popular thinking

hopelessly devoted to deconstructing popular culture and conventional wisdom, one blog at a time

My role in the history of Blogging

I was on CyberJournalist.net the other day and saw they mentioned the first-ever journalism blog hit the WWW in August 1998. Well, if that effort, covering a hurricane, was the first hard-news blog, then perhaps I wrote the first official soft-news/features blog. In November 1998, I chronicled my adventures through the Seattle International Comedy Competition with The Sun of Bremerton, Wash. Whilst that newspaper only had room for one story at the end of the competition, the cybersphere had plenty o' room for me to describe the journey with daily entries.
Read my now historical blog here at www.thesunlink.com/local/comic/

Why do people still call it "reality" TV?

You'd think by now, everyone in America would realize that the term "reality" describes the new wave of TV shows about as accurately as the term "grunge" covered the Seattle sound of the 1990s. So let's stop beating around the George W. and redefine our contemporary television world. Here are the shows and the categories to which they truly belong...and don't mind that sinking feeling, some of these shows did air, no matter how much you tried to forget them.

CANDID CAMERA REDUX: Candid Camera, Oblivious, Punk'd, Scare Tactics, Spy TV
COPS AND COURTS: Cops, The People's Court, Divorce Court, Texas Justice and any show with a Judge in the title
DOCUDRAMAMINE (soap operas of nobodies doing nothing but since they're on camera, they'll fight enough to make you seasick): Airline, Amish in the City, Big Brother, Blow Out, The Casino, Colonial House, The Family, Family Plots, Forever Eden, Fraternity Life, High School Reunion, My Life is a Sitcom, Paradise Hotel, Real World, Road Rules, Sorority Life, Starting Over, Wife Swap, Trading Spouses
GAME SHOW-OFFS: The Amazing Race, The Apprentice, Big Brother, Beg Borrow & Deal, The Benefactor, The Billionaire, Boot Camp, Celebrity Mole, Dog Eat Dog, The Family, Fear Factor, The Mole, Survivor, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire
HOME IS WHERE THE SHOW IS: I'm too tired to even try mentioning every single half-hour dedicated to redecorating or selling someone's house, or their garage, or their motor vehicle.
HOT TUBS, COLD HARD CASH (the new new dating shows): Anything For Love, Average Joe, The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Blind Date, Boy Meets Boy, Cupid, Elimidate, Extreme Dating, The 5th Wheel, For Love or Money, Forever Eden, Joe Millionaire, The Littlest Groom, Looking for Love: Bachelorettes in Alaska, Love Cruise, Married By America, Meet My Folks, Mr. Personality, My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance, Outback Jack, Paradise Hotel, Playing it Straight, Shipmates, Temptation Island, Who Wants to Marry My Dad, Ultimate Love Test
PR-EALITY (celebrities who want to maintain or regain their rich and famous lifestyles by whoring themselves to TV): Anna Nicole Show, The Apprentice, The Ashlee Simpson Show, The Benefactor, The Billionaire, Celebrity Boxing, I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here, Newyleds: Nick and Jessica, The Osbournes, The Restaurant, Rich Girls, The Simple Life, The Surreal Life
WE'RE LAUGHING AT YOU, NOT WITH YOU (also known as parody): Anna Nicole Show, Are You Hot?, The Assistant, Celebrity Boxing, Joe Schmo, The Littlest Groom, The Real Gilligan's Island/Partridge Family/Beverly Hillbillies, Showbiz Moms, Superstar USA
WHEN YOU WISH YOU ARE A STAR (talent shows for the talentless and lotteries/sweepstakes winners): All American Girl, American Idol, American Juniors, America's Next Top Model, Are You Hot?, The Contender, Dream Job, Extreme Makeover, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Last Comic Standing, Nashville Star, Next Action Star, Next Great Champ, Performing As...,Project Greenlight, Search for the Most Talented Kid in America, Second Chance: America's Most Talented Senior, Star Search, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, The Swan, 30 Seconds of Fame

Note: Some of these shows fit in more than one category. And if I missed one, or you have you have your own nominations, let me know. Thanks!

Someone in the Simpson musical family must be smart...right?

