Thursday, May 24, 2012

RuPaul's Drag Race Season 4

A few months ago, I watched all of seasons two and three of RuPaul's Drag Race in about two days on Netflix. I'm still trying to figure out why I can't watch Season One on Netflix or Logo. People say they're there, but they're not there when I look.

But that's beside the point. I recently sat down to watch all of season 4 over the course of a couple days. I learned a few things doing it this way: first, that Logo's web player is terrible. It is one of the most wretched I have ever come across. It frequently glitched out, it would play commercials on repeat for ten minutes sometimes because it got stuck in a loop, and if I muted things half the time they wouldn't unmute. Which became a big problem because I was muting those horrible anti-smoking ads they played EVERY SINGLE BREAK. I really wish there was a button for "I'm not a smoker and never have been, stop trying to scare me straight."

Anyway. All of that is still beside the point. The thing I really picked up from watching the show so quickly though was that more than 2/3 of the people on it make absolutely no impression on me. When I first started reviewing Project Runway episodes, I noted that in the first two or three episodes of the season I have no idea who anybody is, and I rarely remember the people who were eliminated first. I always have to look up their names a million times to write a recap.

Drag Race has that, but it persists through at least half of the season. When Ru said that the judges could bring back one Queen that had already been eliminated, they went through the list and I couldn't for the life of me remember more than two or three of them. Those I could remember, it wasn't very fondly. Which just makes me wonder about who is making the casting decisions for the show.

Listen, I'm the first to admit I don't really know that much about the drag scene. Being a cisgender hetero woman, I enjoy watching drag shows but it's not a culture I'm really ever going to be IN. But it baffles me sometimes who gets chosen to go on the show, especially when they make it to the final five and I have no clue what anybody sees in them because their personality flops like a dead fish. Maybe it's different in person, that's definitely a thing. One major lesson I learned when I was casting one of my short films was that an audition can feel one way in person and it's ENTIRELY different when you watch it on camera. If you're in the room, you're not really seeing what the camera sees unless you're watching on a monitor.

I was pretty happy with this season's winner, but as usual I loved a lot of the runners up more than the winner. I won't spoil it for people by talking about details, but I will point out again that this particular crop wasn't really resonating with me. When Pandora Boxx was eliminated in season two, I was mad. I had several favorites that season, and season three was just as strong (though Pandora Boxx is still my favorite of all of them). But I can only think of one elimination this season that made me grumpy, and even I could see it was fair.

I think the show itself is darn near perfect. There is no better host than RuPaul, who somehow manages to capture that Tim Gunn mentor-quality AND the no-nonsense judge mentality. The mini-challenges are fun, and the winners usually get something that is useful bot not over the top advantage. The design of the set, the wardrobe for the regulars, Snatch Game, everything is honed to perfection. Even the fabulous product placement is perfect. So why they aren't populating this perfect reality competition world with the perfect contestants too, I don't know.

Of course this season also had the "controversy" with Willam. One thing that I hate in reality tv is being vague, it's nobody's friend. Not being vague and being clear cut is one of the reasons Top Chef is a success. When a contestant was sent home for breaking the rules in season two, they showed the offense, they explained it, and Tom said specifically what rule was broken. When Project Runway sent a contestant home, they explained in great detail what exactly they did wrong and why it was wrong.

But in the last year both America's Next Top Model (which I don't watch but read blogs that talk about it) and RuPaul's Drag Race have mysteriously eliminated a contestant without explanation. Sure, they had the reunion where Willam said he was eliminated because his boyfriend was visiting him at their hotel. But first of all, they should have just put that out there in the episode itself and second, did anybody else think that rang so completely false and made up? And then they've signed Willam to be a professor on Drag U, so I have no idea what's going on but by being coy about it everything seems sketchy.

I'll keep watching the show anyway, I love RuPaul and I love Santino now (which is hilarious if you go back to my original posts about him on ProjRun). If nothing else, maybe I can learn some makeup tips because goodness knows these guys make better women than me.

In The Grip of Evil

This is movie is yet another one where I didn't even remember putting it on my Netflix queue or why until I started watching it. I had added it after watching the first ten minutes in a class four years ago. It's an exploration of a case of alleged demonic possession that inspired the book The Exorcist.

I'm frequently intrigued by the real life stories behind famous works of fiction, so the idea of a documentary about the real case that inspired a movie was already intriguing. To be honest, I wish I had just read about it on Wikipedia instead.

It's not that In The Grip of Evil is terrible, it's that it's not any more interesting or evocative than an online article. There's nothing that makes you say "that right there, that's why this is a documentary and not a book." Which I know is a sentence that doesn't make sense to a lot of people, but it's the best way to summarize my reaction.

