Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Mike & Mike: Completely Biased Commentating

Pete's been watching a lot of Blazers games, so I've been watching a lot of Blazers games. I have come to both love and hate the two local announcers. I love how much they admire the players and how excited they are about this team. I think it's funny how totally pro-Blazers they are, especially Mike Rice, who at least once a game is ired by some imagined infraction missed by the officials. Mike Barrett (or "MB" as Rice calls him, which never ceases to crack me up; it's like he's a 15-year old girl) always quietly disagrees, then when the video is replayed clearly showing no such foul, gently indicates as much and graciously allows Rice to move on to something else. What I can't stand is how repetitive they get. If I hear them say "points in the paint" one more time, I may scream. And lately Rice can't stop saying the word "faux-hawk" because if the Blazers get to the playoffs he will shave his hair into a faux-hawk, possibly because Sergio has one, possibly he made this decision before Sergio's haircut. I don't really know, and I don't really care; I just want him to stop saying faux-hawk sixteen times a game.

Rice is probably 65, but there are moments when he sounds like he's 80. And there are things he says that sound so borderline racist... I find myself saying, "Oh my God, can he hear what he's saying?" (The answer is no, because he's already moved on to the next thing.) It's clear that nothing could be farther from the truth - he seems like a super nice guy - but taken out of context, (or, if you will, in the context of my crazy racist Grandfather hypothetically saying them), and they sound pretty odd. Tonight he said something about how guys from Mississippi know how to hide in the weeds. Or maybe tall grasses? Whatever: he sounds exactly like someone's granddad giving a running commentary on the game in the middle of a family get-together. (I have to admit, that has its own appeal.) Actually, he sounds like the players' granddad giving a running commentary. Like he's just so proud of each of them, but especially Brandon Roy.

If the Mikes could just stop saying "points in the paint" (seriously! it haunts me!) and obsessing about Rice's potential future faux-hawk, it would be a great broadcast (for me). The thing is, I really like them. I like the running joke that Rice cheats at the Aflac trivia question each night. I loved when Oden joined them the other night and what they wanted to know about was the 32" sandwich he had for dinner the night before. I might hate having to watch basketball all the time, but I really like our team and it's nice to hear commentary from two guys who love our team.

Okay, I just saw Jay Leno make out with a brown bear of some sort in an ad for the Tonight Show. I have clearly gone insane. I need to go to sleep.


Last night I had this crazy dream. I know you don't want to hear all the details, so I'll summarize. Note to Catholics: yes, this is probably a heretical dream. Except I'm not a Catholic, so I don't think it counts. Also, it's a dream. It probably means I was reading too many Pope-related comics before bed. (That is actually what I was doing before bed last night.)

Essentially I was staying with my good friend (who I haven't seen in like three years, but I'm sure she's still fantastic) Gretta and her parents (who weren't her parents; you know how dreams are) and they told me the Pope was in town and he was going to stay with them, so we all needed to wear appropriate humorous t-shirts (they were yellow). The Pope came to the house and was amused by our shirts. Gretta's dad (who may have actually been J. K. Simmons) took him to the garage to see his workshop. And the Pope died. Of old age! He just keeled over! But this did not surprise me because I've had this dream before. So I said to Gretta, "I've had this dream before. The Devil is coming. You have to get the Pope's miter and scepter out of his car." (The car was not the Popemobile, but like a big old '80s Lincoln.) She ran out and got them. I told her that she had to make herself the Pope so that we could defeat The Devil. "But how?" She asked. I said, "You'll make all of us Popes, and then we can take him from all sides." She said, "No, how do I make myself the Pope?" But it was too late: The Devil had arrived, and he was in Colin Farrel's body. That and a souped up old muscle car, like a Camaro or something. As Farrel (AKA The Devil) came up the front walk, it was like the intro to Mind Freak or something: his long hair all blowing in the wind, his silk shirt unbuttoned and billowing out behind him, his leather pants magically not making any weird leather noises as he walked. Then there was running around. Finally I remembered why Gretta had to make us all Popes: we had to bless the water and then throw it on him. (The Devil is like a cat, you see. Or maybe just Colin Farrel.) But it was too late and also we were bored and Gretta seemed tired (I mean, a gold miter and scepter must be heavy). So Colin Farrel just stalked around the house in his perpetual windstorm and I got a ride from Gretta's brother, Baird, to get some submarine sandwiches. (He was driving some kind of '60s Mustang with the top down. Why were there so many specific cars in my dream?) But I was still wearing my yellow t-shirt and that bothered me more than The Devil stalking around my friend's house.

