Thoughts, notes, observations on the everyday nonsense of American Pop Culture from one of the most not-hip people on the face of the planet...

Monday, February 28, 2005

The Deal With the Comments

So Blogger finally has their own comment function, so I really don't "need" the Haloscan comments feature anymore. However, I don't wanna get rid of my old shout-outs via Haloscan. So I have both options on display until I figur eout some sor tof compromise. So deal already.

"Family Guy" vs. "The Simpsons"

OK, this isn't actually a debate about which is better, because I honestly can't side with one over the other. However, the question has been posed to me by a not-very-cartoon-savvy acquintance: "What's the difference?" This brainless ingrate actually said, "Why would you watch 'Family Guy'? It's just a knock-off of 'The Simpsons' and not as good."

You know what I say? I say fuck that noise.

These two shows, while similar in setup, are not remotely the same in their sense of humor or basic premise.

Both shows are about a family and their acquintances in a smallish, unidentifiable town. Each family has a responsible mom, stupid dad and three kids (one of which is a baby). That is where the similarities end.

The basic premise of "The Simpsons" is that father figure Homer Simpson is the show's protagonist. In "Family Guy", however, the opposite is true. Peter Griffin, more often than not, is the antagonist. "The Simpsons" asks you to root for Homer because, stupid as his words and actions may be, he's a good guy. Peter, however, has no redeeming qualities. In fact, rooting for Peter is to usually root against everyone else on the show. Peter isn't the good guy, he's the bad guy. In fact, most of the primary characters on this show are bad guys.

And that simple fact carries a lot of weight....and it's all rooted in the kid of humor these different premises deliver. While both shows have smart dialouge, hidden jokes, running gags and loads of tangets..."The Simpsons'" humor is more mainstream and, generally, more situational (and it has, in recent years, just gone way over the top with guest stars and gimmicks). "Family Guy" has a far meaner sense of humor, largely based on cheap shots and dialouge points....and it tends to run the very edge of tasteand social acceptance far more often.

And a final difference in one that is often understated. The role of Brian the Dog on "Family Guy" is a crucial one when it comes to the difference between these shows. He's the straight man, to the point that he plays the viewer's role in this show. He's the scope through which we view this madness and he says, essentially, what we would say in response. "The Simpsons" lack of this narrator, normal character is what makes it universe and scope so large...and thus entirely different.

Thankfully, now that both shows are going to be on Fox the same nights, it isn't like you have to pick one. Watch them both, back-to-back, and see what I mean. Don't be fooled by the packaging: These two shows are seperate, but equally looming in their niche of television.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Like everyone else in the blogosphere, I'm telling you my Oscar picks...

...but mine actually matter. Of course.

This year’s Oscars are, in my opinion, one of the most competitive years in quite some time. They really have the potential to either be an all-for-one snoozefest (like 1997 when The English Patient won every damn thing) or an actually competitive show (like 1998 when we somehow had Good Will Hunting, Boogie Nights and As Good as it Gets...oh...and Titanic). No matter who wins, I know it should be entertaining enough to watch Chris Rock play nice with network TV as this year’s much-needed host.

Unlike the Grammys (which, as you’ve read, I no longer have any regard for), the Oscars tend to follow the lines of both public taste and artistic merit. There’s always a mix of movies no one between LA and New York has seen and a few big blockbusters…and, wonderfully enough, you never know who really could win. But everyone tries to guess anyway. Just like me:

Best Supporting Actor

Thomas Haden Church, Sideways
The artist formerly known as Lowell Mather is the funniest foil of the year. He plays a philandering asshole to the point you almost love him. And he’s a makeup nominee for Paul Giamatti.

Dark Horse: Jamie Foxx, Collateral
If he wins this, it’s because he didn’t win for Ray and the Oscar voters just felt guilty.

Best Supporting Actress

Cate Blanchett, The Aviator
Playing a real person is one thing, but playing a real person who was a beloved and distinctive actress is something different. Blanchett’s Katherine Hepburn was the most well-rounded ans fleshed-out character in the film and honestly, her portrayal was so good, so painfully honest and real that I occasionally forgot another actress was on the screen.

