Friday, June 26, 2009


The last of the 1933 family quizzes focuses on dear old Dad. Fathers of this time had a hard life: the Great Depression meant that there was no money, Prohibition meant that there was no booze, and Angelina Jolie hadn't been invented yet. There wasn't much for a man to do other than wear a fedora and beat the children.

Even so, the newspaper helpfully offered suggestions on how a man could be an ideal father. According to them, the perfect dad did all of the following:

10. Takes child to visit his office or place of business.

Which would be fine if not for the fact that Daddy is a prison warder.

19. Arranges for child to spend some time on a farm and in the city.

Anywhere where Dad isn't, really.

17. Uses sandwich method of correction - a criticism between compliments.

Or, alternately, beating them over the head with a stale roast beef baguette.

13. Takes child on "flower", "bird" or camera hike.

"C'mon kid, we're going on a "bird" hike. I'm hoping to see a Grey Goose."

But no father is perfect; just ask David Hasselhoff. Every father in the world today has done things of which he is not proud, whether it be missing little Billy's school play or accidentally taping the Grand Final over 'Finding Nemo'. However the fathers of 1933 were in a class of their own. Between molesting underaged girls, smoking dope and boasting about their adultery, one wonders where Depression-era dads found the time to father children at all, let alone raise them.

20. Uses tobacco, dope, alcohol or profanity.

This is one of the scourges of the modern family. I remember when my old man was arrested for possession of 6 ounces of f*ck and driving with a blood c*nt level of .12. You never quite get over it.

24. Too affectionate to daughter's girl friends, kissing or "pawing" them.

It could be worse. He could be doing that to her boy friends.

18. Opposed to vaccination, diptheria immunization, needed surgery, etc.

"No child of mine is having a bone marrow transplant! When I was a boy we took our leukemia on the chin, like men!"

14. Plays with child's toys so it can't use them, as electric train, etc.

Or "hogging the XBox", as we know it today. Of course back in 1933 the contents of most toy chests consisted of a stick, a hoop, a vulcanized rubber ball and a coloured slave, so the child really wasn't missing out on that much.

21. Gets drunk.

The children would have prefered a puppy.

19. Lets child know of father's unfaithfulness to wife.

Dad: Son, did I ever tell you about the affair I had with your mother's aerobics instructor?

Kid: What!?

Dad: Of course it was purely sexual. She had thighs that could snap a man in half...


Friday, June 19, 2009


It was difficult being a mother in 1933. The children could catch tuberculosis or smallpox from the neighbourhood guttersnipes, it took seventeen hours to launder a pair of socks, and Oprah wasn't around to tell you what to do in every aspect of your life.

Fortunately the newspaper was prepared to take up the slack, hence the 1933 merits and demerits of motherhood quiz:

These don't make much sense to a generation raised on mobile phones, microwavable snacks and mid-afternoon "Sex & the City" marathons on cable. And my annotations probably don't help one bit either. But here goes.

1. Sends "Only" child to nursery school.

I don't why junior is considered an "Only" child in "inverted" "commas". Perhaps that's just what she tells her husband.

8. Speaks good English in the home with minimum of slang.

Mother: I'm not hep to all the jazz that you cats are jiving, so I'm twenty three skiddoo, daddy-o.

Child: ...the hell?

11. Lets child go to movie, concert or theater up to once a week.

This week he's seeing 'Equus'!

20. Gives child its own room.

"Congratulations, kid. You get the laundry."

1. Gives child thorough and scientific sex instruction when child asks.

"Now the seventh of our PowerPoint presentations is a little something I like to call 'Newtonian Physics & the Mechanics of Third Base'..."

3. Encourages taffy pulls, family singing and group games at home.

Then they raise a barn and take the buggy out for a spin.

13. Lets toddler talk over telephone.

This. Is. Not. A. Merit.

15. Objects to child's going to camp or house parties.

I'm not sure how happy I'd be about my child going to camp parties either. There's plenty of time for that at university.

3. Speaks foreign langauge in the home, embarrassing Americanized child.

Best call the authorities on her. She may be a communist.

9. Threatens child with insanity, etc, for self-sex practices.

"What did I tell you about touching yourself? Right, that's it! You've just earned yourself three months of schizophrenia, young man! I don't care if Billy's mother only made him catatonic for two weeks; my house, my rules!"

