popular thinking

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

iTUNES CELEBRITY PLAYLISTS: Still an odd duck. Apple has let celebrities of various talents share their own music mixes with the general public since October 2003. A Slate article last year slammed the celebs for having poor taste. Not that it's gotten any better, in some cases, but at least I provide an explanation for this silliness in my Sunday Arts piece in today's Boston Herald. I'm traveling today, so I cannot see what from the print version did not make it online. I'll be sure to update you. By the way, Scott, it wasn't my idea to write "Someone on the Stereogum blog." That was an editor. Just so you know. And your play-by-play of the Lionel Richie "Hello" video, hee-haw-hilarious.

MR. POTATO HEAD GOES TO THE DARK SIDE: Read my little story about "Darth Tater" here in today's Boston Herald.

Yes, that's Mr. Potato Head doing his best Darth Vader impersonation. Posted by Hello

JACK SHAFER CONFUSED ABOUT BLOGGING? Jack Shafer of Slate is a very nice man. I can say this because he awarded me first prize in a newspaper contest a couple of years ago. And yet, I must comment at least a little bit about his online column Wednesday that refers to himself as a "slow blogger." Mind you, I won't complain as much as some people (that would be you, Jay Rosen), since I wasn't at last week's conference at Harvard (still stuck in the desert) and haven't had the time to pore through the transcripts and assorted archives. But I can take issue with a few things Shafer wrote Wednesday.

To wit, Shafer begins with a 33-year flashback to talk about the power of independent video journalists to take down the networks and Hollywood, a la "Guerilla Television." That may not have happened as imagined, but surely Shafer would have to acknowledge that quite a bit of famed footage on the nightly news comes from the people. Paid professionals did not bring us all of that tsnumani tragedy caught on tape, nor did they bring us Rodney King, the Pulitzer-winning photo from the Oklahoma City bombing, and many other images we all remember far too well. The networks pay handily for this footage, which only encourages more individuals to tote their cameras. The rise of so-called "reality TV" has only heightened that sense that everyone is part of the action. So when Shafer asserts that "the guerrilla uprising Shamberg and his comrades plotted never progressed much beyond the unwatched public-access channels at the high end of the dial," well, it has progressed more than he might want to acknowledge.

Secondly, that whole business about Shafer being a "slow blogger" doesn't quite cut it. He is an online columnist for an online magazine. That's not quite Web logging. Close, but not quite. Many practicing journalists know their way around the Web but don't know how to take advantage of it. That's what stops them from understanding how blogs can help, not hurt the printed product.

Third, Shafer mentions a 1993 prediction by Michael Crichton that "artificial-intelligence agents, skimming information and the news from news databases and composing front pages or broadcasts tailored to the interests and needs of individuals" would replace mainstream media within a decade. While the mainstream media has not been replaced, I do seem to recall more and more people checking out a site called Google News. Many mainstream media sites want to figure out how to deliver custom-made Web news to their customers, too. You'd think that would be worth a mention.

Anyhow, Shafer is right about one important thing. Blogs do have great potential, and we can only hope that The Media hasn't already figured out how to use it for evil rather than good.

LIFE IMITATES 24: OK, if you're not freaked out at least a little by this, then, well...so far this week, we've seen a nuclear plant shut down over leaks in Michigan (relevant from this week's episode of 24) and then a guy purposely puts his truck in the way of a train to cause a fatal wreck in California (see the season debut). What's next? A rash of girlfriends die from poisoned tea? Good thing I didn't follow through with that crush I had on an Iranian girl from a previous job. Not that I'd poison her, mind you. I can handle rejection. I don't know what I meant by that. It seemed relevant at the time I typed it. Oh, never mind. Back to relevant blogging... This season is still mind-blogglingly crazy, but not so crazy to keep me from watching every digitized minute of it. Aisha Tyler is a baddy? We could've suspected she was up to no good, but to think she's up to anti-good? Whoa. Not Keanu whoa, nor even Joey Lawrence whoa, but still...whoa!


