Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Bubba, rotten tomatoes, and ghouls gone wild

A few years ago, Bubba stumbled across a web-site that changed our lives. Well, at least our movie-viewing lives. The site was Rotten Tomatoes, a site that compiles reviews of movies from critics across the country and gives it either a "fresh" or "rotten" rating. If more than 60% of the critics gave the movie a positive review, it is considered "fresh"; less than 60%, it is deemed "rotten."

I didn't know it at the time, but Rotten Tomatoes would become the litmus test in determining what movies we will watch. It is our entertainment oracle, if you will, our cinematic crystal ball, a trusted advisor who must be consulted before a movie is viewed. After Bubba became converted to the site, he went to great pains to look up our entire DVD collection to see what percent of our movies met the "fresh" status. He was pleased to find that only 2 were considered rotten: Bedazzled (49%) and Just Married (20%).

Bubba gets a lot of flack from my family about his devotion to Rotten Tomatoes. My dad slyly derides his obsession by refusing to refer to the site by its proper name: it is either Soggy Tomatoes, Rotten Apples, or some other corruption of the title. This mockery has left Bubba unfazed: he is shameless in his promotion and devotion to the web site.

A few Halloweens ago, his devotion was challenged. My mom had purchased a Halloween film for us to watch, a frightening flick called "When Good Ghouls go Bad." Haven't heard of it? Count yourself lucky. This is one of those films that is so bad, it's bad. After the painful viewing process was over, Bubba suggested we look up the movie on Rotten Tomatoes, in an effort to prove once and for all that Rotten Tomatoes would have saved us from this cinematic nightmare. With bated breath we huddled around the computer, waiting for the assuredly "rotten" pronouncement. The result, however, produced an audible gasp from us all: not only did the website consider the movie "fresh", it had received 100% positive reviews.

Bubba was crestfallen. The credibility of his site was destroyed. My family continues to make fun of Rotten Tomatoes. Bubba continues to defend it.

The moral of the story? To borrow from Anchorman (64% on Rotten Tomatoes), when it comes to the infallibility of Rotten Tomatoes: Sixty percent of the time, it works every time. The other 40%, you better trust your instincts. And avoid morally challenged ghouls at all costs.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Henry's Snarl

Recently, Henry has started to "snarl" at us; he'll scrunch his face together and breathe in and out through his nose really loud. It's a little alarming. Beware, the following pictures may not be suitable for viewers under 8:

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Last Hoop?

Hoop 1: LSAT
Degree in Philosophy and unremarkable GMAT score prompt Bubba to apply for Law school. Becomes obsessed with preparation for the LSAT. Our conversations revolve entirely around the test and its ramifications.

Hoop 2: Application process
Test results reveal that admission to Law school is both probable and possible. Spend several hundred dollars applying to schools. Believing he is a Rudy-figure, Bubba decides on Notre Dame. We commit the rest of our lives to repaying student loans.

Hoop 3: 1st year
Move to South Bend. Bubba dons black frames to appear academic. Studies. A lot. At work, I endure the embarrassment of wearing unflattering scrubs and being verbally accosted by Richard "Digger" Phelps. Unfamiliar with the "down to earth" Midwestern style, I pride myself on being among the few Walmart shoppers who actually wears a belt.

Hoop 4: 1st Summer Internship
Return to Utah. Car reaches 100,000 mile mark on trip home. Sleep on a semi-truck mattress and share bathroom with Katie. Ruthless arguments over borrowing clothes ensues. Bubba invests in "business casual" attire for his job at the DA, including two pairs of shoes from Payless Shoe Source. The shoes are not argued over.

Hoop 5: 2nd Year
Move to London. Bubba enjoys going to school within a rock's throw of the beautiful Trafalgar Square. I enjoy pregnancy by sharing a toilet with 6 strangers. England's cuisine is not able to fulfill my craving for a corndog.

Hoop 6: 2nd Summer Internship
Back to Utah. Bubba returns to the DA's office, only this time to the civil division. Work proves to be much less interesting than the criminal side, as much of his tasks involve collecting outstanding library fines. We welcome beautiful little Henry to our family.

Hoop 7: 3rd Year
Make the trek back to South Bend. Journey is much more formidable with Henry in tow. Bubba and I enjoy leisurely lunches eating grilled cheese sandwiches and watching Magnum P.I. Interest in school work is noticeably waning. Despite this, Bubba finishes well and graduates. Receives his diploma while holding Henry, who decides to award his father by having a massive blowout. Return stained graduation robe to bookstore.

Hoop 8: Securing Employment
Take the first job offer Bubba receives. Hope that working in Hammond is better than unemployment.

Hoop 9: The Bar
The joy of graduation is mitigated by threat of the impending Bar exam. Bubba sells kidney to pay for Bar/Bri review course. Fear of failure motivates him to study excessively. I spend lonely evenings alone at Walmart, dressed in sweats and make-up free, and begin to feel oddly at home. Bubba completes the bar which involves re-enacting Tom Cruise's role in A Few Good Men, summarizing a John Grisham novel, and a staring contest with a district judge.

