popular thinking

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


Apparently, my charger and my cell phone were in a bad relationship and drifted apart. My charger told my phone last night it was seeing someone else. My phone turned a cold shoulder. And the two technology devices just stopped speaking to one another. Or something like that. The folks at the Verizon Wireless store called it "a software issue" and said it's happened to a number of the Motorola RAZR phones -- which is not good, considering Verizon only began carrying them in December. Good thing I brought the charger with me. It was covered under the warranty. Got a new charger. Everything is better. At least for another three months! :)


Don't know what happened exactly, but sometime within the past hour, my RAZR went kaput. My only hint? Last night, when I attempted to recharge my cell phone, the hookup made a strange beeping noise and then the battery signal light disappeared. It didn't seem to want to recharge. I have people visiting me in the newsroom shortly, so it'll be a few hours before I can head to the nearest Verizon store and get to the bottom of this mystery. If you have any advice or thoughts, please, by all means, share them. Thanks.


The mystery continues to spur online debate. Let me say a couple of things right off: First, I did point out the sudden flip-flop by Isaac Hayes about the "Trapped in the Closet" episode of South Park. Quoted his Onion interview in my original story on March 14, before FOX News started floating rumors. Last week, I noted that Matt and Trey would quickly respond to the mess by skewering Hayes and his Chef character. My first two paragraphs: “South Park” is responding to Chef’s departure the only way the show knows how - by mocking it. The 10th season of Comedy Central’s highest-rated series premieres tomorrow night with, of all things, “The Return of Chef.” Coincidentally(?), CNN Headline News that morning had its entertainment reporter, Adrianna Costa, talk about South Park's intentions with these lines of dialogue: "South Park is responding to Chef's departure the only way the show knows how - by mocking it! The 10th season of Comedy Central's hit series premieres tomorrow night with, of all things, 'The Return of Chef.'" Yeah, I know. Pretty gosh darn familiar. I tend to catch part of Headline News in the mornings before I head out the door. Last Tuesday, I did a double-take and rewinded (thank you, Comcast DVR) to make sure I wasn't dreaming it. Yes, she did read my lines. Plagiarism? Or flattery? Since it's Costa, I'm going to go with flattery. It's nice to know that the folks down there in Atlanta read my witty prose. That said, this past week has seen some buzzing about whether or not Hayes actually quit the show -- or whether his Scientologist minders did it for him. Why would this even be up for debate? Because Hayes suffered a mild stroke in January. Before stroke? Hayes was upset but OK with Matt and Trey. After stroke? Hayes quits the show. Or did he even have a stroke? A Google search turns up an E! story that says no stroke, but a Philadelphia Inquirer report from January says yes stroke. Somebody is telling the whole truth, and somebody is spreading lies. Care to guess which is which?

For my part, I thought the South Park episode last week was hilarious.


The trip went great. Thanks for asking. I'll have a lot more to say about it. Just not right this second. I have to take a shower, change clothes, go on FOX25 and say something witty about American Idol, then grab a bite to eat, plan out an upcoming Herald story, then head over to Improv Boston to catch Coxen and Johnson and some Rendition improv-harmony. When I get back from all of that, I promise you the full recap. Unless I get caught up watching Lost. The fun never stops...


I'll be performing tonight in New York City as part of this event (press release follows):

Witty Writers Take the Stage at The Laugh Factory Comedy Club

WHAT: Reporters from The Funniest Reporter on the Planet Contest at The Laugh Factory last January are returning to the comedy club stage.

