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Athens, Ohio, United States
"Art and love are the same thing. It's the process of seeing yourself in things that are not you."

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Journalism Week: Don't Lie

Don't lie.

It is a pretty basic and accepted rule for all walks of life and every endeavor one may undertake. But Journalism and lying have a particularly contentious relationship.

During the very first meeting of the Ohio University chapter of Society of Professional Journalists (check out the latest blog entry to your immediate right), we young pups were entreated to a slide show about the basics of Journalism. As you may probably be able to guess from the repeated motif so far, the first slide read "don't lie." Of course there was a small tittering of laughter around Scripps Hall Room 101. We have been told since we were soiling our Pampers that we should not lie. And here was just another chapter of the same lesson we have always been taught.

But as is the case with most things in college (I would hope), this idea goes a little further. Telling a truth is a basic and dichotomous concept. It is easy: one either does or doesn't. But for such an easily understood, perhaps childish notion telling the truth is the promise that holds an entire industry, culture and way of life together. 

The thousands of people that work in the media, the billions of people that receive the media, the dizzying amount of capital involved in sustaining the media, the state of the art technology that distributes the media-all are bound together and kept alive by one very simple promise. The media only exists based on the notion that the information being transmitted and received is the truth.

I am not bringing this up to show my peers, professors, and all internet peoples than I am being a good little prospective Journalist in knowing and following the rules. I am not bringing this up to criticize this black or white interpretation of the truth or the industry's reliance on it. And I am not bring this up to tell a story of a young strapping-writer-who-lost-his-way and fabricated aspects of stories. No, I only bring this up so I can share with you the enormity of one simple idea. One little idea holds the key to the legitimacy of an entire industry and everything that industry relies.

Every industry has rules and laws that govern itself. Doctors "do no harm." Officers of the law "protect and serve." Journalists simply "don't lie." It is a social contract that every reporter and writer must observe if he or she wants to report the news and be a part of that exclusive fraternity: the media.

It seems easy but if it were Stephen Glass, Jayson Blair and Janet Cooke wouldn't exist. Sometimes the truth is boring. And boring is always a scary proposition for any person who draws their livelihood from the masses receiving his or her work. So the temptation and the pressure will always be there to fabricate and to lie. But Journalism believes in their one and their only law.

What I find fascinating is the immediate and brutal reaction from the Journalism community when one of their own is found to have lied. In short, "one of their own" is not "one of their own" anymore. Journalism is no longer the career for that person, no matter how much time, money and effort he or she spent to become a Journalist. The industry polices itself and does not need the help from the outside world.

As it turns out those two words written on the slide show mean a lot more than they seem. "Don't lie" is the credo, the promise and the livelihood of all Journalism. It is always there, immutable. It will never change. Actually if we look up "contractions" in the AP Style Guide then the one rule might change.

"Do not lie."

There, that's much better.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Journalism Week: Happy News/Happy World

Oh what a break will do for you.

"But what do you mean, Alec?" you ask, "I am looking at the sidebar on your blog and it says that there were 20 blogs written during December."

You are right dear (and made up) reader. I kept blogging throughout my Winter Break as promised. But if you will look a little closer, you will see something rather different. Those blogs were not the long-winded treatises on humanity that The Collective(ly) Unconscious has been known to churn out four times a week.  Those were, for lack of a better team, bits and pieces. They were fluffy, short, to the point and probably more effective and economic than my usual blog entries.

But I am not all about efficiency and readability at my little corner of the Internet. I am diatribe-ing Gestapo who writes overly-long pieces that are of no interest to anyone other than myself and peruses the Internet finding poor souls and forcing them to read my work. That is more my style and that is how I will continue, blogging ethics be damned. 

I bring up this bizarre and ill-timed and inconsequential call to arms simply to illustrate where I have been the past two weeks. Of course, you have been reading blog entries at this site, but as I have said before those were written by "December 15th-December 19th Alec." And I sit here now writing as "December 29th Alec." What did "December 20th-December 28th Alec do"
Well he took a bit of a break you see. 

15th-19th spent four days in a caffeine infused writing frenzy so 20th-28th could just chill out. And that's exactly what he did. He watched movies, he visited with family and he received far more presents than his actual worth as a human being dictated. It was a fun time and a quiet time but also a reflective time. Now I, December 29th Alec, can use my time of reflection and serenity to begin looking at this future profession of mine. 

I had some stress-free time to think about, really think about the nature, goals and practices of Journalism. Since I have been away from school and the enlightening Journalism 101, I haven't quite had the exposure to the media and every aspect of Journalism that I would have liked to keep me on the right track. But when I was able to step away for a week and take an overarching view of the media and its impact on all our lives, I realized something.

Journalism is terrifying.

I am not referring to the prospect of the newspapers slow Bataan-like death march into certain financial ruin and I am not referring to David Gregory's taking over Meet the Press hosting duties from the dearly departed Tim Russert (a.k.a Journalism Jesus). No, I am referring to the sheer impact that the industry of Journalism has on all our lives. To me, there is no better example of this than Christmas.

Christmas is the magical day where nothing bad is ever supposed to happen. A quick overview of any newspaper or a quick glance at any news TV show would reveal that professionals in all sorts of media feel the same way. News sources on Christmas Day did not provide much in the sense of biting, harsh news. There were stories about snowfall, about economic downturns and stories about the entertainment industry. But there was no news of anything truly upsetting; no news of anything violent or terrible. On Christmas Day, if it bleeds, it doesn't lead.

December 24th there was a story of a deranged man going on a Holiday-traffic shooting spree. The day after Christmas, there was the story of a murderer dressed in a Santa costume. But on Christmas, these stories didn't exist. The people of Western culture all collectively turned to the God of Journalism on one day and said "make it not so" and the God of Journalism obliged. 

The Journalists didn't report anything terrible on Christmas Day, and therefore nothing bad happened on Christmas Day....just the way we wanted it.

So because of my rediscovery of Journalism's power and importance, because of print Journalism's epic struggle against irrelevance and because of this being my last week at home before I rejoin the Journalism-machine known as E.W Scripps School of Journalism, I have decided that this week will henceforth be known as Journalism Week at The Collective(ly) Unconscious. 

Please report back dutifully this Wednesday to here more about the grand profession as told by me. 

Maybe we will have learned that Turkey actually blew up on Christmas Day by then.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sunday Morning Links pt. 15

As I sit here and watch the Central Michigan Chippewas struggle through an inferior Florida Atlantic team in the Motor City Bowl, I can't help but think: it should have been us.

The first fall sports season of my Division 1 college life is over and I can't help but feeling little bitter. Central Michigan might be ruining their life with facemask penalties tonight but a mere three months ago, the Chips were in Peden Stadium playing my beloved (and much maligned) Ohio Bobcats. It was the very first college sporting event of my life and I can't help but think that it will become a microcosm of every future college sporting event of my life.

You see, the Bobcats came to play and pushed the twice-defending MAC champions to their very brink. It looked like my first college game would also be the first Bobcat victory I have ever witnessed. Then Quarterback Boo Jackson (The Long-Quaffed One) fumbled the game-winning touchdown in the endzone and the rest, as they say, was history....sad, brutal, miserable history.

Who knows what would have happened if the 'Cats had pulled out that game against one of the best teams the MAC has to offer. Perhaps they would have gone 10-2 instead of 4-8, at the very least they would have gone 5-7. But most importantly, it would have been a win that I would have witnessed with my very eyes in person. And when you willfully commit yourself to the Indians, Browns and Cavaliers (who WILL win a damn Championship this year), you are acknowledging that you won't really be seeing a lot of wins.

So I will watch the Chippewas struggle through a Bowl Game thinking about what could have been. But I am telling you: it SHOULD have been! See, this is what happens when I get to visit cousins from Florida during Christmas break. Their Gator chomps are still echoing in my brain.

Dull the pain of another inevitable MAC loss with a Sunday Morning Links.

-Don't let the man get you down! Manipulate complex genetic material in your garage without any type of government grant or permission.

- In the face of the imminent demise of the American Auto Industry, The Cleveland Plain Dealer offers a look at what roles cars have played in American culture and society. Hasta luego, cars!

- I know I linked a story almost identical to this one two weeks ago but I couldn't resist it again this time. This is one of the best non-Bill Simmons sports stories I have read in a long time. Maybe I am just a masochist, but I love the absolute soul crushing pain that loving a sports' team brings.

- Who didn't see this coming?

- And finally, I would like to extend a big ol' middle finger to the city of New York and everyone at ESPN.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Worst Day of the Year

People of the Western tradition know that December 26th is the International Worst Day of the Year.

