Saturday, May 30, 2009

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO... US!


WildeBoomerz is one year old today!

It was May 30, 2008, when this lowly little playlist narrative went out to some president whose name we forget. And from there... well, here we are, a couple of hundred posts and eleven thousand readers later. Who knew?

Over the past year, what started as a procrastination destination for a tiny group of half a dozen people has gone international. While the US, UK, Canada, and India bring in our primary audiences, we've also drawn readers from all of these corners of the globe:

Australia
Brazil
Bulgaria
Belgium
Colombia
China
Dominican Republic
Estonia
Finland
France
Greece
Germany
Hong Kong
Indonesia
Israel
Ireland
Italy
Mexico
Netherlands
Nigeria
New Zealand
Norway
Philippines
Portugal
Poland
Russia
Romania
Serbia
Spain
Switzerland
South Africa
Slovenia
Sweden
Turkey
Taiwan
Venezuela

The most-read post in the past year was a rant against a stupid game show, followed closely by a discussion of Extenze, a topic that saw WB staff brainstorming di... er, anatomy puns for a couple of hours via IM. President Obama's iPod-or-Zune preferences were important to lots of people, but classic toys were, too — interesting to see the search terms that brought readers in looking for Jarts, Creepy Crawlers, and the rest. Rating a little site called Rate My Professors comes in as the fifth most popular topic, and random rantings about voicemail and the pronunciation of Iraq finished up the top six.

In the browser wars, Microsoft has the biggest user base (surprise) at 41% — but Firefox, Safari, and Opera outranked that at a combined 53%, and Google's Chrome browser managed to grab one percent for its startup self. (Note to those 0.48% still using Netscape: it's time to let go.)

Similarly, Microsoft Windows is the dominant OS for readers at 61%, but Mac OS X showed a respectable 23% and Linux users stopped by three percent of the time. (Anonymous systems made up the rest, as with browsers.) The biggest not-surprise: Windows Vista is running on only 11% of the PCs, with XP and Windows 2000 on the other 89%. Given the fact that Vista-based machines we've used at work have taken up to nine minutes to boot up fully, we totally understand the reluctance of our readers to install it.

The past year saw some great guest-written features (the Rothbury review is up in the top ten most read posts), and also brought in a couple of regularly contributing writers in Pinkmingo and Nighthand. Both of those contributors experienced school transitions in May, though, with Pinkmingo transferring to the big university down the road and Nighthand graduating to enter the scary and depressing "we have no positions, sorry" world of work. We hope they'll continue to write when they can.

Oh, and to clear up one burning question: Since we're named after a brand of guitar strings that are named after a guitar player, the blog is pronounced wild-boomers, not will-da-boomers. Meanwhile, we're very glad that you've chosen to stop by our pop-cult playground for a few minutes, because if a blog falls in the forest but there's no one there to read, it definitely makes no sound.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Twit TV

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Look, it's not like we've got anything personal against Twitter — seven million people tweeting in unison surely outnumber a few cranky cultural critics — but really, sometimes enough is just too much.

There's already TwitterTV Live and TwitterTalkTV: Twitter for Business, where capitalist penguins go marching off in search of ways to make money from tweeting. (This is why, when WB started its own Twitter feed, our first dozen "followers" were... advertisers.) But those are online-only shows, and to be honest, there are probably worse things to waste time watching. We gave Twitter a try, and the staff unanimously voted, with its immediate absence, against doing much more than trying. Now it's mostly out of sight, out of mind; we could use it to announce new posts, but you know, that's what web browsers are for.

Now comes word that Hollywood power players are working on some kind of network reality show based on Twitter. The concept is extremely vague at the moment, but speculation includes contestants following 140-character tweets as their clues. Ooooh, fun!

Okay, enough with the sarcasm: the idea is insipid, inane, and vacuous. And even the Twitter community itself is against it. So that's all the ingredients needed, right there, for a successful show. Stupidity and animosity. Yay.

Frankly, we're looking forward to GPS TV, hosted by Molly the Satellite Voice. Contestants will go north 150 yards, turn right, arrive at their destination. Much mirth and mayhem will ensue. And it will be so much better than Twitter TV. After all, Twitter requires two people, a tweeter and a reader. GPS is us and the machine — one step closer to the end of evolution. Ones and zeroes: turn left, turn right, start, stop. No ambiguities or nuances to cause confusion. Yes or no. True or false. If/then; else/not. Of course, Us and the Machine isn't without problems; already we've heard about people obediently following their GPS directions off highways and onto forest horse trails that become mud, or up snow-covered mountains, or even onto the railroad tracks to be rammed by a train.

But these people, frankly, are idiots. Twitter TV will be smart. It will enhance the human condition. It will make life worth living. It will be a good thing.