Your guess is as good as mine as to what any of that means. But as Jung argued, you are everyone in your dream. So I am the Pope and The Devil? Huh. Maybe I just want to wear some leather pants but feel uncomfortable admitting it.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Live Blogging: The American Gladiators Experience

7:58pm - Pete and I have decided that we have to see the reborn American Gladiators to believe it. Or at least Pete has decided this, so I'm going to live blog.

8pm - The Hulkster just asked, "Where are my Gladiator Maniacs?" Um, I think you mean "hulkamaniacs."

8:01 - "And a tomboy goes against a lawyer..." Yes, truly it is the fight of the century.

8:02 - Wait, does the winner become a gladiator? During the Gladiator Roll Call, Pete just said, "Fury is a dude." That may well be true.

8:03 - First challenger - a 25-year old dude - is already crying over his mom dying of cancer. Can we have a game show these days without a back story?

8:04 - Pete says, "This is so close to Running Man." Except none of these douche bags dies. That'd be the main difference.

8:05 - "Big hit for Justice, the battle gladiator." Aren't all of them battle gladiators?
- I think the Hulkster and the first competitor were going to make out.

8:06 - The second competitor's back story involves children. Um, also, these guys are clearly actors. And isn't the scripting of this a violation of the writer's strike?

8:08 - The hulk only has one response to the competitors- "Unbelievable dude, unbelievable brother."
- Sob story... oh, I'm sorry, "back story" number 3: a Chinese tom boy whose father wanted a son and who's been petitioning to bring back American Gladiators since 2005. She clearly thinks she is the cutest thing since Teddy Ruxbin.

8:10 - Now Chinese Tom Boy is calling the Hulkster "brother."
- Competitor 4: A lawyer who is also a lady football player. She did not petition to bring the show back. I doubt her dedication and conviction.

8:12 - Chinese Tom Boy made it much higher up the rock-climbing wall because she weighs next to nothing. The gladiator is grabbing her around the waist to pull her off the wall. It's making a hilarious humping motion that I'm sure will end up on You-Tube to some '70s porn, wah-pedal heavy music.

8:13 - The Gladiator "Wolf" is pretty, um, awesome? He's got a little of The Nuge in him. And also golden locks that would make the three bears crave porridge.

8:16 - The Norse God Thor. That's what Wolf is going for. But Zaphod Beeblebrox from the movie of Hitchhiker's Guide is kind of what he achieved. They're on a pyramid of gym mats. Oh, about Gladiator Justice earlier, they said, "It's Hammer Time!" just in case you forgot that this dates to the early '90s.

8:18 - They're all wearing these neck braces that look like they're meant to pop your head off rather than protect you.

8:20 - Evidently kicking isn't allowed, but stepping on somone's head is. Semantics!

8:21 - I think Chinese Tom Boy and Gladiator Crush had a moment there. At the end they were mumbling through their mouth guards at each other and hugging. This is a weird show. I can't tell if it's intentionally homoerotic or if it's accidental.
- Militia ("Army of One") appears to have a bowling ball in his cup.

8:23 - "Son, you've gotta hulk it up, brother!" Cause the competitor's name is Son.

Wow, this is really long already. I say to Pete, "I hope this gets boringer soon." He says, "Well too bad, 'cause it's a non-stop thrill ride."

8:28 - Son is not very good at this.

8:30 - Oh, so much for semantics! Football Lawyer just got her points back for Gladiator Crush's illegal move.

8:31 - Wow, nice product placement, Nerf.

8:32 - I swear Chinese Tomboy got hit using the first weapon. Then she had to fire a crossbow but she didn't make it. I didn't remember there being a Nerf Crossbow.

8:33 - "I tried to shake and bake it, but it wasn't enough. Not enough shaking, I guess." Hrm, yes, that's what happened there.

8:35 - There is a commercial for Lipstick Jungle on. This looks like the worst, most anti-woman show since that Grey's Anatomy spinoff. "They're women, in a city, and they have sex sometimes," is Pete's analysis.

8:36 - I think Wolf just smelled Competitor 1's hair. Holy crap, he is hell of fast climbing that wall. The gladiators are acting like they won't get fed because they didn't catch these guys.