The presents are all opened and sitting in an untidy stack under the tree. Responsibilities resume, including work (9:30-6:00 for this poor sap), putting on clothes and observing proper grooming. Worst of all, we all must live with the knowledge that the best day of the year is 364 days away and aint coming any sooner.

So I propose that we do something with this December 26th to take some of the pain away of a finished Christmas. Here at The Collective(ly) Unconscious, December 26th will be henceforth known as "Lazy Day." Look, I know we already have lots of Lazy Days: Veterans Day, Memorial Day, every Sunday when Chronic(what)cles of Narnia is in theaters, but I am more than willing than adding one more day to the list. Take the day off! Sleep in, refuse to be an adequate employee at work if you are forced to go (I plan on holding my hand in front of my face every time a customer tries to talk to me today) and disavow yourself of any and all responsibilities.

How serious am I about Lazy Day? I am not even blogging today! Yes, you are not only reading a message from the past, but a message from Christmas Day, itself. I feel so strongly about Lazy Day that I am sacrificing about 15 precious minutes from my Christmas Day to uphold the sanctity of Lazy Day.

Unfortunately, that means that my blog for the day is done. Next week I will get back to the long-winded and pointless diatribes that you crave (put up with) so much.

Happy Lazy Day to all and to all a good night!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas 2008

Hope everyone is enjoying their holiday! I am sure I am...although I can't say for sure because I am writing this 9 days ahead of time. I am not crazy enough to actually blog on Christmas. The whole country shuts down on Jesus' birthday and The Collective(ly) Unconscious is no exception.

So in the spirit of giving and taking, I would like to offer you all a glimpse at my abridged Christmas wish list for on this holiest of all days. Things I wished for Christmas 2008:

  • World Peace
  • Laser vision
  • My two cats to combine to become a Jaguar and kill all of my enemies
  • My two front teeth
  • A Cavaliers Championship
  • An Indians World Series
  • A Browns win
  • Red Ryder carbine-action-200-shot range model air rifle
  • Sam Raimi to personally apologize to me for Spiderman 3
  • A life-time supply of Skittles
  • The ability to smell colors
  • My very own House of Cosbys
  • A consistently good run of Heroes episodes
  • To finally receive that Hogwarts acceptance letter that has been lost in the mail for over seven years.
  • A Facebook group called "Bojalad is da man!'
  • Santa Claus to just give me my presents in person and cut this whole "under the tree" crap.
  • And finally...a comment from someone other than my brother or girlfriend on Bojay's.
How many of those do you think will come true? I have the Over/Under at 1.6. 

Thanks for reading, now go drink some egg-nog.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Best of 2008: Best Movie

Note: In the interest of cataloguing and recording, I am using my blog as a vessel to select one and only one significant piece of culture from three different mediums: Film, Television Show and Album. I do not read enough books or see enough plays to form any kind of worthwhile opinion on either and I believe that Movies, TV and Music are the Big 3 of American pop culture anyway.

I am choosing only one from each because while I love Top Ten lists as much as the next guy (probably significantly more even), I find that the only part of the list that truly matters to me is the work that occupies the one spot. It is a powerful statement to whittle down all the films, shows and albums in a year into a list of ten, but it is another thing all together to find just ONE. In choosing one from each category, I am saying that if there were a nuclear holocaust imminent, I would choose these three works of art to place in an indestructible box so future generations could see the very best of what Western culture had to offer.

Just know that these choices are completely subjective and I am clearly not the most qualified person to choose the best of anything. I feel I know a lot about films and see enough of them in a given year to make an informed decision. I feel similarly strongly about TV shows, but I do not see quite as many shows as I do films. I know virtually nothing about Music, however, so if there is one category to take with a big ol' grain of salt, it would be Best Album.

Movie of the Year: The Dark Knight
Runner-up: Wall-E

Was there ever any doubt in your mind?

The Dark Knight was the best film I saw in 2008. And really, nothing else even came all that close. The Dark Knight is a film visceral and exciting enough to be experienced, yet complex and intellectual enough to be analyzed. It is the best kind of pop culture one could ever hope for, especially from a franchise as worn and depleted as Batman.

Christopher Nolan's film takes a simple cops and robbers formula then introduces a catylist that changes everything about it. In Gotham City organized crime is as strong as ever. Gangster Salvatore Maroni picks up where previous kingpin Carmine Falcone left off and is moving his "product" on the street, trying to grind out a little profit. Meanwhile, the Gotham City police led by Jim Gordon's Major Crimes Unit is trying to shut them down one by one. It is a perfunctory little game of cat and mouse and it is also, as a certain made-up psycho later describes it, "so boring."

Enter Bruce Wayne, son of two of the city's most famous entrepreneurs and community leaders. Bruce spends his nights fightine crime as a masked vigilante and trying to make his city a safer place. If this sounds a little familiar, it should. This is the basic set-up of every superhero film or comic ever devised. But there is an aspect that makes Christopher Nolan's masterpiece different from every other superhero film: consequences. The Dark Knight shows the ENORMITY of one man's decision. Bruce Wayne's decision to take the law into his own hands in the name of justice isn't some little thing to be winked at and immediately accepted. Instead it is an absolutely massive decision that could change the fate of an entire city. There are consequences, very real consequences...a concept that very rarely makes an appearance in superhero stories.

One of the consequences is the aforemetioned psycho in clown make-up who goes by the name of The Joker. The Joker has no name, no past, no feelings and no desire other than to bring down the fair wrath of Chaos. He is anarchy, pure and simple, and he exists just to show everyone else that the only sensible way of living in this crazy world is without rules.

Without Batman, there would be no Joker. Without Bruce Wayne's decision to cloak himself in dark armor and fight crime on the streets, there would be no precedent for a cheerfully crazy lad to dress up in bright colors and take to the streets himself reigning destruction in the name of Chaos while Batman locks criminals up in the name of Order. Batman and Joker's dark dance with each other makes up the majority of the film and has major reprocussions for every person in Gotham including the idealistic new ADA Harvey Dent.

From here, I could probably write about a dozen essays on why The Dark Knight is a masterpiece. I could devote time to the brilliance of Nolan's direction and Wally Pfister's cinematography. I could write about the city of Chicago as a backdrop and how it gives the film such life. I could write about how certain decisions Batman makes regarding surveilance are socio-political statements. Or I could write about how this film is a tragedy marking one man's true fall from grace and the loss of innocence of an entire city in the face of true evil.

And that's the point: I could talk about and write about The Dark Knight forever. I have seen the film five times now and its macabre images and sad themes have not left my head since the moment I have seen it. I could think of so many technical aspects as to why The Dark Knight is the best film of 2008 but I can really just some it up in easier fashion.

The Dark Knight is the best film of 2008 because Christopher Nolan's powerful themes, and brilliant lines of dialogue, the city of Chicago's dark grandiosity and the Joker's excited laugh in the face of discord will all forever be echoing in the back of my unconscious.

"As you know, madness is like gravity: all it's takes is a little push."

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Best of 2008: Best TV Show

Note: In the interest of cataloguing and recording, I am using my blog as a vessel to select one and only one significant piece of culture from three different mediums: Film, Television Show and Album. I do not read enough books or see enough plays to form any kind of worthwhile opinion on either and I believe that Movies, TV and Music are the Big 3 of American pop culture anyway.

I am choosing only one from each because while I love Top Ten lists as much as the next guy (probably significantly more even), I find that the only part of the list that truly matters to me is the work that occupies the one spot. It is a powerful statement to whittle down all the films, shows and albums in a year into a list of ten, but it is another thing all together to find just ONE. In choosing one from each category, I am saying that if there were a nuclear holocaust imminent, I would choose these three works of art to place in an indestructible box so future generations could see the very best of what Western culture had to offer.

Just know that these choices are completely subjective and I am clearly not the most qualified person to choose the best of anything. I feel I know a lot about films and see enough of them in a given year to make an informed decision. I feel similarly strongly about TV shows, but I do not see quite as many shows as I do films. I know virtually nothing about Music, however, so if there is one category to take with a big ol' grain of salt, it would be Best Album.

TV Show of the Year: Lost
Runner-up: 30 Rock

If you believe, like I do, that a critical component of good drama is reversal of expectations, then Season 4 of Lost was your kind of drama. Season 4 was the year in which a select group of the Flight 815 plane crash survivors along with a few other "castaways" finally completed their long journey back home and to rescue. Funny thing is...there are still two seasons and 34 episodes left to go until the end.