In fact, we can whittle this post down to the last five sentences. That's probably less than 140 characters, right there. No need for anythi

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Before we are 'post-racial' - a poet's living history

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With the election of Barack Obama, the media began to sling the term "post racial" as if a miracle had occurred and racism had suddenly died with the birth of the first black President. They were partly right — based on surveys of young voters, the issue of race counted for approximately zilch. But for older voters... well, does anyone remember Fox News publicizing the vile song parody, "Barack the Magic Negro," under the guise of fair and balanced reporting?

"If we must die," wrote the black poet Claude McKay in 1919, "O let us nobly die, so that our precious blood may not be shed in vain. Then even the monsters we defy shall be constrained to honor us though dead!" It'll be a long time before Fox News comes around to honor anyone who's not white — quick, name two famous FNC news anchors or hosts who are African American — and the network's penchant for subtle and overt racism has been well documented, and since that network is the official mouthpiece of the Republican Party in America, it seems that the idea of a "post racial" culture in the U.S. is premature.

Dr. Tolbert Small, a physician and poet in Oakland, California, is living memory of a time when things were much worse, but also a living witness to the fact that things aren't always too much better. In the 1970s, Dr. Small worked with the Black Panther Party in the fight to gain funding for research to combat sickle cell anemia, and he traveled with the BPP to China where the Panthers, listed by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI as a dire threat to America, were received with open arms as guests of the Chinese government. Returning to the U.S., Dr. Small saw the BPP leaders picked off one by one to assassination and incarceration, and he witnessed the party's implosion after its infiltration by the FBI's COINTELPRO operations.

Today, Oakland is still troubled and far from "post racial." On New Year's Day 2009, a 22-year-old black man named Oscar Grant was shot by a white transit officer, leading to widespread rioting in the city. Three months later, an African American named Lovelle Mixon, wanted for violating parole, killed four white Oakland police officers after being pulled over for a minor traffic infraction. There was no rioting this time, but the underlying tension as everyone in the city — and the nation — tried not to discuss race in connection with the crime made it clear that "post racial" still had quite a way to go before becoming reality.

In the midst of all of this long history, Tolbert Small remains an optimist at heart, and his poetry shows this hopeful outlook. Born in Mississippi and raised in the "Black Bottom" of Detroit, one of the poorest parts of the city, he made his way into medical school at Wayne State University, and then to California where history awaited him. "As long as the sun arises from the darkness of night," he wrote upon the election of Barack Obama, "the dream will arise." But having seen first hand, through his experience with the Black Panthers, how quickly dreams can dissolve, he cautions that "a dream neglected will shrivel on the vine of despair."

That's not only a challenge for the new President, but a challenge for anyone who wants to see the idea of a "post racial" society become reality.
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Friday, May 22, 2009

In Memorium

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Here in the United States, a three-day — or with luck a four-day — weekend has begun. Retailers do their best to suture the four days to ideas of backyard barbecues and summer sales, tourist havens prefer that we think of campgrounds or lakeside motels, and gas stations make a big push for long road trips. All of these are packaged, ideally, in a flourish of patriotic music and endless American flags.

It's patriotic to barbecue. It's a display of national pride to drive 500 miles to a campground, or even better, to the weekend cottage. It's the best form of American citizenship to go shopping on Monday and buy Chinese-made plastic chairs for the back yard. (They'll go well with the American flags, also made in China.)

But WB remembers, through all of the consumerist fog, that the "memorial" in Memorial Day looks like this:


Yeah, there are corny emails going around that remind us to remember those who fight for our freedom to buy and cook and camp. But those messages are just more fog, putting emphasis on the "buy cook camp" and smothering the "those" left far behind at the start of the sentence.

Being professional cynics and skeptics, we're not normally ones to get all teary-eyed at cheap and garish sentiment, but when sentiment arrives quietly and with dignity, no problem. We recall attending a crowded church service one Memorial Day a few years back when the minister asked, one American war at a time, for the veterans in the audience to stand. Frail and elderly men stood for World War II, old men for Korea, aging men for Vietnam, more vital men and women for Grenada, Panama, Kuwait, Somalia, Iraq. There was no music, no applause, no flag waving, no pathos-drenched appeals for gratitude. There was only quiet honor and respect. Even the conscientious objectors to Vietnam were called to stand, because they served, too.

So it's really not about barbecues and beaches made possible by those who wore military uniforms. It's about those who wore the uniforms, venerated by a series of days when we put down work to rest and play — and remember.
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Thursday, May 21, 2009

"Missing Link" puzzle solved!


By now most of the televised and wired world knows about "Ida," the cat-sized, lemur-like, 47 million year-old primate fossil that had its grand unveiling on Tuesday. Google celebrated the event on Wednesday with a special logo, and then the story behind the hyped headline unfolded:

Found 25 years ago in a volcanic crater outside Frankfurt, Germany, the little fossil was at first thought to be... a little fossil. No big deal. But after being bought and sold a few times, it was then "studied in secret" by the University of Oslo. Finally, the "scientific community" was ready to make its grand pronouncement.