8:37 - Competitor 1's family gave the Hulkster goosebumps.

8:38 - There is a guy with a megaphone that says "GO CK" because those are Chinese Tom Boy's initials, but it totally looks like it said "GO FUCK" and was censored. Chinese Tom Boy just screamed something about the Gladiation, as in like Gladiator + Nation. Not the best portmanteau I've ever seen.

8:40 - You cannot look graceful on this show. I think Chinese Tom Boy thinks she's a boxer. She can't talk without bobbing and weaving. Of course Football Lawyer can't say a word without mentioning football some how.

Oh my God, how many commercials can there be? The answer: at least one more. Also, KGW thinks it's the #1 TV website or something. I guess other people aren't that bothered by their desire for your age, sex and zipcode every damn time you log on.

8:45 - Football Lawyer is not as good at this dodging-medicine-balls-on-a-plastic-bridge game as Chinese Tom Boy. I'm sure there's some joke there, somewhere.

8:47 - I think Competitor 1's cup is nobby. The lighting keeps highlighting it. Also, Competitor 2, Son, is not very good at this.

8:48 - Ha! Proof that they're actors! The ref just called Competitor 1 ("Evan") "Chad" and he nodded. Haha!

8:49 - Hey, they stole all these obstacles from Ninja Warrior!

8:50 - How you can celebrate "the fastest time ever" in a show this new?
- Pete just said, "Nagano could take all these guys." Yes, but so could Mr. Ninja Warrior, the guy who competes on that show in a diaper and never makes it past round 1. [Correction: Mr. Ninja Warrior isn't the diaper guy, but he did compete in short-shorts once.]

They made a new Rambo movie. I... But... It's... Just, why? Why was this necessary?

Oh my God, there's a new Guinness World Record's show and it has someone undoing bra straps. That is the most American thing I've ever heard of!

8:55 - Football Lawyer is a whiner. Chinese Tom Boy is over-confident. Whose obnoxious idiosyncrasy will reign supreme?
"Are the containers ready?" The ref is having some issues.

8:57 - There's no real penalty for not completing these events. Also, they both suck at this. If "Chad" could do it in 1:30...

8:58 - To the Hulkster, everything is "unbelievable!" He must be the biggest nihilist ever: he doesn't even believe in things he's seen with his own eyes.

8:59 - Ooh, next week a "47-year old single mother takes on a precocious cheerleader! It's a battle of the ages!" and a long-haired chiropractor takes on... eh, someone else. But this guy has hippie hair! That's gotta be good, right?

Sadly, I will never know who becomes the next gladiator. Because I don't care. I don't know if this show is worse the second time around, but it was bad enough the first time that it really doesn't matter. How did this get brought back and yet Firefly and Freaks and Geeks remain canceled? It's a strange world.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Now I don't need to see the movie!

What the hell is up with movie previews? I don't go to the movies very often, but that is partly because with movie previews the way they are, I don't need to. I swear to God, why do they feel they have to give away the whole movie in the trailer?

Voice Over Guy: Marty Beacon had the perfect life - two beautiful children, a husband who loved her, a house in the suburbs - until one day, all that changed. Now her husband doesn't know her, her children are terrified of her, and everyone tells her that Marty Beacon died two years ago.
Marty: Why is this happening to me? Why, God, why?!
VOG: Marty must investigate her own death under the guise of someone else, and all the while she feels she's being watched.
Marty: There's someone watching me. I know it...
VOG: Who is watching her? Why are they following her? Marty will have to openly face her nemesis in a fight for her life!
Marty: Show yourself!
VOG: Can she stop him? Will it get her family back? Or is it already too late...
[Marty is in hospital bed, lots of tubes and wires. The camera pans up to a doctor looking over her chart, then turning to her... husband and children, gathered around her bed!]
Husband: Doctor, how is she?
Doctor: I won't lie to you - it doesn't look good.
Husband: What's wrong with her?
Doctor: Nothing.
Husband: What? How can that be?
Doctor: We've done every test we have and they've all come back negative. No, I'm sorry sir, this is beyond our capabilities. Whatever is wrong with Marty, it's something she's got to battle out herself.
VOG: As Marty battles within herself, with her own secret demons, her family waits anxiously by her side. Will Marty ever wake up? Will she ever learn the truth? Find out, this summer, in "Beacon Hill."
[Final shot of Marty in hospital bed, eyelids fluttering, kids saying, happily, "Mom?"]

