Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Scottie Pippen and a Reflection on Fame

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

October 31st is always Halloween and this year it was also the date of the Chicago Bulls home opener against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The sold out crowd was electric the entire night. Whether it was cheering for a play to happen or for a play that just happened, the twenty-three thousand plus fans exploded in clapping and shouting at every chance. Midway through the game though, the fans weren’t cheering for the action on the court, but for the image on the Jumbotron.

Scottie Pippen is a legend in Chicago. Owner of six NBA championships with Michael Jordan in the 90’s, he is a Hall of Famer and one of the fifty best players in NBA history. Being Scottie Pippen isn’t like being anybody else. When an average person finds themselves on the big screen at a sporting event, they just as often don’t notice as they do jump out of their seat. The way it worked for Scottie Pippen on Halloween night was different though. The cameras turned to Scottie while he was in his seat watching the action and his image was displayed on the Jumbotron. The United Center went nuts for the Chicago hero, the fans clapping and cheering their hearts out. If Chicago Bulls fans starting cheering their heads off, most people would look at the court to see why. When that failed, they would look at the Jumbotron to see what everyone else was cheering about. They wouldn’t look at the Jumbotron expecting to see their face as the reason for the cheering. But none of us are Scottie Pippen. Except Scottie Pippen. So when he looked up at the Jumbotron to see what was the cheering for, he half-expected to see himself. When he realized he was right, he smiled and waved to the fans. They’ve shown video of a guy eating an entire meal on a Jumbotron, completely oblivious the whole time that he’s on the big screen. It must be a very unique thing to be famous. While the rest of us are looking to find the action, the famous know that more often than not, they’re the reason for the cheering and the screams. Mr. Hot Dog, keeps his eye on his food, and Scottie Pippin just looks up, smiles and waves. What a different way of seeing the world fame must bring.

Nature vs. Perfect

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

This American Life episode #483, “Self-Improvement Kick” aired on Public Radio on January 4th, 2013.  The opening sequence of the episode follows a young woman, Julia Lurie, who is teaching English at an all-girls high school in South Korea.  Through Julia’s interview with Ira Glass and from recordings in her classroom, we learn that South Korea is one of the world leaders in cosmetic surgery and that her South Korean students face significant social pressure to alter their appearance towards a Korean ideal of physical features.  Eyelids, cheekbones, breasts, skin color; all are fair game for alterations in Korean culture.  Julia’s discussion with her class turned towards the debate over whether beauty lies in the natural or in conforming to an ideal. 

In our well-developed societies, we feel an inevitable pull towards nature despite our constant progress (sea-spray scented shampoo, yule log TV program, organic food).  But do we also have an obligation as a species to push ourselves to the absolute brink of progress?  It was thought that the four minute mile was a milestone that would never be crossed.  Athletes have been using performance enhancing drugs for years, trying to gain an edge on their competition, but weren’t they also pushing the envelope of what we could accomplish as humans?  We have schools because we are not content to wander this world in a state of perfect discovery.  We have division of labor so that we can dedicate ourselves most efficiently to a job in our best skillset.  There is no rest to be found in progress, because progress is kinetic, it’s momentum, it’s evolving.  So much as we are pulled into this world of constant achievement, many of us hold back and lean towards a life that strives to commune with and be a part of nature.  The question that inevitably follows this line of thinking is, aren’t we natural?  This debate doesn’t come to a division of whether one way of life is natural or not.  This is a question of values.  Can we be satisfied with anything less than the best?  Can we appreciate the satisfaction we find in accepting less than an ideal?  This is the great question.  For me, I’ll take my progress in steps and look for satisfaction in the pauses.

(that’s Henry David Thoreau…I never read Walden, but there he is nontheless)

London 2012 – The Opening Ceremonies

Friday, July 27th, 2012

The torch is lit so let the Games begin.  London began the Opening Ceremony with the images of an English idyll and finished them with the ideal of British talent, Sir Paul McCartney.  The world’s most amazing athletes from nations small and large have joined together in one of the most storied city’s in history to celebrate the best of athletic competition.  The Olympics are always amazing and these Games of the Thirtieth Olympiad are full of promise.  In front of the next astounding two weeks, it bears repeating, “Let the Games begin!”

