Saturday, November 30, 2013

Choosing Your Doll's Ethnicity

Fisher-Price has a toy line called My First Dollhouse, and it's a big hit in our household. After Kelly bought some of the dolls at a tag sale, both Alice and Lucy fell in love with them. (Alice pretends the dolls are her family; Lucy just puts them in her mouth.)

So we decided to spring for the full set. But this brings me to a conundrum: Amazon makes you choose what ethnicity you want the dolls to be.

I realize this is an eternal issue with dolls, but I'm new to the whole doll-buying game. Also, I feel like it was different in the days when you would just pick a dollhouse off a store shelf. With Amazon, you have to consciously click a link with the irksome phrase "Caucasian Family."

This just feels wrong. Wouldn't it be better if Amazon and Fisher-Price didn't ask people to make a choice and instead shipped out the various iterations of the product at random? That way, people would just get what they get (black, white, whatever), and that's that. I'm sure toddlers would enjoy the dolls just as much.

Incidentally, Fisher-Price only seems to offer My First Dollhouse in Caucasian, Asian and African-American varieties. (Sorry, largest ethnic minority in America — you're out of luck.)

Anyway, I asked Kelly if we should take a stand here and buy the African-American dollhouse. But there was only one for sale on Amazon, and it cost $174.99. (The Caucasian version is $42.99.) Talk about white privilege!

That made the decision pretty easy: one "Caucasian Family," please.

Who knew social justice would be so expensive?

Friday, November 29, 2013

Just Me and My Shadow

In this video, Alice encounters her own shadow and then delights in making it do her bidding.

I guess when you're 2, there aren't many people who you can boss around.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Roosevelt Island's Vanishing History as a Hospital Haven

Roosevelt Island has a nearly two-century-old history as a convalescent center, though many of its medical facilities have long been shut down. One of the most famous — the Renwick Smallpox Hospital at the southern end of the island — was closed in the 1950s and is now the only ruin in New York City that's designated as a historic landmark.

Near the northern end, the former New York Insane Asylum is currently an apartment complex called the Octagon. (These days, only the rents are insane!)

I recently learned that our own apartment building sits on the site of a syphilis-treatment center from the post-World War II years. But New York's most famous quarantined patient, Typhoid Mary, wasn't held on Roosevelt Island — contrary to some people's recollections. She lived out her days on North Brother Island, which is now a bird sanctuary.

Another chapter in Roosevelt Island's history ended over the weekend, when patients were transferred from the Goldwater Hospital, a 74-year-old facility in the shadow of the Queensboro Bridge. The hospital will be demolished to make way for the Cornell NYC Tech campus, which begins construction next year.

The facility served the chronically ill, and many of its residents were wheelchair-bound. The patients are moving to a gleaming, new facility in Harlem. Still, they will probably miss wheeling around Roosevelt Island and taking in the views.

I'm not sure the building itself will be missed — though if a movie-location scout were seeking a generic "dreary hospital," it would be perfect.

I always liked the attempt to enliven its drab facade by putting a heart in the hospital logo. (That oughta do it!)

Moreover, a connection to Roosevelt Island's history will be lost. This windswept isle used to be the place that New York put its outcasts (the criminals, the sick people, the crazies).

It's like that Sean Connery quote about Alcatraz, after he discovers that it's no longer the most fearsome prison in the federal-penitentiary system: "The Rock has become a tourist attraction?"

What has Roosevelt Island become?

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Plaza Hotel's Gigantic Trompe L'oeil

If you do happen to visit the sculpture I mentioned it my last post, be sure to look over at the Plaza Hotel. The landmark building is draped in a gigantic piece of artwork that is arguably more impressive.

Photos courtesy of NBC New York.

As part of a renovation of its exterior, the hotel is covered in a mural that looks just like its facade. The first few times I saw it, I imagined I was looking through a transparent cloth at the windows beneath. But when I got close enough, I discovered it was a drawing.

