Saturday, February 9, 2008

And So It Begins

Welcome, friends, lovers and estranged uncles!

Some background: This actually began as a post in my old blog, wherein I decided to reply to the letters written to Entertainment Weekly (this was March '06). Then, a mere 2 years later, I decided: what the fuckin' shit? Might as well do a whole blog dedicated to the concept! And yea, verily, here it be.

I've decided, for diversity's sake, to respond to the letters in People magazine as well. Because - and I think we can all agree on this - I believe that when sociologists in the future want to get an idea of what life was like in our era, these letters will be the best illustrations of the cultural and intellectual atmosphere of the times. Also, I just really enjoy mocking people.

For the sake of historical accuracy, here's a re-post of the original blog entry:

Thank you for your usual stellar coverage of the Oscar nominations (Oscar Guide 2006). Flipping through my copy, I realized that this year, for the first time ever, I'm truly excited about the Oscar telecast - and not just because my hero Jon Stewart is hosting (though he really helps!). I'm excited because, for once, I feel like every person or film nominated in the major categories truly deserves an award. I'm delighted with and impressed by the challenging topics the films tackled, the abundant talent demonstrated by the actors, and the skill with which each movie was shot.

Megan Grittani-Livingston
Ontario, Canada

Dear Megan,
What in God's name (Phil) are you babbling about? I didn't cover the Oscar nominations, and even if I had, I guarantee you it wouldn't have been "stellar". It would have been half-assed, which is much closer to my comfort zone. And why, exactly, is Jon Stewart your "hero"? Did he save your kitten from a tree? Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer my heroes to be actually, you know, heroic - not that I don't think asking for millions of dollars for telling jokes and interviewing celebrities 2 hours a week doesn't require some balls. But you really should try to aim higher in determining who you want to deify. Then again, I see you're in Canada, so you're probably used to criminally lowered expectations.

I agree with you about the challenging topics these films tackled, though - homosexuality, all out in the open for the whole world to see and everything! And racism in America! And politicians conducting modern-day witch hunts for political gain! Man, if it wasn't for major Hollywood studios, I'd still believe we were all made of rainbow dust and the streets were paved with delicious milk chocolate and our world leaders were going to hold a summit in a field of cotton candy to announce the end of all pain! Gosh, just think how much less naive I'm going to be when they start making movies about the slave trade and the Teapot Dome scandal! You stupid fool.

Thank you for taking the time to write.
- John

Thanks for the wonderful essay chronicling the massive influx of Australian actors into Oscar's prestigious hall of fame ("Wizards of Oz"). It has seemed for years that Aussies have had a monopoly on the best performances coming out of Hollywood, and I'm grateful that EW went back through the annals of Oscar history to remind us of all the phenomenal actors and performances that came from Down Under in the past decade.
Mike Engh
Laurel, Mont.

The "phenomenal" Paul Hogan

Dear Mr. "Engh",
What the fuck do you care? Unless "Mont." is short for "Sydney" (and it isn't), you live in Montana, so I can't see why you're getting so worked up about your precious Aussies. If you love Australia so much, why don't you avail yourself of a one-way plane ticket, motherfucker? Then maybe you'd waste their column space writing to whatever third-rate publications they produce instead of sullying the fine pages of an institution as hallowed as Entertainment Weekly with your trite "observations". Not that I think you're a complete idiot; on the one hand, if I lived in Montana, I'd probably come to the conclusion that America sucked, too, and look to someplace like Australia (or "Britain East", as I prefer to think of it) as a beacon of hope in my sad, limited world. But on the other hand, I've got five fingers. Ahahahaha! Oh, man, the classics never get old, do they? In any event, as they say Down under: piss off.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

I enjoyed your intriguing article on The Usual Suspects ("Starring Lineup"). It's my favorite movie. I thought I knew every detail of the film, but I learned so much from your story. Who knew that Soze meant "verbal" in Turkish? Fascinating.
Danielle Hallman
Riverdale, NY

Mizz Hallman,
Yeah, who knew? Gee, I don't know - maybe the 60 million or so people in the world whose primary language is Turkish? Or maybe, to round off, the 120 or so million who speak it as either their first or second language? Here's another "fascinating" fact for you: There are, believe it or not, other cultures outside of Riverdale, NY, and some of them use languages I'm sure would sound like Moon-man gibberish to you and your more "civilized" friends. Maybe if you didn't spend all your time investigating the nuances of heist films and cracked open something a bit more scholarly than Entertainment Weekly every once in a while, I wouldn't have to explain that which should be painfully obvious to anyone not in a persistent vegetative state. I can't begin to explain how you sicken me.

p.s. AOL sucks!