Dark Horse: Virginia Madsen, Sideways
She was the soft gooey center of this whippersnapper of a film….and she has a helluva monologue. Not so much Dark Horse here as “almost a tie.”

Best Actor

Jamie Foxx, Ray
Ok, so this year produced five nominees that actually each deserve this award equally, all but one of them (Clint Eastwood) for playing a real person. But anyone who has seen these films knows that Foxx’s portrayal of Ray Charles is almost unsettling and uncanny. Some may call it mimicking, but I call it wow.

Dark Horse: Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby
Oscar is notorious for pulling this sort of makeup crap. Especially for an aging actor that everyone loves. “It may not be his best role, but he’s Clint Eastwood, dammit.” That sort of thing. Watch out.

Best Actress

Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby
Swank came in late in the year with a wide release film that involves sports, bad Midwestern accents and death. That’s practically a formula for an Oscar win, even if she was once the Next Karate Kid.

Dark Horse: Annette Bening, Being Julia
Call this Hilary vs. Annette, Part Deux. Swank beat her performance in American Beauty out of nowhere with a little indie film called Boys Don’t Cry. Maybe Oscar voters regret that.

Best Director
Martin Scorsese, The Aviator
This man made Taxi Driver, Age of Innocence, Last Temptation of Christ, Color of money and Raging Bull. Give him a fucking Oscar, dammit. Not only that, but this movie is absolutely beautiful and a spectacle within a spectacle…no one else could have pulled it off.

Dark Horse: Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby
Hey, he’s done it before (see Unforgiven).

Best Picture
The Aviator or Million Dollar Baby
I can’t decide. These movies are completely different, but the same in that they have “Oscar Winner” written all over them. I deliberated for entirely too long about this and just put it up as a tie, so sue me. These movies were the best two I saw this year (and I saw all of the nominees, for once) and both are equally deserving.

Dark Horse: If someone on the committee drops acid prior to their vote, they might try to be hip and vote for Sideways

Are Nielsen ratings for real?

You ever get the impression that the Nielsen ratings are just a total load?

Every week, I look at the ratings and I read from starry-eyed TV writers about what's "popular" - and it doesn't seem to fit with real life. And why should it? Nielsen ratings are generated by families that have these rating systems in their homes. But I don't know a single individual that is a part of this system. Nor do I think they'd pick a person like me, someone who watches very little network TV, to be a part of this. My guess is they pick a lot of households that watch a boatload of television.

How else could you explain the supposed popularity of "American Idol"? (Although I don't know anyone who watches it that isn't under age 15 or over age 60) Or the fact that "Jack and Bobby" supposedly has no viewers (even though I know a lot of people that watch it)?

I know, it's sort of silly to speak from my own perspective on this....but how could the Nielsens really matter when, in comparison to the people who allegedly watch the drivel that CBS puts out on its old people nights, insanely popular shows like "The Daily Show" are mere drops in the bucket? I can't tell you one person that saw last week's "Crossing Jordan," but I can name fifty people who can quote entire episodes of "Family Guy."

I'm just sayin' there's something amiss.

I'm just sayin.'

Thursday, February 24, 2005

"Jack and Bobby" using up all the good ideas?

Anyone else get the impression that the writer's of the WB's "Jack and Bobby" honestly never imagined getting picke dup for a second season? I think they're really blowing their load the first time around.

Let's see. In the first season:

Jack has been flirting with the new girl, got back with hi old girlfriend, lost his virginity, broken up with said girlfriend, hooked up with a class geek, had a gay friend kill himself, been beaten up/robbed, been busted for pot, been kicked off of and invited back onto a track team...etc.

Bobby has taken pot to school, made friends with a bad crowd (twice), become psuedo-Jewish, had a clandestine relationship with a bad, older woman, been dumped by said girl, had numerous I-hate-you-forever fights with his brother, had a daddy crush on his mom's boss, caught his mom in a sexual situation, etc...

Mom Grace has had a pot problem and tried to kick it, flirted with the university president, flirted with the university's benefactor, hooked up with her grad student, been caught for said action and prosecuted, gotten her students high (twice), tried to help her crackhead brother and been a general pain int he ass on numerous occasions.

