popular thinking

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

Looks are deceiving, and so, too, are presidential campaigns... Posted by Hello

Debating the debate

For the full 32-page memorandum of understanding between the Bush and Kerry camps, read this. Talk about lowering the public's expectations. But what'll happen if the TV networks don't play by these rules? That's the "news" of the day, though, because it involves the media talking about itself. Fun fun for everyone.

Late-night TV makes you smarter?

Or at least, perhaps, better informed. CNN reports on recent findings of the National Annenberg Election Survey. Survey says...viewers of Jon Stewart knew more about politics than viewers of Jay Leno or David Letterman, although all three audiences knew more than the general public did about the most important things happening in the world around us.

This particular survey also breaks down the data on each of the late-night host's comedic targets, in case you're curious as to how many Bush jokes are about his incompetence vs. the fact that he wasn't really elected president.

Well, I just finished watching an episode of Pat O'Brien's new show, The Insider. Instantly I felt refreshed. Because, after all, we don't have enough half-hour entertainment "news" shows to promote all of the various movies, TV shows and CDs that are coming out each week. And I have had it with all of the fluff on Entertainment Tonight, Extra and Access Hollywood. Finally! Someone to give us the real "insider" info on Britney's "wedding." Then again, perhaps the TV people merely are trying to catch up with all of the new blogs that pop up each day, saying exactly the same thing as the blogs before them, linking us all together in one vicious circle. Argh!

Although, to be fair and balanced (hardeharhar), these infomercials probably will differ in ways other than their interchangeable hosts and correspondents. The Insider serves lord Paramount, Extra promotes Warner Bros., Access Hollywood promotes anything NBC, and Entertainment Tonight is a Paramount production. Wait. That's two Paramounts. What gives, Paramount? Too much self-promotion for one show? Apparently, since the company (a Viacom arm -- not a nipple ring, so don't get excited) calls The Insider a spin-off. Except you cannot really call it a spin-off since it's covering the same exact stories. Oh bother! You tell 'em, Pooh bear.

Bill O'Reilly's fans could learn something from Jon Stewart's fans

So says Comedy Central. Their number crunchers figured out that, on average, viewers of The Daily Show are more educated than viewers of The O'Reilly Factor on Fox News. Like it took a college degree to figure that out. Read the related story here.

By the way, could O'Reilly have been more deferential to the president during their TV interview that aired yesterday? That would be a no. But Slate's Jack Shafer pointed out "how to beat Bill O'Reilly" just last week. Perhaps W. does read after all?

Do I have something in common with Wonkette?

Perhaps. According to the Washington Post's Reliable Source, Wonkette (Ana Marie Cox) also celebrated a birthday on Sunday. Who knew? Alas, I am not a "slutty" suburban housewife who married a magazine editor.

Yes, you missed my birthday

My birthday yesterday gave me another chance to pause, reflect and try to have fun. Well, two out of three, as they say...

I think I'm still young, but comedian Tom Rhodes reminded me that I'm now the same age Jesus Christ was when he died. Thanks for cheering me up, Tom. I have enough fun comparing my life accomplishments with my Princeton classmates, and he gets me thinking of Jesus. Yikes. It did inspire me to write a solid bit about the comparison, though I shan't repeat it here (kids might be reading this). Fun times this past weekend hosting the shows for Tom, Artie Lange and Mark Cordes at the Tempe Improv. Artie's fans were rowdy and outrageous. The staff presented me with a cake onstage Sunday. Tom led the crowd in singing "Happy Birthday." That was a little much, but thanks.

Conan gets advance promotion

If you asked me over the weekend who would retire first -- Dan Rather or Jay Leno -- I probably would not have guessed Leno. Although announcing your retirement five years in advance is a bit odd. Conan O'Brien gets the Tonight Show helm in 2009. Until then, lame ducks for everyone! Yippee!

Laddie mags, now editor-free?

The so-called "laddie" mags proved a few years ago that they could make a ton of money without caring about writers or stories. So why not fire all of the top editors, too? More proof that Maxim, Stuff and Blender don't need humans around to keep publishing their fluff and stuff, so to speak.

