And now, Scary-Crayon, Alligator Juice, and Pop Arena present...
The Best and Worst of 2006
by: Wes

We're already a good 24th into 2007, but -- at least if you're like me -- 2006 still weighs heavily on your mind. Okay, maybe it doesn't weigh heavily on my mind, but I do have to hesitate when writing dates to make sure that I don't mistakenly write "'06". I still have food in my fridge and pantry that I bought last year. And I still have articles to write based on things that I picked up, saw, or otherwise experienced before January 1 roughly two weeks ago. In fact, the article that you are reading right now falls into that very category, as we'll be looking at some of the best and worst products and media from the previous year. I'm also pleased to say that I'll be joined by two fellow webmasters to bring you a triple-team-up of sorts: for auld lang syne, Molly of Alligator Juice and Greg of Pop Arena have also contributed their insights regarding various items of yesteryear. 2006 was also a year that saw the end of quite a few E/N sites, so I'm glad that they're still providing amusement for the niche masses by writing articles about things that have been largely forgotten or ignored by the majority of the free world.

Before we begin, however, an explanatory word. You may notice that my list categories are filled with qualifiers -- for instance, instead of referring to "Torchwood" as being "the worst show of 2006," I call it "the worst show that I watched regularly." Why? Well, I've no doubt that there are worse shows (read: "Smallville"), but I did not watch those shows on a regular basis because they were pretty fucking terrible. Similarly, while I don't have a "best show of 2006" category, I wouldn't be able to give it to "Heroes" because while I caught the episodes after their original airdates, I couldn't say that I watched it regularly -- by which I mean when they originally aired -- because I caught the reruns. Instead, I'd write "best show that I watched late" or something. And you might think that I'm being incredibly self-centered when I explicitly note that I watched the show -- as opposed to someone else -- but I just want to make absolutely certain that it's clear that my choices are only limited to my experiences. There's no sense in criticizing me for saying that "Torchwood" was worse than some other program that is not the four programs listed below, because I probably did not watch that program. You can, however, criticize me for saying that Tideland is worse than Ultraviolet. UV sucked, but it was definitely an attractive movie.

That said, here is Scary-Crayon's contribution to this triple-threat E/N treatment of the previous year. Hopefully you'll laugh, hopefully you'll think, hopefully you'll shake your fist in anger. Hopefully you'll come away from the piece with fond memories of 2006, yet also a modicum of disgust and a desire to see 2007 surpass it in every way. Hopefully you'll come away with a desire to try out some of the products that you might have missed last year. And hopefully -- hopefully -- you'll come away with a better understanding of your own existence and the meaning of life. Okay, that last one probably ain't gonna happen. But we can always hope, right? ;P

THE WORST show that i watched regularly:

Okay, so I didn't watch all that many shows regularly this year. Not counting DVDs and anime, I can only think of four off the top of my head -- "South Park", "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" (and "TMNT Fast Forward"), "Doctor Who", and "Torchwood" -- with the latter show easily taking the prize for the worst of the lot. Though the program ultimately has more in common with "X-Files", Torchwood is basically the United Kingdom's version of the Men in Black. Founded in 1879 by Queen Victoria, the Torchwood Institute is a secret British organization dedicated to "tracking down alien life and arming the human race for the future." Given that Torchwood is supposedly outside the government and beyond the police, one would expect it to be an impressive operation. One would expect the hand-picked black ops agents that comprise the group's members to be highly trained and capable individuals. In short, one would expect the organization to be something that Team Torchwood clearly is not.

Outside the government, beyond the police, incompetent as hell.What-the-fuck ever.

When I describe the incompetence of the team's members to people, they frequently assume that Torchwood is supposed to be an outright comedy. It's not, though -- it's mostly just fucking stupid. Throughout the course of the series, every member of the team commits multiple firing offenses, from intentionally allowing aliens and killer cyborgs to infiltrate the Torchwood base (-ment, that is, since it's pretty much a crumbling underground bunker) to smuggling prisoners out of the base to having sex with their co-workers in the base to using the base as a site for tear-filled pity parties after they confess to cheating on their lovers and then use Torchwood technology to erase their lovers' memories. During one mission, in which the team is investigating disappearances in the countryside and locates gory human remains largely stripped of the flesh, one member of the team roughly presses a co-worker against a tree and, in a clear example of sexual harassment, rasps, "When was the last time you came so hard you forgot where you were?" The team later goes on to get their asses kicked by their mysterious adversaries -- which, by the way, are not aliens at all, but three or four hicks with no formal military or stealth training whatsoever. right. The Torchwood crew members were supposedly recruited for their special skills and, with the exception of one character, are supposed to have been on the job for at least three years. Hell, one is fucking immortal. And yet they fuck up -- and fuck, seeing as how they have sex with each other and even aliens instead of doing their jobs -- so routinely and royally that it's almost impossible for me to feel anything but contempt for them. Getting owned by shotgun-toting cannibalistic hillbillies = unacceptable.

