Monday, June 28, 2010

Interview With a Vegan: The Director's Cut

The following interview with New York-based Max Hodes (see "Not a review of the Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus") was conducted via Gchat for the purpose of an article on urban American vegans. The interview was slated to appear in a Cairo-based magazine in which I have already been published. 

I submitted an edited version with comments from another vegan in LA. I have not heard back from the magazine.

hodes: This is the new chat. Out with the old chat!
me: Hello Max Hodes.
hodes: Hello Vanessa Carlisle
me: I need your permission to "record" this conversation/reprint/edit for the purposes of publication
hodes: You have it.
me: Great!
So you're a vegan.
hodes: I hereby bestow upon thee absolute permission to print this and anything else, true or false in perpetuity forever and ever amen.
me: Excellent. I will be listening to M.I.A during this interview. What are you listening to?
hodes: whoarfrost
I'll stop for now
me: Let's say you're at a bar somewhere in NYC. A cute girl asks you what you "do." How do you answer?
hodes: I'm a musician, audio engineer, and music producer. I make money as a bike courier
if they are interesting I tell them my plan to meta-program the human hive mind
me: When the tray of cheese comes around, do you decline with or without mentioning that you are a vegan?
hodes: depending on how insecure I feel at that moment, it's a 50-50 shot
me: insecure= not mentioning?
hodes: when I'm desperate to have a personality I'll mention that I'm a vegan
me: ah, I had it backward
what personality traits do you think are associated with being a vegan?
and do you think you have them?
hodes: Discipline and compassion clothed in punk rock
I think I do exhibit those personality traits, but I wouldn't call myself a punk
nor, for that matter, a vegan
because I take whey protein these days as a quick to up my overall protein intake
but I just ordered ten pounds of soy/gemma pea mix
and I'd like to get back on the wagon
me: Let's just keep calling you a vegan. Shhhhhh.
Actually--let's follow this train. How many vegans do you know, and do they stay on the wagon? Or do you think vegans "cheat" regularly?
hodes: I don't keep in contact with a single person who is still a vegan that I know of
me: Do you think it would be easier to do it if you did?
hodes: no
me: Because?
hodes: I lost a great deal of weight when I first became a vegan, and times when eaten creatures with hearts for a week or more I've seen the gain and didn't like it
me: M.I.A. is stressing me out. I'm changing to Beta Band. Tell me if the interview tone changes.
hodes: you were very magazine for a minute
me: I'm writing for a magazine, dude.
You will represent all of NYC punk vegans to them
bwa haha
hodes: we all like tank-tops
that's what I can say for sure
me: and my friend Cassandra will represent all Hollywood glossy vegans to them. bwa hah a ha.
hodes: I think I should be listening to the Byrds.
Ah wait: FUgazi!
now I've got it
me: Ok. When did you decide to become a vegan, and why. In like, four sentences or less.
hodes: the ease of being a vegan is, to me, the same ease of working out, practicing my guitar, riding my bike a long distance: I anticipate benefits
I decided to become a Vegan when I read "No More Bull" a book my ex-girlfriend asked me to read.
the book is a sacred-straight style text
about the potential diseases in meat and lack of nutrition in dairy
me: So you made the decision for health reasons primarily?
hodes: entirely
me: because I remember you eating a lot of ribs one time.
hodes: I have compassion for animals, but it's never stopped me from eating them

there is a line of reasoning present that at one time led me to believe that I SHOULD be eating people if I also ate cows and chickens
me: aside: go here and scroll down to the Laker parade. I took that picture.
hodes: but then I found, through further reading, that animals consuming their own species usually produces a brain-degenerating disease
LA looks particularly radiant in victory
I was going to say like a pig that knows it will never be eaten, but it looks nothing like that
me: LA looks like a pig that knows it will never be eaten? 

