"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Entertainment’

Niggabots No More: Those Idiotic, Jive-Talkin’ Robots Won’t Be Back in ‘Transformers 3′ After All

In Uncategorized on May 20, 2011 at 1:04 pm

Today, America is a little more whole.

Oldspeak: Well. That’s nice. :-/  Now if we could just get Popeyes to stop using that 21st century Mammy  Annie “The Chicken Queen” to hawk their chicken….

By Will Leitch @ Yahoo Movies:

So much about “Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen” was horrible that picking a least favorite moment is like choosing between your children, if you kinda hated your children. But you really can’t fall much farther than “Mudflap” and “Skids,” the “urban” robots that, as The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis’ rightly said, “have been given conspicuously cartoonish, so-called black voices that indicate that minstrelsy remains as much in fashion in Hollywood as when, well, Jar Jar Binks was set loose by George Lucas.” Director Michael Bay defended Mudflap and Skids (who, in the year 2009, had gold teeth and bug ears), claiming, “We’re just putting more personality in. I don’t know if it’s stereotypes — they are robots, by the way. These are the voice actors. This is kind of the direction they were taking the characters and we went with it.”

But even Bay is smart enough to avoid more controversy while he can, claiming Monday on the official Michael Bay fan board — oh, by the way America, there are Michael Bay fan boards —  that the twins will not appear in “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.”

A fan blog tried to get fired up that Bay was lying, with reports that new and “improved” versions of Mudflap and Skids were seen on the set yesterday, but they have the date wrong on the post; the post they’re referencing is more than a year old. So it looks like there will not in fact be awful stereotypes of African-Americans as portrayed by robots from an alien planet in the third “Transformers” movie. In Michael Bay’s brain, perhaps this is considered progress.

The Twins Are Not Back In T3 [MichaelBay.com]

Related Story: Transformers: Rise Of The Fallen, Featuring The Niggabots. Seriously.

How Our Culture Makes Girls Think They Have To Be “Gorgeous” To Be Loved

In Uncategorized on April 15, 2011 at 10:22 am

Oldspeak:”The insidious messages are sent via the multi-billion dollar, fashion, cosmetics, entertainment and media industries. Don’t worry about being intelligent or concerning yourself with the problems of world around you. You “must have” the “right’ bag, the “right” dress, the “right” shoes, the “right” hair, the “right” make up, the “perfect” weight, to be considered normal and acceptable in this hyper-competitive, obsessively superficial and pathologically narcissitic culture. Countless studies and polls highlighting the social, psychological and economic advantages afforded ‘beautiful people’ in life. “Smart and amazing young women have somehow gotten the idea that in order to be treated with respect and love, they have to be damn near perfect.”-Hugh Schwyzer

Related Story: Nothing Tastes As Good As Skinny Feels’ Now Available On A Onesie

By Hugh Schwyzer @ Alter Net:

It’s not news that girls are feeling more pressure than ever to be perfect. As I’ve written before in my posts on the Martha Complex, this generation of teen girls is more stressed about, well, everything, than any generation of women before them.* The pressure to do well in school, the pressure to please parents and peers, and the pressure to live up to an impossible ideal of physical perfection is crushing.

Tweens and teens grow up comparing themselves to models and tv stars. Few girls feel as pretty, as sexy, as skinny as the women they see in the media. As a result, many young women conclude that happiness is something that you only get when you get to your goal weight. And even more troublingly, when it comes to relationships, lots of straight girls think that if their own bodies aren’t perfect, they have no right to expect too much from guys.

Working with high school and college-aged young women, I’ve heard the same thing more and more often in recent years. These smart and amazing young women have somehow gotten the idea that in order to be treated with respect and love, they have to be damn near perfect. One student said to me last year, “If I were fifteen pounds thinner, I think my boyfriend would stop looking at other girls.” She didn’t feel like she had the right to ask her guy to stop checking out other women in public. “You have to be gorgeous for a man to want to be with you and only you. I’m not, so I can’t expect that.”

A mentee of mine has a boyfriend who uses porn regularly and plays video games for hours. “Sometimes he’ll just forget to call or text because he’s gaming”, she says. “I’m lucky to get a few minutes alone with him a week when we’re not doing something sexual. But this is the way boys are – unless you’re like freakin’ Megan Fox, you can’t expect a guy’s complete attention.”

Another girl told me that she doesn’t feel like she can have a boyfriend – because she’s not pretty enough. She has a lot of hook-ups instead. “I’m the girl you get with for a blowjob”, she said; “I’m not the hot girl you hold hands with in public.” (For more on the connection between perfectionism and promiscuity, see Kerry Cohen’s forthcoming Dirty Little Secrets, to be published later this year.)

Words like these break my heart, because these bright and beautiful girls are blinded to their own worth. They don’t see that they have the right to demand respect; that they have the right to set good boundaries; that they have the right to pursue a real relationship (if they want one). Believing that only women who meet an unattainable standard of perfection “deserve” to be happy sets girls up to settle for second-best in one area where they should never compromise.

This perfectionism dovetails dangerously with another theme in young women’s lives: the “good guys are hard to find” narrative. This belief that reliable and loving young men are rare reinforces the pursuit of skinny, sexy, beauty: the fewer decent lads out there, the more “choice” those guys have. And even the decent ones, so the culture tells us, will make relationship decisions based on women’s appearance. For some, that means all the more reason to compete – and for others, all the more reason to opt out and “settle” for what they’ve been told is the best they can reasonably hope for.

We need to see how the pressure to be perfect – a pressure that is nearly omnipresent in young women’s lives, even the lives of those who don’t seem to be pursuing an ideal – is rooted in a false scarcity model. There won’t be enough for you, the culture says, unless you try harder. And if in your own eyes, you’re well short of that ideal, then you need to be realistic and settle gratefully for the crumbs.

Young women often tell stories about their girlfriends, whom they often describe as amazing and wonderful. “It’s so sad”, Jessica will say, “Amy doesn’t see what we all see. She’s so pretty and smart, but she keeps dating these losers. She doesn’t know her value.” Of course, half the time, Amy is saying the same thing about Jessica. Teen girls are almost invariably fonts of great wisdom for their peers – but lousy at taking their own advice to heart. The truth is, of course, even the young women who most closely match the rigid beauty standards are bitterly aware of how they “fall short of the mark”, at least in their own minds.

