambles of society we see in Interstellar unfortunately could be a possible future if we keep making those mistakes. We’ve still got some time on this rock, and we can make efforts to counteract the damages we’ve done to extend that lease a while longer, but even still it will benefit us to go forth and colonize new worlds. This is why I am excited by projects like the 100 Year Starship to break beyond the myopic view that everything seems okay and will stay that way forever. Nothing like this will be easy, and like some of the wild space scenarios we’ve already pulled out of humanity’s hat – from landing probes on all of these places; to putting men on the moon; to bringing back the one crew that was supposed to make it there and didn’t; to building and working in a space station orbiting the Earth – it is very possible that it will be seemingly impossible in the planning stages. That’s where Murphy’s Law comes into play in our favor. While the adage (which is supposedly named for Captain Edward Murphy who was an aerospace engineer at Wright-Patterson and Edwards Air Force Bases) is usually taken as “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”, we have to look at what it is really implying. Just like Cooper observes in Interstellar: “Murphy’s law doesn’t mean that something bad will happen. It means that whatever can happen, will happen.” There is a lot that can come from sending anything up into the cosmos, and the farther and longer it goes, the more possibilities of what can happen to it arise, but anything that feasibly could happen on a space mission could be the final result, including its success, and the fact that we’ve managed to use mathematics, physics, and our wits to ensure that the aforementioned “miracles” of space research have all resulted in a successful scenario that we have learned from – not always the desired planned outcome (especially with Apollo 13), but always a positive one that we can look back and smile at, and wiping the sweat from our brow look on to the next goal with greater knowledge and wisdom. Some things looked impossible then and others may appear much the same now, but that only means that we should do our damnedest to figure out what the limits truly are; sometimes we don’t know what we’re actually capable of until we try it.

So let’s do our best to keep reaching out into the realm all around us to discover more about the one that we inhabit. Let’s keep moving out into the stars to find new information about the creation of the universe and the potential continuation of our species. And let’s all go see Interstellar so we can talk about how awesome and crazy and cool it is and get inspired to start another surge into the sky and beyond. Right now the United States federal budget for NASA, the teeny-tiny part of your taxes that pay their bills is a despicable 0.49% and is roughly 1/3 of the academic science budget for the whole country (which may be more despicable). This is the lowest percentage NASA’s ever received since 1959, its second year of existence. From NASA’s research comes an amazing list of technologies we use every day like cell phones, GPS, LEDs, enriched foods, invisible braces, water purifiers, tire improvements, heart pumps, better cameras, and blankets to name a few.

Neil deGrasse Tyson has stated, “Right now, NASA’s annual budget is half a penny on your tax dollar. For twice that – a penny on a dollar – we can transform the country from a sullen, dispirited nation, weary of economic struggle, to one where it has reclaimed its 20th century birthright to dream of tomorrow.”

I love that space movies are cool again, and that they feature relatable and loveable scientists and engineers. No matter what the ratio of science to fiction is in recent blockbuster science fiction films like Gravity and Interstellar, the wonder they instill us with is enough to inspire the next batch of great thinkers and dreamers looking up, literally. They also help to make the rest of the world realize that there is more for us to do beyond our earthly bonds. We got up to the moon really fast and we’ve done some awesome stuff since then, but there is a very noticeable drop-off in excitement for space missions (especially from the US Capitol) and that is concerning. Deep down inside something drives us on to explore and discover and we need to grab onto that and embrace it. There’s so much we don’t know that we can learn from stepping back a little bit farther from our world and taking a long look at it and everything else we might see along the way. I’m not saying we should forget about what we have on Earth because there is so much we should delve deeper into here too, but right now I’m all about that Space, and I hope that you are too.

Thanks for reading! If you would like me to write about something in the future, or if you want to discuss Interstellar / how sexy McConaughey is then contact me at monotrememadness@gmail.com. If you did see the movie and want to learn a little and have a laugh at the same time, check this out. Be sure to gravitate back next week for another riveting post.

T-minus one week,

Alex

P.S. If you need some further inspiration/humor that you don’t need to have seen Interstellar for watch this. Just don’t abuse the humbling properties of the song for the purpose of live organ donation.

Help Be a Hero the First World Way!

Hello everybody! I hope you enjoy the actual weekly post I put out earlier tonight. If you haven’t seen it, here it is.

The reason for this special edition post is one that I deem to be important. So important that I am putting it up with the request that you pay money. Not to me, mind you, although I won’t stop you from sending you cold, hard, electronically transferred cash my way because I’m just going to reroute it to four organizations working to make the world a little better. They are Doctors Without Borders; International Rescue Committee; Save the Children; and Partners In Health. All of these are currently doing some excellent hands-on work in West Africa to combat the Ebola outbreak because they have the skill set and know-how to do so. Unfortunately, they don’t always have sufficient funds.

Right now you can go to Network For Good’s website here and make a tax-deductible donation that Google will match and raise so that for every one buckaroo you shell out, they’ll shell out two buckaroos. I’m no math whiz, but I’m pretty sure this means that donating $10 provides a $30 complete donation once Google pumps it up. Whatever money is given is split equally four-ways between the aforementioned organizations. I promise I’m not going to come calling for cash often, and there’s no way fro me to know if you gave anything anyway, but just remember that living in a privileged part of the world, even one as occasionally annoying as ours here in America is a lot better all around than poorer places like West Africa. They don’t have the means to to fully eradicate Ebola and properly educate those in affected areas about its dangers… yet. We’re getting there, but it’s only with the help of people like those working in organizations like DWB, IRC, STC, and PIH. I know you might not be the richest or the most powerful person in America (although Gates and Buffett have already sent some things in motion) but you do have some riches and some power, at least comparatively to most in West Africa. And with some power comes some responsibility. So be a Spider-Man and give a little. Remember that one of the luxuries of living in the Developed World, or First World, is to not necessarily be working on the front lines of some project but to pay others to do so. And here you’re not even paying anyone for their services, but rather are supplying them with the funds they need to do what they need to do to work on the front lines of this monumental, but doable project.

Thanks for helping out!

Alex

P.S. If you need to channel your inner Spidey, click here

Making Mondays a little less Mondayish for all with words to educate, inspire, and try out my stand-up routine with.