Sunday, June 26, 2005

A fantastic argument for killing as many of your brain cells as possible

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Science marched on this week, right past the Hollywood Walk of Fame. According to an Associated Press story, a study by the California Institute of Technology found that "individual brain cells 'recognize' famous people."

This group of eggheads was trying to figure out how brain cells store memories. Specifically, they wanted to know if Angelina Jolie was a smokin' hottie at the sub-molecular level. So scientists isolated individual brain cells, wired them with electrodes and sat the cells in front of flash cards. Afterward, the brain cells filled out a multi-page questionnaire and were paid $50 and a coupon to Subway for their time.

"In one case, a single cell was activated by different photos of [Halle] Berry, including some in her 'Catwoman' costume," the story states. This means that individual brain cells -- not just regions of the brain -- could figure out who Halle Berry was, even if placed in shitty-ass movies.

The story continues: "Nobody would have predicted that conceptual information relating to [Jennifer] Aniston, for example, would be signaled so clearly by single cells." This makes sense to me -- now that she's broken up with Brad Pitt, Jennifer Aniston is also single.

But the study, recently published in the journal Nature, had even more profound results. "In one participant, one brain cell responded both to Aniston and to Lisa Kudrow, her co-star on the TV hit 'Friends.'" One scientist, Charles Connor of Johns Hopkins University, called it "a tantalizing glimpse at how neurons represent concepts like membership in the cast of 'Friends.'" That's great. Say, how's that cancer thing going, you fucking criminals?

Anyhoo, this study has far-reaching complications. For one, it explains how human beings are able to follow that steadily mutating half-plastic androgynous man-thing through his annual moltings and transformations, yet still understand him as "Michael Jackson." It also means that Tom Cruise will not go away, no matter how hard I try to forget him. He's encoded in my brain cells somewhere, man. When I see him being squirted with water by a prankster or soiling his pants with excitement over having a new girlfriend, there's a cell in my brain that pulls itself away from the nachos long enough to write all that bullshit down.

Even if I never watched TV again, Tom Cruise is still going to be there, stuck in my head. Years from now, I'll have forgotten my multiplication tables. But there'll be a couple of brain cells saying to each other, "Remember when Tom Cruise went crazy with the Scientology and jumped on Oprah's couch?"

Naturally, an important study like this brings up more questions than answers. Like these:

Q.: How can I get involved with scientific research on how your brain cells react to celebs? I'm a college science student looking for a way to write off my subscription to US Weekly as a business expense.

A.: Ask again later. This advanced study is so new that many research facilities haven't yet begun to explore celebrity-specific brain chemistry. If you really want to watch TV all day and study the brain, your best option would be to double-major in neurobiology and liberal arts.

Q.: I have trouble keeping straight which one is Mary-Kate Olsen and which one is Ashley Olsen. Is my brain broken?

A.: It is decidedly so. The differences in the Olsen twins should be obvious, as one is suffering from anorexia and the other weighs a healthy 71 pounds.

Q.: I'm curious -- do celebrities' brain cells react the same way when they see pictures of regular people?

A.: My sources say no. First, celebrities don't have what we normally refer to as "brains." Rather, their skulls contain a very small sac filled with fluid -- bioelectric chemicals mixed with Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Mountain depends on the endorsements.

This cranial fluid picks up DirecTV and beams television directly to their retinas. The celebrities, therefore, constantly live under the belief that they're on camera and getting paid top dollar to play along, plus residuals. This is why they do weird stuff all the time. For the ratings. This is also why they often wear their hair in strange ways -- it helps with the satellite reception.

So when celebrities meet non-celebrities, like you or me or Chevy Chase, they interpret them as "extras," or as being "with the caterer."

Q.: Are there any plans by advertisers to exploit this new phenomenomenomenonom?

A.: All signs point to yes. Scientists have recently conducted an experiment stimulating the brain cells that recognize Jessica Alba with heavy doses of gamma radiation emitted from advertising satellites high above the earth. Surveys showed those tested experienced a strange sensation, like being repeatedly poked with a stick shaped like Jessica Alba.

Q.: So what would happen if, like, one day I see Lindsay Lohan on the television, but she's dating Jessica Simpson's husband, Nick Lachey, but Jessica says Britney Spears stole her man, because Kevin Federline's just after her money, which is wicked strange because Ashlee Simpson and Hilary Duff just went through the same thing over Jesse McCartney?

A.: Reply hazy -- try again.