Why are we still talking about this? Posted by Hello

It took almost eight months for the FCC to figure out a fine for CBS over broadcasting Janet Jackson's nipple ring. Eight months? I suppose that's quick compared to FCC fines for Howard Stern. The feds are still reviewing Howard's radio broadcasts from several years ago. Your bureaucracy in action. Sorry, I mistakenly put a space back there. Your bureaucracy inaction.

The artist formerly known as Cat Stevens Posted by Hello

Apparently, Mr. Yusaf Islam, your "peace train" is being followed by a "moonshadow" -- and our Homeland Security people cannot stand for that, so yous gots to go. Yes, we are living in a wild world.

I will be a happy man if I never watch another local TV newscast interview people buying lottery tickets and asking, "What would you do with the money if you win?" To do that, however, means I'll have to stop watching local TV newscasts. Why don't they just go to the casinos and interview the blue hairs on the nickel slots? "What would you do if you won the jackpot, Granny?" Same friggin' principle. Why are we interviewing you? And why are we watching?

1) You're not going to win.
2) If you're not giving us the money or throwing a gigantasaurous party with the dough, we don't care if you win. If you're not going to care about us little people, we're not going to care about you. Unless you marry Britney Spears or J. Lo. Then we'll make a big to-do about it. Even then, we won't know your name.


We live in two Americas (musically)

In one America, we listen to new, emerging artists and great musicians who remain underappreciated by commercial radio. These musical acts are embodied by The Shortlist of Music. The 10 finalists for the 2004 Shortlist prize were announced this week:
Air, Dizzee Rascal, Franz Ferdinand, Ghostface Killah, The Killers, Loretta Lynn, Nellie McKay, The Streets, TV On the Radio, Wilco

In the other America, we listen to The American Music Awards. Finalists in the pop/rock category announced earlier this month:
(favorite male) Josh Groban, Lenny Kravitz, Michael McDonald, Usher
(favorite female) Sheryl Crow, Avril Lavigne, Jessica Simpson
(favorite band) Evanescence, Nickelback, OutKast
(favorite album) "Feels Like Home" (Norah Jones), "In This Skin" (Jessica Simpson), "Confessions" (Usher)

The rules in the Shortlist world: Selected peer musicians nominate albums that have yet to go gold (read: yet to sell 500,000 copies).
The rules in the American Music Awards world: Listen to lots of crap, then pick the musicians most likely to get people to tune into the telecast. They're not called the "favorites" for nothing. I know I didn't listen to a lot of radio this year, but Michael McDonald is up for favorite pop/rock male in 2004? Don't you mean 1984? And Nickelback? Really....Nickelback??? No wonder the AMA's forced the round pegs of OutKast into that square hole.

I prefer living in the Shortlist world. But that's just me. What world do you live in? (or for you grammarians, In what world do you live?)

Another look at "Brain Candy"

Maybe it's time to take a fresh look at the one and only feature film by The Kids in the Hall, Brain Candy. Critics were not especially kind to the movie upon its release in 1996. Eight years later, our country and our world are even more dependent on pills (pat yourselves on the backs, pharmaceutical corporations!). Just read today's collection of New York Times reports on Prozac, a new study documenting antidepressant use among children and how doctors vow to stop prescribing so many pills here (we'll see about that) and in Britain. Now that's what I call team coverage. If only reading this news didn't depress me so much. Oh, the irony!