Hoop 10: Admission to the Bar
Bubba passes the bar! Drive to Indianapolis to be formally admitted to the Indiana Bar Association. Bubba now can add the title "esquire" to his name.

Congratulations Bubba!!!!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Near-life experiences

We've all heard the term "near-death experience." It goes without saying that we go to great lengths to avoid this type of situation. You may not be as familiar with the term "near-life experiences", those incidents that occur when our lives collide with those around us. Oddly enough, it seems that most of us avoid these situations with the same vigor with which we avoid the more deadly variety.

We've developed tactics for avoiding near-life experiences: we don't sit next to someone in a movie theatre unless it's the only vacant seat, we take the empty booth on the other side of the fast food restaurant, we become strangely interested in the floor of the elevator when another person gets in. The more congested an area is, the more we feel our personal space threatened, the more introverted we become. When your face is smashed into some man's armpit on the train, you have to create some kind of barrier, if only a mental one. This explains the seeming paradox that proximity breeds isolation.

Bubba and I had a memorable near-life experience while attending King Kong in a London movie theatre. We had arrived early to the show and were the first ones in the theatre. We took the prime seats: the middle of the first row of the stadium seating (you don't have anyone in front of you and you can put your feet on the railing). While I was using the restroom, another couple entered the theatre and, oddly, took the seats on the end of our row. Another couple entered, and the man actually asked Bubba if he could move down so they could have the middle seats (mind you, NO ONE else was in the theatre!). Bubba moved all right, several rows back. When Bubba related his reason for relocating to me, I was indignant and incredulous. The nerve of some people!

My dad had a near-life experience that yielded a different reaction. He and a co-worker were eating lunch at a mall food court. Their lunch was interrupted when they heard a man yell, "Hey, will you feed me?" Seated at a nearby table was a man in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the neck down, with a slice of pizza in front of him. My dad and his friend continued to eat their lunch, when the man looked at my dad and again yelled, "Hey, will you feed me?" My dad somewhat hesitantly approached the man and asked "How should we do this?" The man instructed my dad to hold the pizza to his mouth and he'd chew. With some trepidation and awkwardness, my dad helped this man eat his lunch.

When we encounter other people, do we distance ourselves from them or engage with them? Have you ever had a day when a kind word from a stranger is desperately needed? Are we too often impatient and careless in our interactions with others? Do we nourish or neglect? Perhaps we should be less hesitant in engaging in near-life experiences. There seems to be something instructive in the tale of my dad feeding the paralyzed man, something almost biblical, something bordering on a parable.

Even still, I won't be eagerly seeking out an opportunity to ride on a crowded train anytime soon.

(*I borrowed the term "near-life experience" from the title of a book by Olivia Birdsall)

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Oops! I did it again...

When the Today Show aired a segment about Britney Spears's custody battle this morning, Bubba stopped eating his cereal and I gravitated out of the bathroom to stare fixedly at the t.v. screen. The usual experts were on hand, individuals with no personal knowledge of Spears but nonetheless "qualified" to dissect her motives and project the outcome of the legal proceedings and the certain havoc it will wreak on the lives of her children. And I have to admit, as I eagerly digested this tidbit of news, that I was more than a little ashamed.

Why are we so engrossed in the misfortunes of people like Britney Spears? I tried to delve into this question with Bubba as I drove him to work this morning. Frankly, I don't think he was too interested in the question and humored me by saying that maybe it's because we're concerned about her children. Oh really Bubba? I don't think so. It seems our motives are far less benevolent than that.

Maybe it's the media's fault. They're the ones that keep pushing these stories on us, anyway. But recent events undermine this argument. Case in point, the 2007 Miss Teen USA pageant. The contestant from South Carolina, Lauren Upton, responded to a pageant question in an embarrassingly incoherent way. Video of her response on YouTube drew a couple million hits. The so-called democratization of the media allowed the public to replay this young woman's embarrassing moment over and over again: and we did.

Neither Spears nor Upton seem to have much control over how the media represents them. Contrast this with the story of a carefully crafted media image. In Joan Didion's Political Fictions, she recounts an event she witnessed at the San Diego airport during Michael Dukakis's presidential campaign. Dukakis got out of the plane and, after being instructed by his campaign manager, tossed a ball back and forth with his press secretary on the tarmac. After enough photographs and live footage had been taken, the ball-tossing abruptly ended. Didion asserts that this ball-tossing was a set-up; however, in the weeks to follow numerous news articles referred to the event as evidence that Dukakis was an every-day guy.

If an individual can attempt to shape the media, can't the media shape an individual? If the media coverage of Dukakis as a regular Joe was fictive, isn't it possible that the coverage of Spears is too? In a recent opinion column, George Will called our obsession with gaffes, flubs, and other public embarrassments evidence of the coarsening of society. He said that the attention drawn to Lauren Upton's verbal missteps was cruel. Cruel is a harsh word. But be honest and ask yourself if you don't derive a certain amount of pleasure in watching Britney's life spiral out of control. And if so, isn't that, if not quite cruel, at least not kind.

If we become a society too willing to revel in the misfortunes of others, we risk losing our ability to be compassionate. So the next time the Today Show features a story on Britney, I'll try to not be so entertained. Or, like Bubba does, I'll think of the children.