Q.: OK. First there's Lindsay Lohan, then there's Jessica Simpson, sister of Ashlee, who's supposed to be on the outs with Britney over Nick, even though he's going after Hilary Duff, who was secretly recruited by Tom Cruise into Scientology --

A.: Ehh, cannot predict now. Or ever. I suggest you "medicate" the cells in your brain that remember the intimate details of all those teenybopper bimbos and mimbos. Six beers and a nap should do the trick.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Pam Anderson, breast-selling author

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Most people know Pamela Anderson for two things -- two very large, very prominent aspects of her person. These two very large things simply refuse to be ignored, particularly as both of them are so often the focus of media attention. They've worked together harmoniously to lift Pam Anderson's career to the kind of peaks rarely seen in Hollywood. And let's be frank -- Pam Anderson milks them for all they're worth. Yes, Anderson has been shaped largely -- which is to say, largely shaped -- by those two great big parts of her public persona: acting and animal rights activism.

But can she bake a cherry pie? If by "bake a cherry pie" you mean "write a barely fictional account of her life disguised as a dishy beach-read novel," the answer is yes!

Star, Anderson's debut novel, is now out in paperback, and being in the news business I was lucky enough to get my mitts on a preview copy. No, you can't have my job.

The book (or whatever) centers around the life and loves of Esther Wood Leigh, known to her friends as Star. According to the press release, the ever-oversexed Anderson devised the moniker using the old "porn name" formula: the name of your first pet plus the name of the first street you lived on.

"Star Wood Leigh ... is actually what my porn name would be if I decided to change careers!" she states, stretching the meaning of the word "if." Come on -- I saw the video.

But let's get to the actual novel. It's more than 300 pages and has no pictures, except for a shot of Pam Anderson on the cover, naked. So there's that.

The book opens with a bang, if by "bang: you mean "several pages of exposition." At the novel's start, Star is a young girl in Florida with her parents, Lucille and Rick, two of the more subtle names in the book.

Star has two jobs cutting hair and shucking oysters (not at the same place) and a cute boyfriend named Insignificant Character. Suddenly, Star has one of those inexplicable cases of ennui so common among oyster-shucking hairdressers with a delicate constitution:

"It was a spider sense that something was missing," Pam writes, "like that feeling you get when you stand in front of the refrigerator, not really hungry, but unable to stop looking. The feeling that this time, it might be there, right behind the ketchup and the pickled beets."

Before she can check the butter compartment, Star receives an unscheduled visited from The Boob Fairy, who leaves her with "one of a pair of unruly and self-willed nipples." Her luck only worsens when the second one shows up, even less civil than the first. But don't worry -- they come in handy later.

A few pages and erotic scenes later, Star leaves her boyfriend -- something about him being a jerk. They fight in a scene about as tense as a banana peel ("Look, Star, I like you just fine"), and she ditches him. Always one to push her resume, Star leaves "with the speed that had made her the setter for the state
champion Double A girls volleyball team for five straight years."

From there, Star has nowhere to go but up! Or into the dirty magazine industry.

She moves to Los Angeles, and we pause momentarily to take in a film-strip-style description of L.A. that seems cribbed from the encyclopedia: "A coastal desert plain, it is met at the shore by a mountain range that runs like a backdrop along the northern boundary of the Los Angeles basin." Fascinating! After completing the geographic survey, Star moves into Mann Castle, headquarters of Mann magazine, where suave, pajama-clad publisher Mr. Mann cavorts with the nude ladies who populate his porno mag. Pam has spiced her debut novel with many things -- sex, gossip, garbled metaphors -- but imaginative details aren't one of them.

Anyway, the next chapter plods along with hardly anybody getting naked ("'Oh, pooh,' Star pouted") for almost 12 whole pages, until Star has her first nude photo shoot. She pukes with fear, which should make for singularly unerotic photos, if you ask me.

The novel hits its narrative midpoint about page 169, when Star ends up in a shouting match with a guy with the improbable name of Van Pursens.

Van is upset because Star has publicly called him an eggplant. That is not a typo: "'Don't make this any worse than it is,' Van said. 'I read it in the Daily Reporter.'" Star dares to question even the venerable Daily Reporter, denying the allegation fiercely: "Well, I don't even know what the Daily Reporter is, but I can tell you this, you're no eggplant. I like eggplant." The scene reads like a cross between Raymond Chandler and Mad Libs.

Much of the book's second half is like an episode of "E! True Hollywood Story," but with noticeably odder names. Also, suckier. Star lands a job on a "Home Improvement"-style sitcom, called "Hammer Time" here; then, it's on to "Baywatch," or "Lifeguards Inc." Star also dates various rock and rap stars, finds herself in an orgy here and there, and continues her path to spiritual enlightenment ("'Implants?' Star said. ... 'What do you think? Should I?'").

I shouldn't spoil the book's ending -- but let's just say Star gets the implants. I hate to give away any more of the juicy details, if by "juicy details" you mean "stuff I remember Jay Leno joking about six years ago."

For the rest of the plot, you'll just have to read it yourself. It's worth the half-hour. Any longer than that and you're just being an eggplant.
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