It’s not a stretch to point out that the “scarcity model” combines with perfectionism to let men off the hook time and again. The less girls believe they deserve, the less they’ll ask for – and the less young men need to provide. Until we ask who benefits from this cruel system, we’re not getting close to solving the problem.


Back To The Future With ComcastNBC: Will Have Monopolies In 80% Of The Country

In Uncategorized on February 22, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Oldspeak: The Corporatocracy is consolidating its control over all that you see hear and read. “Net Neutrality” will soon be a thing of the past. “Comcast met behind closed doors with the FCC to map out the future of broadband service and video streaming over the Internet. Anyone who wonders how federal banking regulators got captured by the financial industry, or how lawmakers got neutered by the insurance companies on the health care bill, or how big money is going to buy the next presidential election, should study the Comcast merger. It is a cautionary tale of things gone awry in Washington, where corporate speech is heard and heeded and the voices of actual citizens are ignored.”-Peter White

By Peter White @ Truthout:

After hammering out the details in daily meetings with Comcast over a three-month period in late 2010, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) approved the $30 billion merger of Comcast and NBC/Universal in January 2011. The nation’s largest Internet and TV provider is about to get much bigger. The public can comment for 60 days, but it’s pretty much a done deal.

Coriell Wright, an attorney with Free Press, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) opposed to the merger, watched it all go down.

“I was genuinely positive about the process until November. The FCC staff asked great questions, they requested a lot of information from Comcast, But a lot of the good points that were made in the flings didn’t make it to the end game when push came to shove in bargaining with Comcast.”

Wright said a coalition of merger opponents met with FCC staffers about once a week during that time, while Comcast and NBC met with them “once a day or more.”

“I don’t feel we were excluded, but we didn’t have meetings every single day like Comcast and NBC did. And we don’t have hundreds of lobbyists on call like they do,” Wright said.

Comcast spent $100 million to get the merger approved. It hired 100 former government employees and paid $8.8 million to 30 lobbying firms to help seal the deal. It dumped a lot of cash all over Capitol Hill in the past two years. The numbers are here.

Twice in October 2010, the FCC granted Comcast and NBC enhanced confidential treatment, related to their programing and carriage agreements and their “current and forwardlooking business strategies and plans, which contain the company’s analyses of particular sectors of the media and communications industry and detail perceived trends, possible business initiatives to respond to those trends, and customer analyses.”

In other words, Comcast met behind closed doors with the FCC to map out the future of broadband service and video streaming over the Internet. Anyone who wonders how federal banking regulators got captured by the financial industry, or how lawmakers got neutered by the insurance companies on the health care bill, or how big money is going to buy the next presidential election, should study the Comcast merger. It is a cautionary tale of things gone awry in Washington, where corporate speech is heard and heeded and the voices of actual citizens are ignored.

The DOJ checked the deal for any anticompetitive elements. Under a much weakened Taft Hartley law, the DOJ doesn’t really oppose monopolies these days, but rather imposes conditions to protect the status quo of the so-called “free market.” So, under the terms of the agreement, Comcast cannot discriminate against program producers or distributors who want to provide Comcast programs to their customers. About 173 of the agreement’s 279 pages deal with those matters.

About 75 pages deal with the FCC’s job, which is quite different than the DOJ’s legal one. Under its mandate as a federal agency that regulates telecommunications, the FCC has to affirm that the merger would advance the public interest in some way and not just preserve the status quo.

The FCC says the conditions it put into the deal require Comcast/NBC “to take affirmative steps to foster competition” and based on the company’s promises, the FCC found the merger to be “in the public interest.”

“ComcastNBC will increase local news coverage to viewers, expand children’s programing, enhance the diversity of programing available to Spanish-speaking viewers, offer broadband services to low-income Americans at reduced monthly prices, and provide high-speed broadband to schools, libraries, and underserved communities, among other public benefits,” the FCC announced.

“Those are all good things,” says Wright, “but ultimately don’t touch on the problems that are baked into the structure of the new company.” In other words, a newer bigger Comcast won’t change your cable lineup much, if at all.

“I tried to find a place where the FCC says that the merger would result in more competition, lower prices, or more diversity. But that’s not in there because the merger won’t do any of those things,” she said.

How Big Is the Deal?

Very big. In addition to its cable systems in 39 states, Comcast would get a production arm, Universal Studios; and a broadcast network, NBC, with its 10 wholly owned stations; and CNBC, a financial news cable network; and 16 Spanish language stations on Telemundo. The combined company would own or control 125 cable channels, studios, stations and web sites that would provide 20 percent of what people watch on TV, and by next year, according to the FCC, broadband companies like Comcast will have monopolies in about 80 percent of the country.

Media scholar Ben Bagdikian, author of “Media Monopoly,” paints a grim picture of the future when Comcast has its way.

“The Comcast NBC merger will have twice as many customers as any other broadband service. Everyone who is dependent on AT&T for telephone service knows that their response to subscriber complaints is notoriously poor and woefully slow for repairs. NBC’s merger with Comcast will make it the world’s largest cable company and if history is repeated, a public service company that is twice as large as it’s nearest competitor, does not have to worry if it tells its customers to wait for repairs or service and the general public will suffer from restricted choices and programs. A generation ago when Gannett became the giant in newspapers good papers disappeared. If this happens to cable, the fate of newspapers will be repeated in the cable industry,” he said.

Even basic cable coach potatoes like me understand that this bleak future is already here. I’ve seen “Rocky” so many times, I’ve started hoping he’d just stay down in the fifth round and be done with it. I suspect it’s about the same everywhere else: the same action movies over and over and over again. Watching bowl games on New Year’s Day used to be a tradition in America. Not anymore, unless you pay to see them. ESPN carried 33 of 35 bowl games on their subscription channels this year. The take-away lesson about cable TV is that more is really less.

Critics say the merger will mean fewer choices and higher prices for consumers. Well, we’re already used to that. Will the future bring us better fare than “Deal or No Deal,” “Minute to Win It,” or “Dancing With the Stars”? These shows may be popular, but they are also pathetic because so many Americans are downwardly mobile these days. Mainstream TV is just a mass opiate to help us forget our misery.