From the NBC New York site, which posted some video of the artwork:
The 62,000-square-foot mural is the size of one-and-a-half football fields. The hand-drawn architectural rendering was printed on fabric and attached to the construction scaffolding.
It's a pretty cool trompe l'oeil and makes me do a double-take every time I walk by.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Beauty of Art Is Everyone Sees It Differently

I'm a big fan of the Public Art Fund, which finances large-scale installations around New York. Thanks to them, I can show the kids some sculpture without bringing three crazed savages into a museum — a win/win for the art community and the city at large.

The organization is currently sponsoring a piece by Brazilian artist Iran do EspĂ­rito Santo called "Playground." Like the "United Enemies" sculpture earlier this year, it's set up at the southeast corner of Central Park.

From the Public Art Fund website:
At first glance it looks like a massive cube made from large stone blocks — but with a number of blocks missing at the corners. On closer examination it becomes evident that the work hasn’t been constructed out of individual elements but rather cast in stone-like concrete as a unified form. We see that the “mortar” is exactly the same as the “block” itself and that the entire sculpture is consistent in color, texture and finish.
I have to say, I was a bit underwhelmed by this piece. From a distance, it looks like a bunch of stone blocks. Then when you get closer, it's — shocker! — a bunch of stone blocks made of concrete. This isn't enough of a "Law & Order" twist for me.

I do like that if you position yourself right, you have a nice view of a horse's ass. (The golden statue of William Tecumseh Sherman on his steed is across the street.)

Clearly, I'm bringing a high-brow perspective to this exhibit.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Variation on Stop-Sign Graffiti

I was perusing a BuzzFeed post on Los Angeles street artist Plastic Jesus when I came across a riff on one of my favorite topics, stop-sign graffiti.

In this case, the stop sign itself is left in pristine condition, but the street has been altered in a very labor-intensive way (it would be far easier to just tag the sign).

I also feel like this message will only resonate in Los Angeles. I'm not aware of any stupid people that Berkeley has made famous.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Whoa, Whoa, Whoa...Now You've Gone Too Far

When Jon Stewart proclaimed the superiority of New York-style pizza over Chicago deep dish, he had my support.

I mean, I don't dislike any kind of pizza. But I usually choose a thin foldable slice over a goopy pan of cheese with grease-laden crust. Visible tomatoes — a hallmark of Chicago-style pizza — also give me the skeevies. (Zachary's may be the exception.)

This week Stewart agreed to a truce with Chicago, but then took aim at a most undeserving target: California pizza, which he described as a "pile of s--t."

I've spent most of my adult life eating California pizza, and I take offense at this. I mean, it's hard to beat the Big Apple's sheer density of pizza places. But New York can't compete with the quality of the toppings in the Golden State.

Sure, some places go overboard with the experimentation (squid-ink sauce with poached quail egg). But my favorite pizza place in San Francisco was actually a hole-in-the-wall joint called Senore's on 19th Avenue. No frills, just great thin-crust pizza.

I'd happily pit it against any of the New York places I go to now.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Now You Can Sit on Roosevelt Island-Shaped Benches

Roosevelt Island is sometimes referred to as "Little Manhattan," in part because its long, narrow form makes it look like a pint-sized version of our larger neighbor. (Both places — along with Governors Island and Randalls Island — are in the borough of Manhattan.)

Still, I'm not sure people here spend much time thinking about the shape of Roosevelt Island. That is, until this week.

New benches have been installed along Main Street that resemble our magnificent isle. I think they're delightful and one of the biggest strokes of design genius since the iPhone.

Not everyone agrees. After the Roosevelt Islander blog posted pictures of the benches, commenters began complaining about their "odd shape" and worried that they looked uncomfortable. (One critic posited that the benches resembled marijuana-stuffed cigars, known as "blunts".)

Some people didn't appear to understand what the shape was even supposed to mean, while others felt the benches didn't actually look like Roosevelt Island.

