Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Why Console Gaming is Dead

The writing is on the wall ... television-based video game units are already an anachronism.

Friends. Family. The love of Christ. For many people, these sorts of things represent the holiday season. For me, however, Christmas has always meant but one thing: new console time, bitches.

As a kid, I looked forward to Dec. 25 all-year-long, because that meant, in some form or fashion, I was going to my grubby little paws on some kind of newfangled gaming machine. Whether it was a plug-and-play device from Nintendo, Sega, Atari or Sony or a poorly-received handheld from SNK, I knew that my day was going to be filled with all kinds of new and improved interactive experiences. Indeed, it’s the type of wonder and awe and sheer consumer bliss that makes us yearn for yesteryear, gloriously blind to the fact that everything around our Sega Saturns and Game Boy Colors at the timeframe pretty much sucked.

To me, console gaming really hits its zenith in the 128-bit era. With the Dreamcast and Xbox, we had pretty much gone as far as we could with our gaming devices, in terms of graphical horsepower. The units were more advanced than even the most high-tech arcade cabinets, which pretty much spelled the death of that quarter-fueled industry. With online play and DVD functionality, our units had become true multimedia devices, which in a way, marked the end of console gaming altogether.

The last console cycle -- the one with the 360, PS3 and Wii -- was ultimately the start of a slow, terminal industrial decline for TV-based gaming. With a greater emphasis on Internet-based multifunctionality, the hardware itself became less about gaming than it was peripheral interactions; hell, from 2010 onward, the Wii might as well been called “the Nintendo Netflix.”

With the costs of game development skyrocketing, in the face of a global recession no less, a lot of the great third party developers either went extinct or got gobbled up, and even the biggest heavy hitters of the gaming market decided to eschew innovation for proven capital generators. In short, that led to fewer game developers, fewer game publishers, and really, a lot less games worth a good goddamn. And then, the smart phone and tablet gaming market exploded, with casual gamers turning away from mass-marketed console and handheld units to get their “Angry Birds” and “Minecraft” fix via Android. Sure, indie developers could still put their little microbrew games on XboxLive and the Playstation Store and whatnot, but when you’re selling software at $5 a pop instead of $60 … well, it’s pretty easy to see how that’s a less than enviable prospect for would-be investors.

It’s a perfect storm of shit for the console manufacturers. From a marketing standpoint, how do you convince people to spend $400 on a new gaming rig, when you can play “Farmville” and “League of Legends” on the iPhone you have superglued to your hand at all times?

Back in the 1990s, the hardware selling point was always the proprietary software. If you wanted to play Mario and Zelda, you got a SNES, and if you wanted to play Sonic and “Mortal Kombat” with blood in it, you bought a Genesis. That’s why so many hardware manufacturers faltered in the heyday of “NBA Jam” and “Street Fighter II” -- with Sega and Nintendo, you knew you were getting a certain, exclusive brand quality. Now, who in the fuck knows what you were going to get with something called an “Atari Jaguar” or a “CD-I” or a “3DO?”

All of the would-be Nintendo and Sega usurpers faltered, because they had nothing to market to gamers other than the technology. The same fate would have befallen the Playstation, had it not been for Nintendo and Sega’s own inability to woo the masses with 3D technologies; Sony won the next two console generations simply because they were able to equate their hardware brand with versatile software quality, and all they had to do to shake consumer confidence in its competitors was point out how they tried to sell you tech sans the applications just one model earlier.

Which brings us to today, and the PS4/XBONE/WiiU era. Looking at the Metacritic scores for each hardware unit, I noticed something fairly surprising -- that being, the near total lack of proprietary brand differentiators. Yeah, Nintendo still has its “Mario Kart” and “Smash Bros,” but its top ten ranked games for the calendar year primarily consists of not just multi-platform games, but multi-device titles: offerings like “Guacamelee!” and “Child of Light” and “Steamworld.” There’s even less proprietary software quality diversity on the Sony and Microsoft units: the Xbox One is glutted with PC ports like “Dragon Age” and “Minecraft,” while the top three highest ranking PS4 games for 2014 are actually re-releases of games that came out in 2013.

So, uh, what’s the appeal to consumers to shell out all that dough to play games they can probably already play on their home computers or iPads again? Almost brazenly ignorant of the hardware failings of the past, the big three today are once again trotting out “technology for technology’s sake” as their central argument for user adoption.

Thankfully, the market seems to have gotten over the “peripheral madness” that was kickstarted by the Wiimote and “Guitar Hero.” The fact that Nintendo released a version of the 3DS sans any kind of 3D tech pretty much tells you that gamers’ infatuation with novelty controllers has gone the way of Mitt Romney’s presidential ambitions. Alas, while Microsoft and Sony have lost tons of money on their motion-sensing add-ons, they’re not sure how and what to market to consumer audiences anymore; and outside of bilking parents into paying money for Sky Landers toys, Nintendo ain’t doing much of shit with its little tablet connectivity set-up, neither.

Call me crazy, but I don’t think anyone in their right mind is going to buy “being able to play ‘Super Metroid’ or ‘Shovel Knight’ in HD” as reasons to plunk down an entire week’s paycheck on today’s uber-super-duper home units. Sure, there are “new” games being released, but most of them are perennial updates (Madden, FIFA, etc.), rehashes (Mario this, Halo this, Call of Duty this, etc.) or brown and grey war-shooting games, that to me at least, are utterly indistinguishable from one another. Seriously, if you showed me a photo of “Destiny” and “Titanfall” side by side, I’d have no idea which was which.

So outside of your gratuitous ADHD exploitation of middle schoolers (hey, a new Pokemon game!) and high school mass shooter fantasy fuel fodder, gamers today are left with precious little new to experience with their hardware. And don’t even think about trying to sell me on that “Walking Dead”  and “The Last of Us” serious-conscientious-gaming-as-philosophy nonsense; if I wanted to mull the peculiarities of man and the inherent sadness of existence, I’d read some Popper or Sartre, not play “Bioshock” and try to ring some sort of political statement gobbledygook out of fighting Scooby Doo monsters.

Kids today have migrated to phone and tablet-based games for a reason; the simplicity and instant gratification. No load-times, no bullshit self-congratulatory, high-falutin plotlines trying to mimic summertime box office fare and best of all, no television units required. All you need is steady Wi-Fi, a full battery and blood circulating to your thumbs -- who has the patience nowadays to find a television remote, anyway?