But even at TEDblog, where science-minded eggheads hang out after watching highbrow lectures to discuss them in intelligent detail, the story's been met as a lot of hype and possible hooey. Why? Because the details are skimpy. The fossil indicates that the critter had opposable thumbs and forward-facing eyes, and that it walked upright. But if it walks like a lemur and talks like a lemur... well, WB has never met any human being who looks like a lemur, with the possible exception of actor John Malkovich.

And frankly, when we first saw the photo of little fossilized Ida, we thought we detected something familiar about the posture, the curved spine, the long fingers, the outstretched hands. Launching our own "study in secret," we quickly came to a conclusion. Ida the fossilized lemur isn't the mother of the whole human race, but she is the grandmother of Nosferatu, the vampire.



(We were going to say Sylvester the cat from the cartoons, or Wile E. Coyote, but everyone knows that those are make-believe characters, and this is science we're talking about, to be treated with respect.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

To everything there is a season - except for this


"You have been weighed, you have been measured, and you have been found wanting."

A famous bit of movie dialog from A Knight's Tale, right? Count Adhemar's famous insult to "Sir Ulrich" (Heath Ledger) that then comes around to be repeated by Sir William ("Sir Ulrich" by his real name) to Adhemar?

Nope. It's a slight rewording of a passage found in the Book of Daniel, in the Tanakh/Old Testament — as well as on an official Intelligence Report filed by former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, with his boss, former President George W. Bush.

According to a photo article breaking in GQ, Rumsfeld played on the President's deep faith and frequent use of scriptural references in White House business by decorating war reports with Bible verses. Apparently, if Dubya could be made to feel righteous, he'd also feel victorious instead of curious, and Rummy could carry on with the FUBAR plans he'd failed to make for invading Iraq. The Secretary could also ignore a key command from another part of Scripture, in Exodus 20:7 — "Lo tisah et Shem YHVH Eloheicha l'shav" — "Do not make the Lord's name worthless." You know, by crassly exploiting it rather than revering it, stuff like that.

A few of the cover pages, as shown in GQ, appear below (click image for a clearer view). WB, shaken to the core by this latest revelation, suddenly finds the term "religious extremists" to be a hell of a lot scarier than it used to be.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Maybe if they say it 62 times instead of just 59...

The DVD for The Day the Earth Stood Still is out (not a lot of people saw it during its brief blip at the theaters). Another classic 1950s "aliens coming to save us from ourselves" tale, this one has had an update from an allegory about the expanding Cold War between the U.S. and Soviets to a more explicit environmental commentary. "If the earth dies, you die," says the alien, Klaatu (played by Keanu Reeves, whose wooden acting style finally has been perfectly matched to his role) to Jennifer Connelly. "If you die, the earth survives." The aliens would like to see Earth survive. Humans, not so much.

And so, a plan is put into effect to erase (literally, with bugs that turn everything to dust) humans and their destructive civilization. But Keanu and Jennifer have a bond, so when she asks him to give humankind a break if they promise to behave better, you can guess what happens.

Earlier in the story, though, Klaatu meets with another, older one, a scout sent 70 years earlier to infiltrate the enemy (i.e. human) camp and learn the enemy's ways, who confesses to Klaatu that after all these years, he has come to love human beings. If they're to be destroyed, then the old scout will stay and be destroyed with them.

"The tragedy," he adds, "is that they knew exactly what would happen to them, but they did nothing to prevent it."

It's a green-themed remix of the mid-20th century Cold War alien warning: "You are the only species to wage war upon yourselves. Change now, while you still can." And then the soldiers put down their weapons and the lions lay down with lambs and the world is a far, far better place.

But as an environmental message, this remake has it right. No such shiny happy music-swelling stuff is gonna happen here. Regardless of any promises to change and improve, humankind will revert to purposeful ignorance as soon as the aliens fly away.

Leaving a bunch of Hollywood execs to say, "The tragedy is that we told them exactly what would happen to them. But they did nothing to prevent it."

And a Nobel Prize-winning former Vice President of the United States to say, "Yeah, tell me about it."

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Of pigs and planets

One of the most memorable scenes in the George C. Scott movie, Patton, shows General George S. Patton slapping a shell-shocked soldier who's lost his composure. For good measure, the general then slaps the kid again. Then General Patton is relieved of command.

While accurate, that scene doesn't hold up, because there's no such thing as "shell shock" anymore. For a while, it was known as battle fatigue, but now we know it as plain old PTSD — post-traumatic stress disorder. And pretty soon that's gonna change, too, because "disorder" has negative connotations.

Language shapes reality, and reality is rhetorical, and rhetoric is situational; consider the swine flu, otherwise known as the non-story that saturated all media through all of April. And because of that overhyped overcoverage, some Iowa pig farmers — er, make that pork producers — became really, really nervous, because people weren't buying as much swine for the kitchen table anymore. (Eating pig can't give you pig flu, but people don't respond to these terror-alarm stories with logic or intelligence.) So the pork producers called their Iowa representatives in Congress, who twisted some arms — um, persuaded the Centers for Disease Control — to stop calling the swine flu swine flu. Now it was just H1N1, and swine were back to being cute little kids' toes going to market to buy some barbecue. And that one pig in the Bible who gets filled with a demon and plunges off a cliff into the sea, but never mind.

