popular thinking

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

Ad spoofs

I knew I wasn't the only one watching TV this weekend and wondering why ad agencies are suddenly taking competitors on directly with copycat spoofs. Slate weighs in on the new campaigns by NetZero (vs. AOL) and Bud Light (vs. Miller Lite). See the NetZero ads here. Amusing? Yes. Effective? Dunno. I'd like to think my ad agency could come up with its own creative campaign. But that's just me.

FCC looks to the skies?

Just when you thought it was safe to buy a satellite radio for the holidays, you find out that the FCC wants to regulate that, too. Argh!

Read between the lines

Before you go into shock over reading that Bill O'Reilly would defend Dan Rather, take a closer look at what O'Reilly is writing in this Thanksgiving week column. As with everything else "the Factor" says on TV or in print, it's always about him. Take this passage: "All famous and successful Americans are now targets. Unscrupulous people know that any accusation can be dumped on the Internet and within hours the mainstream media will pick it up. A click of the Internet mouse can wipe out a lifetime of honor and hard work. Just the accusation or allegation can be ruinous." Whom do you think O'Reilly is talking about here, Rather or himself?

Thanks, Bill, for sharing your thoughts. I'm going to send you a free copy of Michael Jackson's 1987 hit single, Man in the Mirror. (listen to an audio clip of the chorus from this link)

Holiday leftovers: Grilled cheese, anyone?

Why did it take this long for the Miami Herald to do some actual reporting on the so-called Virgin Mary Grilled Cheese sandwich?

And why, oh why, did the same paper succumb to the silliness of having one of its columnists escort the sandwich from Florida to Vegas? Reminds me of what colleague Jeff Jarvis says online and on the air: Journalists are supposed to question conventional wisdom, not spread it.

Perhaps the media conglomerate thinks itself Knight Rider and not Knight Ridder.

Headline of the day

Turkey and TV

A couple of ads caught my eye this week.
-- This is at least the second time that the ad agency on the Bud Light account has responded directly to the Miller Lite campaign. Earlier this year, Bud Light's pushers were on the defensive from Miller Lite's election-themed ads; now it's the referees. An interesting tactic, this direct-response opposition ad offensive. But does the sporting maxim -- a better defense beats a good offense -- translate to advertising? Menothinks so.
-- George Lucas is now a full-fledged sell-out. And yet, the Target ads for the day-after-Thanksgiving sale are brilliant. The free wake-up call is brilliant. The ads themselves, brilliant. Wait, Guinness Beer -- brilliant!
But I digress.
Wake me up, I must be dreaming. Or is that the tryptophan talking?

What a difference four years make

Secretary of State Colin Powell said the United States does not recognize the Ukrainian presidential election results because it did not reflect "the will of the people" and because of reports of fraud and uncounted votes. Hmmm. I guess this means Ukraine is the new Florida.

Grilled cheesy ephipany

I don't know why I hadn't noticed this before, but in all of the TV footage tonight showing the woman with the "Virgin Mary on a Grilled Cheese Sandwich" -- it sold for $28,000, dontchaknow-- she shows off the decade-old sammich with movie posters on the wall behind her. The posters I saw? Switchback and Caddyshack II. I believe the appropriate phrase here would be: May God have mercy on her soul. Only in Hollywood (Florida, that is). Watch the disturbing story from beginning to end courtesy of WFOR, the Miami CBS affiliate.

P.S. The sandwich lady told TV reporters she has received "a lot of luck" over those 10 years, including $70,000 in casino winnings. So how does she explain her teeth? No faith in dentistry?

Stripping for ratings

Remember when the pay-TV channel Naked News seemed revolutionary? Now comes Cleveland anchorwoman Sharon Reed, who pulled a ratings stunt last week by baring all on camera for a nude group photo shoot. The shoot took place in July. The tape was aired in November. You don't even need to be a cynic on this one, as Reed and her bosses revealed the whole truth to a Plain Dealer columnist. The stunt was a hit, of course. But what does the FCC have to say about it? Remarkably little ... yet.

