Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Murdoch the Messiah?

Word of the week: Eco-angst.

It's contributed and defined by Daniel Goldman at the New York Times blog, Happy Days*. It means, according to Goldman, "the moment a new bit of unpleasant ecological information about some product or other plunges us into a moment (or more) of despair at the planet’s condition and the fragility of our place on it."

WB agrees with most of that, having experienced it on a daily basis while consuming products, but thinks the definition ought to go a little further to include living in a perpetual state of anxiety, not over what's happening to the planet, but what's not happening to it. Namely, carrying on as if warnings of climate change were not first issued in the 1930s — that's right, eighty years ago — and as if a U.S. president were not warned, in 1965, that the climate would be dangerously screwed up if we kept spewing carbon into the air.

Eco-angst, for us, comes from knowing that leaders of government and industry and business and education and media should all be working in concert, right now, to put the runaway bus into reverse. But they're not, and this is where pop culture, WB's domain, comes into play.

Fox News is a consortium of lunatics (except for Shepard Smith) who foster fear, hate, suspicion, rage, paranoia, and ignorance by packaging it all up in spinning graphics and cool whooshing sounds. The network is owned by Rupert Murdoch, a board member of the Clinton Global Initiative on climate change who has chosen his son, a progressive environmentalist, to succeed him when Rupert inevitably shuffles off this mortal coil. The same Rupert Murdoch who ordered that his News Corp. operations become carbon neutral, and whose conversion to climate action came when he realized the fate of his native Australia (shown in the dust storm photo above), most likely to become the first abandoned nation/continent as heat and drought turn it into an uninhabitable desert. The Rupert Murdoch who announced in March that "climate change poses clear, catastrophic threats."

Yep, that Rupert Murdoch. The good one.

So, what exactly is Mr. Murdoch doing by letting Hannity, Beck, Caputo, and their endless parade of misinformation-spreading guests encourage millions of Fox minions and all of the Republicans in Congress to disbelieve the facts, ignore the evidence, alter the truth, and fight every move that would keep their grandchildren from living in an inferno? Does Murdoch realize what kind of messiah he could be if his personal beliefs and convictions became those of his most powerful media outlet?

Of course he does. And yet he hasn't done it.

And that puts permanent knots in our stomachs as we live in a daily state of eco-angst.

The same goes for the Travel Channel, the Food Network, Discovery, History, Speed — all of whom have the opportunity to inform viewers about the environmental impact of the hotels, yachts, exotic dishes, tourism trends, trade shows, races, and Ice Road Crackers on the TV screen. It doesn't diminish the show, it enhances the show's value by widening its scope. But in general, they say nothing.

Yeah, it's important to become informed consumers and to "precycle" by refusing to buy products that have done environmental damage even before they get thrown into the trash to do more. But it's also important to ask questions of the culture machine and encourage it to help save its consumers. After all, if a network broadcasts sounds and images, but there's no one out there to turn on the TV, then what's the point?


*About Happy Days:

The severe economic downturn has forced many people to reassess their values and the ways they act on them in their daily lives. For some, the pursuit of happiness, sanity, or even survival, has been transformed. Happy Days is a discussion about the search for contentment in its many forms — economic, emotional, physical, spiritual — and the stories of those striving to come to terms with the lives they lead.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

The tyranny of employment: not child's play


Okay, at first glance the chant in the video up there becomes monotonous pretty quickly, and it's definitely been delivered by better and more interesting performers. But that's not important, because here comes another WB lesson in cultstudcrit (cultural studies critique) 101.

Far from being "just a kiddie chant," the Hello my name is Joe routine is a study in form being integral to content. Repetition and monotony? Absolutely — just like poor working-class Joe's job at the button factory, where he toils to support his working-class existence, feed his family and dog, and pay the mortgage. And those things too, are part of the drudgery in Joe's life; they're how he defines himself, over and over and over again. Given multiple chances to present himself as more — to tell us his interests, his goals, his values, the last vacation he enjoyed — he repeats: I've got a dog, a house, and a family. Those are the four corners of his life experience. He punches the time clock, goes to his post, makes buttons, punches the time clock, goes to his house, feeds the dog, dines with his family, sleeps, punches the time clock.... Repetition of chant reflects the repetition of Joe's stagnant and unchanging life patterns.