"Torchwood" did have a few good episodes, though. One of them in particular -- in which the immortal character accidentally slipped through a crack in time and had a tragic and short-lived romance with the military captain whose identity he had previously assumed after the captain was killed in combat -- was probably on par with the best that the 2006 "Doctor Who" series had to offer. Another episode, which focused on three people from the 1950s who encountered a similar timeslip and found themselves in modern day Britain, was also really good. But despite the 13-episode series having four or five great shows, the team's general incompetence and the largely inappropriate emphasis on sex made it hard for me to like "Torchwood" on the whole. It was basically the science fiction program version of those shitty vampire romance novels aimed at aging housewives whose brains have atrophied from an excess of daily soaps and Oprah episodes. Oh, and the season finale (which technically aired in 2007, but still) was just stupid. When a show has been dealing with space-time rifts and alien life and temporal anomalies for the duration of the season, it is rubbish when a giant demon that kills people with its shadow pop up for no fucking reason. This isn't to say that demons and aliens can't coexist in the same universe, but it is to say that -- especially when the show clearly falls into the scifi category -- there should at least be an attempt to explain the presence of the party that doesn't seem to belong. I like Captain Jack, but I do not like his show.

THE BEST dvd that i purchased and watched:
The Trial

You'll note that this category doesn't simply denote the best movie that I watched, but also the best DVD that I purchased. While The Trial might very well be the best film that I watched in 2006, I saw a ton of good movies last year and would find it exceedingly difficult to pick just one. As far as DVD purchases go, however, Orson Welles's masterpiece stands out among the dozens of DVDs that I bought. It's not because the disc features a whole bunch of extras and commentaries in the vein of a Criterion Collection offering, nor is it because the DVD sports some unusual color like a limited edition Nintendo game cartridge. And it's hardly rare -- I actually bought upwards of eight copies of the thing to give as supplementary gifts and stocking stuffers.

She has a physical defect.Peek-a-boo!

What makes this version of The Trial so worthy of mention, then? Well, in addition to being a brilliant film, it only cost me $1.50 and sports a better picture than the print that I already owned and paid more for (not much more, but still). Seriously, look at the comparison pics. Most dollar store DVDs have muffled sound and look like bad VHS rips, and it's exceedingly rare to find widescreen prints -- but the picture here, while admittedly smaller, is also sharper, better contrasted, and overall better than my other version. (It's not exceedingly sharp or crisp, mind you, but it's also an old film and I'm not incredibly picky.) Heck, The Trial isn't even the only film on the disc -- it also comes with Escape from Sobibor, which I'm told is also very good. (I can't personally vouche for it; I end up rewatching parts of The Trial every time I sit down to view it.) If that's the case, that means that you get two great films -- one of which I'd easily rank among the top ten movies I've ever seen -- for $1.50. Fantastic.

THE WORST dvds that i purchased and watched:
New York Minute & Imprint

'New York Minute' was fucking awful.'Imprint' was pretty goddamned terrible too.

Here, unlike most of the other categories, we've selected two (dis)honorees. I've already said more than enough about New York Minute on the site -- if you're interested in my comments about that terrible, terrible film, see A Crayon Haiku #53 and the corresponding SC blog entry. It really was that bad, and there was no way that I could rightly have a "worst DVD" category without giving it the condemnation that it deserves. But I bought another DVD in 2006 that is equally worthy of this designation: Takashi Miike's Imprint, the infamous 13th episode of Showtime's "Masters of Horror" television series. Now, despite 2006 being a year in which I saw two Miike films that I actually enjoyed (Visitor Q and Zebraman), I can't say that I'm a fan of the director's work. A lot of people find his films to be shocking and/or cool because they frequently feature lengthy and extremely violent scenes of torture, but I just find these sequences to be wholly unnecessary and, above all, boring. Miike's work doesn't offend my sensibilities or turn my stomach; it just makes me roll my eyes because it's so painfully obvious that these scenes have only been included for shock value. That is, unless -- like the inclusion of lengthy sex scenes in softcore porn films -- Miike salts his movies with these sequences for the sake of fetishizing the subject matter.

extended torture and urination. whee.ph33r Left Hand!

Case in point: Imprint features a drawn-out scene in which the focal character of the story, a deformed geisha, is tortured violently by her fellow brothel workers -- first by inserting long needles beneath each of her fingernails, then by stabbing the needles into her gums. Then they dangle her upside down, whereupon she proceeds to urinate on herself (if you look closely at the left image above, you can see the liquid streaming down from her forehead). Unlike, say, a gritty exploitation film that arguably attempts, at least in part, to illustrate the violence that occurs in brothels or highlight some other analogous real life problem, the bright colors and methodical filming of the scene make me seriously question whether Miike meant for us to be disgusted or turned on by this display. Given the kinds of stories written by a huge Miike fan that I used to know, I'm pretty sure that there were more than a few American fanboys watching this scene with their dicks in their hands. Ugh.

The geisha's life story also includes a description of her childhood, during which she helped her mother with her work as an abortionist -- and here, Miike treats us to on-screen depictions of abortions, complete with numerous images of aborted fetuses floating down the river. What's worse is that there's literally no point to any of it, since the short film has one of those twist endings in which it's not even clear that the geisha ever really existed because she may have been completely imagined by the journalist to whom she is purportedly telling her story. Before this twist happens, though, the geisha reveals another twist: that she actually has a conjoined twin -- aka the parasite from Vampire Hunter D -- that has been urging her to do bad things throughout her life from its perch on her head. Imprint is a vile, worthless short film that you should avoid even if you happen to find it on sale for under $7 at your local Best Buy. Damn those Halloween DVD specials. :(

THE WORST theatrical release that i saw:

Meet Jeliza-Rose!This movie is creepy.

