My Own Private Guantanamo

Pranks, Power and Pop Culture


The Mighty Eagle Sucks

March 29, 2011

I kinda love this riff on the Arab uprisings, which uses a mashup of the popular game Angry Birds and the classic Disney cartoon adaptation of “Three Little Pigs” to explain recent world events.

I love it, that is, up until the Mighty Eagle is called in. For those who have never played Angry Birds, the Mighty Eagle icon appears in the top left side of your iPhone screen after you have tried and failed to complete a level after a few tries. There he is, next to the pause button, giving me the eagle eye in the screenshot below.

This is annoying for a couple of reasons. First, the eagle icon occupies valuable space on the iPhone screen, making it difficult to play the game as you would normally. For instance, if you want to break a blue bird into three smaller birds, or press a yellow bird to make him go faster, the Mighty Eagle icon often rests directly over the spot you need to touch to make that happen successfully, and thus win the level without his help. Winning without the “help” of the Mighty Eagle is much more satisfying, and makes you a stronger player.

Of course, you can make the Mighty Eagle icon go away for a little while, but you have to stop the game, click on the eagle, and refuse his offer. If you’re still struggling, he’ll magically reappear on your screen, offering his “help” yet again. He’s very insistent on helping, this eagle.

The other reason I dislike the Mighty Eagle is that he charges money for his services. His help is not offered for free. It comes at a cost.

Like many on the left, I’m feeling deeply conflicted about the use of American military power in Libya. But I have pretty strong feelings about the Mighty Eagle.

The Mighty Eagle sucks.

How you found me…

March 28, 2011

The Adult Baby Zeitgeist

March 27, 2011

How much longer will the mainstreaming of the adult baby continue before the New York Times publishes a trend piece? Well, I’m not gonna sit around, sucking my thumb, waiting to find out. I call dibs now. This scoop is MINE, ALL MINE.

Nevertheless, I’m sure that the author of this hypothetical trend piece would begin by noting this bizarre “Live Young” ad campaign for Evian, now appearing on LA’s finer bus shelters.

The judicious researcher would then find other examples from the world of print advertising.

But, our writer would note, this phenomenon is not confined to print ads.

The paper of record might also point to more overt displays of infantilism in Hollywood advertising.

A particularly adept cultural critic would then note the phenomenon of Hollywood actresses literally eating baby food to lose weight.

The discussion of Hollywood would likely include a few paragraphs on the emergence of the “manchild” in popular movies, especially those of one Judd Apatow. If the author has a feminist bent, they might also note that women are reduced to the dual role of mommy and lover in such scenarios.

Ms. Heigl, behind you. An escape ladder!

The “manchild” would then be connected to more overt examples of the adult baby in film and television.

They would likely include at least one example from popular culture that confronts the adult baby as a legitimate variation in human sexuality, if one inevitably doomed to dysfunction.

An erudite writer may note that the adult baby has existed in cinema for at least a few decades. Here’s the chance to bring in a classic Hollywood figure like Mickey Rooney.

The NYT writer might even mention an obscure 70s exploitation film or a John Waters movie.

The writer might then strike a sociological note, pointing to the trend by which children (and especially girls) are being sexualized at younger ages, with things like “virgin waxing,” and push-up bikini tops for adolescents and high heels for toddlers hitting the mainstream.

Our writer might then speculate on how this cultural trend in which children “grow up so quickly” is mirrored by another trend in which adults become increasingly infantilized.

If the writer is particularly daring, he might assert that there are aspects of accepted mainstream sexual expression which share some similarity with the exotic world of the adult baby.

Having made a convincing case that there is something going on in the culture at large, our writer will probably wrap up at this point, acknowledging that he or she has barely scratched the surface, while signaling that there is a complementary phenomenon, equally deserving of another 10,000 word think piece. For these reasons, Quizno’s Baby Bob and The E-Trade Baby will have to wait their turn.

Looking For Comedy in the Muslim World

Back when I still thought it was a good idea to argue about politics on Facebook, I frequently mixed it up with friends whose political opinions differed significantly from my own. That led to some fairly contentious discussions, and in some cases, bad feelings, defriending and other awkwardness, both on Facebook and IRL, as the kids say.

One of those epic arguments was between me and my friend: comedian, editor and producer Emery Emery. Last year, Emery asked me for feedback on iSlam, an iPhone app he created to criticize Islam. The app paired violent passages from the Koran with images of Muhammad.  The goal, Emery said, was to mock religion, not to spread hatred or fear about Muslims. Not very far into our debate, Apple decided to ban the app, leading to charges of a doublestandard. (A similar Bible Thumper app criticizing Christianity remains on the iTunes store.)

At the time, I argued that while I supported Emery’s right to create the iSlam app, I felt that it contributed to negative stereotypes about Muslims, and would only worsen the climate of Islamophobia in the US. Emery disagreed, arguing that if it was OK to criticize Christians, it should also be OK to criticize Muslims. Jumping in on Emery’s behalf was our mutual friend and fellow atheist Penn Jillette, who has also been very critical of Muslims (ironically, by claiming he’s afraid to criticize them).

The debate between the three of us got very heated, leading to an epic thread that ultimately left everyone more entrenched in his original position. (For the record, I’m the “liberal friend” Penn is using as a straw man in this video rant about the iSlam argument.) Subsequent Facebook arguments about Islam led to both Penn and Emery quietly defriending me. This was one of the many hints to me that Facebook and politics don’t mix, at least not where your core political values come into conflict with those of your friends.

But apparently (hopefully?), no amount of Facebook drama can kill an argument or a friendship. Several months after our falling out, Emery called me and invited me to appear on his internet radio show, Ardent Atheist on New Dissident Radio. The show is a weekly roundtable discussion devoted to all things atheist, usually featuring guests from the world of standup comedy. I was relieved to hear from Emery, and agreed to be on the show.

The program was co-hosted by actress and singer Heather Henderson and the other guests were veteran SNL writer T. Sean Shannon and comic Dylan Brody.

The twin topics of discussion were:

1) Is it OK to bash Muslims?

2) Is it OK to bash the Pope?

As readers of mine might guess, I took issue with the apparent false equivalency in these two questions. Am I being a hypocrite for creating projects like Adult Baby Jesus, while also criticizing things like Emery’s iSlam app? I’ll leave it to you to judge how well I argue my case. Here’s a link to the archived program.

In retrospect, I wish that there had been at least one guest on the show who was a Muslim, either in practice or by cultural background. It wasn’t for lack of trying. (Emery booked a Pakistani-American comic who canceled a few days before we were to air.)

Finally, as regards our discussion of America’s various imperial wars, I think there’s a reductive focus on religion as a tool for manipulating soldiers onto the battlefield. One could just as easily argue that religious faith prevents people from going to war, as in the case of conscientious objectors. The simplistic view that war is always driven by religious faith should be countered with historical examples of movements for peace and justice that were driven by the faithful. Without religion, there’s no Gandhi and no MLK, Jr. Had I another shot at debating with Emery, I might also point out that everything from the abolition of slavery to the American civil rights movement, would have been unthinkable without religion.

But I guess that’s the difference between radio and something like Facebook. There’s a time limit. Online, you can always hit reply, and dig that trench a little deeper, fighting for that last word, until you’re the only one left talking, and you’re in a hole of your own making.