I admit, they're not an exact replica. But they seem close enough. And keep in mind that most New Yorkers probably only know the shape of Roosevelt Island from the subway map...

...or maybe Google.

On Google, the island definitely tapers more at the southern tip. And it isn't as rounded on either side.

But I'm not sure having pointy benches would have been practical. You don't want people on smartphones impaling themselves because they aren't looking down.

The bottom line: People should just revel in this bit of whimsy and not worry so much.

Or as the Fonz used to say, "Sit on it."

The Rocketship Building

My son's favorite skyscraper in New York isn't the Empire State Building or the Chrysler Building. It's a fairly obscure tower in Midtown called 1 International Plaza. (Elliot is a architectural hipster — you probably haven't heard of his favorite building.)

Elliot calls it the "Rocketship Building," and you can understand why it might appeal to a 5-year-old. In his drawings of New York, he always puts it right alongside the more famous landmarks.

The 30-story building was constructed in the late 1980s, but it's more timeless than many towers from that era (unlike, say, the ones that have Trump in their names). The architect, Helmut Jahn, also designed the Liberty Place complex in Philadelphia.

Banksy recently criticized the new One World Trade Center for being "vanilla" and "something they would build in Canada."

I'm guessing he wouldn't love the Rocketship Tower either, but at least it's able to captivate a 5-year-old.

When I took Elliot to see One World Trade, he was more excited about an inflatable ketchup bottle.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

5Pointz Gets Whitewashed

Last month, I lamented that I only learned about 5Pointz shortly before it was scheduled to be torn down.

I've been meaning to make a trip to see the complex's world-famous graffiti before the demolition, but it seems I'm too late. The building's owner has painted over the artwork.

Photo courtesy of Twitter.

From the New York Times:
Early Tuesday, under the cover of night, painters quietly blanketed much of the walls of 5Pointz with whitewash, erasing the work of hundreds and seemingly putting the final nail in the long battle between the building’s owners, who plan to erect luxury apartments, and the artists who fought to save it.
The property owner wanted to avoid a confrontation as the demolition loomed. He also claims that painting over the artwork was the humane thing to do, since watching the graffiti get destroyed would be "torture." (The truly sad part is now people will have to watch "Now You See Me" to see 5Pointz in its full splendor.)

Here's what's interesting: The owner has agreed to put up a 60-foot wall for new graffiti after he erects the new condos.

I wonder if this sort arrangement has been attempted before. Will there be restrictions on what kind of artwork can be painted on the wall? What if someone paints obscene images, profanity or swastikas?

It's now relatively common for construction projects to be required to include some public art in their plans. In downtown San Francisco, developers of projects with more than 25,000 square feet have to spend at least 1 percent of their budget on art that can be viewed by anyone. (So, they can't just hang a Kandinsky in the boardroom.) Even Berkeley's new animal shelter was recently criticized for not having enough of a public-art component.

Still, I'm not aware of a building making its public art this...well, public.

UPDATE: There was an informative post about 5Pointz on the Gothamist blog that answered some of my questions.

5Pointz was curated by Jonathan Cohen, who is known by his tag, “Meres One.” Under his agreement with the building owner, "a) the works of visual art were not to be political; b) they were to contain nothing religious; and c) no pornography was allowed."

He'll continue that arrangement with the new graffiti wall, and artists will have to come to him for permits (just as they did with 5Pointz).

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

BuboBlog Reviews 'Man of Steel'

We finally saw "Man of Steel" over the weekend. I was hoping to catch this one in the theaters, though I had my misgivings about it from the start. The movie has the distinction of being based on a Christopher Nolan story, but it was directed by Zack Snyder (the man who fumbled the "Watchmen" adaptation).

The film was meant to be a reboot of the Superman franchise. And yet the previous installment, "Superman Returns" (2006), actually had a much higher Rotten Tomatoes rating. It seems odd to "reboot" an OK/decent movie with a bad one, but I'll never understand how Hollywood works.

