Carl Weathers is Here; Wish You Were Beautiful.

The central thesis of this visual diary is that every time Carl Weathers appears in Arrested Development, I am amused to a point of uncontrollable giddiness. I use images as evidence. I’m not only referring to the brilliant construction of pseudo “Carl Weathers,” a good-natured but impossibly cheap mentor to Tobias Funke whose most useful professional tip is how to milk craft services for all their worth on a Showtime movie called Hot Ice starring Anne Archer (“never once touched my per diem). That’s reductive. Every time Carl Weathers appears on screen, even if he is just listening to someone talk, it’s one of my favorite moments in the history of the art; its a lot better than all that Brunelleschi’s Dome bullcrap, for instance. From the second he appears walking into a Super Shuttle carrying an umbrella even though it is raining, Apollo Creed reinvents himself as a guy who seemed at once proud of his success and gloriously willing to make fun of himself. As Tobias explains he does not have the training to be an actor, Carl’s eyes move to the logical side of his brain. In addition to scheming against the airlines via a scheme that the wrong guy discovered, Weathers now realizes how he can dupe this Nelly out of 1100 dollars.

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Does Carl Weathers like ham? No, he loves it.

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As he watches one of George Sr.’s “idiot video tapes,” his skeptical yet earnest curiosity makes for one of my favorite shots of the entire series. Just look at him, ya’ll.

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“Oh hey Buster!”

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According to the work of the legendary acting coach Sanford Meisner that I did not read and know very little about, “joy” is one of the hardest emotions to express naturally as an actor. To that, I give you Carl Weathers explaining his recent realization that Burger King lets you refill your soda as many times as you want.

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As a director, Carl manages to balance the colossal ego and relenting desire for verisimilitude of Tobias with looks like these

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Let me be clear. No one is making fun of Carl Weathers. Weathers brief yet memorable (and in my case, sadly, life-changing) appearances in Arrested Development show an untapped comic potential that he was never able to explore. With the exception of Happy Gilmore, where he’s wonderful, Weathers never got the ability to show the clear gifts of comic timing and reaction that he shows every second he’s on screen. The man had a fine career: as Apollo Creed, he was the perfect fictionalized and more conventional version of Muhammad Ali. In Predator, he’s the ideal institutional foil to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mercenary. But whenever I need to feel better about the world, I watch one of the three episodes (“Public Relations,” “Marta Complex,” “Motherboy XXX”) in which Carl is featured. I can’t wait to see him in the reboot. Let us now praise Carl Weathers.

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CHADS AND ROTHBERGS

In honor of Maryland releasing fall student evaluations, a Facebook friend referenced one of the truly great Onion articles: Professor Deeply Hurt By Student Evaluations.

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First, as an aside: while the Onion remains the high watermark of internet comedy and the standard to which all internet humor should aspire, there’s something to be said about these early articles (this one is from 1996) and the way they are truly classics of comedy. Since its grown in popularity from the alt-weekly format, the Onion has been able to hire more writers who can create more content. But there’s something really remarkable about the way timeless articles like this endure and become relevant with each passing year. But that’s another topic: I just want to point out that the Onion is so easy to access and share that we’ve become spoiled by its brilliance.

ANYWAY: I’ve always felt that this is one of the best satires of higher “education” that I’ve ever read. It’s a perfect example of the definition of satire as dead arch-genius Jonathan Swift saw it, as a “a kind of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own.”

My first instinct was to see it as a joke on dopey freshmen like “Chad,” who claims the class is totally “boring” and “totally lame.” Chad is a stereotype because he’s entirely real. Bros like him line up to fulfill core requirements and couldn’t care less that their teacher is an expert on the Marxist roots of Homoerotic Mysticism in Augustine. Class is an unfortunate diversion between bong hits and football games. Chad seemingly represents the sad state of the contemporary undergraduate, which is as true in 1996 (when I was a college freshman) as it is today. From that perspective, this a classic case of pearls before swine, of the value of education and the damning apathy and sloth of Generation X, Y, or Z. When confronted by an intellectual giant like Leon Rothberg, Chad prefers to read “the boozer brothers.” In 2012, he would be lost on the Iphone his parents bought him as a high school graduation present. The tenured professors like Leon Rothberg probably have this article tacked up on their office walls. And that, frankly, is the really trenchant point of the satire.

