Michael Swaim

Movie: Rango

Johnny Depp and I have had something of a parting of ways in recent years. I've grown weary of his oddball persona and degrading taste in scripts, while he's grown weary of MY oddball persona and the constant vague threats embedded in my writing. Not that I'm not still a fan -- I'd be really broken up if he ever, say, had his eyelids gnawed off by trained helper ferrets.

Inky, Blinky, Pinky and Number 17.

So, out of the Depp loop as I am (what we in the business call "going off the Depp end"), I went into Rango expecting a revealing expose of Beatles drummer Ringo Starr, assuming they'd changed his name and made him a CG lizard to avoid a lawsuit, except from Geico. Imagine my surprise when, instead of sobbing admissions that he drumstick-fucked his way through half of Liverpool's birdcages (what they call "sororities"), I got a neo-Western featuring walking cacti, a gun-tailed rattlesnake Bill Nighy and Sheriff Seth Bullock in a golf cart pulling deus ex machina duty.

It was probably set between Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour.

Sure, it wasn't the fake movie I've claimed to have been expecting, but Rango had so many of the ingredients that made up 2011. It had a sense of constant doom. It had stunning computer-generated ugliness on levels never before imagined. It had an apocalyptic desert wasteland and corrupt businessmen exacerbating the woes of a recession-saddled community. It even had sloppy plotting obscured by a bunch of quasi-spiritual set pieces loaded into the third act, which is an endorsement of the 2012 Mayan apocalypse prediction if ever I've inferred one.

And it makes total sense. In an era where memes roam free across the 'net, multiplying, spreading and getting stranger and more insular as they do, why WOULDN'T the people who make kids' movies think "We should really up the weird factor 25 percent ... kids are weirder these days." And as any YouTube denizen will tell you: "What? Plotting? Uh, just don't forget to subscribe, OK?" Cue over-their-head references, existential monologues they'll never be able to fathom and me quite enjoying the movie, Depp included, while kids around me scream at the hideousness of the talking dead armadillo Alfred Molina and ask their parents why Johnny isn't doing his flappety-pappety dance.

"Because sometimes Depp isn't a whore for Disney, dear."

So no, it wasn't the Ringo movie. Needless to say, I was outraged, but I rest easy knowing that the theater burned down mysteriously soon after. All that was found in the charred ruins was the burned body of a particularly faithful, if clumsy, helper ferret. We'll miss you, Number 17.

TV Show: Breaking Bad


More like "Freaking Good!" am I right!?

And thus began my brief career as TV Guide's chief photo captionist. I was fired shortly thereafter for using the word "holocosplay" on a still from an upcoming History Channel special about ancient cavemen aliens. Then I got this job, which is way easier -- The Guide editors never would have let me get away with the segue I'm about to make.

Hey, speaking of easy jobs, you know who doesn't have one? Walter White, a New Mexico high school chemistry teacher diagnosed with cancer who decides to sell meth to get a nest egg together for his pregnant wife and cerebral-palsy-afflicted son before he kicks off. And it's Hal from Malcolm in the Middle! And his brother-in-law is a DEA agent! At this point I feel I should specify that it's not a sitcom!

Friends would have been so much better if Phoebe had dissolved Ross in an acid bath.

It is in fact my pick for the most representative TV show of 2011, both because this season (season 4) was an incredible foray into the macabre side of magical realism replete with characters elevated to mythic level and fraught with a pervasive sense of doom that mirrors our own deepest suspicions about the universe, and also because BOOM-BANG-KAPOW! Take THAT, Methy! And give one of THESE to TUCO FOR ME!

2011, it seems to me, has been another installment in the continuing trend toward apocalypse fixation, doom-saying and awesome distractions from same. We're in the midst of something of a golden age of entertainment across a few media, yet everyone snidely acknowledges that it's a terrible time to be selling or doing anything. The second season of Louie also provided a pretty dead-on, hilarious belt of that grim perspective this year, but I think BB edges it out on the gun-battles-and-explosions front. Which, let's be honest, is a pretty important front. Plus, when you abbreviate Louie it's just "L," and you end up sounding like an asshole.

What's his full name? LiCK? LuCK? It's stupid, that's what.

What better avatar for this year than the penultimate season of a series about a dude who you kind of know from the beginning is making poor choices that will end badly for him, yet secretly kind of want to see succeed in spite of yourself? That's us! That's now! We know we screwed up, we know we've done wrong, and the nerdlingers and number crunchers are telling us it's too late -- we're double-dipped, past the tipping point, globally warmed, boned like what.

But maybe, just maybe, if we can kill or cause to be killed all of our enemies in big badass explosions and gunfights, it'll all turn out OK, bitch!

Song: Hadestown -- Anais Mitchell


I'll admit, this was a toughie for me. Though I have broad musical tastes, I'm also an elderly man trapped in the body of a young man with the physical capacities of a middle-aged man, so I'm not totally "in the loop" on the latest "Rihannas" and "other popular singers" of the pop world. Add to that a modifier as restrictive as "most representative of 2011" and I'm reduced to pawing at my third-generation iPod touch like some kind of fucking Luddite caveman.


And that's when I realized with a cold jolt of horror: It's all Rihanna. Where was I ever going to find a song that fit my theme of "economically downtrodden post-apocalyptic DIY creative renaissance?" Then I remembered Hadestown, probably my favorite album of 2010, and further recalled that Cracked is a comedy site and not the damned Vatican, so here's an interview with Anais Mitchell about this awesome folk opera that she wrote, set in a depression-era post-apocalypse and chronicling the Greek Orpheus myth.

And to appease you sticklers, also note that the show is still very much active now, in the year 2011, and also that there are songs in it. "Epic (Part II)" is one. Sounds epic, right? What do you think, Anais?