And then there's the job. Already busy making buttons, Joe is asked one day by his supervisor, "Are you busy?" Welcome to the tyranny of employment as blackmail. If Joe says yes, by extension refusing to take on additional work, then the supervisor can write him up for being a poor team player, and for being unwilling to pitch in a little extra effort for the good of the company. Once written up enough times, not even Joe's labor union — if he's lucky enough to belong to one — will be able to save his job, and he'll be unceremoniously "let go." And that'll be the end of the dog, the house, and maybe even the family if Joe's wife decides to take the kids and leave this foolish man who didn't know enough not to anger the boss. Didn't Joe know how fortunate he was to have a job at all? What was he thinking?

And that's just if he answers yes. If he answers no when asked "are you busy," then he runs the risk of inadvertently admitting that his position is redundant and unnecessary, and he could be let go for that, too. The only safe answer, really, is no answer at all — but that would get him written up for insubordination. And so, no matter which way he turns, Joe is essentially screwed. As we said: the tyranny of employment.

Hoping to appear helpful and agreeable, Joe chooses to answer no, hoping that it'll be received as an offer to do more than just what his job description requires, and not an admission that his job doesn't require much. Fortunately — at least as Joe, grounded in his ideology of

job = pay = dogfood+groceries+mortgage = contented existence

sees it — the supervisor does hear the answer as an offer, and immediately orders Joe to take on even more physical labor. This, Joe finds acceptable, and continues singing his monotony song without any changes.

But then, over the years, the company sends the supervisor five more times to see Joe and trap him in the same no-win "are you busy" dilemma. Each time, jobs have become more scarce, groceries have become more expensive, family expenses have become more numerous, and even basic home maintenance costs more. And Joe has grown a little older. He can't lose his position; he might not ever be seen as employable again, other than as a greeter at Wal-mart earning subminimum wage.

And so, since no was taken as a voluntary "team player" offer the first time, Joe repeats it each time the boss asks if he's busy, and in every case, the boss piles on more physical labor. Eventually, there's nothing left; Joe is physically unable to do more, his body used up and worn out, his spirit broken. But one important thing changes in his life narrative of repetition and submission: he finally gathers the courage to shout Yes! at his supervisor — and to stop working.

And that's the end of the chant.

Now, do you want a more perfect allegory for, say, the Flint GM Sit-Down Strike that gave birth to the United Auto Workers union? The lines sped up; the workers produced more cars; the company collected more profits; the workers' pay stayed the same; their bodies wore out faster; the company expected more for less; the workers shouted Enough! and stopped working.

Contrary to current anti-union rhetoric, it wasn't a burning desire to become communist that began the labor movement in the United States, nor a fantasy about being able to earn a full day's wages for half a day's work. It was the exploitation of bodies and the relentless wearing down of souls that infused American workers with enough remaining energy to organize and fight for employment justice.

Today, union membership stands at around 12% in the U.S., and is shrinking every year. And rather than negotiate fair labor practices and wages, and especially rather than allow employees to organize, American employers have taken the easy route of simply shutting off the lights, locking the doors, and letting foreign workers do the jobs that American workers complained about. Because, you know, complaining isn't team playing, so what obligation does an employer have to continue sponsoring and funding a whiny, greedy team at all?

For Joe the former button maker, there is now one choice. With the plant closed and the paycheck gone, he has to save every penny possible, which means buying the cheapest products, which means a big "Made In China" label on the box. A team player all his life, Joe made the mistake of fighting for a last chance to preserve his dignity and keep from becoming a complete automaton. That mistake couldn't be left unpunished.

A simple children's routine? Far from it. It's the story of American labor, from birth to death — of the movement, and of the workers, and of their jobs.

