Archive for the 'Popular culture' Category

The way it is

August 13, 2007

When the federal government decided how many gallons of water every toilet in America should use when being flushed — resulting in annoying toilets that have to be flushed twice, accomplishing absolutely nothing — I kind of thought that might be the breaking point. Americans would rise up as one and say, “Enough!” Didn’t happen, of course. No matter what, we will go back into our “Oh, well, that’s the way it is” mode and just take whatever they dish out. But maybe this is different:

So far, the focus on the digital TV (DTV) rollout has been the spread of high definition. About 30% of U.S. homes have digital HDTV sets, which receive the new channels. But nearly 20%, or more than 20 million homes, rely strictly on antennas to receive free over-the-air broadcasts. The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) says another 14.7 million have at least one antenna-powered TV.

Legislators, broadcasters, manufacturers and consumer groups have known about this dilemma for more than a decade. But as the turn-off date approaches, all are concerned about confusion and a lack of awareness; the NAB estimates more than 60% don’t know about the transition.

“This scares me politically. There is no anger that comes close to the anger of an American that cannot get television,” Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said at a hearing last month.

Nah. We’ll be sitting in front of our HDTVs, and they’ll figure out a way to add another dollar or two to the phone bills to make sure the poor and elderly aren’t left out, and life will go on. Go on to the next takeover and stop worrying about it, Claire.

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A dark and stormy post

July 31, 2007

This year’s winner in the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, which annually honors the worst opening sentence for a nonexistent novel, to honor the Victorian novelist Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton, whose 1830 novel “Paul Clfford” famously begins, “It was a dark and stormy Night”:

Gerald began – but was interrupted by a piercing whistle which cost him ten per cent of his hearing permanently, as it did everyone else in a ten-mile radius of the eruption, not that it mattered much because for them ‘permanently’ meant the next ten minutes or so until buried by searing lava or suffocated by choking ash – to pee.

Long sentence pauses — which are entertaining but can be distracting, especially if the writer loses track of where he is, and more so for readers who might not be paying as much attention as they should, a description of most readers, really — are a specialty of mine as well.

Back in the cave, please

July 27, 2007

The cavemen from the Geico commercials are debuting in their ABC half-hour comedy series in October. But don’t worry — it won’t be about race:

There was no intention to have the Cro-Magnons represent any minority group, said his colleague, Josh Gordon.

[. . .]

“I think it’s really a show about acclimation more than anything, and that’s something that everybody deals with, doesn’t matter whether you are a minority or not,” producer Joe Lawson said.

On the other hand, it’s hard not to think about that aspect:

Schiff and fellow producers responded to reporters’ questions about the series, many of them focusing on parallels between the cavemen and black stereotypes and the pitfalls of turning an ad into a series.

The caveman commercials were entertaining at first, but have worn awfully thin. “Tiresome” is the word that comes to mind to describe the series. Do a remake of “Mr. Ed” with one of the Budweiser Clydesdales, and I might watch it, but this? I got over my need for acclimation lectures a long time ago.

Late-night war, Part II

July 24, 2007

Forget the presidential contest for now; it’s still way too early. This is much more fun to talk about right now:

Three years ago, NBC announced with pride that Conan O’Brien would take over “The Tonight Show” in 2009. But now that the date is fast approaching, the web is beginning to panic: How do we anoint O’Brien but still keep Leno in the Peacock’s nest?

[. . .]

NBC has yet to present Leno with any alternatives, but among the options being floated are a primetime strip or variety show that would air once or multiple times a week, perhaps kicking off primetime at 8 p.m.; work on NBC U’s cable properties and specifically USA Network, which the net is hoping to build into the de-facto “fifth network”; Jay-on-demand through TiVo, cable, or online; or, the “Bob Hope deal,” where Leno does what he wants — just about anything but telling jokes at 11:35 pm.

The network also has the option, which many outsiders believe still must be on the table, to back out of the deal, pay a reported $40 million penalty to O’Brien and sign Leno to another five-year deal, a move that would protect the “Tonight” franchise through the end of Letterman’s deal at CBS in 2010, and the possible transition at the Eye to Jon Stewart.

NBC could, also, simply let Leno leave. A non-compete would keep Leno off another network for at least six months, allowing NBC to launch O’Brien without Leno in the mix. ABC and Fox are planning as if Leno will be in play.

I’d really rather see O’Brien in that slot. Jay Leno seems too tame to me, and David Letterman is a little too cynical sometimes.

No big secret

June 26, 2007

A wildly popular self-help book that’s mostly delusional nonsense?

The scenes unfold in “The Secret,” a 90-minute-long DVD advocating the power of positive thinking that has sold 2 million copies. More than 5.2 million copies of the book of the same name are in print.

While “The Secret” has become a pop culture phenomenon, it also has drawn critics who are not quiet about labeling the movement a fad, embarrassingly materialistic or the latest example of an American propensity of wanting something for nothing.

Some medical professionals suggest it could even lead to a blame-the-victim mentality and actually be dangerous to those suffering from serious illness or mental disorders.

“It’s a triumph of marketing and magic,” said John Norcross, a psychologist and professor at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania who conducts research on self-help books. He believes some are very useful when backed by science and focused on specific problems, such as depression.

” ‘The Secret’ has earned my antipathy for its outrageous, unproven assertions that I believe go beyond the ordinary overpromises of most self-help books into a danger realm,” he said.

Shocking. We’re just recycling earlier entertainments and making them ever bigger and sillier. “Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour” becomes “American Idol.” And “The Secret” is just Norman Vincent Peale’s “Power of Positive Thinking” for people who don’t really think.

At the movies

June 26, 2007

Happy 25th to “Blade Runner,” one of the best science fiction movies ever. Sometimes you like a movie and you don’t know enough to say why, except that the special effects were outrageously good and still hold up. It’s nice to have an expert come along and explain it to you:

Watch this opening pan across the Los Angeles skyline —  there’s nearly nothing else like it. This is something I think Ridley Scott does better than almost any other director. Whether he’s shooting a fantastical movie like Alien (1979), or a realistic one like Black Hawk Down (2001), you always know where you are in the movie’s physical space. Blade Runner is unmatched by any other sci-fi film in terms of feeling like you’re in an environment you understand. This isn’t the kind of sci-fi where everyone wears silver suits.

I love movies, and every time I learn something about what goes into making them, I wish I knew more. I saw an interview with Billy  Wilder the other day, filmed back in the 1980s, in which he explained how you have to pace comedies. He was using a short scene from “Some Like it Hot” to illustrate the point and said that the one page of dialogue had to be shot as if it were three pages (or maybe even five), because you have to leave some space for the audience to laugh so they don’t miss the next piece of dialogue. But you can’t just have the characters standing around — you have to have them doing something logical that makes the scene flow without dead spots in case the audience doesn’t laugh where you expect it to.

You may now pause to reflect upon the brilliance of this post.

You may now resume reading. Oops, I’m done.