Harvey Weinstein Owns the Oscars

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

Ever since a wave of gift baskets turned the tide of the 1998 Academy Awards*, Harvey Weinstein has proved himself to be the King of the Oscars.  Manipulating a score of Awards nominations has driven millions of extra viewers and extra dollars towards Miramax and Weinstein Company films over the years.  You may not like his tactics, but it’s impossible to argue the results.  We’ll get to the results, but first let’s talk about those tactics that have really pissed off the average fan over the years and brought down a variety of rules changes on campaigning from The Academy itself.

Meryl Streep won her third Academy Award this past Sunday for her performance as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the 2012 film The Iron Lady.  Wait a minute?  This movie came out on January 13th, 2012…then why did she win Best Actress for the 2011 Academy Awards?  This is where Harvey Weinstein comes in.  The Iron Lady was a stinker, nobody liked it and outside of Meryl Streep turning in another great, great performance and it was a disaster at the domestic box office.  But if Meryl Streep is nominated for an Oscar, let alone if she wins, it will mean huge amounts of extra revenue in extended box office life and DVD sales.   This is what Harvey Weinstein thought and that is exactly what has happened.  According to IMDB.com and BoxOfficeMojo.com, the film didn’t have a wide release until January 13, 2012.  There was a limited release to four theaters on December 30th, 2011, which still wouldn’t qualify this film for the 2011 Academy Awards.  According to the Academy’s Rules of Eligibility the film needs to have a paid theatrical run to the public of at least seven consecutive days in Los Angeles County prior to December 31st, 2011.  While Weinstein made this run happen in time, this is hardly in keeping with the spirits of the 2011 Academy Awards.  Allowing this tactic to succeed shows the elitist bent of the Academy and shows that they don’t care whether the viewers, who pay the money to profit the films and finance the awards shows actually have a chance to see the film in the year it is being rewarded for.  This is unjust and infuriating.  There is a disconnect between what the people deserve from the Academy Awards and what Harvey Weinstein is willing to do to increase his return on investment.

*Now back to those gift baskets I mentioned.  With full page ads in Variety and gift baskets of swag sent to the right Academy members, Harvey Weinstein managed to fight aginst the public’s opinion to force a surprise Best Picture win for his film Shakespeare in Love over Steven Spielberg’s moving, character driven war film, Saving Private Ryan.  This should have never happened.  That makes two big black eyes for The Academy when it comes to Harvey Weinstein.  Disgusting.

But to be fair, Harvey Weinstein is a genius.  He provides a major channel for the release of foreign films in the U.S. in addition to his long-standing relationships with Woody Allen and Quinten Tarantino.  Here are some of the best of what he’s distrubuted through Miramax and The Weinstein Co.: My Left Foot, The Grifters, Reservoir Dogs, The Piano, Clerks, Pulp Fiction, Il Postino, Sling Blade, Trainspotting, The English Patient, Swingers, Good Will Hunting, Air Bud: Golden Receiver, Life is Beautiful, Skakespeare in Love, Amelie, Chicago, The Hours, The Aviator, Tsotsi, The Queen, Gone Baby Gone, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, There Will Be Blood, The King’s Speech, and the latest and the 2011 Best Picture winner The Artist.

If you’ve curious to read for yourself the Rules and Eligibility for the Academy Awards, it’s not a bad read.  Here’s a link:  http://www.oscars.org/awards/academyawards/rules/84aa_rules.pdf

The Super Bowl – The Commercials

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

The Super Bowl is the premier sporting event of the year and it draws in a huge and diverse crowd of American shoppers.  Like moths to a light, companies are drawn to NBC on Super Bowl Sunday for these shoppers, even for the most expensive air time of the entire year.  At an estimated $3million per 30 seconds, a commercial is a huge risk for any company to take.  Whether or not the investment was worth it from a bottom line standpoint is not the business of this web site, but were the commercials entertaining?  Here’s a breakdown of the winners and losers:

It’s easy to start with the best as there was one clear winner, Ferris Bueller…who else?  Many people knew this one was coming as the buzz on the web and Twitter came on real strong from a YouTube teaser earlier, and this spot lived up to the hype.  It’s been 26 years since this movie’s release, but Matthew Broderick didn’t miss a beat in reprising his iconic role as a grown up, skipping work, and driving around his Honda CRV.  The only disappointment around this commercial was that we had to count its run-time in seconds instead of minutes and that it seems this was just an ad after all and not a very clever preview for Ferris 2.

