A blog dedicated to art, entertainment, language, and culture.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Perfumes are Strange and Confusing...

My grandmother and I used to have a bimonthly tradition before common sense got the best of her.  We would climb inside our dump truck full of money and drive to the mall to visit our local Belk.  The employees would hold open doors so I could make a couple hassle free trips with a wheelbarrow to the makeup counter and dump the money in a pile at the clerk's feet.  She would then hand my grandmother a thimble full of facial cream, which then she used in demonic rituals to preserve her youth.

Thankfully, grandma has given up Satan these days for a more righteous "bargain brand" path, but I remember rolling that wheelbarrow through Belk one day and seeing a men's cologne titled something like Dark Fantasy and thought out loud that I, a man, would never be caught wearing a cologne named Dark Fantasy.  If I'm going to be wearing a scent, I'd want it to be something that I enjoy.  There are a lot of scents that I like and none of them smell like dark fantasies... They smell like flowers or spices.

Abandoning my duties, I wandered over to examine a bottle of Dark Fantasy and check the ingredients on the back.  As anyone could guess, Dark Fantasy was made from an assortment of unbelievably hard to pronounce chemicals, which for some reason made me hungry.  I asked the clerk about it and she told me that she didn't really know what any of them were either, but many of those ingredients were probably things that came from flowers.

That made sense, but I wasn't sure why they couldn't just say that on the bottle - Dark Fantasy: Made from Lilies and Lilacs.  Since no one was going to tell me, it was time to do some research and find out what those ingredients actually were.  So I did what any self-respecting adult would do.  I snuck into my grandmother's bedroom while she slept and stole from her.  Not really sure what I wanted or where she hid her feminine beauty products, I swiped a couple things from Estee Lauder out of her bathroom.  Both were covered by a thick layer of dust, assuring me that they would not be missed.

One was a teeny-tiny perfume sampler called Estee Lauder Pleasures Bloom.  On the inside of this item's cardboard jacket it stated, "Fresh violet flower and vibrant pink peony sparkle in a field of colorful petals and luscious fruits" in seven different languages.  On the back it said...
"Ingredients: Alcohol denat, Pleasures Bloom Fragrance (Parfum), Water, Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane, Butylphenyl Methylpropional, Citronellol, Hexyl Cinnamal, Alpha-Isomethyl Ionone, Limonene, Geraniol, Linalool, Citral, Hydroxycitronellal, Eugenol, Benzyl Benzoate, Benzyl Alcohol, and Ext. Violet 2"
I smelled it, and it smelled like soap, but it smelled like a really good soap.

The problem with trying to figure out what those ingredients are is that most of them are synthetic.  We all know what water is, right?  Most of the human body and the planet are made out of water, and its make-up is probably the only thing we all still remember from high school science class.

Other ingredients like Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane are a tad harder to figure out.  I know that Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane is also called Avobenzone and is used largely as a sun screen, and I know that it is derived from dibenzoylmethane.  The problem is figuring out where that comes from...  It's never as simple as finding out what plant produces Butylphenyl Methylpropional.

One thing I've read is a large majority of the chemicals used in perfumes come from petroleum, but I want to heavily emphasize that I do not have a particularly flawless source for that information.

Dark Fantasy was probably not delicately extracted from lilies and lilacs.  It was forged atop bunsen burners in boiling beakers and filtering flasks.  The odd sentence on the Pleasures Bloom jacket about violets and peonies has nothing to do with the actual product.

In fact, that sentence intentionally avoids comparing the product to that nature imagery, creating a strange disconnect.  It's as if this company desperately wanted to convince us that there was some nature left in our beauty products, so Pleasures Bloom gave us a pretty idea of what nature would look like.  Others, like that Dark Fantasy, probably avoid it all together.  Then we, the consumer, are left to scratch our neanderthal heads and wonder what the heck "Alpha-Isomethyl Ionone" is supposed to be.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Go Play Gone Home

Gone Home is one of those video games that deserves a lot of neat, little superlatives to accompany it.  But to keep things simple, let's just say it is a fantastic game and well worth playing.  You don't have to take my word for it.  You can go to this website: scroll down to where it say "Gone Home" and read any number of articles penned by talented writers about virtually every aspect of the game.  Alternatively, you can visit The New York Times, Slate, or one of the many other non-video game press sources that adored it too.