Courtney has fallen for Jack, dated Jack's best friend, gone crazy, become popular, hooked up with a college guy, lost her virginity, gotten birth control, hidden a relationship, gotten recockulously drunk, etc.

In other words, there's been enough activity crammed into this season to last for three seasons' worth of "Dawson's Creek." What will they do when people besides me realize this is the best new show on TV?

Monday, February 21, 2005

Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005)

Hunter S. Thompson, a renegade among writers and giant among American personalities died tonight the same way he lived: Fast and unexpected. Why he took a gun to himself, no one may know for sure, but it can be assumed that he has some sort of twisted logic behind it, as he did all of his actions.

Thompson was an idol of mine. An idol, really, to an entire generation of independent thinkers and aspiring writers. I’m sure he’ll be noted by the mainstream media as a Gonzo journalist (a term he coined), but his place is pop culture and history, I’m afraid, may be overlooked.

Thompson was hated by journalism, but loved by journalists because of his defiance. He defied the laws of grammar, etiquette and society in general for decades and, in turn, inspired the idea of independent reporting before “blog” was even a word.

He broke down politics in a form American counterculture could understand through his years as the national writer for Rolling Stone and through his books, most notably Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72. Also, as an avid sports fanatic, his work for ESPN and Sports Illustrated brought the same no-holds-barred, non-starry-eyed view to the world of sports.

Thompson originated, in a sense, the idea of reporting through experience. He saw politicians, athletes and celebrities through the same scope. He never kowtowed to Associated Press standards, nor did he pull any punches. Today, a writer like him would never even be given a press pass.

Sure, he was biased, but he had a purpose. As he said: “Objective journalism is one of the main reasons American politics has been allowed to be so corrupt for so long.”

He remained a pop icon not because of his open and honest embrace of drugs, music and counterculture, but because of his passion for what he thought was right. From running for sheriff of Aspen on a “freak power” ticket to defending an imprisoned innocent to denouncing Richard Nixon, Thompson wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. And he usually did it using a few curse words, lots of capital letters and a writing style that is often imitated, but never duplicated.

There’s nothing that someone like me could write that would really do his contribution to my field any service. So, I’ll use his:
If there is, in fact, a Heaven and a Hell, all we know for sure is that Hell will be a viciously overcrowded version of Phoenix...

Don’t rest in peace, Dr. T (cause he simply wouldn’t want to).

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Hypocrisy on the part of Fox

Fox, the same netowork that trivialized marriage with "Trading Spouses" and mocks parenting with "Who's Your Daddy" and pushed all levels of bile onto society really topped itself tonight.

Right before tonight's episode of "The Simpsons", a disclaimer came on the screen:
"This program has discussion of same-sex marriage, viewer discretion is advised."

How incredibly ballsy and hypocritical. I realize Rupert Murdoch is a big Rightie, but the same network that pushes the lowest depths of immorality on its programming every night of the week has a moral high horse about gay marriage? Fox's shows are hardly pushing any sort of healthy concept of marriage...but mention THE GAYS and they're all over it with a parental advisory.

And this, right after last week's heavy promoting of a lesbian makeout between underage girls on "The OC".

They should be ashamed of themselves.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Vanity Plate of Doom

Today, in the parking garage of my company, I saw a license plate on a brand-new Nissan Altima that said: MTCHBX20.

I don't know who this person is, but I feel disturbed that they work in the same building as me. I want to find this individual and help them. Or slap them. At the very least, I should offer to pay for their sterilization.

I can understand getting a personalized plate of something you are passionate about. From sci-fi films to comics to music, people love to express their love on license plates. And that makes sense. But when it comes to music, some things just don't make sense. If a band has a cult following of sorts, like Radiohead, Pink Floyd, the Beatles, the Doors, etc... then sure. Hell, I'd get one of LEDZEP if I thought I wouldn't get pulled over every night after work under suspicion of DWDH (Driving While Damn High).

Hell, I'll even go on a limb and say that it's acceptable (though saddening) for a teen to have a vanity plate of some throwaway pop group.

But a professional who works at a newspaper has absolutely nothing to fall back on. I question their taste, if not their sanity, to pay a yearly fee for a license plate of a band so middle-of-the-road completely unspecial pop as Matchbox 20.