Call it perception bias if you must, but there’s simply no way I can imagine any kid in 2014 having as much fun with his or her Wii U or PS4 as I did when I got my Sega Genesis in 1993. All of the applications and online ranked match modes in the world don’t compare with the fundamental joy of being sucked into the experiential zone of new-and-improved software. There wasn’t just a graphical leap in the jump from “Super Mario Bros. 3” to “Sonic 2,” but really, an entire sensorial step forward; alas, I feel few youths feel similar experiences when upgrading from “Forza Horizon” to “Forza Horizon 2,” sadly.

That, my friends, is the real appeal of console gaming -- the ability to pull the gamer into a complete state of concentration and focus for hours on end. Shit, I vividly recall playing game after game of “NHLPA Hockey ‘93,” with the only worldly influence being the Dr. Dreadful gummy treats I was chewing on for sustenance.  Today’s hardware is literally built for multifunctional use, so you’re never really absorbed into the game; you’ve got online messages popping up while you’re playing games and all sorts of shit going on with your controller, plus, all the additional stuff going on with your phone and your headset and all that jazz. Instead of plunging headfirst into the software world, you’re just plugging yourself into various hardware features, with the software serving as a central hub to your technological interaction.

Simply put, that’s why gamers are abandoning “Grand Theft Auto” for “Fruit Ninja.” The same way all of the old school classics forced you to turn off your Aspergers to reach a new high score, these endless runners are physically and mentally challenging consumers, which is something console games really haven’t done since the 3D transition of the mid 1990s.

It’s not that today’s games are too complex, it’s that they are needlessly, ostentatiously complex. If you put “Diablo III” in front of me, I’d get bored with its huge-assed game sphere in five minutes, but if I encountered an old “Raiden” cabinet, I’d probably play that sumbitch for an hour solid.

Truthfully, console games haven’t really evolved since “Super Mario 64,” when the technology allowed for a sense of depth, immersion and genuine exploration that simply couldn’t be replicated in 2D space. Yeah, we’ve made prettier and deeper game worlds, but we’re still doing the same shit in “Skyrim” that we were doing in “Shenmue” and “Mega Man Legends.” After fiddling with analog nubs  and running around trees for 20 years, perhaps its not all that surprising that hardcore gamers want to return to the twitchy, linear madness of “Gunstar Heroes” and “Super Soldier Blade.”

The problem is, you don’t need brand new, super expensive hardware to create that kind of gaming experience. Shit, my laptop is utter garbage, but it can still play just about every neo-old-school game that’s received praise over the last few years flawlessly. Outside of mildly more refined graphics and smoother online deathmatches, there’s really nothing new that the PS4 offers over the PS3, other than less variety and higher consumer costs. With the Wii-U, you’re just getting slight retweakings of the games you’ve played a million times before, except now with a battery-devouring tablet that makes games less engaging than they were on the Gamecube. And the following are reasons why the Xbox One is a worthy investment over an Xbox360: none.

As a generation of hyper-mobile consumers, who prefer their multimedia in the Cloud, you really, really have to give us a good reason to plunk our asses down in front of a TV screen for more than twenty minutes.

With nothing but bland warm-overs and experiences ported over from more accessible platforms, the appeal of console ownership is nothing like it used to be. Multimedia purchasers today prefer to downsize their entertainment -- with a growing demand for completely atomized content, no less -- these hulking, wire-tethered monstrosities in our living rooms with the oh-so-passé disc trays and power sources the size of stereo speakers are instantly outmoded.

Console gaming, as a pastime, isn’t on the verge of becoming obsolete -- it already is. Sure, sure there are some purists out there who cling to their “Street Fighters” and their “Gears of War,” but their rank is ever-diminishing compared to all of the new “Dota 2” and “Flappy Bird” recruits.

With an ever expanding mobile base, there’s nowhere for the console market to go, except downward; and considering the general consumer ennui toward these latest home units, I think we may have just hit terminal velocity on the freefall to antiquity, folks.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Fond Look Back at “America’s Funniest People”

In the early 1990s, Uncle Joey, Harley Quinn and that chick from the Whitesnake videos hosted an “America’s Funniest Home Videos” rip-off … and somehow, it’s greatest cultural contribution became the catchphrase of a mutant jack rabbit/antelope creature. 

I had a pretty shocking epiphany a few days ago, when I realized “America’s Funniest Home Videos” was STILL on the air. Granted, it's hosted by that dude from “Dancing with the Stars” instead of Bob Saget, but you have to admire the show’s staying power, especially considering the contemporary competition from sites like YouTube. Come to think of it, “AFHV” more or less heralded the arrival of the Tube a good 20 years in advance, celebrating all forms of visual jackassery, nincompoopery and cruel embarrassment before the World Wide Web even existed.

For those of you who never experienced the joy and whimsy of the 1990s as it happened, you’re probably in the dark as to what “America’s Funniest People” was. As the title implies, the show was indeed a blatant imitation of “AFHV,” right down to the casting of a fellow “Full House” star, Dave Coulier. However, the show, which ran for a few years on ABC, diverged from its inspiration in quite a few ways. Please allow me to spend a thousand or so words reflecting on a reality TV program that no one has even thought about in at least 18 years, if you don’t mind.

The key difference between the two programs was the format. While “AFHV” was all about user-generated content of people being hit in the testicles on accident, “AFP” was a program that highlighted people intentionally trying to be hilarious -- usually, by telling really stupid jokes or doing really goofy things with their faces that are more stomach-churning than funny-bone tickling. Probably my all-time favorite “gag” -- and I mean that in more ways than one -- was this one dude who held up a tomato that he said was “not feeling well.” The jokester than proceeded to squeeze the fruit’s chunky red guts out to imitate vomiting; needless to say, there was a sudden surge in squished tomatoes at my house for the ensuing week.

When I say the jokes were lame, I mean they were bottom of the barrel, almost to the point of being Dadaist anti-jokes. One guy simply held up a couple of compact discs, flashed them like a drug dealer and lisped “see-deez?” while another explained to us what the term “hut” meant in Ebonics -- as in, if you dropped a hammer on your toe, “it hut.”

Of course, the show also allowed people to tell jokes with meatier narratives, but that wasn’t the appeal of the show. The appeal of the show was watching people flick their lips open and showing you their entire gum line -- in hindsight, the show probably had more in common with “Guinness Prime Time” than it did “AFHV,” actually.

Which brings us to the show’s other big innovation over “AFHV.” You see, “AFP” wasn’t content with just one host, you got TWO of ‘em, which included none other than Arleen Sorkin -- aka, Harley motherfuckin’ Quinn from “Batman: the Animated Series.”

