Sunday, August 29, 2004

Heuristic Squelch Issue Review - Sept 2004

I don't feel as intense a need to critique the newest issue of the Heuristic Squelch as I usually do, which means either it's getting better or I'm growing accustomed to mediocrity. Let's assume it's the former.

FRONT COVER: Excellent. It warms my heart to see the familiar faces of editors emeritus gracing the cover, suggesting that this is a cover that could have, nay, should have existed during my own tenure at the Squelch. Thing is, even if we had thought of it, we probably wouldn't have created Mario costumes simply to use for a cover shoot. No, the costume party had to come first, then the natural progression into a cover photo. Boback's unintentional misspelling of "EXTRA" captures the charming, drug-addled dyslexia of an authentic street person. I'd heard rumors that the dull Oakland backdrop was to be replaced by game graphics, but it's just as well that this did not happen; I like the gritty realism on display. (Although really, was there not a more interesting wall to be found?)

PAGE 2: Words From the Top is too long. Cut a few words and you could have had a Yahoo Serious picture big enough to actually see, and not a postage stamp that accidentally got dropped into the layout. Aside from that it's decent. Loker really sets the tone for the issue, and presumably the year, with his brash mixture of high and low comedy. "A snowboarding midget with a sign strapped to his head that says 'Learning'" is impressively out-there, but let's watch out for the easy midget references. That makes one so far.

The Staff Box Theme suggests that at least one member of the staff did not miss out on VH1's I Love the '90s this summer. Careful, guys--early '90s nostalgia is dangerously close be being so over. Don't follow the crowd to Lewinsky-era nostalgia--leap ahead to the nostalgia of the 2010s. We'll catch up faster than you'd think.

This Month's Cover: Oops, hello there, Midget Joke #2. Didn't see you there. This one is appropriate, though, framed as a joke on non-super Mario.

Rick James Crack Pipe small text: No comment.

PAGE 3: "President Killed by Useless Jigaboos." Here's a test: Does a newsflash refer to the writer or "reporter" by name or otherwise? Does the writer explicitly draw attention to his own headline or make any other self-reference of any kind? If so, throw the writer out the window. After the defenestration, pin the newsflash on the wall and draw a sad face on it.

"New Cola" - This essentially a compilation of sarcastic statements taking the commercial at face value. Pros: The commercial in question is especially ludicrous in its depiction of C2 bringing universal euphoria, and as such is deserving of ridicule. Cons: Tearing down cheesy commercials is fish-in-a-barrel as far as satire is concerned. Could you write a newsflash like this for virtually any commercial on TV? Yes, in about the time it would take to watch one. You cleared the bar, Mark--just be aware you didn't set it very high.

"Man Successfully Programs VCR" - I initially feared this would actually be about the difficulty of programming a VCR. Congratulations, Aaron Brownstein, you had me going. I like that this turns into a vicious rant about how easy VCR programming actually is. On the downside, the run-on sentence is not as funny as it could be if it were a more readable sentence. It makes me say, "Oh, I get it," and then I skip to the end. In the spirit of Fornaca's wordiness-policing, I'll point out that "daintily" adds nothing to the last line. Also, the allegedly cruel assertion that stupid people shouldn't breed is T-shirt trite, and you can do better as far as anti-stupid ranting goes.

PAGE 4: The first headline in active voice would be "Cosmo Deems Voting "Out." What do you think? I like it better. Active voice will cull a lot of the pretentious wordiness that plagues current Squelch writers. As for the Newsflash, funny idea, but the middle two paragraphs don't actually provide any laughs to flesh it out. The first and last paragraphs are good, though.

"Aaron Sorkin" - Funny newsflash, and good Sorkin parody dialogue. I think the headline and the lead should say Sorkin "actually" talks that way, rather than "always"--since his speech is being compared to his shows, rather than a specific instance where we heard him personally talking in a strange way and wondered if it were a rare occurence. No need for "Report:" in the headline, either.

"Kerry...Kill Babies" - I like Dan Freedman's stuff better and better. One reason might be that he can't write well enough to show off with bad sentences and meaningless words, and his spare prose gets right to business. That directness ironically creates good writing that works in favor of this piece, and it highlights the satirical point on mudslinging campaigning. To be fair, I'm sure some editors did noble cleanup work on Dan's original chicken scratches and they are to be commended for making him presentable.

Check this out: "Student's Mind Literally Blown." I did it again. "Has" is a weak verb. Chuck it out the window with Aaron Brownstein. This is another trip back to the intellectual snob well of pointing out how people say "literally" while making figurative statements. I laughed at that a lot...when Sean pointed it out three years ago. Since then I've heard it from many people. I guess if you haven't, this newsflash would be clever. Let me propose that when people say "literally" when the mean "figuratively," the are actually using "literally" in a figurative manner to strengthen their figurative exaggeration. They don't know they're being meta-figurative, but essentially that's what's understood by the average listener. Whatever. Keep fighting the good fight, and people will learn to speak correctly.