What passes for quality programing on TV gives cold comfort to the three million Americans facing foreclosure this year, the 15.5 million American kids living in poverty and the 16 million Americans without a job. Remember “Playhouse 90,” “The Honeymooners,” “See it Now,” “The Twilight Zone”? For my money, there’s nothing comparable on TV today at any premium program price.

Rates for Cable TV have been going up 5 percent a year and more Americans aren’t buying it anymore. Last year, 800,000 households in the US dumped their TV provider and that number is expected to double this year. That’s a small proportion of the nation’s 100 million TV subscribers, but why pay money for shows you don’t want to watch, when you can see the ones you do for free or a lot cheaper on line?

Stifling Innovation

Comcast built its empire out of wire and lowest common denominator programing. The first has been around since the telegraph and the second since at least the third or fourth Grade. Now we have satellites, Dish TV, FiOS and wifi and all of these new technologies threaten Comcast, which lost 275,000 cable customers in the third quarter last year.

The Internet as video platform is just a few years old, but already has 150 million people watching at least once a month. Sales of web ready TVs and other equipment to watch Internet video will jump from 14.6 million to 83.4 million by 2014, according to InStat, an Internet, marketing research company.

Here’s the bad news: a combined Comcast/NBC will create a vertically integrated behemoth like the trusts and monopolies of Teddy Roosevelt’s day. It could operate with virtual impunity toward the public and over its rivals, like a Mexican drug cartel.

“The rise of the Internet makes cable companies obsolete…. the only way for them to stay alive is to generate so much power, both as a distributor and content provider, they become a mafia-style vertically integrated market. They will use content as a cudgel to extort exorbitant fees out other cable companies and customers,” said Josh Silver, President of Free Press.

Comcast’s Business Plans

John Dunbar, a former AP reporter who now works at American University’s Investigative Reporting Workshop, published a report in the January/February 2011 issue of Columbia Journalism Review. He looks under the rug of the proposed merger and notes that Comcast wants to protect its revenue streams in broadband and cable, and grow them both, even as TVs and computers become one.

“One way to do that is to keep competition in check. Comcast would be in a unique position to do just that especially because, by adding NBC Universal to its holdings, Comcast will become one of the nation’s largest television programmers, too the only company to have such a large position in programing, cable and Internet distribution,” Dunbar wrote. His article is available here.

“Don’t hold your breath waiting for ComcastNBC Universal to welcome an Internet utopia of free-flowing, no-charge television content,” he concludes.

Comcast says after the merger, broadcast programs will most likely wind up on Hulu, in which it will have a 27 percent stake but no operational control, and cable shows will go to TV Everywhere, a joint venture Comcast started with Time Warner in 2009. Hulu is free, but TV Everywhere is only free to cable subscribers and only for the programs they already pay for.

“It’s not that Comcast thinks it can kill online video. They’re not stupid like the recording industry was,” said Harold Feld, legal director with the Washington, DC, digital advocacy group Public Knowledge. “What they want to do is manage the terms under which we’re going to change so that they can continue to make the tons of money they’re making right now selling their cable service.”

A Short History of Cable TV and Why Americans Are so Dumb

American broadcasters once described, reflected upon, entertained and helped shape our national identity. But maybe I’m just being nostalgic for a time that never really was. Way back in 1961, FCC Chairman Newton Minow called television a vast wasteland. (Oh, how I long for the days when a federal regulator called a spade a spade.) But let’s review some history.

In the halcyon days of broadcast TV, Walter Cronkite was the most respected man in America. Over time, pretenders, who looked good and could read other people’s copy as if they wrote it, replaced the sober men of Cronkite’s generation. Authenticity went out the window and with it our collective grip on reality. Then we got cable and that’s when everything started to go South. We stopped living the American dream, more or less together, and started listening to hucksters, spin doctors and pundits, dreaming our lives away in some ersatz reality via television.

Getting people to pay for what they used to get for free turned the country upside down. It was a very big deal … for the cable companies. In exchange, we got CSPAN. Then, in 1984, we got the Cable Act. It was the first major revision of telecommunications policy in the US since 1934. The law deregulated the industry that quickly spread like a cancer all over the country and into fewer and fewer hands. By 1991, just nine companies owned more than half the cable business in the US. Today, six media giants control most of what we see, hear and read.

Former Washington Post editor and scholar, Ben Bagdikian, has been like Paul Revere on this issue for nearly three decades. He and other media critics, mostly from the left, have been warning about the dangers inherent in such concentration. In short, robust public discourse is stifled when huge corporations control the marketplace of ideas. Same thing when it comes to cultural programs. Producers get strong-armed, competitors are squeezed out and consumers get gouged wherever a monopoly controls a market. The public interest is not served.

Window Dressing the Public Interest

For its part, the FCC wanted assurances from Comcast that it would play fair after the merger was approved. But that’s like asking the greedy banker not to foreclose on the sweet, old widow because she can’t pay the mortgage any longer. All regulators have a similar problem: they presume the innocence, if not the good will, of the industry players in whatever game they referee. They are hopelessly utopian in a dystopic world. All corporations engage in the single-minded pursuit of money. They aren’t moral or engaged in fairness, and it sometimes takes years before some kind of remedy can be found for the bad things they do. And by then it can be too late. Think Bernie Madoff, not Bill Gates.

Comcast sweetened the deal by agreeing to provide a $10/month broadband service to low income families. And it agreed to add ten new channels, to its D1 Digital Tier lineup. Eight of them will be minority owned or at least partly minority owned. Comcast will pick the owners. It also agreed to give two Asian groups $1 million dollars to develop programs and committed $20 million in venture capital to Hispanic and African-American producers to develop “new media content and applications.” It is not clear if that content would be created for the new channels or not.

That sounds pretty good, but it breaks down to the average price of just one Hollywood action movie spread over eight years and a very wide demographic. There will be no lack of ethnic producers to fight over the money. They will be picked by Comcast, of course, and they may or may not produce programs that rise above your average “ghetto channel” offerings. But even if they do, they won’t be able to reach a really big audience because their programs will likely run only in Detroit; Washington, DC; Atlanta; Chicago; and Philadelphia. Comcast will decide where the channels will be carried, of course. And after a few years it will probably shut them down for failure to thrive.