So, Harley and Uncle Joey served as our curators, as various ugly people did their damnedest to make the masses chuckle. Periodically, the show would switch things up and have a few musical performances. To me, these always seemed out of place -- I mean, going from a dude sticking his face through a cutout of a small body and doing puns about hot dogs to a barber shop quartet interlude was just too spastic, even for the Sega Genesis generation. I’m pretty sure the Olsen twins made an appearance or two as well, but I don’t trust Google with my YouTube search history so I can’t confirm it for sure.

The scant clips of the program I’ve found online are pretty much the definition of cringe-worthy, a veritable treasure trove of armpit fart noise serenades and piss poor ventriloquism acts. Some of the segments were just so unbelievably abstract that I have a hard time believing the skits could be considered comedy and not some sort of subversive Duchamp social horror. Believe it or not, a television network once asked Wrigley’s Gum and Pepsi Cola to shell out money to sponsor a program that consisted of people doing weird things with hair dryers for two minutes straight -- shit, did the dude who directed “Gummo” serve as an executive producer on this thing or something?

Reading the Wiki entry on the show really blew my goddamn mind. Not only did the thing last longer than I thought it did (can you believe this thing had a five year run from 1990 to 1994?), but apparently, Arleen Sorkin is some kind of cryptoracist, claiming ABC shit-canned her from the show because they wanted someone browner -- although, I guess one could argue Tawny Kitean was indeed noticeably less white, but DIGRESSION.

So, yeah, the show kind of changed formats around 1992. With the former David Coverdale humper splitting hosting duties with Coulier, there was a greater emphasis on lengthier skits -- like, full-fledged parodies of “Dirty Harry” and “Indiana Jones” and whatnot -- and more recurring features, like this segment where people ran around playing really stupid pranks (like dressing up as gorillas and chasing people) and a little dunking booth game show thing were kids got a chance to drown their parents for missing trivia questions.

Which leads us to what is probably the only thing anybody really remembers about the show -- the Jackalope.

Never heard of the Jackalope? Well, maybe this little quip will refresh your memory: “Fast as fast can be, you’ll never catch me!”

Fucking everybody over the age of 20 knows that line, but I’m guessing a good three-quarters of those in the know have no clue where it came from. Well, wonder about your senility no more, because that was the catchphrase of a Dave Coulier-voiced rabbit-antelope puppet who was the star of live-action “Looney Toons” segments on “AFP” every week.

As with seemingly everything else on the show, the Jackalope skits in hindsight seem to be self-reflexive horror-comedies. Perhaps it is for the best of I let the segments below speak for themselves.

Perhaps an oblique homage to “The Toxic Avenger,” the Jackalope skits all seemed to have some sort of aggressive pro-environmentalism bent to them. Shit, there was even one skit I vividly remember where the mascot actually was transformed into some muscle bound freak of nature by toxic waste -- alas, some things are still a bit too obscure to make the Dailymotion rounds, I take it.

I think the show breathed its final breath around the same time O.J.-A-Mania struck, and it  promptly was all but forgotten for about 10 years afterwards. The show had a light revival when old episodes began airing at odd hours on TBS, but unless you were just hanging out in front of the tube at noon on Wednesday’s during George W.’s first term of office, you probably missed out on the re-runs.

Today, “AFP” lives on only in dust-coated VHS cassette spools and the foggy memories of  twenty-somethings who kinda’ remember the program existing, but not really. The bits and pieces of the program out there in Internet land really aren’t exactly what I would call nostalgia fuel, as the show comes off as more unsettling than uproarious -- odds are, if you see the shows now, you’ll have the same thoughts I did, which were “man, this shit was fucked up and why didn’t I turn to drugs after being exposed to this and the AIDS episode of Captain Planet.”

Still, it’s a relic from a bygone-era, and if you’ve got an hour or so to spare, I guess you could find less productive ways to waste your life -- like spending an entire weekend scouring the ‘net for information on a game show that used to have monsters chasing contestants through a supermarket.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Five Southern Traditions Nobody Talks About

The common experiences everyone in Dixie shares … that they don’t want the rest of the country to find out about. 

People tend to have one of two perspectives on the Southeastern United States. One perspective sees a particularly brutish, ass-backwards anti-culture, where racism and institutional classism runs rampant. The other depicts the Southland as a pastoral, picturesque wonderland, a place where all the old charms and values of yesteryear lingers on as an affront to modernity itself.

As always, the truth is really “none of the above.” Indeed, Dixie in the 21st century is both a goulash of widespread poverty and ostentatious suburban wealth, a land filled with methamphetamine and wilding out young uns and manufactured paradises where respectful youths sip sweet tea on Antebellum porches and everybody shows up on time for the annual downtown Christmas parade.

But, there are other time-honored traditions those south of the Mason-Dixon line aren't too fond of discussing with outsiders. You know, the southland ain't all gravy biscuits and crazy ass outsider art; here are five long-held Dixie traditions you probably won't hear Tennesseans or Louisianians boasting about on your next visit to Music City or 'Nawlins...

Watching Pro Wrestling with Your Racist Granny

It’s an inarguable fact: all people above the age of 62 in the American south are racist. I’m not just talking about white senior citizens, I mean all senior citizens: whether you’re the color of mayonnaise, Nesquick or Heinz 57, if you’re eligible for Social Security benefits in today’s modern South, you are indelibly a hate-filled, rancorous ethno-supremacist.

If you’ve ever wondered why Southern people, specifically the senior crowd, seem to have such a penchant for pro wrestling programming, that’s pretty much the reason why. Professional wrestling, by and large, is a gigantic universe of crude, cruel and borderline offensive racial stereotypes, all battling for metaphorical ethnic supremacy using fake violence. In fact, I probably first heard a majority of the five-star slurs thanks to my granny’s utter disdain for the Orient Express, Tito Santana and especially Ron Simmons, whom had the honor/misery of becoming the first black WCW World Heavyweight Champion.

Over the past 30 years, it’s amazing how little the professional wrestling industry has done to curb back all of the race-baiting. With a contemporary cast of characters that includes a Moslem terrorist, a gang of lawnmower riding Mexicans and an African American tag team known as “Cryme Tyme,” it’s arguably more ethnically-charged today than it was in the heyday of Sgt. Slaughter, the Iron Sheik and Saba goddamn Simba.