WHO: Comedian, writer and actress Jenn Palumbo is hosting the event with the following reporters performing:
Catie Lazarus – The Forward – winner of Funniest Reporter on the Planet Contest
Jamie McIntyre – CNN – 3rd place of Funniest Reporter on the Planet Contest
Brian Balthazar – MSNBC
Mike Maiello – Forbes Magazine
Sean McCarthy – Boston Herald

WHEN: Tuesday, March 21st at 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: The Laugh Factory 8th Avenue – between 42nd and 43rd Streets New York, NY

WHY: According to Jamie Masada, owner of The Laugh Factory, “I often think, here are professionals in front of the public everyday, on TV, radio, even with a by-line, they see the craziest things, have the best stories. I said to myself, gee I bet these people can make us laugh, if they only had the chance. I know they can’t tell jokes when they are doing the 6 o’clock news, but I bet they want to.” Tickets to the event are $15.

For background, read the transcript from "On the Media's" Bob Garfield and his account of the adventure back in January. Or listen to his report, still online.

Yes, I didn't win the contest. But how many of these other so-called reporters have two stories in today's paper? Read my look forward at how Matt Stone and Trey Parker are taking the satire straight to the Scientologists with their 10th season premiere of South Park, airing at 10 p.m. Wednesday on Comedy Central. Or, if you're planning on watching the fifth-season "finale" tonight of FX's The Shield, read my review.

See you in New York!


Lots happening in newsland over the past week or two. Let's recap, shall we?

The Stranger asks a timely question (even now): What if Seattle became a one-newspaper town? And what if the P-I went online only? Discuss.

Bloggers and reporters got all in a Huffington last week when the Huffington Post claimed no big whoop by ghostwriting a blog in the name of George Clooney. Clooney, er, make that Oscar winner George Clooney, disagreed. To say the least. (Thanks, Lost Remote for the links) By the weekend, Miss Huffington had changed her mind about the whole thing. Mea culpa, anyone?

An even more hee-haw-hilarious post last week from Lost Remote noted that the FCC's "record" fines against CBS can be seen, again and again and again, on the Parents Television Council site. Yes, that's right. The PTC has assembled what it calls offensive, super-sexed up and violent clips, all in one easy to download package. The multiple warning labels only add to the enjoyment. Thanks, PTC!

All remains unwell at the Boston Globe, despite all of their reports about how woe comes unto us at the Boston Herald.

The CJR (ah, academics) opines about how newspapers are competing with everybody, and how editors need to let us few remaining newspaper people to maximize our strengths. If only...

McClatchy agreed to buy Knight Ridder last week, except for 12 of the big dailies. So it's good news, bad news for them. We feel their proverbial pain. I'd link to a story, but the story keeps changing. Perhaps sometime this week we'll be able to assess the bigger picture.

My March Madness bracket has 10 of the remaining 16 teams, including my predicted Final Four. Which puts me about in the same position as last year. Cautious optimism.

Speaking of which, Slate looks back at my alma mater and the greatness that used to be Princeton Tigers basketball. What happened? My favorite coach ever, Petey Carril, left a few years after me for Sacramento, of all places. John Thompson III has Georgetown in the Sweet Sixteen.


It's "Trapped In the Closet" from season nine of the Comedy Central animated comedy. Season 10 begins Wednesday, March 22. Think Matt and Trey are worried? Heck, no. They love the hype. Do you think the Scientologists know about YouTube? Let's hope not. Sit back and enjoy...


Let's hoist us a pint o' the Guinness
Bid farewell to Givens and McGinest
Don't forget Mueller
And Millar and Miller
Johnny Damon? Egads, he's against us!

There once was a Rock n Roll Rumble
That looked like a local band jumble
Did Roadsteamer win?
No, no, 'twas a sin
BCN dropped the ball, what a fumble

I asked local comics for verse.
My rules were: Be funny, don’t curse.
Some obliged me in time,
Others forced me to rhyme.
St. Patrick’s Day could be much worse!


The past two days, I've hit the streets of Boston and seen some odd sights as entertainers try to promote upcoming visits to the Hub. On Tuesday, I met a 14-year-old who balances his entire body on his right index finger, which he sticks inside a candlestick holder. See more when the Big Apple Circus comes to town April 1. No fooling. Yesterday, I got to shoot hoops with one of the Harlem Globetrotters. Pick up a Boston Herald for the goofy photo that resulted from that encounter. The Globetrotters are in Boston March 24-25.