Because here’s what Leon Rothberg has to say about Chad’s boredom:

“The needs of my first-year students come well before any prestigious personal awards offered to me by international academic assemblies,” Rothberg said. “After all, I have dedicated my life to the pursuit of knowledge, and to imparting it to those who are coming after me. I know that’s why these students are here, so I owe it to them.”

That’s a lovely sentiment, but we might add to the end of it the popular phrase that’s taken Twitter by storm: “said no professor ever.” The idea that Leon Rothberg would be concerned about what Chad thinks about his ideas and his pedagogy is the biggest joke of the article. In its satirical inversion, its a grim picture of academia that I don’t agree with, but that I often encounter. In this representation of tenured scholars earnestly caring about students more than their own scholarship and reputations, the Onion clearly implies the opposite. At the highest level of academia, professors could not care less what their students think about them because the power dynamics are so secure. The real Leon Rothbergs of the world would never know about Chad’s indifference to him, because he would protected by a phalanx of mediating TAs, but he would probably assume that all the “bored” students were to blame. As I say, as an aspiring scholar, I disagree with this binary because I’ve known some brilliant, highly-respected scholars who care deeply about the fate and intellectual life of every one of their students. But if you love this article, you have to admit that the Onion is equally if not more dismissive of the “recipient of the 1993 Jean-Foucault Lacan award from the University of Chicago for his paper on public/private feminist deconstructive discourse in the early narratives of Catherine of Siena.” Sounds like a hoot!

I think we can use missives like this to have a lengthier discussion about what students want and what teachers are willing to give them. And of course, to broach the powerful and thorny issue of assessment. Or is this article a time capsule of what academia was like in the middle-1990s? After all, this piece would have come out only a year after Barr and Tagg’s published and advocated their influential “Learning Paradigm.” We’ve since seen many moves to “democratize” education and to increase student involvement by shifting away from models of assessment that would measure the monologic and monolithic (and increasingly neolithic) “Instruction paradigm.” The Onion article concludes by seemingly putting it back on Chad, as a concerned Dean (haha?) insists that “Chad must be entertained at all costs.” Yet at this point, the joke is prescient: perhaps as an outsiders snide analysis at the way the academy has integrated technology,  popular culture, and more student-centered directives. (And on that note, also see this Onion article). Since Chad doesn’t want to listen to a lecture on the feminine form in Augustine, maybe he’ll be more interested in a class on video games. Many engaged and progressive participants in academia vehemently disagree with this sentiment, but Chad’s parents probably don’t: they’d rather him do the heavy lifting of Great Expectations than be taught about narrative and agency in Grand Theft Auto. How would this article be written today?

I invite even more of a close reading of this article than I’m doing here. Its myriad satirical perspectives are a starting point for the way we think about the relationship between teacher and the student, and student and the academy. Its also frigging hilarious.

The Most Interesting Person in This Article is not Lindsay Lohan

Yeesh, this New York Times article detailing Lindsay Lohan’s bad behavior is making the rounds:

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The takeaway has been the latest instance in Lohan’s never-ending meltdown, but I’m more interested in the bald, bespectacled guy on the right. That’s Paul Schrader, the co-star of this article. Schrader is kind of a legend: he wrote Taxi Driver, surely one of the greatest screenplays ever realized on film. This led him to become a director of lurid but highly personal movies, the best-received of which was his 1997 film Affliction. I’m a big fan of American Gigiloa movie that helps create the detached, quiet cool early-80s aesthetic that would reach its zenith with Miami Vice. But Schrader has had a fascinatingly uneven career – his filmography is littered with movies that barely saw the light of day (Forever Mine, anyone?), and an actual movie called Light of Day in which Michael J. Fox and Joan Jett play brother/sister rockers. He directed what is currently the definitive version of the Patty Hearst story, and yet despite that subject material the film made almost no impact.