But here comes a reversal of this example where a term (swine flu) scared people into action (boycotting pork): Americans are putting the steady warming of the world — not just the U.S., but everywhere, although "world" means America to many Americans — at the bottom of their list of concerns because the terms "global warming" and "climate change" have made them not just comfortably numb, but annoyed. Why? Rather than make people think of globes, or climates, or warming, or changes, the terms make folks think of... hippies.


Yes, hippies. Peaceniks. Radicals. Treehuggers. The founder of ecoAmerica, an environmental marketing firm, explains: "When you say ‘global warming,’ a certain group of Americans think that’s a code word for progressive liberals, gay marriage and other such issues.”

And gay liberals are annoying, so the notion of a green and blue planet becoming a barren moonscape is annoying, too. There's no logical connection at all, but hey, logic is overrated, right?

Swine flu kills 150 in Mexico and three in the U.S. — RUN FOR YOUR LIVES! WE ARE ALL GONNA DIE! STOP BUYING PORK NOW!

Nine or twelve billion die in unimaginably horrible berserk-weather events: Zzzzzzzzzzz.

ecoAmerica has suggestions: Talk about a "deteriorating atmosphere" that can be improved with "cap and cash-back" plans to create a "prosperous future" with clean "water our children drink." Happy happy, joy joy.

Meanwhile, Americans put their planet last, claiming to be more concerned about rules for political lobbyists (we're not making this up) and about some nebulous "moral decline" that includes teen pregnancy, single motherhood, STDs, substance abuse, and all kinds of other things that never existed before, say, 2006 when An Inconvenient Truth hit theaters.

But those same people don't realize that, by putting earth at the bottom of the list, they're leading the "moral decline" parade right down the middle of Desolation Boulevard. To paraphrase the old Chiffon margarine commercial slightly, it's not nice to fuck Mother Nature.
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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Kills - not great, but really good

WB welcomes guest writer Some Guy and hopes to persuade him to guest as often as he'd like. ;-)

The Kills @ Magic Stick, Detroit, May 8, 2009

The Kills showed themselves to be a cool band when word got out that they record in Benton Harbor, MI on an obscure Flickinger mixing console that used to belong to Sly Stone. That and the insanely brilliant track "Last Day of Magic" from their current record, Midnight Boom, sealed it (click the image to hear tracks at the band's site). When the band came to Detroit for a show, there was no question about being so there to catch it.

The Room
The Magic Stick is a great place to not watch a band, and that's not meant as an insult. If you were going to shoot pool, drink, and talk with pals without keeping an eye on the stage, this would be a nice room. If you want to take in the band, dance, watch the show... well, someone needs to redesign the place a bit. The best part of the Magic Stick is the outdoor patio. The view isn't great (lighted signs at Harper Hospital), but the neon bowling sign is cool. But as a room to hear a band, Magic Stick gets a C+. Visibility ain't great, since there are two staircases (to the patio) that afford a decent view for fewer than 10 people. And this show should have been louder. The sound was a little wimpy and the room was a giant bass trap. Nothing against the bass, which happens to be a favorite instrument, but this wasn't nice.

The Openers
The opening acts were interesting. Magic Wands, or whatever their name was, were fairly unremarkable.The drummer appeared not to be playing half of the time. After a set of nondescript tunes, The Horrors were much better and reminiscent of Killing Joke — a major compliment. It helped that the kids in this band looked to be about 15. A quick mental test: would I go see this band as a headliner? Magic Wands: no. The Horrors: yes.

The Kills
There were no specific expectations for this band before the show, apart from the fact that they're kind of like The White Stripes without a drummer, which is an unfair comparison that doesn't cause much excitement. Based on the energy of their Midnight Boom effort, it was reasonable to expect the lack of literal "boom" to be offset with some emotional, theatrical "boom." Nothing against drum machines; good beats, electronic or otherwise, are an art form (the Beastie Boys lyric, "I'm in the pocket, just like Grady Tate / I got supplies of beats so you don't have to wait" comes to mind).

What the band lacks in percussion, they make up for in odd stage names. The guitarist dude has a proper name but goes by "Hotel," which seems nearly as stupid as calling yourself "The Edge," except for the fact that we haven't had 30 years to get used to it. The singer also has a name, but goes by "VV," which just doesn't look right in certain typefaces, but isn't quite as disconcerting as her counterpart's chosen appellation.

