Monday, September 29, 2008

Heavy (Detroit) metal: Stop the carnage!

So, Fast & Furious 4 is coming to movie screens in June 2009, when gasoline promises to be up around five or six (US) dollars a gallon and Americans will be bicycling or walking to the theater. In fact, the long-form trailer for the new movie shows a high-speed hijacking of a multi-trailer gasoline truck with a "street value" of a million plus. You know, like drugs. "Addiction to oil" meets the original Mad Max:

But WB would like to ask the FF4 producers to please, please, please not destroy a classic, irreplaceable Mopar muscle car in this one. In FF1, Vin Diesel sends a gorgeous black Dodge Charger (above) skyward and rolls it end over end. In FF2, a beautiful orange Dodge Challenger (left) takes the hit — literally. But just as the tank-truck hijacking isn't original in FF4, neither is the annihilation of Detroit iron.

In the Peter Fonda cult classic, Dirty Mary and Crazy Larry (left), it's another Dodge Charger that gets smashed by a train in the last two seconds of the film and explodes into a fireball. In the car-chase classic Bullitt starring Steve McQueen, it's a Dodge Charger, again, that's destroyed at the end of the chase sequence by plowing into a fuel depot.

In the "Am I stoned, or is this movie just tripping?" zeitgeist chronicle and cult favorite Vanishing Point, a mysterious loner named Kowalski drives a stunning white Dodge Challenger (left) head-on into a pair of road-construction bulldozers and makes it go kaboom in flames. But the film's producers had enough sense to know that destroying a gem of a car like this is like Old Rose chucking that priceless blue diamond into the sea at the end of Titanic, so they swapped in a generic white stunt sedan and used some skillful edits to make the shot work.

Unfortunately, when Quentin Tarantino came along with Death Proof and wanted to pay homage to this famous white Challenger, he didn't give his car the same protective stunt-sedan treatment. Not only did the Q's Dodge get beaten all to hell in painful detail, but the director also decided to send a black Charger (right) to the junkyard while he was at it. Or maybe he was just paying further homage to the Fox Network's 1997 TV remake of Vanishing Point, starring Viggo Mortensen, where the filmmakers rewrote the story to include the destruction of — only one guess now — a black Dodge Charger.


But when it comes to unforgivable ignorance and reckless stupidity, the producers of TV's The Dukes of Hazzard take the trophy hands-down. Some 300 — that's three hundred — Dodge Chargers were obliterated during the show's long run, with each of the notorious creek-jumps by the orange "General Lee" a death knell for one after another of the doomed muscle machines. And the movie version with Jessica Simpson as Daisy Duke wasn't much kinder: 26 more Chargers gave their lives for this worthless remake.

So please, FF4 people — and every other Hollywood bonehead planning to film a car chase: Hands off the classic Mopar muscle! The destruction of irreplaceable artifacts isn't "action," it's tragedy. If you want to kill Chargers and Challengers, go get the new ones; they're just reworked pretty shells sitting on Chrysler 300C frames, anyway. Have at 'em. But leave the old iron monsters alone. There won't be any more of them rolling off the assembly line — ever.

These things are called Chargers and Challengers — smash all you want.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

SNL strikes again

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman, 1925-2008

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.


Race cars into his 80s.

And $250 million in charity for kids through his line of foods at Newman's Own, a company whose motto, "Shameless Exploitation in Pursuit of the Common Good," he wrote.

They don't make 'em like this anymore — and this one was one of a kind.

Now we want a reality show about the 'pitch' meetings where networks approve this stuff.

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"Accidents happen. Cleaning up the mess isn’t for the faint of heart. Be on the scene with the crew from O’Hare Towing as they put their lives on the double-yellow line. Meet Chicago’s toughest towing family living life in the crash lane. Ride with the brave crew of O’Hare towing. Hear real stories. Witness real danger. Discover the untold side of the business of towing and get hooked on WRECKED, Life in the Crash Lane."

That's the official blurb from Speed TV for a show that's even more inane than the Discovery Channel's Verminators, which tries to generate ludicrous drama and suspense around guys killing bugs. With Wrecked, it's... well, guys towing wrecks. Hooking up tow cables and straps. Lifting stuff. Moving things out of the way. All, of course, with ultra-dramatic voiceover (VO, in industry code) reminding viewers that the cables could snap, straps could break, lifts could drop, moved things could... er, not move.