I'll find you. I will.

Monday, February 14, 2005

About the Grammys

I realize that I never wrote a preview or anything of the like for the Grammys this year. Why not? Because the Grammys have lost all semblance of meaning to anyone who follows that sort of thing. It was high time I grew up and accepted that those awards mean absolutely nothing.

Unlike the Oscars or Emmys, the Grammys are too unpredictable and off-the-wall to really matter anymore. While that could be taken as a good thing, it isn’t. See, the Oscars and Emmys, for the most part, go to those that deserve them most. They aren’t popularity contests or picked by people who seem to get all knowledge of their respective field from the magazine rack at Border’s.

Every year, the Grammy nominations come out and they get me excited for change. The nominations are about 80% very deserving, 10% to the popular kids and 10% to artists who released their best albums decades before. It’s as if the nomination committee flips through a years worth of Rolling Stone’s and Billboards to pick 90%, and their old vinyl to pick the remaining 10%.

No matter how far I think they’ve come, every year, the awards very rarely go to who deserve them. They almost always, without fail, go to some sentimental favorite that is sure to be a good PR move. If an old act from the 60s and 70s has an album, it’ll beat no any relative newcomer that deserves it most. If someone dies in the four months before the Grammys, god knows they’ll be nominated and win for just about any bit of recycled sound they put out that year. Frankly, I’m shocked Tupac hasn’t won more.

At the very least, the Grammys always go to something “safe.” I mean, the first award for rap ever given went to DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, for Christ’s sake. Never mind that the best rap ever was produced by the likes of Run DMC, Public Enemy, N.W.A. and the Beasties at that time.

This year was just as predictable as any other and it has, inevitably, left me shaking my head.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Ray Charles was an incredible singer and a musical genius. His duet with Norah Jones was beautiful, sure. But was “Genius Loves Company” the best album of his career? No. And it wasn’t the best album of the year either. Nor was his single the best of the year (unless, maybe, you listen only to Adult Contemporary).

It’s a goddamn crime that Green Day did not win more for the prolific “American Idiot.” This album is the best to come out in years from an industry driven by singles and market value. This album makes the case that albums such as the Who’s “Tommy” and Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” and the Beatles “Sgt. Pepper” had made decades ago: That every single song is worth hearing.

Every track on “American Idiot” would be a good single, from the title track to “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” “Holiday” and “Are We, We Are,” are great radio tunes. And best of all, al of them fit together to tell, of all things, a coherent story. That hasn’t been done in years. Every song is worth paying for. You can’t say that about any of the other nominees.

With nominations for Green Day, the Killers, Franz Ferdinand and the like, how could U2’s weakest single or anything by John Mayer overtake them? It just doesn’t make sense. Were the 50-something voters just covering their ears, saying, ‘It’s just too loud”?

Luckily, the Grammy old biddy formula worked in the favor for one deserving album. Loretta Lynn defied the usual trend by coming out with the best album of her career (and one of the best of the year) late in her life. “Van Lear Rose” was ten times better than any of the country albums nominated.

So, I’ve given up on the Grammy as anything but a spectacle. Though they’re getting better about recognizing good urban music (see Kanye West’s wins), they still manage to botch the big ones. And until the committee cycles out its closed-minded voters, they will cease to matter as anything other than a news event.

And I, for one, will stop expecting change and stop watching the show (except for the musical performances, of course).

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Redux Review

Ok, after last night’s rant, I finally pinned down exactly what’s wrong with Napoleon Dynamite. The movie is marketed as a movie “by outsiders for outsiders” when really it’s a movie “by popular kids for popular kids who think they aren’t popular.” The movie shows us these strange, weirdo geeks and the odd things they do without any explanation or any insight into their personalities. This movie pays these characters the same sort of notice that the “cool people” in high school pays to the outcasts: You see them, but you don’t know them. You don’t even want to. It simply plays up the two-dimensional stereotype of high school losers

It’s almost as if some high school guidance counselor asked a cheerleader and her jock guy friends to make a movie about the losers they pick on. They show what they see, what they think makes them funny, but they never get to know them, and neither do we.