By bringing some of its characters home, Lost has brilliantly confirmed the old cliche "it isn't the destination, its the journey." And what a journey it has been for these characters. The plot of Lost has been a convoluted labyrinth for years (in a good way), and while Season 4 continued the science ficitiony-goodness of it all it did an even better job of distilling the focus down to its characters, its themes and the desperate, continuing quest to get back home, even as they fail to realize that maybe home is not where they should be.

It is no coincidence that Lost's shortest season (13 episodes-down from a planned 16 due to the Writer's Strike) is its best by far. The story-telling was tight and focused and the rest of the elements followed suit. Previously stoic characters were given the opportunity to holler, scream and yell as their world fell around them. The stakes were higher than ever as it became even clearer that this plane crash was more than just a random event, and was instead a cosmic call to arms that brought together normal people into a game fought between fates and perhaps even more scarily, two very rich, very determined men.

Lost's producers have said that they have brought along the science fiction and fantastical elements of the show along slowly, so as to not alienate empirically minded viewers. Season 4 seems to be the instance in which that facade has slipped the farthest. Elements of time and space manipulation were introduced, leading the show into unchartered realms of grandiose ideas. But it is a credit to the actors and writers' ability that Lost's 4th season was also the most emotionally satisfying.

This satisfying dichotomy of science fiction and sound storytelling can be best seen in the mid-season episode "The Constant" (which is coincidentally, the best hour of television I saw). If I told you the episode was about a drunken Scotsman's effort to reunite with his lost love while his conscious is jumping back and forth in time, you'd probably think I was crazy. But that is what the episode was...and it worked. It didn't just work on a technical level, avoiding any possibility of paradox in its portrayal of time travel, but it worked on an emotional level. When Desmond finally calls his lost love Penny and hears her voice for the first time in years, there should not have been a dry eye in the house. After the viewers are finished weeping, they can come to realize just how magnificent what Lost just did was. "The Constant" is the perfect marriage between science fiction and drama. And brilliantly, in the end it is love that saves the main character's life in both the emotional aspect and the scientific satisfying the shows long-time conflict between the ideas of Science and Faith.

In 2008, Lost did what very few other television shows can accomplish. It played with its audiences expectations, minds, and even their concept of linear storytelling. But just as importantly, Lost played with its viewers eyes, hearts and adrenaline. Lost took what we thought would be the end of the story and made it just the beginning, all the while keeping our eyes glued to the screen.

That is why Lost is the Best TV Show of 2008.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sunday Morning Links pt. 14

I remember when Christmas was fun.

I would watch news reports about how to deal with Holiday stress, listen to adults as they listed the many things about the Holidays that bothered them and scoff at their lack of spirit! How could you possibly not like Christmas? I get to stay in my pajamas all day, eat a hearty breakfast and open presents all day!

Boy do I owe those people (that I just made up for the purpose of this blog) an apology!

Christmas is stressful as a mofo (are you as shocked as I am that "mofo" is recognized as a word by Blogger?)! You have to find presents, make travel arrangements and rework your whole schedule to fit around this behemoth of a holiday. The whole country may shut down at 12:00 AM, December 25th but for the preceding two weeks there is almost two much preparation to manuever around.

Take the blog you are currently reading as an example. Have all 2.3 of my regualr readers been noticing a signifcant drop in quality in my posts? Yes? Well, that is stress, mofos, stress (as long as "mofo" is a word, I am running with it). And not just stress but an increased work schedule. I have been preparing for a busy week of shopping followed by a week in Internet-less DuBois Pennsylvania for Christmas festivities at my grandmother's house. As a result, I have been writing two, maybe three full-length blogs a day. I don't mean to attribute my obvious lack of rhetorical talent to a busy writing schedule, but I sure know it isn't helping.

And then there's the shopping itself. Shopping for my brother is easy enough. Does it look shiny? Is it a completely useless commodity? Would I want it? If the answer is "yes" to all three, then he gets it. Mom and dad are no sweat either; parents are pretty easy when it comes to gifts. It is all about the effort, which for me is actually mustering up the energy and motivationto get them something. But then there's my girlfriend.

Don't get me wrong, shawty (again, Blogger is compeltely fine with this word) does not have expensive tastes and is not particularly pretty. She is just a good gift-giver. This means that I have to polish my skills too so I don't look like a jackass come Christmastime. I spent the better part of Tuesday driving to every story in a 40-mile radius, but try as I might I could just not find anything close to being good enough. The frustration mounted until I felt like razing whole towns to the ground. I elected not to do anything quite so drastic, but believe you-me, there was a hell of a lot of pillow-punching that day (why does pillow-punching sound so dirty?)

Anyway, Christmas sucks. Here are the Sunday Morning (Mofo) Links. 

- I know I promised to curb the amount of baseball talk on this blog. That such nonsense is reserved for my excellent and informative Bojay's Baseball Blog (seriously: read it. I am not above begging). But this was just too good to pass up. On his ESPN Uni Watch blog, Paul Lukas ponders if CC Sabathia's Yankees' jersey will feature the most pinstripes ever due to his substantial girth.

- Holy crap! Winnie from Wonder Years is still around! And she is still strangely appealing.

- The Onion makes me giggle endlessy and this may be my favorite headline in a while.

- File this under: Only in Northeast Ohio. Looks some some teenager made the reasonable decision to kill his parents because they wouldn't let him play Halo 3.

- Poor little Adolf Hitler Campbell. The mean supermarket in his New Jersey town won't inscribe a name on a cake for his 3rd birthday.

Hope that was as good for you as it was for me. I am going to go wrap presents now. 


Friday, December 19, 2008

The Best of 2008: Best Album

Note: In the interest of cataloguing and recording, I am using my blog as a vessel to select one and only one significant piece of culture from three different mediums: Film, Television Show and Album. I do not read enough books or see enough plays to form any kind of worthwhile opinion on either and I believe that Movies, TV and Music are the Big 3 of American pop culture anyway.

I am choosing only one from each because while I love Top Ten lists as much as the next guy (probably significantly more even), I find that the only part of the list that truly matters to me is the work that occupies the one spot. It is a powerful statement to whittle down all the films, shows and albums in a year into a list of ten, but it is another thing all together to find just ONE. In choosing one from each category, I am saying that if there were a nuclear holocaust imminent, I would choose these three works of art to place in an indestructible box so future generations could see the very best of what Western culture had to offer.

Just know that these choices are completely subjective and I am clearly not the most qualified person to choose the best of anything. I feel I know a lot about films and see enough of them in a given year to make an informed decision. I feel similarly strongly about TV shows, but I do not see quite as many shows as I do films. I know virtually nothing about Music, however, so if there is one category to take with a big ol' grain of salt, it would be Best Album.

Album of the Year: Viva La Vida - Coldplay
Runner-up: Stay Positive - The Hold Steady

By the release of Coldplay's 2005 X&Y, the band had become the worst thing a band can be: a parody of itself. Coldplay hadn't sold out or become too mainstream (when you have your sights on being the next U2, there really isn't such a thing as being too mainstream), they had just become boring. The Liverpool quartet seemed destined to make the same saccharine and stale soft-rock ditties for the rest of their days. And could you blame them? The approach had led them to a never-ending stream of money and pop cultural appeal. Who cares if the music begins to suffer?

Apparently, Coldplay did.

Of all the criticisms one can level at Viva La Vida, "stale" isn't one of them. Viva La Vida is an urgent, quick moving album that has plenty to say. Every song is an inventive, unique beast that contributes to an album so alive that is is almost breathing. The soft-rock element didn't quite go anywhere, but was instead, refined, perfected and given a nice set of fangs to keep the proceedings from being too safe.

Every aspect of the album is a little more intense and a little more vicious than what came before it. Chris Martin's British drawling still sounds the same but instead of coming across as melancholic, it leaves an impassioned almost exalting impact on the listener. Guitarist Jonny Buckland reveals himself to become quite the riff machine instead of just the guy who has to keep the distortion quiet enough so the audience can hear the piano.

Though not as conceptually sound as my favorite album of last year, Jay-Z's American Gangster, Viva La Vida is at the very least consistent. Many of the songs lyrics and melodies create the impression of a certain fall from grace. On the album's title track, Martin laments "I used to rule the I sweep the streets that I used to own." And songs like "Lost!", "Violet Hill" and "Cemeteries of London" sound like a kind of morbid and hurtful nostalgia. It is track unity like this combined with the swirling symphonies that bookend the beginning and end of the show that makes this feel like a true ALBUM and not just a strong collection of songs.