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Who came up with this name?

Have you seen the product "Lectric Shave"? It's tagline is "Blade close. Lectric smooth." Who came up with this name? Was "Electric Shave" taken? And what does "lectric smooth" mean? That's not a thing! The new commercial has a guy with a face full of stubble that, upon closer inspection, all have his face. The stubble are all wilted and sad. And then he rubs on his shave lotion (or whatever it is) and they all stand up straight, grinning and surprised. "Lectric shave!" they shout. I have two questions.
1) How creepy is it that sentient facial hair look forward to the most obvious sign of their own demise?
2) Do all of the stubble faces have faces on their stubble?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

His Dark Materials: Not So Dark

I didn't hear about "The Golden Compass" or the "His Dark Materials" series until the movie of the first book came out last year. And I wasn't really interested then either. I mean, come on: armored polar bears? Yes, very exotic. A+. Now sit down and shut up. But then I heard that these books were anti-religious and had angered the far right. I thought, "I bet they aren't either. I bet they're all like, 'Hey, it's Sunday, let's have an ice cream,' and the religicos are all like, 'Oh my G-... goodness, they hate God and want to kill him with an ice cream on his day of rest!' Stupid right wing nut jobs." (Just as an aside, have I ever mentioned how totally tolerant I am of other people's beliefs? I'm like a frickin' saint.) Armored bears? Twee exotic. Anti-religious themes? Ooh, count me in!

I will try not to give away plot points, but in so much as they are about the stance these books take vis-a-vis religion, it may be unavoidable.


So I read the first one as quickly as I could, getting very little sleep in the process. And it wasn't anti-religious, and certainly not anti-Christian. It was a great little adventure story about a bratty little girl, the world's awesomest pocket watch, some armored bears and a really evil monkey. It wasn't exactly what I'd consider a children's story, but it's themes regarding religion could be summed up as follows: "Religion is fine, whatever, and faith is really a good thing, but you know what sucks? The Spanish Inquisition. Yeah, religions should really avoid that Torquemada shit." Pete said that the real Anti stuff didn't occur until the second and third books, according to what he'd read about them, so of course I had to go on. The second book ("The Subtle Knife") did broaden the anti-religious sentiment. It's message was more: "Actually, now that I think about it, religion in general kind of sucks. Somaybeweshouldkillgodjustasuggestion. Or whatever." And I was left with the feeling that something had happened in the midst of writing the last quarter of the first book that had poisoned Pullman against the church as evinced by the second books more strident denunciation. Still, it wasn't exactly revolutionary. More like, "Well, if the church in this made up world is evil, maybe one should excise its black heart." It didn't imply, "The church in reality is evil. Seriously. Evil." And the story was still engaging - now there was a sullen boy character from our own world! and the world's awesomest knife! - so I forged ahead. (Actually, that makes it sound like work. I'll try again.) - so I excitedly started devouring the third book ("The Amber Spyglass"), anxious to see what would become of Lyra (bratty girl who is also inexplicably sympathetic) and Will (sullen boy who is necessarily sympathetic for putting up with Lyra).

The third book started out by pretty much shouting at the top of its voice: JUST IN CASE YOU MISSED IT BEFORE, UM, THIS IS AN ALLEGORY FOR HOW THE CHURCH IS EVIL AND NOW YOUR BELOVED CHARACTERS ARE GOING TO EMBARK ON A MISSION TO KILL GOD; TRY NOT TO STRESS OUT ABOUT IT TOO MUCH BECAUSE IT'S FOR THE BEST. And that was okay because up until that point they had primarily been adventure stories and that's what I was in them for anyway. Also, the baddest of the baddies (the one with the evil monkey) had yet to be dispatched, so I had that too look forward to. But then...

Wait, let me describe this book physically first, in case you haven't seen them. This is a 450 or so-page paperback in like 8pt type. It's not what I would call a long book, but I certainly wouldn't call it short. It's more like the book you take on vacation - it's good for 5 hours on a plane, half an hour to an hour every night before bed in your hotel room, and the 5 hours back home. In that size of an adventure/fantasy book I expect a main quest, one or two side quests, some kind of mystical destiny to be fulfilled, a Big Bad to be revealed, thwarted, reborn and then finally defeated, and then for either a family to be reunited or the protagonist to fall in love (it works if they just come to grips with the death of their parents or lover instead, if that's what's called for). Probably someone should make a noble sacrifice in there somewhere. If it's a book for adults, there will probably be some awkwardly written sex, but that's okay so long as no one's "manhood" throbs and no one feels "awash in womanly" anything. (PS: this is one of the primary reasons I prefer young adult sci-fi/fantasy as no one ever goes farther than kissing or virgin marriage.)

