Friday, January 31, 2003

Idea for a frivolous lawsuit

First, read this story.

So here’s my plan (rather, this would be my plan, if I had a mind to provoke a class-action lawsuit): McDonald’s has its little Monopoly promotion to generate sales, right? And I don’t know about you, but I find myself going to McD’s more than often around Monopoly time. You win a burger every once in a while, maybe even a whole value meal or $5 cash. And you dream of the day when you’ll be able to match that elusive third piece in a color group and get a Sea-Do or a 2002 Chevy Cavelier.

So anyway, it turns out this guy at the company which oversaw the contest was stealing game pieces and selling them to phony winners in exchange for a bite of the profits. My point is that all these people who played the game and never won anything substantial were fleeced. They went to McD’s and bought copious amounts of McFish sandwiches and apple pie, supersizing their drinks and fries to get the extra Monopoly pieces only to come away winning nothing. And now it turns out there was no hope of winning anything anyway because some dope behind the scenes was fixing the whole thing.

Doesn’t it seem logical then that everyone whose hopes were dashed would have a case? Everyone who collected game pieces was basically fleeced. Sure, hope of winning anything was slim, but it turned out there was no hope to begin with. And it is hardly the fault of the customers that the game company put a criminal in charge of valuable game pieces.

Just an idea for any of you zealous litigators in da house.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Let there be no doubt: Reality TV, while entertaining, is highly produced. Personalities are made and broken in the editing room. It’s not a bad thing, necessarily. But one would be wise to view these shows with a skeptical eye.

The WB’s “High School Reunion” provided a stellar example in Sunday’s episode. In the pivotal boxing match between Reb and Dave Goodman, it appeared that Ben got knocked clear out of the ring by a solid right cross from the diminutive DG. It looked fake. There was no punch to be seen, but it was implied. And Ben’s high, looping parabola as he flew headlong out of the ring seemed a bit dramatic. Well, I spoke to Ben today and he confirmed my suspicions. The knockout was an act of edit. After dominating the bout in the first round, fatigue set in during Round 2. DG did, indeed land a couple haymakers, but Ben felt he was winning the fight. Finally, however, with his lungs burning due to years of smoking squares and his head throbbing from the previous night’s drinking bonanza, Ben dove out of the ring, exhausted. Not knocked out, mind you. Just too tired to continue. That explains the Technical Knockout. If someone was knocked out cold — that is, knocked clear out of the ring and unable to get up — it would be considered a knockout. A plain ole’ KO. The producers didn’t account for that fact when they edited in a fake knockout. The TKO is exactly what it was: Technical. Ben was too tired to keep fighting and dove out of the ring.

Then he caught a bigass fish and humped the prom queen. ... Probably.

Conspiracy or Coincidence?
FACT: Ben reeled in a big sea fish in an epic battle that spanned many minutes
FACT: "High School Reunion" follows 17 classmates from Oak Park-River Forest High School
FACT: Ernest Hemingway was a graduate of OPRF
FACT: Hemingway wrote a book called "Old Man and the Sea"
FACT: "Old Man and the Sea" is about a guy who reels in a big sea fish in an epic battle that spans many minutes ... Days, actually.
FACT: Ben is a huge fan of Frank Thomas, one of the American League's premier sluggers
FACT: The main character of "OMATS" was a big fan of Joe Dimaggio, one of the American League's premier sluggers
FACT: Ernest Hemingway was famous for drinking and getting into fist fights
FACT: Ben is famous for drinking and getting knocked out
FACT: Ernest Hemingway never had sex with Natasha Desai, but probably wanted to
FACT: Ben never had sex with Natasha Desai, but probably wanted to

Conspiracy or Coincidence?

You decide.

Monday, January 20, 2003

High School Reunion keeps on truckin’. In last night’s episode, Ben distinguished himself as a man who is very adept with a rod in his hand. While drinking several beers and being harrassed by his classmates, Notorious Reb reeled in a 3,000-pound Great White Shark using sewing thread and a gum wrapper. An astounding feat of strength and determination. Ben then carried the whale’s dead carcass into the living area and threw it across the room at Sarah (“The Bitchy Girl”) who caught it in her mouth and swallowed it whole. It was disgusting, yet sexy. Earlier in the episode, Ben squared off in the boxing ring with the much-maligned Dave Goodman. After beating Dave severly about the head and neck, Ben let his guard down. Dave threw acid in Ben’s face and then clocked him in the jaw while Ben was blinded. It was cheap and unfair, but Dave won fair and square and the decision was later upheld by the Hawaii Boxing Commission. Former homecoming queen Maya Pingle took a shine to Ben, and spent a better part of the latest episode trying to grab his butt. Then they took a ride in a hammock. It was great. In the end, Sarah regurgitated the trout for her young and Dave gave Holly Herckis a back massage. Good family fun.

