Saturday, November 3, 2007

BOMP! ALERT: I think it says something powerful about Jennifer Garner's appeal that I am genuinely happy for her that her Roxane got such a good review from Ben Brantley.
Mr. Michaels noted one small adjustment made for Mr. Williams’s sake. A planned sketch about edited-out parts of the Harry Potter films featuring the recently outed Dumbledore will not star Mr. Williams as Dumbledore. And the show will surround Mr. Williams with high-quality support, including two big-name surprise guests, one from politics and the other from music.
I'll go with Al Gore and Paul McCartney, both veterans of SNL cameos, and especially given that yesterday was the deadline for filing for the New Hampshire primary ballot. Anyone else want to wager a guess?

e.t.a. Wrong on both accounts. You can view the primary cameo here, though the title spoils the surprise.

TILDA: Last night, at long last, I saw Michael Clayton. Tilda Swinton does such an excellent job in this film that I was inspired to think about the other notable roles she has played.

I first became aware of her in 1993 in Sally Potter’s Orlando in which she played the title role, a person who lives four centuries of experiences through the eyes of both genders. Born as a man during the reign of Elizabeth I, Orlando becomes a woman midway through the film.

In 1997 Swinton played an attorney in Female Perversions. Interestingly, in both that film and in Michael Clayton, the role is that of a fiercely ambitious warrior on the verge of a key promotion. Also, in both of these movies, she portrays her character in a manner that makes us keenly aware of her gender.

Perhaps her breakthrough role was in The Deep End in 2001, when Swinton starred as a mother of three who lives in a beautiful house on Lake Tahoe. She gets in way over her head (no pun intended) when she believes her son is in danger. As in Michael Clayton, significant aspects of the plot in The Deep End revolve around keeping secrets and failing to communicate in an honest and forthright manner.

Swinton had a small role as Nicholas Cage’s impatient producer in Spike Jonze's film Adaptation in 2002. She also had a small role in Broken Flowers in 2005, where she played one of Bill Murray’s ex-lovers (she’s the one who has a front yard full of motorcycles and a menacing partner).

Finally, in a role that echoed aspects of her character in Michael Clayton, Swinton played the (evil) White Witch in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which was released late in 2005. All told, she has been in over 50 films, but the vast majority of them are not well known.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Here, there and everywhere - The Daily Nightly -

THIS IS THE BUSINESS WE HAVE CHOSEN: NBC News anchor Brian Williams has blogged about his bad-ass week, moderating Tuesday night's Democratic debate in Philadelphia, then driving back to 30 Rock by 1am for the SNL writers' meeting, pulling an all-nighter to prep for his hosting the show this weekend while also hosting the Nightly News and guesting on Conan later that day.

Here's a line we never heard from Walter Cronkite: "It’s been a long time since I’ve pulled an all-nighter, but the SNL gang hasn’t forgotten the rule we all learned in college for how to do it: consume mass quantities of snacks. To that end, dinner consisted of Tostitos and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups."
Sports Illustrated has plenty of competitors besides ESPN and the New York Times. The increase in sports television coverage, and partly the popularity of SI itself, created a huge demand for comprehensive, sophisticated sports journalism. Traditional beat reporters, Web writers, enterprising bloggers, brainy statisticians, and YouTube videographers are now producing plenty of smart, funny, indiscreet, insidery material every day. Sports Illustrated used to distinguish itself by writing better, and securing better access to its subjects, than anyone who wrote faster. Now, with a few exceptions—Ian Thomsen's recent story on the Celtics' maneuverings to corral Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, Tom Verducci on how the Red Sox saved Jonathan Papelbon's shoulder—the magazine's reported pieces don't offer original details. They just come out three days later than everybody else's.
Levin offers a handful of interesting possibilities: (1) use its influence to push bolder opinion journalism; (2) beef up the investigative reporting and (3) open up the archives and put more materials from the magazine's glorious past online.
HOGEBOOM! Word comes today that Survivor All Stars II is filming in Palau right now (home of the Tom & Ian vs. The Tribe That Never Won season), and many of your favorites from seasons 9-15 will allegedly be there -- manipulative Ami from season 9; Ian and Jenn from 10; doorman Judd of "I hope you all get bitten by a freakin' crocodile, scumbags" fame, fishmonger Lydia and Gary Hawkins Hogeboom! from Guatemala; Not-Smoking Shane, Cirie Fields and Simsbury's Terry Dietz, the dumbest immunity-idol-holder-ever from 12; and then I skipped seasons 13-14 but understand that saying "Ozzy" and "Yau-Man" will get some cheers here.

In re last night, because I've been watching this season, I just feel like I'm seeing a group of amateurs playing Survivor. Many of the competitors are advancing what they think is "strategy," but seems wholly untethered to the needs of other castaways or reality (and, Jean-Robert, I'm looking at you first.) Someone like Danni Boatwright, Rob C. or Boston Rob would eat these kids for lunch, and the real question is how wisely Gravedigger James will employ the gifts that fell into his lap. [Side question: would it violate the rules of the game to just steal another competitor's property?] I did love that expected moment of d'oh! at Council, however.
LEARNING FROM TINKER BELL, GIDGET, AND HOLLY GOLIGHTLY: We're devoting the next two classes to Susan Douglas's Where the Girls Are (1994), a history of baby-boomer culture and its portrayal of girls and women. A boomer herself, Douglas infuses her study with both self-deprecating humor and self-righteous indignation, but she's also an academic expert in communications history, anchoring her pop-culture analyses in their broader social and political context. As I said in my first post, it's a love-it-or-hate-it book, and therefore great to teach.