But what does "The Amber Spyglass" give you? Deus Ex Machina MacGuffin Quest 2008. It reads like a series of half-hour episode summaries for a British mini-series called Amber Spyglass. Every improbable idea works the first time, exactly as it's meant to. The magical items that propelled the plot of the first two books are suddenly MacGuffined for no clear reason. Why does it matter if so-and-so stole your awesome tool if you're never going to use it? Oh, because you needed a reason to go to this other place and steal this toy that for a while was also an awesome tool but now will also not be used. Even when they do use their magic items, one is given the impression by the ease with which they pick up these esoteric new skills that the item is itself irrelevant. And really, that would almost have been a more interesting story. What if Will didn't need a knife, subtle or otherwise, to cut his way into other parallel worlds? What if Lyra didn't need a golden symbol reader - or even a brass tack! - to understand the universe and answer impossible questions?

"The Amber Spyglass" is a little breathless at times. I think Pullman had enough ideas left over at the end of "The Subtle Knife" for about 10 books, but decided it had to be a trilogy because of God or Jesus or the Holy Ghost or someone, and so just crammed all the ideas he could into one book. The result is that the characters never have more than a moment for introspection or development and it is wearying. An example:
A: Hey, that's a neat watch.
B: Oh yeah? Thanks! Oh no, that man stole it!
A: Really? Well let's steal it back.
B: Oh no, it's not where we saw him leave it!
C: Hey kids, I'll make you a deal: I'll give you your watch if you get me a new spork.
B: Any spork?
C: No, a specific, magic spork, that makes everything taste like meatloaf and A-1.
A: K...
C: Oh, did I mention that it's in a parallel universe?
B: Hey, we're in the parallel universe. Thank god we just happened upon that door marked "Parallel Universe, In Here"
A: Oh no, some crazy guy has the spork!
B: Let's fight him.
D: Oh-you killed me! You're now the Spork Master!
A: Let's get my watch back.
B: Yeah, we have the watch and the Spork!
A: Let's go to Hades.
B: Okay!
A: Wow, Hades sucks.
B: Yeah, let's let all the dead out of it.
A: Good idea!
B: There you go, ghosts! Enjoy Not Hades!
A: Oh no, I'm captured!
B: I'll save you!
A: Safe - except for this new and even more random danger!

And it just goes on like that for 450+ pages.

Somewhere along the line Pullman just completely loses his authorial voice. I mean completely. In literary theory they talk about monovocality and polyvocality - all the characters having the author's voice and pushing forward his/her agenda versus all the characters having independent voices from the author's as well as independent agendas. The first truly polyvocal writers are said to be the 19th century Russians - Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, etc. - and when you compare them to say, Jane Austin, you can really see what a literary theorist is talking about. Normally I am irritated by monovocality, unless it is historically appropriate. For instance, George Sand's "Indiana" or Voltaire's "Candide" wouldn't be very good political statements if the characters could voice opinions that differed from the author's main purpose. But a good story, especially a good adventure, is always better when it's polyvocal. And that doesn't mean you can't hear the author: you can, it's just separate from the characters. An allegory kind of has to be monovocal, which is why complex adventure stories usually make poor allegories. Questing stories make excellent allegories; they're very linear. "The Golden Compass" was truly polyvocal, in my opinion. It was, at its heart, an adventure and Lyra had all the hallmarks of a great adventurer: brave, lucky, foolhardy, smart-assed, headstrong, loyal, clever, compassionate... The second book was pretty good that way too, although at times it seemed like the author was working a little too hard to force Lyra and Will into different voices every time they seemed to naturally align. The third book began the decent into allegory. And that's where Pullman really got lost. Rather than my usual complaints about a monovocality where polyvocality is warranted or vice versa, it was like Pullman himself didn't know what he was going for. There are whole sections of the book where I can almost hear him pacing behind me, fretting, "Oh dear oh dear oh dear," as he tries to stay true to his adventuring ideas (The world of the dead! Also: harpies!) and yet at the same time force it into an allegory-shaped box.