Well done, Chris Martin and company. I can now write the sentence "the next U2" without it being ironic or absurd and millions of men across the world can safely like Coldplay without accusations of homosexuality.

Viva La Vida is that good.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Words on a Page

I don't know if you have been paying attention, but Print Journalism is not doing so well.

Here in Ohio the scene is pretty bleak. The Cleveland Plain Dealer announced nearly 30 lay-offs, The Toledo Blade cut about 30. Rumors are circulating that the Dayton Daily News might be the next periodical to begin laying off employees and the Akron Beacon Journal is all but dead at this point. The scene in the rest of the country is no better. The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press are likely to begin publishing papers on an intermittent basis. Tribune, the company that owns The L.A Times and Chicago Tribune filed for bankruptcy last week. And papers everywhere where Oregon to New York are facing economic uncertainty.

There seems to be no reprieve to the hopelessness of the industry. While Congress is busy bailing out the banking and automotive industries, the print media is being left to die. Even back in my Journalism 101 class, every guest speaker from the print journalism business seemed to carry him or herself like a death-row inmate and deliver a message along the lines of "get out of here while you still can."

All of this begs the question: why am I doing this to myself.

Why am I willingly entering a major that could very well be dead by the time I graduate. Why set myself up for future failure. It is a question that I have asked myself often. I am not a masochist, at least I don't think I am, so the idea of a career of non-stop disappointment and pain does not appeal to me. But there is something about the industry that I cannot shake and something that gives me hope.

This weekend I received the revised AP Style book for Backdrop Magazine via e-mail. As I skimmed through the contents of the style guide, my excitement grew. Yes! They said not to use a comma before a conjunction in a context where a series of items of ideas is being listed. That particular piece of punctuation and a conjunction serve the same purpose so using them both is in essence, redundant. How exciting! I have been right in italicizes the names of magazines but I shouldn't capitalize the word "magazine."

After about twenty minutes of sustained wonder, I realized that I had just experienced what they refer to in technical terms as a "nerdgasm." The mere sight of these words on a page and all these strict rules that I had to follow to ensure the rhetorical impact of what I wanted to say excited me. I realized that there is nothing quite like writing and writing for other people to read and to derive meaning from it. I want to do this so that I can follow those rules and write something that others will read.

There is a whole generation of writers and reporters who live and die for newsprint. A generation of writers and reporters who love the hum of the printing press that is whirling in the basement and the smell of ink that wafts through a whole newsroom. There is a whole generation of readers who live and die for newsprint, as well. They love to read what they can hold in their hands and just happen to believe that their morning coffee goes best with the New York Times crossword puzzle. 

Unfortunately, I am not one of these people. Whether it be through time or circumstance I am just not part of that select group that loves the newspaper business. But what I do love can be found on any paper, not just on the recycled stock that newspapers use. I love words on the page and the impact they bring. I don't care what the page is whether it is new, old or digital. I just love to read those words and sentences and I love to write them.

A fresh stack of the Sunday edition in a newsstand creates no nostalgic or special impact for me, they are just words on a page for me to read. Now it appears those pages are dying. I will be sad if they go and I will hurt for all the men and women whose jobs were lost to technology. But I will take solace in one fact. 

The words are still there.

Regardless of how much the media changes and regardless of how many papers fall, one by one, the words will always be there and there will be people to read them. I know, and trust that I know, I am not the only one whose stomach did a little turn of delight when I saw a new style book to read. Humanity, and our society in particular will always have the universal need for information and a desire to know more about what is happening around them. As long as we have our words and we have a medium, we can provide that service. So good bye, newspapers, and good luck to whatever comes next.

I will be there to provide the words, and I am sure someone will find me a page.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Year of the Vampire

What exactly was it about 2008 that attracted so many blood-consuming, pale, undead monsters?

First the final installment of Stephanie Meyer's Twilight book series, Breaking Dawn was released in August. The unleashing of the long-awaited tome was met with midnight release parties, universal fangirl fervor and 1.3 million copies sold in the first 24 hours. Then came HBO's gritty new series True Blood. Shortly after its first episode the series was renewed for a 12-episode second season and it now is set to become HBO's third most-watched series behind only The Sopranos and Sex and the City. In October, a Swedish film based off of a well-regarded novel was released, entitled Let the Right One In. The movie received several rewards and accolades and is now even being talked about as receiving a possible English-language adaptation. Finally, in November the Vampire phenomenon came in full circle when fledging movie studio Summit Entertainment released the film adaptation of Twilight.

For those keeping score, that is four Vampire related media in under a year. So what made 2008 the Year of the Vampire?

The cop-out answer would be to attribute the plethora of Vampires to society's growing cynicism and hopelessness. The Vampire (or Vampyre if that's how you roll) has been a symbol of evil and all the various immoral activities of Western society since Dracula took young Lucy Westenra under his spell in Bram Stoker's seminal 1800s novel. We Westerners just can't seem to get our fill of these complex and macabre villains. They do not just kill or destroy....they consume, they take what they need for themselves and then go on their way into a cursed existence of eternal emptiness. It is no wonder that their undead likenesses often show up in modern literature as indictments of everything from capitalism to conformity ('Salem's Lot, Lost Boys, etc.)

But such analyses are unfair to our new, 2008-model vampires. These vampires are not the villains and they are not the monsters. These vampires are the heroes. Stephanie Meyers blood-suckers are strong, sensual beings who carry many romantic undertones. These vampires (or at least some of them) are able to suppress their animalistic desire for human blood and one even falls in love with a young woman. Physically and emotionally, these vampires bear little resemblance to our historic image of the monsters and even Anne Rice's mid-90s Romantic re-imagining of them. They have a self-conscious about them and are able to overcome their villainous past.

The same can be said for the Vampires of Let the Right One In as far as their Vampire's attitudes. The Vampires of Let the Right One In are just as horrific and violent as their Uncle Dracula. But these Vampires still possess a certain genteelness to them. A young vampiric girl befriends a local boy who is alienated from his peers and is subject to constant bullying. The Vampire and boy develop a close friendship and help each other conquer their various insecurities and shortcomings.

The Vampires of True Blood are citizens just like everyone else. The scientific development of synthetic blood has allowed them to "come out of the coffin" and live in peace with the rest of humanity. Obviously, many political and religious movements have a problem with inviting such dangerous individuals into their communities and are loath to accept the societal change.

So what can be said about all of these Vampires? They don't live in mansions on the top of the hill, descending upon their victims in the dead of night. They live next door and are a part of our communities. These vampires are dangerous but they are accepted...and some are even loved. 2008 isn't just the Year of the Vampire. 2008 is the Year that the Vampire became our buddy.

In truth, this year's obsession with Vampires does not signify Western society's pessimism or fear, but its new perspective on an old threat and its acceptance of danger. The humans close to the Vampires in this years fear understand the danger of their fanged friends but love them anyway. They are willing to put past prejudices of the monsters aside to accept the particular creature for who he/she/it is.

2008 is the year that we took a step forward in putting past prejudices aside and began to look a little closer at that whole "content of character" thing instead of keeping an eye on the proverbial fangs. The United States is now more ethnically diverse than any other time in its history and is soon to be under the rule of a multi-ethnic president. Now that the demographics and ideas of Western society, America in particular, are changing, we all seem a lot more willing to re-visit those old "monsters" to see that maybe we had them misunderstood after all. Maybe America is ready to start seeing itself and the rest of the world in a new light just like they are willing to see Vampires in a new light. Or maybe I over-thinking why we saw so much Vampire-fiction in 2008.

Maybe Vampires are just cool.

Monday, December 15, 2008

My Misanthrope Buddies and Me

Now that I have returned home after ten weeks in the dense wilderness of the jungle called "college", I have discovered something very telling about myself.

I hate people.

They're loud. They're obnoxious. They smell bad. They do the same things that everyone else does and then call themselves original. There are too many of them. They ruin any good time. They are disease-ridden. They make poor decisions. They have opposable thumbs. They punch each other a lot. And they went to see Beverly Hill's Chihuahua in droves.

It turns out, I have become quite the misanthrope. You try maintaining a bright outlook on life when the people in the dorm next to you blast fake gangsta' rap and insincere nasally acoustic  soft rock songs in alternation until 3:00 in the morning...on a Wednesday. So, I hate human beings and I hate them openly. 

At first I was rather ashamed and quiet about my misanthropy. How would my intimates react when they found out that I hated my own kind? Would I be shunned from society as a hateful old hermit? I remained in my hate-filled misanthropic closet for some time. And then one day I realized: wait a minute, I am in good company! There are dozens of likable Misanthropes strewn across literature and popular culture. From Lemuel Gulliver in Gulliver's Travels all the way up to Randall Graves in Clerks, misanthropes have been an integral part of Western tradition.