The company also agreed to support local partnerships between nonprofit news sites and ten of its NBC broadcast stations and six of its Telemundo Spanish language stations. NBC’s San Diego affiliate currently takes two stories a week from a local news startup called Voice of San Diego.

Adding 1,000 more hours of news and public affairs programs a year sounds good, but it comes out to about 16 minutes a day, and its just 16 markets out of about 300. And it will almost certainly be more of the same dumbed-down and warmed over mainstream pabulum that we already have. Why? Because Comcast has not promised a plug nickel to fund the newsgathering operations of their prospective news partners in those markets. Where will the investment come from to nurture news startups in those cities? Presumably, from some rich philanthropist, but it’s a safe bet it won’t be Comcast CEO Brian Roberts.

“You can’t point to any current Comcast owned channels as exemplary public interest programing,” claims Josh Silver, president of Free Press. “Now that they are taking on $30 billion in added debt to NBC, you can be 100 percent sure they aren’t going to surprise us with quality content,” he added.

Its critics say Comcast is a notoriously bad actor on public interest issues. It has a long history of opposing local journalism efforts on public access channels that it is required to provide wherever it operates cable systems. Indeed, the company blocked local PEG channels for decades in Philadelphia, where the company is headquartered. In any case, Comcast’s promises aren’t nearly enough to satisfy opponents of the deal because the conditions the FCC imposed all sunset after seven years.

“The conditions are sort of a side show and the negative impacts of the merger are still going to happen, they just aren’t going to happen until 2018,” Silver said.

Two Cases in Point

If Comcast’s critics are right, the merger puts the entire communications infrastructure, the information superhighway and the entertainment industry all at risk by putting too much control in too few hands.

Take former Vice President Al Gore’s ill-fated Current TV, for example. Even a Nobel Prize-winning author and former presidential contender, some say undeclared winner, even he could not muster enough venture capital to get his channel onto a major cable network.

“It’s because of the whims of these cable companies whose policy decisions are completely corrupt. It’s a walled garden they run,” says Silver. “Their goal is part of a master plan to turn online video into the 21st Century version of cable TV.”

If the past is any guide, the merger won’t boost news and public interest programing, but rather stifle it. Al Jazeera is a perfect example of that. It is well-funded and the quality of its news is first rate and no news organization anywhere can match its coverage of the Arabs-peaking world. By and large, Americans can’t watch it.

“Other than in a handful of pockets across the U.S. including Ohio, Vermont and Washington, D.C. cable carriers do not give viewers the choice of watching Al Jazeera,” wrote Ryan Grim of Huffington Post recently.

“That corporate censorship comes as American diplomats harshly criticize the Egyptian government for blocking Internet communication inside the country and as Egypt attempts to block Al Jazeera from broadcasting,” he wrote.

On cable systems in Canada, Al Jazeera became widely available after the network ran a successful campaign to get Canadians to demand it from the Canadian Radiotelevision and Telecommunications Commission. Not so in the US with the FCC.

“There is no policy teeth, no leverage or hook in order to compel Comcast to carry certain kinds of programs like Al Jazeera,” said Silver.

Is Redemption Possible?

When the FCC approved the merger, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who voted for it, released a statement that sums things up and may prove to be prescient:

“I encourage people to speak out should they see the slightest bit of programing discrimination or any other type of questionable behavior from the soon-to-be-formed entity. My door will remain open and I will be perpetually available to field any and all future concerns in this regard,” he wrote.

“I expect the parties to live up to the letter and spirit of their commitments. I, and the American people, will be watching,” he concluded.

Well, some of us are watching now, and the FCC just gave away the farm with damned little to show for it. So, if exhortation does not work and several years down the road we are faced with more insipid programs, higher prices, and a less informed public, will the FCC step in to fix what they have wrought?

Stay tuned.

Bio: Peter White is a former USFS smokejumper, surfer, and has covered two wars and three civil conflicts on four continents. He has written anchor copy and produced news for a number of foreign networks, NBC, ABC, PBS. NPR, and a number of print media outlets including The New York Times and San Francisco Examiner. He lives in Nashville with his two sons.

 



Who, Us Bloodthirsty?

In Uncategorized on February 6, 2011 at 8:15 pm

Oldspeak:”The beating heart of Rome is not the marble of the Senate, it’s the sand of the Colosseum. —Sen. Gracchus, in “Gladiator”  “You can see the progress we’ve made in human history. Combatants no longer fight to the death or are fed to wild beasts. In an age challenged by separating real life from reality programming or the absurdly heightened reality that comes from merely being on TV, no one seems to want to err on the side of compassion” New Rome would do the original proud.”

From Mark Heisler @ Truthdig:

Now for a great Super Bowl!

If only.

All Super Bowls are called great, from the actually great like III (Joe Namath guarantees, delivers first AFC victory) to yawners like XL (or 40 for those not fluent in Roman numerals, Steelers dispatching Seahawks in Detroit’s Ford Field).

Super Bowls are like inaugurations or State of the Union addresses, emblematic of our way of life, if only ceremonially.

Of course, we all know it’s just a game and all the faux Roman pageantry is a facade, like the layout at Caesars Palace or the knockoff Doric columns ringing Jack Kent Cooke’s Fabulous Forum.

You can see the progress we’ve made in human history. Combatants no longer fight to the death or are fed to wild beasts.

Aside from that. …

As the blood in the sand of the Colosseum, Rome’s state-funded, state-of-the-art arena with luxury suites built by the Emperor Vespasian in the year 72, 116 years after Julius Caesar’s death, was said to embody Rome, so the Super Bowl embodies Western society in so many ways.

Want to know how the economy’s going?

In actual dollars, the Super Bowl is an infinitesimal piece of a massive gross national product.

In fact, it serves as a showcase, showing not only how the economy is performing as a whole, but what sectors are driving it, what companies no one knew existed (Go Daddy?) are on the make and how creative and indulgent sponsors and ad agencies feel.