I was really looking forward to watching Tideland. Directed by Terry Gilliam and described as being akin to a twisted, real-life version of Alice in Wonderland, Tideland sounded like it had all the makings of my kind of movie. I mean, just check out the IMDb plot summary:

After her mother dies from a heroin overdose, Jeliza-Rose is taken from the big city to a rural farmhouse by her father. As she tries to settle into a new life in a house her father had purchased for his now-deceased mother, Jeliza-Rose's attempts to deal with what's happened result in increasingly odd behavior, as she begins to communicate mainly with her bodiless Barbie doll heads and Dell, a neighborhood woman who always wears a beekeeper's veil.

Sounds awesome, right? And the numerous negative reviews that Tideland garnered were just icing on the cake, as the critics frequently noted that the movie was unsettlingly dark and creepy -- terms that others would use to describe a lot of my favorite things. But Tideland isn't creepy like Christopher Walken or Björk music videos -- it's creepy like an eight-year-old girl with a horrible Southern accent making out with a twenty-something-year-old retarded guy who was molested by the girl's grandmother when he was a boy, which is exactly what happens in the film. It's totally fucked up, and not in a good way or even in a decidedly bad way that I can really describe -- let's just say that I spent the majority of the movie with my jaw in my lap and "W-T-F" on autoloop in my mind. It's as if the film was conceived during a night of vodka shots and acid popping, only the crew members didn't start making the film until they got together the next day sporting severe hangovers that lasted for the entire duration of the filmmaking process. Unfortunately, while they could recall the basic outline, the heavy drinking prevented them from remembering what was so cool about their project in the first place. :(

THE WORST anime that i watched:
Jigoku Shoujo

Admittedly, I like "Jigoku Shoujo" -- which translates to "Hell Girl" -- a lot. Considering that it's about an emissary of Hell who gets revenge for living people by dragging their enemies into the infernal realm, that almost goes without saying, but even if I weren't drawn to the subject material I'd have to admit that it's hardly a terrible show. Like most animes, the art is great, but "Jigoku Shoujo" also has fairly interesting characters and a number of memorable scenes. I particularly like the routine and ritualistic way that the Hell Girl goes about her actions -- but then, that is also related to the show's failings. It makes sense that Enma Ai, the titular character, would approach her victims in the same fashion, but it also means that almost a third of the show's episodes follow the same general plot. They start with someone getting bullied and summoning the Hell Girl; Enma Ai arrives and delivers same speech about the consequences of sending a person to Hell, namely that the person making the request will be damning him/herself in the process; the person hesitates, but then gets pushed over the edge and commits to the contract; Enma Ai takes the bully to Hell; the person, now bearing the mark of the Hell Girl, looks wistfully into the distance and contemplates the future. It's incredibly formulaic and gets old pretty quickly.

''Your bitterness, I will dispel.''She is the Hell Girl.

Things begin to change when a freelance journalist and his daughter begin tracking the Hell Girl around episode eight of the 26-episode series, but even after that the show still fails to deliver in some pretty significant ways. We eventually learn about Ai's past, but seeing as how people summon her by typing the names of their enemies into a website that only appears at midnight -- whereupon she responds by sending a text message to their cell phones -- I kind of wanted to know why she relies so heavily on the latest technological trends when she appears to be able to teleport anywhere and eavesdrop at will. (I also want to know what ISP offers broadband access in Hell.) In the initial episodes, a major part of the ritual in which Ai takes people to hell consists of her companions urging the victims to apologize for their sins. Nobody ever does, but I found this to be particularly interesting, as it led me to speculate that Ai is unable to take the soul of a repentant individual. In later episodes, however, this part of the ritual is dropped altogether and at least two blameless people are condemned -- most notably a kind-hearted and well-liked nurse who is sent to Hell by a drooling lunatic who had never even met her and apparently pulled her name out of his ass at random. Which is pretty lame, because even the Cenobites couldn't take you unless you solved the box.

But perhaps the most frustrating development involved the journalist and his daughter. When he discovers that his daughter can sometimes see what the Hell Girl sees, he begins using her to attempt to intercept people and prevent them from entering into contracts with Ai. Very few people actually listen, but that's probably because his arguments are so pitiful -- he weakly intones that vengeance is wrong, blah blah blah, but he never once says, "DAMNIT, LISTEN TO ME: IF YOU PULL THE STRING, YOU WILL GO TO HELL!!!!!!!!!" Things get even worse when the little girl starts agreeing with Ai's actions because "bad people should go to Hell." That may be more or less true -- especially in "Jigoku Shoujo", where the vast majority of the victims are irredeemable, unrepentant murderers or bastards who poison dogs and drown puppies (or, in one case, all of the above) -- but the little girl maintained her position even when the person entering into the deal with the Hell Girl was a good friend of hers. Again, instead of going on about the wrongness of vengeance, he should've slapped his daughter across the face and shouted, "BAKA, DO YOU WANT YOUR FRIEND TO GO TO HELL?!?!?!?" Not that vengeance isn't wrong, mind you, but it's not like he ever gave any reasons outside of stating it as an axiom. There was never any real resolution, either -- even though it seemed like the personal issues that had moved Enma Ai to become the Hell Girl in the first place had been resolved, she was still sending people to Hell at the series' end. Like I said, "Jigoku Shoujo" wasn't bad, but it was easily the most lacking anime that I watched in 2006.