The Kills got off to a bad start. Some kind of sound/guitar/beatbox problems crept up in their first tune. Mr. Hotel seemed pretty irritated by this and the two performers just turned on their heels and bagged it in the middle of their opening number. Their tech guy was concentrating intently on smoking, which he seemed more interested in doing than fixing their problem. Never quite able to get past the technical problem, the band just seemed off for much of their two sets, the second of which was plagued by some poorly-executed covers (more on those later). The show had far less energy than should have been expected from listening to their albums. Then there was that misstep in their opening song, which had a "let's go back downstairs and start this over again" kind of feel to it.

Cheap guitars are also a nice touch — from the looks of them, the instruments on stage were cheap Mosrite/Teisco-like 60s Japan jobs, very cool . But the switching of guitars and the lack of bottom end on a few of them was a drag. Tech guy dutifully re-tuned the crappy guitars as they were alternated (that is, when this activity fit in with his smoking). Still, there were some great performances. The tracks "Hook and Line" and "Tape Song" went over with enough energy, and even the opening "U.R.A. Fever" was good once the band got back onstage to try it again. The much beloved "Last Day of Magic" seemed a little jagged and tired, however. It probably had no chance of living up to the glorious sound of that track on the album, especially when the band was having a bad night.

It was a good show. Not a great show, but a good show.

The Covers
The Kills did three really bad covers in their second set. More accurately, they did one bad cover, one terrible cover, and one inexcusable cover. Now, cover tunes can be great, and there are no "off-limits" tunes, i.e. tunes where an original is so great that it shouldn't be covered. That's baloney. Any song is cover-worthy, and if you don't think that any song can be rehabilitated by a good cover version, you've never heard Richard Thompson's version of "Oops, I Did It Again."

But The Kills are at a special disadvantage on the cover front. While a sparse, stripped-down cover like Seu Jorge's cover of "Changes" by David Bowie, works at every level due to Jorge's excellent voice, samba guitar, and Portuguese lyrics, low-fi/garage rock/whateveryoucallit is a different thing. A quickly executed cover for Jorge is instantly different and cool, while the same thing from The Kills sounds, well, like band practice in the garage.

A great song doesn't automatically make a great cover. In fact, it's often harder to make a cover of a great song work. All three of the tunes covered by The Kills are great songs in their own right — fantastic songs, actually. But The Kills ruined all three of them.

BAD: "Crazy" / Patsy Cline
First off, every female singer should be wary of touching this tune even with a hundred-foot pole. It's only one of the greatest country songs ever, and the Patsy version is imprinted in everyone's mind. But okay, The Kills were going to give it a go.

What went wrong: Mr. Hotel man played the guitar part straight, including the jazz/country turnaround chords. But the band literally killed it when they went up a half step like the original; that kind of modulation from a low-fi garage band is literally laughter inducing... it was like wearing a gorilla mask with a prom dress. VV's vox wasn't exactly up to the task, and this was underscored by the fact that she used much of Patsy's phrasing. Unoriginal, uninteresting, and unfortunate.

TERRIBLE: "Pale Blue Eyes" / Velvet Underground
Now, this should have worked. This band has VU cred and Mr. Hotel man looks quite a bit like Lou Reed. If someone was able to pull of a Velvets cover, this act should be able to nail it. This is a wonderful song, and it's been covered well many, many times (even R.E.M. did a passable job with this one).

What went wrong: Very much like the Great Patsy Cline Disaster, they played this straight, the way every band that was ever formed has played it. It was awful. The singing was uninteresting, and while Mr. Hotel man did try to mix it up rhythmically a bit at times, it just didn't work. Because they are carrying on in the VU tradition so well with their own material, they get extra points off for botching this one. Yeeeeuch!

INEXCUSABLE: "I Put a Spell on You" / Screamin' Jay Hawkins
This just shouldn't have happened. Unless you're going to radically re-shape this tune, you have dug yourself an impossible hole: that hole is called "how to sing/act/scream crazier than Screamin' Jay" and you will never get out of that hole.

What went wrong: Again, they played is straight. Mr. Hotel man tried to approximate the drums, horn section, and bone-in-the-nose energy with his little guitar and it just didn't work. VV once again sang it like the record and came up way, way short. Want proof you can re-work this song? Check out this 1968 cover by Nina Simone.

Still, the overall impression at the end of the night was that The Kills are a great band who put on a good show. Next time they're in town, there's no question about being so there again to see them.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A lifetime of damsels in romantic distress

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The world's leading romance publisher, Harlequin, sells about 130 millions books a year. The novels are marketed toward women, and it's probably safe to say that, at the very minimum, 129.9 million of the novels are purchased by people in the intended market. No surprise then that Lifetime, a channel that calls itself "television for women," jumped on the bandwagon and began producing mediocre films based on novels by romance novelist Nora Roberts, starring B-list celebrities acting out what they think is every woman's fantasy.

Roberts has been writing romance novels since 1981, with topics ranging from murder mysteries to what it's like to live in a haunted house. And, as should now be obvious, all of her novels, no matter the topic, include at least one romantic escapade. The Lifetime films are no different, as they are all based on completely different topics with one thing in common: sex — or "romance," as it seems to be called in the industry.