Campaign speeches that matter

What's so funny about this election? Posted by Hello

W's speech this morning (read the transcript here) to the United Nations general assembly (10:30 a.m. Eastern, 7:30 a.m. Pacific/Arizona) certainly will be politically significant. But just as certainly, John Kerry's appearances on the late-night TV circuit will carry weight with the voters come Nov. 2. Most of the mainstream media will try (as NBC's Nightly News vows it will tonight) to paint Kerry's "interviews" as soft or as attempts to avoid hard questions. As if any presidential candidate could expect to get a realistic interview out of the mainstream TV news organizations (network or cable). They're still busy rehashing Vietnam and giggling with glee over CBS getting bad intel. If only they talked this much about the Bush Administration getting bad intel -- that started a war, you may recall. Iraq. Heard of it? So Kerry showed up Monday for the Late Show with David Letterman -- not because he wanted to avoid questions, but because he wanted a chance to reach the voters. And believe you me, the undecided and usually apathetic voters are tuning out the mainstream TV media. But they are watching Leno, Letterman and Jon Stewart. Those viewers are still debating whether or not they should even vote on Nov. 2, so Kerry's appearances will go further in helping these undecideds make up their minds than will any "investigative" TV report. Especially since fewer and fewer of us even trust mainstream TV news enough to watch it.

Hey, I only have 20 seconds left...

No, not really. But remember this phrase the next time you're watching a TV chat show. This might not rise to the level of scandal as the CBS memo hoax, but still, it's worth noting that just about every TV chat includes the titular lie. You'll be watching an interview or debate when the anchor/moderator says, "Hey, I/we only have 20 seconds left" or something to that effect. OK. Now start the clock. How long does the anchor talk after saying that? Always longer than the time supposedly remaining in the segment/show. So what does this mean? I don't know. But it bugs me nevertheless.

Fixing the Emmys (and other award shows)

What would God say? Losing builds character. Posted by Hello

We watch the Emmys and the other award shows for but a few reasons: 1) We want to see who wins, 2) we want to see what outrageous things the winners and the host might say, and 3) we want to see if anyone looks particularly sexy or silly. That's about it. But just about every awards telecast (these Emmys included) fails to keep things under control. I wasn't the only one to notice that the hurry-up-and-accept-your-award rule did not apply to Al Pacino, while the winners of best comedy (Arrested Development) and best drama (The Sopranos) were cut off in mid-thank-you. Last time I checked, weren't those awards the two biggest ones? And yet, for the sake of holding the show to three hours, the (ahem) Emmy-winning director of the show cued the music for others (ahem, but not himself). If these programs want to save time, why don't they simply cut out all the blather between presenters before each award? Why force the funny when it isn't there? Even host Garry Shandling knew that some of his skits should have been cut short. Just let things flow. Let Elaine Stritch go batty! Let Conan O'Brien go goofy! Just give us viewers what we want! Thank you.

How about that Jimmy Breslin?

Read his Sept. 16 column about the sham of political polling in the 21st century.

More fun with tape-delay

The press always makes such a big deal out of NBC's delayed broadcasts of the Olympics. But the more I think about it, the more I wonder why that is. After all, most game shows (including Jeopardy and Survivor) are contested months before broadcast, and no reporters and editors are all up in arms about that. And the biggest "new" sport to take TV by storm -- poker -- had its 2004 World Series of Poker finale delayed from May 28 to ESPN's airwaves on Tuesday. I was all prepared to write something this week on the powerful pull of poker. Prepared, that is, until I watched the SportsCenter anchors interview poker champ Greg Raymer on Tuesday night as if he had won that night. Let me repeat that. They interviewed him, not as if he had won in May, but as if he had won that night. Shocking but true. My media colleagues are letting me down again. What's next? Will a university pay Jayson Blair to talk to its students? Oh wait. That happened this week, too? Argh.

Why people lie despite overwhelming evidence

You thought this was going to be a post about the Bush Administration, didn't you? Ha. We know why they're lying, though. People in power want to keep power.
The situation in Oakland is different.
While Texas Rangers pitcher Frank Francisco reported to court yesterday to hear charges of aggravated assault for throwing a chair into the crowd Monday night and breaking a woman's nose, said woman and her hubby were holding court with the press to lay the foundation for -- ka-ching! -- a civil suit. But their lies will betray them. To wit, Craig and Jennifer Bueno admitted buying season tickets to A's games specifically to heckle the opposing bullpens. And yet, Jennifer claimed to be "scared" for her life, adding: "I would never expect professional athletes to behave that way." She holds season tickets and doesn't know how pro athletes behave in the 21st century? Her hubby said: "I'm certainly not going to do anything that will endanger my family." And yet, if you watch the video evidence (as a jury shall someday), you'll clearly see Mr. Bueno gesturing to the Rangers before the chair-hurling, with Bueno's hands and lips just as clearly challenging the Rangers to, as they say, bring it on. That's not excusing Francisco for throwing a chair.
The press may be focusing on the chair-in-the-air for now, but once they press rewind and examine the footage more closely, they'll see that Mr. and Mrs. Bueno wanted an aggravated assault. And they got what they wished for. Let's hope they don't get rewarded for it.