THE WORST and most disgusting
thing that i saw on television:

"The Oprah Winfrey Show", November 14

It's no secret that I really, really, really dislike Oprah Winfrey. Contrary to popular belief that Oprah's talk show empowers, inspires, and encourages women to go forth and "live their best lives," I am convinced that watching it only makes them more shallow, mindless, and dependent upon Dame Winfrey to determine their interests and do their thinking for them. And I think Oprah not only knows this to be true, but relishes the fact that she wields so much unconditional influence and control over a significant portion of the American public. So yeah, I don't like her -- but even then I never thought she'd stoop so low as to bully a man who, in a horribly tragic turn of events, stabbed his twin daughters to death in a momentary bout of insanity.

Enter Oprah's interview with David Crespi, which aired on November 14, 2006. Admittedly, I did not see the entire episode -- I only happened to catch a portion of it when I went downstairs to refill my water glasses (I have firsthand knowledge of the stupidity and brainrot that can occur from daily viewings of Oprah because my mother is one of her thoughtless devotees). While a clearly penitent and distraught Crespi sat behind bars in a small visiting cell, Madam Oprah sat in a chair outside the cell and basically did everything she could to throw the crime in his face short of standing up and pounding on the glass and calling him a murdering piece of shit. Her voice was so thick with judgment and contempt and disgust that one could almost see tar issuing from her mouth with each question that she asked, but her tone was not nearly as offensive as the specific questions that she put to the suffering Crespi. And by far, the worst thing that she asked was this: Why didn't you just kill yourself?

Why don't YOU just kill yourself, Oprah?

Think about that for a moment. Why didn't you just kill yourself? This to a man who in an undeniable fit of madness stabbed his two daughters to death. I was immediately struck by the sheer coldness of the question (so much so that I was compelled to record a hasty and ineloquent audio post to Wesoteric), but I didn't even know the particulars of the case at the time. Now, having read up about it, I know that Crespi not only had a lengthy history of depression, but had recently changed medications to treat his illness -- and the new meds had kept him awake for at least the past four nights. Dude had not slept in at least four days. I think the most I've ever gone without sleeping was two days, and I was pretty goddamned fucked up. Not stab people to death fucked up, mind you, but I can definitely see how a guy who wasn't exactly stable to begin with, and on new meds to boot, could lose his freaking mind in double that time. And people who have lost their minds are not going to stop and say, "Gee, perhaps, instead of robotically stabbing my two daughters to death, I will kill myself instead." This event was terrible and tragic and pitiable, and even if one doesn't pity Crespi one should at least have the decency not to viciously condemn him to his face. Yet -- inexplicably -- that is exactly what Oprah did. And that is why this interview is unequivocally the worst and most disgusting thing that I saw on television during 2006.

THE WORST and most obnoxious celebrity
as far as i am concerned:

Dustin Diamond

In my younger years, I very much enjoyed watching "Saved by the Bell" -- and as Screech, Zack's nerdy best friend, Dustin Diamond gave me quite a few laughs. But he also got paid quite handsomely for his role on the show, and even if his parents took his earnings and squandered them (which I have never heard alleged), he was an adult during his stint on "Saved by the Bell: The New Class" and should have been handling his own finances by then. So when Diamond started popping up everywhere to beg the public to buy t-shirts so that he could save his house, I was personally offended. After all, he was asking for my money. Diamond went to great Dustin Diamond is an obnoxious shithead.lengths to tell his sob story, posting goofy pics of him frowning on the Internet, going on multiple talk shows, and all the while blaming some loan expert in NYC for his own mistakes -- but when an actor who starred on multiple incarnations of a hit television show that lasted for over ten years has "shitty credit" (his own words) and finds himself broke, he has no one to blame but himself and his poor money management skills.

Given my markedly more sympathetic reaction to David Crespi's case above, some readers may be tempted to accuse me of hypocrisy -- but unlike the previous example, which was a tragedy that clearly stemmed from a case of mental illness, the cause of this event was Dustin Diamond being an asshole and fucking up and then being even more of an asshole during his attempts to fix the problem. For example, consider the overblown and self-important attitude with which he describes his plight: I ask you to join my fight against injustice by helping to save my house. Injustice? Really? The real injustice is that apparently a lot of people who actually sent Diamond money for t-shirts did not actually receive them. Diamond then went on to (allegedly) star in a porno in which he performed a Dirty Sanchez with two women, one of whom was supposedly due to be married in two weeks. Yeah, Diamond, you're a real hero. Seriously, for me to pay $15 for anything having to due with his home, I'd have to live $15 worth of bus transfers away from it, in which case I'd make the trip there just so I could leave a flaming bag of dog shit on his porch. Dustin Diamond is easily the worst and most obnoxious celebrity of 2006 -- that is, if he can even be called a celebrity anymore.