IF YOUR CITY HAS 1.4 MILLION PEOPLE and no backup plan for water treatment other than "boil water before drinking and cut your showers short" for 36 hours until we figure this out, well, then, you need to find yourself a new city. Seriously. Even if that new city received close to three feet of snow last weekend and another foot of snow today. I'm ready to move.

CONTESTING 'THE WILL'S' WILL: What happens to the Scottsdale family now that their CBS show, The Will, was canceled after only two hours? Does this mean the will's winner is moot? Just curious.

HOW MUCH AM I LOOKING FORWARD TO ANOTHER SEASON OF THE SIMPLE LIFE? None. Looking forward to it none at all. Not even going to link to it. That's how little I care for the perpetuation of Paris and Nicole.

OSCAR NOMINATIONS PROMPT EARLY QUESTIONS: Well, the initial media spin on the Academy Award nominations will be all about The Aviator leading with 11 nods, Jamie Foxx getting named in both the lead and supporting acting categories, and Hilary Swank facing Annette Bening in a rematch over the lead actress category. But what about my questions, such as...
  • How did Alan Alda outpoint Alec Baldwin for supporting actor in The Aviator?
  • How did Clint Eastwood edge out Paul Giamatti for lead actor?
  • It was heartwarming to see Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind get actress and screenplay nominations, but how could these same voters not see the film's brilliant direction, cinematography, other acting and whatnot?
  • Am I the only person wondering how true story films such as The Aviator and Hotel Rwanda can be filed under original screenplay instead of adapted screenplay? Aren't they adapted from real life or media clippings?
  • I thought the Academy loved Meryl Streep, so what up with that?
  • Is there now a quota in the lead actress category for best teen newcomer, since Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria Full of Grace) takes over where last year's nominee, Keisha Castle-Hughes, left off?
  • So A Very Long Engagement and House of Flying Daggers are honored for their cinematography but not as foreign language films? What are the rules on that, anyhow?
  • The Passion of the Christ gets three nods, but then again, even Troy and I, Robot managed to find a place at the Oscar ceremony this year, so what does this say about the Academy's unwillingness to touch Michael Moore with a 10-foot-roll-of-film? Maybe it's the Cannes curse?
  • Who is happier about Super Size Me getting a documentary nod, Morgan Spurlock or Subway's Jared?
See the official nominee list here and ask your own questions, or answer mine.

JOHNNY TRUMPS TRUMP: Well, almost. At least until the Oscar nominations come out later this morning, most of the media's attention looked back on the career of Johnny Carson, who died Sunday at 79. Jay Leno devoted almost the entire show to Carson (as well he should) and benefited even more from the fact that Letterman already was on a scheduled vacation. Larry King had Ed and Doc on the CNN "interview" program, proving once again to anyone who tunes in that Larry King must be stopped. TV crews caught up with stand-up comedians -- many of whom owe their big breaks to Carson. That was good. What wasn't good? Interviewing Keanu Reeves and others at the Sundance Film Festival for their reactions, as if their opinions mattered. Most reports talked of how Carson could never be duplicated. That's true not just because of the man's talents as an entertainer, but also because of how much the medium has changed since his 30-year Tonight Show reign from 1962 to 1992.

Of note in the NYT, the nutgraf signifying just what Carson meant to TV:
Mr. Carson was often called "the king of late night," and he wielded an almost regal power. Beyond his enormous impact on popular culture, Mr. Carson more than any other individual shifted the nexus of power in television from New York to Los Angeles, with his decision in 1972 to move his show from its base in Rockefeller Center in New York to NBC's West Coast studios in Burbank, Calif. That same move was critical in the changeover of much of television from live to taped performances.
Related: Washington Post's Tom Shales, The New York Times glorified obit treatment and assorted siders.