If this is acceptable for local TV news, then apparently the standards bar does not exist anymore, so long as a station slaps a "news" label on it. Which, if you were always curious how your TV personalities look naked, then great. But the more curious question is how a local TV station can even get away with calling that news. Unless the news peg is, see Sharon Reed naked for the first time on TV. And that would be news to me.

Fallout in Philly, Reed's previous place of employment.
Screen captures of the infamous broadcast here.

Does Dapper Dan Rather read my blog?

Perhaps not, but within "48 Hours" of my query about Dan Rather (see Sunday's post), the CBS anchor announced he would step down from the desk to mark his 24th anniversary in March.

The Frigid 50

Have to give the kids at Film Threat some credit. Funny stuff. Good idea to counter the endless top/most powerful/hot surveys from all of the other entertainment rags with this look at the least intriguing celebs taking up valuable newshole. Snicker at your leisure.

Melana Scantlin, back on the sidelines

You don't see her name yet on WCVB's online roster, but you sure can see the former Miss Missouri, former Kansas City Chiefs cheerleader and TV's first to dump "Average Joes" on the air on Boston's ABC affiliate. Melana Scantlin is part of the WCVB sports team, broadcasting feature stories for the channel's "Patriots All Access" show and who knows what else for Channel 5. It's heartening to see reality TV babes can still get work.

Related Miss Missouri files here and here.

Rather on Rather?

I saw a promo tonight for the CBS Evening News. Dan Rather said his newscast would offer in-depth examinations this week on "Issues that Divide Americans." Dan Rather is an issue that divides Americans -- do you suppose he'll examine himself on air? Nah.

Stephen King's happy ending

Sorry, this is not a post about massages. Wrong link. This is for everyone who saw Stephen King clutching notebooks in the stands and appearing on FOX every night during the 2004 World Series. What King wrote in those notebooks appears in the Red Sox book he co-wrote with fellow Nationalist Stewart O'Nan. Their book, Faithful: Two Diehard Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season, gets reviews in both the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald today.

Which reminds of me of a related topic...

Just how many Sox-related items will be purchased/given as holiday gifts this season? As you might expect, devoted fans already are snapping up any and all things commemorative to verify that the World Series win was not merely a dream. I bought the Time and Sports Illustrated sections just for keeping, not for reading -- and told the folks that framed front pages from the Globe and Herald would look nice on my walls. But how much of the other merchandise will be sold, especially with the holidays right around the proverbial corner? Just curious. Maybe I'll do some actual reporting and get back to you on that.

Not all Harvard students are bright

This student who critiqued the Boston Herald obviously slept in on the days they teach Journalism History, Muckracking 101, and Tabloids Vs. Broadsheets. They do teach classes at Harvard, don't they? Oh, those crazy kids. So young, so much to learn.

Related retort from a Boston Herald reporter posted here.

Good week to be Sirius

The Sirius satellite radio company has gone all out this week, with Howard Stern giving away thousands of free radios, then blasting the FCC and commercial radio on Letterman, then having his old boss hired to be his new boss. It's enough to get people taking them seriously. At least I didn't say Siriusly. Seriously, that's enough. Kudos, though, to the kids at lowculture, who gamely attempted to predict the New York tabby's front pages.

tv on the radio (on my cell phone) Posted by Hello

Maybe I need a better cell phone camera. More likely, I simply need to get out more. This is from this year's Shortlist-winning band's gig Wednesday at the Marquee Theatre in Tempe, Ariz. Great show, not just for TV on the Radio -- which literally redefines rock and roll with its flood of sonic waves -- but also for headliners The Faint -- which puts the dance-punk into the dance-punk genre and shows that the hype about Omaha's music scene is for reals.

Smoke 'em if you...oh wait

Today is the day for the Great American Smokeout, which means, of course, that today is the one day each year that I decide I might want to take up smoking, just for foolishness sake. You zig, I zag. Anyone got some Zig-Zags?