Nail-gnawing suspense, it's not. WB caught part of an episode where a truck trailer was jammed under a bridge on Wabash Avenue in downtown Chicago, and since we know the area well, we wanted to see how the "brave" and "tough" towing crew got it out of there. After ten minutes of MTV edits and bathos-drenched voiceover, the guys let the air out of the trailer's tires and created enough space to unstick it. Ta-da, big relief, zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

WB had a barbecue on Saturday, and that gave us an idea for a new show: Gas Grill Goliaths.©®™ It'd revolve around a handful of people who cook beef and pork — VO: dangerous and possibly fatal disease-ridden meats — outside with propane — VO: an explosive and flammable fuel — on hot steel grates — VO: a potentially gruesome source of injury — for friends and family, who would all have dramatic back stories to be told in 15-second pauses between the grilling drama and suspense.

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Discovery? Spike? Speed? Just give us a call; we're ready to negotiate.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Not as much fun as it looked back then...


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Extensive stupidity

Once upon a time, when WB senior staff were just kids, magazines ran tacky but titillating ads for a contraption called the Mark Eden Bust Developer — two pink plastic pads connected by a spring. As you can see by the ad at left, the company promised that, by pushing the two pads together a few times each day, women could see dramatic "bustline" changes in just weeks. There was even an old jump-rope chant (not created by Mark Eden) that went well with the push-in routine:

We must! We must! We must increase the bust!
The bigger the better, the tighter the sweater!
The boys are depending on us!

As good proto-feminists even then, we remember thinking that the Mark Eden ads stressed women's physical "inadequacies" and created, then exploited, a negative body image for profit. (Actually, since we were only kids, we just thought: That's really weird.) And we were convinced that the really weirdest thing about it all was that the same kinds of products and pressures would never, ever focus on men's "inadequacies." Those were off limits as topics for public discourse, and always would be. So why pick on women?

One millennium-rollover later, anyone watching TV after 11:30 at night is punished by a thick swarm of commercials for ExtenZe, the notorious "male enhancement" wonder pill sold at GNC and Amazon as well as on telly. With a long trail of complaints that (a) the product doesn't work (SURPRISE!) and (b) the company doesn't really refund customers' money as promised (SHOCKING!), ExtenZe has grown from enormously pathetic 60-second commercials — starring some doctor from Tampa (he's real) and some nameless blinking woman largely unendowed of any onscreen talent — to a massively unbearable infomercial starring former Playmates and disguised as a lengthy "talk show" called Sex Talk.

And because the pills have been so hugely successful in shrinking men's wallets, an ExtenZe drink has been added to the lineup:

Yes, he's doing it all for her. He'll probably blow out his heart from all of the yohimbe, ginseng, nettles, licorice, and cayenne exploding through his system at once, but hey, if it means bedding a stunning smile like this, who wouldn't be willing to take that risk?

ExtenZe and its ads have already been thoroughly reviewed (i.e. trashed) at Infomercial Hell and DVD Panache, so we'll simply add that researching this product and company can lead to eruptions of laughter. Running a WhoIs probe of the product's web site domain shows that it's registered, logically enough, by a graphics design firm out of California — which has no web site of its own. Inserting the name "Biotab Nutraceuticals," the alleged manufacturer, results in complaints and court cases, but no web site. A link to Alteril, an infomercial-peddled sleeping pill, says that Biotab is owned by Alteril; clicking the "Contact" link gives you a 404 error.

California keeps popping up in search results, yet the alleged inventor of the product, Dr. Daniel S. Stein, runs the world's cheesiest-looking medical center in Florida. Stein's image appears all over the web under various guises, with photos showing him sometimes gray and bald, sometimes wearing a brown toupee, and always looking like a consummate con artist.

It's also interesting to see to what lengths whoever's really behind the product has gone to never really say what the herbal concoction does. No specific body part is ever named; while some blog commentators have suggested that this is because penises are a prickly topic to raise when huge fines from a Bush-led FCC are no small matter, we think it's a brilliant stroke of business sense that allows the company to just offer a tiny shrug for complaining customers and say, "Who told you it was going to enhance that?"

Given this kind of limp research trail, WB concludes that ExtenZe is definitely the real thing as an icon for the first decade of the 21st century. With a growing clientele of men who are happy to buy scientific medical formulas from untraceable graphic designers, and who see nothing wrong with women on the infomercials saying that they will instantly pull out of relationships with their husbands or boyfriends if they don't stay on a rigid regimen of the penis pills, ExtenZe is a perfect comeuppance for the men behind the Mark Eden Bust Developer and every other "too small" product and ideology flung at women for so long. Don't take all of this "inadequate" attention too hard, guys; you made what you're getting back in equal measure.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Ink on ink

It's been a busy news week for tattoos. First came word of heavily tattooed former Blink 182 drummer Travis Barker being badly burned, but surviving, a terrible plane crash. Then, reports from the UK that British kids are holding tattoo house parties and coming down with blood infections after being inked by unscrupulous "home tattooists" who have no idea what they're doing. And the United States Marine Corps announced that Marines with large "sleeve" tattoos will no longer be able to serve as recruiters or embassy guards.