hodes: nothing like it
that would look like welling black pools reflecting a country spring
me: Tell me something about veganism that you don't like
hodes: LA in victory looks like UBER-LA without so many class distinctions
what I don't like about veganism is on the one hand people bending over backwards to accomidate me, because that usually leads them to talk as if I'm part of a new religion that EVERYONE else has already accepted but they've only just heard of
and also when people tell me why they themselves are not vegan
and the lack of cheese
 Sent at 9:20 PM on Tuesday

hodes: on those moments when I've had extraordinary cheeses: last year, end of June, country jamboree in Conway, MA I had an unbelieveable brie; two years ago we ate some 7000 year old Vermont cheddar that produced a zen state and mild hallucinations because my brain flooded with all the chemicals I like, mostly cheese; those time make me think that cheese might be the second greatest human achievement after music
unfortunately it's not really food the same way a yam is food
it's more food than a twizzler
but not by much
me: You are the best interview subject anyone has ever had. I can't wait until you are a slight bit famous and I get to interview you for BUST.
Tell me something you love about veganism
hodes: I can't wait for my playgirl spread
what I love about veganism is the clean feeling it leaves in my body
it's hard to remember that I used to feel sluggish, bloated, and always like sitting
veganism and excorcise makes me leap about like a spring lamb
me: can you try another metaphor?
hodes: I feel a bit more like I'm always on a trampoline
me: also, did you mean exercise? or are you exorcising on a regular basis now too?
hodes: good call
I do that too
and that makes a huge difference
the other day I projectile vomited in heavy rotations for fifteen minutes!
my roomates were pissed and the cat was soaked!
but after a night of Bible verse and a stern talking-to from the Rabbi the demons moved on
I have to say as well, admit rather, that there is a degree of ethical convenience I feel
in proportion to the ethical stance of "it's bad to eat animals, but fuck it 'cause I love cow fat"
I feel a certain uplift knowing that I'm not bowing to my craving for easy fat sources
and in the process saving some cute lives
me: What do you mean by "ethical convenience"
hodes: it's trite bullshit
I think I need to reverse it
conveniently ethical
me: So you're selfishly vegan?
hodes: as in "isn't it great that I'm a vegan for health and also living up to an ethical standard I didn't really care about in the first place?"
me: ah. great. this is really great.
by that I mean hilarious.
hodes: I think I met some punks once who were vegans and it wasn't a sham
me: meaning?
hodes: they run a restaurant in Boston
and asked me not to wear my leather jacket
because it hurt them in some way I could not understand
me: So you are not opposed to animal products like leather, honey, etc
hodes: hell no
as far as I can tell
me: I think you should start calling me honey
hodes: is produced in a symbiotic relationship between humans and bees that is mutually beneficial
okay Honey
me: not capitalized. that's the name of the Babe in Boinkland.
hodes: but you should listen to the mariah carey song of the same name on repeat for the duration of the interview
me: no
hodes: okay honey
whatever you say honey
incidentally I found out that there is a type of honey from the black forest that is made from sugar sucked off of some insects' anuses
it's spicey and delicious
me: what about products like soap made from animal fats? Do you check ingredients on everything?
hodes: fuck!
I forgot to do that
all this time
fortunately I almost never use soap
I mostly use detergents
and bathe infrequently
me: So if you were asked to list five characteristics that identified you, would "vegan" feature among them?
hodes: no
nor would "punk"
me: have you ever convinced anyone else to stop eating animals?
hodes: I've gradually worn on my sister
but she read "The Omnivores Dilemma" and I think that did most of the work
me: Any favorite recipes?
hodes: I become an evangilest about it when I see someone teetering on the edge but their habits hold them back
favorite recipes: for a throwback junk-crave satisfactomatic
I bye TVP beef
and vegan cheese
as orange as I can find
saute green peppers and yellow onions in olive oil, add the cheese and beef until it's a hot mess and slam it in a shitty white hogey
cheese steak!
me: sounds positively delicious
hodes: for breakfast I like to blend raw kale, filtered water, and a vegan protein powder into a thick sludge and drink it as fast as I can
me: you are disturbingly masculine in this regard.
hodes: you should see me drinking it
head tossed back as if by the wind
me: you should have called me honey then
hodes: adam's apple heaving up and down
you are right
I'm bad at pet names
me: but you're good at not eating pets!
badum bum!
hodes: I really enjoy green salads with walnuts, avacadoes and tofu
I like to make sauce and I count salad dressing as a sauce
olive oil, chili oil, garlic salt and pepper and whatever dried green leaves I've got around
over kale and spinich with roma tomatoes red onions or shallots
me: Could you fall in love with a non-vegan?
hodes: yes
I could
but I might resist it
and I would certainly be really turned off if I ever tasted meat in her mouth
me: And, scene.
hodes: unless twer mine
me: that goes in the director's cut, I guess.
I need you to send me a picture of you now.
hodes: hmmm
let me who has a digital camera
me: you and the Beta Band are making the same noise
hodes: no one has taken a picture of me in months
except for security guards in midtown
me: Let's end this interview. Take one with your phone.

