Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It Has Been Scientifically Proven That Seinfeld is Poo

I am not a big fan of Seinfeld. I will not lie. I have always felt the show was a big pile of steaming poo on an otherwise perfectly clean doorstep. The show started in 1989 and ended in 1998, and has basically lived in rerun heaven ever since. In short, I’ve been accidentally stepping into this proverbially pile, whilst flipping through the channels on the boob tube, for almost twenty years. There’s something wrong with that—the way there’s something with wrong with spray on tans or polka dotted fabric.

But let’s get back to the point.

Why do I hate it so?

Well let’s start with the characters. I’ve taken the liberty of “borrowing” some Wikipedia summaries on each of the main character’s traits and story contributions. 

Let’s take a closer look.  

Jerry: Jerry is the show's central character, a stand-up comedian who is often seen as "the voice of reason" amid all the insanity generated by the people in his world. Plot lines often involve Jerry's romantic relationships; he typically finds small, silly reasons to stop dating women; in one episode, he breaks up with a woman because she eats her peas one at a time; in another, it is because, although a beautiful model, she has overly-large "man hands."

 George: George is Jerry's best friend since high school. He is cheap, dishonest, petty and often jealous of others' achievements. He is often portrayed as a loser who is insecure about his capabilities. He frequently complains and lies about his profession, relationship, and almost everything else, which usually creates trouble for him later. He often uses an alias ("Art Vandelay"), when lying or assuming a fake identity.

Kramer: Kramer is Jerry's "wacky neighbor" and friend. His trademarks include his humorous upright pompadour hairstyle, vintage clothing and his energetic sliding bursts through Jerry's apartment door. Elaine refers to him as a 'hipster doofus'. At times, he acts naive, dense, and almost child-like, yet randomly shows astonishing insight into human behavior.

Elaine: Elaine is intelligent and assertive, but superficial. She sometimes has a tendency to be very honest with people, which often gets her into trouble.  She often gets caught up in her boyfriends' habits, her eccentric employers' unusual demands, and the unkindness of total strangers.

What’s to like about these people? Their lives are experiments in human embarrassment. Not a single one of the show’s episodes could exist if the characters simply yielded to their more contentious, honest, compassionate selves.   Instead they live the most contrived and petty existences ever created for human entertainment. In short, they aggravate the hell out of me.

Now that I’ve explained my feelings, let the science be ushered into the argument. 

Roger Ebert, the Pulitzer Prize winning film critic, recently wrote in an online article the following:

Studies have indicated that Elevation, [a term used to describe elevated levels of emotional and intellectual stimulation and its consequential neural chemical releases], is triggered by the stimulus of our vagus nerve, described by Wikipedia as the only nerve that starts in the brainstem and extends down below the head, to the neck, chest and abdomen, where it contributes to the innervations of the viscera. It must be involved in what we call "visceral feelings," defined as "relating to deep inward feelings rather than to the intellect."

The vagus nerve would certainly account for what I feel, which is as much physical as mental. For years, when asked "how do you know a movie is great?" I've had the same reply: I feel a tingling in my spine. People look at me blankly. I explain that I feel an actual physical sensation that does not depend on the abstract quality of the movie, but on--well, my visceral feelings.

Yoffe writes: "In his forthcoming book Born To Be Good, Keltner writes that he believes when we experience transcendence, it stimulates our vagus nerve, causing 'a feeling of spreading, liquid warmth in the chest and a lump in the throat'." Yes, that's what I feel. Does it sound familiar to you? Jonathan Haidt devised a fascinating study at the University of Virginia, described by Yoffe:

Since it's tricky to study the vagus nerve, [Haidt] and a psychology student conceived of a way to look at it indirectly. The vagus nerve works with oxytocin, the hormone of connection. Since oxytocin is released during breast-feeding, he and the student brought in 42 lactating women and had them watch either an inspiring clip from The Oprah Winfrey Show about a gang member saved from a life of violence by a teacher or an amusing bit from a Jerry Seinfeld routine.

About half the Oprah-watching mothers either leaked milk into nursing pads or nursed their babies following the viewing; none of the Seinfeld watchers felt enough breast dilation to wet a pad, and fewer than 15 percent of them nursed.

What does all of that mean, anyway? Well, it means that something I have always known has finally been scientifically proven. Seinfeld is Poo.

