Taste Test: Doctor Scab’s Monster Lab

October 29, 2008

Halloween! Just the name conjures up visions of… repeats of US sitcoms in May, and… something about pumpkins… I think Charlie Brown‘s in there somewhere… no, I’ve got nothing.

Though there are unconfirmed reports of Australian children trick-or-treating in the outer suburbs, Halloween remains one of those strange American customs – like bright orange cheese, or trying to shoot the President. It’s never had any cultural traction in this country, which is a pity, because I can’t helping thinking the nation would be improved by adults wearing fancy dress with impunity. It doesn’t help that Halloween falls so close to Melbourne Cup – perhaps it would catch on if small children dressed as Phar Lap.

Our foreign correspondent Daniel Cardone recently returned from the US with Halloween candy in tow. In Outland Institute tradition we gathered a panel to test this spooky delicacy.

Doctor Scab’s Monster Lab is a bag of “creepy chocolaty flavored [sic] body parts”. It’s what the Easter Bunny would bring if the Easter Bunny had seen too many Saw movies. It’s a cavalcade of severed fingers, toes, ears and lips, plus “fudge filled eyes”, wrapped in gruesomely-detailed foil. Palmer, the manufacturer, has a Quality Pledge on the pack where they state “For over 50 years, Palmer has been a national brand making candy for Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter and Halloween… If you are not satisfied please let us know and we will make it right.” Two things here to note here – Palmer makes special occasion candy, but nothing you’d eat everyday – for reasons that would soon become abundantly clear. Secondly, the phrase “we will make it right” sounds quite ominous when you’re looking at a bag of edible body parts.

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The U.S. Election & The Right-Wing Blog

October 22, 2008

John Richards takes a stroll though the world of the American right-wing blog…

I love elections. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I find election campaigns fascinating. When I visited Texas in 2006 I got caught up in the drama of the Gubernatorial Election, which was a three-way fight between the incumbent, a feisty Grandmother, and Kinky Friedman. It was a lot like Big Brother, except the winner got to be in charge of Texas. None of them seemed to have any policies, except “taxes should be lower” and “the other two candidates are probably paedophiles” (the second never overtly stated, but always suggested in ads with ominous music, silhouettes and phrases like “protecting our children”). I also learned a new word – gubernatorial – so it was both entertaining and educational.

I’ve been following the US elections obsessively. It’s such a great cast this year – as the US’s Late Late Show host Craig Ferguson put it, “you got your grizzled old veteran who’s trying to win one last campaign, you’ve got the brash rookie who inspires millions, you got the hockey mom who’s governor by day, naughty librarian by night, you’ve got Biden who’s all… Bideny there…” And the actors are great. You honestly believe that Sarah Palin is a real human being (although I think the writers went too far by calling her children Trig, Track and Bristol. Not terribly believable, guys).

While the Outland Institute has existed as a physical educational facility since the mid-1600s, our online annexe has only been up since July. Every day we receive a printout on the teletype machine of the most popular blogs across the wordpress universe, and many of them are political in nature. So I’ve been indulging myself by reading dozens and dozens of insane conservative blogs.

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Great Literature Of The 20th Century: Sweet Valley High – Kiss Of A Killer

October 19, 2008

Jessica wants to be with Jonathan… forever. But is Elizabeth strong enough to stop a creature of the night?

Today’s Great Literature entry looks at the 128th instalment in the Sweet Valley High series, Kiss of a Killer by Kate William. It’s the one with a vampire in it. The concept of “jumping the shark” is now well known, but I think “adding a vampire” should be added to the artistic lexicon.

I first heard about this book at the Paranormal Fiction and Romance Forum at Dymocks, and was very keen to read it. I hadn’t expected it to be so hard to find a copy – I’m sure there’s a mathematical formula that explains why you can find any Sweet Valley High book in any op-shop, but a specific Sweet Valley High book can only be found in a single library in a small town near Ballarat.

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Tim Tam or Not Tim Tam? That Is The Question…

October 16, 2008
As the world hurtles toward an economic meltdown, The Outland Institute looks at the most important issue of the day – which is the best Tim Tam-like biscuit? We put them to the test and you might be surprised by the results. Or you might not.