"Students Rewarded for Showing Up" - Is the Certificate of Attendance part true, and the rest making fun of it? That's what I'm guessing. Or is it all made up, and the target is the exam? It's not clear, guys. Maybe that's my fault for not keeping up with this news. But even so, what's the point? Is it that the Certificate is an undeserved reward for poor students? Or is it that the Certificate is a pointless empty gesture (and not a reward at all)? Does Laura even know?

"Michael Moore Decides to Run" - I feel like this headline could have been phrased in a way that would strengthen the joke by sounding more political, like "Moore Announces Intent to Run" or something like that. Even so, short, simple, funny. The tag with the Feldspar man laughing is weak, and the phrase "hilariously noting" oversells the joke. The "less of Moore" line is a good bad joke that might have worked had it been better used.

PAGE 5: Bob Birgenaeu News Page. Too many Newflashes on one topic? Way to own it, guys.

"Not Yet Hardened." Eh. Boring.

"Mass E-Mail" - I imagine this is very funny to those who endured more Berdahl emails than I did. Even so, it could lose the second and especially the fourth paragraph without dropping a laugh.

"Crack Pizzo" - How Loker is this, honestly?! I hate "heck of" and "hell of" with their labored and unsuccessful attempts at proper grammar (Why not stick with the genuinely made-up word "hella" and announce your disregard for grammar proudly?). But they are utterly appropriate here. BAMN slam is theoretically funny, but the "reports unconfirmed at press time" construction fails to tickle me. Cut last paragraph and strengthen piece.

PAGE 6 - "Top Ten Porno Movies Starring Celebrities and Secretly Sponsored by Car Companies." Thank you. I'm pleased to see another list in the spirit of "Porno Movies About Cereal," dogpiling premises in a comedy gang bang, if you will, reducing the Porno Movies Premise to nonsensical tatters. 10 and 6 are the only okay jokes in it, but I really like the idea.

"Oscar Contention" list is pretty solid, especially 4 and 1.

"University Speech Codes" - It's all shock value, but I like the grammar nitpicks. It forces the magazine to not make those mistakes accidentally. And okay, it's pretty funny. But the dolphin line is weak and by then the piece wears out its welcome. Gook joke #1.

PAGE 7 - "Welcome Week" - I swear Sean wrote this piece three years ago, and only just published it now. I remember him reading it off of Post-Its. Or maybe it was in his blog. I guess if you miss out on that first issue, you've just got to hang on to it for one more year. It's still sharp, except for the dated-sounding joke. Why do I get the sense that this joke originally had a address. Oh, right, because it's three years old.

Short Conversations - Didn't there used to be at least a couple real conversations in these? Anyway, Bruce Wayne's age at the time of his parents death varies in the comics. Eight, ten, and twelve are the most common ages used, but it never went into the teens.
And more Birgenau! It's weird to start off this running gag with an ad. Shouldn't we see a joke first?

PAGE 8 - Health Care for the Streets - Solid. I liked it. Very Monica. I don't have as much to say when I like things.

PAGE 9 - I'm unqualified to judge this, as I know nothing of sports. Gargamel and the Smurfs is the funniest section to me, the way it's written totally straight except for including Gargamel and the Smurfs. Sean is an old pro--maybe the oldest, ever, where the Squelch is concerned--but I think this piece would read better on his blog, where it no doubt originally appeared. It's an odd fit for the magazine, though I can't say exactly why.

CENTER SPREAD - Not very visual, and in general spreads should be, but it's fine to change it up sometimes. This would have been a great MAD piece (toned down a bit, of course), especially in the '70s, when they did more text-heavy features. Are they really written by the three writers specified? "Pincushion for Dicks" seems crasser than the Mark Thomas I know, but then, I don't know Mark Thomas that well. Not that a different side can't come out in writing; after all, Fornaca was writing about girls' pee-holes and love-slots before he knew the difference between them, and Deenihan's ignorance of the female anatomy was legendary. Whatever.

PAGE 12 - Three Investigators: The Adventure of the Dead Pope - Who are the Three Investigators? This sounds vaguely familiar, but as a nostalgia-based piece its obscurity rivals Turbo Teen. The comedy hinges largely on the assumption that the word "Pope" is automatically funny, which it is, but beware: Once you realize a word is always funny it's only a matter of weeks before it's not funny at all. The style is suitably cheesy, but aside from that, I don't get much out of this. Maybe I would if I knew the Three Investigators. Nice art, though.