This season’s ad rates for 30 seconds go to $3 million, up from last year’s $2.8 million in a soft ad environment, prompting Intel, Papa John’s and KGB to drop out.

If you missed KGB’s spot with a sumo wrestler wiping out a skinny guy wearing the traditional mawashi, or as we would call it, thong, who’s trying to find “I surrender” in Japanese on his handheld via Google, it’s a search engine—not the dreaded Russian intelligence service.

It’s a mistake anyone could make, such as USA Today, which links this KGB to previous stories on the other KGB.

The other KGB, of course, isn’t likely to buy a Super Bowl spot … at least in the immediate future, say, before LV (55).

It’s hard to remember where we are on the Roman calendar, but from III to this year’s XLV (45), the song remains the same.

Unfortunately, it’s preceded by two weeks of hype so momentous the game would have a hard time living up to it if it had The Second Coming at halftime.

This year it’s only the Black Eyed Peas with the NFL once again secure enough to go without superstars such as Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake (2004), Paul McCartney (2005), Prince (2006), the Rolling Stones (2007), Tom Petty (2008), Bruce Springsteen (2009) and The Who (2010).

Besides, rock divas are even wackier than football divas, pulling stunts such as Jackson’s breast-baring, nation-horrifying “wardrobe malfunction.”

Two years later, Prince played an oddly shaped guitar with a long appendage curling upward from its body so that when they dropped a sheer curtain, it looked as though he was masturbating in silhouette.

Cue Middle America for the usual horrified reaction.

To quote Hank Williams Jr., the famed rowdy who nonetheless stood up for the values candidates in the last presidential election, “Are you ready for some football?”

(New generations are a pain, all around. Hank Jr. wrote a song telling Hank III, his even-farther-out son, “Take the old man’s advice, be nice and lose the F word.”)

Happily, aside from all this Social Significance, there’s a game involved, or there will be eventually.

This involves those iconic franchises, the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers, a dream matchup.

OK, a good matchup.

All right, it’s better than Steelers vs. Seahawks.

The dream matchup would have pitted the Chicago Bears, whose first owner, George Halas, all but invented the NFL, against the New York Jets, princes of the Johnny Come Lately American Football League, who slew the Baltimore Colts in III, elevating it from ceremonial mismatch to marquee event overnight.

Pittsburgh is a small big city and Green Bay a hamlet you might never have heard of if it hadn’t somehow hung on to its team in the American Professional Football Association, while those such as the Decatur (Ill.) Staleys, the A.E. Staley Food Starch Co.’s team, moved to the city and became the Bears.

New York, of course, is the market of markets, pulling in fans from all over, if only to root against its teams.

Chicago is the No. 3 market but drips soul, as demonstrated by its fans who set about deconstructing quarterback Steve Bartman, er, Jay Cutler after Da Bears’ loss to Green Bay.

Cutler had been a vast improvement over recent Bear quarterbacks, which still leaves a lot of room between him and Tom Brady, but was ineffective before being forced out with a knee injury.

After that, when TV cameras showed him on the sidelines, he didn’t demonstrate enthusiasm, or undergo surgery on the spot, or even an MRI so everyone could see he was hurt.

NFL players from all over tweeted insults that would set off riots if voiced about teammates in their own locker rooms.

Deion Sanders, former Dallas et al. great:

“Folks i never question a players injury but i do question a players heart.”

Derrick Brooks, former Tampa Bay linebacker:

“HEY there is no medicine for a guy with no guts and heart.”

Arizona lineman Darnell Dockett:

“If I’m on chicago team jay cutler has to wait till me and the team shower get dressed and leave before he comes in the locker room! #FACT.”

Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew:

“Hey I think the urban meyer rule is effect right now… When the going gets tough……..QUIT.”

Of course, Twitter is one of the foremost ways we have of telling that things aren’t the way they used to be.

What’s the problem with posting a 140-character text on your cellie?

Oh, you mean everyone in the world might see it?

“I never attacked him, called him soft or a sore loser,” Jones-Drew explained lamely.

“I never questioned his toughness. I think people took my joke out of context. I was taking a shot at Florida fans.”

Eschewing technology, some Bear fans burned Cutler jerseys. If they all can’t be blamed for this one, most of them will dog Cutler until he shows he’s a winner, not just by making the playoffs but winning a Super Bowl—or, in other words, the rest of his (presumably brief) time in Chicago.

Not that Chicago has a loser complex, but devouring its own is a local instinct that was taken to new heights, or depths, when Bartman, a fan like they were, not an athlete making millions to reap abuse, was demonized for wrecking the Cubs’ last chance.

Reaching up for Luis Castillo’s foul ball, Bartman got in the way of left fielder Moises Alou when the Cubs, leading the Florida Marlins three games to two, were just a few outs from winning the 2003 NLCS.

The Cubs then lost the game and ultimately the series.

The next time you see a replay, since they’ve never stopped showing it, you can see other fans around Bartman standing and reaching up too, a natural response to a baseball dropping out of the sky over your head.

Bartman just happened to be the one it actually dropped on.

After that, of course, they hounded him out of sight.

The ball was sold at auction for $113,824.16, presented to Harry Caray’s Restaurant Group and publicly detonated by a special effects expert.

The remains were then soaked in Budweiser (Cubs sponsor), boiled and the steam captured, distilled and added to a pasta sauce.

The remains of the ball now are in the sports museum in Harry Caray’s Tavern on Navy Pier, a carnival site in the Loop.

Bartman, himself, went into hiding, at least from the press, protected by his neighbors and co-workers. [Editor’s note: Minor factual corrections concerning the Bartman incident were made in this article after it first appeared in Truthdig on Thursday.]

If he has been largely forgiven, it’s only because fresh meat is served daily.

In an age challenged by separating real life from reality programming or the absurdly heightened reality that comes from merely being on TV, no one seems to want to err on the side of compassion.

Instead, the ability to broadcast and publish worldwide seems to lead to a joy in piling on, as if they envied the William Randolph Hearsts and Rupert Murdochs who got to do it all those years.

Two days before the game, Amy Turek (Twitter handle: thebearschick) defended Cutler against media critics in her blog on Huffington Post.