Therefore, I thought it was high-time to reveal some of my fictional heroes who encouraged me to live my life loud and proud as a Misanthrope.

Daniel Plainview- There Will Be Blood
"I look at people and see nothing worth liking." Sounds like a misanthrope to me. Oil tycoon Daniel Plainview speaks these words at the beginning of his long descent into moral ruin. And he spends the rest of the film proving those words. He expresses more human hatred in a blank glare than I think I will ever be able to muster in a lifetime. His silence is a symphony of burning anger and his mustache quivers at the very sight of company. It is clear, when his visage becomes resolute, like a sculpture, that the only thing he is thinking about is the utter disdain of the fools that he must walk the world with. And lest you think "thinking about utter disdain for fools" is the extent of dear Daniel's misanthropy, he does commit a murder or two for good measure. Don't worry, neither is for provincial reasons like greed or jealousy but rather the complete and total disgust for the walking, talking bag of organs that are human beings.

Pigeon Man- Hey Arnold
Pigeon Man is quite different from Daniel Plainview in that he doesn't appear to have a violent bone in his body. In fact, Pigeon Man is quite gentle. He spends his days on top of one of the city's many buildings, tending to and making friends with the area's pigeons (Hey, why'd you think they called him "Pigeon Man?"). But make no mistake: he is a true-blue misanthrope. You see, what Pigeon Man lacks in passion, he more than makes up for in alienation. Pigeon Man despises people so much that he has simply cut them out of his life. Instead of spending his days suffering fools, he wisely chooses to spend his time with pigeons, a much smarter than nobler animal than homo-sapiens. After some local punks trash his rooftop home (typical of human-beings), the Pigeon Man attaches himself to hundreds of his feathered friends and flies off into the sunset, but not before leaving the show's protagonist with a dire message regarding the folly of man. 

Dr. Perry Cox- Scrubs
I know that most of you would argue that Dr. Cox isn't even the most misanthropic MD on network television; you would prefer Dr. House. But while Dr. House is an honorable and competent misanthrope, Dr. Cox combines his misanthropy to something that is near and dear to this human-hater: sheer verbosity. Dr. Cox doesn't just hate people, he will never shut up about how much he hates people. He delves deep into his psyche to drudge up a verbal treatise on all the various reasons he hates humanity from the nit-picky to the grandiose. And he does this virtually every day of his life. Best of all, he doesn't do it to clarify himself, or to make a grand moral gesture, he does it because, well...he just can't help himself. He legitimately enjoys being a cranky old pessimistic bastard. The fact that this misanthrope is a reluctant mentor and hero is just icing on the cake.

Those are the brave men who make me proud to be part of the sacred Fraternity of Misanthropy. I find it is always a good time to poke fun at humanity's faults. But my Misanthropy isn't caustic in nature....just a little exasperation at our short-comings.

After all, it isn't like someone will ever act on their Misanthropy.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sunday Morning Links pt. 13

It's strange how much fun one can have doing nothing.

Since I have been home, I could honestly not name you one thing that I've done that hasn't involved the couch, TV or laptop in whatever order. But you know what? I have never been happier! It all reminds me of a scene from the film Office Space.

Office drone Peter Gibbons is relating a story to his friends about career paths. He says that back in High School, his guidance counselor used to ask the students how they would spend their time if they suddenly came to possess $1 million. Their answer would supposedly reveal to them what career they were best suited for. If you said you would spend all your time fixing up old cars, then clearly the career path for you was mechanics. 

But Peter thought and thought and really could not come up with anything. Finally he realized that if he suddenly won $1 million, he would do: nothing. He would just sit around his house all day and watch TV, or read a book and just enjoy the quiet life.

Amen, brother, amen.

There are very few of us born slackers around. So I will wear the title proudly.

- If there is a sadder example of commitment in America, then I haven't read it. "Well, I wanted to end my sacred vows of matrimony...I just can't really afford it."

- Here is Empire's list of the top 100 movie characters of all-time. The movie skews towards more recent movies (S.N.O.E, anyone?), but it is hard to argue with a lot of the reader's choices.

- Turns out President-elect Obama is taking this silly little "Democracy" thing seriously and wants to here what YOU have to say about Healthcare in America. Psshh, what a chump!

- A hallmark of my generation seems to be the need to strip away all privacy. And you know times, I am okay with that.

- Check out the first video on this page about gay couples in Iowa. If good Journalism is all about knowledge and reversal of expectations, like I believe it is, then it doesn't get any better than this. Well done, Time.

Well, that's all folks. There is a couch, TV, laptop and 5 o'clock shadow with my name on it.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Shiny-New-Object Effect

Just when you thought we were done with disappointing award shows, the Hollywood Foreign Press announced the Golden Globe nominations.

And true to form, they have disappointed. 

I could use this opportunity to politely argue why the Golden Globe nominations are disappointing (and by politely argue, I mean: run around my block screaming until my lungs give out and my mouth fills with blood, all the while crying and punching invisible HFP voters surrounding me), but instead, I think this is the perfect time to roll out a little theory I have been working on. The Hollywood Foreign Press this year fell under the hold of the Shiny-New-Object Effect, or S.N.O.E for short.

Our brains may be wired to remember certain information. We all can remember our names, our addresses and our favorite foods. And on a good day, we can even remember the name of the song we were listening to last week, what we had for lunch yesterday and that we have a dentist appointment this weekend. But for whatever reason, when people break off into these charming little groups we call "societies", the brain power to remember suddenly goes out the window. Let's just take a quick ponder at the release dates of the nominees for Best Motion Picture (Drama):

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button- December 25th, 2008
Frost/Nixon- December 5th, 2008
The Reader- December 10th, 2008
Revolutionary Road- December 26th, 2008
Slumdog Millionaire- November 12, 2008

So either the HFP renamed Best Motion Picture (Drama) to "Best Motion Picture (Drama) of the Last Two Months" and forgot to tell everyone about it, or they voters are unfairly favoring NEW releases (a critical part of the Shiny-NEW-Object Effect, wouldn't you say?) Now, as a film fanatic, I know studios traditionally release their classy films or "Oscar bait" closer to the end of the year. But I refuse to believe that there is not ONE film released before November 12th that deserves to be nominated.

The Dark Knight couldn't find a spot on the list? The Dark Knight grossed more money than all of these films combined (in fairness, two of them haven't been released yet, but I am confident The Dark Knight can still have a bigger gross than those five combined). The Dark Knight has a higher Rotten Tomatoes score than any one film on that list ( is a movie review-compiling website) with 94% of all reviews being positive; the closest any film on that lists comes is 93% (Frost/Nixon) and goes as low as 57% (The Reader). The Dark Knight is a cultural phenomenon that the U.S hasn't seen since the original Star Wars. Can any of the films on that list call themselves a "cultural phenomenon." And The Dark Knight completely redefined and became the apex of quality in its genre: the superhero movie. Is there a single movie on that list that redefined the genre it is in? If you can think of one I'd like to know.

And The Dark Knight is just one excellent film released before November 12th, I haven't even mentioned Wall-E, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Iron Man, Doubt, The Secret Life of Bees, Elegy, Miracle at. Anna, The Wackness, Rachel Getting Married, Son of Rambow and The Duchess. For what its worth, the Comedy and Musical category did slightly better when it came to find older material like Mama Mia, but Forgetting Sarah Marshall?

The HFP clearly favored the newer films of 2008, but what about that other, just as crucial aspect of S.N.O.E, the Shininess factor? Well, if you take a cursory look at the Best Motion Picture (Drama) list again, you will find that it is filled with attractive Hollywood favorites who look good in a tux or dress on a red carpet. Leonardo Dicaprio (two films nominated), Kate Winslet (two films nominated), Ralph Fiennes, Cate Blanchette and Brad Pitt will all be there to smile and wave at the camera come Show-time. Can you imagine if the HFP had nominated that brooding sicko Christopher Nolan, the guy who directed the movie with all that gross clown make-up, or Spike Lee and his movie about an all-black army regiment (that just happens to have no stars), or Gus Van Sant and his movie about the first openly-gay politician. Those guys sure as hell aren't pretty and we all know that controversial issues harsh a good party-time awards show.

So, come showtime you can safely bet that I won't be watching. Look, I know that awards show is perfect and that film is ultimately, a subjective practice. I would have no problem if the films I liked didn't got nominated if the films that DID were creatively deserving. No knock against the films nominated but I get the distinct feeling that their inclusion is far more due to their release date and their studio's politicking than their actual quality. Some years, the awards shows can see through the B.S but the Shiny-New-Object Effect got them bad this time around. 