More disturbing images

If the Clinton library symbolism doesn't faze you, then perhaps this choice will. Take a look, if you dare, at these two photos and tell me which one disturbs you more: the cheesy Virgin Mary, or the tricky Dick Cheney?

The former could simply be a hoax. The latter tells me this much: Now we know how Cheney really gets his point across to Bush -- which also explains the bulge in the president's back during his debate.

Symbolism at work

The Clinton Presidential Library: doublewide on blocks, or phallic symbol? Discuss. Posted by Hello

Read what the architecture critic in St. Louis has to say.

Conflict of interest alert!

Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest songs ever, and would you believe that the top two songs both share the same name as the mag? Surprise, surprise. Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" tops the list, followed by the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." Related story, sans irony, via Reuters/CNN.

Can this be serious? Or is this just another hoax, like that R. Kelly story from earlier in the week?

Media hypocrisy: What the FCC?

As with Janet Jackson, so too with MNF...the FCC says it'll investigate the station that initially broadcasts the so-called impropriety, but looks away when every other station -- from CNN to ESPN to all of your local TV newscasts -- rebroadcast the same "indecent" clips over and over and over again. What gives? Does calling indecency "news" let you broadcast same under different (read: lower) standards?

Return of the Victorian age

This FCC "standards" issue really needs to be knocked down. Soon. Before everyone goes bonkers. Uh oh. Too late. ABC and the NFL both apologized for the Monday Night Football promo featuring the network's newly popular Desperate Housewives. Even more disturbing was the NFL's statement that the spot was "inappropriate and unsuitable for our 'Monday Night Football' audience." This is the same audience that has to endure Hank Williams Jr. and whatever other outrageously idiotic celebrity promotion the NFL and ABC have cooked up every other week. Really now. Ack!

To recap...
Hank Williams Jr. and friends in elaborate song-and-dreck numbers: OK
Janet Jackson's covered-up boob: not OK
An ode to veterans, especially those who fought in D-Day: OK last year, not OK this year
Levitra ads: apparently OK, since the penis pill is an offical NFL sponsor
White actresses hitting on black athletes: OK, just not on camera
Joe Namath hitting on the sideline reporter: OK, just not on camera
Athletes doing drugs, shooting guns, implicated in murder: OK, just not on camera

I smell a pattern here...

It's all about Wal-Mart

When Frontline, CNBC and South Park all devote special episodes in the same month to the expanding empire that is Wal-Mart, you know we're supposed to be paying attention.

Of course, if we had read the Los Angeles Times last November, we would have learned enough about Wal-Mart to award the newspaper the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting. Oh, wait. Somebody already did that. Why weren't the rest of us paying attention then? When are we going to start?

Scottsdale "reality" exposed

The debut of the eye network's Emmy-winning sixth edition of The Amazing Race yields yet another example of the Scottsdale stereotype: buffed, bronzed and easy on the eyes, if not in the mind. Of course, this is not a slam against 29-year-old Jon Buehler (who appeared cool-headed in the first leg of the race) as it is a slam against the casting producers for all of these "reality" TV shows. They cast a pretty shallow net, literally and figuratively. I am acquainted with just about all of these folks -- who have populated Survivor, Temptation Island, Blind Date, Elimidate, Paradise Hotel, Forever Eden, My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance (which provided me with nationwide scoops here, here and here), The Bachelor and countless other shows -- because they all seem to be either bartenders, cocktail waitresses or well-known members of the Scottsdale club scene. Buehler is a bartender and minority partner in 6, Scottsdale's most upscale lounge. The lounge is hosting viewing parties every Tuesday to cheer on their mate, in case you're curious about that sort of thing.

But I'm more curious about how other cities may be represented in the "reality" TV world. The Amazing Race usually includes a stereotypical New Yawker team, but what about other cities? Do you get a different sense of Boston or Atlanta or Dallas or anywhere else by watching "reality" TV? Or do other regions of the country not fall prey to the same stereotyping? Color me curioso.