There's a lot I can't say about Gone Home.  Most details end up tainting the experience, and what I really want is for people who haven't played this game to go do it.  Right now.  All you need to know is that you're a woman visiting her family's new house and discovering no one there and no immediate explanation for their mysterious absences.

Go investigate.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

From One Second to the Next

Normally, when a company tries to send a message to young people, they are tempted towards ham-handed hiptitudes.  "How do reach the youth of America?  Let's make a rap about not smoking!"  But there was no condescending from AT&T when they asked the brilliant filmmaker Werner Herzog to create a short documentary about the harm done by texting and driving.  Werner Herzog is not "hip," but he makes some of the most incredible films and fascinating documentaries.

A word to the wise, if you want to live in blissful ignorance, From One Second to the Next is not for you.  It will probably leave you unable to even consider texting while driving ever again.  The documentary begins with a girl describing how her younger brother was swept out of her hand by a car before she even knew it was there.  And as each story unfolds, there is an overarching senselessness about the accidents.  The text messages were insignificant compared to suffering they caused.

At times, Herzog's documentary can be a real challenge to sit through.  And that certainly separates it from other company-sponsored PSAs.  Unlike the purity ring style "It Can Wait" pledge that is AT&T's other attempt to discourage texting and driving, this film does not act young.  It does not pander to one's age demographic.  It does not pull punches, and that is precisely why it should be viewed by as many people as possible, especially teens.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Watermelon Babies!!

While I was sitting around considering whether or not we should be eating children, Chinese mothers were dressing their kids for dessert!

This is apparently some kind of hip, new trend circulating throughout Chinese internet culture or... something...

Okay, we can safely assume that Chinese parents en masse aren't dressing their children in watermelons.  We can safely assume that these are an incredibly small minority of people that saw a picture of a one baby dressed in watermelon-wear and thought it was adorable, so they copied it.  But I want to believe that it is possible this will take the nation of China by storm and that millions of children will grow up only knowing watermelons for clothes.  Someday, they will look back and wonder how primitive man survived the summer heat without wearing a cool, refreshing watermelon...

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Onion Van Gogh

This magnificent work of art was discovered in the Tower Restaurant of Lake Placid, Florida.  It's a painting of onions.  Down the hall to the left and across from the women's restroom is a similar painting of asparagus.  While absurdly mundane, they are unarguably beyond any shadow of a doubt, one-hundred percent perfect for a nice, sit-down restaurant.  Why?  Well... they're pictures of food...

Still lifes rarely receive a great deal of credit in the art world.  They can be as complex and detailed as portraits, or landscapes, or random dreamspun images straight from the imagination, but a bowl of fruit tends to represent little more than a bowl of fruit in the mind of your average passerby.  Often times, the poor still life is delegated to the role of "exercise."  It's good practice for artists, though its probably not going to be considered their masterpiece.

You may look at these onions or their asparagus counterparts (not pictured because I don't like to stand outside women's restrooms in public wielding a camera) and say, "Why would anyone paint an onion?"  And you would be both reasonable and unfair.  Onions are not exciting models, but in no way do they offend the senses.  A simple still life of food is aesthetically pleasing and in good taste...especially considering location.  Sitting in a restaurant where food is served, this image represents moderation, cleanliness, and healthy eating.

If one were to change the location, the meaning of the artwork would change drastically.  Placed inside a Wendy's, it would be completely inappropriate and at odds with the large portions of mostly unhealthy foods.  It would act as a grim sentry in the household of a bulimic eater.  It could be a positive reminder kept by an enthusiastic vegetarian.  And that shifting identity is something that makes a still life special when compared to some more famous or classic works.

Simple art has a much easier time being judged with its surroundings than let's say...The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh.  When you look at The Starry Night, you are looking at a famous piece of art, a masterpiece, one of the greatest works in the whole of human history.  If it was hanging in a restaurant however, it would probably contribute little or nothing to the actual surroundings, because when you look at it, you typically judge it in abstract.  It's The Starry Night, not part of a restaurant.  The onions are more easily identified with the restaurant than their creator or clout.

Most works like still lifes tend to go unnoticed in their surroundings and that's okay.  You're probably not going to see many still lifes being displayed as the centerpiece of a room.  They'll be part of the decorations.  Something like that onion painting adds to the scenery without dominating it.  Not every work of art is meant to be closely studied, but that doesn't take away its value.