After seeing the trailer of this film, my main worry was they hadn't created a super-hero movie — they had created an alien-invasion movie. Turns out, everything I was concerned about was worse than I imagined.

In "Man of Steel," Superman doesn't get a chance to become Superman. Instead, General Zod and the few remaining Krypton survivors show up immediately and threaten to destroy the Earth. They demand to have Kal-El surrendered to them. At that point no one on Earth even knows who Superman (or Kal-El) is, so there are no concerns about giving him up. How is that the right vibe for a Superman movie?

The whole experience feels disjointed — almost as if a film student were asked to reimagine Superman, but with a $225 million budget — and the movie never finds its footing.

I like how young Clark Kent is presented as a kid with autism trying to cope with his powers (he senses everything at once and struggles to deal with it). But "Man of Steel" merely touches on interesting topics, rather than exploring them.

I suppose in this mythology, the idea is to get the whole Superman-is-an-alien storyline out of the way in the first movie. That way, the sequels can be free to depict him as an all-American boy without distraction. (I assume Lex Luthor shows up at some point.)

Clark only gets his job at the Daily Planet at the end of the movie. (In this universe, a newspaper stringer is still afforded a desk.) But that's no way to introduce Superman. The fact that he's an alien is merely an explanation of his powers — it's not who he is. A proper origin story should focus on his connection to Earth, not Krypton.

Spoiler alert: Superman also kills someone in this film, and that is not okay. A review in Entertainment Weekly does a pretty good job explaining why that's a no-no.

So ultimately, the film fails. Not because it tried to hew too close to the Hollywood formula, but because it took chances that didn't pan out. I admire the effort, but can't admire the result.

BuboBlog Rating: 2 asterisks (out of 4).

Monday, November 18, 2013

When Photoshopped Images Are Just Plain Confusing

The movie "Guilt Trip" came out a long time ago, but its poster still features prominently at our local video store.

Every time we walk by, Elliot likes to stop and look at all the movies being advertised. He asks me what each one is about, forcing me to give one-sentence reviews suitable for a 5-year-old. ("The Hobbit": "Little people go on an adventure.")

With "Guilt Trip," I tell him it's about a man who drives around in a car with his mother.

The thing is, the woman in the picture doesn't look like she could be his mother. They appear to be the same age.

In real life, Barbra Streisand is 71 and Seth Rogen is 31. That means she's actually a bit old to be playing his mother. Photoshop has erased a 40-year difference.

I understand Hollywood's desire to make its stars look youthful, but is there no concern for how this poster could confuse 5-year-olds?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Hey, That's My Line

Back in May, I suggested the perfect thing to say to Chicagoans claiming the Willis Tower is taller than the new One World Trade Center.

Apparently it was such a good line, Jon Stewart used it on the Daily Show this week.

(I also kind of agree with him on Chicago pizza.)

Friday, November 08, 2013

'Baby's Baby Is Pregnant Too'

I came across this list of "25 Horrifying Toys to Traumatize Small Children," which very much lives up to its name.

The pregnant fetus is a joke, right? Tell me no one actually sold this product.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Here's Another Thing Red and Blue States Agree On

While discussing the popularity of the name Jennifer in the 1970s, I remarked that it was the last time all 50 states in America agreed on something.

I was wrong. Even in 2013, when our political differences cause legislative gridlock and threaten civil discourse, we all like the same pizza topping: pepperoni.

Business Insider published the map above (which sadly isn't an animated GIF but is still pretty powerful).

Even within this unified front, through, there are varying degrees of enthusiasm: "Forty percent of people in Georgia ordered pepperoni on their pizzas, while only about 20 percent of those in New York and California did. About 14 percent of New Yorkers ordered mushrooms, while only 8 percent of customers in Tennessee did."

Still, maybe our shared pepperoni support can help us heal as a nation — or at least all get fat together.