P.S. I think the Herald Interactive folks are playing games with me by continuing to sneak in new ways to spell my last name. Ha!


When South Park’s Chef felt the heat of Scientology satire, he got out of the kitchen. Isaac Hayes announced yesterday that he was quitting Comedy Central’s hit animated show after being the voice of Chef for its first nine seasons.

Further reading:
-- Boston Herald story
-- South Park official site
-- Hayes interviewed by The Onion's AV Club in January


When your cell phone rings on a Saturday afternoon and the first words you hear are, "Hello, this is Ryan Seacrest," you're never quite fully prepared for whatever comes next. Especially if you just left the house and are walking down the sidewalk without pen, paper or recording device. So you tell him to call you back. You'd call him, but, darn it all, his number comes up as RESTRICTED on your cell. Figures. But he does call you back. And then you talk for a while. And then your stories are more interesting as a result.

On Monday, I broke down Ryan Seacrest's increasingly busy schedule.

The highlights:
4:10 a.m. Pacific (7:10 a.m. Eastern) - Seacrest: Up.
5 a.m. - On the air, Monday-Friday, broadcasting on KIIS-FM in Los Angeles.
10 a.m. - Radio show ends. “I will jump into my car and be making that commute (to E!) that takes 40 minutes or so, but I’ll be able to work from the car.”
Lunch? “Lunch is delivered. I eat standing up.”
1 p.m. - Seacrest tapes E! News (airs 7 p.m. Eastern/Pacific), except Tuesday and Wednesday, when he’s at “Idol” rehearsal.
5 p.m. (8 a.m. Eastern) Tuesday - American Idol airs live.
6 p.m. (9 a.m. Eastern) Wednesday - “Idol” results live.
After “Idol” wraps, Seacrest is back in the car with a DVD of the show and running down the next morning’s radio setlist.
Thursday or Friday, he’ll record “AT40” (American Top 40), which airs locally 8 a.m. to noon Sundays on WXKS-FM (Kiss 108).
8:30 p.m. - Seacrest: Out.

Seacrest told me he has become very comfortable with having no downtime. "I'm mastering multi-tasking," he said. "I certainly have goals to do a lot of different things simultaneously for no other reason than I have a fear of failure."

Then today, I broke down Idol's Top 12 and some (conspiracy) theories. Among them:

What about Seacrest no longer saying, ‘‘Seacrest: Out” to close the show? Should we read something into that?
His reply: ‘‘I didn’t realize I wasn’t saying that anymore.”

The best singers don’t win.
Cowell has acknowledged in prior interviews that ‘‘Idol” doesn’t hold open auditions so much as carefully constructed casting sessions. Vote for the Worst, an online group promoting lesser-qualified contestants since season three, attempts to mock that process. This week, Vote for the Worst (votefortheworst.com) supports Kevin Covais.
Andy Dehnart, realityblurred.com and MSNBC.com contributor, said, ‘‘The biggest scandal is the lack of transparency about the exact vote totals. I don’t think producers manipulate votes, but I wish they’d just reveal the exact numbers.”

Kellie Pickler isn’t a naive country bumpkin.
Pickler competed in the 2004 Miss North Carolina pageant. Last summer, right before her ‘‘Idol” audition, she was the runner-up in a Charlotte TV station’s singing contest, ‘‘Gimme the Mike!”

‘‘Idol” doesn’t mind a scandal or two, but not from its winner.
Evidence: Twins Terrell and Derrell Brittenum, who left the show, came back, were kicked off for identity-theft charges and then invited back to last week’s live studio audience. Bo Bice lost last season’s finale to Carrie Underwood by 134 votes, according to a past interview. Bice had a criminal record. Underwood is squeaky clean.