Many of Schrader’s movies are so dark that they’re unmarketable. His take is so serious that he never developed into a cult director. Weirdly, Schrader also sought out highly commercial projects like the aforementioned movie in the midst of Michael J. Fox’s dark period. In addition, he took on an Elmore Leonard novel that aimed to capitalize on the success of Get Shorty and resulted in a movie called Touch starring Skeet Ulrich as a faith healer who has the stigmata (or something) that I saw and that I’ve subsequently never heard anyone talk about ever. And as the NYT article notes, his excursion into the Exorcist prequel ended in disaster.

Like Peter Bogdanovich, Schrader is a brilliant and obsessive film historian. But it’s disappointing to see how far he’s fallen, and how desperately he wants to come back. I imagine the average reader of this article has never heard of him, and that’s fair: I haven’t thought about him since the Exorcist broo-ha-ha. So in addition to reading about Lindsay Lohan planning a caper to exit a moving car so that they she can eat lunch, you can follow the continuing adventures of one of America’s weirdest auteurs.

Am I “On My Own” Here?

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I suppose that we like the middlebrow until it aspires to become something higher than that, and then if it fails, teeth gnash and the claws come out. Hence the critics who are taking apart Les Miserables, by no means the best movie of the year, but a handsome piece of star-studded entertainment that continues to warm audiences.

Seriously, my Facebook friends love this movie, although they didn’t like Russell Crowe’s voice; that’s the closest thing to a consensus criticism between fuddy-duddys who write for the New Yorker and smart people in Memphis who only go see about three or four movies a year. My wife and I liked it. I liked the Broadway version and have seen it three times. The stage show, a mix of inventive minimalism, Christian redemption, and songs that rise without pretense toward the rafters . . . you’re going to like it or you’re not going to like it. Les Miserables post 1987 isn’t great art and it’s not even pop art, but it’s the kind of spectacle that demands its right to exist apologetically even as its sure the peanut gallery is going to make fun of its earnestness.

But Walter Chaw and David Denby hated it. Hated it! Denby, the man who is mostly responsible for making us think Crash was a good film, probably gave a raspberry to all the crying fellow movie- goers and then chastised them for their choice of scarf. As his amazingly condescending title “There’s Still Hope for People Who Like Les Mis” indicates, the problem lies more with the movie itself:

Didn’t any of my neighbors notice how absurdly gloomy and dolorous the story was? How the dominant blue-gray coloring was like a pall hanging over the material? How the absence of dancing concentrated all the audience’s pleasure on the threadbare songs? How tiresome a reverse fashion show the movie provided in rags, carbuncles, gimpy legs, and bad teeth? How awkward the staging was? How strange to have actors singing right into the camera, a normally benign recording instrument, which seems, in scene after scene, bent on performing a tonsillectomy?

Of course they didn’t. They were too busy being moved by this piece of crap that you saw right through! They found it redemptive and uplifting, while you kept thinking about how much better THE STAR IS BORN is. One of Denby’s favorite movies of 2011 was the dreadfully conventional Clint Eastwood-directed biopic J.Edgar, a movie that played fast and loose with the facts and still managed to be “gloomy and dolorous” about one of the most interesting and controversial people of the 20th century. But what jumped out with Les Mis at Denby was the thought that, heavens to Betsy, people actually like this garbage![1] The solution is an education in musical and opera by David Denby: see The Band Wagon, obvs, a movie about a the rise and fall of a musical comedy star that is TOTALLY comparable to the spectacle of Les Mis. Denby’s book is called Do The Movies Have a Future, and while I haven’t read it, this profile indicates that it’s in character with the misleadingly titled “There’s Still Hope . . .” (because all signs point to no): Lawrence of Arabia won’t get made because audiences prefer the moral murkiness of Christopher Nolan.