Who's your daddy?
Joe Simpson, the father/manager Ashlee and Jessica Simpson, clearly has figured out how to market his singing daughters to full effect, as Ashlee debuts this week atop the Billboard charts by selling about 400,000 copies of her CD, Autobiography. But how many CDs would she have sold without having her life sold first to MTV? The cable juggernaut of the record industry not only broadcasts The Ashlee Simpson Show seemingly nonstop (two hours of back-to-back episodes of it plus Jessica's Newlyweds show air today), but through its "news" and other programming, MTV also constantly hypes the Simpson sisters newest products. The musical careers of Jessica and hubby Nick Lachey already were well-past-D-O-N-E done done done before they signed on with MTV. Ashlee has MTV to thank as well for getting her disc reviewed by so many media outlets and sold to so many unsuspecting fans of the TV shows. And for all of that, both Ashlee and Jessica should thank papa Joe every day.

Related story: USATODAY.com - Ashlee Simpson shows big sister how it's really done

Why shouldn't you make fun of "Amish in the City?"

The new "reality" show that debuts tonight on UPN might get a lot of flack and funny-ha-ha comments from the media. But Amish in the City tackles a fascinating subject. The Amish community allows its young men and women to experience, albeit briefly, time outside the traditional no-tech borders before committing to a life of Amishness. The test of faith is called rumspringa. Of course, UPN is adding the TV docudrama spin to the Amish rite of passage, spicing things up by having a select group of Amish youth live "Real World" style with a cast of a half-dozen typical "reality" TV types. If you want to see a more realistic portrayal of Amish teens living out of their element, watch the 2002 documentary film, Devil's Playground. Fun fact number 1: The movie and the TV show share a producer, so perhaps the show won't completely stink up the airwaves. Fun fact number 2: Then again, it is on UPN.

Not all chain stores are created equal in the eyes of the media. Example: Krispy Kreme. The doughnut chain can get tons of free publicity -- from live TV "news" broadcasts to radio and front-page newspaper coverage -- just by opening a new store. How does that work? It works because the media treats some chains as "good" and some as "evil." Newspaper, radio and TV reporters might not come out and say it so explicitly, but the coverage for some chains always skews positive, while other chains get the short end of the media stick. I'm reminded of this as the new movie, Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle, debuts this weekend. White Castle and In-n-Out Burger are regional fast-food chains that usually get glowing media reports, and expect to see positive stories about White Castle in the coming week.
New stores open every day in towns and cities across the United States. Every entrepreneur would love to have the media spotlight his and her new business. Yet time and time again, the media shines only for certain companies and certain chains. Why? Well, let's take a look at some of the chains that get the most publicity.
Examples of "good" chains: Krispy Kreme, IKEA, Nordstrom, Trader Joe's, Target, Apple, In-n-Out, White Castle, Ben & Jerry's.
Examples of "bad" chains: Wal-Mart, Starbucks, McDonald's.
What do the "good" chains have in common? The eateries all fufill basic cravings, but the other retailers and department stores on the list are decidedly upwardly mobile or target the young urban professional (yes, yuppie) demographic.
What about the so-called "bad" chains? The companies will tell you they're providing services to towns that want them, but the media usually portrays these chains as the big bad businesses that kill the mom-and-pops.
Only that claim doesn't hold up against the facts, or provide any distinction for the good chains.
How is Wal-Mart more of a threat to indepdenent general stores than Target, for instance?
What makes Nordstrom more newsworthy than other major department stores?
To be fair, the media didn't always glare at Wal-Mart, Starbucks and McDonald's. In the past, the very introduction of these chains would "put a town on the map," so to speak. And that made these chains good. It was only when these chains became dominant that they lost their media luster.
So maybe that is it. The media likes scrappy underdogs (or at least things having the appearance of a scrappy underdog) that appeal to either their own basic cravings or their own upwardly mobile demographic.
That there is a formula that may explain how the media treats some (chains, athletes, politicians) as somehow better than all the rest. It certainly demonstrates the power of branding.
For more on branding, read this timely special report in Business Week.
Check out this recent story about chains in USA Today.

Is low-carb passe? Or does the media just want it to be over?