THE BEST hygienic product
that i never actually opened or used:

Doctor Who DALEK Bath and Shower Gel

Daleks take hygiene seriously.''EXTERMINATE ALL BODY ODOR!!!''
Those of you who read my personal blog during 2006 know that in many ways, for me, this was the year of the DALEK. I was extremely interested in Daleks even before I ever saw one -- the Brain's depiction in the Teen Titans cartoon was based, in part, on the Dalek design -- and my first formal introduction to them in the 2005 series of Doctor Who (which didn't air in the US until 2006) only made me fall harder for them. I proceeded to watch all of the Doctor Who serials and films starring these mutants in mechanical shells that I could get my hands on, play a ton of games starring the Daleks, and even spend hours and hours crafting my own tiny Daleks out of shuttlecocks and paper. But even though the latter project -- and particularly the paper Dalek initiative -- was enough to satisfy my need for action figure-sized Daleks, I still wanted to have an official version to add to my collection. 'Cause Daleks are awesome.

The bad news? Daleks are also hella expensive. Whereas I'm not used to spending much more than $6 for a toy, Daleks will typically run you at least $40 per mutant before you add the import shipping charges (which is pretty much the reason I decided to make my own in the first place). And while more economical 2.5" versions were released in fall 2006, they're a bit too small for my tastes (though I still kinda want one). But then I learned of Dalek Bath and Shower Gel: 250 mL of shower gel that comes in an 8" container made to look like a Dalek. At $18 on eBay, including shipping, it seemed like the answer to my dilemma. I quickly placed an order to the UK- based seller -- and just one day before my birthday, a sticky, soap-scented Dalek arrived in a parcel at my door. Sticky and soap-scented because apparently a small bit of the gel had leaked out during its overseas voyage, a quick wipe-down was all the Dalek needed to take its place among the many toys in my collection that have tormented Bacardi at one time or another. I doubt I'll ever use the Dalek for its intended hygienic purpose, but the fact that its upper half is actually the top of the container gives it a nice swiveling torso feature!

THE BEST discontinued cereal that i purchased:
Kellogg's Pirates of the Caribbean Cereal

I still haven't seen either of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies that have been released to date, so I wasn't all that interested in the cereal -- especially considering that these product tie-ins are not traditionally as good as the established residents of the cereal aisle. I mean, I used to eat TMNT and Batman cereal simply because their Pirates of the Caribbean cereal, Dead Man's Chest versionboxes featured my favorite characters, but in reality they paled in comparison to Fruity Pebbles or Frosted Flakes. So when I happened upon this box sporting the likeness of Captain Jack Sparrow, I admittedly didn't have too much faith in its contents.

The biggest deterrent for me, however, was the price. I'm willing to try almost anything int he $1-$2 dollar range, but once a product hits $2.13 it's gotta be super huge or a personal favorite (read: Fruity Pebbles) in order to get me to buy it. So it seemed that Jack Sparrow and his naturally-sweetened chocolate pearls and pirate-shaped marshmallows were destined to be ignored by me for the duration of their shelf life. Then they went and got themselves discontinued and dropped below the $2 cutoff, thereby melting my resistance and compelling me to pick up a box. Not only were they cheap, they were endangered -- which meant that, if I didn't buy them at that very moment, I might never be able to do so again. What if sampling Pirates of the Caribbean cereal might have changed my life? What if there was a map to buried treasure printed on the interior of the box? What if it was actually really tasty cereal? I had to know.

So there's really not much more to say about it than that it was pretty good. Chocolate cereals tend to be hit or miss -- even longstanding contenders like Count Chocula don't get the taste quite right -- but ol' Jack apparently stole his recipe from the best of 'em. Even though they don't look like pirates at all, the marshmallows are perhaps the best that I've ever encountered in a cereal, as they somehow feel larger and more... plump (?) than their counterparts in Lucky Charms and its various imitators. I still wouldn't pay more than $2 for a box and won't weep because of their departure from the cereal aisle, but Pirates of the Caribbean cereal could easily be a contender if it weren't for its limited shelf life as movie tie-in. I'm sorry for doubting you, Captain Jack -- perhaps we will meet again when Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End arrives in theaters later this year.

THE BEST dollar store cereal that i purchased:
Malt-O-Meal Originals:
Blueberry Muffin Tops Cereal

Malt-O-Meal Originals: Blueberry Muffin Tops cerealyum

Many people would be hesitant to buy cereal at the dollar store, but it's actually one of the better places to find great cereals. In addition to smaller-sized boxes of favorites like Cookie Crisp and Reese's Puffs, dollar stores are the only place that I've seen the tasty Malt-O-Meal Originals... er, Original. I was going to make a joke something about how the majority of their cereals hardly seem that original -- Malt-O-Meal is pretty much the king of cereal knockoff companies -- but after looking at the website I can't do that anymore since apparently Blueberry Muffin Tops is the only Malt-O-Meal Original cereal released to date. Well! A blueberry muffin-flavored cereal was certainly something that I'd never seen before (or at least that I don't recall seeing before; General Mills apparently released a Blueberry Muffin cereal named for Strawberry Shortcake's pal back in the day), so despite not being the biggest fan of muffins I decided I'd give it a go -- and I was surprised to find that I liked Blueberry Muffin Tops enough to award it a permanent place in my cereal cabinet (as long as it is available for $1, anyway). Sure, its nutritional value isn't terribly impressive and, like actual muffins and pancakes, you kind of have to be in the mood for it, but the cereal definitely delivers the sweet taste of blueberry muffins without the mess of crumbs or the pressing need to inspect your teeth afterwards. I kinda want a bowl right now, actually.