Full version is like visiting an old friend, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VhkDdayA4iA

And now for the worst.  Bud Light Platinum.  That’s a name for a credit card, not a beer.  And in two separate commercials, Bud told the audience nothing about it’s product.  This was as poorly constructed a set of commercials as I’ve seen with this much at stake.  The audience was really expected to buy into Bud Platinum on the visual tease of a vibrant blue beer bottle.  Forget taste or substance, people should drink this beer because it’s got an intriguing colored bottle.  This is not a strong message, even in the image conscious culture of young beer drinkers.  I anticipate that there will be many, many follow ups to those two Bud Plat commercials, but so many people have tuned out and turned off that this brand has an uphill battle to fight.  Instead of putting the money behind Bud Light, which is the strongest seller in the brand and usually the Super Bowl darling, Budweiser came out swinging with…well, who knows what it is other than its name?

In commercials, the best way to succeed is to either inspire or entertain the audience.  Don’t educate us and don’t scare us, that’s terrible.  Now inspiring commercials don’t usually get as much play as comedic or entertaining commercials, but there were two stars in this category tonight…and one failure.  The two stars were Best Buy Mobile and their phone and app geniuses and the night cap of great commercials, the NBC 24-hour Sports Network spot.  The big ad that didn’t work was voiced by a legend, but it just didn’t work.  Poor Clint Eastwood, didn’t anyone think that a quiet, word-driven commercial wouldn’t play well during a Super Bowl party?  If the audience would have watched this commercial, what they would have seen was a semi-political, preachy, incongruent, discordant, and weird (why does it switch from color to black and white?) ad that tried to win on imagery alone.  This was terrible.

The last subset of commercials to discuss could be lengthy because there were a lot of them, the movie preview commercial.  Big budget action movies come out in full force to a big budget event like the Super Bowl and there was no shortage of previews this year, The Avengers: John  Carter, Battleship, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, and then Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.  All of these movies  are big budget releases, but they are not at all equals.  Of all these trailers, two big ones stand out above the rest:  The Avengers and Star Wars.  I’m up for a good preview any day, but John Carter will not be profitable, it’s too high-budget for its unrecognizable main character who everybody is going to confuse with John Connor from Terminator until they see him dressed up like Conan the Barbarian.  Battleship is a big stretch as well.  Using a board game to inspire a movie has been done a ton of times, but the nostalgia toy box must be getting pretty thin if Battleship is sailing onto the big screen.  And G.I. Joe 2?  Well…that’s probably all that needs to be said, except that if a bunch of ninjas with swords are hanging from a mountain by ropes and dueling with swords, I don’t know why they just don’t cut the ropes of the bad guys and save us all trouble of watching a totally unnecessary sword fight among a bunch of soldiers with guns.
The Super Bowl itself had an amazing finish, but the football definitely outweighed the poor overall quality of the commercials.  They were only entertaining in the margins and if it wasn’t for the stars mentioned above and a couple of cute Doritos spots to lighten the mood, we would have been left with very little  to cheer and nothing to spend our money on.  One last little ad to put a smile on your face from NBC:  The Olympics are coming!  London 2012, see you there!

Ira Glass – Pitchman

Monday, November 14th, 2011

No one wants to donate. Everyone hates the pledge drive. When the daily National Public Radio programming is put on hold so that a couple of part-time intern-ish broadcasters can beg listeners for a few dimes, most people switch the dial to AM sports talk.  But when Ira Glass, host of the hugely popular This American Life comes on the radio, you know that they just brought in their closer.

Ira Glass is not someone you’d think of as a closer.  He’s not Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross.  He looks like a mix of Buddy Holly and Billie Joe Armstrong and he sounds like your average run of the mill nerd.  But boy, he makes sense.  He cuts his pitch down from the general and talks to the individual.  He talks to the addicts who are still listening even to the pledge drive.  He makes sense.  He also makes you feel guilty, not in the terrible guilty where you end up eating a dozen donuts, but the guilty where you pick up the phone.  The other day, after calling a big-listening non-donator at home, he actually got the guy to say, “I’ve been a scoundrel.”  That’s incredible!  He got a grown man to call himself a scoundrel and then donate.  And imagine all the dozens of other scoundrels listening to that who called in afterwards.  Ira Glass could be as good as Ron Popeil, “Pledge-it and Forget it!” an expert pitchman.