I like Walter Chaw a lot better than Denby. The guy can turn a phrase, and when he likes a movie he gives you more reasons to like it. But like Denby, his review of Les Mis points out things that are problems that aren’t really problems. He accuses director Tom Hooper of having “fanatical vision” when the director sticks so strictly to the stage musical that its almost as though he’s afraid of the backlash; he also has a “myopic hemiagnosia,” which is what I think one of my parents’ dogs got when he chewed his food too fast despite our stern instructions for him to slow down. And like Denby, he’s frustrated that people like this so much. Don’t they see what a crime it is that you would introduce characters after the 2nd act transition? Syd Field would never let you get away with that junk! The film doesn’t “understand itself as an artifact,” which is a wonderfully curt way to say that it fails without saying why it fails. I suppose that Chaw would have liked some filmmaker to come along and undercut the seriousness and high drama, but that’s what people like about it and this is a document that captivates audiences who see it first time twenty-five years after it was written. And I agree that the love triangle is the least interesting aspect, and produces mostly the least interesting moments, of the musical, but it also allows for newcomer Samantha Barks to belt out the transcendent “On My Own” and steal the second half of the show. But Chaw’s last line is what’s most instructive for our purposes:

 Les Misérables is doomed to polarize the half that loved it before they saw it and the half dragged there that spent the last few hours of it surreptitiously checking the time. Just like the good old days.

I think the first part of the first sentence needs to be rewritten for clarity, but the “half dragged there” includes critics I think, who would rather not even watch the movies that people shouldn’t like but do anyway.

Here’s the briefest review possible that I won’t really qualify, because it want to open it to a larger conversation. I thought Russell Crowe was fine, although for some of his numbers I wish they had gone all Lina Lamont on him. The way he alternately cowers and tries to dominate Valjean is what makes Javert such a suicidal conundrum: he believes in a rigid old testament morality even though he’s always troubled by how much wiggle room there actually is. The guy playing Marius has a nice voice, but it seems like he should be getting ready for JV soccer practice, not leading a student rebellion. I wish it wasn’t raining when “On My Own” happened, because we already get that Eponine is realizing what she’s excluded from, and she would express this perfectly well with dry hair and without a wind machine. Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter are wonderful performers, and they’re even shadier than your average stage Thenadiers even if they can’t dance as well. Hooper’s lack of an auteur’s vision, which Chaw seems to at once locate and reject (you can’t do that; it’s either there or it’s not), is a smart choice. As Roger Ebert said about Titanic, “you don’t choose the most expensive film ever made as your opportunity to reinvent the wheel.” Similarly, you don’t take something as iconic and enduring as Les Mis in its first ever film adaptation and make it a parallel with Occupy Wall Street or something. Hooper’s direction is admirable because you always know what’s going on even when he’s dealing with a pretty big box of tinkertoys, which leads to diagnosis of a severe lack of vision. But overall I found the movie to be an uncomplicated spectacle that will be damningly overrated in what has been a resurgent film year, just like every award winner since 2007.[2] That it’s “handsome” and “moving” which shouldn’t be taken as a criticism, but it also indicates that Les Mis is not the greatest use of the cinema to date.  Watching Les Mis on stage, and you get caught up in the pitiful and often unrealistic longings of the poor yet hopeful, and you’re delighted when it all comes together.  The movie doesn’t pull that off as well, but we’re not really talking about movie musicals being better their original Broadway runs. It’s not as good a movie, for instance, as either Skyfall or Your Sister’s Sister, which are probably my two favorite films of the year. But it’s certainly not worthy of the derision it’s been getting.