By the end, the dialog doesn't even sound like the same characters any more. They're completely washed out. And that is when you can really begin to see the author's philosophical struggle. On the one hand, he wants to make sure you understand that Religion Is Bad And Evil And The Source Of All Suffering, so he has to set his characters up for heartbreak so you'll want them to succeed. But he loves his characters: Will and Lyra are his children. So he wants them to be happy and then they are. But that seems to imply that all it takes to be happy in the world is to reject religion, and that becomes its own religion, so they have to continue to suffer so that you know that's just how the world is. But that shouldn't make up doubt that the world has the potential to be a nice and good place! So then he gets all hopeful again. The ending is so sugar-coatedly twee, so transparently uplifting and inspiring, that it even as it made my eyes tear up and my chest heavy with sadness for these two sweet-hearted little kids I'd been rooting for, it also made my eyes roll. Pete thinks there should be a word for that, crying and eye rolling. He suggested Crainge, like cry+cringe.

So what is the bottom line. The bottom line is that "The Amber Spyglass" was wholly unsatisfying. I'm sitting here right now wishing I knew what happened to Lyra and Will. Only I do know. What happened was so super saturated with adventure and doe-eyed adoration it read like fan fiction and therefore doesn't really feel like part of the story. Here is a summary of how "The Amber Spyglass" ultimately concludes its tail:**SPOILERS**

Two 12-year olds maybe have sex and that saves the world from pouring all of its consciousness into a great abyss. Religion is bullshit, but ESPECIALLY Christianity - one character actually says, "Christianity got it completely wrong" which lead me to say to myself, "Bone to pick much?" which when I type it doesn't look like it makes much sense but it did in my head - and God is a hobbled old man who just wants to die, except that he's not even the creator because no one knows how that happened, but maybe it was just science or something. ANYWAY, the real meaning of life, the universe and everything is a balance between altruism and sensual pleasures (of which I'm sure there are exactly 42) and that's why it's okay for two 12-year olds to have sex (maybe - it says "they lay together" - about as subtle as a knife that cuts through anything).

Sigh. The worst part is that I can't stop thinking about it because it was so unsatisfying. If you've read these books, I'd be interested to know what you think. Or if you haven't read them. Either way. I've been harassing Pete with it all evening. And he was like, "Oh my God this is a lengthy blog post so please type it up and stop asking me if I think a confused authorial voice and allegory that might just be a bad metaphor or analogy makes for poor reader satisfaction!" So I'm posting a lengthy blog post and asking you: what do you think?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Calling all Sociologists!

Calling all sociologists! We've got an 11-59!

If you are interested in the sociology of video gaming (or just the sociology of gender) you need to be watching the crap on the G4 video game channel. Their "Attack of the Show" is pretty much the worst thing on TV - they just interviewed David Caruso and managed to make him look like a professional - but even watching it on mute, you get a good sense of what I'm talking about. Some of the dudes are "cool" (or metro or at least well-dressed) or whatever, and some are just gamer nerds. But ALL of the ladies are hot. To a woman, they are all slender, boobied and long-haired. Now if you can stand to watch this show with sound, you'll find that the dynamic between the two hosts (a guy and a girl) is straight out of the '70s. It's vaguely anti-woman with a smiling nod to her inferior gaming knowledge/skillz. All of the jokes (which are universally terrible) are about sex (doin' chicks), poo or how nerds are not very physically active. It's such a perfect picture of what industry thinks of gamers - they want to be Rico Suave and hang out with attractive ladies, they like jokes about sex and poo, they can only understand things if presented as a videogame analogy - it borders on parody. In fact, they hosts are constantly shrieking at the viewer, "We know what you want! We know what you want!" Which begs the question: if you're presenting the viewer with what he wants, why do you have to tell him that?

Identity reinforcement is an interesting phenomenon in popular culture. I was recently trapped in a clinic lunch room for 8 hours doing patient interviews and forced to listen to country music all day. Prior to this time, I had never listened to much country - just whatever one crazy friend forced on my in high school. The first thing I noticed in the first two hours was that I can't tell the songs apart unless it changes from a male to a female singer. The second thing I noticed was that the lyrics are constantly describing (building?) and reinforcing the Country Identity. In talking about this with Joe, Lisa and Pete, Lisa pointed out that they also spring God on you at the end of the song. Here is what it's like:
I wear my jeans,
I drive my truck,
my life is just like yours.
I got this girl,
she's really cute,
but sometimes she's real trouble.
Now you understand
what I'm talking about
because we all got problems.
The pastor says
my girl means well
so I pray on it each Sunday.