Expect increased business for this temporary USMC tat. Meanwhile, Travis (and DJ AM), here's to a speedy recovery—and for everyone else in the land of body ink, let's be careful out there.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Amusing ourselves to death

We borrow the title of Neil Postman's classic book, subtitled Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, for this brief shout-out to Matt Taibbi and Rolling Stone. The October 2 issue offers another Taibbi classic, describing the mayor of Wasilla Alaska governor as a "rifle toting, serially pregnant moose killer who thinks God lobbies for [oil] pipelines" and someone who is "completely without shame and utterly full of shit."

But while the writing is a thrill ride, as all Taibbi political rants are, there's also this reinforcement of Neil Postman's warning:

"The great insight of the Palin VP choice is that huge chunks of American voters no longer even demand that their candidates actually have policy positions. They simply consume them as media entertainment, rooting for or against them according to the reflexive prejudices of their demographic, as they would for reality-show contestants or sitcom characters. Hicks root for hicks, moms for moms, born-agains for born-agains."

Of course, Taibbi is only calling out the particular demographics toward which he feels strong prejudice himself. To be fair, he should have noted that environmentalists vote for environmentalists, union members vote for union defenders, and so on down the line — it's not just ultra-conservatives who vote for their own interests and convictions. But the larger point can't get lost here: more and more American voters have thrown policies, plans, and positions of politicians out the window in favor of media spin and spectacle. Rolling Stone has separated Palin myths from facts, but many voters don't review the issues at all until the week or day of an election — if they know where to look. (Hint: the League of Women Voters always publishes excellent, unbiased election guides explaining candidates' positions and interpreting ballot proposals in plain language.)

That said, we can continue to amuse ourselves to death, or we can tune in to the debates: Obama/McCain square off for the first time this Friday, Sept. 26, and Biden/Palin go lectern to lectern, for one show only, on October 2.

Meanwhile, hell has frozen over, and the Faux Snooze Channel has actually attacked the Republican spin machine. Chris Wallace has surely been sent to the time-out corner for this one:

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Women prove to be a disappointment

Litchik and Funderwoman were looking forward to The Women for several weeks. Seriously, with a killer cast of all women, a story originally penned by Clare Luce Booth and the creator of Murphy Brown, they thought nothing could possibly go wrong.


It's hard to know where to begin describing this train wreck of a film. The story went through several rewrites to give it a more "updated" feel. Apparently, the result was more scattershot than updated. Once point A was covered, we moved to T, then I, back to R, swung around to E and (kind of) ended at D. Oh, look! That spells tired, which is how you'll feel from trying to follow the convoluted mess of a plot.

Sadly, the usually brilliant cast cannot even save the film. Annette Bening tries too hard to imitate Kim Catrall's Samantha from Sex and the City but never quite gets it right. Meg Ryan looks lost most of the time, and Debra Messing's comedic talents are wasted in a role too goofy even for her. Worst of all, Bette Midler and Candace Bergen appear in pointless cameos that are too stereotypical to be considered hip or ironic. Cloris Leachman is hilarious, but her screen time adds up to a whopping 5 minutes. A complete waste of talent!

But the worst part is that the movie allegedly made to empower women and prove to Hollywood that an all-female film can translate into big box-office dollars depicts women in such an unflattering light. Litchik (who really wanted to shut off the critical part of her brain and enjoy the film as a fun piece of light-hearted fluff) couldn't help but notice that the only two non-white actors, Jada Pinkett-Smith and Eva Mendes, played the least desirable roles: angry black lesbian, and Latina mistress. This is yet another example of representing the Other in the role of outcast. In Smith's case, it's a double whammy since the angry black woman isn't stereotypical enough; clearly, the producers thought making her a lesbian as well can add that extra dash of faux "diversity" the film seeks. Instead, it merely reduced all of the women portrayed to ancient tropes that the film allegedly sought to leave behind.

In theory, the idea of The Women still remains a good one. What a shame that the creators and producers got too caught up in trying to make a "success" based on the criteria of an industry that still treats women like second-class objects incapable of real depth or diversity.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Et Tu, CNN?

Media bias, from either direction, is something many of us have learned to cut through and live with. But for some reason, blatant sexism always appalls WB staff in an entirely different way.

The image at left shows an actual headline on, which is on the Internet. Remember, the Internet was not around in the 1940s, the last time anyone used the word "gal" to refer to a female over the age of 12. So this means that the headline came from a very recent post.

And the fact that this came from a news site is especially disturbing. Aren't journalists supposed to be, like, good with words? What happened to the words announcer, anchor, host, or reporter?

Had it been a man who looked like McCain, "dude," "boy," or "guy" would not have appeared in the headline. Guaranteed.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

If the world could vote...

The results would probably look something like this.