...perhaps this well-traveled photo of a pre-gabillionaire bill gates puts the fear of microsoft in ya! Posted by Hello

which photo of last week is scarier? the cat who ate the (w)hole courtney? or... Posted by Hello

TALK ABOUT PRODUCT PLACEMENT: If you watched any of The Apprentice last night, then you realized that it amounted to a 90-minute Burger King commercial (and the possibility that the books-smart team wasn't reading the right books). BK bought and paid for the privilege of getting Trump's kids to hawk its burgers. Team Angus even placed a fake boardroom ad into the final minutes of the episode. Egads! Maybe this is a natural regression for TV back to the early days, when the stars interrupted their programs to do the commercials themselves.

FILE THIS UNDER BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR: Michael Powell announced today he will step down as head of the FCC, giving two months notice. But who will replace him, and will that person be more or less Orwellian than Powell? That's the question we should be asking. The New York Times examines the known possibilities.

BLOGGING, JOURNALISM & CREDIBILITY: Bloggers meet at Harvard, discuss their place in 21st century journalism. I've listened in to some of the discussion, thanks to a live audio webcast linked from this site (I'll have to return later when it's archived to catch what I've missed). Jeff Jarvis has his discussion topics already outlined on his blog. The Wall Street Journal graces us with a free online story today about the confab. The AP and Wired, meanwhile, examine the ethics of journalists and citizens moonlighting, as it were, in blogland. Most of the debate revolves around the one big question -- whether bloggers should follow the same rules as old-school journalists and be entitled to the same rights. A smaller question highlighted by the Wired piece examines the curious nature of old-school journos trying to adapt to new-school blogging. Can it be done? For my sake, I hope so.

IF YOU WANT THE FULL CBS NEWS IN-HOUSE INVESTIGATION: Click here and read the PDF for yourself.

DOES THE BS IN CBS STAND FOR...Um, no. But I'm slightly aghast at the mainstream media for getting all aflutter over Les Moonves the other day and rushing to print with stories saying that the CBS Evening News soon will be multi-anchored or aided by Jon Stewart. Didn't they pay any attention to the actual press conference? Apparently not. Les simply answered the questions foisted upon him and speculated aplenty, which means that anything is possible. Anyone who still thinks Katie Couric would make a great evening anchor, however, should think again after hearing this exchange Wednesday morning with Donald Trump.
Couric: "Did you have her sign a pre-nup?"
Trump: "Absolutely."
Couric: "I can't believe I just asked you that question."

Yes, picture her anchoring the nightly news, why don't you.

TRUMP, THE MUSICAL? I checked my calendar, and it's not yet April 1, so what to make of this wire story reporting that Mark Burnett and Donald Trump are considering turning The Apprentice into a Broadway musical? Burnett even calls it "a love story." Really. Doesn't anyone else remember Cop Rock?

OUTWIT THE IRS? Everyone in the media is having fun with the news that Richard Hatch -- the middle-aged naked gay Survivor winner, not the middle-aged clothed Battlestar Galactica star -- got caught trying to fake out the IRS on his taxes. The Smoking Gun has the court docs. Hatch reportedly will plead guilty when he goes to court next week. My question isn't about why Hatch thought he could avoid paying taxes on his million-dollar CBS winnings or his six-figure earnings from Boston radio, but about why CBS didn't already take care of that for him. Big lottery winnings usually take out the taxes before the big payout. Don't TV shows do something similar, whether it's Jeopardy, Who Wants to Be A Millionaire or Survivor? Guess not. Or is Survivor an exception? Anyone with inside knowledge, please share.

ACTUAL HUMOR IN THE NEW YORK TIMES: This op-art is too funny not to include its link here, for finally putting the Lance Armstrong "Livestrong" wristlets into perspective.