Hacks invade pop culture analysis

Note to self: Avoid becoming like the like-minded folk referenced in above headline. I was suckered into watching CMT's 20 Sexiest Women episode, and before the countdown had counted down, I realized that I really watch too much television. This show is so much like every other instant-analysis, hey-I've-got-something-witty-to-say-about-things-I-know-nothing-of show on the tube these days (especially on VH1, MTV, MTV2, E!, FSN and CMT, but also creeping into other networks' programming). In fact, it's exactly like the other shows. In earlier posts, I railed against the fact that these "analysts" had no credibility. But the problem runs deeper -- these cultural talking heads all sound alike. Too many hacks filling up too much airtime. Someone must put a stop to it. I guess this is all too predictable, though, since TV executives have simply applied the same formula -- imitate a hit show until you run the format into the ground -- to pop-culture analysis that it has applied to sitcoms, dramas, game shows and "reality" shows. Watch out blogosphere, we're next.

All apologies

While you won't be seeing me apologizing to the world for re-electing George W. Bush, I would like to take this moment to send a global apology on behalf of Americans with actual musical taste. To everyone who watched the American Music Awards and thought it represented what the United States has to offer the world, I am sorry.

Perhaps not coincidentally, a better representation of the potential of American music will occur Monday night with the Shortlist of Music Prize Concert, also in L.A. Stay tuned.

This may make you more cynical...

CBS: Priorities in place

Let me get this straight. CBS gets caught using fake documents to try to bring down a president, no one gets fired. CBS scoops the other networks by announcing Arafat's death, and the producer gets fired...because she pre-empted the final four minutes of CSI:NY in two time zones to break the news. CBS: Can't be scooped? Can't broadcast straight?

The F in FCC stands for...

Folly? My local ABC station is among several stations scared too broadcast the Academy Award winning ode to Veterans Day, Saving Private Ryan. Read the Scripps statement here. Instead, Arizona viewers can watch Hoosiers, which is offensive to veterans by making them watch a hoops melodrama.

The Incredibles/haiku review

real world or toon town,
always room for more heroes;
a feel-good message

As I was saying...

President Bush supposedly will tap his lawyer buddy Alberto Gonzales to replace John Ashcroft as the U.S. Attorney General. Gonzales, as FOX News even reminds us, "wrote the February 2002 memo that allowed Bush to claim the right to waive international treaties when it comes to prisoners of war who do not represent other countries. Human rights groups criticized the memo, which they said gave way for abuses like that in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal." And as fans of Fox's TV show 24 would note, Gonzales couldn't even think up this philosophy before watching Kiefer Sutherland demonstrate it in plotline after plotline to great success. I believe the phrase you were looking for: life imitates art. Unless you were looking for the phrase: what in the h-e-double-hockey-sticks. Hockey, what is that again?

Which was the bigger pop culture newsmaker of 11/9: Halo 2's video game debut, or Mozilla's release of Firefox 1.0 browser? Please comment. Posted by Hello

This is the patriotic act many Americans were waiting for: John Ashcroft's resignation letter. But be careful what you wish for, liberals...his replacement could be just as creepy, even if he can't match Ashcroft's dubious dishonor of losing an election to a dead guy. Posted by Hello

Are you buying what they're selling?

Frontline's look at "The Persuaders" offered many insights. Among them: That people choose to enter a cult for the same reasons that they choose brand loyalties. In completely unrelated news, the Phoenix TV newscasts will be walking all over each other's shots to show how much they love the new Ikea store, opening this morning in Tempe. As my college buddies may well remember, one of my favorite one-word non-sequiters of all-time is ... wait for it ... Ikea!

Online access to the Wall Street Journal

Almost forgot -- this week is free access to WSJ.com. After that, it's back to using BugMeNot.com to read what the Wall Street Journal(ists) have to say.