Regardless of what happens this weekend against the Packers, Cutler has proven himself to be a playoff-caliber quarterback. And that’s something Chicago has been dreaming of for a long, long time. Whether the media is ready to embrace Jay Cutler or not, we here in Chicago are proud of him.

And we’re not alone. Cutler’s beautiful celebrity girlfriend, Kristin Cavallari … just announced to People magazine that she is “in love” with Jay Cutler.

Well, Kristin, we are too.

After the game Turek defended Bears fans burning Cutler’s jersey.

Chicago Bear fans are being mercilessly crucified today for our criticism of Cutler. We’re being portrayed as an angry lynch mob, burning jerseys and calling for our Quarterbacks [sic] release. I agree that some fans are reacting to this incident inappropriately, as are some other players in the league.

That being said, I understand where these disgruntled fans are coming from, because I am one of them. While I’m not burning any jerseys or calling for a Cutler trade, I am disconcerted by the way Jay Cutler represented his team on the sidelines. …

As to this game…

Green Bay has one of the best young quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers; the new hot hunk, linebacker Clay Matthews; and a great defense, but runs the ball sporadically.

Pittsburgh has its own rock-ribbed defense, a better running game and an experienced, high-level quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger.

Roethlisberger’s season started with a suspension for conduct unbecoming to an NFL player, which was better than starting in jail.

Fortunately for him, Wilkinson County didn’t file criminal charges after a Georgia State coed said he sexually assaulted her in a bar while two bodyguards—both off-duty police officers from the Pittsburgh area—refused to let her friends go to her aid.

Signaling how insufficient the adjudication was to Roethlisberger’s employers, Steeler President Art Rooney terminated his deal to market “Big Ben’s Beef Jerky.”

Roethlisberger apologized to teammates and fans, presented a humbler face and took his team back to the big game, leaving just one thing to earn general forgiveness …

Winning the big game, of course.

If his apology was more than pro forma, it was less than abject, admitting, “I made a lot of mistakes,” but demurring on specifics.

“Those chapters in my life, I’ve closed that book and I’m not opening it up,” he told WTAE-TV’s Sally Wiggin in a sit-down in his home.

“All that matters is what I do from here on out.”

I can think of one young woman in Georgia for whom that might not be good enough.

Whether he wants more chances to be real or not, Roethlisberger will have lots by Super Sunday. Whichever way he goes, it’ll be more interesting than everything else everyone will be yammering about.

To sum up the coming week of Xs, Os and Bs, not to mention more than you wanted to know about Maurkice Pouncey (Steeler Pro Bowl center, injured, may or may not play), whoever runs the ball better should win.

Also, what if the Packer pass rushers make sure they don’t let Big Ben get outside and extend plays? Oh yeah, Green Bay wins.

Not that it gets crazy but Al DeRogatis, doing color on one of the early games, actually announced before the opening kickoff:

“Believe it or not, this is a big play.”

Ain’t they all on Super Sunday?

A really super Sunday would have an exciting game, after which the losing quarterback or some other unlucky schnook isn’t devoured by teammates, peers, viewers, et al.

I know, what’s the fun in that?

Mark Heisler is a superstar NBA columnist for the Los Angeles Times who, from time to time, shares his wisdom and gets deep with Truthdig readers looking to dig into the substance of sports.


Transformers: Rise Of The Fallen, Featuring The Niggabots. Seriously.

In Uncategorized on August 16, 2010 at 1:19 pm

Oldspeak:“21st Century Blacksploitation Cinema in all its Hi Definition, Dolby Digital infamy. Wow.”

Ok, so I know I’m a year late, but as a hard core Transformers Geek (religiously watched the original animated series, owned the toys, cried when I saw Optimus Prime get killed by Megatron in the original and by far best “Transformers: The Movie” in the theater in 1986), profoundly disappointed by the last newfangled Michael Bay debacle “Transformers”, I finally forced myself to watch “Transformers: Rise Of The Fallen” last nite. One word: ABYSMAL.

Michael Bay was at it again, with his trademark visually incomprehensible action scenes, and completely nonsensical plot. That’s fine. I have no problem watching shitty movies for the special effects. But what really baked my noodle was the addition of  two characters who were presumably created to replace the original and only black autobot “Jazz” who was unceremoniously ripped in half and killed by Megatron in the first Transformers: “Skids” and “Mudflap”.

I had a hard time wrapping my head around what I was seeing: Literally, large eared, bug eyed, bumbling, apelike, jive talkin about bussin a cap in ya ass, gold teeth wearing, fist bumping, constantly fighting each other robotic sambos who couldn’t read. In 2010.  No bullshit. See for yourself.

Brought to you by animation studio Industrial Light and Magic;  the same people who created the infamous Jar Jar Binks (Star Wars: The Phantom Menace)

Granted, there were non-coon black characters in the film (Tyreese, as a special forces soldier being the most prominent one, who curiously had less screen time than the Robocoons), but I had to ask myself some questions. Is this how Michael Bay and Paramount Pictures see black people? Why were there no other obviously ethnically identifiable transformers depicted, with their particular stereotypes? Why were the most negative stereotypes about black people chosen to create these characters, who serve no real purpose?

The most disturbing thing about this is what Michael Bay had to about his unfortunate choices.  He apparently does not disagree with charges that the characters are stereotypical, but claims “I purely did it for kids, young kids love these robots, because it makes it more accessible to them.” Wow. Fancy that. A minstrel show makes the movie more accessible to kids.  Awesome. “We’re just putting more personality in,” Bay told the Associated Press. “I don’t know if it’s stereotypes – they are robots, by the way. These are the voice actors. This is kind of the direction they were taking the characters and we went with it.”

This was “kinda the direction they were taking  the characters and we went with it”. Right. As though this happened spontaneously. As thought the voice actors didn’t see the characters or the script and weren’t directed to say what they said how they said it. Screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman said they followed Bay’s lead in creating the twins. But according to Bay “we went with it”.  Unfortunately for us, Orci and Kurtzman weren’t able to squeeze in a few of Bay’s other ideas, like Squint, a “math bot” who’s bad at driving, or Grease Spot, an Autobot who can transform into a Puerto Rican flag and spends all day on his stoop “being loud.” :-|

As Sandy Cohen at the Huffington Post reported:

Hollywood has a track record of using negative stereotypes of black characters for comic relief, said Todd Boyd, a professor of popular culture at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, who has not seen the “Transformers” sequel.