Ira Glass is an incredible reporter, but he might be an even better pledge-drive pitchman.  Now back to your regularly scheduled program.

Patronage and the Future of Art

Friday, January 7th, 2011

At the start of a recent This American Life podcast, host Ira Glass reached out to the listeners to ask for donations.  His show is broadcast on Public Radio and donations are important, not so much for this money-maker, but to many other public broadcasting productions.  Ira asks for money in a classy way and because it’s a well-deserving show it’s an easy pitch.  This idea of asking for donations does lead to a thought about where art and the money to fund it may be heading.

With the dissemination of information through the Internet becoming more possible and more persistent every year (content piracy) it’s going to be hard for artists to charge for content that users can get for free from any bit torrent website.  If people can’t help themselves from stealing from their favorite artists, their favorite artists are going to have to charge them up front.  If you want the next U2 album, you’re going to have to write Bono and the boys a check BEFORE they go into the studio, not after.  In essence, Patronage.  This is not a new concept.

In the Renaissance, Michelangelo was paid well for painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but he was paid up front and throughout the process.  His patrons didn’t wait to see what Michelangelo produced out of his own expenses to debate about whether the finished work was worth buying.  They trusted the artist and paid for his services ahead of time.  This seems logical to me.

To make your name and have someone appreciate you in the first place, YouTube and a million other blogs or websites are great places to become known.  But then once you achieve a level of success, patrons could donate to have you produce even more work.  Look at any other non-commission job out there.  You go to an interview to prove yourself and if you are hired, the employer will commit to pay the employee before any work has actually been done.  In effect, we the people will employ our artists in the future.  If we want quality art, artists will want to get paid for it, and if it’s increasingly harder to earn money on work you’ve already produced, we will have to reward our true artists with commissioned works through Patronage.  Another benefit of this is that our attention and our money will  go from YouTube “productions” like Charley Bit My Finger, which is really cute, to true artists.

If we’re going to keep pirating, and I’m sure people will keep pirating, then be ready for the day when you’re going to have to start paying for artists instead of art.

Out of England and Out of Luck

Monday, October 11th, 2010

Ricky Gervais loves Chicago and that’s why, out of performances in L.A., New York, and England, he chose to film two of the dates in Chicago for his Out of England 2 HBO special.

I had four tickets to go and I hand-picked the remaining seats. I had the same mentality for Ricky Gervais as I do for my sports teams. You’re well within your rights to root for the other team, or against Ricky in this case, but you’re not doing it next to me, especially when I’m the one who hooked us up with the tickets from the pre-sale. My brother and cousin are both into the podcasts and the shows and specials so they were offered tickets. The last ticket went to my friend, ex-roommate Kevin. This guy is a “huge fan”, too. Why the quotes? Here’s a conversation I had with Kevin on the night of the show:

Myself: Hey Kev, we’re meeting downtown before the show to get something to eat and then we’ll head to the show.

Kevin: I’m in the burbs.

Myself: ?…grrrrrr…?…(breathe, relax, breathe) The burbs?

Kevin: Yeah. Try to leave my ticket at Will Call.

Myself: We’ve got two hours till the show, you’re not going to meet up with us beforehand?

Kevin: I’m in the burbs.

Myself: Uh…

Kevin: He’s got an opener. I’m sure I’ll get there on time.

I don’t know what this guy was doing. I bestowed the ticket on, not the wrong guy, just a guy. A guy who was in the suburbs, a forty-five minute drive into the city, two hours before the Ricky Gervais show-of-a-lifetime and didn’t think he’d make it for the opener. That’s the guy I picked.

There was nowhere for me to leave the ticket for him. They wouldn’t let me leave it at Will Call so I took the next best option. I went across the street to a Borders, walked to the back of the first floor, right into the heart of the Literature section and I hid it inside the third copy of Pride and Prejudice and Vampires. I told Kevin where it was hidden and I turned off my phone

Ricky Gervais came out on stage and I lost it.  The guy is unbelievably funny, and to see him live was an unreal experience.  I was the only person who gave him a standing ovation on his entrance, but if you’re going to give someone a standing ovation on reputation alone, Ricky Gervais is the one.  And you better believe he earned it, too.