13. A bridge fiend or matinee addict.

I think a bridge fiend may be like a bridge troll, in that she hides under bridges then demands money from passers by. Of course in these more enlightened times we'd call her a "homeless person".

Being a matinee addict might be worse, if I had the faintest idea what it meant. If it means that she only takes heroin in the early hours of the afternoon, then I suppose that's not so bad. If it means she's been huffing Busby Berkeley, then it's a bit more of an issue.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


As promised, James Lileks has posted the second half of the 1933 marital quiz he discovered in an old newspaper. The first half allowed women to pass judgement on the quality of their men. Now the husbands, boyfriends, partners and friends with benefits can evaluate the modern woman and see where she's falling down.

Most of the demerits are a little more timeless than those for the gentlemen. However some of the entries may still require a little elucidation:

31. Fails to wash top of milk bottle before opening it.

The filthy slattern! There's grounds for divorce right there.

33. Saves punishment of children for father at night.

So if the kids do something wrong, it's Dad who gets spanked. If he's lucky.

35 Wears pajamas.

You know who else wears pajamas? Communists!

37. Puts stockings to soak in wash basin.

As opposed to what? Soaking them in the oven?

But women thrive on compliments as well as criticism. A man should also award his woman points when she does the right thing:

29. Writes to husband's parents regularly.

"Dear Helen and Carl, you'll never guess what your worthless lump of a son has done now..."

41. Has minor children to care for.

As opposed to being entrusted with the really important children.

44. Insists on driving the car when husband is along...

...and not even all that drunk.

45. An active member of some women's organization.

Like NOW, Code Pink or the Indigo Girls Fan Club.

But life isn't all epistles, sitting in the passenger seat and caring for unimportant children. Tomorrow we'll be checking out the merits and demerits of 1930s motherhood.

Monday, June 15, 2009


From Melbourne comes this heartwarming story of multiculturalism in action:

Another Indian student has been bashed and racially abused, this time in Melbourne's east.

Sunny Bajaj, 20, said he was taunted and punched by two men as he was about to get into his car in Boronia on Friday night...

He said his attackers were in their 20s, one was white, while the other appeared to be of African descent.

I think it's marvellous that two people, one black, one white, can overlook their differences on the outside and recognise that they're the same opportunistic thuggish bastards on the inside.

It's like when Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder sang, "Ebony and ivory, live together in perfect harmony, side by side on my piano keyboard," only with violence and attempted robbery instead of crap '80s balladeering.

Monday, June 08, 2009


Via James Lileks comes this handy marital quiz from 1933. Ladies, is your husband a stud or a dud? A dreamboat or the Lusitania? Do this test and learn whether he's a Clark Gable... or a mere James Cagney.

Unfortunately a lot of the demerits that had housewives pursing their lips during the Hoover Administration are unfamiliar or de-prioritised to the partners, significant others and IGYDUSBCA*s of the 21st century. To help the modern woman in her understanding, I've added minor annotations to some of the more esoteric items:

1. Stares at or flirts with other women while out with his wife.

It's okay if he stares at or flirts with other women when she's not around, presumably.

6. Compares wife unfavourably with his mother or other wives.

"You look okay, I guess, but you know who's really hot? My mother. And my other wives."

16. Dislikes to dress or shave on Sunday.

Frankly his nakedness during church is begining to attract comment.

19. Objects to wife's driving auto.

She should drive a manual, like a normal person.

21. Blames wife for everything that happens.

"Global warming, honey. Your fault. Male pattern baldness too. And don't get me started on the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BC!"

24. Uses alcohol. If ever drunk.

And thus every Australian man fails this test.

However it's not all about picking up on a husband's faults. The quiz also allows him to claw his way back into the missus' good books with good behaviour. If indeed clawing anything could ever be classed as good behaviour. Most woman frown on clawing. But I digress:

3. Frequently compliments wife re looks, cooking housekeeping, etc.

"I know your have a PhD and brokered peace in the Middle East, sweetheart, but what I really like about you is you're blonde, you cook a mean steak, and you operate that dishwasher like a pro."

6. Polite and mannerly even when alone with his wife.

Oh great. He's gay.