This is not something I've ever noticed in rock music, or even in rap. Rap does a lot of identity work, but it's mostly: I'm awesome, I'm keepin' it real, my life kicks ass, here is a list of things that I do because I'm awesome. The identity construction available to listeners isn't aimed at them the way it is in country. Country music says, "Here's what you are, and so are we, and we should all be content with that, for better or worse." Rap music, on the other hand, offers a description of an great life and implies that if you were to achieve/do/own these things, your life would be great as well. Some rap concentrates on the "keepin' it real" vibe, but even then it's more like a personal justification of realness rather than an instruction to the listener.

Here are links to the lyrics for of the Top 10 Hot Country Songs from Billboard (1/19/08).
1. Taylor Swift, Our Song
2. Sugarland, Stay
3. Montgomery Gentry, What do ya think about that?
4. Rascal Flatts, Winner at a Losing Game
5. Keith Urban, Everybody
6. Brad Paisley, Letter to Me
7. Gary Allan, Watching Airplanes
8. Kenny Chesney, Don't Blink
9. Josh Turner, Firecracker
10. Billy Ray and Miley Cyrus, Ready, Set, Don't Go

I read through these lyrics and came up with 28 themes that seemed pretty common and then (because I'm a totally OCD nerd) made a little chart and counted up which songs had which themes/words. Here they are, from most common to least common:
  • Love - 8
  • Church/praying/God - 7
  • Car/truck - 6
  • Baby (word) - 5
  • Time - 5
  • Crying - 5
  • Leaving - 4
  • Pain - 4
  • Mama/Daddy (words) - 3
  • High school - 3
  • Sex - 3
  • Love lost - 3
  • Looking back - 3
  • Kids - 3
  • Packing - 3
  • Phone/calling - 2
  • Beer/drunk/drugs - 2
  • Farm - 2
  • "Others" - 2
  • Games/prize/win/lose - 2
  • American holiday/event - 2
  • Marriage - 2
  • Town (word) - 2
  • Loneliness - 2
  • Truth/lies - 2
  • Radio/music - 2
  • Clothes - 1
  • Cheating - 1
Okay, so it looks like (at least for this week's top 10) my sense that country songs are always telling you what the singer is wearing is maybe a little exaggerated. Two of the seven songs that talk about God/church in some way do so as an ambiguous reference (one to "faith" and one to "heaven"), so that count is debatable. But overall it looks like the sense that country music is all about love, God, one's "baby" and automobiles is pretty accurate. The two songs that didn't talk about love are the Montgomery Gentry song about how people gossip about you when you're white trash, but dagnabbit, you got a right to keep a rusted out ol' Ford in your front yard while you splash mud all over the town with your big 4-wheel drive; and the Keith Urban song, which is about depression and loneliness and having hope.

In terms of which song had the most of the 28 themes, that would be the Brad Paisley song, with 13 (car, god, daddy, high school, love, sex, American event, marriage, love lost, looking back, kids, pain, time). Sugarland was a close second with 12 (baby, god, phone, crying, cheating, love, leaving, sex, loneliness, truth/lies, pain, time), and the Cyruses were third with 11 (car, baby, god, crying-kind of implied, love, leaving, town, game, kids-implied, packing, pain). Gary Allen had 10. Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts, and Kenny Chesney had 9. Montgomery Gentry had 8, Josh Turner had 5 and Keith Urban only had 3.

Of course, this is far from scientific (bordering on "pointless waste of time"), but I think it's interesting to note that the 8/10 of the Billboard top 10 hot country songs are about love in some way and that 7/10 involve God, prayer or christianity. Shouldn't there be more variety? I was going to do the same thing for the top 10 rock and top 10 rap songs, but now I'm bored, so I'm just going to assume that 8/10 of the songs on those lists would not share a single theme. What is the point? Hegemony. It's there on G4, too. My thesis statement is that while identity promotion (represented by rock, rap and tv stations not devoted to video games) can be thematically diverse, identity construction/reinforcement is thematically hegemonic and music/programming in hegemonic genres MUST pay homage to the hegemony or face expulsion/reclassification.