He came out and said he lost twenty pounds.  When everybody clapped for him he told us to stop and said something like,  “I shouldn’t have gotten fat in the first place.  Don’t congratulate me for something I should have never done in the first place.”  And that’s how he allowed himself to take shots at fat people for the next twenty minutes.  Then he went into homosexuality in the animal world, with slides, and the best part of the show was when he pulled out a children’s book version of the Noah’s Ark story, the actual book he had when he was a kid.  He went page by page, reading the story and tearing apart the illustrations and the story, it was hilarious.  The whole thing is going to air on HBO later this year, can’t wait to see it again.

As soon as the show let out, Ricky was off to his hotel and the three of us who actually went to the show started talking about our favorite parts.  Then I called Kevin to find out what happened to him and he told me a story about going through three different stories of the Borders looking for the ticket and that it wasn’t there.  Just so I could make sure he had to pay me for the ticket, I went to the bookstore which was now closed and played charades through the doorway to get someone’s attention.  I told him exactly what I told Kevin and within a minute, he was back holding my ticket.  Too bad Kevin couldn’t follow directions.  An open seat for Ricky Gervais?  What a waste.  But for those of us who were there, it was an amazing show.

Look-e-Likes

Friday, February 5th, 2010

I was watching the video for the Snow Patrol song, Just Say Yes, and I couldn’t shake the idea that the lead singer looks just like Jamie Kennedy.  That happens to me all the time.  Either people look like someone else directly, or they’re like a combination of people.  There’s this new girl at work and I nudged my buddy and said, “She looks like a mix between Maggie Gyllenhaal and Dominic Monaghan.”

“Who’s Maggie Gyllenhal?” is what he says.  But this other guy who overheard us goes, “Yep.  I see it.  Wow, that’s weird.”  That’s about as good as it gets.  The room was split when we were watching this year’s American Idol and I said that Bosa Mora’s dad from episode one looked like the Nigerian Jim Lampley (Lampley does boxing commentary and the daytime Olympics coverage on NBC).  Half of us were cracking up and the other half were just plain hatin’ when they said they didn’t get it (because I know they got it, the guy looks just like him).

Sticks, Stones, and iPhones (featuring Fat Wilson)

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

So, you know when you’re a kid and someone makes fun of you and you’re just supposed to say, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”  It’s definitely the best strategy.  I hardly ever hold to it, but that’s the right stategy.  The only times I’m really ever able to follow that advice is when someone’s really bad at making fun of you.  If someone tries to get me by saying something stupid like, “Nice shoelaces.  Where’d you get those?  The store?”  They’re really making fun of themselves.  I just look at someone else and point my thumb at this guy and now he’s the one being made fun of.  The other time you screw up making fun of somebody is if you try to pick on someone for something they’re really good at.  “Nice gold medal.  Ha, I bet you were lifting weights Saturday night while I was drinking beer.”

This all points to a modern, corporate, playground name-calling.  Verizon vs. AT&T.  Verizon has been airing a bunch of commercials where they have maps popping up all over the place, in front of the TV that the commercial people are watching (which actually annoys me as a viewer, I’m annoyed for the people in the commercial that are trying to watch the football game but some stupid guy’s map is in the way).  They’re saying that the iPhone doesn’t have as much coverage as Verizon.  Which is what Verizon’s always saying.  “We’ve got the guy with the jumpsuit and the glasses.  You can hear us everywhere.  You can hear us now.”  Whatever.  The iPhone’s awesome, I’m not ashamed to say I want one (always stuck in a contract) and you shouldn’t be either.  They’re great.  But Verizon is trying to take them down a peg.

That’s fine.  It’s natural for the little guy to fight for his space.  What I don’t get is why AT&T is fighting back.  All they need to do is nudge T-Mobile, point their thumb at Verizon, and say, “Check out Verizon over here.”  Then they’d all laugh together.  But AT&T decided to fight back.  Nobody cared about Verizon’s ads until AT&T responded.  We probably would have forgot all about it, but now we’ve got Fat Luke Wilson whizzing postcards all across a map bigger than the one they used at the end of Where In the World Is Carmen Sandiego.  Man, he got heavy.  He doesn’t look that fat from far away, but up close, he head is just a circle.  His jaw line used to stand out as much as Owen Wilson’s nose.  Now he’s just bloated looking.  Fat Wilson has nothing to do with the message of the commercial, but it’s a lot harder to respect what the guy’s saying when you know he put on forty pounds of milkshakes and stepped down from movies to commercials.  They just shouldn’t have said anything at all and kept on selling millions of iPhones.