The media pack has begun ringing the first death bells for the low-carb craze, based on the stock market analysis of Kellogg's CEO, of all people. If the boss of a company that makes cereals, waffles, cookies and crackers says the low-carb diet is done, then he must be right, right? This comes in the same week as Kraft Foods rolls out new low-carb Oreos, and in the same week as Krispy Kreme announced the launch of its new glazed doughnut drink. Insert your own Homer Simpson reference here. What is most interesting, though, is how the media jumps at the chance to knock down the latest fashion -- whether it's a presidential candidate, a popular TV show or, in this case, a dieting trend. The media pack tends to follow an all-too predictable cycle with trends like these...first by failing to recognize the trend, since it doesn't impact them personally, then pretending to discover the trend when their editor or their boss takes a liking to it, then poking the trend for any signs of weakness, and jumping for joy when the trend is done.
There is something even more interesting about the media's handling of Krispy Kreme, however, and that is the subject of a future post.

Related stories: Low-carb Oreos, do we still care?
Consumers' demand for low-carb foods may have peaked
Kellogg lifts profit on high sales
Can a doughnut drink save Krispy Kreme?

How can horrible movies still be hyped?

The rise of the DVD has given movie fans more opportunities than ever before to look behind the scenes, literally and figuratively. Of course, even bad movies produce "making of" docs, and HBO is kind enough to replay them over and over and over again. Case in point: Just in the past couple of days, I've flipped past HBO to witness the "making of" featurettes for both Daredevil and The Adventures of Pluto Nash. Happy happy joy joy. It's fun to watch the stars talk with such glee about their roles, not knowing yet just how awful their finished products would be. It'd be more fun to watch a clips reel chock full o' just this kind o' dreck. Then again, maybe not.

UPDATE: What is Lance Armstrong's dirty little secret?

ESPN's Jeremy Schaap reported Friday on SportsCenter about how important the rest of the U.S. Postal Service cycling team is to Lance Armstrong's success. Schaap said the other eight cyclists gear the entire Tour toward getting Armstrong the yellow jersey, and in return, Sir Lance rewards them with the $400,000 championship prize, plus another $400,000 bonus for their help -- meaning each of the eight cyclists wins $100,000 for helping him win.
Not that I told you so, but I told you so.

Can you explain the new WB show, Studio 7?

Think The Real World meets Remote Control, only without the melodrama of the former or the humor of the latter, which produced the comedic breakthroughs for both Colin Quinn and Adam Sandler. Hearing the pretentious host and seeing the unrefined production values of Studio 7 on tonight's debut, I honestly thought this was a prank show like Joe Schmo. Turns out the prank is on the audience.
Here is the premise: Take seven "college-age contestants," put them in a NYC apartment for a week, allow them to study and memorize the questions, then tape the hilarious antics that follow. Ooh boy! Winner gets $77,000. Everyone else gets nothing, except as one contestant says, "I got my haircut in a salon and I got these cool clothes!" All you need to know: the catchphrase in the theme song is a plaintive "help me!" And this from 18-year-old Jesse of Missoula, Mont., in the debut: "Oh my God. I'm still in the game. That's so crazy." Yes, Jesse, that is so crazy. The show repeats on Sundays.

Does the local TV news deceive you?

Yes. One classic example: KPNX, the NBC affiliate in Phoenix, likes to tell viewers that its reporters are coming to you live from "central Phoenix," then take you to said reporter with locale billed as "Central and Roosevelt." The actual location? KPNX's rooftop, which just happens to be near the corner of, you guessed it, Central and Roosevelt. All for the sake of being live somewhere...

The famed Doonesbury creator responded today to all the fuss going down in the Southeast over his comic strip. Even the soliders who don't like his strip think it should stay in the paper. "More than most citizens, it seems, professional soldiers give a great deal of thought to what it is they're defending," Trudeau said.

Why isn't MTV2 showing music videos?

Good question. Actually, MTV was created to show music videos, but stopped doing that full-time back in the late 1980s. So MTV2 emerged as the new 24-7 place for videos to make up for the lack of music television on the station whose name means, er, um, music television. I waited several years for my cable provider to provide it, only to see MTV2 show up -- lo and behold -- without full-time music videos on its schedule. I'm not knocking such shows as Wildboyz, Beavis and Butt-Head ("I am Cornholio!"), Diary, Pimp My Ride and the like. Or maybe I am. What is Pimp My Ride doing on a channel advertised as 24-7 music videos? Or is there an MTV3 I don't know about? Ack! Viacom, why must you torment me so?

Why are they messing with my funny pages?