GOLDEN GLOBES SHOCKS, DISMAYS: And that was even before the awards show began. What shocked and dismayed me? Lisa Ling. Ms. Ling provides beauty in the eyes of this beholder, but by the end of NBC's pre-show arrivals hour, she could not have been less attractive. I may not have been a big fan of homework during my school days, but couldn't the Peacock network do better than having someone interview celebs without any preparation whatsoever? Witness these precious moments from last night...
  • Asking Ewen McGregor about filming Star Wars, which wrapped a year ago.
  • Asking Minnie Driver about singing in Phantom of the Opera, when she was the only actor to lip-synch.
  • Asking Topher Grace about his latest movie, when he had hosted Saturday Night Live only hours ago.
  • Asking Mike Nichols (in front of wife Diane Sawyer) if Closer was autobiographical. He directed the adaptation of someone else's stage play.
  • Asking Mick Jagger what he's working on now. Jagger said, "We're writing songs for a new Stones album." Ling's response: Nothing.
  • Asking Johnny Depp if he has a dream role to play. Depp answered Mae West, then said he was probably too old to play that role, offering Carol Channing instead. Ling's response: Nothing. Not even a smile or hint of recognition.

Find a list of Golden Globes winners and photo gallery here.

READY FOR MORE AMERICAN IDOL WORSHIP? Ready or not, here comes another round of the nation's favorite singing contest on FOX. Actually, you are ready, considering the phrase "American Idol" was the most searched term for users of both AOL and Yahoo! Yahoo! indeed. If you want info and background of some of this season's big changes, read my preview in today's Boston Herald. To save space, my editor cut my observations about one William Hung, who by succeeding through failure, has given new reason for wannabe crooners to try out for the show. I mean, if you can be miserable enough to garner sympathy (and record sales, to boot), what's the harm in auditioning? Oh, yes, that's right. National humiliation. Watch those who have no shame exhibit same, starting Tuesday.

BLACKWELL'S WORST-DRESSED LIST MISPLACES BLAME: The annual list of "worst-dressed women" by Mr. Blackwell is out for public debate once again. I think everyone focuses their attention on the women wearing the clothes, when they should be blaming the stylists and assistants who told these women they looked good in those outfits. You think celebrities dress themselves? Please.

Full Blackwell poetry ensues here.

"24" MAKES NO SENSE: This show is as infuriating as ever in its fourth day of real-time thrills and real-time plot problems. And yet I cannot stop watching 24, even when my beloved bachelorette Jen is a channel click away. I know, I know. But the questions persist after the first four hours...and I don't mean questions about what will happen next. I mean...

If the train bombing in the opening scene was a big deal, don't you think someone would have mentioned that there was a dead guy with a bullet hole and handcuffs lying several yards from the wreck?

Why have the mother and son from House of Sand and Fog come back from the dead to seek vengeance on America? Which really leads me to wonder, why are they cast as mother and son again? Are there no other actors of Middle Eastern heritage available? And why do they go back to the poisoned tea? Did the 24 writers lift anything else from House of Sand and Fog? Will Ben Kingsley make an appearance? Excuse me. Sir Ben Kingsley.

Why, oh why, is the Counter-Terrorism Unit based in L.A., other than to provide easy access to filming locations? And why do at least half of the people who work there still think so selfishly about themselves when they're supposed to be preventing a terrorist strike? And why, after having Jack save the nation from terrorists at least three times, would anyone question his tactics?

THANK YOU, BRAD AND JEN: Thank you, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, not only for reminding us that even the beautiful people have a difficult time staying married, but also, and more importantly also, for getting the TV entertainment tabloid shows all preoccupied on you two and not so much on the celebrity tsunami relief watch. Not that I'm against tsunami relief. But when I tune into Entertainment Tonight, Extra, Access Hollywood or The Insider, I expect to see the latest celeb gossip and not outrageous coverage of the fact that Kobe Bryant is trying to become more philanthropist than philanderer. Really, now. Back to our regularly scheduled gossip.