I appreciate your thoughts on the matter.

Five words for Lisa Schwarzbaum: The Bridges of Madison County. A simplistic, and terribly superficial book is turned into a heart-wrenching story of love found and lost with astonishing performances by Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood. How could you leave it off your list and include lame fare (by comparison) such as The Verdict? You missed the one example with the widest gap between quality (the movie) and trash (the book).
John D. Patrone
West Hollywood

Have you ever considered suicide as a viable course of action? You should.

p.s. The comma after "simplistic" was unnecessary.

p.p.s. Wait a minute - a guy wrote this?

Be assured I'll take your suggestions under advisement.

Any time Lisa Schwarzbaum wants to hand over her tickets and pass to Sundance, Cannes, Berlin, Toronto, Vancouver, or any other such gathering so that a passionate and devoted moviegoing schmo like me (50-70 films a year) can attend the fest, I'd be eternally grateful (News & Notes). In fact, why not draw from some of your readers and send a few non-jaded cineastic neophytes? Ask them (me!) to pen an epistle or two in exchange for the experience. Who cares about the schwag - for someone like me it would be a filmgoer's dream come true. Plus, I'd be happy to sign a release promising not to get all angsty, alienated, and bathed in ennui.
Mark Hatch
Stockbridge, Mass.

If you want the passes, you'd better be sure to keep your room in the basement clean so mom will loan you the money for plane fare. While you're at it, maybe you could explain the difference between "angsty", "alienated", and "bathed in ennui". There's a lad.

I pity the foo',

I take exception to marc Bernardin's comments about Star trek in his otherwise well-written Battlestar Galactica review. A future where there is no "poverty, no war; our only pursuit is the betterment of ourselves and the exploration of brave new worlds" (funny; sounds like two pursuits to me - John) is not boring. That's exactly the future we want to live in. Bernardin is correct that Galactica has real, ugly, human conflict," which is brilliantly written and acted by a talented cast and crew. But while conflict makes for good entertainment, it does not make for a good existence. Gene Roddenberry created Star trek to show a positive and optimistic view of the future - to show us how we could be if we lived up to our potential. To dismiss Trek as unexciting or uninteresting for not having its crew at one another's throats is to miss the point, and its message entirely. Galactica is a great show, but I wouldn't want to live there.
Evan Knight

Left to right: Evan Knight

It's a great show, but you wouldn't want to live there? WTF are you talking about? A TV show is not an actual location, in case you failed to learn that in goddamn kindergarten like the rest of us. And if by "there" you meant the actual Battlestar (which I assume is some sort of spacecraft; I can't say for sure, as I actually plan on getting laid again in my lifetime), guess what? It still doesn't exist! And Blossom wasn't really Joey Lawrence's sister, either! My God, people. Get a collective grip.

Oh, but don't mind me - I'm sure we'll create a utopian civilization in space one day rather than destroying the entire species long before it becomes feasible. I also believe my skin is made of tiny monkeys who go out and fight crime while I'm asleep.

I hope this is the beginning of a lasting friendship.

Anyway, that killed a lunch hour, and we all had some disease-free laughs, but the real payoff came almost a year later, when I received an e-mail with the subject line "Dear poor, pathetic soul" (which, being actually a quite common subject line in the e-mails I receive, failed to arouse my interest at first). Turns out it was from none other than Danielle Hallman (, who seemed a bit miffed at my blog entry for some reason (probably rabies). Here's the content of the mail:

I just happened to come across your response to a letter I wrote to entertainment weekly. Don't you have better things to do than to insult an educated, working, 28 year old woman. I'm also a member of mensa and have a doctorate. What do you do again? I'm sorry but are you someone special? Do you make a difference in this world? I apologize for not knowing Turkish and that "Soze" means verbal in Turkish. I do, however, speak several languages (other than Turkish), know that there is a lot more other than Riverdale, and than people like you obviously have no lives. Feel free to post this on your blog, then go and get a life.
You make me want to vomit.
Danielle Hallman

I therefore, being a firm believer in journalistic integrity, posted her e-mail to my blog and offered a line-by-line rebuttal:

Thanks, Danielle - it's always a pleasure to hear from my readers! Since you took the time to write (and I don't even work at Entertainment Weekly or anything!), I think the chivalrous thing to do would be to respond to your thoughtful correspondence line by line. Let's begin, shall we?

I just happened to come across your response to a letter I wrote to entertainment weekly.