But while what is inside the pages and on the TV screen are very much the same, the movie posters and book covers couldn't be more different. While they both give the audience no insight into the story, the book covers are plain, with just the title of the novel and maybe a pretty picture that in no way indicates sexuality. The movie posters, however, are provocative and clearly made to draw only viewers interested in romance (preferably the "Desperate Housewives" who wish they had more romance in their own lives).


The first movie, Northern Lights, was, in simplest form, about a police chief solving a murder in a small town. He of course falls in love and has to "save" his new love from the murderer he believes to be on the loose. But who cares about all that, the movie poster shows everyone the only important thing about the entire film.


The second film, entitled Midnight Bayou, involves a man abandoning his life to move into a house that is apparently haunted. He immediately begins seeing and hearing unexplainable things, but is also distracted by a local woman whom he falls in love with. Clearly, the ghosts roaming his house are no big deal as the movie poster only focuses on the relationship. We know it's based on a romance novel, but c'mon Lifetime, couldn't the poster at least be a little scary?
Forced to strike a nearly identical pose to the actors in Midnight Bayou, the stars of High Noon didn't get a chance to escape being on a ridiculous movie poster. The main idea of sex is the same as the others, but the actual concept is about a female hostage negotiator discovering she is the target of a psychopathic killer. She of course falls in love, this time with a local bar owner. She finds herself unable to negotiate herself out of having a relationship with her new love interest, though she wants to for the sake of her child and career. She eventually gives up trying and all psychopathic killer business is put to rest and the couple ends up in a nearly naked predicament by the end of the movie.

Lastly, in the film Tribute, a woman finds herself reliving her family's dark secrets after moving into the home where her grandmother committed suicide. She finds love with her new neighbor who comforts and protects her from her real-life nightmares. It's nothing new as it's just another classic, cheesy, Lifetime + Nora Roberts film involving a man saving a damsel in distress. And of course, the movie poster is the same as well.


If movie posters are a form of advertising and advertising is supposed to sell us the movie by giving us a quick glance into what the film is actually about, then what exactly is the point of these posters? Well, Lifetime is clearly sexist in believing that the posters are effective and that women with no taste in movies will watch anything as long as a shirtless man is involved. By this kind of thinking, women only go to the movies to see the male star on the big screen, only rent movies to have men in their homes, and of course only watch Lifetime to see some steamy "romance" action.

Most tellingly, every one of the Lifetime posters tells the same story: man superior, his body always positioned above the woman's; woman slightly alarmed or afraid, shown in her facial expression; woman either being comforted or just kept by the man who clutches at her; woman always vulnerable, some aspect of her clothing always unbuttoned, undone, in danger of an imminent moment of immodesty — oops, make that sexiness.

"A four week event," Lifetime calls this charade parade. We're grateful we didn't have any time during that "event" to see anything beyond the posters, because we might have suffered a terminal overdose of swooning.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Letter to Matt Giraud

WB breaks from the usual third-person perspective to offer Pinkmingo's firsthand account of a pop-culture meltdown:


Dear Matt Giraud:


On behalf of your true fans (you know, the ones who actually voted), I would like to apologize for the events that unfolded at your American Idol welcome home celebration in Kalamazoo, Michigan on May 7th.


I know you weren't expecting to see over 5,000 people welcoming you home, since you humbly believed there would only be about 40 faces in the crowd. And I know you weren't actually in the crowd, therefore you probably didn't see most of what unfolded. So, because you were (hopefully) unaware of anything past the first few rows, let me explain a few things.


I've watched every season of American Idol. I always complain if the person I want gets voted off, but I never did anything to stop it until you came along. Since your audition, I became a supporter and voted as many times in the two hours as I could (my personal high was 286). So, when I found out about a party to welcome you home, I gladly made plans to drive two and a half hours to be there.


I got there at 4:00, knowing you wouldn't be out for another three hours. The 40 people you estimated arrived within an hour, so I decided to stay close to the stage and wait for your former co-workers and bandmates to perform. As it neared 7:00, I suddenly found myself further back from the stage. It became obvious why after a woman in front of me forced her son to block the incoming crowd pushing their way through. Further away, 50 or so people of all races were claiming to be your family and shoving us out of the way (prompting one woman to say she saw you on TV, and to ask me if I thought that made her your sister). One man told me he shared a last name with you and isn't related, but they were letting him go up front anyway. Shorter people complained that they couldn't see, and drunken people danced on chairs, further blocking the views of many. When I next turned around, I saw thousands of people who hadn't been there 20 minutes earlier.


And then, at a family event that was supposed to be showing our pride for you, an older woman yelled into my ear that she would love to have your children — after you take her underwear off with your teeth. It was then that I became disgusted, with the people, with the behavior, and with the situation that was rapidly unraveling. The pride I'd had for my home state showing support to one of our own turned to utter embarrassment. You were now being treated like an object, not as a human worthy of respect for his accomplishment.