Ah, satire...

Life lesson for everyone: Your opposition/enemy is not just wrong but also inane. What do you do? You could refute them with facts and figures. But it's always more fun to choose satire and show them up as the absurd dunderheads they are. Example: Last night's episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, in which Stephen Colbert argued that in the war on terror, everyone should have access to powerful guns and ammo, saying, "There's evidence that it works. Look at Iraq. Everybody there has assault weapons and they've been successful in holding off a much more powerful occupying force. I think that's a model we can all learn from!"

ESPN's Dream Job? Keep dreaming

The second edition of ESPN's Dream Job contest begins within the hour, and if you watch and think -- "maybe this could be me someday" -- then you are indeed dreaming. If you watch and think -- "maybe these are the 12 most deserving candidates to become a national sports anchor" -- then you not only are dreaming, but you are living in an alternate universe. These finalists are the best sports anchors as much as the American Idol finalists are the best young singers. Dream Job remains a TV show, first and foremost. It's cast not by ESPN but by the same casting producers who select other "reality show" participants. I know because I dropped in on such an "audition" in Phoenix this summer. A word to the wise (and there are few of you left): Most of these TV shows hold group auditions, which are designed not to get to know anything about your particular talents save one -- what are you willing to do to get yourself noticed. That tactic might help make for good TV contestants on Fear Factor, but what does that have to do with anchoring the sports news? Exactly.

You can't spell Oprah without PR

Doesn't this make me look like such the philanthropist? Posted by Hello

Oprah may have gotten all of the good press for giving away 276 cars to her studio audience Monday. But Oprah didn't give away the cars. Pontiac did. Now that's what we call product placement. The Motley Fool managed to weigh in on this today.

Another take on why we don't love the media

Bryan Keefer wrote an interesting op-ed piece in Sunday's edition of The Washington Post exploring why he and other 20/30-somethings aren't reading the papers and watching the TV news. Of course, he also managed to plug his own Web sites. Nice work, kiddo. If you don't feel like reading or simply like having me recap it for you, his analysis goes like this: Today's media pack is full of b.s. that it shovels on behalf of the powerful people who unload it on them, so it takes people like him and me to give you the straight scoop.

Yet another reason why people enjoy reading The Onion or watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: Those venues exist to spotlight how full of bull the mainstream media is.

Nothing to fear except the news itself

Much of the media buzz today is on the end of the decade-long assault weapons ban, but for my money, the scarier story in today's New York Times involves the fraudulent use of absentee votes. Annie will always get her gun, so to speak, just as "soft money" always will find its way into election fund-raising and rich people will exploit the justice system and the tax loopholes. Those all things to be railed against, to be sure. But fixing an election? That I haven't seen, since, oh, I don't know, 2000? Yeah, yeah. Sour grapes, my eye. You know the stink will stay on that skunk of a presidential campaign until the history books write it out as a footnote alongside the election of 1876.

Appropriate proverb of the day: Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.

This is Jeopardy...in jeopardy!