Your next ‘‘Idol” finale will feature someone from North Carolina or Birmingham, Ala.
North Carolina has produced Clay Aiken, Fantasia Barrino, and three finalists this season: Pickler, Bucky Covington and Chris Daughtry. Birmingham has given ‘‘Idol” Bice, Ruben Studdard and Taylor Hicks.


I wish I were in Aspen this week to see my friends David and Chris Walsh (the Walsh Brothers) take the HBO Comedy Festival by snowstorm, but alas, I couldn't make the trip. Some other Boston comedians did trek out there for moral support and fun times, including Ken Reid, who has started a new blog with the Comedy Studio to follow the Aspen action. The festival has its own blog -- well, sort of. Reads more like a parody of a blog. Hardeharhar. For another blogger's view of Aspen, try Dead-Frog. If you know of any others, please let me know. Thanks.


Dan Rather visits Harvard tonight to deliver his "Report Card on the News Media Today." Hopefully he'll be his candid outspoken self. You can watch streaming video of his talk at 6 p.m. by following the instructions here.

While you wait, or if that link fails you, visit this recent talk by Woodward and Bernstein.


Enjoy this video footage, while it lasts. A limited time YouTube offering of Katharine McPhee from Tuesday's episode of Idol...


You'll read a lot of articles this week about how adult children move back in with their parents, what with Failure to Launch arriving in theaters and FOX unveiling Free Ride. Hey, look! I wrote something myself. But I asked my sources a more intriguing question. Will the roles reverse once these baby boomers get old? Will today's 20-somethings, once they're middle-aged, allow their elders to move back in with them? Some say yes. Some say, not so fast.


An interesting read in the L.A. Times from earlier in the week about whether Apple can withstand competition to its iPod, or whether Apple will see a repeat of the fate that befell its beloved Mac in the 1990s, and now Microsoft finally unveils its "Origami" product.


How audacious is a new movie that revolves around the day and night of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series? Wait, don't answer that. It was a rhetorical question. Ready or not, here comes Game 6, at least in limited release this weekend in Boston and New York. I met director Mike Hoffman earlier today. He seemed like an OK fella. A St. Louis Cardinals fan, too, which means he had his own Game 6 haunting memory a year before me and my fellow Red Sox fans. But that's not important right now. What's important right now is this, is it safe to go back into the murky waters of 1986? I asked around, and here is what some knowledgeable sorts, including Red Sox PR guru Dr. Charles Steinberg, told me. Dr. Charles also acknowledged that at the time, he was an Orioles fan, and that for him, Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS was "the most exciting game I've ever seen." That is, until 2004.

At the movie's site (see above link), producers held a contest asking people to submit short essays about where they were Oct. 25, 1986, when the entire baseball worldview shifted and fell off of its axis. I didn't submit an essay. But Bruce Allen of Boston Sports Media Watch and I did exchange stories...

My very first thoughts when I heard about the movie were "Oh god, I thought all this crap was in the past."
I guess I thought that once 2004 happened, Red Sox fans would never have to revisit their painful past in the same way again.
Then I went and checked out the website for the movie, and watched the trailer, and came to a somewhat different view of what the movie could be. Could it be that now with the safety net of 2004 to fall back on, we can revisit, perhaps for the first time really, what that day was like for all of us? I was 15 years old at the time, and I remember many excruciating details about that day. It was the first sports event that made me cry. Now, in the movie, we can see and share the character's life as it happened that exact day, presumably at the same time we were suffering wherever we were at. I have no doubt that it will be an (at times) painful experience for many moviegoers. We know how it ends, and if Michael Keaton's character has a day in which Game 6 is the capper, then he truly is in a role with which viewers from this area can sympathize. We can relate.
Now that we do have that elusive World Series championship, perhaps looking back at that day won't be quite so bad. It's like having a nightmare, but being aware subconsciously that it is just a dream and that you can wake up and things will be fine.
I've not seen the movie yet of course, (scheduled for a screening Wednesday) so perhaps I'll change my opinion later, but I think there's a chance for some serious introspection on the part of fans who have blocked that day out of their mind. It could actually be healthy.
But I swear, if there are any references to the "curse of the bambino," I'm walking out.