Having Relatives Show You How Big Their Dumps Are

The southern man takes great pride in even his most meager of accomplishments. That’s why, in the era of the Xbox and the iPad, horse shoes and cornhole remain astoundingly popular pastoral activities south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Combining that nearly biologically need to compete with a dearth of recreational resources, it’s probably not too surprising that southern folk invent some wildly unorthodox ways to outdo one another. As in, engaging in let’s see who can pee the furthest contests, which were indeed quite the popular neighborhood activities in my carefree days of youth.

But don’t think this is something that only the kids partake of. Oh, no sir-ee Bob. For reasons that completely defy explanation, I’ve noticed that true Sons of the South take enormous pride in the size, length and texture of their own excrement, having been yanked from slumber by more than one adult relative so I could marvel at their gargantuan turds coiling around the commode bowl. I had one uncle who even kept a Polaroid scrapbook of his own shit -- he was utterly convinced that one of them had to break the Guinness World Record for lengthiest poo, and eagerly awaited the day they mailed him a check for a million dollars.

Being Drunk at Wal-Mart 

Getting sloshed is definitely a Southern way of life. Likewise, frequenting America’s number one retailer is another time honored tradition for the sons and daughters of Dixie. Therefore, visiting Wally World while inebriated just makes all sort of sense, in a way that makes no sense it all. Primarily, because you’re too shit-faced to know you’re trying to carry on a conversation with an unintended checkout lane.

In every shitty small town in the south, the Wal-Mart is the proverbial center of the universe. In terms of footprint and daily volume, its almost always the biggest communal gathering place in the village; what the watering hole is to antelopes in the African Savannah, Sam Walton's monolithic discount department store is to poor rural and exurb people of all shapes, sizes and hues.

Growing up in a little burgh that was just then developing a taste for the crystal meth, me and my school chums spent many late evenings and early mornings. just ambling down the aisles of Wal-Mart while intoxicated. The idea, you see, was to get rip roaring drunk on cheap-o vodka in the parking lot and all of a sudden, the local depot of consumer misery turned into some sort of post-utopian wonderland, albeit one with edited gangsta rap CDs. Looking back on it, I'm not really sure what the appeal of drunkenly stumbling down the canned tomato sauce section at two in the morning was supposed to be, but it remained a popular pastime, nonetheless. Exemplifying the importance of this abstruse regional rite: I ran into a kid I hadn't seen in literally 10 years recently, and the first thing he said to me? "Hey, Jimbo, remember when we used to get drunk at Wal-Mart back in the day?"

Anticipating a Full Blown Race Riot at School

The southland is pretty much a racial powderkeg, waiting to explode at any minute. The strange thing is, despite having the most profound historical track record of racial unrest in the country, the modern southland remains the most racially diverse part of the country. In fact, the 12 states with the highest concentration of African-American residents are all in the American South, with the racial composition of local governments in Atlanta, Memphis and Birmingham looking suspiciously similar to that of the aggregate pro basketball team.

So, let’s do the mathematics on this one. It’s a two-dyad political power struggle, mounted in 300 years of racial fury. People are just jonesing to let that undercurrent of ethno-rage froth up like magma, and really, all it takes is just one teeny, tiny incident to flick off an eruption.

At my middle school and high school, our team mascot was a palette-swap of the Ole Miss Rebel -- a cartoon character clearly designed to resemble a slave owner of yore. Well, one year, our long-tenured (and white, of course) principal stepped down, and our new head honcho was an African-American. With the white folks silently uneased, the shit really hit the fan when a new design for the team mascot came out … and chuckles a plenty, the new logo was a mulleted brigadier general, with a facial complexion a few shades south of “acceptably olive.” It may sound stupid to the rest of society, but that little decision almost led to our small hillbilly hamlet turning into Ferguson, Miss. A week later, a white kid slung an eraser tip at a black kid in geometry class, and holy shit, everybody in town thought the National Guard was going to have to come in. Of course, such tempers always simmer down to a light boil, but that friction is an omnipresent element in the Southland -- one of the quaint joys that kids in Caucasian utopias like New Hampshire will never, ever comprehend.

Fearing that you May Have Unintentionally Engaged in Incestuous Activity

Yeah, yeah, we all know the stereotype, which was more or less culturally codified by countless episodes of “The Jerry Springer Show” back in the late 1990s. Southern folk, for whatever reason, have a peculiar taste for their own kin, with a cultural depiction running the gamut from innocuous first cousin French kissers all the way up to full blown sibling-humpers.

While that little stereotype is erroneous for several reasons (historically, incest has  always been an activity of the upper crust and not the lower mantle -- lest we forget, Eleanor was a Roosevelt way before she married FDR), there is an uncomfortable nugget of truth to the longstanding belief. You see, it’s not that Southern people actively seek out their own blood to bone, it’s just that so many people in small towns are somehow genetically linked that really, you’re probably only four or five leaps away from encountering some kind of distant relative.

That’s why no matter who you’re dating in the little burghs, there’s a still a slightly-above average chance you’re re-stirring your own genetic batter. I had one friend who was seduced by his sister’s hot girlfriend from out of town, only to run into her at an extended family reunion a month later. To be fair, it was a sizable leap in genetic material -- we’re talking third or fourth cousin, once removed -- but they still shared a common forbearer.

Alas, it’s a shame the South must continue to live with, if for simple geographic limitations. But as a positive? That means that for the next few decades at least, you can actually use an oblique reference to “mitochondrial eve” as a pick up-line in Ol’ Dixie.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One” Review (2014)

Who’d thunk junior high schoolers would’ve had such a penchant for paramilitary politics?

Watching “Mockingjay,” I just had to keep asking myself what the popularity of “The Hunger Games” really means for us as a culture. To kids today, what does the dystopian hellhole of Panem actually symbolize -- is it a metaphor for the police state, or an allegory for our collective loss of privacy in the Facebook era or the still palpable auger of the Great Recession and a life shittier than those lived by their parents?

The quite literally mock heroics of Jennifer Lawrence, I believe, indicate but one thing: goodness, do American young ‘uns in the year of our lord 2014 really, really want to taste war and crushing poverty.

Whether you choose to view Suzanne Collins’ much beloved series as “Battle Royale” lite or paramilitary pandering to the “Shelby Woo” weaned masses, its undeniable that “The Hunger Games” franchise has struck a chord with Gen Y. Politcos on the left and the right both say the books and corresponding films are indicative of tweens leaning toward their ideology, but mayhap kids today ACTUALLY do want to find themselves thrust in guerilla juntas and daily life-and-death struggles the same way Miss Everdeen does?