Friday, January 9, 2009

They Really Are "Lovin' It"

Is it me, or are the majority of movies these days just kind of blah? The highest grossing film this holiday season was a film called Marley & Me—a movie which essentially blends the plots of Old Yeller and the original Beethoven. According to Wikipedia, Marley & Me “set a record for the largest Christmas Day box office ever, with $14.75 million in ticket sales.” I’m not dogging dog flicks, but over the many years that I’ve enjoyed my movie addiction, I’ve come to expect the holidays were a time to view “must-see” films. The only one that looked even remotely interesting was The Curious Case of Benjamin Button—a movie based on a Fitzgerald short story written more than 80 years ago.

Indeed, most of this past year has felt this way, with exceptions noted in the superhero genre—Dark Knight, Hellboy II, and Ironman, to name the more intriguing of the features. Some may blame the writer’s strike, which began in late 2007 and ended somewhere in the late spring, early summer of 2008, for this lackluster year. But I don’t think that’s the answer, since there are still plenty of exhibitions of star power in totally forgettable productions. If you don’t believe me, please see the advertisement for Bride Wars and be amazed that such a production ever got funding, much less showcased with such notable stars.

Others may argue the reason for this wasteland of film is we’re running out of original ideas—that we’ve exhausted the muse. My answer to that is, “nonsense.” We’ve had literary ideas come down through the ages since the time of the Greeks—people who were around as early as 3,000 years before Christ. Are you gonna tell me that all creativity over the last 5,000 years came to a halt in the last ten? Don’t be ridiculous.

I was in my Browning & Tennyson Graduate course on Monday, and my professor, the brilliant Dr. Merlin Chaney, suggested the biggest problem we face today is people do not want to work to find the answers for the more interesting and intellectually tough questions—they want the answers given to them. He said the few of us that are continuing to fight and search for the ultimate truths, are looking into the local McDonald’s window and despairing when they realize that most of the people standing in line really are “Lovin’ It.”

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


Dear Gentle Reader,

I wish I were a more prolific writer on this blog. But alas, I have fallen into the same steps as my favorite bloggers—Girlyman & Jane Espenson (Jane is a screenwriter. And if you don’t know who or what a Girlyman is, I won’t bother trying to explain.). I’ve followed both of their blogs for many moons.

Jane, in yesteryears, was only able to crank out a blog entry once or twice a month. More recently, she has posted that she will no longer be writing even that frequently due to her illustrious and prestigious career as a full time writer. The weeping was profuse, as you might have imagined on my part, when I heard the situation was thus.

Girlyman is worse. They only write when they feel like it. So sometimes there will be two or three entries in one week, and then nothing for the next three months. I’m always grateful, but it depresses me verily having to wait so long.

I realize there is no reason on earth for me to believe that I enjoy as many followers as they. Also I am neither a famous writer, nor am I a not-so-famous, but busy touring band member. I do boast a full time work schedule, part time school schedule, and a spot on several sports teams. But you know…those seem kind of peanuts, comparatively.

And now I’m going to change the subject.

Postgraduate work.

“What is this?” You may be wondering. That’s a good question. Because up until two months ago, I couldn’t have told you what the crap it was either. Upon further research however, I came to discover there are three levels to the path of Ph. D-hood.

1. Bachelors
2. Graduate Work
3. Postgraduate Work/Doctorial Candidacy

Cute, huh?

I mean, it makes logical sense to call it that. I just never knew that was the proper terminology.

“What’s this got to do with the price of eggs, Becky?”

Well folks, it would seem as I get older, and the more schooling I acquire (however slowly), I’ve discovered an inconvenient truth—my brain will never be happy until it’s reached the top of the mountain known as University Education (I sincerely wish there were some way for me to make those two words sparkle.).

Ironically, I used to believe that the top of my “Blue Ridge” would be at the end of my bachelors. That seemed the logical conclusion. Especially considering I don’t know anyone inside of my immediate circle of friends who has any intention of taking such drastic efforts to remain irrevocably and permanently poor. Also, I’m hardly the type. My academic track record, up until recently, has been saturated in mediocrity the way a French fry is inundated with grease.

I don’t know what’s changed, really. I tried just as hard in Biology and Geography as I did in Early British Literature. I still got a “C” in all of them. Of course, by the time I was finishing up at BYU, I was rollin’ in the puppies with a low ball “A” semester average. Right now I’m a 4.0 girl. Which makes me wonder, “Is Weber easier? Am I maturing? Is Joss Wheden’s Dollhouse going to fail because it got a Friday Night time slot?” All valid inquiries.

What I do know is this. My proverbial Blue Ridge’s Mt. Jackson or even my Wasatch Front’s Mt. Timpanogos are not enough of a hike. I’m thinkin’ Yosemite’s El Capitan or The Tetons. Those seem like more appropriate goals. Right now I’m weighing my options as ISU and the U of U. We’ll see what we can find.