A guy who produces the Sunday funnies (read: comics section) for 38 newspapers across the U.S. says the plan to pull Doonesbury from the comics package "was not a political statement." Um, me no think so. Anyone working in the newspaper bidness knows that the comics pages always generate tremendous interest and criticism, no matter which comic strip you mention. I remember working at one newspaper where the editor delayed replacing strips for months after personally involving himself in that paper's comics survey. For every person who hates Family Circus, there is another person who loves it. So how do you decide which strips to run? Short answer: It's always political. And someone tells you differently, then that person is dodging. But a better question is, why would a newspaper want to buy a generic comics package anyhow? Oh, yes, that's right -- they'd do so to avoid having to make the same political decisions that the guy from Continental Features is trying to make regarding Doonesbury.
Full disclosure: I handpicked Garry Trudeau to be the baccalaureate speaker for my class of 1993 at Princeton. Nice guy. Great speaker. Met him again in Aspen two years ago for the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival and found him to be just as nice and great. Trudeau was honored then as part of the festival's "freedom of speech" theme. He is still doing his part. What about you?

What is Lance Armstrong's dirty little secret?

Lance Armstrong, the five-time defending champion of Le Tour de France, wakes up Wednesday once again with the yellow jersey as the overall leader heading into the final week of the 2004 Tour.
But is Armstrong's title tainted?
And not for the reason you suspect (doping). No, what most people don't realize is that cycling's greatest event has a dirty little secret: It is a team event. That's right. Armstrong owes much of his success to his teammates, that he is part of the U.S. Postal Service team, which is dedicated to the proposition that all cyclists are not created equal, that this is le Tour of the Lance, for the Lance and by the Lance.
Don't believe me? Watch any stage on TV (excepting today's individual time trial, of course) via the Outdoor Life Network and see how the team dedicates all of its efforts for its leader.

Two weeks have passed since U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., announced his running mate and potential vice president. Since then, the Republicans have launched a media blitz across the cable TV landscape (or as I like to call it, "Chatty Chatty Bang Bang") to trumpet how John Edwards "lacked bounce" for the Democratic ticket. This theme is picked up again today in the Christian Science Monitor.
But what everyone forgets, and by everyone I mean the Republicans and the media, is that the supposed swing in voter preferences comes historically not with the vice presidential selection but with the national conventions.
Kerry picked Edwards 20 days before the Democratic National Convention.
Past presidential wannabes got their so-called "bounce" precisely because the VP selection came about as part of the convention.
To wit, some recent examples of the VP selection, and timing relative to that party's confab (big ups to the San Francisco Chronicle for doing the legwork):
2000: Gore picked Lieberman, 7 days before
2000: W. picked Cheney, 6 days before
1996: Dole picked Kemp, 2 days before
1992: Clinton picked Gore, 4 days before
1988: Papa Bush picked Quayle, second day of convention
1988: Dukakis picked Bentsen, 6 days before
1984: Mondale picked Ferraro, 4 days before
1980: Reagan picked Papa Bush, third day of convention
1976: Carter picked Mondale, and Ford picked Dole, both on the last day of their respective conventions. Now that there is some bounce, and some drama.
The Gallup poll from July 8-11 showed Kerry-Edwards edging ahead of Bush-Cheney and Nader-Camejo, from 47%-48%-3% in late June to 50%-45%-2% in mid-July, but the changes fell within the two polls' margins of error. Ergo, no real bounce.
Yet if you go back and read that Christian Science Monitor story referenced above, or re-examine any of the initial media reports from July 6, you'll learn that the Bush campaign's prediction of a 15-point bounce in the polls was to coincide not from the VP selection, but from the Democratic hullabaloo in the Hub. Gallup also points out that the conventions, Dem and GOP, both provide the real bounce to the presidential campaigns, mostly because the tickets get a full week of full exposure to the electorate.
Of course, this year may be truly different, as the American voting population appears to be as politically divided as it has ever been since Gallup and all the other poll takers began helping the media turn elections into horse races.
So we'll just have to wait until November to see which way the political ball bounces.


On this day in history...
Lance Armstrong became the first man to bicycle across the moon. No, wait. Bring in the fact checkers! Oh yes, that's right. Neil Armstrong was the first man to step foot on the moon on July 20, 1969. Or was he? Hmmm...
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