As I’ve written before, good old fashioned wide scale warfare seems to be the best cure for the adolescent blues, and in my eyes, the success of “The Hunger Games” is all the evidence I need to support the theory. Our gilded youth are sick and tired of being coddled at home and going through the rigors of post-recession ennui; they want to form a human wall and overpower security guards and blow up dams, by golly, and all Mrs. Collins is doing is giving the peoples the celluloid fantasy they thirst for.

I haven’t seen the first “Hunger Games,” but I did see “Catching Fire.” I’m probably missing a whole lot not having seen the 2012 film (considered by some retards to portend the Sandy Hook school massacre, if you can believe it), but from the gist of the last film, I reckon I have a pretty good grasp on what’s going on heading into this third flick.

So, Katniss and Peeta were forced to compete in “The Running Man, Jr.” and after they won, they became national celebrities and marketing tools for the Capital -- the big, super evil federal overseer who puts the boot to any poverty-stricken dissidents that even think about asking for potable water. But, at the end of the last movie, Katniss is rescued by some sort of anti-government revolutionary group, led by Julianne Moore in a bad wig and Philip Seymour Hoffman, back when he was still not dead and stuff. By the way, with those eyebrows, holy shit, should he have played John Madden if they had ever made a biopic about him.

“Mockingjay,” then, picks up precisely where the last film left off. Katniss has been recruited by the resistance to become the literal face of their propaganda efforts, which basically entail her poorly reading lines in front of a green screen while a dude in a wheelchair edits it in Photoshop. Meanwhile, Peeta -- the albino love interest who’s so pale, he makes Ed Cullen look like a Puerto Rican -- is up there in the Capital, where Stanley Tucci feeds him lines in bullshit government-fabricated television interviews.

So, the resistance decide to take a page out of the oppressor’s book and cook up their own wartime propaganda, even hiring this blonde chick with a Trent Reznor-circa-1990 haircut and a dude without a tongue to walk around filming her in the middle of war zones while she points at rubble and makes aircraft carriers explode with one arrow. Oh, and at one point, Woody Harrelson shows up, and he’s all drunk and stuff. Or talking about wanting to be drunk and stuff, which I supposed wouldn’t be all that indistinguishable from the actual words that come out of his mouth on a daily basis.

So, the Capital decide to order an air strike on the resistance compound, but they can’t really find it, and there’s this part where Katniss’s sister tries to find a cat when the airlocks are about to close shut, and when the bombing is over, there’s a whole bunch of white roses everywhere, which I think is supposed to be symbolic and stuff.

Then, Katniss records a song that sounds a lot like a tribute to Jim Crow era lynchings, which apparently galvanizes the downtrodden into picking up their arms and sticking it to the man. Eventually, the resistance decide to storm the Capital and rescue Peeta by knocking out their power grid, and there’s this one part where Katniss and President Snow -- played by Donald Sutherland, who by some voodoo spell, is still alive -- and everybody thinks he’s going to capture the raiders, but they manage to get out alive unscathed. Except for one catch: when Peeta awakens, he’s all psychotic and stuff and he tries to strangle Katniss to death. Apparently, the feds gave him some crazy juice and subject him to the old “Clockwork Orange” treatment so now he’s been all reverse psychology-fied to hate his girlfriend and stuff.

And on that note, the movie ends, leaving the door wide ass open for “Mockingjay Part 2,” which will undoubtedly make a ton of money at the Cineplex next autumn.

All in all, I thought “Mockingjay” was a pretty decent movie, but a bit of a step down from “Catching Fire.” I thought the mock Gaullism going on was a bit much, and I strongly preferred the sillier violence of the last flick -- complete with blood storms and stinging insect attacks and whatnot -- over the blunter bullet-to-the-skull fascist mayhem on full display here.

Alas, I have a hard time chastising any movie that glorifies anti-statist furor to middle schoolers, and if given the choice between the skirts from Frozen or Katniss’ federalist-slaying ass? Yeah, I’m going to encourage my daughter to model herself after the character who has no qualms about exploding public infrastructure, thank you very much.

My Score:

Two and a half tofu dogs out of four.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Six Things All White People Like

…and the pseudoscience why.

Let’s talk about stereotypes for a moment.

We all like to say they’re a bunch of misinformed opinions, but the frank reality is that stereotypes do indeed exist for a reason. By and large, mass society tends to view Asians as math whizzes, Jews as shekel-counters who own everything and blacks as thick-wanged convicts  because … well, the frustrating statistics kinda’ tell us they are. As cruel and derogatory as these mass generalizations may be, there’s at least a kernel of truth to all of them … especially regarding the white folks.

Yes, the chalkies, those no-assed, stable career-having, NASCAR-loving, guitar-playing ultra-poor dancers they are. When discussing the wide panoply of ethnoracial stereotype out there, very rarely do we go in-depth with all of the overgeneralizations regarding the Caucasoid and his ways, and as someone whose genetic ancestry can best be described as a jumble of Eurasian trash, I assure you there are indeed a plenty worth talking about.

Of course, anyone can just run down a list of stereotypical white mankind passions, but I reckon this is a matter worth taking seriously and going one step further with semi-scientific explanations for why the Caucasian likes what he or she likes.

And as it turns out? Yeah, there is a lot of cyrptoracism and micro-aggressions going on here, I am afraid.


White people love their dogs. I don’t mean they merely enjoy their company, I mean they consider them on par with the human members of their respective families. They throw them birthday parties, take them to have their pictures made with Santa, have their pastors bless them and when they die, they fall into year-long depressions. They keep pictures of their pets in framed photos, and they carry pictures of them in their wallets. Odds are, if someone has a dog as their desktop image, they’re probably white.

White people tend to treat their dogs better than most ethnoracial groups treat their own children; indeed, dogs are one of the few areas were white people absolutely refuse to budge any ground whatsoever. Remember the whole Michael Vick dog fighting brouhaha? That was literally the only time in history that Al Sharpton didn’t bother stoking racial embers, because he knew that white people wouldn’t even attempt to put on a P.C. veneer when dealing with a canine abuser. And as much as the more liberal white folks like to praise multiculturalism, they draw the line at anything even remotely resembling dog mistreatment. Next to mulling the idea that Jesus Christ is black, there is nothing that causes more distress to white people than the notion that some in some ass-backwards cultures, a bunch of primitive savages actually eat puppies.

Why so much love from white folks? Since the Caucasoid has been upright, his closest companion in the animal kingdom has been the dog. From England to Scandinavia to Bavaria to the domain of the Slavs, the love of dogs has remained a constant for white people throughout history.