Can you identify the mutant in this picture? Posted by Hello

Will Ken Jennings reveal himself to be human on Monday's episode of Ellen? Will we find out if he already has lost on Jeopardy? Will anyone care by then? Must I only post in the form of a question? This is a Jeopardy-related post, isn't it?

never forget

pausing to reflect and remember

Look ma, no mouth! I guess we're seeing all this silliness because Guinness World Records is celebrating its 50th anniversary. If you ask me, the record people are drinking too much Guinness when they decide what should be included in the record books. Posted by Hello

Now it's official: Everyone and their dogs have a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. A record for biggest dog ears? Really? I didn't know we needed that. Posted by Hello

You might be wondering why you're suddenly hearing so much about W.'s service, or lack thereof, in the National Guard three decades ago. Why didn't we hear about this, say, in 2000? Well, lots of factors at play. The Hartford Courant talks about one such factor: mainstream news being slow to pick up on alternative scoops.
But for a bigger problem, consider this question: Why does it take so long for newspapers and magazines to catch plaigarists?
It's a simple answer, really: Because too many editors and reporters aren't reading the works of other reporters.
That's why the New York Times caught up with a former Alabama National Guard airman seven months after the Memphis Flyer wrote about it.
That's also why most plaigarists get away with their scams. If you're not reading the original reporting, how are you going to recognize the copycats?

As far as the recent Boston Globe expose into Bush's Guard service, consider the timing as politically motivated. Sort of. Most who follow politics believe that voters don't start paying attention to the election until the last month or two. Labor Day weekend not only comes right after both conventions, but also just eight weeks from Election Day. And all newspapers try to gear high-profile stories to the calendar, because they want to make sure their stories get full attention, too. Better to run the story a day or two after the holidays, when everyone is ready to read a paper again and when the story doesn't have to compete with a lot of other news. Looks like it worked for the Globe this time.

Who took the new out of my New Times?

In other words, who took the alt out of my alt-weekly? Can you say "identity crisis"? Phoenix New Times sure can. Last week's cover story: Here's how to drink and drive and get away with it -- and just in time for Labor Day Weekend. OK. Very alt. Very in-your-face, not-going-to-see-this-in-the-major-dailies. This week's cover? Dance Dance Fever: Valley arcade rats find fame on the DDR dance pad. How very...um...cute. Yes, that's it. Cute. After several weeks of using its cover to bash the local sheriff (and boy, does he deserve it), the issue that hit the streets in the wake of the sheriff's Sept. 7 primary election victory is geared toward bored teens. This calls for an investigation. If only I knew of a local media outlet that could pull it off.

Blame the media

Why do we have such short attention spans? Well, for a long time, I simply thought that my fellow Americans were stupid. I still believe that. But I also think that the media is partially to blame for our collective institutional memory loss. Consider the recent Republican National Convention. Mean-spirited? Sure. Intimidating? Sure. But new? Nope. Not a bit. For all of the media's collective harumphing over the GOP's claim that a vote for Kerry-Edwards = terror, remember this: Wasn't it only 40 years ago that the Democratic presidential campaign for LBJ scared us into believing that a vote for Goldwater = nuclear war? Oh, yeah. I do remember that. The girl picking flowers overshadowed by a mushroom cloud? I met her, too, over the weekend. Of course, she is 40 years older now. Don't tell her that.

Bush isn't as crazy as you think

Everyone seems to be making a great deal out of the president's speech from Sept. 7 in Missouri, where he said that "too many OB/GYN's aren't able to practice their love with women all across the country." That was no flub. W. was just taking a page out of a Clinton speech.

This is what a real storm looks like, if you're from outer space, that is. Posted by Hello

Putting "monsoon season" into perspective

The temperatures and humidity might be creeping upward again here in the so-called Valley of the Sun, but I think we can, once and for all, put an end to the sham of a mockery of a sham that is "monsoon season." Especially with Florida preparing for its third hurricane in less than a month (that would be Ivan, for those of you keeping track). Now there is a place with seasonal weather problems. Arizona? We have heat here. But local meteorologists persist with the myth that Arizona has a monsoon season.

monsoon: n., a seasonal wind of the Indian Ocean and S. Asia, blowing from the southwest from April to October, and from the northeast during the rest of the year; the season during which this wind blows from the southwest, characterized by heavy rains; any wind that reverses its direction seasonally or blows constantly between land and adjacent water

Rule o' thumb...if you have to use the third definition, you're already in trouble, especially when people associate monsoon with heavy rains, not a little wind gust now and then. In the Phoenix metro area, we had a few nights of thunderstorms and a couple of days of dust storms this summer. That was it. People in Bangladesh have to survive monsoons. In Arizona, it's more like dealing with Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody: "Thunderbolts and lightning, very very frightening, weeeeee!" And when we do get hit by a big storm, the TV people don't even call that a monsoon. Instead, they call it a microburst. Sounds like a midget having an orgasm -- which also is dangerous. Please stay indoors.