Maxim upholds manly values

I suppose this means Maxim is really a Republican magazine? You know what they say, a girlfriend a day keeps the Democrats away...

This is a "top" headline?

Yahoo! indeed: Midyear moves affect students, schools. Thank you, Associated Press, for bringing us such breaking news.

Even golden boys do stupid things

The president and vice president have done it (Cheney did it twice). Many others have done it. That's little consolation to swimming stud Michael Phelps, who waited until the morning after getting the royal treatment at a Baltimore Ravens football game to reveal that he had, at 19, been arrested for drinking and driving. Most would think this arrest derails his endorsements. But sports likes its bad boys, too. See Ray Lewis. Or, closer to the pool, Gary Hall Jr. Or any other number of people who behave badly but make up for it with superior athletic ability or acting chops or other creative talents. So don't go dumping on the kid just yet. The even bigger question is when are we ever going to reevaluate the way we tackle drinking and driving so people cannot get behind the wheel drunk in the first place? No amount of PSAs or tough laws have proven able to prevent others from doing it. In my mind, it's akin to gun control. People feel they have a right to drive, just as they feel a right to own a gun. But both are dangerous when used under the influence. We need to prevent accidents by being proactive. That's why I think trigger locks are a good idea on guns, and that's why I think we need to think about requiring ignition locks on cars to keep drunks from driving. Think I'm crazy? Fine. But I may be right, too.

If you're a fan of my blog, then you might also like to set your TV (or VCR, TiVO or similar DVR devices) to watch tonight's Frontline episode, "The Persuaders," examining the power of advertising, public relations and marketing to make you think what they want you to think. If that sounds scary, it's because it is scary.

Related story previews the episode in the New York Times.

Pot calls kettle black

No kidding. Actual New York Times headline: "Fox News, Media Elite"
Story is just as amusing and just as rich in irony.

Even Wonkette gets snookered!

My new favorite post-election observation comes from Hot Ambercrombie Chick, who put one over on Wonkette, getting this year's supposedly hot blogger of the year to fall for a little cut-and-paste trickeration. Babe beats Nader, indeed; Babe Ruth, maybe. This just in: Fact-checking, still a good idea.

Election 2004: Monday morning QB (cont.)

The initial post-election conventional wisdom has buzzed around moral values, red states, blue state elitism, messages vs. messengers, wartime presidencies, 527s, negative campaigning and the "evil genius" of Karl Rove.
But Rove said something revealing in his Sunday morning TV talk show rounds when he professed to believe in the grand traditions of the Grand Old Party -- limited government and protecting the individual's right to choice.
Hmmm. Does that jibe with the reality of the 21st Century Republican Party? Not if you look at an expanding government that seeks to limit choices in regards to marriage and reproduction. In those cases, the government is seen as the savoir (pun intended). Sure, the Republicans won the electoral debate by defining it to their advantage, as in Republicans will protect the family (Defense of Marriage), they'll protect your guns (Dems will take 'em from you) and they'll protect you from terrorists (while Dems will be "sensitive" about the matter). You can argue all day and night about these things, but the GOP won, in part, because the Democratic Party could not define those debates and many others to their advantage.
Those who think this country is bitterly divided weren't around to see what happened after the election of 1860. I believe it was called the Civil War. Although in the new South, they still refer to that war by an old name, the War of Northern Aggression. It's little wonder, then, that the "Massachusetts liberal" campaign shtick would appeal to voters throughout the South. That label has even farther-reaching emotional and psychological undertones to Southerners than a simple picture of the so-called "media elite" and their friends.
This election also may prove that Ralph Nader was right after all.
At the end of this campaign, some voters could not discern much difference between how Bush and Kerry would pursue the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, and these voters decided to stick with the leader they knew rather than switch to a leader they still didn't really know.
And the Democrats never capitalized on the "two Americas" theme laid out by VP wannabe John Edwards. Instead, the class divide -- which is real and growing threat -- got trumped by the cultural divide.
Perhaps the true realignment today is not in favor of the Republicans, but rather, in favor of a new political party that may replace the Democrats -- as the Republicans had replaced the Whigs about 150 years ago.
Then again, I could just be writing this to rationalize my decision 12 years ago to write my Princeton senior thesis on third-party political strategies.
Then again, perhaps not. Perhaps Nader is right.