If anything, I had the biggest issue with Jackman as Valjean. If I’d never seen the musical live, I probably would have been fine with him. But every time I’ve seen it, Valjean is a burly guy who threatens to the break the stage lights with his voice. When I was in high school, my parents and I went to see it on Broadway. At first we were disappointed, because Craig Schulman – perhaps the most best Valjean ever – was out for the evening. Instead, a guy named Rob Evan played him. After two minutes, I wasn’t disappointed anymore. I don’t think Jackman is that magnetic or physically empowering to play the part. While I’ve only seen him in recordings, I imagine he’s better at the kind of playfulness of something like Oklahoma where he gets to wink a lot. Jackman has always been more Roger Moore than Sean Connery: even as Wolverine, he’s less intense than he is cocky, more charismatic than vulnerable. As such, he doesn’t really the capture the way Valjean’s idealism and integrity are part of his charisma. Onstage, when Valjean is dressed as the mayor or as a commoner, he always seems like he’s about to burst of that costume, reminding us of his background. Jackman seems more comfortable in the costumes.

More than likely, as in the case with the startling success of Chicago, we’ll get some mediocre adaptations of beloved shows (Phantom, Rent, and The Producers all came out at roughly the same time). But I hope we also get something like Dreamgirls, which was curiously underrated even though everyone in it was awesome. I agree with Denby on one point: this movie should push its audiences to go see old musicals. They’re wonderful. If you’ve never seen Singing in the Rain, I envy the experience you’re going to have. Same with something trivial yet gleefully fun like Daddy Long Legs. But I don’t think the success of Les Mis means we all have to go to a high culture version of Ned Flanders’ re-neducation program.

This may be something I’ll get to later, but I’d like to look at this response in connection with discourse surrounding the New York Times’ savage takedown of Guy Fieri’s Times Square feedbag. It’s of a piece with my earlier post about Girls. Whatever the case, I’m obsessed with critics: not so much proving them wrong, but wondering why they do what they do at all.

[1] I’m not asking Denby to be more consistent. That’s not something critics do or are asked to do. I’m just asking not to be an ass.

[2] 2008: Slumdog Millionaire. 2009: The Hurt Locker. 2010: The King’s Speech. 2011: The Artist. Each of these are fine movies that were overcelebrated to the point that future audiences will feel like me when I watch something like Out of Africa: “really! This was the best movie of the year?! What about ________?”

 

I AM A_LION__ HEAR ME ROAR, CAST MEMBERS OF MODERN FAMILY

In which I pretended to be a Lion, and caught the eye of the director of Looper.

For the past month or so, I have pretended to be a lion on Twitter in order to amass a large number of followers and become a momentary internet sensation and thus the most famous person in the world. On these highly immodest goals, I failed spectacularly. Nonetheless, my narrative might seem impressive to people who don’t understand how the internet works. I managed to draw the attention of a handful of minor celebrities and the appreciation of a few people who found what I was doing mildly amusing and forgettable. However, since I only ended with less than 50 or so followers, and no one on Yahoo! News wrote a story about me, I must only live to fight again in this very, very stupid way.

I began with a simple hunch: people like lions. I also began with a highly speculative and supremely uninformed hypothesis: that only the stupidest of parody accounts become wildly popular. Therefore, I decided to Roar at people and hope that they retweeted me. That’s it. It’s even dumber than you imagined.

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Though the length of the roar and the number of exclamation points would vary, all my communications would take the form of roars. Nothing coy or silly like, “Tired of lion around all day! :<>” No references to The Lion King. I would not find a zebra or a gazelle and digitally chase them. I wasn’t going to get in a pissing contest with Tony the Tiger. My ambition was to become immensely popular on Twitter by doing as little as possible. My enduring hope was that my creative bankruptcy and general laziness would be taken for high concept cleverness and that I would have one million followers by lunchtime.