9. Reads newspaper, books or magazines aloud to wife.

"Hey honey, have a listen to this joke from the Sam Newman Big Book of Footy Humor! And stop rolling your eyes, dammit!"

12. Leaves car for wife on days she may need it.

As opposed to making her ride the family mule down to Woolworth's, I guess.

15. Doesn't interfere with wife's correction of children.

Apparently in 1933 "wait 'till you father gets home" hadn't been invented yet.

16. Carries adequate insurance for family.

If they all die in an "accident" he's set for life, baby.

20. Usually comes home with a smile.

Actually I would have pegged this as a negative, or at least as suspicious. It's the middle of The Great Depression... how happy is he supposed to be?

Lileks promises to get the second half of this quiz, which covers the merits of a good wife, scanned and up on the net soon. I assume that the production of sandwiches and beer will feature prominently.

* I Guess You'll Do Until Someone Better Comes Along

Sunday, June 07, 2009


I've been slowly working my way through the three dollar charity store DVDs I bought a few months ago. The most recent was 1960's 'House of Usher', the first of Roger Corman's Edgar Allan Poe adaptations and a film full of rich, Cormany goodness. It opens with a dead and blasted landscape filled with smoke machines and boom mike operators.

I see the Teddy Bears' Picnic met with a little accident.

It is sometime in ye olde days of yore, and young Philip Winthrop rides through the forest on his way to visit the House of Usher.

If you go down to the woods today, you're sure of a big... AAAAARGH! It's horrible! Burnt bits of stuffing everywhere! Little melted button eyes!

He’s traveling down from Boston to see his fiancé, Miss Madeline Usher, to whom he became engaged while she was in Boston for the social season. He has never seen the House of Usher, so he’s in for something of a surprise.

Judging by the house, the original Usher must have been some sort of cardboard magnate.

Matt paintings and dry ice aside, young Philip tethers his horse and prepares himself to be the last person ever to enter the House of Usher.

Wait a minute... this hitching post is made of cardboard! And so is my horse! And so is my acting!

The door is answered by an elderly servant known as Bristol, who makes every attempt to get rid of this young interloper.

Bristol: Miss Usher is confined to her bed.

Me: Ah, so you knew I was coming. Good man! Lead the way!

Unable to see Madeline, Philip demands to see her brother and guardian, Roderick Usher, so that he can find out what is wrong with his beloved. Roderick is a pale, effete man with a nervous disorder that makes him suffer if subjected to loud noises, bright lights or reality television.

Roderick: Madeline and I are like figures of fine glass. The slightest touch and we may shatter.

Me: Plus we both have ‘Made in China’ stamped on our asses.

It turns out that Madeline wasn’t quite as confined as we thought, and she soon shows herself. Philip declares his love and promises to take her away from the gloomy, crumbling house as soon as possible. Roderick doesn’t approve.

Hmmm, well, we all know who's been hogging the bleach bottle around here.

However Philip isn’t an easily dissuaded sort of person. He’s worried about Madeline and her preoccupation with morbid thoughts. She takes him down to the family crypt and shows him the coffins of her ancestors, explaining that she fears she will soon be joining them.

And this coffin belongs to my Great Uncle Edward. He... er... had some issues.

This only makes Philip more intent on getting her out of the house, but Roderick is stubborn and refuses to let her leave. In the meantime there is a series of mysterious accidents – a chandelier nearly falling on Philip, a fireplace threatening to set him on fire – that make it clear that even the house itself doesn’t want him around.

All comes to a head when Philip overhears Madeline and Roderick arguing violently, then, after hearing her scream, he bursts in to find her lying insensate on her bed. He checks her pulse and her breath and pronounces her dead. Then he makes the same sort of face that I made when I found out that ‘Firefly’ had been cancelled.

Nooo! They only screened 14 episodes, dammit! It just isn’t fair!

Roderick insists that she died of overwhelmed nerves, and as there isn’t a mark on her Philip is forced to accept that. He, Roderick and Bristol place her in her coffin down in the crypt with the rest of those wacky Ushers.

The next morning as Philip prepares to leave, Bristol makes a chance remark about Madeline suffering from catalepsy which awakens his suspicions. Philip rushes down to the crypt and breaks open Madeline’s casket, only to discover that she’s not there. He confronts Roderick, but the brother refuses to say what he has done with her or whether she is dead or alive. Philip ransacks the house until he collapses with exhaustion, but he still can’t find her. He dreams of being tormented by Madeline’s looney dead relations, in what appears to be a power ballad music video circa 1983.