We're the same age.
Sophomore year in prep school in Connecticut, there were a handful of us in the school's auditorium watching Game 6 on the big-screen while a floor above us, the school was holding its annual dance marathon. Me, a big dummy, also was videotaping the game at home for posterity so I could always remember the night the Red Sox won the World Series -- the tape also had the first game of the regular season, in which Dewey hits a home-run on the first pitch of the first game of the day in Detroit, and the Sox still manage to lose. But back to Oct. 25, 1986. In the 10th inning, we all noticed that the loud music above us had stopped. I ran upstairs to the library (why a marathon in the library? I don't know) and found someone had hooked up a TV and everyone was gathered around to watch the Sox after Hendu's home-run and then tack on the 5th run. Of course, we all stood around and watched the painful bottom of the 10th, and I couldn't bear to look at my videotape ever again. And did I really need to? TV has been more than willing to replay those images so often over the years, and then 2003 happened (not that 1999 or 1995 or 1990 or 1988 were any easier), and by the time 2004's miracle comeback happened, still I had become so paranoid that I couldn't pick up the phone to call my dad until AFTER the final pitch of Game 4 of the Series. There was still some little piece of shrapnel left in me from 1986.

About the movie, though. I thought it dabbled in a bit of revisionist history. Michael Keaton's character already acts as though the Red Sox will blow both Games 6 and 7 earlier that day, and chats up strangers about the Boston nine's tendency to collapse in tragic Greek fashion. He doesn't mention the words "curse" or "bambino," but he sure sounds like a guy who already believes in it, and mutters Pesky's name more than once. That's not how I remember it. My friends and I fully believed that the Red Sox would win Game 6 in 1986, especially after their comeback against the Angels in the championship series (down to their last strike in the Game 5 that caught Dr. Steinberg's attention), and it was the utterly shocking way they lost that changed our psyches and made those future woulda coulda shouldas so heartbreaking October after October for the 18 years until 2004. And it also allowed for the rise of the CHB. Ugh. That said, Game 6 is no Fever Pitch.


It's official. I may be developing an unhealthy crush on Katherine McPhee. Did you see her performance tonight on American Idol? Well, did you? Hot stuff. Hot stuff, indeed. I'm voting for her, hoping you do, too.


This is a startling, yet brilliant development, as reported this afternoon in the Los Angeles Times...CBS will offer online viewers access to any of the early-round games of this month's NCAA basketball tourney...LIVE...AND FREE. You'll only be able to watch one game at a time. But still. Any sports fan (and any workplace employee who takes part in a March Madness office pool) can attest to the crazy, fun-filled first four days of the NCAA tourney, and also can attest to the frustration at having to keep up with the games that aren't televised from moment to moment. This. Changes. Everything. It almost makes up for the ongoing YouTube battle. Almost. Now I have to start doing research for my brackets...


My story in today's Herald only tells part of the story about the little movies that won all the Academy Awards this year, and what that may or may not portend for the year to come. As the end of my piece suggests, next year's award slate should include some more traditional Big Studio movies: The Da Vinci Code, The Departed, The Good Shepherd. And then there is Haggis. Paul Haggis. Could he three-peat? Haggis wrote Million Dollar Baby (2004) and Crash (2005) and has Clint Eastwood directing his Iwo Jima picture, Flags of Our Fathers, coming later this year. What could be more red-state patriotic than a movie about the WWII guys who planted the U.S. flag at Iwo Jima? As Brandon Gray of Box Office Mojo told me on the phone Monday, who knew the Academy liked the taste of sheep intestines so much? "An obvious joke," Gray confided, "but he also made an obvious movie in Crash, so I'm OK with that."


You might think the most talked-about thing from Oscar night would be something from the red carpet (nope) or perhaps the Best Picture win by Crash over Brokeback Mountain (nope again) or perhaps something host Jon Stewart said (thrice nope). Methinks the most memorable moment was a wardrobe malfunction that we almost saw on live TV toward the end of the telecast. Read my complete recap over at The Big Show Blog.