Sociologists, get on this! I want to see papers on my desk by week's end!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Weather, TV, Books - I have opinions!

Far be it from me to criticize the navigational abilities of weather, but I feel that we may need to stage an intervention. First, hurricane force winds and rain and flooding in NW Oregon. But okay, it's off the ocean, and the ocean is, if anything, powerfully unpredictable. Maybe even weather can't help that. But now a tornado? In VANCOUVER? I mean, that's just crazy talk! And it turns out there was an even more devastating tornado in Vancouver in 1972.

Momentary digression: I just saw an ad for the Portland Bridal Expo and it had some of the WORST film ever. The final images are of a "bride" traipsing down the runway and then a freeze frame right after she's turned. It's shot from below and at an angle, so imagine that her head is a straight vertical line at the center top of the shot; her body is a straight line from her neck to the bottom right corner of the screen, but turning in the middle so there's an almost nausiating sense of wrongness; her right arm is (if I remember correctly now) swinging out ahead of her from her far side, aimed towards the lower left corner; and her left arm is bent at the elbow, forming a triangle with her hip as the base and her elbow as the apex. The bouquet is in her left hand, looking stapled to her hip. And all of this is shot from below, so there are shadows under her chin and nose. It's a bridal expo, people: it's filled with people who know how to favorably photograph any bride in any light. But no: you picked the guy who usually shoots the car show because he knows the layout of the Expo Center already and will give you a discount if you buy him a hotdog.

Also, I've been reading a lot lately because... well, sadly, not because I love to read (which I do), but because of the writer's strike and Pete having Halo 3, Assassin's Creed, Mass Effect and now The Orange Box. [Fox 12 Morning Show update: one of their on-the-spot reporters is in a rented tux, dancing with a woman at the Expo Center. I think it's a very stiff box-step foxtrot. Oh God: he's trying to rumba and is doing that little twirling your hands and then shaking one to the side on the final beat thing. ::shudder::] I've read a lot of PD James mysteries, which I highly recommend. They're smart, James Doesn't try to prove to you that her detective is smart through gimmickry (like one writer who made a point of telling you that her main character had a 180 IQ, a perfect size-8 body and connections to Mossad in the first chapter of every book), they don't encourage you to solve the mystery yourself -although you sometimes can- and they don't usually end in the detective squaring off against his foe in a mano a mano battle to the death. I would start with an early one, like "A Mind to Murder" or "Unnatural Causes" before reading some of the later ones, like "The Black Tower" or "Death of an Expert Witness." The best of all (in my opinion, and of the one's I've read) is "Original Sin." It's like a thick set of character studies and is ultimately a rumination on the nature of family, personal loss, cruelty, revenge and forgiveness. But it helps to understand the main detective (Dalgliesh), although it isn't necessary to follow the plot.

I also just read "Stardust," which is a very sweet fairytale for adults because it has some cusses and some sex - but tasteful sex! It took about four hours to read, so if you've got a flight to take, it's the kind of paperback you can read on the plane and leave for the next passenger.

Yesterday I finished "The Golden Compass" and now I'm on to the second in that series, "The Subtle Knife." They're really good - fantasy adventure stories starring children without ever being cloying or new-agey. I picked them up because I was told they made fundamentalist christians mad and I had to know what all the fuss was about. The first one is more, "Oh, and also, in this world the Church is more like the Spanish Inquisition Church than the Church of today, and that's bad." But the second one is proving to be more, "And religion in general is a bad thing, tearing apart the universe and sending jackbooted thugs to your door." But we'll see. Mostly they're just really fun to read without making me cry (::coHARRYPOTTERugh::).

Thursday, January 10, 2008

My fears. Read about them.

I think the cat is eating my insoles (the ones in my shoes, not the ones on my feet). I'm not sure when, as I'm almost always wearing them and she isn't allowed in our bedroom at night. But there is a big chunk out of one heel that seems unlikely to be the result of normal wear and tear.

That's it. That's all I fear, right now. Okay, there's tons of other stuff I fear, but it's the same old stuff that everyone always fears: murderers, bears, spiders, republicans, vulpinocracy, Tony Romo, poison, Bret Favre's inevitable retirement... The list goes on and is boring so I'm just going to stick with the cat/insoles thing for now.