“There’s a history of people getting laughs at the expense of African-Americans and African-American culture,” Boyd said. “These images are not completely divorced from history even though it’s a new movie and even though they’re robots and not humans.”

American cinema also has a tendency to deal with race indirectly, said Allyson Nadia Field, an assistant professor of cinema and media studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“There’s a persistent dehumanization of African-Americans throughout Hollywood that displaces issues of race onto non-human entities,” said Field, who also hasn’t seen the film. “It’s not about skin color or robot color. It’s about how their actions and language are coded racially.”

If these characters weren’t animated and instead played by real black actors, “then you might have to admit that it’s racist,” Robinson said. “But stick it into a robot’s mouth, and it’s just a robot, it’s OK.”

But if they’re alien robots, she continued, “why do they talk like bad black stereotypes?”

Bay brushes off any whiff of controversy.

“Listen, you’re going to have your naysayers on anything,” he said. “It’s like is everything going to be melba toast? It takes all forms and shapes and sizes.”

:-|

Seriously Mr. Bay? Really? Stop Yourself.

Lady Gaga: Pop Star For A Country And An Empire In Decline

In Uncategorized on July 28, 2010 at 10:05 am

Oldspeak:“People in their twenties now have grown up on war. People Lady Gaga’s age (she’s 24). We have made monsters out of others in order to kill them without fear. Gaga makes herself a monster to try to show us ourselves. Gaga often plays as well with the idea of wounds, of injury, of disability. She shows up to award show performances splashed in fake blood, puts herself in a wheelchair in the “Paparazzi” video, then crutches. She reminds us that American culture is drenched in blood, and couples those images with constant references to her own fame.”

From Sarah Jaffe @ Alter Net:

“If there are zeitgeist moments for products, movie stars, and even politicians, then such moments can exist for weaponry as well. The robotic drone is the Lady Gaga of this Pentagon moment.

So wrote Tom Engelhardt, in an essay titled “America Detached from War,” and he couldn’t have picked a more perfect metaphor. Gaga is sexy, ubiquitous, and oh so of-the-moment. She exists on a line between monstrous and beautiful, making us ask questions about progress, about agency, about control, about men and women, about Americans and the world. She is both a perfect embodiment of American cultural dominance and subverting what that means at every turn.

Gaga-analysis could fill a library at this point. It is impossible to ignore her. She demands in a voice somewhere between a howl and a snarl at the Grammys “I wanna be a star!” and she makes philosophers (like Nancy Bauer, in a New York Times piece) as well as pop critics talk about her.

The Predator drone is the latest and sexiest symbol of American dominance through military technology; Gaga is the latest and sexiest symbol of cultural hegemony. The media is full of both of them, breathlessly discussing the capabilities of the unmanned drones, a giant leap forward in our technology, a way to detach us even further from the reality of war, to spend a day at war and then go home to the family at night. And of course picking over the latest Lady Gaga video — a cultural event that has turned YouTube into the site of the new Fireside Chat. Instead of talking about the news, millions of Americans talk about the new Gaga video.

Meanwhile, Predator drones kill civilians in countries that millions of Americans probably couldn’t find on a map. Wars continue, dead bodies pile up. The living bodies of women are contested territory abroad and at home. And the body of a 24-year-old white woman who regularly calls herself a monster is one of the few things we come together to discuss. America dominates the world; Gaga dominates our pop culture universe.

We have made monsters out of others in order to kill them without fear. Gaga makes herself a monster to try to show us ourselves.

So Succsexy

Follow the pattern — the hemlines, the headlines/Action distraction,faster than fashion… War as we knew it was obsolete/Nothing could beat denial

So sang Canadian indie pop group Metric in the run-up to the Iraq war. Iraq was our Lady Gaga back then, with all the hype about new technology and American sex appeal splashed all over the headlines, the TV. We heard about smart bombs and “shock and awe.” It was broadcast as entertainment as much as news.

When when the news flash came announcing the beginning of the Iraq invasion I was trapped in my house on the third day of a blizzard and had succumbed to watchingAmerican Idol. The broadcast broke right from a pop song to bring me footage of explosions in the sky over Baghdad.

Fast-forward more than 7 years later, and we’ve reached a saturation point –Iraq doesn’t even get day-to-day coverage in the corporate media. It has faded into the background, just another facet of our lives. People in their twenties now have grown up on war. People Lady Gaga’s age (she’s 24).

Empire Down

There’s always been something deeply problematic about the way war is sold, about pitching the idea of heroism to young men (and now to women too). The Iraq war was sold like it was a pop star, something sexy to look up to, and snuck into video games and YouTube videos, and the mainstream media mostly didn’t question. We saw stronger, fiercer critiques of war from our pop music than we did from the people we were supposed to look to for guidance.

The selling of war has informed our pop culture as much as any previous stars have. Where fame was something that happened to stars before, Lady Gaga launched a full-on assault on the culture and scrambled her way to the top, planted a designer six-inch heel and raised her flag. More so even than Madonna, she has learned her technique from America itself. As much as sexiness, violence and a sense of unease and even voyeurism saturate her music and her videos.

Tom Ewing at popular music criticism site Pitchfork wrote of Gaga entering her “imperial phase,” a line he took from the Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant. Something about the phrase is so right, as he notes: “It holds a mix of world-conquering swagger and inevitable obsolescence. What do we know about emperors? That they end up naked: The phase always ends.”

Command and self-definition are two of Ewing’s requirements for the pop imperial phase. These are obvious: like any nation’s imperialism, they require not only the ability to get there but having a concept that can be packaged and exported. The U.S. didn’t create an empire by invading each time; we have imposed our idea of America on the world, as often through selling and spreading pop culture as through selling weapons and dropping bombs. Gaga is not only a metaphor for American imperialism, she is part of it.

But the third requirement Ewing lists is the most interesting. He says, “Stars have to get through this barrier — they need a kind of permission to become imperial.” But a few sentences later he notes that Gaga “grabbed this permission,” calling into question his own definition of the word — if it’s something you can grab, after all, what kind of permission is it?