If you've been online lookin for video clips, certainly you've found some form of safe haven in iFilm.com. But since December, YouTube has emerged as the peer-to-peer Napster/Grokster answer for anyone seeking any kind of video online, whether it's someone's idea of a humorous Webcam movie, the 21st century version of America's funniest home videos, creative clips and memorable TV and movie moments. In fact, the New York Times used YouTube, Gorilla Mask and Daily Sixer to compile a critic's notebook examination of the ever-expanding list of Brokeback trailer spoofs. Of course, it's kinda interesting to see the Times sending people to one site that's more popular for its "spank banks" and other NSFW oddities, and another site that's got a sexier cousin with nine daily nudie pics. But back to the YouTube issue. YouTube is directly responsible for the hype of SNL's "Lazy Sunday" Narnia rap video, as well as the Brokeback spoofs. And it shrewdly put in easy instructions for anyone to share the video clips as links or as clip packages on their own individual sites, blogs and portals. I know I've used it. But before you can say, "not without the expressed written consent of Major League Baseball," NBC and CBS have gotten all snippy about the rebroadcasting and retransmittal of some of their clips -- especially for free. CBS, with its own Public Eye blog, took a look at the debate over one of its own clips. The L.A. Times had an interesting report on it all earlier this week. My colleague Jesse looks at some of the ongoing debates, too, as MTV2 apparently is willing to lend a hand. No surprise from me on that last front, considering Viacom, which owns the MTV Networks, also acquired iFilm and has a VH1 show capitalizing on online videos.

I'm sure there will be plenty more to say on this topic.


Comedy fans had lots of options last night. They could've seen John Heffron, winner of the second season of Last Comic Standing, at the Comedy Connection. They could've seen the Walsh Brothers get ready for Aspen with a half-hour run-through at the Comedy Studio. Although you could still see them again tonight. I think I'll try to see how my Walsh boys are doing and wish them well for their trip next week.

Same goes for Jerry Seinfeld. He is at the Wang tonight for two more likely to be sold-out shows. Seinfeld really, for better or worse, has defined the art of observational humor for a generation of stand-up comedians. Which makes watching him now a bit odd, especially if you see a lot of stand-up comedy. This is how I put his Friday night performance into perspective.

Wonder how Wanda Sykes felt put up against Seinfeld. She only had one show, last night, at the Orpheum. Somehow, I think she'll be OK about it, seeing as she was so laid-back when I talked to her on the phone earlier in the week. Here are some tidbits from that chat.


I may not have been 100 percent funny on the FOX 25 News at 5:30 p.m. today, but I correctly predicted the four contestants of the top 20 who would be leaving American Idol tonight. And there is video evidence to prove my prowess. For that, at least, I should double my FOX paycheck. Wait a second. Two times zero equals zero. I want a recount!


Yes, blogging got away from me for a little while. Before we get to all of the other real-life and imagined dramas, here are some stories I wrote since last we met here...

Richard Lewis proved he can talk at length about almost anything, and I was disheartened to learn that I didn't have space to fit all of our hourlong conversation. By the end of our chat, I felt like I was his personal therapist. And that's not a bad thing.

I filled in last-minute for a colleague on Hasty Pudding duty, covering the Friday night Man of the Year roast for Richard Gere. The roast went far too long, and the "press conference" was far too annoying for its lack of insight, but I'll have more to say about that. Remind me if I don't.

I spent a night undercover with FBS (Fat Boy Security) and here is a window into their world. Nice guys. And yes, most of them are large and in charge.

Chris Brown may be the hottest 16-year-old singer in the nation right now, but get him on the phone, and he sounds just like any other teen having a conversation with his parents. Ugh.

American Idol might be the most popular TV show in America, but that doesn't mean all of its viewers know how to follow instructions.

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