And through it all, the audience smiles and giggles.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Stupid times call for smart messages

Strip away the Fox Noise/Repuglicant "socialist" spin and the phony "town hall" protests and "tea parties" sponsored by... well, Fox Noise and the Repuglicants, and this is the message we'd hear:

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Superstitious astrophysicist nomenclatures and lost seats

People who enjoy going to live concerts used to have a wide range of outlets to choose from in buying their tickets for the events. They could go to the venue's box office, visit a local music peddler, stop by the service desk of a local department store, even drive over to the offices of the radio station sponsoring the event. But that was a long time ago.

Now, there are two choices: Ticketmaster in connection with Live Nation, or Live Nation in connection with Ticketmaster.

Don't worry, we're not here to rant about being forced to choose between two versions of the same monopoly. And there's no use screaming about the "convenience charge" added to each ticket price, or the "processing fee" on top of that, yielding this basic equation:

$50 ticket + $18 convenience charge + $6.50 processing fee = yes, that's right, $74.50 for the $50 ticket.


Outrageous magic? Forget it. Even Pearl Jam gave up the fight, after waging a long and valiant but ultimately self-defeating battle against this kind of economic voodoo.

(And didn't this kind of usury once qualify as... well, usury? Wasn't it a crime, right up there with loansharking, where thugs would loan people money at 31% interest — just like credit card companies do today? But we digress.)

No, the biggest problem with TicketnationLivemaster is the part where you log on as soon as the "box office" opens, click the band's name, go to another page, click more stuff, load a few more pages, and finally get to click "Buy Tickets" — at which point another page opens with a box that says:

Type the words appearing above.

You know, the stupid system many web sites have now so you can allegedly prove to their computer that you're not a computer trying to spam their computer. Not only does their computer challenge you to read and understand the words on the screen, but it also presents the words as an acid trip-inducing spiral graphic, so that if you were a computer trying to spam their computer, you wouldn't even recognize it as text in the first place.

Once in a while, those words are along the lines of "red duck." Easy to read, easy to type, and moving you only 60 rows back from the seats you could have had while you type the seven letters and other people around the country grab the good tickets.

But more often, you see something like this:

Introspective flatulent meditation device

By the time you type that last "e," you're at the top of the balcony. And if you're foolish enough to think that clicking the "Search for Better Seats" button will get you anything different, well, you're half right. The seats will be exactly the same, but before you get back to them, you'll have to type "Superstitious astrophysicist nomenclatures" first.

As the British band Status Quo once sang, "Is there a better way?"

But then again, their name was Status Quo.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Facebook: The Movie. No, really.

Word's been out for a few days about the big blockbuster-to-come, written by Aaron Sorkin of West Wing fame, about the invention of... Facebook.

There's not a lot to say about this, other than that the movie's being made because the book it'll be based on, The Accidental Billionaires, was a best-seller. And of course, if one demographic (people who read books) found the story compelling, then a completely separate demographic (people who buy movie tickets) will be totally engaged, too.

SEE! Two guys sitting around talking about starting a web site where people can connect.

SEE! As they come up with the term "social networking" to describe what the site will do.

SEE! As they sit at their computer screens and type HTML code.

SEE! A montage of college students signing up for the new service.

SEE! A fade-out and then a caption: "Two years later...."

Oh, we can barely contain our excitement. This is the most thrilling news since we heard that MTV would be creating a show about graphic design.

Gee, don't we have a blog post somewhere in here that could be turned into a movie? Maybe something about people sitting and watching a TV show? Or buying stuff at a store? You know, the thrills-and-chills action that is popular culture?

Meanwhile, we're advance-ordering our Facebook Movie tickets on Fandango! right now. See you in the popcorn line.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Mass hysteria at eBay!!!!!! Everything is GREAT!!!!!!

Anyone who's done any buying of stuff on eBay knows that, if you pay for what you've won within a couple of days of winning it, you automatically qualify as a


This is how 90% of eBay sellers rate their customers after a successful — maybe "uneventful" would be more accurate — sale of an item. Everything is in CAPS and dozens of exclamation points.