hodes: got it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

LA Lakers 2010, A Sonata in 3 Movements

Game Seven at the Golden Gopher
Thursday 6/17/10. With Lindsey and Anthony.

In the beginning we were not happy, and we stayed that way for most of the game. We did eventually find beers at the Golden Gopher after hours of trekking around downtown searching for a place to watch the game with other fans. 

We had given up on saving money, given up on meeting the other four people we were supposed to see that night, and were resigned to waiting in line and paying thirty dollars a head at Trader Vic’s. Once seated, we were informed that no, actually, we would be paying a minimum of fifteen dollars per hour per person. It was four PM--we’d be paying nearly seventy-five each. We left. This hurt a bit, as the mix of Lakers and Tiki was deeply appealing.

However. The Golden Gopher is beautiful. Dark fabric, big bar, big screen, lamps made out of golden gophers. It is my new favorite downtown bar. I drank tangerine wheat beer and watched Kobe play the worst game of his career. We screamed and moaned and had occasional triumphant hollerings as the low-scoring, ridiculously sloppy game unfolded, and when Sasha made those two free-throws, the entire bar erupted in the whoops of people who are getting freed. We watched Kobe lift the trophy, we cried, and then we ran out onto the street!

The scene downtown was postmodern, fast, and strange. Exultant fans from every area of Los Angeles in various levels of confrontation with stern police. Extremely stern. I watched two undercover cops wrestle a man to the ground (he wasn’t resisting) and push his face into the pavement while they cuffed him. When the crowd around protested this behavior, police in full riot gear (rifles, femur-length black billy clubs, helmets, cans of tear gas) made a perimeter around the arrest and started screaming at us to get away. We had just been screamed at to get out of the street, and now we were getting screamed at to get off the sidewalk, back into the street. It was frustratingly chaotic. When I read the paper the next day, I hated how the reports did not mention the attitude of the cops. I realize they were embarrassed by the riots last year. I do not think this excuses behaving as if everyone in a Lakers jersey is about to kick them in the shins. The truth is, we were too happy to get angry that night, running down Broadway with our fists in the air, giving high-fives to all the jubilant revelers stuck in their cars.

Pau Gasol on Jay Leno
Friday 6/18/10. With Ted Chen.

My friend Ted Chen, an anchor at NBC, was kind enough to bring me along to a taping of the Tonight Show when his out-of-town friend couldn’t make it. Pau Gasol, one of my favorite Lakers, wore a pink shirt and spoke humbly about how sweet the win was. He’s going to go watch a spinal surgery get performed next week, because he is curious. He said his mother is a doctor, his father is a nurse, and all three of their children are ridiculously tall. Jay Leno is an expert at reading cue cards, if that wasn’t already obvious.