JINGLES, ALL THE WAY OR NO WAY? The Boston Globe's Sunday story about the disappearing ad jingle makes for an interesting read. "The irresistible, singable, stick-in-your-mindable jingle is dead." Really? Methinks this is both a faulty headline and a faulty premise, as the reporting doesn't back up that headline/premise, instead showing that advertising campaigns may be changing but not without jingles. Joan thought she did her job by quoting up high a Berklee College of Music prof/jingle writer, who said:

"Everyone knows about Coca-Cola and McDonald's. They don't need ditties about their stuff. But Joe's Pizza Place needs to tell people where they are."
That's a nice quote, except for the fact that McDonald's, one of the top TV advertisers year-in and year-out, still uses "ditties" to sell its burgers and fries. Or haven't you heard this tune: "Da-de-de-DAH-DAH, I'm lovin' it!" The story goes on to report that music houses "are closing their doors in droves," followed by all of how many examples? That would be one example.

This other sentence also needs a response.
"But the jingle, as anyone with a television knows, is a vanishing art form."

Really? How about turning on the TV and leaving it on the commercials to see for yourself. Well, that would require actual reporting. So I did just that Sunday night for the season premiere of 24, logging the ads that interrupted the two-hour show. As my high school English teacher would say, context determines meaning, so let's make sure we know what we mean we talk of jingles. Jingle, as a noun in my Webster's dictionary: A jingling sound, or a verse that jingles; jingling arrangement of words. The verb form refers more to the simple repetitive sounds than to lyrics, which means that in the 21st century, we should view a jingle not just as a song that includes the company name in the lyrics, but also as music distinctly and easily identifiable as a company song.
At any rate.
During those two hours, the Phoenix Fox affiliate aired 65 ads, with 15 of those spots devoted to movie trailers, DVD releases and promos for other FOX network programs. Of the remaining ads (some of which duplicated during the 120 minutes), we saw and heard:

Jingles: T-Mobile, Burger King, Cingular, Lay's, Duracell, Domino's Pizza, Quizno's, Taco Bell, Sprint, Jack-in-the-Box
Licensed songs: Ford, Chevrolet, Hyundai, KFC, Visa, Nissan, Progressive, Buick, Cingular, Honda, Toyota, Blockbuster Video
Background music: AOL, Neulasta, TurboTax, Subway, Gatorade, WebMD, Victoria's Secret, Johnson's moisturizer, Wal-Mart, 21st Century Insurance, H&R Block, Ikea, Rolaids
No music: Geico, Volkswagen, Allstate and a tsunami relief ad

In later channel surfing, I also came across pure jingle jingling for Chili's (or does the Globe not want their baby back ribs?), Applebee's, Old Navy, Sears, Always tampons, Maybelline, a local furniture store and several jingles for the local FOX station's news and morning programs.

So Joan, perhaps you should rethink that whole the-jingle-is-dead-theory. I'm just saying. It's worth another look. Or listen.

THE WILL, THE MOST SCOTTSDALE TV SHOW EVER: Say what you will about Scottsdale people showing up time and again on "reality" TV shows -- and Lord knows, I have said plenty already. But the TV critics who flog the new CBS contest, The Will, leave out one important dynamic. This show is sooooooo Scottsdale. While my acquaintance Jon Buehler does a bang-up job on another CBS show, The Amazing Race, these folks on The Will are so hee-haw-hilarious because they exemplify the Scottsdale gold-digging stereotype. It's also extra funny for me since I've met and quoted the show's "villian," Penny, for previous newspaper stories. Note: I'd exaggerate by calling Jon a friend, though I know the bartender well enough to have him say hi and shake my hand anytime I pop into 6, the lounge where he works, and that's because I used to write about the place a bunch at my old rag. Speaking of which, it turns out a former colleague of mine was partially responsible for setting up this cast of characters. Read her story here.

NYC MEDIA TOUR, ANYONE? If you want to see all of the media sights in Manhattan, this fun interactive map will show you the way.