Tim Tam. Just the name sends a shiver down the Aussie spine. The chocolate biscuit is as true-blue an Australian icon as Donald Bradman, Mr Squiggle or casual racism. Like most Australian icons, it’s owned by America – since 1997 Arnott’s have been a fully-owned subsidiary of The Campbell Soup Company of America (you may know them from their work with Andy Warhol).

Wikipedia describes the Tim Tam as “two layers of chocolate malted biscuit, separated by a light chocolate cream filling, and coated in a thin layer of textured chocolate”, which I think takes away some of the magic. The Tim Tam is so much more than wafers and chocolate – it’s a delightful treat, it’s a straw for coffee, it’s a lonely girl’s companion. Launched in 1964, the name comes from a prize-winning American racehorse which Ross Arnott had seen win the 1958 Kentucky Derby (by a strange co-incidence, the horse that came second was called “Chocolate Wafer Biscuit You Can Drink Coffee Through”). Tim Tam (the horse) was inducted into The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1985, no doubt leading to endless disappointment for biscuit-starved ex-pats visiting Saratoga Springs, New York.

As the old saying goes, “if you build it, they will copy it under a slightly different name”. So the original Tim Tam now competes with several similar biscuits on the supermarket shelves. How do they stack up? In the interests of science, The Outland Institute gathered a panel to do blind taste tests of four contemporary Tim-Tamalikes.

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What Gives… You… The Right? On Reviewing

October 10, 2008

Apologies for the lack of new material on The Outland Institute this week. We’ve been having the asbestos in the east wing of the Institute replaced – it was getting a bit worn out. Do you know how hard it is to find asbestos these days? Meanwhile – in between interviewing puppet squirrels – I’ve also had other work commitments, including my new regular gig on the tv-themed-podcast Boxcutters and I’ve been doing some Fringe reviewing for AussieTheatre.com.

Speaking of reviewing, Syms Covington has been having some fun at the expense of The Tender Hook recently – it’s an Australian film, so you won’t have heard of it. It was released on the 9th of October and set new box-office records, taking $4.55 and half-a-biscuit in its first week, before it was mercifully taken out the back of the cinema and shot repeatedly in the head. Which reminds me, it stars Rose Byrne. (Actually, to be fair, I’ve discovered I only hate Rose Byrne in Australian films, I think she’s pretty good in non-Australian films, and she is genuinely lovely in real-life).

Syms’ less-than-flattering comments about The Tender Hook led to this comment, from a person named “Anonymous”:

“Syms, I feel very sorry for you. It seems that you find enjoyment in belittling films you would never have the skill or imagination to make. Maybe if The Tender Hook was about a bitter, cynical nerd with a blog, you’d have liked it. Maybe if it spelt out every detail ad-naueseum you may have liked it. When was the last time you got laid Syms? I’m guessing its been a while. Seriously though, it’s your loss that you weren’t able to enjoy The Tender Hook.

It’s people like YOU that are the problem with Australian film industry… Get a life you miserable tiny little man.”

So people like Syms are the problem with the Australian film industry? And there I was, thinking it was the films…

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Weekend Fashion Supplement: Eleganza!

October 4, 2008

A few days ago I included this image from the house of Eleganza

What’s that? You want to see some more?

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Interview: Terry The Squirrel

October 1, 2008

The hottest show at this year’s Fringe is Sammy J In The Forest Of Dreams. It won the hearts and minds of Melbourne audiences at the 2008 Melbourne International Comedy Festival, before going on to huge success at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. After the run at Melbourne Fringe (and the cultural mecca of Frankston), the company is planning to head back to the UK for a season in London.

While Sammy J In The Forest Of Dreams is ostensibly about a man named Sammy J and his new friend Farlo, there’s no doubt the show’s true star is Terry the Squirrel – there is no scene that Terry does not steal. The Outland Institute recently caught up with Terry for this surprisingly honest interview. (Warning: contains puppet swearing).

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