ANAIS: "... premature ejaculation ... anatomically weird ... YOUR SHLONG ..."*

*Please note, all of Anais' quotes are taken maliciously out of context. Mine are fabricated entirely.

Sometimes I bang a tambourine to punctuate my words.

ME: "Wow, I've never interviewed anyone before; it's much more of a power trip than I'd expected. At any rate, it's pretty clear how articulate you are, Ms. Mitchell, so I'm going to get out of the way and let you plug your awesome thing that I fully endorse."

ANAIS: "The thing about the Greek myths is they are open-ended enough to lend themselves to many interpretations. We don't have as much cultural baggage with the Greeks as we do with Bible stories or Native American stories, so we can really make it our own."

ME: "Right, also Ani DiFranco and that guy from Bon Iver are on the record. I guess they're not really records now, huh? It's funny how that --"

ANAIS: "It began as a stage show in the independent republic of Vermont. There were three collaborators: myself, Michael Chorney and Ben T. Matchstick."

ME: "You interrupted my observational bit. That's very rude. Now I'm going to speak in a computer language for a while that will allow readers to easily navigate to some songs from Hadestown."

"Why We Build the Wall"/"Our Lady of the Underground"

"Wait for Me"

"Way Down Hadestown"

"Epic (Part II)"

"Pretty neat, right?"

ANAIS: "We just roped in all these friends of ours from different bands around Vermont to sing the roles. When the record rolled around, and we started working with Todd Sickafoose --"

ME: "Wow, explicitly mentioning the record. You've really undermined me from the start of this interview, Ms. Mitchell."

ANAIS: "If there's a conflict between Hades and Persephone, there's a conflict between industry and the natural cycles."

ME: "Fuck you."

A big thanks to Anais for sitting down with me, and if you don't love this album and thank me for using this opportunity to shoehorn it into an article and share it with you, you are wrong.

Video Game: Skyrim

Skyrim is not a game.

It is a fully realized virtual place, neatly situated northwest of Morrowind and due south of the ruins of what was once my productive membership in actual human society. I may be technically typing at a computer right now, but in my head, I'm just marking time, keystroke by keystroke (also we get paid by the word grapefruit Washington catfish). In my real life, my TRUE life, I'm a few feet over that way, inside the TV, sun glinting off of my Dwemer helm as I approach Dawnstar Hold, leg armor clanging loudly enough to make my own actual leg muscles twitch in dusty, atrophied protest. I mean seriously, I'm level 22 and I've only been to two holds ... how goddamn immersive can you get? The world of Skyrim is so vast and satisfying, some humorous comparison could be made between it and my penis. That's the girth and breadth of throbbing detail that Bethesda has provided here.

For some reason, I end up here a lot.

Which brings us to the reason Skyrim is my pick for this article, and not just for concubine, jester, best friend and eventual killer. This is the first game I've played that I can imagine becoming dangerously absorbed by, Matrix-style. I have a friend who was heavily into EverQuest in a big, debilitating way, and this could very well be that for me. Heck, it could be that for all of us! I often find myself walking somewhere in Skyrim that I could easily teleport to, just to take time wondering at the natural beauty around me: Glacial peaks dusted with wind-blown snow, birch trees shaking lemon-yellow leaves at a starry sky, dragons gently gliding over -- OH FUCK KILLITKILLIT! "CAN'T FAST TRAVEL WHEN ENEMIES ARE WHAT?!" AAAAH WHERE DID ALL THESE WOLVES COME FROM?! AIEEEEEE!

Screaming like a little girl is not a recognized dragon shout, unbelievably.

The point being, I used to have to go outside to see that shit, and if I got attacked by wolves, I couldn't just unplug the game, call my mom crying and then plug it back in half an hour later, good as new. As climate change, American economic decline and a rise in retro kitsch push us further and further down the road toward Fallout: New Vegas, virtual worlds like Skyrim's -- which mimic the actual, natural Earth of the past -- will become all the more appealing. For example, I recently blew off my weekly hike up a nearby mountain to hike up a mountain in Skyrim. The only difference being that in the game, when I got to the top of the mountain I learned how to run 100 mph and force-push people with the sound of my voice, whereas in the real world I'd just get imperceptibly stronger and extend my life expectancy slightly, so as to have more time to spend with loved ones ... SNORE.

You're my only friend now, disemboweled guy!

Skyrim already allows me to smith weapons and armor, cook meat I hunted, tan hide into leather strips and talk to people about absolutely nothing for hours. It's only a matter of time before the technology is available and someone releases the game where you can do literally anything. You'll finally have a fully real CG world, with infinite potential and freedom of choice, indistinguishable from our own, where natural beauty provides spiritual succor and life is a never-ending wade through equal parts mundanity and divinity.

So just like the real world now, but functioning properly! Until it glitches, which it tends to do whenever you tax the system too much, or fire too many arrows, or turn right. Seriously, if the Matrix were as glitchy as Bethesda games, Neo never would have been able to pull all that shit off. He'd try to leave a room, get stuck in a never-ending load screen and play with the rotating shield model until the Architect got sick of waiting and reset the system.

"We're keeping the face-arrows. It makes watching your futile lives less depressing."

If you learn one thing from my entries here today, it should be that the apocalypse is coming very very soon. Human history has been defined by self-fulfilling prophecy, and our doom-obsessed culture is all but assuring the end of the world, just as me typing "I will die buried in the writhing flesh of the Swedish Olympic Women's Nude Writhing Team" and thousands of you reading it basically ensures that it will happen. That's how prayer works, people. So strap into Skyrim and start acquainting yourself, because soon enough your options are going to be uploading your consciousness into it or facing the bombed-out wasteland that was once the sandbox RPG we call life.

Now pardon me, while I go rim the sky.

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