THE BEST chips that i tasted:
Doritos Fiery Habanero Tortilla Chips

NUCLEAR EXPLOSION IN YO' MOUTHI didn't originally buy these chips for myself, so my introduction to them was sort of an accident. My mom being a fan of jalapeño-flavored chips, I thought I was doing a nice thing when I bought her a bag of the new Doritos Fiery Habanero chips at the local Giant. I mean, given the bag's claim that the chips would "[ignite] a nuclear explosion of habanero, jalapeño, and chipotle peppers" in the mouths of consumers, you'd think she would have enjoyed them. Right? Wrong. No sooner had I arrived home and offered the bag to her than she threw up her hands and shrieked, "Augh! Take them back to the store!" Apparently a co-worker had recently given her some, and, according to her, the chips were "too hot to even enjoy." When I said that I'd no intention of returning them -- I am really averse to returning things, especially if nothing is ostensibly wrong with them -- my mother resolved to throw the unopened bag away. And... what? Waste perfectly good Doritos? Not on my watch! So I kept the bag for myself and that is how I ended up with Fiery Habanero chips.

Now, I generally don't enjoy hot food all that much. I'd sooner put ketchup on a taco than hot sauce. Chicken wings? Count me out. But I liked these chips so much so that I went to the store within the next couple of days following the incident and picked up two more bags to have on hand when I finished the first. That stuff about them being too hot to enjoy? Bullshit. They're definitely hot enough to make you take notice -- you wouldn't want to eat them while watching a movie, for instance, because your mind would be less on the movie and more on the hot chips in your mouth -- but they're not so hot that you'll be running around like your tongue's on fire or swishing water in your mouth for hours on end. I'd tell you to give them a try if you like hot food, but I don't and I still liked them. So, um, give them a try if you like Doritos and stuff.

THE BEST frozen onion rings that i tasted:
Weis Brand Natural Onion Rings
(Grade A Fancy)

Grade A Fancy, baby!Still delicious.

Remember how Johnny Depp traveled the world sampling the same pulled pork dish in Once Upon A Time in Mexico? I've been like that with onion rings ever since I turned sixteen and was allowed to order food in the seating area at Champion Billiards and they brought me three or four large beer-battered onion rings floating in a bowl of grease. I mean, eating onion rings from various different restaurants is hardly my mission in life, but I'll generally order a plate in any restaurant that I visit simply to see how good they'll be there. I don't eat out very much, though, so I need good onion rings to satisfy my cravings at home -- and of all of the various frozen onion rings that I've purchased, the Grade A Fancy Weis variety is hands down the best-tasting and the best value. Whereas other frozen varieties (including another version from Weis, which is also quite good) are made from diced onions, you get whole onion rings here. Unlike other whole frozen onion rings you can buy (most notably the T.G.I. Friday's variety), they only cost about $1.50 per bag. And above all, they are bloody delicious. They're delicious frozen. They're delicious microwaved, even though microwaving is not recommended for some reason that I still have yet to uncover. Heck, they're even delicious when you walk away from the pan to get your camera and slightly burn them as a result. I heart Weis frozen onion rings. Thank you for sending them to me, Field.

THE BEST toys that i purchased or received:
Cybertron Deluxe Class Optimus Prime &
12" Marvel Legends Icons Venom

At least for me, 2006 was a really crappy year for toys. Our Toys 'R' Us closed pretty early in the year, making Target and Wal-Mart the only places in the area to find toys -- and while I did visit them on a semi-regular basis, the selections are hardly comparable to those of a dedicated toy store and our stores also tended to get new action figures kinda late. The biggest problem, however, was that last year didn't see the releases of all that many toys that I wanted. The TMNT: Fast Forward figures hit, but they're hardly perfect. I prefer the look of the old Turtles, so I haven't even bothered to pick up any of the new versions with their futuristic armor. The FF Splinter is the best Splinter sculpt ever, and I like the look of the Dark Turtles, but the articulation on these figures is largely useless for posing them. And while I admittedly have to give major props to the Beast Boy plushie I picked up earlier this year, he's less of a toy proper than a stuffed animal, which isn't quite the same thing in my book. The Teen Titans action figure line was terrible.

I smell a sitcom!I didn't stumble upon any worthy contenders until I happened upon the Cybertron Deluxe Class Optimus Prime in December. I never got into Transformers as a kid and never owned a single one (I do have a GoBot somewhere, though), so I was especially surprised that this thing made me take notice when I found it on the shelf. It wasn't even packaged in robot form -- it was just a goofy-looking truck -- and yet I had to have it. I tried to ignore it at first, leaving it on the shelf the first couple of times that I saw it, but it somehow got into my soul and nagged me until I woke up one morning and walked the three miles to Wal-Mart one Saturday morning to buy the bloody thing. And it's cool -- it really is. Way easier and more intuitive with regard to his transformation process than the Cybertron Megatron I picked up later to keep him company, Optimus Prime is a great toy on all fronts. He looks awesome, has excellent articulation and posability, and is a truck that transforms into a freaking robot. I mean, I know the transforming robots thing is pretty much the series' main draw, but still -- I can't overemphasize how much I enjoy simply transforming him back and forth. It never gets old, and it never makes my head and hands hurt like this fucking Megatron toy (but I guess that's why he's evil). Prime's punching action is pretty pathetic, but that's about the only drawback to this excellent figure.