Ultimately, the white man loves dogs because he loves being the owner of a dog. They love the fact they have this adoring, docile creature who is completely obedient to their every whim. They love having something mindless that they can manipulate, to know something is completely dependent upon them, to know that something would literally kill to protect them. Simply put, white people love dogs, because there are no greater Uncle Toms in the mammalian world.


Caucasians and cheese go together like peanut butter and jelly. If you’ve ever been to any kind of function primarily populated by white folks, you’ll see heaps and heaps of cheese all over the place. Hell, I’ve been to some functions where literally the entire snack bar was just cheddar and mozzarella laid out on sampler trays.

You know why white people love wine parties so much? It’s because it gives them an excuse to engorge themselves on exotic cheeses. Truthfully, they don’t give a shit about the alcohol, they just went to eat a whole bunch of gouda. Furthermore, all of your standard Caucasoid foods tend to have cheese as a primary ingredient. White people can’t even eat non white food without putting cheese on it, an act which might as well be called the Anglo-Saxonization of cuisine.

Why so much love from white folks? I don’t think I’ve ever ran into a white person who considered himself a cheese connoisseur. But we all know that’s a front. Try going into a specifically white grocer (Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s) and you’ll see that half the goddamn store is cheese. Try asking a white person about their favorite type of gruyere, and they’ll probably talk your ear off for a full hour. Even the name of the protein in cheese, caesin, sounds like it’s a direct reference to honkies.

There are two possible explanations for this widespread, Anglo-Saxon admiration of cultured dairy products. One is that the casomorphins in cheeses, which are actually mild opiods, have a much greater impact on the Caucasoid genotypes. The other? A lot of black people are lactose intolerant, and the white man sure does enjoy having something the Afro-American can’t.


For white people, there is no greater drug than caffeine, nor one more vital to their existence. Forget alcohol, crank and nicotine, the 21st century honk’s preferred addictive substance is without question coffee -- slow-roasted, slow-brewed, free-trade, all-organic java.

Of course, it can't just be any old type of coffee. If you serve the genotypical white a cup of Folgers instant coffee, he would probably spit it out in your face and blame it on an allergic reaction. Through what can only be described as macro-evolution, the Caucasoid has developed some sort of mitochondrial admiration for "good" coffee, which is basically anything that's two or three times more expensive than a regular cup of Joe. Even Starbucks, long considered the lifesblood of the mayonnaise-toned, appears to be falling out of favor with the white masses, who have begun pursuing less "commercialized" and even more overpriced beverages -- preferably, any brand that makes a direct mention to slavery or genital mutilation on its packaging.

Why so much love from white folks? I really racked my brain on this one. On the surface, it seems oh-so-obvious ... since there's literally no other food stuff as black as black coffee, it kind of figures that white folks would enjoy it out of some weird micro-aggressive impulse. However, the white man's real love affair with coffee can be summed up by his love of two other things; ethnic labor and ostentatious consumption. 

There are few things in the world the white man loves more than hard working non white people. Whether its a story about an urban black youth who overcame poverty and street violence or the long, noble journey of immigrant shop keeper, the Caucasoid utterly adores hearing about ethnic minorities displaying tendencies long-associated with successful white businessmen. Juan Valdez is more or less every white person's ideal foreigner; a hard-worker who stays the hell out of America while giving us his delicious cash crops. 

Shit, looking at a list of the world's top coffee-producing countries, it doesn't appear the stuff grows anywhere withing 500 miles of anything remotely resembling a developed, industrial nation. Hence, the white man feels some sort of paternalistic, philanthropic succor every time he pays $7.99 for a cup of Vietnamese green coffee, but really enjoys it because he knows it was probably harvested by an eight-year old child with one leg wearing a Raiden hat in the jungle -- you can literally taste the strife every time you fire up the Keurig. Hence, coffee allows the white man to simultaneously enjoy the misery and toil of poor colored people around the world AND spend frivolous amounts of disposable income on a beverage that's really more about status than quality; and do we even need to bring up the blunt symbolism of the Caucasoid's love of putting WHITE creamer in his or her naturally black drinks?


This might just be the greatest unheralded white stereotype of them all. Caucasians utterly adore cranberries. Every suburban home in America is insured at least one jug of Ocean Spray, and at every white Thanksgiving get-together, it’s the cranberry sauce that runs out first. Whether it's an addendum to a Cosmopolitan or a quick fix to a nasty yeast infection, white folks seem to find any reason to chow down on cranberries and their derivative jams, sauces and drinks.

Hell, white people’s love of cranberries extends to the musical group, the Cranberries -- forget melanin levels, whether or not one owns “Everybody Else is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?” might as well be the gold standard for determining one’s overall Caucasian-ness.

Why so much love from white folks? Biochemically, I'm stumped on this one. Traditionally, cranberries have been cultivated in all the Caucasoid strongholds (Europe and east Asia, primarily), and the crops have long been staples of the agrarian U.S. northwest, which is about as white as white can get without becoming ultraviolet. 

Looking at cranberries on the molecular level, there's really nothing in them that would appear to have an intensified effect on Caucasians. Really, all I've got here is this map, which shows that cranberries don't even think about cropping up anywhere in the world where white people aren't an ethnic majority; could it be that, genetically, white folks have an inherent taste for a fruit that naturally segregates itself from brown people? The answer, as we are all aware of, is "yeah, probably." 


Now here’s one that may surprise a few folks. As we all know, the general racial stereotype involving poultry involves the Afro-American, and his alleged love of fried chicken. The reality? Not only do white people love poultry more than black folks, their adulation of KFC and Church’s might just be even greater than that of their tanner counterparts.

The thing is, the white man’s love of poultry is far more diversified than the black man’s. If it isn’t marinated in Crisco, the typical black person won’t eat it -- conversely, a white person will eat fried, grilled, battered, barbecued and nugget-ified chicken until, ironically, the cows come home. Try waltzing into a Chick-Fil-A at noon on a workday, and scouting out the clientele -- if it isn’t 90 percent white people, I’ll buy you a new hat. It doesn’t matter how classy a restaurant you go into, I assure you there’s some permutation of chicken fingers on the menu -- that’s because chicken, essentially, is the ultimate comfort food for white people.

Why so much love from white folks? Fried chicken is the preeminent poverty food of the Americas. In fact, the entire “fried food” phenomenon -- typically assigned to African Americans, but just as much a part of the lower class Caucasoid American experience -- stems from impoverished farmers making the best out of scant resources. Our sharecropping forefathers fried their chicken because the poultry given to them was rotten; it was the easiest way to make a completely inedible food not only digestible, but freaking delicious, as well.