I quietly scanned the crowd for security in case a pair of underwear landed in front of me.
And when you finally arrived on stage to tell the crowd that you couldn't perform because of your current contract, I'm sure you could hear all of the "supportive" booing and see the people leaving angrily. Another thought then occurred to me, even through the trauma: Could those people have come here just in hopes of getting a free concert? Had any of them voted until their fingers were stiff and their cell phones were dead? What kind of fans were these?

I wasn't sure what to think. Many of the people in the crowd seemed to love you, but the night wasn't supposed to be for us, it was for you. You were being honored, and we should have been grateful to be witnesses. And although I'd had hopes of meeting you, especially after you asked us to stay so you could meet us all, I knew your hopes were too high given the massive turnout. But partly out of slight hope, and mostly out of a curious mind and journalistic blood running through my veins, I stayed to witness what happened next.

After you left the stage, I was shoved again, this time by a crowd of 'tweens looking for an autograph. My new front-of-the-line position was now five rows back again. I was elbowed in the side, my foot got stomped, and I'm pretty sure I was almost punched in the face. I was pressed between two men for way too long, and a child almost knocked me over. I decided I still didn't want to leave because now I was intrigued by the behavior. I followed you down the narrow path you took to get to your car. I ended up at the end of the line alone, with only a security guard telling me I could stand with him if I didn't act like the others. It didn't last long though, as the crowd of people from the front of the line came running to the end, shoving me out of the way. You quickly moved through that crowd and disappeared into your awaiting vehicle.

I was relieved. You were safe, and I was alive. My feet were dirty from other peoples' shoes, my head was throbbing, my back hurt, and I felt sad. For you, for me, for true fans, and for my home state.

It shouldn't have turned out the way it did. You should have been able to receive your awards and honors in an intimate setting, with respectful fans who would have loved to meet you. Those fans wouldn't have left when you said you couldn't perform, would have respected you and others, and wouldn't have jammed papers in your face in hopes you'd sign your name so they could sell it on Ebay, as one woman loudly explained. And those would have been the fans who voted, who appreciate you for your gift (and although your teeth are surely wonderful, those fans don't expect you to use them for removing underwear).
Our society loses its moral mind around celebrities, and too many of us act on our impulses, not our rational thoughts. Your first experience back home should not have been one where you experienced this loss of common sense and common decency.
I can absolutely understand that a crowd of 5,000 people would make a performer feel better than a meager group of 40. And although I didn't experience anything remotely close to what you did, given our opposite perspectives, I hope you can appreciate the value of true fans and understand that the people who support you for the person and the artist you are, not just the commodity, are most likely the ones you didn't see because they got pushed to the back of the crowd.

Maybe you could have come home a little later?

-Pinkmingo

Outrage will out rage — and quite a few Republicans

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Why are they fighting against themselves? This movie might not be able to answer that, but at least they'll be able to do their fighting out in the open.


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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Depeche Mode - "Wrong"

We're a little late to this party, but there's this wisdom in the advertising business that it doesn't matter how awful an ad might be, if the people remember it and associate it with your brand, it's great. That's what Depeche Mode have done with their video for "Wrong," a not-outstanding song, but a video you'll never forget, once having seen.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Seeing cities postcards

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This is not Chicago.

This is Cloud Gate, otherwise known as The Bean, otherwise known as a really cool piece of seamlessly welded stainless steel that draws tourists to Millennium Park to see themselves in the curved reflection and have fun with a few hundred strangers doing the same thing.

This is not Chicago.

This is Pritzker Pavillion, designed by Frank Gehry — you can tell because there's an explosion of curves and angles and gleaming steel and arching pillars. See the bridge there, the one that looks like a snake? It's a wooden walkway surrounded by stainless steel, and just try strolling that at a nice leisurely pace on a 90-degree cloudless day. You're not on a bridge, you're in an oven. But this makes the bridge, the pavillion, or the bandshell no less fantastic if you're a fan of architecture.

This is not Chicago.

This is Millennium Park, the home of Cloud Gate and Pritzker Pavilion. It also houses the Crown Fountain, 50 feet tall and made of glass blocks. It changes color as water cascades down, and it also works as a giant magical picture frame showing faces of Chicago citizens who open their mouths and "spit" water to the ground. Children and adults play in the water as a free cool-down on warm days.

This is definitely not Chicago.

This is Navy Pier, the home of a giant Ferris wheel, IMAX theater, Museum of Stained Glass Windows, dozens of stores, several restaurants, an indoor tropical garden with water sculptures, and a children's museum. The Ferris wheel is enormous and gives riders a view of most of the downtown area. At night, it lights up with the rest of the city. Navy Pier, as the name implies, is on Lake Michigan and a perfect spot for tourists who want to pose for photos with both water and city as their backdrop. On July 4th the Pier is jammed with tens of thousands of people gathered to watch fireworks explode over the glistening lake.

This is not Chicago.