And then there's the Marvel Legends Icons Venom. Now, I don't normally go for 12" figures. They're cool and all, but my lack of a bunch of figures that big means that I can't exactly reenact any epic battles or do all that much with them short of having them take up space -- and they take up a lot of space. But I love Venom. As a matter of fact, Venom was the only reason I started reading Spider-Man as a kid. I mean, I knew who Spidey was and all, and one of my favorite toys ever was a rubber Spider-Man knockoff that I got at the annual town fair, but I was never moved to pick up one of the comics until the inky monster thing with the jagged teeth and foot-long tongue and green drool appeared on the cover. I tracked down all kinds of obscure crossovers with Venom in them (Darkhawk, anyone? Quasar?!), drew his likeness on the brown paper bag covers of all of my schoolbooks, and bought a Venom action figure with a tongue-flicking action that hangs above my bed to this day. My love of Venom only grew when he did his big face turn, and then he came out with fifty billion miniseries and had a bunch of symbiote offspring and I admittedly lost track of his latest exploits. Still, when I saw this Venom appear on the shelves at Target two weeks before Christmas, I did a double-take. It looks freaking fantastic. And with over 30 points of articulation, it means that giant-sized Venom can actually flip you the bird. However, $15 is kind of out of my price range, so I couldn't bring myself to buy him -- but while I was at the store with my mom I did point to the figure and say, "THIS is freaking cool. Remember how I used to draw him all the time?" I found him under the tree on Christmas morning. Well, actually I found him on the table a week later because my mom didn't even bother to try hiding him or anything, but still. Thanks, Mom! Now I can reenact the first level boss encounter from the Spider-Man arcade game. :)

THE BEST earplugs that i used:
Mack's Ear Seals

I'm not picky when it comes to earplugs. As long as they can block out noise so I can have a relatively peaceful night of incredibly fucked up dreams, I'm pleased. The problem comes after I've used them for a while. I clean my ears multiple times a day, so they shouldn't be that disgusting -- and yet, before long, my earplugs end up looking pretty goddamned gross. And they're supposed to be machine washable, yet every time I have washed them they come back looking just as dirty, only they also sport a new and funky texture that causes them to make my ears itch ad infinitum. Then I have to throw them away, buy new earplugs, and repeat the process.

You can even use Mack's Ear Seals for clubbing!

When my last batch of earplugs ran out this year, however, I decided that I had had enough. I didn't know if they made them or not, but I set out on a quest to find earplugs made out of some material that would last. I literally spent hours scanning the shelves of various shops until I happened upon Mack's Ear Seals at a local CVS. At $4 for a lone pair, they seemed a bit pricey, but if they could last and not get freaking nasty and keep the sounds of newspapers hitting pavement and neighbors' cars from waking me up in the early morning hours (who am I kidding; I'm still awake then), they would be worth every penny. That was like four months ago and the same pair is still going strong after many, many cleanings with warm water and a drop of liquid soap. Admittedly, one has to be careful putting them in. I followed the instructions about twisting them to insert them and all that jazz for the first couple of nights, but either they're misguided or I didn't do it right -- because while they definitely formed the stated "airtight seal," they also trapped some air in my ear such that I woke up with my hearing muffled as if I'd been on an eight-hour flight. Once I got around that difficulty, though, Mack's Ear Seals did their job admirably.

THE BEST furry friend that i spent time with:
Bacardi the Dog

I actually met Bacardi before 2006, but since he moved in last summer I was able to spend a lot more time with him during the past year. Now, I've had pets before -- I kept several reptiles and lizards as a kid, and Duncan MacPhish lived here for years prior to his tragic passing in 2004 -- but none that ever really left their enclosures or interacted with me in a more personal capacity. Needless to say that having Bacardi around has been a new and mostly pleasant experience. I often wonder what he is thinking or how he is feeling, but his energetic twirls and leaps suggest that he is genuinely happy. And, somehow, this simple creature is able to transmit a portion of his joy to all parties that meet him as he climbs into laps and races about while fetching his plush doggie bone.

What's that?There is something under the tree!It is Bacardi. :)

I also find it incredibly neat that Bacardi does not rest in one place. Whereas he can be found perched on the bed of my sister's childhood room about 50% of the time, he also appears on couches, pillows, and other areas around the house, prompting me to wonder what criteria in his doggy brain compels him to select one spot rather than another at a given moment. During the winter holiday season, he could frequently be found resting in the faux cotton snow underneath the Christmas tree. I was going to say that this was incredibly appropriate since Bacardi is like a little gift from Jesus, except when he shits all over the place (and he is trained to use a litter box, so I swear he's doing it out of spite) he really, really pisses me off and makes me doubt the existence of a higher power altogether. Because seriously -- think about it -- what higher power would make creatures that shit all over the place? (And no, this isn't a unique reaction provoked by poor Bacardi; I enter into the same atheistic mood every time I have to use the bathroom or encounter goose turds at the park.) Shit is fucking nasty, and an omnipotent deity could just as easily have created animals that don't require external nourishment at all, or, at the very least, receive all of their nutrients by breathing and excrete waste by exhaling. Anyway, when Bacardi's not leaving feces in the middle of the floor, he makes me smile quite a bit. I'm not sure I could ever put up with a dog of my own (I really, really hate cleaning shit), but I heart Bacardi and mostly enjoy having him around.

comments on a scary-crayon article:

That's So Raven Racist!