Election 2004: Monday morning QB

If you're going to "Monday-morning-quarterback" the elections, the least you can do is literally wait until Monday morning to do so, giving the proper perspective by letting six days pass for all of the exit-poll hyperbole and emotional analysis to play out.

Some number crunchers who love cartography have recolored the red-blue map to better reflect our political divide.

As a loyal Tiger, I'll give you the link to Princeton prof Robert J. Vanderbei, who made a county-by-county map mixing red, blue and green to show how we really split the vote last week.

Strange but true, I know this woman. Posted by Hello

Revenge of the Lucas

That great sucking sound you hear is people swallowing the hype, yet again, of a new Star Wars movie. Even watching the Episode III trailer, which debuted Thursday night, appears Friday at movieplexes and soon on the Web for all, you cannot help but recall that you got excited the past two times only to see crushing defeats in plot, dialogue and wonderment. Kind of like how the Democrats must feel.

Still with the exit polls...

Why are so-called journalists and political analysts still quoting the flawed exit polls? They're using the polls for everything from how many young people voted to what issues mattered to voters. Didn't we already agree that the exit polls don't work?

TV ratings in red states?

After this election, ponder for a moment NBC's decision to drop Father of the Pride. Sure, the show was bad. But perhaps it's worth considering how some of our more "liberal" TV shows fare in the ratings in some of our more "conservative" parts of the country. Anyone do a breakdown of Nielsen ratings that way? I've seen breakdowns by race before, which always are interesting, but not a breakdown by geographic region.

Can the nation unite?

Can I have a long-ago schoolboy crush on Peggy Noonan, question it after reading her recent columns and chats, then still think fondly back on my crush? I guess that's a yes.

Find your "Lost" girl through Live Links!

I knew I watched a lot of late-night TV for a reason ... suddenly it appears as though I can meet Evangeline Lilly, star of ABC's new hit Lost, since here she is asking me to call her up via Live Links. Talk about your overnight sensations!

Terror paradox?

All this talk about the election being about terrorism and Iraq doesn't match up with the red-state/blue-state map in this respect: The places targeted by terrorists voted for Kerry, while the places that voted for Bush seem to have incurred the heaviest costs in terms of soldiers fighting and dying in Iraq. Just an early post-election theory worth pondering.

An end to exit polls? Please?

Why in the world would anyone put their trust into polling data that didn't reflect anyone who 1) voted absentee, 2) voted early, or 3) voted in the late afternoon or evening of Election Day? But that's what all of the TV networks have been doing, election after election. No wonder it bit them in their behinds. Again.

As CNN's E. Andrew Torgan wrote on Romenesko, exit polls weren't the only dunderheaded prediction tools misused by the media... "Desperate to fill time/space in the final days of an election that was too close to call, many of us resorted to quirky "predictors" such as: "The Washington Redskins lost their last home game before the election, and that's good news for Kerry..." and "The Dow lost more than one half of one percent in October, and that's good news for Kerry..."
Well, it looks like all these turned out to be wrong. And now, we can't use them in 2008, for which I'm sure the media-consuming public will be eternally gratetful.
Just watch out for "No Democratic presidential candidate from Massachusetts has ever won an election in the same year the Boston Red Sox won the World Series..."

Polling place report

The poll workers at my precinct reported lines from 7 a.m. until noon, beginning to slow just in time for my arrival at 2:30 p.m. More than 800 people had voted in person at my location, plus a couple of hand-delivered early ballots and a basket full of provisional ballots. No word on how many folks voted absentee from my hood.

My impact on readership

Proof that it's not worth reading The Arizona Republic if I'm not writing for it. Newspaper sales are down 19,000 since I left.

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