This is the Art Institute. You can't miss it, as a pair of giant lions prove you're at the right place. The exhibits constantly change, but the permanent collection always includes photographs, miniature rooms (tiny houses designed in varying styles to reflect different cultures), sculptures, drawings, textiles, architecture, and other artifacts. The Institute is a huge place (soon to get even bigger with a Modern Art Wing) and includes a gift store full of Chicago tzotchkes and re-printed art on everything from fridge magnets to umbrellas.

This is not Chicago, although it would like to be.

This is a burger joint hidden away beneath Michigan Avenue and made famous by Saturday Night Live decades ago. You know why: Cheeborger cheeborger cheeborger cheeborger. No Coke; Pepsi. No fries; chips. The "cheeborgers" are delicious, and the chanting is fun for a while, until you realize that now, it's all for the tourists and not for the staff or the regular customers. It's lunch on a sound set, and if your cheeborger comes from the Billy Goat outpost at Navy Pier or the giant Taste of Chicago festival, it's a sound set lost in a sea of tourists.

And speaking of...

... this is not Chicago, either.

This is the notorious Taste of Chicago, a gigantic festival of food offering samples from hundreds of the city's restaurants. It's also the best time to wear stretch pants. TOC takes over two main streets and all of Grant Park (think Obama victory celebration, but with food instead of hope) and always offers free music from local and national acts (past performers have included Stevie Wonder and John Mayer). Families come to spread out picnic blankets in the shade, couples smile and broil in the summer sun, and cops earn overtime by reuniting hundreds of children with the frantic parents who've lost them.

This is not Chicago.

This is night time in the downtown area of the city. Everyone's awake, yet everything in the dark seems more relaxed than the hectic and noisy workday. The jackhammers and taxi horns have gone quiet; the lake glistens with reflections of the gleaming lights, and people still strolling can slow their pace enough to actually enjoy where they are.

This is not Chicago — but now we're getting warmer, at least.

This is Chinatown, cut off from the downtown area by a noisy and complex freeway interchange that makes walking from one area to the other impossible. It's only a couple of blocks further than the museum campus and Grant Park, but because of the freeways it's a whole different experience; it's a neighborhood.

Like this one, Wrigleyville, way up on the north side, where restaurant meals don't start at $30 and three-story buildings are as high as the high-rises go, and the clothing stores are indies, and the blues bars play to residents, not tourists, and you can spend half a day playing chess at the local coffee shop (unless you prefer the omnipresent corporate chain down the street) and walk to the grocery store three blocks from your house to get fresh produce for dinner.

And this one, the Boystown neighborhood, a thriving, safe, and welcoming gay community ("village," in the city's terminology). Rainbow flags fly proudly from everywhere, couples and singles of any orientation mingle without fear or loathing, Belmont Harbor offers a great alternative to the phoniness of Oak Street Beach downtown, and rent is actually affordable.


And this one, too. High-rises are nowhere in sight, trash bins are not on every corner, sidewalks are not sprayed clean of gum and spit every night, and stores have wire cages over their doors and windows. This, at last, is Chicago — the one that does not appear in the visitor guides and tourist pamphlets, the one that the city doesn't brag about, the one that police would rather not be called to late at night.


So why, when we say we "love" big cities like Chicago, New York, Detroit, St. Louis, Boston, New Orleans, and the rest, do we only picture tiny, artificial enclaves of those cities — the tourist areas, the parts of town designed to host people only temporarily and then send them back from where they came?

As Michael Moore said in his film Roger and Me, about the not-so-wonderful life experienced by residents inside a big city, it's because "most people don't like to celebrate human tragedy while on vacation." We ignore the real parts of the city so we don't have to think about life beyond the fancy stores and giant Ferris wheels.

But there can't be too much blame placed on tourists, as most have no reason to think about any real, unglamorous places that exist in the city. A vacation, after all, is a time to get away from problems, not go to where there are more. So it's no shock that tourists don't choose their vacation destinations to learn about daily life issues facing residents, like the fact that schools beyond some city limits have cash they could probably spare, while the schools inside the "vacation zone" of the city are hurting for money (as we pointed out here and here).

Most of the WB staff travel frequently to Chicago and are guilty of equating it, and several other big cities, with the idea of entertainment, not with the concept of those places being home to several million people, most of them living outside of downtown. We love the select parts of the cities that are there to make us enjoy them as getaway destinations—and yes, tourist-dollar magnets too—and while we can enjoy thinking about what it'd be like to live there, we actually have no idea.


- Pinkmingo and 78rpm

Friday, May 1, 2009

Put it right below the serial number stamped into my back

Type "tattoo removal" into a Google search, and you'll see that it's one of the fastest-growing businesses and techniques right now. One Michigan tattoo artist even puts ink on in one half of his shop and burns it off in the other, the best of both economic worlds for him. The military and police departments are telling potential recruits to get lost if they've got too much body art, and businesses are requiring total tat coverage even for minimum-wage service jobs. In short, it's a perfect time for the introduction of: Tattoo Barbie!