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Not a review of Patton Oswalt’s Zombie Spaceship Wasteland

April 8, 2011

A friend/reader recently asked me why my “reviews” appear to primarily serve as thinly-veiled justifications for elaboration about my thoughts on other issues within (un)popular culture. I’ll admit that creating a “proper” review requires a level of objectivity towards the subject matter that I am just unable to provide. When discussing the music or films I truly love, it is extremely difficult to not fall into the pattern of repeating multiple variations of “Here are the reasons this is so awesome!” (With the stable of Brown Tweeders that do write actual reviews, fear not – you will not be left in the dark). For proper context, I would advise that you read one of my favorite music writers in the past half-century, a humble gent named Jack Sparks, who offered yearly updates to his definitive list of the 100 Greatest Country songs of All-Time. While his descriptions of Johnny Cash or Emmylou Harris are as informative as you could ask of the template, he’s just as likely to merely exclaim his love for the song in question. Damn, those lists were so awesome.

A few days after the calendar flipped to the first post-Reagan year that could not be utilized as a frame for sunglasses, Patton Oswalt released Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, his daring Judy Blume-inspired foray into G. Pheldon Blampleworth’s Warriors of the Spider-Jewel series. I’d love to critically analyze this tome, but there’s that whole objectivity thing again. Anyhow, there are many fine reviews within your availability, thanks to wonderful services like WebCrawler, Alta-Vista and CompuServe’s “Search” bar. For those who prefer the audiobook, “Ticket Booth” breaks down his experiences as a cinema employee by their connection to the lyrics of R.E.M.’s Fables of the Reconstruction. And you won’t believe who reads the lyrics (hint – Philomath is where he goes). There’s also a chapter that explains the very title. For all you readers, Patton has carefully transcribed the audiobook, allowing access in printed form.

As a podcast nerd, I’ve noticed ol’ PO pleasantly popping up all over the podcastoshpere, out past the Kuiper Belt, towards the Inner Oort Cloud, somewhere near that alleged 9th or 10th Planet (Pluto 4-lyfe). Unlike the traditional publicity appearances, Patton is more interested in discussing the absurdities of modern existence than simply plugging his book. Hell, if the hosts weren’t throwing it out there as the episodes reached their conclusion, it mightn’t have been mentioned at all.

For Patton, it appears that his stream-of-consciousness podcast comments are awesome jumping-off points for serious conversational examination. Let’s look at a few of these from recent ‘casts:

Comedy Death Ray (late December 2010, with guest Rob Huebel).

When talking about fictional terrorist attacks:

“I was at a Bubba Gump shrimp restaurant, and as you know Scott (Auckerman), they were hit the hardest.”

Now, I loved Forrest Gump, despite some of the heavy-handedness and super-obvious soundtrack choices (Geez – the Doobie Brothers “It Keeps You Runnin’” during the scene where he just runs a shiteload? I don’t get it.) But Bubba Gump Shrimp Company? I get the idea of a corporate conglomerate seeking to capitalize upon synergy with a popular film. But 17 years later, it still exists, along with hundreds of thousands of people who’ve not only frequented the establishment, but have actual stories to tell. Marriage proposals and major life decisions were made at a freaking Bubba Gump Shrimp Company restaurant. I truly hope that all parties were seated at the fake “outdoor patio” that drape every shopping mall’s interior.

So if BGSC can last, assuming Viacom hasn’t kept it afloat when customers moved on to the next movie-café tie-in, then what other combos are waiting to be exploited?

“Archie’s” – License to Drive. In my eyes, the best of Googie-era architecture with Jackrabbit Slim’s-style rowdiness, but no ID required(?). Brilliant how the “triumphant” scene, after finally reaching this mythical place, is interrupted by the fuzz. The mystery still awaits…

“Crazy Bob’s Stereo” – Ruthless People. Tell me this would not work in our post-post-irony environment: “This is the Dominator X-10. Thirty inches of thigh-slapping, blood-pumping, nuclear brain damage! So what if it’s as big as a Subaru and costs just as much? This is going to be with you the REST OF YOUR LIFE! And when you die, THEY CAN BURY YOU IN IT!”

“Rug Munchers” – Mallrats. We are never informed of exactly what product is being hawked at ‘Munchers (as their most loyal customers call the chain). I have my suspicions, but the internet is just not the place for wild-eyed conspiracy theories.

Totally Laime Podcast (January 30, 2011).

Comedy writer Elizabeth Laime explains her show as the place where “we ask the most important people the least important questions.” When waxing on how “acoustic” coffee-brewing paraphernalia looks like what Steampunks would use to manufacture crystal meth, Patton asks if we are heading to a “reality television shame-based economy”

“Parents will breed a child specifically to see how ridiculous they can be. Thirty years ago, we were like ‘My son is on the fast track to Harvard’, but soon we’ll have ‘My oldest daughter is a coke addict and a hoarder, and spent the last two summers a t ‘Hoarder Camp’, and – I don’t mean to brag – but my other daughter is the first to appear on both 16 and Pregnant AND Celebrity Rehab.’

And now, ‘Celebrity’ merely means ‘has been on TV.’

Way too much to unpack here. Patton adds that at one time, we only bestowed this status on people that created something, or performed at some high level. According to the revisionist-history definition of ‘celebrity’, we’re a few years away from an esteemed songwriter being clumped in with the unbalanced character frantically waving his arms behind sportscasters. As for the “reality shame-based economy”, I’m afraid we’re already there. ‘Celebrity’ reality shows are the entertainment industry’s version of the Designated Hitter, and very few current luminaries will dare criticize it, for they know that 20 years may relegate something like Dancing With the Stars as their final grope for the public’s attention.

The Longshot Podcast (February 7, 2011).

Comedy nerds are likely to be familiar with the hosts (Eddie Pepitone, Sean Conroy, Jamie Flam, and Amber Kenny). This episode centers on Tipping, but degenerates into hilarious Beard Talk.

At one of the hosts, Patton says “You look like Leo Tolstoy if he was a professional wrestler.”

This leads the crew to postulate on Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment’s latest marketing ploy, creating characters based on past literary greats, with the secondary goal of increasing literacy within the youth of America.

“Did you see Ernest Hemingway punch out Wallace Stevens? That’s what he gets for stealing Willa Cather from him.”

OK, WWE is not actually doing this. But what if McMahon replaced Goldberg, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Mankind with bookish Faces and Heels alike? (yes, I’ve been away from wrestling for a while). Here are some recommendations:

J.R.R. “Hulk” Tolkien

“Stone Cold” Jane Austen

“Hacksaw” Jim Fennimore Cooper

“The Thoreau Bad-Ass” Henry David Thoreau

Bret “The Hit Man” Harte (almost too easy)

Thomas “The Decker” Dekker


“The Lovely” Elizabeth Harriet Browning

“The Rock and Roll Express” Emily and Charlotte Bronte

  1. April 10, 2011 5:21 pm

    Although the analysis is interesting, I’d appreciate you not publicizing Oswalt (or, should you choose to, then please also publicize me – to keep the playing field level in our Google-off), he’s difficult enough to defeat already. Many thanks.


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