With that historical tidbit in mind, the modern white person’s love of chicken is either a.) a genetic holdover from their days of agrarian toil, or b.) just another goddamn instance of cultural appropriation. Every time a lily-white suburbanite chows down on an $8.99 buffalo chicken sandwich, what they’re really saying is “ha-ha, fuck you, poor people” -- a modus operandi which has, effectively, become the cultural Tao of the 21st century Caucasoid.


White people are utterly obsessed with oppression. When they convene at dinner parties, you can pretty much set your watch as to when the pallid guests start moaning about all of the ethnoracial strife in the world, much of it, wrought shamefully by their own forefathers. Any time a non-white is subject to tyranny, enslavement, genocide or social persecution, white people seem to join together as a consumer bloc to just bask in the horribleness of the situation. Although routinely middle to upper class suburbanites, white people feel a soulful solidarity with downtrodden minorities. Those starving Congolese, white people will tell you, are indeed their brother-man.

The only thing the white man loves more than wallowing in the misery of others is wallowing in the misery of others and then wallowing in ethnoracial remorse afterwards. Not only does he love feeling sorry for how bad others have it, he really gets off on shaming himself for being responsible for the miserable conditions minorities face. Above even air and water, there is no substance as vital for the Caucasoid than culpability.

Why so much love from white folks? You’d think that the honks’ utter obsession with the oppression of colored individuals would be some sort of genetic throwback to the days of Jim Crow, but you sir or madam, would be wronger than the term “wronger,” which is grammatically incorrect on several levels.

You see, white people’s fascination with the torture and marginalization of others is actually rooted in a masochistic desire to be dominated and subjugated themselves. There’s some sort of bizarre sexual dynamic at play here, to be sure; that’s why CEOs pay hookers thousands of dollars to burn them with cigarettes and spit in their mouths while bored housewives across American fantasize about being “Fifty Shaded” by the pool boy and half a grand in abstruse sex toys. When Caucasians view a film like “12 Years a Slave” or “Schindler’s List,” they do so with an almost perverse sense of envy, through the lens of a peoples who oh-so-desperately yearn to taste pain and ostracism themselves. For once, they want to be the one’s getting the ass-end of a whip, to be the ones who shame the shameful majority for their long history of misdoings and misdeeds. More than anything, the white person wants to be a victim, to be the downtrodden, to be the screwee as opposed to the screwer.

In short? They want to live the way their ancestors lived ... a suspiciously undiscussed historical antecedent most woeful white folks are, oh so curiously, all but oblivious to.

Monday, December 1, 2014

“Home Alone” on the NES!

Would you believe it’s one of the most terrifying games of the 8-bit era? 

I don’t think anybody considers “Home Alone” to be a truly great movie, but at the same time, I don’t think it’s a movie anyone out there doesn’t enjoy. As far as yuletide cinema goes, it’s definitely in the upper tier -- maybe not as good as “Christmas Vacation” or “Silent Night, Deadly Night,” but hey, what else is.

Two things have always struck me about the film. First is just how weird the premise of the flick is -- it’s a comedy about child abandonment and home invasion, more or less anchored around a booby trap thematic. The only thing weirder is how popular that little mash-up proved with the general movie going masses -- to crib a line from “Dogma,” Chris Columbus had to have made a pact with Satan for that thing to have taken off the way it did. Simply no other explanation will suffice to explain the brief conflagration that was, for a time at least, Macaulymania.

Considering the insane popularity of the film -- which no marketer in their right mind ever thought would have become a cultural phenomenon on par with the Ninja Turtles -- it’s really not all that surprising that the 1990 film wound up inspiring a couple of video games.

While “Home Alone” found its way onto a bevy of platforms -- the Genesis, the Game Gear and the Game Boy, among them -- probably the most interesting was the version released on the Nintendo Entertainment System.

While the other games were very much platformers with a bit of strategy tossed in to the mix, the NES game took a very, very different approach. Instead of a basic hop and bopper with “Home Alone” window dressings, the NES game is almost a deconstruction of the film itself. In short, the Nintendo iteration of “Home Alone” is basically what the scenario presented in the movie would be like in real life -- a goddamn survival horror experience.

I remember renting this game way back in the day, and since the instruction manual wasn’t provided, I was really confused. The entire game is really just one screen, and there’s no clear objectives … it’s just you commandeering a little Kevin McAllister, traveling across gaudy backdrops at a snail’s pace. No doubt empowered by cocaethylene or something, the Wet/Sticky Bandits ran twice as fast as I did, and I was downright miffed that neither the A or B buttons did anything when I pressed them. I just sort of figured I got a broken cartridge, turned the damn thing off after 15 minutes, and went to my bedroom to cry over wasting $3.50 and also not having a father figure in my life. But yeah, mostly the part about the “broken” NES title.

Aww...the sheer whimsy of an abandoned second grader being pursued by merciless criminals!

Well, I ended up replaying the game on an emulator lately, and I was really surprised by what I experienced. Granted, it’s not a great game by any stretch of the imagination, but I really appreciated it for at least trying something different … and in my opinion, just a teensy bit subversive, as well.

The title employs a variation on the “catch-me-if-you-can” style of gameplay, which was popularized by “Pac-Man” and later refined by games like “Halloween” on the 2600 and the really, really underappreciated Famicom offering “Nuts and Milk.” As would any real eight-year-old going toe-to-toe with hardened criminals, your avatar is utterly powerless against the dual threat of pixelized Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern. If they touch you, it’s an automatic game over -- presumably, because they brutally murder you offscreen.

The premise of the game, then, is deceptively simple. The whole playing field is basically a four-story house, and you’ve got 20 minutes to run around without getting captured. The only defense your character has is a collection of little obstacle icons (which are represented as little “Shinobi” item boxes) which represent various traps from the film … light bulbs, broken Christmas ornaments, etc. There’s a big catch, though; you can only use the items once, and once they’ve been used to foil the looters, they disappear from your inventory.  Oh, and just like Inky, Blinky, Pinky and Clyde, every time you off Harry and Marv, they come back even faster and ten times as pissed off.

All of this sounds insanely easy, but trust me, this game ain’t no walk in the park. You have got to be really careful with how, when and where you drop off your death traps, and while there are a few select hiding spots throughout the game, you can only use those once, too.

My favorite part in "Home Alone" was when Kevin turned into a 40-year old retard at the end.

As far as the game’s connection to the film goes, it follows the plot of the film the best it could, I suppose. In addition to the three story house (complete with a Christmas tree room, a kitchen, and for some reason, no bathroom), there’s also a subterranean basement and third-floor-adjacent treehouse to muck around in. The only thing missing from the title is an assist from the Shovel Killer, ultimately.