It wouldn't be pleasant for John McCain and Sarah Palin, but they would always have Azerbaijan.

Cast your vote at

Friday, September 19, 2008

We are so geeked!

MTV and Hewlett-Packard, that stodgy old oscillator company founded in 1939 the extremely hip computer maker known only as HP have teamed up to make what sounds like the most visually stunning and emotionally compelling "reality" show ever. Engine Room will bring together sixteen digital graphic designers, representing a diverse global demographic mix, in a room full of HP computers where viewers, both on TV and online through MTVu, can actually watch them looking at their computer screens in a multi-installment product placement dramatic competition of skill and talent.

This sounds so stunningly promising as nearly unbearable excitement that WB is busy planning its own show, where viewers can see us sitting in our bathrobes and hunched over our laptops at 2 a.m. writing blog posts! Stay tuned for more exciting details... after we've caught up on our sleep.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Semiotics 101: Fear and Information.

WB finds it ironic that Mr. "Straight Talk" McCain has gone to quick, cold reading of slurs and slogans accompanied by tense music and chilling, half-whispered voiceover (by a female announcer, bonus!), while Mr. Obama is the guy with the explanation that treats us like people who can handle details and not just bumper stickers.

(Oh, we forgot: details are bad. They're annoying time-wasters, appreciated only by the elitist people who like brie and chablis.)

Anyway, note the differences in sets, postures, lighting, vocal tones, facial expressions: all the semiotic markers that go along with words to help American brains determine whether someone actually gives a damn about their now-worthless retirement funds, houses, and jobs:

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Monumentum in memoriam: Memento mori.

The recent sad losses of writer David Foster Wallace, musician Rick Wright, and the retirement funds of most of the staff have gotten us thinking about mortality here at WB, and so....

The latest trend in dying is all-natural burial in an eco-friendly grave: no coffin, no embalming fluids, just a decomposing cadaver contributing organic compounds to the earth a few feet underground. Unlike traditional cemeteries where sealed coffins rest in concrete vaults spaced comfortably apart from the other vaults around them, a "green" burial ground is recyclable; when one corpse has been completely consumed by bugs and bacteria, another can take its place in the same spot.

For those who are unwilling to let themselves rot naturally, a fashionable and tasteful burial will most often take place in a "memorial park," where landscapes are uncluttered by unsightly headstones or monuments of varying heft and quality. Every gravesite gets the same size and kind of inconspicuous identifying plaque laid flat into the ground, leaving a tidy horizon of contemplative tranquility (and easy mowing).

But we're here to celebrate a different form of final rest: the bygone age of tacky, gaudy, creepy, and totally stylin' grave markers that said a little about the dead and a lot about the living who commissioned the monuments. The "gravestones and markers" sessions at the annual Popular Culture Association conference are always among the most heavily attended (along with sessions about animation, where they show cartoons), and having recently visited a forgotten cemetery dating back to the late 1700s, now we know why.

Minnie May was just 18 years old when she died in 1881. Her gravestone is designed to look like an orderly pile of rocks around a tree that has been cut down, leaving only a stately trunk with stubs where its branches would have been. This one is pure poetry, and it definitely wins best-in-show of the entire collection.

"Our Darling" didn't live long enough to receive a name in 1877, but she was clearly loved by a family of means. Her marker shows, in miniature, the child she would have become, sleeping in repose and guarded by a life-sized mourning angel. It's an impressive showing...

... but "Our Baby," who lived for only three days in 1896, belonged to a clearly more affluent family. This unnamed infant received a hulking, eight-foot tall tribute of granite to mark those three days. The polished orb at the top of the marker, held up by ornate neo-classical pillars, might represent the unnamed infant belonging to the universe now... or just the enormity of the family's wealth.

Augustus Button, who died in 1872 at the age of 67, was obviously a man of style, distinction, and good humor — his name is carved in the shape of a button. WB would like to have met this man, or at least his family, to get some ideas for logo design for the blog during some future site renovation.

Julius Krausa received a classic "good servant of the Word" treatment when he died in 1869, with a cross bearing the inscription IHS and a lengthy passage of scripture, translated into Latin, carved into the base of his stone and swallowed up by the ground around it before its source can be read.

One of the few residents of this cemetery to rest under a still-surviving tree, Mr. Krausa's inscriptions were carved deeply enough to still be easily legible, unlike the hundreds of cheaper stones around his that are essentially blank now, their owners lost to history after only a couple of centuries of wind and rain. And ultimately, no matter how big, heavy, tall, or costly a monument to our former existence is, that's how we all end up: erased by nature, just as the History Channel was happy to remind us in its early 2008 disaster-science future documentary, Life After People.