And who can blame them? S.N.O.E is universal and never-ending. Remember when we were more interested than Britney Spears' bald hairstyle than our young soldiers dying in Iraq? And remember when Browns' fans were cheering Brady Quinn's name, after Derek Anderson had guided the team to a 10-6 record just a few months earlier? The Hollywood Foreign Press just got distracted by five Shiny-New-Objects. I had just kind of thought that a massive organization of respected journalists with access to thousands of excellent films a year would take the time to look past the glitter and the campaigning to find the films that they felt were truly deserving.

Looks like I was wrong.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Keep the C-Z-A-R in the U.S.S.R

Congress is at it again.

Yesterday, the House Democrats, in conjunction with the Bush White House, made a move so egregious, so insane and so incomprehensible that I, the citizen, can no longer remain quiet. The U.S Congress has continued the terrible use of a faulty ideology and is forcing us all to play along. A perpetrator of good taste, common decency and sound reasoning has not only gone unpunished, but awarded for its continued existence. Yesterday, Congress harkened back to the regimes of Communism and ensured the further moral decay of this land.

Yesterday, Congress used the insufferable word "czar."

I hate the word czar. Its continued existence is a thorn in my side. So by now my side is good and bloody. More than any people in the history of God's Green Earth (or Darwin's Green Earth, if it floats your boat), Americans love to say "czar"....even more than the Slavic people. And why not? It has a sexy European feel to it. It has two redundant phomemes (C-z) to dazzle the tongue in the beginning, followed by the classic Pirate interjection "are" sound that Americans love so much (if there is any combination that that Americans love it is Tongue Olympics and Pirate Interjections).

Sure, the word may be fun to say and I am finding now that it is even quite fun to write: Czar, czar, Tsar, Tsar, Czar, tsar, Czar......but its denotation is often grossly misused. Even if you use it correctly, you are going to look like a jackass. Nothing says "smug" quite like a shamefully superfluous use of "czar." 

Well, this week Congress decided to get its "smug" on. Early Wednesday morn, the Associated Press reported that the Majority Democrats and Bush's Buddies had agreed to "bailout" the big three auto industry. Instead of the $20-35 billion that GM, Chrysler and Ford requested, the federal government will be opening up its coin purse to give the automakers $14 billion. The deal isn't quite final yet but it is widely understood by the press and those involved that is all but being a done deal....kind of like CC Sabathia's contract with the Yankees (one of the Top Ten saddest moments of my life).

This move came after weeks of debate in the halls of Congress, the airwaves of AM Radio and the homes of millions of Americans. Regardless of how we may feel about it, it looks like the government is going to go through with this. Now, I can make peace with the fact that a whole private industry is being, in essence, socialized. I can make peace with the fact that incompetent CEOs are going to live to fight another day. And I can make peace with the fact that key Republican leaders were left out of the decision-making process. I can learn to live with all of that, but here is a sentence in the AP piece that I just can't come to terms with:

It would create a government "car czar" to doal out the loans, with the power to force the car-makers into bankruptcy next spring if they didn't cut quick deals with their labor unions, creditors and others to restructure businesses and become viable. 

"Car czar?" Really, Congress? The United States of America is embarking on one of the biggest and most controversial socialistic endeavors since the New Deal and Congress wants use a word that has connotations of an oppressive monarchy and Eastern European Communism to describe part of it. That just doesn't seem to make sense to me. There are literally dozens of words that would have been a wiser choice. The person in charge of overseeing the Auto-makers behavior could have been called: an overseer, a watchdog (Americans love that word), manager, supervisor, head, or even a nanny. But instead, it almost seems like Congress considered all these words, then deliberately chose the worst one. Either that, or something that rhymed with "car" was just too good to pass up.

But Congress can't be blamed in this case for being the first to make the "czar" mistake. As much as I would love to blame them, "czar" has become to sterile and in American politics and life that it is commonplace. According to Wikipedia (the most reliable of all sources) "czar" has been a synonym for "leader" or "Autocrat" in the English language since the Jackson administration. In recent years, bureaucrats have expanded its usage to mean "anyone who looks remotely trustworthy that we pretend to put in charge of something  so the public can sleep easier at night."

Here in the U.S of A, we have (and none of these are made up): a drug czar, a terrorism czar, a cyber-security czar, a war czar and now a car czar. That maybe more czars than Czarist Russia ever had. It begs the question of why? Why would the federal government appoint a czar in anything and why would the public accept its usage? Maybe the public has lost its faith in the traditional social servants. Maybe it is not enough to have a narcotics detective, a homeland security expert, a firewall chief and general-in-command anymore. Maybe the country wants something stronger.

If that is the case, however, I am going to politely suggest that they find a new word. Because, right now, I declare war on you, czar, and your incorrect and vague usage in the English language. Czar should have gone with Czar Nicholas's head back in 1918, but we keep inexplicably bringing it back to life, dusting it off and sending it out to describe any human-being that has even the smallest smidgeon of power over anything.

Czar must be stopped now. Before you know it, the word will spread to the sporting world and then we will really be screwed.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Indecisive Peacock

It turns out that the man with the chin is unkillable.

Just when you think that late night TV personality Jay Leno is going to either jump to ABC or FOX, NBC announces a last second deal to keep his royal chin-ness in the NBC kingdom for the foreseeable future. Not only will Jay stay at NBC, Jay will be headlining his own hour-long talk show (again)....this time in PRIMETIME. 

All together now:


Just what exactly is NBC trying to do with this move? It reeks of indecisiveness, rash emotional thinking and a complete disregard for television economics. Four years ago, NBC decided to announce that Conan O'Brien would be taking over The Tonight Show when Jay Leno's contract expired in 2009. The peacock seemed to have sensed O'Brien's dissatisfaction with his truly "Late Nite" 12:35 AM time-slot. So, in short NBC decided that retaining Mr. O'Brien's services were far more important to them than keeping Jay Leno. Done. They made their choice and that is the end of the story. At least it should have been.

It seems the good folks at NBC Universal had a change of heart. Maybe it was their compassion, maybe it was their sense of loyalty to Leno, or maybe it was their sudden realization that Leno's Tonight Show consistently beat every other program in their time-slot. How could they possibly dismiss this cash cow.....I mean, valued employee?

And as if losing those cushy ratings weren't enough, NBC was running the risk of losing Jay to another network and creating a ratings rival. Instead of losing just David Letterman to a rival network, NBC would have lost both Jay Leno AND David Letterman to rival networks. Can you imagine how much that would sting their pride? And we all know how much pride leads one to make honest and sensical business decisions.

NBC decided that it was going to have its Late Night cake and eat its Primetimey goodness too, gosh darn it. The network is commissioning a brand new show for Jay Leno. It is still Jay Leno's show. It is still a variety program. It will still have guests. It will still air in the same Hollywood studio as The Tonight Show (Conan is getting a new studio). Now isn't that just exemplary of NBC's commitment to creative new ideas and thinking outside the box? But I haven't even gotten to the best part yet. Get this, instead of being a Late Night program, Jay's new show will air at 10:00 PM. Primetime, baby, Primetime.

NBC shareholders, just forget for the fact for a second:that talk shows and variety programs haven't made money in primetime since that '80s, that Rosie O'Donell's recent attempt at a primetime variety show was watched by only 5 million souls and handily destroyed by CBS's 60 Minutes, and that there is absolutely no guarantee that Leno's roughly 6 million late night viewers will follow him to 10:00; this is going to work. You know it will work because NBC is behind it and NBC doesn't make mistakes (forget: Knight Rider remake, aforementioned Rosie O'Donell show, My Own Worst Enemy, Four Kings, Law and Order: Trial by Jury and the 2,236,912 other failed shows NBC has cancelled this decade).

And then there's Conan. For a corporation that made a move based solely on Conan O'Brien's wishes, NBC has appeared shockingly unfaithful to its burgeoning star. How do think Conan feels now? He finally got the time-slot and the show he desired, only to find out later that that big-chinned bastard will have the better time-slot in front of him yet again. Then there's the matter of Leno's continued presence as a threat. It is very likely that Leno's 10:00 program on NBC is more than just a stab at more Primetime ratings, it is insurance. If for whatever reason, Conan O'Brien in an 11:35 timeslot completely bombs, NBC has their good old buddy Jay to turn to. NBC gave Conan O'Brien their full vote of confidence and then took it right back. It is like your parents finally giving you keys to the car, only when you hop in the driver's seat, you find out that they have hired a Secret Service agent to sit shotgun and go everywhere you go.