Onions by Van Gogh. My entire argument is moot...

Monday, August 12, 2013

Mythical National Animals

I'm about to spoil the answer, so google it now if you don't want the surprise ruined...

It's a unicorn.  Yep, Scotland's national animal isn't even real.  Let's not be negative-nellies here, the unicorn looks damn fine on a crest, and this fiction animal as the symbol of Scotland is just as legitimate as a lion being the national animal of England.  England is so known for their lions.

Just browsing through the list of national animals on Wikipedia, I'm happy to say that Scotland isn't the only country to use a fictional animal.  In fact, Scotland isn't the only country to use a fictional horse!  Enter North Korea with the Chollima.  The Chollima is the East Asian equivalent to Pegasus.  The winged horse was originally a Chinese fabrication, but became North Korea's national animal during reconstruction after the Korean War.  I'm not interested in giving too many compliments to the extremely oppressive dictatorship, but they picked a great national animal and they've turned it into an amazing statue.

Most countries with fictional creatures as national animals have had long histories with them.  Dragons and birds seem to be the most common.  A few European countries like Serbia and Russia have emblems with two-headed birds.  China and Wales both use their own versions of the dragon.  Meanwhile, Greece chose the phoenix.

These are terribly limited fantasy creatures: birds, horses, dragons.  Sure they're steeped in culture and tradition, but I wish at least one country would have picked something outside the box.  One could use a hydra, cockatrice, or tarasque as their symbol...  I know, those are just more dragons and birds...  Well, how about Shoggoth, an amorphous horror from H. P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness:  
"It was a terrible, indescribable thing vaster than any subway train—a shapeless congeries of protoplasmic bubbles, faintly self-luminous, and with myriads of temporary eyes forming and un-forming as pustules of greenish light all over the tunnel-filling front that bore down upon us, crushing the frantic penguins and slithering over the glistening floor that it and its kind had swept so evilly free of all litter."

I think this would be a terrific national animal for Antarctica.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Brothers: An Intimate Tale for Two Players

Literature and storytelling have come a long way since early man painted horses on cave walls, but our desire to hear and tell tales has not changed one bit.  The hero's journey, in particular, has been a consistently told and retold epic.

That is how the recent game, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons by Starbreeze Studios, plays out.  The player is given the task of guiding two boys on an odyssey across a beautiful and massive mountainous world, encountering incredible and deadly creatures along the way, in order to find a cure for their father's illness.  The game begins in a fairly lighthearted mood, but as the boys go deeper into the unknown and farther from home, the world grows bleaker.  Eventually, one is left wondering if the cost of the journey was really worth that final reward.  But while it lasted, it was a grand adventure.

What may stand out to the player are the vignettes.  Every area the player explores seems to provide him with a whole new experience.  The brothers will climb mountains with the help of a heartbroken troll, who seems to have stepped straight out of a John Bauer painting.  They will creep through a wolf infested forest at night with only a small, burning branch to guide them.  They will ride on mountain goats leaping across cliffs and then scale the steps of a giant's tower.  With two lead characters, both controlled by the player, one would think that these experiences would be something to be shared.

But Brothers is advertised, on Xbox Live at least, as a single player game.  The brothers can only be guided by one controller with the elder brother acting on the left D-Pad and trigger button and the younger brother on the right.  It can be a bit of a hassle trying to direct both boys in different directions simultaneously, and annoyance with those controls can feel like the game's only drawback.  But here's a thought: Why does a game that uses only one controller have to be a single player game?

The controls are designed perfectly so two people could share the controller, much in the same way the two brothers share an adventure.  The game is filled with intimate and emotional moments, and why should those moments be squandered by adventuring alone with slightly awkward controls?  Two people seated closely next to each other, controller between them, could experience the game in a way that a single soul could not.  Together.  Each one guiding a brother and working with one another, helping one another.

Brothers is an old epic, we've heard time and time again, but delivered to us in a way that is entirely unique and potentially allows an experience that few other works, even among video games, have provided.  It is a shared tale and an intimate tale for two players.


Regardless of how you play the game, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is fantastic and you should purchase it as a download from the Xbox Live Arcade or Playstation Network.