SO JON STEWART WAS RIGHT, AFTER ALL: CNN reports it is dropping "Crossfire" and saying goodbye to Tucker Carlson, although really, isn't Tucker Carlson saying goodbye to CNN since he has been negotiating for a month with MSNBC to host an hourlong talker there? Related New York Times story quotes new CNN honcho citing agreement with Stewart about the lack of civil political discourse on "Crossfire." But what does CNN have to say about the Bush administration paying a pundit $250,000 to flak for No Child Left Behind? How about this? I would say I was shocked -- shocked -- to hear this news. Alas, I am not shocked. Nothing the Bush administration does could shock me. Not even Jon Stewart and his writers could make up stuff like this.

TSUNAMI RELIEF BANDWAGON FORMULA REVEALED: It appears as though with each passing day, each subsequent celebrity/politician/company/country that hops onto the tsunami relief bandwagon has to give even more just to get noticed, so the rest of the world thinks that you're not as selfish as you really are. So how much have you donated?

Even more pathetic is the reaction by your local TV news outlets. At first, they didn't know what to do, because the tsnuami footage really put a kink in that nightly local TV news ritual -- the segment known as "aren't you glad you don't live there/bad weather" minute. Not that it's stopped the local TV news. Because they're back at that, only now, those "look at all the snow in Nebraska or the Sierra Nevada" segments and anchor chitchat looks and sounds even shallower in the wake of the tsunami. Of course, the local TV news tries to put a good face on it by telling the viewers how much money they've raised for tsunami relief. Ugh.

BURYING THE LEDE ON JUDE LAW'S ENGAGEMENT: The entertainment reports have glommed onto the tsunami coverage, and yet, with the news that Jude Law got engaged to his "Alfie" co-star Sienna Miller, the media missed the boat, so to speak. The spokeswoman's confirmation said that Jude Law "asked Sienna to marry him on Christmas Day. They spent Christmas together in England. They then headed to the Indian Ocean." That's right. The Indian Ocean. The day after Christmas, or Boxing Day, or as some people might remember it, the day the earth shook a 9.0 and triggered a tsunami in said Indian Ocean. Jude and Sienna went to the Seychelles, which was asking for millions of dollars in aid. So? What gives? Methinks there is more to this story.


REDEMPTION AND SECOND CHANCES: Sometimes, when you think you're down and out and all alone in your struggles with the world, you need to know that you're not alone. Read as Seth Mnookin describes his own awkward path back to journalistic redemption.

TOP MOVIES OF 2004: Before I list my favorite films of the past year, I must acknowledge that I live in a cultural backwater and spent more than a fair share of the year even more out of the loop. Suffice it to say, I've been playing catch-up and may make some changes to my list once I've seen more movies. That typed, here is my list.

Favorite movie of 2004? Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Best of the rest of the best? Baadasssss!, The Bourne Supremacy, Closer, Collateral, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, Hellboy, The Incredibles, Sideways, Super Size Me, Team America: World Police.

Enjoyable, but not like I'm paying another $9 enjoyable? The Aviator, Fahrenheit 9/11, Finding Neverland, Kill Bill Vol. 2, Kinsey, Mean Girls, The Passion of the Christ, Shrek 2, Spider-Man 2, The Village

Could be among my fave films once I see them? Garden State, House of Flying Daggers, Maria Full of Grace, Ray, Shaun of the Dead, A Very Long Engagement

TOP TEN DISCS OF 2004: Before fully embarking on the new year, a little more time looking back on the past year in music. Here are my faves, in alphabetical order...

Air, Talkie Walkie
Ambulance Ltd., Ambulance Ltd.
The Faint, Wet From Birth
Franz Ferdinand, Franz Ferdinand
The Killers, Hot Fuss
Modest Mouse, Good News For People Who Love Bad News
Muse, Absolution
Rilo Kiley, More Adventurous
The Roots, The Tipping Point
Kanye West, The College Dropout

Also worth a listen were discs from !!!, Black Eyed Peas, Denver Harbor, Green Day, Jimmy Eat World, Keane, Alicia Keys, Prince and Visqueen.

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