During the show taping, the Tonight Show Band played “American Idiot,” originally by Green Day. I couldn’t hear how they dealt with the words “fuck” and “faggot,” but just knowing that The Tonight Show Band was playing a song with these lyrics:

Don’t want to be an American idiot
One nation controlled by the media
Information age of hysteria
It’s going out to Idiot America

Let’s just say I felt very, very uncomfortable. Isn’t the “Idiot America” of this song exactly the same people who come to a Jay Leno taping on a Friday afternoon from a small town somewhere outside of California (where the Hollywood dreams still seem so fancy)? Isn’t “Idiot America” the large swath of people who think David Spade’s jokes about “feeding the people” with his leftover hamburgers are funny? Isn’t it “Idiot America” who assumes that the guy getting arrested after Game Seven deserved to get his face smashed into the pavement? The us-and-them divide came perilously close to collapsing as I clapped along when the “Applause” sign lit up.
I found out in the Green room that Leno didn’t even watch the game. Ted asked him casually about it, and Leno said, “I was working.” Then we took a picture.
This is a weird town, I thought. This Leno is a weird person, to care so little about what’s happening in his own weird town, the town where his show is King of NBC. Or maybe he cares a great deal about something else important, and his breezy on-screen personality belies it. That's the optimist in me. I admit to suspecting otherwise.

The Laker Parade
Monday 6/21/10. Alone in a crowd. Then with Anthony and Lindsey.

I got up and put on the gear: purple shoes, Lindsey’s Rodman jersey, gold glitter. I packed a bag: water bottle, journal, Lakers jacket, trail mix, a copy of Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenriech. In the fifteen minutes it took me to research the train route, I read at least five hateful comments online about how hoodlum Laker fans who “don’t work” were going to ruin “my city.” I saw a post that read “come on, who can actually get downtown at 11am on a Monday? People who don't work.” In other words: lazy people? Poor people. Blacks. Hispanics. Teenagers. Alcoholics, hoodlums, asshole un-Americans who should be trying to get goddamn jobs!!!! Au contraire, mon ennemi. So many of us have odd work schedules, and so many others took that day or hour off far in advance. And if, after reading Nickel and Dimed, you still think it appropriate to condemn the under- or unemployed, you may simply suck it.
Today it’s impossible to find those pieces of virtual vitriol to share with you.

I read Nickel and Dimed on the train, and got even more mad, at how little the American middle class seems to understand American poverty. I got mad at myself for how little I understand. I followed a huge group of Laker fans out of the train. I was the only blonde white girl among them, it’s true--I'm one of the few in my neighborhood. I wasn’t the only blonde white girl at the parade. However, I am unnerved by the divide: the Laker games are packed with white people who can afford tickets. The parade was not. (Although I did see quite a few guys in suits wearing gold ties, whooping it up with the rest of us!) But at the parade, for a few raucous minutes, no one cared about these things. We were all screaming together when Kobe rode by. I took some frantic iPhone pictures. I made friends with two adorably short girls in purple sneakers, dodged a few blasting horns, and found Anthony and Lindsey at the corner of Pico and 11th. We walked through the detritus and ate lunch in the fashion district. It was glorious, except for the long line of more police in riot gear who kept their hands on their tear gas canisters. “We’re just walking!” I wanted to shout. But then, would that have been provocation enough to get gassed? The eternal Machiavellian conundrum. I wonder how much money taxpayers shelled out for those police, and if the damages of the “riots” cost more or less.

What I loved was how everyone continued to scream “Go Lakers!” to each other, whenever they saw anyone wearing Laker gear. The chant has changed meanings! It no longer is a piece of encouragement for a team that is scrabbling its way through the Finals. It is piece of metropolitan glue that keeps us hoping, with and for each other, for more to be proud of.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Why Captain EO Matters

When I bought my first Disneyland Annual Pass in September of 2008, I had a vision: one visit to Disney a month, even if only for a few hours by myself, and a blog to accompany. A year of Disneyland writings. 

I didn't do it.