I don't remember exactly when I added the Scary-Crayon blog -- I think it was towards the end of 2005 -- but 2006 was definitely the first full year that it was up and operational. As a result, last year offered readers a more convenient method of commenting and offering opinions about the site's articles and comics. Judging from the number of visitors that SC receives on a daily basis, exceedingly few people actually took advantage of the new function, but I've generally enjoyed reading what you all have had to say about updates. The overwhelming exception, however, has concerned the That's So Raven Racist article that I wrote last February. The comments (which you can read here), were relatively inoffensive and either stuck to the subject matter or consisted of quick jokes at Raven's expense towards the beginning of the thread, and the occasional insightful comment showed up even months after I wrote the article. I'm not certain that everyone who left a comparatively positive comment really understood what I was trying to say in the piece -- and maybe that's got more to do with the admittedly radical and obscure ideology that informs my thinking -- but I'd like to take this moment to sincerely thank everyone who really made an effort to understand what I was trying to say in the article and took the time to share some thoughts on the subject. In particular, I'd like to thank Koopa for his/her addition to the thread. There were a number of really good comments on that post, and the Fuck You, Harry Potter piece also generated quite a few great comments and e-mail responses, but for some reason that one stood out to me.

Morons watch this show.The future is terrifying.

On the whole, however, it feels like the That's So Racist thread soon turned into a place where mindless fans of the show -- most of whom likely didn't even bother to really read the article -- issued numerous ad hominem attacks and praised the nonexistent merits of "That's So Raven" in poorly-written and badly-argued cliché-ridden statements that gave me headaches and depressed me to no end. I simply love it when people point out that what I am saying is "my opinion" (er, was it supposed to be someone else's?) and then use that observation to imply that it is therefore meaningless. Yet for some inexplicable reason, they fail to realize that this rationale discounts the value of all individual opinions -- including their own -- such that, if I should not be sharing my views, then they should not be sharing theirs either. Several commenters criticized me for being closed-minded (or for not being open-minded), despite the fact that I have supported my views with carefully constructed arguments. It's basically the equivalent of telling a math student that, after he solves for the variable "x" in the equation "4x + 7 = 19", he should disregard his answer wholesale in the interest of remaining open to the possibility that "x" is equal to 6700. Yes, it is possible that there are some freaky invisible variables in this equation that have not yet been revealed, and I realize that my arguments could be flawed, but I find the increasing tendency of people to attack anyone for taking a definite stance on an issue without taking the time to suggest precisely where their opponents might be wrong to be no less than infuriating. And even in college, I encountered people who would tell me to "do my research" and "get the facts" in response to my ideological claims and arguments -- as if any number of historical injustices or social trends would make it right or good to uphold discriminatory practices that devalue the worth of individuals!

And considering the large number of people who blatantly misinterpreted the piece -- for example, one commenter wrote, "You racist bitch can u not tell me and say skin color is more important hell no get the facts u racist lil cracker [sic]" (I'm not even sure what that is supposed to mean); another added, "Your [sic] pretty racist yourself... You only want to make black people look bad!" -- I went back and read the entire article and then the entire comments thread. And you know what? I've come to the conclusion that the majority of these people are fucking stupid. Right there, in the text of the article, are direct responses to many of the "arguments" against my views. My contributions to the comments thread contain additional clarifications and explanatory remarks. Hell, aside from the specific criticisms regarding this particular episode, I was even exceedingly generous to "That's So Raven" on the whole, writing, "I'll admit that I came to sort of like the show..." and, " struck me as being a good-natured and largely inoffensive show." So I'm not calling these people morons for not understanding the core message of my article -- I'm calling them morons because they blatantly overlooked statements that were right there and had the audacity to insult me with ridiculous clichés and the worthless parroted platitudes of the Zeitgeist. And seeing as how most of these morons who completely were not paying attention and regard "That's So Raven" as being a fantastic show, that may be enough right there to support my contention that it is aimed at viewers "who have no idea what the hell they're watching and probably don't care."

That does it for this article, then! I realize that it was pretty long, so here's hoping that you haven't spent too large a chunk of 2007 reading it -- especially since you've got one or two or zero more articles to go in this triple-site look at the best and worst of 2006, depending upon the order in which you read the articles and/or if you plan to read all of them at all. But I recommend that you do, because Greg and Molly over at Pop-Arena and Alligator Juice have completely different selections and insights concerning the most notable highlights and disappointments of the previous year. At any rate, we here at Scary-Crayon -- and I'm sure my allies feel the same -- wish you all the best in 2007... even if you're a complete moron who watches "That's So Raven". ;)

The fun's not over yet, kiddies -- be sure to pop on over to Pop Arena
and Alligator Juice for more reminiscing about the best and worst of the previous year!

| Pop Arena's Best & Worst of 2006 |
| Alligator Juice's Best & Worst of 2006 |

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