As if it wasn’t bad enough being buried alive, it seems that Madeline also has to go through a total eclipse of the heart.

Eventually he manages to wrestle enough clues out of Roderick to work out where Madeline’s second coffin is, but when he finds it it’s open, and the inside of the cover is raked with claw marks and blood. Madeline was trapped in there for two days, and her fragile mind has shattered like a Star Trek nerd’s illusions upon meeting William Shatner.

Forget the total eclipse of the heart… she’s moved on to Bette Davis eyes!

After she’s had to claw her way out of her coffin, poor Madeline is crazier than a 9/11 conspiracy theorist. She hurls herself at her brother and, as her hands choke the life out of him, they both perish as the house finally falls apart and collapses. Then burns to the ground. Then sinks into the bog.

Well, it’s still a better fate than being converted into executive apartments.

And so it ends. Corman went on to make several other Poe adaptations, mostly with the same sets, the same costumes and the same Vincent Price. If only he had used his powers for good rather than evil.

Friday, June 05, 2009


From my office newsletter comes this piece of profound academic scholarship:

"A study at the University of Sydney last year found that male science students are the most likely of all university students to be virgins.

Female arts students are the most sexually active."

There's a lesson in that for someone. Or possibly an opportunity. It certainly suggests a few things to me:

1. Geek Chic will only get one so far in this life... "so far" apparently being "second base".

2. If female arts students are more sexually active than males of any area, then who are they being sexually active with? Outsiders? Each other? The car park attendants?

3. The macho strutters in Law and Engineering are getting less action that the flaky hippie girls doing fine arts and philosophy. Insert Nelson Muntz laugh here.

4. There's a pun to be made about "contact hours" in all this, but I can't quite put my finger on it.

5. There's also a pun to be made about "can't quite put my finger on it", but I don't want to get into one of those endless loops of smut.

6. There's also a pun to be made about "endless loops of smut", but I... dammit!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009


Imagine that you are a privileged, intelligent 18 year old boy in your final year of high school. Due to a misunderstanding, late one night you are run over and beaten almost to death by the school bully... who is played by this person:

What would your reaction be?

A: Sweet merciful crap! Did I just get beaten up by a little girl? How am I ever going to live this down?

B: OMG nobody recognises my genius and life is so unfair!

If you chose A, you are a normal person. If you chose B, then you are the title character from 2007's 'The Invisible'.

It's an awful film about a whiny, self-obesessed, oh-so-sensitive teenager who, after the bitch slapping mentioned above, discovers that while his body lies dying in the forest his soul is still able to walk around. His friends can't see him. His mother acts as if he's not even there. At several points in the movie, as Emo Boy frets and rages about being invisible and ignored by friends and family, I noted, "You know, it's almost as if this is a metaphor for something."

It'd be a big dumb crass metaphor if the writers and director were painful adolescents, hopped up on My Chemical Romance downloads and getting an A- in their most recent Creative Writing assignment. But they're not: they're all in their mid- to late-40s, so it's a big dumb crass cynical exploitative market-driven metaphor. Which is worse. It's as if the writers said to themselves, "What would it be like if our characters said out loud and in public all of the stupid, pretentious, drama-queeny things we wrote in our super secret journals at 1am one rainy night in 1985 while listening to The Smiths and reflecting that if we could travel back in time and meet Emily Dickinson we'd totally be best friends?"

Yep, it's that bad. Admit it, you're cringing even at the thought of it, aren't you.

Still, readers who are used to my exaggerated complaints about bad movies may think that it can't be that bad, and might be tempted to watch it and form their own opinions. Trust me, having your own opinion isn't worth it. To illustrate this, I reluctantly reprint the poem that Emo Boy reads, with great conviction and apparently without comic intention, to his English class:

Day burns down to night,
Burns the edge of my soul.
In the night I break into sparks of suns
And become fires in a dust of bones
Night knifes
My breath swallows whole my tongue
Turn back
In the night I see the real
Concealed in the day's bright lie
Eyes stitched shut
White teeth smile
Sleep walks and talks
And feet mark time of day

If only someone could have strangled him with his own iPod headphones.