Crafted by Bethesda (yes, that Bethesda), “Home Alone” is actually an early forerunner to “Clock Tower” and especially Tecmo’s underrated “Deception” series. Despite the cartoon sound effects and the chirpy music, the game has this pervasive dread to it that’s hard to describe. It’s almost like the developers themselves picked up on the abject horror of the film’s premise and decided to make a game that reflected that non-canonical terror. The end result is one of the more pulse-pounding games on the NES, and an early 8-bit “horror” title I’d put on par with “Friday the 13th” as unsung mini-genre classics from the era

I don’t think the game ever explicitly tells you there’s a 20 minute time limit, so when you actually beat the game, it’s really abrupt. You get a really unsettling “victory” screen, followed by a “Paperboy”-like post-game map, showing you your final score and where you used your booby traps.

Yes, the game is pretty flawed, in most respects. The graphics are subpar and there’s not a whole lot of replay value once you actually figure out how and where to hide (you can probably beat the entire game by simply stowing yourself away in the treehouse, retreating when necessary, and repeating.) That said, the strangely aggressive atmosphere definitely makes this one worthy of at least one afternoon of play … and it makes for a hell of a complement to that one Michael Jackson game on the Genesis, too!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Gardein Holiday Roast!

Is the Canuck product the best faux-turkey veggie dinner on the market?

A few years ago, I reviewed the Tofurky roast kit. For those of you unfamiliar with the product, it’s basically a giant, frozen, vegan-friendly pseudo-turkey meal, complete with a congealed bucket of no-meat gravy mix on the side. From what I recollect, it was a fairly enjoyable meal -- probably not something hardcore carnivores would enjoy, but for those with greener palates, it was certainly a serviceable replacement dinner for the Thanksgiving season.

So, I was strolling down the frozen food section aisle of a certain big box store lately, when I saw this:

It’s called the “Gardein Holiday Roast,” and apparently, it’s a north-of-the-border riposte to the Tofurky kit. As it turns out, Gardein actually has quite a few no-meat frozen alternatives on store shelves -- I guess they’re the Canadian version of Morningstar, I take it.

Of course, the big draw here is the stuffing and the breading. As cool as the Tofurky kit was, it didn’t come in a breaded shell, which Gardein’s product proudly boasts. Nor did Tofurky’s stuffing include cranberry flakes and nuggets of wild rice, which is another huge positive for the Tofurky competitor.

As far as what the product itself is made out of, it's a real hodgepodge of organic (and not-so-organic) materials. I really like the fact that the box tells you upfront it has GMOs in it ... just because it's vegan doesn't mean it's 100 percent douchey, y'know. And nutrition-wise, it's pretty light stuff; you can eat the entire goddamn roast in one sitting, and that still leaves you with about 400 extra calories to spare for the evening.

Right out of the box, the Gardein Holiday Roast  already looks like a completely cooked meal. And yes, you're not alone in thinking "man, that thing looks like a giant hash brown," either. In terms of weight, it's probably the total overall poundage as a modest squeeze-tube of pork sausage. The box says the overall product is 40 ounces, but from my eyes, I doubt the actually roast is more than half of that  -- this thing couldn't be more than 20, 24 oz. at the absolute most.

Also included in the kit are two vaccuum-sealed pouches of frozen gravy. Combined, I reckon these two packets weight about the same as the roast itself. And feasibly, you could pummel a man unconscious with both, if you really had to, which has to be considered a bonus for the product.

You have two options in terms of preparation. You can either do things the hard way and roast this veggie sumbitch in a traditional oven for an hour or you can slightly microwave the dish first and then bake it for roughly the same amount of time it takes to watch an episode of "The Golden Girls." You also have two paths for cooking the gravy -- thawing the sauce in a bowl of boiling hot water for 15 minutes or microwaving the mixture for three minutes. Just to be contrary, me and Mrs. Internet Is In America decided to take the "easy" path with the roast and the "hard" path with the gravy ... which means in one of the "Sliders" multiverses, there's an alternate reality where we microwaved the gravy and slow cooked the fake turkey meat, I take it.

In case you were wondering, microwaving the roast for a few minutes really doesn't change the tint or hue of the dish whatsoever. To be sure, it certainly smells a little bit different, but to the untrained cornea, yeah, it still resembles the world's largest uncooked cheese stick.

Nor can I say there's too much excitement watching frozen gravy slowly transform into a more liquid state, either. I mean, yeah, it gets mushier and stuff, but like any non-molecular physicist could tell you there's a key difference between this and the stuff that came straight out of the box. Probably.

And the completely cooked roast looks like ... well, a completely uncooked roast! Although to be fair, the spices embedded in the breading definitely become a lot more pronounced after a half hour at 400 F.

And another good thing? It's really an all over golden roast, too, so you get a nice, flaky exterior all the way around the product and not just on top. And it smells really nice, too, like a giant French fried turkey

Sure enough, the finished gravy looks just like ... the moon. Or a three-day-old McDonalds milkshake. Or half a human butt cheek. But, uh, it certainly smells like the kind of flour paste we all know and love, though!

Of course, man cannot live off Canadian faux meat alone, so I strongly suggest complementing your dinner with a fine seasonal beverage -- preferably, the Thanksgiving-time-only Sierra Mist Cranberry Splash, which beats the ever-loving dog shit out of Sprite's competing ThanksBeverage, and hard.

And here's the FULL MONTY, dear readers! Indeed, the interior of the Gardein Roast looks very, very turkey-like, while the stuffing itself looks, uh, mushy. But don't let the goopy insides fool you, because this shit is really, really tasty -- in fact, I think it might be even yummier than the Tofurky original!

The cranberry flavoring is very pronounced, but I was much more impressed by the flavor of the wild rice. It's hard to keep the taste of something embedded two layers deep in chemically engineered beef and breading fresh and distinct, but I'll be several shades of darned if the Gardein Roast stuffing didn't taste like a just-boiled pot of spicy rice. Coupled with the juicy not-meat and extra chewy breading (not to mention the suprisingly authentic tasting gravy), this was actually a damned delicious offering in every sense of the word.

Obviously, the Gardein Holiday Roast is a treat for vegetarian/vegan folks who miss what good food used to taste like, but I reckon this here roast is just yummy enough to perhaps even impress a few omnivores, too. And the best part? Sans all of those pesky tryptophans, this is one turkey dinner that won't make you pass out in a bowl of macaroni noodles five minutes after ingesting it.