To a small but slightly significant degree I was right about the yuk value of a lion using social media to make his or her presence known. I decided to target known quantitites, mostly those who had “verified accounts” and over 1000 followers. The less globally known celebrities – local news anchors, stand-up comics, and radio personalities, for instance – would probably pass me along to their larger-than-average audience. My first hit was some dude who had something to do with the BBC:

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Next, one of the bimbos dedicated to selling misogynist body spray responded:

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Slim Pickins’, I realize. No one was going to call me the best thing in the history of the internet because one of the bozos who get paid to tweet for Axe retweeted me. But I had a little more luck the next day:

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If you aren’t a film buff or an academic, these names aren’t exactly “Beyonce” or even “Jerry Mathers as the Beaver.” But Ian Bogost is a superstar among critics: a brilliant thinker who has changed the way we think about video games. Rian Johnson directed Looper, which captured the Fall 2012 zeitgeist more than any other movie. Brad Bird directed for The Simpsons and most recently directed The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. When these three luminaries retweeted me, their audiences retweeted me as well. At this point, I was thinking: my new address would be easy street. Douglas Rushkoff would call to interview me and we would have a lucid conversation about the nature of online communities. I would become friends with Will Ferrell. Obviously, this didn’t happen, but I will now describe the minimal successes I had, one of which was confounding because it came so close to fulfilling my ridiculous, distracting ambitions.

First, if I were asked to lecture a group of wide-eyed social media would-bes, I would tell them to target a twitter force who will transmit you to his or her mass audience. My white whale was Justin Bieber, or at least the social media arm of his empire. Since Bieber is basically a kid, I thought he would find the idea of a roaring Lion on Twitter amusing enough to briefly mention. From there, his 4+ million followers would give me their endorsement, because they are teenagers, and because they think lions are funny. However, neither Bieber or the person who decides what to tweet for him recognized my activity. That’s the key, kids [kids feverishly take notes on their Newtons]:  becoming an internet phenomenon is all about kairos, being noticed at the right moment. I’m still convinced that if Biebs, Rhianna, or Taylor Swift had heard me ROOARRR!!!!!, as opposed to my transmission becoming lost in a sea of spam and praise, I would be making arrangements to build a flying mansion.

Here are some things that happened

  • Two of the young stars of Modern Family found me funny

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So did nice guy character Peter Gallagher, who seems to have a genuine love of lions:

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Also: some soccer player, some stand-up comic, Joe Mantegna’s daughter, and fanboy extraordinaire Harry Knowles. Hyland particularly opened me up to a wider audience, but not enough to make a sensation.

  • Normal people loved me

I figured this would happen. People would hit me up to roar at them, and I delighted them by typing ROOOARRRRRR into the a small box on my computer screen.

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Even if Alice Cooper or Anthony Weiner didn’t retweet me, people would retweet me retweeting them. Also, roaring at Kevin Spacey led to some intense and amusing theorization by Uruguayan intellectuals:

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Since I don’t know Spanish, I’m led to believe by Google translate that this exchange has something to do with the fleeting nature of communication and the symbolic possibility that a lion using social media is evidence that the apocalypse is upon us.

  • Here is the one that came very close to the fourteen seconds of fame I so furiously desired:

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JIM FREAKING GAFFIGAN! Social media superstar and big-time stand-up comedian! The most famous person to ever make a joke about Hot Pockets! However, you can see what happens: Gaffigan only favorited my tweet, which means that it doesn’t show up in his feed. Whenever Gaffigan tweets about his lunch, 5 gazillion people retweet him. Had the Gaffmeister retweeted me, I’m sure that you’d all be talking about those few minutes in Mid-December when a digital nation was captivated by the online adventures of the king of the jungle. But since the Great Gaffigan only favorited me, this tantalizing door of internet celebrity closed as soon as it opened. As it shut, forever, I could see that rotund weirdo who does gangnam style sipping Pinot Grigio with the “Charlie bit my finger” kid on streets of internet gold. And then the angelic hue was replaced by my wife asking me why I wasn’t spending more time on my dissertation.

What would I do differently? I wouldn’t roar so much. A typically day of activity featured me roaring at about thirty celebrities a minute – remember that I chose this idea because it required so little effort. I needed to be more patient: maybe three roars a day at carefully chosen subjects. Also, I wouldn’t tell my wife about it, because she made fun of me mercilessly for doing this.

And what did I learn? Nothing. I learned absolutely nothing. I suppose this makes it a metaphor for the internet, but even that seems too valuable a conclusion to result from pretending to be a digital lion.