The film relies a lot on old standbys of "true" tv shows like Unsolved Mysteries. There's the gravely older male voice telling you how spooky and terrible things were. There's the often repeated still shots of the places involved where they zoom in and out of the picture of the church while it fades from color to black and white (sometimes with a flash of lightening effect). Some of the experts they interview are great, like a priest who was actually present for the exorcisms, but some of them you have no idea why that person is still talking. They interview a psychiatrist who seems to waffle back and forth about the idea of exorcism and the supernatural. She offers explanations for some things, and then makes a statement that sounds like she believes the boy really was possessed. Nothing about the way she is shot or framed sets her up as authoritative so I ended up discounting almost everything she said.

All of the interviews are done in this weird style that is clearly meant to make you feel like things are spooky and strange. I'm not sure, but my suspicion is that they shot everything with the camera on a tripod and then added motion effects in post-production so that the shots would slowly go back and forth from a dutch (crooked) angle and back. Or slowly zoom in and out. I think it was done in post because the motions were too perfectly timed to the clips they were using and if you did that during production you'd usually end up with partial moves and bad timing. Plus, can you imagine being interviewed while the camera man was weaving the camera all over the place? It'd drive me insane.

Anyway, if you love The Exorcist and you want to know more about what inspired it, I'd suggest just reading the many articles online about it or reading the original newspaper articles themselves. But if you like the show Unsolved Mysteries or you're a completionist that must know everything, then In The Grip of Evil isn't going to be a waste of your time.

"Real" Friends

I got my first email account when I was 13. That's really not a surprising age anymore, but when you consider that this was 1993, it's a bit more rare.

The same day that I got internet access, I started posting on an old usenet newsgroup that became my favorite haunt for several years. I met a lot of people there, including getting to know people I went to school with but had never actually ended up speaking to for one reason or another.

One of the people I met in those early days was a guy that lived a few hours away. Five years later, we were still friends when we met in real life. We dated for a few months, and that didn't work out, but we stayed friends. To this day he is the person I have known the longest (outside of family) that I still keep in regular contact with. We never would have known each other at all if it wasn't for the internet, and I can easily say my life has been better because I have known him.

So when a friend of mine (another 10+ year friendship) posted today that someone had once again told her the common refrain, "online friends aren't real friends" I got mad again.

It's a stupid thing to say, and the only people who say it are those who are older than about 35 and haven't grown up with the internet in their world and so they still have a part of them that doesn't understand it.

I have friends both online and off, so I feel like I can compare those friendships pretty easily. I wouldn't call myself an extrovert by any stretch, but most people who know me would be surprised by that. I don't particularly think that I have a hard time meeting people either, because I like to talk and so I'll just find somebody to talk to in most situations where I don't already know somebody.

In the end it boils down to one question: how do you define a friend.

For me it's somebody that supports me when I need it, congratulates me when I do well, thinks of me when I'm not present, and will have my back when it's important. Somebody I can laugh with, cry to, and who will listen when I want to rant about how the world sucks.

For people who think online friends aren't real friends, the only thing I can surmise is that they define friends as somebody you can shake hands with. I mean, really, what about all of those things I described as friendship requires a physical presence or a nearby location?

Sure, you will have online friends that disappear and you don't speak to much. And they could go away at a moment's notice and you wouldn't know why. They could suddenly reveal themselves as racist idiots and you'll have to defriend them and yadda yadda. But that's all possible with real friends too, and it's even MORE likely in my opinion. I can't tell you the number of real life friends I've made that I haven't stayed friends with because we discovered the only thing we had in common was being in the same place at the same time.

With an online friend, you started talking because of something other than proximity. You both really love Sherlock, or Star Trek, or reading fanfiction, or playing a certain game. And if you have one thing like that in common, you probably have more. It builds together. It's the perfect way for you to meet people that are in completely different walks of life than you are. Different ages, races, ethnicities, people who live in countries that you can't even spell. Being online and talking to people can open your world up immeasurably. It's like all the great things you get from reading books, but with actual human being and first person stories to share.

I've also met a lot of my online friends in real life over the years. I've gone to their houses for parties or visited when I was traveling. Friends have come to see me, we've met up at conventions, etc. I do tend to try to make sure I meet new people in public places or with a group, because it's common sense. But I think that people who consider there to be a distinct difference between online and offline friends clearly have never had real online friends, and that's their fault. It makes me wonder if they have offline friends too, or just people who put up with them.