Unless we happen to be one of the four Immortals carved into Mount Rushmore, it makes no difference if we're memorialized by slabs of granite or just tossed into a plain old hole in the ground: we will all disappear. Still, as the poem says: Because we know the end will come, that's what makes the living fun. That'll be the official WB epitaph—but they'll have to tattoo it onto our foreheads, because when we go, we're going green.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Ode to Wall Street

As the nation's mightiest financial institutions fall like dominoes, taking the retirement accounts of 300 million average Janes and Joes with them, WB thought it might be a good time for everyone to re-learn a famous song from the Great Depression, the classic "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?"
They used to tell me I was building a dream,
and so I followed the mob,
When there was earth to plow, or guns to bear,
I was always there right on the job.

They used to tell me I was building a dream,
with peace and glory ahead,
Why should I be standing in line,
just waiting for bread?

Once I built a railroad, I made it run,
made it race against time.
Once I built a railroad; now it's done.
Brother, can you spare a dime?

Once I built a tower, up to the sun,
brick, and rivet, and lime;
Once I built a tower, now it's done.
Brother, can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits, gee we looked swell,
Full of that Yankee Doodly Dum,
Half a million boots went slogging through Hell,
And I was the kid with the drum!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Rick Wright, 1943-2008

After a brief battle with cancer, Pink Floyd keyboardist Rick Wright has gone on to The Great Gig in the Sky, which is also the title of the most stunning, soaring, and moving piano-and-vocal song ever recorded — and composed by Wright. WB is putting the best years of Floyd into heavy rotation on the iPod, and Rick, we'll see you on the dark side of the moon.

Hole in the head.

We already mentioned this here and here, but knowing that reviews are WB's most appreciated subject matter, Litchik recently took one for the team and actually watched the sneak peek of Fox's Hole in the Wall.

All of it.

And somebody owes her. Big time.

In a word, this show is stupid. Reviews should be objective, based on defined criteria, and fair, but really, this show deserves none of that. It moves beyond low-brow to no-brow. It would insult the intelligence of a comatose patient. Here's how dumb television producers think we are:

The "game" pits two teams against each other. The teams on this particular night were The Six Packs (three fit bodybuilders in love with themselves) and The Beer Bellies (three shlubs in love with themselves). It's clear that the producers were going for the classic "jocks vs. party boys" rivalry, the alphas vs. the betas, the Brad Pitts vs. the Seth Rogens... you get the idea. And that's about the smartest part of the show.

All team members have to mold their bodies to a hole in a wall that is moving towards them. (Yes, the title is hyper-literal.) If they manage to maneuver their bodies through the wall without getting knocked into a five-foot pool of what looks like neon green water, they win a point. Team members can face the wall individually, two at a time, or the whole team, depending on — you guessed it — the number of holes in the wall.

The best part of the show is the scoring system. If team members fall into the water, the words "NOT CLEARED" appear in red at the bottom of the screen; if they don't fall, the word "CLEARED" flashes in red. For folks keeping score at home, this is especially handy as the person falling into the water might not be enough of a clue that the team failed to score. This is just half the game, but we suspect that anyone who is seriously considering watching this show has already stopped reading this or, more likely, has never browsed WB before, so we'll spare the rest.

Not being satisfied with just lowering the bar, Fox has instead removed the bar altogether and hidden it deep in the bowels of its studios. Watching television has never been more passive. America, get ready to drool when you tune in to this show.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sarah smile.

Tina Fey did show up, as rumored, to launch Saturday Night Live's 2008 season with a scorching impression of Sarah Palin.

WB is thrilled to hear that the mayor of Wasilla Alaska governor had a chance to catch the Fey impression live. ABC News reports: "As comedienne Tina Fey debuted her impression of Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live, the governor and her staff were watching from 30,000 feet. Palin was on board her campaign jet flying from Reno to Denver as 11:30 PM Eastern rolled around. But the show was available on the Jetblue charter's satellite TV system.

Standing alongside SNL cast member Amy Poehler who was impersonating Hillary Clinton, Fey's Palin extolled her foreign policy expertise in a flat midwestern accent: "I can see Russia from my house!" There were howls of laughter from the sizeable press corps covering Palin's first foray on the campaign trail without her running man as a chaperone.

But, from the front of the plane, silence. The flight attendants assured us Palin and her entourage were watching. What she thought, though, is anybody's guess.

Palin has yet to say so much as hello to the press corps. The campaign is doing its best to keep Palin well away from inquisitive reporters, going so far as to book the press corps into a separate hotel from the candidate."

Saturday, September 13, 2008

I want to live forever....

After a summer of highly realistic ads seen on bus shelters and the sides of skyscrapers across the country, HBO finally premiered its provocative series, TrueBlood, last Sunday night.