Frank Rich is right again

Without giving anything about the movie away (even though you'll find out soon enough if Limbaugh has his way), I gotta say that the NYT's Frank rich, as usual, is right on target with his defense of Million Dollar Baby (spoilers in the article). He attacls the conservative Right for dragging this excellent film through the mud. He suggests the main problem with the film isn't that it endorses left-wing political views, but that is refuses to be sentimental in a time when everyone's trying to keep their heads in the sand.

In this defense, he gives a run-down of the Oscar race for Best Picture that I don't entirely disagree with:

"While there is much to admire in the year's other Oscar-nominated movies - the full-bodied writing in "Sideways," the cinematic bravura of "The Aviator," the awesome Jamie Foxx in "Ray" - Mr. Eastwood's film, while also boasting great acting, is the only one that challenges America's current triumphalist daydream. It does so not because it has any politics... but because it has the temerity to suggest that fights can have consequences, that some crises do not have black-and-white solutions and that even the pure of heart are not guaranteed a Hollywood ending. What makes some feel betrayed and angry after seeing "Million Dollar Baby" is exactly what makes many more stop and think: one of Hollywood's most durable cowboys is saying that it's not always morning in America, and that it may take more than faith to get us through the night."

Ultimate Poser Film

It's official: Napolean Dynamite is a movie for MTV suckers.

I put off watching it for a really long time, despite hearing from all of my friends how funny and quirky it was. "Oh, you'll love it! It's hilarious!"

They were sorely mistaken. You all were. This movie was absolutely a waste of time. It's almost as if all of pop culture had lied to me about this film.

I ask you: Are there really that many people dying to fit in that they won't dare point out how much this movie sucks?

The plot was slow-moving and without climax. The dialouge was reptitive and sounded as if it were written by Mormon middle-schoolers. And I've seen far better characterization in silent anime.

That, by far, was the biggest disappointment. I was told I'd identify with Naploean, Deb and Pedro. I don't know exactly how much of a loser my friends thought I was in high school, but I did not in any way identify with these characters, if you could even call them that (moving figures on a screen...?). These characters were so without personality and so annoying, I wanted to kill them. Pedro, who had very few lines, was the only tolerable one (and that's probably because of his lack of dialouge). Trust me, I was the most unpopular person in my school, but I gurantee you, if Napolean Dynamite had gone to my school, I would have kicked his ass every goddamn day. He's that unlikable.

Judging from the overhyping of this film by parent company MTV and the product placement (like the "Vote for Pedro" shirts you see in Hot Topic and on movie stars on the Daily Show), this movie is made for culture victims. I honestly think this movie has been kept afloat because of marketing and a sense of "coolness" if you "get it." People who, when they see it on people's IMs, their computer desktops and on ther trendy little metal buttons, it just HAS to be awesome. In other words, this movie has some sort of poser indie cred that keeps teen girls and emo boys in cuffed pants telling their friend show cool it is...but its only cool because MTV and "everyone they know" said so.

Don't buy into the hype. This movie is not an "instant classic", nor is it well-made, well-written or even well-acted. It was made for young people to pretend to like to be cool. It was made to sell t-shirts. It was made to make some random loser say idiot phrases like "gosh" and "darn" because it is somehow considered quotable. It isn't a cult film. It isn't a teen film. It isn't quirky. It's a bad movie.

Believe it.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Anderson Cooper

Anderson Cooper (of CNN's 360) was on the Daily Show tonight. He's just outrageously cute and surprisingly funny. I just wanna put a collar on him and feed him from a dish. He needs tog et Rather's job, says me. I know I'll start watching CBS again.

A "Million Dollar" twist? Hardly.

So, as everyone's whispering about in the media community, there's a supposed twist in the Oscar-nominated "Million Dollar Baby."

First of all, I'll say that it is the best movie I've seen so far this year. I'll have a proper review soon enough (in my Oscar picks, most likely).

Secondly, you are th ebiggest idiot in the world of the "twist" surprises you when it arrives. The movie has numerous bits of foreshadowing (not to mention near-spoilers in the trailer) that just hit you over the head with it long before it happens.

But, like every other reviewer, I'm debating if I should tell you what it is....