The only people that this deal hurts are NBC employees and the only people that it helps are the other networks. CBS, for one, absolutely could not be happier. Conan O'Brien probably won't lose that many viewers for The Tonight Show, but he will certainly be a drop-off, making the late night crown ripe for David Letterman's taking. As for Jay at 10:00? He won't even register on CBS's radar. They could easily move a CSI spin-off, or Without a Trace or even 60 Minutes to 10:00 and undoubtedly destroy Jay Leno so completely that NBC will have no choice other than to cancel his show. FOX doesn't care about 10:00 and even if Jay can beat ABC's 10:00 programming, it won't be by much. Meanwhile, Conan will be struggling to stay funny under pressure that his job could be snatched away at any moment, Jay will be struggling to stay funny under the limitations of a 10:00 airtime and NBC will be struggling to stay sane as they watch their network fall to CW-like Nielsen ratings.

In the end, NBC made more than a bad decision.

They made the kind of decision that keeps a network in last-place.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Grammy Week: Like Shark Week Without the Water

Last week the Grammy nominations were announced.

And thus, I have written the most boring sentence in the history of the English language. 

It would not be accurate to say that no one cares about the Grammys. I am sure that Grammy voters care about the Grammys. I can reasonably assume that all current Grammy nominations care about the Grammys. And I damn well know that every previous Grammy winner cares about the Grammys. But as for the rest of us....let's be honest, you didn't even know the Grammy nominations were announced, did you? Like the record industry it celebrates, the Grammy Award is beyond flawed: it is inconsequential. 

Every year, Oscar nominations are scrutinized and picked apart by the masses. Magazines will dedicate whole issues to who got snubbed, entertainment columnists will inevitably call for the Academy's grisly demise, and campaigns will start around the nation to boycott the awards. Regardless of the nominations and winners, the nation will feel very strongly about whom the Academy picks. Contrast that to the Grammys for a moment, if you will. In the previous week, there was very little chatter or debate over the fairness of the Grammys. Katy Perry was inexplicably left out of the Best New Artist category and nobody blinked an eye. Can you imagine the blacklash and fervor that would follow if Heath Ledger isn't nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in Janurary? The infrastructure of the United States might crumble due to endless rioting. We, as a culture-consuming public, feel a lot stronger about the Oscars and the Emmys than they do the Grammys.

The Grammy needs help and they need to be fixed. Lucky for them, I am in a fixin' mood.

The biggest problem that Grammys has is the medium that they reward. Film and television are a communal medium. Only three or four new movies come out a week and a sizable section of the middle-class will flock to theaters every weekend to see those films. They sit in dark theaters filled with several other people. They talk about the film with their friends. They read articles about the film in magazines. They blog about the film online. Whatever a viewer chooses to do with that film, it is inevitably involving other people. A film may carry a particular emotional resonance for one viewer, but at the end of the day it belongs to the community and a consensus opinion is usually reached. Music on the other hand, is far more eclectic and personal. Consumers of music rarely choose to listen to music as part of a community session. The vast majority of music that is hear in this country is heard through earphones that keep the sound within the listener's ear and away from anyone else's.

The differences between one album or one song and another may be far greater than those of a movie or TV show's. Movie can fall into many categories (action, comedy, horror, adventure, romance) but chances are, when you go to a movie you will see a 90 minute-150 minute story that will feature themes and situations that you are familiar with. If you were to pick a random CD off a shelf at a record store, however, you may get anything from a 30-minute CD of loosely-connected pop punks songs to a 12-hour box set of Afrikaan tribal rhythms and drum beats. There is far more variability when it comes to music and subsequently, music has a far more fractured audience.

Why then, would an effective awards show make Metal fans sit through hours worth of R&B awards or make Stand-up Comedy album fans sit through hours worth of Country awards? The answer is: an effective awards show wouldn't. So here is what the Grammys should do.

Instead of one awards show on one night that runs for a few hours, why not have 7 awards shows over a whole week? Every decade the Grammys should select the 6 most popular musical genres based on record sales, downloads and cultural impact. For the 00-'09 decade, the 6 most popular genres would be: Rock, Rap, Country, R&B, Dance (Techno) and Pop. Then from Monday through Saturday, they should hold an entire awards show for each genre, so that music fans of each can get a thorough and satisfying show. Then, on Sunday the winners of the other 6 categories would become nominees for all-encompassing categories such as "Album of the Year" or "New Artist of the Year." For example, if Coldplay's Viva La Vida won best rock album, it would immediately be in the running for the "Album of the Year" competition on Sunday in which it would compete against the winners in the other 5 genres. For auxiliary categories such as "Best Reggae Song", or "Best Spoken Word Recording", Grammys could just release the outcome of each competition on the Internet. This way the legitimacy and totality of the Grammys would remain intact, but the show would be far more entertaining. 

Logistics-wise, a seven day awards show would make sense. If advertisers would pay more ad-time on one awards show, why wouldn't they pay for six others of the same awards show for the same price? Plus, advertisers would know EXACTLY what type of audience they would be paying for (i.e Rock fans, Rap fans, etc.). And at the end of the week, the 7 shows are almost certain to have garnered more total viewers than 1 show. As far as whether a network would be willing to commit to an awards show for a whole week of prime-time programming....yes, yes they would. Networks will commit to whatever brings them money. If General Electrics is willing to devote all of NBC's and every every NBC-owned network's time-slots to the Summer Olympics, then someone will step forward to buy the rights for "Grammy Week", especially if the show were to air right now; between the fall and winter TV seasons and before Christmas, so shoppers can go out and buy a Grammy-winning album. 

To me, this makes all kinds of sense....which means it will never happen.

Oh well, at least Herbie Hancock isn't nominated again this year.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sunday Morning Links pt. 12

For a guy that wants to be a Magazine Journalist, I certainly procrastinate when it comes to reading magazines. 

When it comes to magazines, I put subscriptions on my Christmas list like Santa puts rat bastards on his hit-list. As a result, I now receive Time every Wednesday, Sports Illustrated on Thursday and Entertainment Weekly on Friday. Now don't get me wrong, enjoy reading each one and I would be sad to see any go (okay....Sports Illy would be the first to go). But when they each come one after another, it can be pretty intimidating. 

First, Wednesday rolls around and I have an impressive and professional-looking tome in front of me with lots of big words and very few pictures. I start to read the letters to the editor and get through the smaller features until I get to the big articles which I elect to read "later." Then comes Thursday and a brand new Sports Illustrated. Chances are, I'll be working so that mag gets put aside too. By the time Entertainment Weekly arrives on Friday, I have 72 hours to read the three magazines until the whole cycle starts over.

So now you know, what I will be doing all Sunday. You just go ahead and enjoy your Links.

- Roger Ebert writes about how he has become one of a dying breed: The movie critic. This is terrifying news for anyone...especially for someone who wouldn't object to being a film critic one day.

- Here is an excellent piece from the Philadelphia Daily News that details a disturbing  newspaper trend: ignoring suicides in obituaries.

- At least SOMEONE named Alec knows how to talk to the ladies....

- Here is the second best sports piece I have read all month- there is something uniquely satisfying about being the most tortured fan-base in sports. I mean things can only look up, can't they?

- And here is the best sports story- four months from now when the Cleveland Cavaliers win the NBA Championship trophy, I sincerely hope that Zydrunas Ilgauskas is the first man to touch the trophy. What a classy dude.

That's all I have for now. Time Magazine awaits!

Friday, December 5, 2008

I'm From the Burg, Bitch

Since I am so kind, I would like to let you all in on a little secret.

Everyone lean in close so I don't have to shout. Closer, closer....come on now, don't be shy; alright you in the cardigan, you need to step back a bit, you're in my personal space. Alright, everyone ready? Here goes: I have found the best spot on the globe.

Let that sink in for a second. Does it not blow your mind? And here's the weird part: the best spot on the globe is not only in the continental United States, it is right here in humble Ohio (the best state in the Union if you ask me, but that is a story for another time). I have found a town so quaint that it should be on a postcard, a community so strong that it makes Stepford looks like a gang of Pirates and an area so uniquely American that it should be the Capitol.

Welcome to Twinsburg, Ohio, friends: the best damn spot on the globe.

Twinsburg (the only town in the world named Twinsburg, by the way) is a cozy little suburb located halfway between Cleveland and Akron and about 20-25 minutes away from either city. It is a marvelous city small enough to feel intimate but big enough to keep you entertained. It is a wonderful, diverse place committed to the education of its children, the preservation of its many natural parks and the continuing traditions of old. And with a name like Twinsburg, you know it has to have an interesting will have to go look it up though, I am on a roll here.