Friday, January 17, 2003

I'm pressed for time today, but I need to ask you a question. Must one have a cache of conversation prepared before making a phone call? I ask this because I tend to vacillate between on and off during the course of my phone relationships. Sometimes I'll call a friend back home and not shut up for 2 hours straight. Sometimes I'll, say, call up Miya, go blank and wait for her to start talking. Is this strange? Unusual? I'm of the school of thought that says "If you want to call somebody up, go ahead and do it." The other school laughs at this school, saying "You idiot, what are you doing calling me up when you don't have anything to say." To which my school replies "Hey, chill out hombre, I just wanted to call and say hello." Other school: "Hello? What are you, a fucking cockateel? You better come up with something better than that or I'm hanging up."

So there you have it. A sociological question for the new millennium. Enjoy.

Thursday, January 16, 2003

I haven't really put much thought into whether or not we should go to war with Iraq. Today's headline is "Chemical Warheads seized in Iraq." Sounds pretty bad, huh? Well, there's one problem: The warheads did not contain chemicals. In fact, the warheads were empty. They could be filled with ice cream, if the Iraqis were so inclined. The headline would be just as accurate if it read "Butter Pecan Warheads seized in Iraq." Which is to say the headline is not at all accurate. In fact, it borders on pro-war propoganda. But everyone is reporting it this way. I'm all for being cautious and assuming Saddam has the worst intentions. But it is not the job of news outlets to assume the worst. They should be reporting the news.

But no, they have to let themselves be mouthpieces for frustrated weapons inspectors. Inspectors who have found nothing, yet insist there is something to be found. And an excerpt from the article itself: "It remains very unclear whether the discovery of warheads without any suspicious agents attached could be classed as a breach. " Funny they recognize this in mid-stream, even though their headline contradicts it. The headline is saying they are chemical warheads, which would clearly be a breach. Ugh. Does anyone else find this kind of thing excruciating?

An enlightening column about the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision to extend copyright protection 20 years. This means copyrighted materials that should have entered the public domain will not do so for another 20 years. Many copyrighted materials are floating in corporate limbo — owned but not used. But these corporations still fought and lobbied to keep their ownership for another two decades, in case they change their minds. And they won. Why the court upheld this decision baffles me.

On a lighter note, a column by underrated Chicago Sun-Times columnist Paige Wiser. She's funny (at times) and she has an engaging style. Today, she talks about reality TV, "High School Reunion" in particular.

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

"The stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt."

The Real Reality: Critical Betrayal, Part I

Remember about five years ago when every elitist media critic on the map was bemoaning reality TV? Calling it essentially (see archived post) the fifth horseman of the apocalypse? Some very good arguments were made. Some very convincing adjectives bandied about. And the pince-nez-clad intellectuals and tweed-sport-coated journalists and hysterical housewives all gathered around the hearth and congratulated each other for battling what they perceived as the voice of the unwashed masses. Reality TV wasn’t bad because it was not entertaining. It was bad because of the people who watched it. Reality TV was the NASCAR of the boob tube; the Backyard Wrestling of a vast wasteland. At least, according to the critics, elitists and alarmist housefraüs.

And I bought it for a while. At the time, I had been repeatedly disappointed by The Real World’s disastrous slide and was growing tired of COPS and its insipid theme song. I knew something was wrong, but didn’t care enough to dissect it. I needed someone to come along and explain to me why the reality genre consistently annoyed me. When I was told that it was because reality TV appealed to base desires and exploited people in the process. That the participants in these shows were victims and that we were watching them be humiliated. That enjoying the victimization and humiliation of others is wrong. That entertainment should aspire to build and nurture a better society rather than exposing its most perverted characteristics. It all sounded very sensible at the time. Everyone wants to believe he can float above the firmament. That his tastes are superior to the tastes of others. That they are refined and sophisticated and that the things they don’t like are bad because they engender some kind of spiritual regression. I wanted to believe it, so I took the arguments against reality TV and incorporated them into my viewing parameters.