Imagine if this was standard operating procedure at, say, Sears. You go to buy a dishwasher, or a wrench, or a pack of socks. You take the item (except for the dishwasher) to the cash register. The clerk reads the total price that you can plainly see on the register's digital display. You hand over a check, or a plastic card, or even actual money.

A++++++++++++++++ RATING!!!!!

In the real world, you would run out of Sears in terror, and you'd never go back because the clerks there are all insane. But on eBay, screaming hysterics are... normal.

Interestingly, buyers tend not to rate sellers this way. Buyers calmly write rational things like, "Item arrived in great shape and was packaged well" or "Thanks, I am happy with this purchase." (Okay, most ratings actually read more like "itm arivde in grate shap & was pckged wel" and "tks, i m hapy w/this perchus.") Then they give the seller five stars — and immediately duck and cover, because they know that a barrage of exclamation points and screaming caps will be raining down on them any second after the seller sees the positive rating.

Maybe eBay would like to give each of its sellers a free copy of Strunk and White's Elements of Style, with a particular page marked that reads:

Do not attempt to emphasize simple statements by using a mark of exclamation.

And notice how that rule ends: with a period.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Patrick Swayze, 1952-2009

Red Dawn. Dirty Dancing. Point Break. Ghost. Roadhouse.

There was cheese in the resume, but somehow it was good cheese. (Even Esquire magazine this month has a sincere tribute to Roadhouse.) And even though he played bad guys from time to time, we always knew it was just an act.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Highs and Lows of the 2009 VMAs

The MTV Video Music Awards are always sure to bring uncivilized entertainment along with crazy celebrity antics and jaw-dropping moments. Then throw in a Michael Jackson tribute, Kanye West, and a "New Moon" preview and you have one crazy night.

The show opened with Madonna, several dancers, and Janet Jackson in a tribute to Michael Jackson. The tribute was shorter than expected, considering that Jackson was a pioneer in the music video industry. And with Madonna continually saying, "We turned our backs on him," we can't help but feel like she was blaming the whole world for his life and death. Yet she also managed to throw around the word "creature" a few times. We can't honestly disagree, but that just wasn't very nice.

Moving on, Kanye West made his appearance. As always, drama ensued. Clearly not learning anything from the controversy caused by his comment made during a Hurricane Katrina benefit, he appeared on stage to make a comment that wasn't exactly welcomed. While Taylor Swift accepted her award for Best Female Video, Kanye took the microphone from her hands and declared that Beyonce, not Swift, had one of the best videos of the year.* (Seriously, Kanye, someone else already put a ring on it. You can stop trying to show off now.)

Lady GaGa's performance of "Paparazzi" scared us from start to finish. First, because it began with the sound of breaking glass, we assumed that Kanye was back. But the performance was even more strange than should be expected from Lady GaGa. After a few of what seemed like the longest minutes ever, the performance ended in lots of blood and a presumed suicide. The ending left us unable to categorize this part of the show as a high or low. Maybe a thrilling disaster?

Adding to the list of lows, the extended trailer for the film New Moon aired for the first time. We're sure many viewers enjoyed it, but to us, this avalanche of vampire stuff really sucks. Add Lady GaGa's multiple wardrobe changes, including lace covering her face up to the brim of a straw hat worn like a lion's mane, and it made us decide that everyone on MTV is crazy, even people who aren't vampires or Kanye West.

But, although they were hardly noticeable among the madness, there were a few moments that were definite highs this year. First, Beyonce gave Taylor Swift a chance to come on stage and finish her speech when Beyonce won for Music Video of the Year. It was just nice to see this act of compassion. But by far the highest high came when there was audible disapproval when Kanye's name was mentioned, and the fact that he didn't win any of the awards he'd been nominated for.

By the end of it all, our eyes were permanently rolled back, our ears hurt, and millions of brain cells had fallen out of a our heads. Even this won't keep us away next year, but it sure would be nice if someone at MTV could at least accidentally forget to put Kanye on the 2010 guest list.