Notwithstanding, here I am again, still thinking and writing about Disneyland. I've been revising the chapter in my first novel that takes place there. I've been revisiting the sections of Baudrillard's writings on the postmodern and hyperreal in which Disneyland is dissected.

And a few days ago, I watched Captain EO in the 3D theater where I first saw it in 1986. 

I spend a little time researching the film, reading old reviews from the 80s, and trying to understand why people had such a problem with it, since it's always been such a joy to me. It became very popular on Youtube during its absence from the Disney park (1997-2010) and, of course, especially after MJ died. However, when it first premiered, it received lukewarm reception and attendance steadily decreased over the years.

Captain EO is a seventeen-minute music video with a message: art and a sense of community can change the world. I think maybe the reason so many people respond poorly to it is not that it is rife with "empty effects" (I'd argue that someone's body lighting up when they are excited is actually a very meaningful effect) but because they have the same problem they've always had with Michael Jackson: he was not ironic about his hope for the world.

He actually sings "We are here to change the world," and means it. The world itself they land on goes from being an ugly techno-trash heap (think Death Star surface) to something like a Greek temple. It is music, dance, generosity, fearlessness, and having faith in friends that does this. Blam. No mistake about what's important.

So why did American critics call the show "empty?"

I wonder if this is a problem of complicated vs. complex. In his book Everything Bad is Good for You, Steven Johnson argued that because popular media has become more complicated, i.e., rife with many more characters, subplots, twists and turns, etc., we are actually getting better, cognitively, at doing certain tasks. We are better problem solvers, predictors of outcomes, and more sophisticated at deciphering an increasingly loud and stimulating world, in part because certain of our media (he argues this for particular television shows like The Sopranos, film, and video games) layer on meanings.  Production teams do this so that we can enjoy (read: purchase, instead of rent) the movies/shows more than once, Johnson argues. He is very careful, however, not to make an argument that these more complicated media forms are actually making our moral thinking, or any other types of our analytical powers, stronger. In other words, we may be better at dealing with a lot of data flying around, but we are not necessarily grappling with philosophical or ethical problems any more carefully than the Beverly Hillbilly generation. The New York Times seems particularly preoccupied with social scientists who are studying these kinds of questions. 

Something complicated may be unnecessarily opaque. Something complex is actually built of meaningful layers, and takes some analytical energy to piece out. Most questions of ethics, especially those that involve large groups of people: families, cities, nations--are complex. But when we want to arrive at certain answers, they need not be complicated. 

For instance: in Captain EO, the Supreme Leader resorts immediately to violence when she finds herself presented with unfamiliar visitors. A complex analysis of this response may yield some good information: possibly she's been invaded before, the planet struggles constantly with raiders, etc. However, EO offers an answer: "congregate, illuminate!" and as complicated as the path towards healing may appear, it is not. It is, however, complex: the courage to surrender when offered something beautiful and the fearlessness to change from despotic rule to collaborative community are not easily achieved. They are multi-valent, fluid ideals that require constant attention.

What saddens me is when people mistake complicated things for complex, and complex for simple. Complicated effects do not make a movie automatically have a complex message. Complex problems can often appear very simple, because they are enduring problems like "why can't we all just get along?" I liked Iron Man and Iron Man 2 (a bit less) for the way they addressed questions about public vs. private in American consciousness, American involvement in foreign wars, and the assumed necessity of war itself. Complex issues, but not rife with unnecessary complications--it's clear, in the end, that killing people, just to start with, but especially for profit, is a bad idea. People watch Captain EO and think, "this is simple, and therefore uninteresting," because instead of making complicated plots, George Lucas likes to make gorgeous illustrations of centuries-old, complex but emotionally familiar narrative structures.

It seems also that American audiences have lost their faith that the body itself can offer us any wisdom--and I'll leave that for other writings, but seeing all of the transformed warriors break into dance behind Jackson made me cry. 

Shake it up and break it up, sharing light brighter than the sun!