And then Survivor came along. No sweat, I thought, just ignore it and it will go away. Ratings through the roof? Well, that just means I’m a more discriminating chap than most. The TV pundits were abuzz, undermining the show’s popularity. Calling it a spectacle. According to them, these people were placed on an island to make a mockery of society. To show what kind of underhanded machinating humans were capable of. This was just another indication, they said, that network execs are appealing to the Lowest Common Denominator. You probably heard that term in a college comm class. LCD entertainment. Appealing to the masses. The masses, of course, having poor taste and no desire to watch anything intellectually stimulating or challenging. The masses spending the money that gets the advertising revenue that feeds the machine that makes more shows to draw more advertisers to make more shows that appeal to the masses. Good people don’t support this type of thing. Good people know trash when they smell it. Let the dogs root through it and roll around in it and celebrate their ignorance. The rest of us will read a book and wait for the bottom to fall out. It will happen enventually. Trust us. We are critics. We shape things. And we will not let this stand.

Who is the Lowest Common Denominator?
Well, let’s see. It’s all those other people. Not me. If it’s liked by everyone, it can’t be good. Remember when elitist snobs were walking out of the theaters after seeing “Titanic”? Their eyes were red. Their faces glowing with excitement and incredulity. It was an achievement. A grand achievement. And what happened a month later, when “Titanic” lunch boxes lined the shelves of Target and it had been seen by some 13 gazillion people who all loved it and Leonardo DiCaprio was being held up as the paragon of all things cherubic and sexy? Those same people who saw the movie and liked it suddenly hated it. Titanic became bogged down with the labels: Love Story, Formulaic, Historically Innaccurate. All by reviewers and pundits who seemed bent on making sure this grossly popular movie wasn’t mistaken as a great movie. They had to make sure that anything this popular wasn’t mistaken for having quality. And gradually people changed their minds about “Titanic.” It became a teeny-bopper flick. It was a mainstay in the dorm-room VHS collection of every college co-ed in the nation, right alongside Disney’s “Beauty & The Beast.” Again: It wasn’t bad because it was not entertaining. It was bad because of the people who liked it. Those people with the power to do that to art? They are the Lowest Common Denominator. Because no self-respecting, intelligent individual is going to like the same movie that some tractor-riding redneck liked. Right?

The Lowest Common Denominator is the enemy of every critic. The LCD is the one to blame when movies like “Dumb & Dumber” get made. He is the one who reads books by Mary Higgens Clark and gets his news from Fox News. He is the one who watches Dateline NBC and Friends. Loves any movie with Vin Diesel or Julia Roberts. Thinks Connie Chung is hard-nosed and inquisitive. Confuses Jim Morrison with a real poet. Finds himself watching entire afternoons of MTV marathons. Loves the edgy atmosphere of TGIFridays.

The Lowest Common Denominator is not the one who likes to deconstruct David Lynch flicks. He doesn’t get Thomas Pynchon. He thinks the BBC is boring. He doesn’t laugh once while watching “This Is Spinal Tap.,” and then walks out of the theater saying “That was so stupid. I bet it wasn’t even a real documentary.” He doesn’t know Miles Davis from Louis Armstrong.

The Lowest Common Denominator is a bad dude. He doesn’t have a mind of his own. He likes to be spoonfed. He doesn’t like to work. He doesn’t want to have to think for himself. And when the critics have you convinced of this, you ignore the irony of their sell: Join us. We can think for ourselves. All of us. Repeat after me: You enjoy reading James Joyce. John Cassevetes was a genius. Jackson Pollock was profound. Charlie Parker changed the world. No, don’t fight it. You’ve taken the first step ... The rest is easy ... That’s good ... Just relax ... You’re with us.

Friday, January 03, 2003

It's official ... officially:

My alma mater, Oak Park-River Forest High School, is all set to be featured on The WB's Class Reunion. The show reunites 17 members of the Class of '92 on the island of Maui and hilarity ensues. (Unofficially, some of the participants are not really Class of '93, at least two [Holly Herckis and Nicole Redmond] are from Class of '93 and I think one [Maya Pingle] is Class of '91.) One of the island-dwellers just happens to be my best friend of life,The Notorious Reb, who has been (in my opinion) miscast as "The Nerd."

The show premiers this Sunday, so set your VCRs.