This twist on the vampire story finds its place in the zeitgeist by setting an ironic tone within minutes. Waitress Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) locks eyes with a distinctly pale but also smokin' hot Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) in the bar. After a long beat, she tells her co-workers, "He's a vampire," and they proceed to have a fairly normal debate about him. Or it would be normal, except for the fact that they're debating whether a guy is a vampire, not the expected bar debates like "Is he gay or straight? Single, or coupled?"

Vampires in pop culture have many lives indeed, and Six Feet Under creator Alan Ball has found a new way to make them rise from the dead. This time, being a vamp is no big thing, since everybody seems to know that they exist. Next thing you know, they'll be discriminated against and need protective legislation. It's all played with quiet understatement.

Bill Compton likes the little town of Bon Temps, and he seems to like Sookie a bit too, considering the rising temperatures when they lock eyes. Which they do a lot. Sookie isn't a vampire, but she's considering her options. It doesn't hurt that she can read people's minds. Meanwhile, these vampires seem to favor Louisiana, just as Anne Rice's Lestat and company did. But someone has finally created synthetic blood. No longer must sensitive, compassionate vampires kill. Synthetic blood allows them to become part of towns and communities, to "come out of the coffin," as HBO's website puts it. Some vampires are purists, though, and want the real thing. This is the crux of the problem in Episode 1, and presumably for the entire season.

Tensions are rising already, and one or two scenes have been truly disturbing. Sookie's brother is a serious sexual sicko, so far off the charts that Ball is risking alienating sensitive viewers. The plot easily spins from light to deeply disturbing, but releases viewers from the tensions just as deftly.

TrueBlood's sassy attitude is reminiscent of Six Feet Under's lighter moments, maybe even more so. It might even be Buffy, updated, sent back to the South, and about (mostly) grownups this time. This isn't to suggest that TrueBlood is derivative, because, frankly, everything is derivative, but in a time when nearly every cultural offering is ironic or showing its world-weariness in some way, TrueBlood pulls off a cool take on an old favorite.

Friday, September 12, 2008

One of these things is not like the other?

Meet the Sarah Palin Action Figure, which comes in three editions (left to right): Executive Sarah, Hero Sarah, and... School Girl Sarah.

Of the three, complaints have been lodged only against the last one, with justifiable charges of it being just a tiny bit sexist. But this leaves WB wondering about the middle version, where SuperSarah is dressed sort of like Trinity in The Matrix, except that Trinity doesn't wear a miniskirt cut to the crotch, and she definitely doesn't smile while kicking ass. So the best we can determine is that Hero Sarah is spared from "sexist" labels because of that conspicuous sidearm strapped to her thigh. If anyone looks at this Sarah that way, she'll shoot them. End of discussion.

Just look at that maniacal, even deranged smile. You know she will. And then she'll go slaughter a moose or three for good measure.

Meanwhile, as Litchick and 78 go online to order the respectful "Executive" version of the SPAF (we can customize her with our own surplus GI Joe gear) for the office, Seth Meyers has just stopped by the Today Show to set rumors flying that Tina Fey will be making an appearance on the fall premier of Saturday Night Live tomorrow. Hmm... wonder why?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Emergency 9/11: Seven years on.

Each generation has at least one huge cultural moment of tragedy that briefly draws this nation together: the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy assassinations , the murders of King and Lennon, the Challenger explosion. But September 11th was different and... closer. In a rare shift to first-person perspective, WB staff and contributors take a moment to reflect on 9.11.01 as a monumental event in American culture.

I vividly recall sitting in a meeting when someone walked by and announced that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center. People around the room were at first incredulous, certain that a small-craft pilot had probably made either a horrible mistake or perhaps had a bit too much to drink before taking off. Twenty minutes later, the same person ran by to announce that another plane had hit. Surely this was a sad attempt to clear the conference room so she could have it for herself. How could two planes make the same mistake? A palpable uneasiness settled over the room and my boss asked me to go check the news.

Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw on the television screen in our waiting room. CNN displayed horrific images of New York City on fire. The U.S. had been attacked and more hijacked planes were in the air, headed for D.C. and perhaps other destination. The era of instant information does not always guarantee accuracy or consistency — many conflicting reports came out that day, but few people actually paid close enough attention to the words. The images are what riveted the nation over the next several days.

Now, seven years later, many of the specific details of those first few days are lost. But the one clear image that remains with me is the sky. I remember looking up in those few days after 9/11 and seeing nothing but clouds and blue. Flights had been suspended indefinitely and I had never seen an empty sky before.

The first voice to tell me of the Trade Center "accident" was British. As I merged onto the last stretch of highway on the way to work, the BBC host on the radio did one of those "this just in" announcements: some sort of aircraft had hit one of the towers, and it looked like a terrible accident. I shook my head, picturing a small private plane. Fifteen minutes later as I pulled into a parking space at work, the same host, clearly upset now, announced that a second plane had hit the other tower. Now it was obviously a concerted attack. I sat in the car without moving while my stomach turned upside down.