PAGE 13 - The title could do without O! and the ellipses, which I find more obnoxious than funny. Or it could acknowledge the mold from which it springs by simply calling itself "Bureaucracy Over Time."

Rome is the best, then Cairo (but only the "Write a hieroglyphic message to someone who cares" line). The Aztec one could use less of the self-conscious references to the future, which could be integrated more elegantly ("What if invaders bring disease?" "That will never happen!" for example. Clumsy, yes, but funnier than repeated self-reference). Any William Henry Harrison joke now makes me think of the "Caretaker Presidents" song from the Simpsons, and I always assume that the writer was also thinking of that song when they wrote their joke.

Birgeneau quote: Funny.

PAGE 14 - T.S.M.I.T.W. - Excellent. Very strong. Consistent and laugh-worthy all the way through. The Girl segment drags a little, but not enough to hurt the piece. Top Five Morally Ambiguous Acts is also very good. Top Ten Most Important Questions Answered by the Internet sucks. It's basically a list of specific references to funny or curious websites, and might as well just say, "Hey, have you seen this? Me too! Funny, isn't it? Isn't it cool how we both recognize this?" Well, okay, that's really only 6 and 3, as far as I know, but it still makes the list lame.

PAGE 15 - Like the art. Monica's right, the Holocaust joke is really bad. I like the spilling salt joke, and the line "He will still be your enemy, but now the stakes are higher." Otherwise the piece doesn't to much for me.

SCAP!: Ugh.

PAGE 16 - The jumping spider line is fun. Other than that, this piece feels pointless. What's with the "Asian Immigration Office" joke, you racist? Good Birgeneau quote again.

PAGE 19 - Hey, it's easy to make the parties look the same! All you have to do is ignore the single most divisive issue in the world today! If you wanted, you could have played off the Democrats' inability to reconcile their anti-war sentiments with their desire to not look soft on defense. But the parties still might have seemed too different, so you covered your ears and shut your eyes, and the piece feels like it's written by someone in 2000, back when everyone claimed there was no difference between Bush and Gore. You didn't want this to be, you know, relevant or anything, did you?

The gay marriage comparison is very sharp. The money bags are nonsense, but funny. The last two are a waste of time.

The Spanish part is nice and subtle--I didn't read it at first, and missed the joke. And while it's kind of funny, the piece fails to make clear why poor or colored people are disenfranchised or why whites would want them to stay that way. The Spanish is still funny in a purely mean-spirited way. It's shallow, that's all.

BACK COVER - Nice design. The yellowish color and plain fonts really capture the right feel. The art is good too, especially the X-Ray Specs art--is that actually from a real ad? I like this cover piece. The comedy feels smooth and effortless, not labored like many of the features within. I like pretty much every gag on this page. The baby is the weakest one.

Whoa, I just noticed that Zack is back in his Design Editor post. So he's there, up all night, doing thankless layout chores, surrounded by the new staff? I didn't know that until just now. Does that include creative influence? Does that mean he won't be doing his own brutal issue critique? I hope not. That would make me sad.


Anonymous said...

I admire your ability to write the reviews I could never bring myself to write. Again, I commend you.

Anonymous said...

comments? holy shit, yes! I have an enemy at the squelch. thanks for liking my piece about doctors. I'm going to go listen to kanye west's workout song again. la la la something mocha lattes something do pilates.

Zack said...

God damn anonymous comments. I don't want to analyze writing styles to know who I'm posting after.

Calling me Design Editor was a thank you for coming in to do some layout when Mark was flaking, Rebecca frustrated, and Cassie flagging...

Or their extremely passive way of asking me to be more actively involved in the magazine now that I'm back at Berkeley...

Or a "most useful emeritus" badge. I'm not sure. It looks like it was a one-time thing, whatever the reason, as Rebecca is now ending her emails with "Design Editor" instead of "Graphics Editor".

In any case, of course there's an issue critique coming, and of course it's going to be savage. Look for it on my blog and in an email, because I don't want people to go looking for tears and shame. I want to inflict them.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the issue critique, Kenny. Always appreciated. But who uses the word "defenestrate?" Go teabag Douglas Adams some more you big fruit.


Anonymous said...

"Welcome Week" is a year old, but expanded from last year, when it was too short to run. You're right, it's pretty much only good once a year. I think Kenny is confusing that piece with a somewhat similar creation of mine. That one consisted of poorly-drawn faces on Post-It notes saying sad-but-funny things like, "My boyfriend is more important than a midterm." It was probably two years old when I showed it to the Squelch originally, making it six years old now. Still, "Welcome Week", only a year old.