Now that the check from the Twinsburg Tourism Board has cleared, I would like to level with you here for a second here and tone down the hyperbole. I can't safely say that Twinsburg is the greatest place on Earth because I haven't seen every place on Earth. But I am willing to say that Twinsburg is my favorite town of every town I have ever seen or lived in. And that list might be a little bit longer than you think. I have spent four years in New York State; two years in Central Ohio; two years in Southern New Jersey and two years in Central New Jersey. My father's family hails from Western Pennsylvania and my mother's hails from Northern New Jersey, so I am intimately familiar with both areas. So that is the context for when I make bold statements and make an ass out of myself.

But in all serious, Twinsburg is my favorite place. The town has let itself grow naturally and doesn't inhibit Corporate America from coming to town, so you can find pretty much anything you need downtown. But in spite of the Corporate presence, the town has also maintained a certain respect for the past and aesthetics. There are preciously old and gorgeous buildings scattered throughout the community and all new edifices do a fairly good job of conforming to the existing style of the town. But unlike most towns that honor their past, Twinsburg does not come across as a pretentious fake old town that strictly enforces archaic rules about development so the 60 year old white men that exclusively make up the town will feel nice and bubbly seeing the 1940s-looking Main Street. No, Twinsburg is very real and very genuine and very current.

The problem is: not everyone is willing to acknowledge that. Twinsburg was recently ranked the 5th best Cleveland suburb by Cleveland Magazine. Now to any rational Twinsburgian, a ranking of 5 would be a huge honor. But I am not quite a rational Twinsburgian, so I looked at the communities Cleveland Magazine ranked ahead of my precious Burg.

4. Rocky River-Okay, I can get it
3. Mayfield Village- Alright, whatever
2.Richfield Village- Fair enough, fair enough

And then I came to number one. And number one was: Solon-Fucking-Ohio.


To those of you who don't know what Solon looks like, just imagine get a mental image of Mordor in your head, then add more flames and more Sears and you've got it. And to those of you who DO know what Solon looks like, doesn't it suck big time?

I should know, I live about 30 yards away from the Twinsburg-Solon border, so I wake up every morning having to inhale the Solon stench. Solon isn't a town, Solon is a two-lane highway with dozens of boring corporate chains on either side of it that occupy buildings that haven't looked cool since 1973. Well, what about the downtown, you ask. I would love to tell you about Solon's downtown, the problem is that it doesn't exist. Twinsburg has a nice, quaint little square with a combination of community barber shops, lots of grass picnic area, a classy old church and some nice shopping centers. The closest thing Solon has to a downtown is four lanes of asphalt and two gas stations.

Solon's schools seem to be a big sticking point for everyone in the town. I can't tell you how many times I have heard: "Yeah, but the schools are soooo great!" The funny thing is that I have never heard one student say this, one parent of a student say this, one teacher say this, or any kind of education expert say this (I actually know of one education expert who LOATHES Solon Schools). The only people who think Solon's schools are good are the people who read Cleveland Magazine. The sad truth of it all is that Solon High School is an over-crowded nearly 50-year-old building where the college prep curriculum is lacking, and the students are barely in class because of their 45,982 Study Hall periods.

So why does Cleveland Magazine think that Solon is so great. It may have something to do with the fact that all of the wealthy people in Northeast Ohio live in a gated community in Solon called Signature of Solon. These people use their wealth and influence to muscle Cleveland Magazine into ranking Solon #1 so their property value will go up. The funny thing is too that Signature is Solon is nowhere near downtown Solon and most of the people I know from Signature spend the majority of their time in downtown Aurora, which is closer to them.

Do you now see why I rarely choose to write about something I feel strongly about? Here I was talking about a trivial ranking in a magazine nobody reads and it almost led me to kill a Solonite. Oh boy, I can get kind of silly sometimes.

But seriously, Solon, watch your back.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Word of the Year: Smitstastic

Note: To those of you who don't watch Showtime's brilliant show Dexter, what is your problem and why are you still alive? To those of you who do watch Dexter but haven't reached episode ten of season three yet, proceed with caution because HERE BE MILD SPOILERS. To those of you who do watch Dexter and ARE completely caught up, congratulation and enjoy the post.

Since the Presidential election ended, I have been stuck at a crossroads.

I am in a campaigning mood but there is nothing to campaign for! All the election posters have been taken done, all the annoying people soliciting my vote on the streets have vanished and even Sean Hannity has stopped his bizarre xenophobia (Hannity: HIS NAME IS FUCKING BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA, PEOPLE! I DON'T KNOW WHY WE AREN'T STONING THIS MAN TO DEATH RIGHT NOW). Without my daily fix of campaigning, I have had to turn my attention to a different source. And now, thanks to Showtime's brilliant show Dexter (the name of the show isn't "Dexter" as far as I am concerned, it is "Showtime's brilliant show Dexter") I have found something I can campaign for. So listen up, Golden Globe/Emmy/Nobel because I have an announcement to make:

For your consideration, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series:

I have been a curious onlooker of Jimmy Smits career for sometime now. This Brooklyn actor has been in the public's collective(ly) unconscious since he played the role of Victor Sifuentes in 1986's L.A Law. Being negative four years old in 1986, I never quite got the opportunity to see the Smitsmeister in action. No, it wasn't until George Lucas decided to embark on a few ill-conceived prequels, that I got to my first exposure of Jimmy Smits. Playing the upright Senator Bail Organa (i.e one of the three or four people at the end of the films who isn't evil, dead or an annoying Gungan), Smits was.....boring. The role of underwritten and Lucas's directing was soul-less and Jimmy Smits had nothing else to do in the movies except look honorable and trustworthy. But something about the way he carried himself must have had an impression on me because I immediately recognized his mustachioed Latin glory when he showed up again in a favorite show of mine.

I have written about the final season of The West Wing before, but now I finally get to tell you a little more about why I loved it so. Jimmy Smits as Matt Santos and Alan Alda as Arnold Vinick absolutely OWNED that season. They created their characters from the ground up and took the viewer on a year long ride from the announcement of their candidacies to the primaries and through the national election. Smits, in particular, drew me to his character and all the various challenges and triumphs in his world like very few television actors (I mean "television actors" as a compliment, not a slight) ever had. He was the viewer's eyes and ears into this dangerous game of politics and I respected Smits immensely.

Then, earlier this year, I heard that Smits would be guest-starring on one my favorite shows, (Showtime's brilliant show) Dexter. I was eager to see how Smits would handle a role that promised to be far less idealistic that George Lucas's interpretation of a proud, incorruptible Senator or Aaron Sorkin's interpretation of a proud, incorruptible Congressman. There are really only three outcomes for a guest star on Dexter: having a loved one murdered, being murdered, or killing someone. And as far as Smits's character, Assistant District Attorney Miguel Prado, he may undergo all three options.

Now that I am 10 episodes in to a 12 episode season, I can safely say that Jimmy Smits has done the best work of acting on television I have seen yet this year. He seamlessly transitioned into the mood and tone of the show. His character goes from grieving brother to shrewd political maneuverer to curious student to megalomaniacal murderer all in the span of about 8 hours or so. It is a startlingly, yet fair portrayal of a man who is nowhere near what he seems.

And finally, after waiting the better part of a decade the producers and writers of Dexter have allowed me to see something I had always hoped I would see: Jimmy Smits letting loose. For whatever reason, this man has been type casted as a trustworthy politician for the last few years. His characters were reserved, professional and rarely openly passionate about other words, quiet. The good folks behind Dexter used this type cast to their advantage, painting this ADA as yet another shrewd and conniving, yet quiet, politician. But in the most recent episode, they gloriously let all pretense fall away to expose a feral, angry man who becomes furious and explosive at the thought of being slowed or halted in his quest for absolute power. 

In a line that I hope becomes this years "I drink your milkshake", Miguel circles his intellectual foe, Dexter, like a caged tiger before lunging at him and screaming with all his might "You don't want to fuck with me. Because I will FUCK YOU BACK in ways you can never imagine!" It is a shocking and powerful moment and the perfect climax to a season's worth of slow-burning tension and passion raging in this supposedly reserved man's conscious.

Thank you, Mr. Smits, from saving the fall TV season from boredom. Thank you for giving the wonderful character of Dexter such a perfect foil. And thank you from for finally losing your mind on camera for us all to see.

I just hope the Emmy is as thankful as I am.