I'm the last comic standing, this weekend only

News flash...I'm proud to report that I'm hosting the shows this weekend at the Tempe Improv with Alonzo Bodden, Gary Gulman and Jay London of NBC's hit stand-up comedy show, Last Comic Standing. Last night's show was sold-out, two shows tonight, two shows Saturday, and now two shows Sunday. The crowd was electric last night. Good times. Good times. And yes, ladies, Gary really is dreamy, Alonzo really is nice and Jay really is shy. If you're in the area and can catch the show, be sure to say hello. Thank you.

Can Frances rock you like a hurricane?

All of this hurricane talk this summer -- Hurricane Frances on its way to Florida as I type -- got me to thinking about the Scorpions and their 1984 megahit, Rock You Like a Hurricane. Would it ever be an appropriate soundtrack? Ordinarily, no. Poor taste. Unless, of course, it were Hurricane Klaus, named for lead singer Klaus Meine. There have been two Atlantic-sized opportunities so far: 1984 (coincidence? methinks not) and 1990.

The official data and tracking maps of such...
1984 Hurricane Klaus
1990 Hurricane Klaus

But why? Posted by Hello

I'm not sure what is stranger: Having a Turkish man squirt milk 9.2 feet out of his eye for a Guinness record, or knowing that Guinness World Records already recognized this effort as record-worthy. On second thought, someone needs to take over the Guinness World Records office and restore order. There simply cannot be a record for every stupid human trick. I drew the line way before milk-out-of-the-eye-squirting.

Man of the night: Zell Miller

Aaarrrgh! I'm crushing your head! Posted by Hello

An hour after this photo...
"Me, angry? No, no, no," said Miller to CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

Twenty minutes after that...
"I wish we lived in the day where you could challenge a person to a duel. That would be good," said Miller to MSNBC's Chris Matthews.

Read the major speeches from Wednesday at the Republican National Convention and watch the whole 11-minute-plus interview with Hardball's Chris Matthews and "Democratic" U.S. Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia through this link.


To: Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant and N.J. Gov. James McGreevey
Bcc: Michael Jackson
From: Your accusers
Re: Sorry?

Did we lead you to believe we wanted you to face criminal justice? Oops. Sorry about that. All we really wanted were apologies. Really. That's all. Dragging your names through the media mud and the court of public opinion will have to suffice, we suppose. Although throwing some money our way would work nicely, too. Just in case you were thinking of making us go away for good.

Replacing Craig Kilborn: Part III

NOW UPDATED FOR YOUR PLEASURE: OK, OK, it appears as though many first-time readers of Popular Thinking are arriving via searches for news on Craig Kilborn's replacement as host of the Late Late Show. So you probably want a little more than simply my astute prediction that the gig is Vince Vaughn's for the taking. Especially since E! online reported today that the initial list of guest hosts who start subbing Sept. 20 does not include Vaughn. Apparently, he said he's already booked with film work.
The early audition list includes D.L. Hughley, Michael Ian Black, Amy Sedaris and Jim Rome. Black and Sedaris are under contract with Worldwide Pants (the producers) already. Rome has his own sports talker. And Hughley is a favored guest of Bill Maher because he is willing to express his opinion on everything.

Related story links...
E! online, Sept. 1
Chicago Sun-Times, Aug. 27
New York Daily News, Aug. 20
Rocky Mountain News, Aug. 18
New York Daily News, Aug. 15
Washington Post, Aug. 14
New York Post, Aug. 16
E! online, Aug. 13

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