Does it mean, perhaps, that Gaga, or the U.S. had to make themselves palatable, package themselves well so that you want to take them home and love them, even want to be loved by them? The popular YouTube video of the former Stefani Germanotta, before she became Lady Gaga, performing on a piano, her hair long and brown, singing her heart out, still an NYU student, is compelling but ultimately forgettable — making herself blonde and pretty as well as covered in glitter and couture is part of the persona. The package is all-important, the right colors and shine.

The U.S. cannot drop its veneer, its own belief in its benevolence, or the whole charade falls apart. We are perhaps more dangerous now under Obama, with a sheen of multiculturalism, change, democracy, than we were under Bush, who provoked the world’s hatred by not caring what they wanted. He imposed American empire; Obama looks for permission.

Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)

Lady Gaga is almost unavoidable in the world of mass pop culture. Just type one L into YouTube search, as I did while writing this article, and “Lady Gaga” is the first suggested response. In part because she is the first true Internet-age pop star, the first one who has mastered the use of YouTube instead of MTV to release videos-as-cultural-events, in part because of her aforementioned “imperial phase.” On the other hand, you have to get as far as I-R-A before “Iraq war” is even a suggested option in Google. More people want to learn about inspirational quotes or the band Iron Maiden, it seems, than the war.

Gaga is the monster. She’s embraced the term, loves it. Re-releasing her album The Fame as The Fame Monster, adding tracks and self-awareness at the same time, she knows that her appeal lies in subversion as much as anything else, that she attracts and repels simultaneously. That she is blonde and thin and scantily clad — American as blonde-apple-pie — but also consciously twists and misshapes her body, slathers on makeup and impossible shoes, adds oversized eyes and a protruding spine. She’s a female-to-female drag queen, playing with the artifice of Western femininity, showing it for the performance it is, showing the ugliness just below the surface.

The third-wave feminist line “fuck your fascist beauty standards” comes to mind; in her most recent “Alejandro” video she is consciously playing with fascist beauty imagery. Gaga’s soldiers are perfectly sculpted mostly-naked boys, Aryan, white, uniform, dressed in black. She’s made whiteness itself into an army (in a song where she fetishizes a Spanish-named boy with the crude line “hot like Mexico”), while she makes a weapon out of her body, strapping machine guns to her breasts as she dances surrounded by her leatherclad soldierboys, while she simulates violent sex with herself in the top position, the “male” position.

In her video for the song “Telephone” she also plays with the rumor that she’s a hermaphrodite or a transgender woman, even while reasserting (through the mouths of two prison guards whose bodies hardly fit gender norms themselves) her femininity?one guard to another “I told you she didn’t have a dick” — she is replanting the idea in people’s heads that behind that blurred-out box over her genitals there might be something threatening. And her rendition of a “cell block tango” inverts prison stereotypes, all white women, tattooed and studded and snarling.

The real-life Gaga has embraced the gay community, not only in her ambiguous sexuality in her videos and her toying with rumors about her biological sex, but literally, speaking at the National Equality March and thanking the gay community even when appearing on The Today Show. Gaga is not only America’s dominant cover girl pop star, but she chooses to align herself with a marginalized community over and over again. While even Obama, elected with the gay community’s support, quietly disappoints, Gaga reminds over and over that this marginalized community is part of America too.

While sexuality is always present in her videos, Gaga often plays as well with the idea of wounds, of injury, of disability. She shows up to award show performances splashed in fake blood, puts herself in a wheelchair in the “Paparazzi” video, then crutches. While we see bloodless warfare on the nightly news and photographs of actual dead soldiers arecause for controversy, Gaga’s fake blood gets the media talking. She features burned-out bodies (the video for “Bad Romance”) or diners full of poisoned corpses(“Telephone”); she makes a cool 911 call at the end of “Paparazzi” and informs the operator “I just killed my boyfriend. Indiscriminate murder is one of Gaga’s themes. She reminds us that American culture is drenched in blood, and couples those images with constant references to her own fame.

She seems to ask with each outrageously violent image: since she is famous, can she do whatever she wants?

Gunshots By Computer

It seems our favorite pastime has become our most fair future Technology has failed us, gunshots by computer

“Gunshots by computer,” Saul Williams’ line, is the best single phrase to sum up the new horrors of warfare, the new age of drone-dominance. Not only are most of us detached from the consequences of war, now even those who fight it are detached from it.

We’ve had a cultural obsession with machines growing beyond our control for years, from the Terminator movies to The Matrix. We fear creating monsters in the machine, but we don’t stop moving forward with technology that we can’t quite control: we don’t seem to be able to see the connection between those fears and the oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico, say, or our ongoing deficit spending to finance wars. It’s not the machines that are growing too human; it’s that we are dehumanizing ourselves.

Ann Powers noted that part of Gaga’s appeal is that “She’s tapped into one of the primary obsessions of our age — the changing nature of the self in relation to technology, the ever-expanding media sphere, and that sense of always being in character and publicly visible that Gaga calls ‘the fame’ — and made it her own obsession, the subject of her songs and the basis of her persona.”

Of course Powers probably intends reference more to communication technology, to our on-demand lifestyles, than she does to warfare. Yet Gaga has embraced artifice, created a pretty pop persona, then makes herself threatening with false eyes and a protruding spine, commits murder, makes her very body a weapon. In the “Alejandro” video she takes Madonna’s “bullet” bra to a whole new level with actual guns on her breasts. She is conducting pop dominance as warfare, though disguised in nonsense words and club beats.

She makes herself into a weapon while America pulls itself further away from the scene of the killing. If we can operate drones in Pakistan, a country where we haven’t declared war, from an office in South Dakota — if we can wiretap people at home without warrants — where is the battlefield? Where is the home front? Where are we? What are our limits? If we enter Lady Gaga’s cultural universe, we might wonder if we have any.

James Parker, at the Atlantic traces Gaga’s trail of destruction through pop: “She’s finishing it off, each of her productions gleefully laying waste to another area of possibility.” She is, he says, the Last Pop Star. She’s on top for now, the appropriate star for a country and an empire in decline. When she is gone, what will be left?

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