"Just happened to", eh? I'm no statistician, but I'd bet the odds of you coming across my entry by chance would be about the same as my eating barbecued unicorn with Darth Vader for dinner tonight. Come on, Dani, how many times did you have to Google your name before my blog showed up? When I Googled you, it was at the bottom of the 2nd page. I don't know - if I Googled myself and didn't see anything even remotely to do with me on the first page, I'd probably be too bummed to click "Next". But maybe you don't have my self-esteem issues. Also, I'm surprised a member of Mensa wouldn't know to capitalize the name of a publication.

Don't you have better things to do than to insult an educated, working, 28 year old woman.

Danielle, if you can give me any ideas on what could possibly be a "better thing to do" than that, I'm all ears, because, frankly, that sounds like a recipe for hours of madcap hilarity to me. Also, I never understand when people begin inquiries with "Don't you have anything better to do than...?", because if I did, wouldn't the logical conclusion be that that's what I'd be doing instead? It is just such supercilious communication that keeps the class war going.
Also, usually when we pose a question, we indicate this by sticking a question mark at the end of our query. But then, you're so much more educated than I am, maybe I'm wrong about that. You've got me rethinking everything now; it's like being in The Matrix. Maybe dogs actually say "moo" instead "woof" and there are 19 words in the English language that rhyme with "orange". Why must women always confuse me?

I'm also a member of mensa and have a doctorate.

I'm duly impressed. But how many eggs can you fit into your mouth at once? Because my personal record is 47. There are many paths to greatness, Dani, and we each contribute in our own way.
Also, "Mensa" should be capitalized.

What do you do again? I'm sorry but are you someone special? Do you make a difference in this world?

Me? I work in a mail room. I guess that means I'm not anyone special, and I couldn't possibly make a difference in the world. I don't have a degree, either. Come to think of it, it's a wonder I can even manage to get this keyboard to convey my thoughts without causing me to experience a grand mal seizure or lapse into a coma. All this drool does make it hard to type, I admit. Gosh, if only I'd ever had potential, maybe I could have lived up to it, but clearly I was destined to be nothing more than a big heaving lump of shit while you and the rest of the superior race got to change the world by writing doctoral theses that would only confuse/bore the poo out of the rest of us mere mortals. Wait, what was I saying? I lose track so easily. What? Who said that? Burlap?!
Oh, and there should be a comma after "sorry".

I apologize for not knowing Turkish and that "Soze" means verbal in Turkish.

I'm afraid I cannot accept your apology.

I do, however, speak several languages (other than Turkish), know that there is a lot more other than Riverdale, and than people like you obviously have no lives.

Really? Do you speak Swahili? How do you say "tits" in that language? It's not in any of the dictionaries I found. "Boobs" would be fine, if that's all you know, but it's not going to be as effective when I finally get the chance to use my new phrase on my native-African co-worker.
It does sting a bit to be told I have no life (especially coming from someone who wrote a letter to Entertainment Weekly), but then I remember that this life is only an illusion anyway, and the real party begins when we die and enter the glorious Kingdom of Heaven and suckle at Christ's teat for all eternity. So I'm not losing any sleep over it.
Also, I won't mention the fact that you wrote "than" when you meant "that". I'm sure it was a typo, because "n" and "t" are so close to each other on the keyboard.

Feel free to post this on your blog, then go and get a life.

I do indeed feel free to post this on my blog, since, after you sent me the e-mail, it became my property. In fact, I may even sell your e-mail on EBay, and I think I'm only required to give you 10%. You should really do more to copyright your intellectual property, Dani - I bet EW didn't even pay you. The world is full of unscrupulous con men such as myself and major mainstream publications. Best you learn that now, before senility kicks in and you've willed away your vast reams of correspondence to General Motors or something.
Thank you for giving me permission to get a life. It's touching, really. But it's probably too late, at this point. If it's all right with you, I'll just continue on in this purgatorial state until I'm eventually hit by a bus. After all, who would miss me?

You make me want to vomit.

It's too late to try to turn me on, Danielle. Maybe if you'd started your e-mail with that, things would have been different. Still, if you're ever in Oakland, I'll buy you a drink. Which reminds me: can I borrow $10?

I love you always,

p.s. AOL still sucks! Come on, Danielle, it's the 21st century!

Alas, I have yet to hear back from her. But the work must continue! I think Dani would have wanted it that way. So, I'll be posting the backlog of responses over the coming days and/or weeks. until I've caught up, at which point this will be updated weekly (or more often, if I get lots of e-mail). And just in case you're too lazy to read the sidebar, questions from readers are also welcome. Just be aware that anything sent to me is liable to be put up here for the world to see. Anyway, I guess that's about it. As they say in Mexico, "Bon Voyage!".

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