A lot of students arrived late for the 9:30 class, with news that the Pentagon had been bombed. So had the Supreme Court building and the Capitol. Washington D.C. was in flames, they said. The TV networks couldn't sort it all out fast enough. I looked out into the room full of young faces and saw confusion, but not fear. We talked for a few more minutes about what was really happening and what was rumored — and then I said, "All right, let's crack the books and look at what I asked you to read." We talked about Quintilian and Cicero while the towers fell.

Within weeks, those two buildings were on their way to being turned into a hollow trope, invoked to frighten people into cooperation and support. But later on this day, I realized what we'd done in that classroom. According to all of the panicked misinformation, our nation's capital had been under siege by some foreign power — and we'd calmly proceeded to discuss classical rhetoric. We could do this because we knew that no matter how bad things looked, there was no danger; our country would be fine. With this realization, I understood what patriotism felt like. It was a sense of pride and gratitude as big as New York. I wish it could have lasted.

I was in my seventh grade classroom. Because the eighth graders were so much older and more mature, they got to watch the news. We didn’t. By the end of the day, the older kids had managed to scare us into thinking that a war had begun and all of our fathers were being taken from work and shipped off to Washington. I was crying by the time my mother came to pick me up, but she assured me that my father would be home that night. Once we were home, she turned on the news and, without needing to say a word, showed me what had happened.

I knew this day would be something no one would forget, but I didn’t really understand why. (I saved my school papers with that date on them, though, just in case it became a part of history.) It bothered me that coverage of the attack was replacing all regular TV programming. We discussed “the events” for a few minutes the following day at school, but it was never spoken of again unless I saw it on TV. Because of this, I never really “got it” until I saw 9/11 covered in my high school history book. Seeing it written as history, I finally realized everything I had been struggling to understand.

Our culture changed that day. Movies were scripted and songs written; clothing became patriotic. 4th of July decorations became everyday artifacts, and our priorities and ideals as Americans were challenged. And now, on the anniversary, I still try to figure out what 9/11 really means to me on an individual level. I often find myself carrying a bit of worry when I’m in big cities. I don’t want to think of it as being pessimistic, but simply being realistic and aware of my surroundings.

Eighth Chakra:
I was mother to a 13-month old boy and a graduate student in English, teaching night classes twice a week, staying home during the day to be with my baby and, presumably, to write. Cheerios sprouted like mushrooms from between the pages of my dissertation. That morning my son was rambunctious; his new zombie-walk was developing into a run. I was relieved that his 10:00 nap would happen nearly an hour early; I could have some time to work.

The moment he was in his crib, I reached for the radio—NPR, the BBC—to hear grown-up voices. As soon as they reported the first plane crash, I switched to the TV and watched the rest of it all unfold in real time. When my son awoke from his nap later that morning, the country was different, the world was different. And in ways that I have realized over time, the iconography of American childhood was different. Tall, oblong objects appear in pairs in children's play, toy planes fly into towers of building blocks, tiny minds that want to view the world in terms of monsters and heroes believe they have a real-life example.

“They wanted to destroy all of America, Mom," he tells me seven years later. "They wanted to take over America and wreck it.” But I want my son to see the many shades of gray that led to these events. I say something about America’s dependency on Middle Eastern oil. I try terms he might understand, “Our government got bossy. Some people got angry.”

For some parts of the story, there are no shades of gray. He learns new information when another child at school whispers on the playground. “People jumped out of the buildings before they fell down, Mom. It’s true!”

“They did, honey. There was a fire, and they were terribly frightened.”

“If I had a time machine," he says, "I would go back and tell them to get out before the planes ever came.”

Seven years later, it occurs to me that Orson Welles faked a catastrophe like this in 1938 and pulled it off. The day’s events could have been dreamed up by a modern-day Orson Welles, except that no officials rushed out to tell us it wasn’t real.

Tower Two is gone.

Because I like my mornings quiet, and because I was alone on this morning, those were the first words I heard that day on the radio.

NPR’s Bob Edwards spoke evenly that morning, as he did every morning. But I sensed an undercurrent of muted feeling as he said those four words and made my heart leap in double time.

I kept driving toward work, watching the sky for planes and bombs.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Cops Gone Wild!

Disclaimer: We appreciate the police, really; we're just appalled by some of their behavior. We realize that not all cops are bad and not all Americans enjoy torture, so don’t tase us, bros, okay?

L.A. Confidential, a book written by James Ellroy in 1992 and later turned into a movie of the same name, showcases the possible beginnings of a frightening trend that has been growing since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

In both the book and movie, an alarming act of violence by police officers is showcased in a scene titled “Bloody Christmas.” The scene refers to the real beating of seven Mexican Americans by the Los Angeles Police Department on Christmas day 1951. The men were already in the custody of the police when the officers stormed the jail cells where the men were being held and beat them for no apparent reason.