*We'd post video, but YouTube has gone totally corporate and pulls any "Viacom property" as soon as it goes up there.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Many species of small furry animals gathered together in a cave and grooving

Anyone looking at this post title and asking "WTF?" is most likely not that into music. But those who see it and instantly think Pink Floyd are true rock historians.

And Pink Floyd, as a band name, is right up there with other groups of the same obscure-rationale band naming era — Spooky Tooth, Wishbone Ash, Foghat, String Driven Thing, Crack the Sky, Deep Purple, and a lot of others with similar monikers. Usually two words, usually no context for them being put together, usually a pretty cool sound when saying them aloud.

But now we have... animals.

Mastodon. Grizzly Bear. Band of Horses. Wolfmother. Deerhoof and Deer Tick. Modest Mouse. Arctic Monkeys. Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse. Eels. Crocodiles. Crystal Antlers. The menagerie gets bigger every week.

Writing this from the state that gave you the Tigers, Lions, and Pistons (whose logo, for some reason, is a horse), WB has no problem thinking of groups of people as herds of animals. But the new bands following this musical trend still seem a bit sheeplike, and trying to theorize a reason for the trend's origin makes us dog tired.

At least they didn't name themselves Nickelback.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor Day in the USA

Although organized labor has decreased to about 12% of the workforce in the United States, thanks to the success of anti-union (some would say anti-worker) and pro-business ideology, the nation still sets one day a year aside to acknowledge its labor force — and force most of it to work their non-unionized retail jobs during one of the Biggest Sales of The Year.

Some, if they're lucky, will be paid time and a half for working the holiday. But most won't. So in honor of them, WB reproduces the famous Capitalist System diagram created by the I.W.W. early in the last century (click to enlarge):

Happy Labor Day, to all the workers.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Stretching: The truth

By now everyone's heard about Demi Moore using Twitter to announce to the world that she has "excess skin & stretch marks!" WB can only add this:


Not why would she do this (she's a self-obsessed celeb, after all), but why the hell would anyone care?

Okay, maybe Ashton cares — and then again, maybe he doesn't. But the rest of us, we have quite a few other, much more important things to pay attention to, and "mrskutcher" is not one of them.

So why did even the Huffington Post make Demi's battered baby belly a headline on its main page? Why hasn't this been relegated to, like, page 83 of every entertainment rag, and the last 15 seconds of every show? Demi claims that she's standing up for women everywhere who are held up to impossible standards. But she's also claiming — vehemently — that she has never had any kind of cosmetic surgery:

"I’ve never had it done. I would never judge those who have—if it's the best thing for them then I don't see a problem. But I don't like the idea of having an operation to hold up the aging process—it's a way to combat your neurosis."

Umm... okaaaaay — but she'd better hope that no one ever goes to Metacafe to compare nude scenes from her early films, like About Last Night, to her later work like Striptease. Because if they do, the Twitter wars are gonna start all over again about the particular work she, er, "hasn't" had done.

Not that we care. Just saying.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Goofy for YUMs

How much is a Young Unmated Male (YUM) worth in 2009 dollars? About $4 billion — the price Disney is offering for Marvel Comics and its stable of heroes and monsters. According to Reuters, this price is 37 times Marvel's actual value, but Disney was feeling the pressure to rein in more YUM consumers and the potential billions of dollars in tie-in possibilities.

Axe: Spider Man Edition (Catch the chicks in your web of scent!)
Maxim: Special Double Issue Featuring Dead Girl and Invisible Woman, Mostly Nude (Completely nude, in the case of Invisible Woman — who's gonna prove otherwise?)
Red Bull: Hulk-ing Energy Formula (You really don't want to see yourself mad.)

And on and on. 37 times the actual value. Like, if WB could sell its 2001 pickup — worth about $6,000 — for $222,000. That would be sweet!

And insane. But hey, it's not like anything more important than attracting YUMs is going on in the world right now. Everyone's healthy, happy, and fully employed, and the climate's doing great. Bring on the scantily clad superheroines and princesses.