The potential for police misconduct has now been listed by the FBI as one of the highest priorities when screening new police officers for hiring. While it dates back much earlier than the 1950s (see the documentaries on the deluxe DVD for Gangs of New York, showing how the police themselves were one of the titular gangs in the 1700s), thanks to video cameras and YouTube, the world now gets several chances each month to see these acts of violence beyond the simulated versions in movie theaters. We'll only address a few cases here, but searching for “cop brutality” on YouTube will instantly show how pervasive the problem is.

October 20, 2006: Assault victim Hope Steffey is arrested and then strip-searched, on film, in a Canton, Ohio jail cell by male and female officers before being left to lie naked on a jail cell floor for six hours.

November 14, 2006: UCLA student Mostafa Tabatabainejad is shocked with a Taser by campus police after being in the college library without his student ID. A video of the incident is filmed by a fellow student, and Tabatabainejad can be heard repeating that he will leave the building and is not resisting arrest. He is then arrested and shocked more, while students can be heard demanding officers' names and badge numbers. Some officers threaten to use the Taser on other students if they get too close to Tabatabainejad.

September 7, 2007: A Missouri police officer is captured on video by Brett Darrow, warning Darrow that charges can be fabricated to get him arrested. Darrow was apparently parked after hours in a 24-hour lot, and argued with the officer about being ticketed. The officer can be heard on the video saying, “I bet I could say you resisted arrest or something. You want to come up with something? I’ll come up with nine things.”

September 17, 2007: A University of Florida student, Andrew Meyer, is shocked with a Taser after asking Senator John Kerry a few “uncomfortable” questions. Although Kerry attempts to answer the questions, Meyer is shocked by the police until he can be heard in the video, recorded by a student, screaming in pain.

January 9, 2008: A Florida deputy is caught on her department's own video camera dumping a quadriplegic man, Brian Sterner, from his wheelchair to see if he is really paralyzed. Sterner is being booked, of all things, on charges of fleeing from law enforcement, which "naturally" has led the deputy to believe the wheelchair was only a prop.

January 12, 2008: Louisiana State Police officer Scott Nugent (no relation to right-wing rocker and friend-of-the-blog Ted) tases Baron Pikes nine times while trying to arrest him on cocaine charges. The coroner suspects that the 21-year old Pikes was dead by the seventh 50,000-volt shock.

July 25, 2008: A New York City police officer is filmed, by a tourist, knocking a man off his bicycle. The video clearly shows many people, representing Critical Mass, a bicycling advocacy group, riding their bikes through Times Square, and only one man, Christopher Long, being knocked down by police. It is said that Long attempted to drive his bicycle directly toward the officer, but the video show the exact opposite.

While WB strongly believes that filming these incidents provides excellent evidence for victims, we wonder why police brutality footage has now become such a cornerstone of the viral video community. The simple answer is that a lot of people actually enjoy violence. Movies like Saw and Hostel would not be possible without this aesthetic for violence in our society. These movies share a common theme in the sense that they prey on ordinary people while carrying an “it could happen to you” attitude. The characters in Hostel are just friends on a backpacking trip to Slovakia who fall into the hands of a psychopath who tortures them, in many cases to death. The fact that they're just average people who don't deserve their horrible fate is one part of what makes the movie, and others like it, so appealing to many viewers. Better them than me.

Some of the victims in police-brutality videos are even mocked by other civilians. The UCLA Taser incident was seen as a serious case of police misconduct and abuse of power, but the U-Florida student was victimized a second time by criticism for what he said while being shocked. Andrew Meyer's famous yell — “Don’t tase me, bro!” — to the arresting officers turned Meyer into a student who “deserved” his punishment for saying such a stupid thing, and it transformed his plea into a complete joke. The words are now on T-shirts, baby clothes, and even thongs. The video has been watched on YouTube a whopping three million times and given four and a half stars by viewers. It has also been remixed as an old-school rap song and turned into a video game.

The saddest part about all of this? Police officers even know when they’re behaving badly. San Francisco officer Andrew Cohen is a filmmaker in his spare time and created a “Cops Gone Wild” video for his web site (although his original intention was to show them at the station’s Christmas party.) The video features such things as “an officer running over a homeless woman and an officer pulling over a female motorist and ogling her.” Cohen was of course suspended, as were 23 other officers who “starred” in the video. And in Elkhart, Indiana, male officers participated in some quasi-porn production caught on the station house's two surveillance cameras:

WB just wonders why, in a culture that demands these officers receive punishment for their actions, their violence and misbehaviors still receive warm welcomes in our homes and on our computers. Maybe the ancient Roman fans of coliseum "sports" could explain....