Douglas's central argument revolves around the ways in which post-WWII popular culture promoted both rebellion against and conformity to traditional gender roles: "the news media, TV shows, magazines, and films of the past four decades may have turned feminism into a dirty word, but they also made feminism inevitable." Douglas traces this ambiguity and contradiction through a wide range of pop-culture productions. Her earliest chapters examine the conflicting ideals of narcissism and masochism, presented in popular culture as essential elements of female identity. In Disney's Peter Pan (1953), Tinker Bell is a "scheming, overly possessive, vain ... no-good little bitch," while Wendy is "a kind-hearted, servile ... wimp who only wants to wait on boys." From melodramas like Douglas Sirk's Imitation of Life (1959), boomer girls learned that selfish young women who rejected parental authority would reap only misery and unhappiness, while self-sacrificing mothers who slaved for these ungrateful wretches would die saintly deaths (though at least Mahalia Jackson would sing at your funeral).

Yet by the early 1960s, pop-culture heroines were moving out of these traditional roles, becoming more assertive, and acknowledging the broader social changes going on around them, particularly the sexual revolution. In "pregnancy melodramas" like A Summer Place (1959) and Love with the Proper Stranger (1963), girls who got "knocked up" weren't automatically condemned as whores, and even wound up snagging Troy Donahue or Steve McQueen. The Shirelles' #1 hit "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" (1960) wondered whether a boyfriend would stay faithful after "the first time," implicitly condemning the sexual double standard that encouraged male wild-oat-sowing but demanded female chastity. In Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), the character of Holly Golightly (played by Audrey Hepburn) took this sexual liberation to a startling extreme, displaying a glamorous nonconformity and a brilliance for reinventing herself. Other 1960s heroines -- Sally Field's Gidget, Patty Duke's identical cousins -- lived far more conventional lives, but Douglas claims that they still captured the era's gender contradictions through the complicated quality of "perkiness," or assertiveness disguised as cuteness. Even the Beatles, Douglas argues, can be interpreted through the lens of gender ambiguity, because they "so perfectly fused the 'masculine' and 'feminine' strains of rock 'n' roll in their music, their appearance, and their style of performing."

While we'll follow Douglas's narrative into the late 'sixties, 'seventies and 'eighties next week, let's use today's discussion to talk about our own pop-culture educations in gender roles. When you were growing up, what did popular culture teach you about being a girl (or a boy)? In what ways was your gender identity shaped by the mass media?

Also next week: the counterculture, the counter-revolution, and the Hollywood revival of the '70s.
NEXT YEAR, NATALIE COUGHLIN WILL REVEAL HERSELF TO BE A MEMBER OF FALUN GONG: The Olympics is, of course, always political. The Miracle on Ice, the '76, '80, and '84 Boycotts. But with less than a year to go ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, we should note the passing of John Woodruff who, like his much better known teammate Jesse Owens, shoved a Gold Medal right up Hitler's Aryan pie-hole in 1936:

Woodruff, the last surviving gold medalist from that U.S. team that included the legendary runner Jesse Owens, died Tuesday at an assisted living center near Phoenix, said Rose Woodruff, his wife of 37 years.

Nicknamed "Long John" for his nearly 10-foot stride, Woodruff was a lanky 21-year-old freshman at the University of Pittsburgh with just three years of competitive running under his belt when he sailed to the racially charged scene in Berlin.

On Aug. 4, 1936, he won the 800 meters using one of the most astonishing tactics in Olympic history. Boxed in by the pack of runners, he literally stopped in his tracks, then moved to the third lane and passed everyone to win the race in 1:52.9.

"I didn't panic," Woodruff told the New York Times in 2005. "I just figured if I had only one opportunity to win, this was it. I've heard people say that I slowed down and almost stopped. I didn't almost stop. I stopped, and everyone else went around me."

(Noted via commenter Mr. Heger)

Thursday, November 1, 2007

THE EYES ARE THE GROIN OF THE FACE: There are Office episodes that are brilliant because they break your heart ... and then there are episodes that are brilliant because they're silly and goofy and just plain hilarious. "Branch Wars" was the latter, and writer Mindy Kaling has much of which to be proud, but in particular I adored the Finer Things Club, and hope to see it convene again.
PERHAPS THE FOOTBALL GODS APPEASED THE ANTITRUST GODS, DID YOU EVER THINK OF THAT? There's chatter in these here parts about how (the tastefully-named) Gregg Easterbrook is off his Seventh-Circuit-Once-Removed rocker. I've always forgiven Easterbrook for (or just ignored, actually) his thousand-word parentheticals about the history of dirt or the hypothetical science of hyperspace travel and given him a pass for his counter-Bennettian self-semidenial (pro-cheesecake; anti-gambling). I was even amused by the fact that a guy whose job is to immerse himself in a giant tank full of think would not consider the possibility that criticizing two Hollywood executives for the crime of "worshipping money while engaged in the act of being Jewish" might rub some people -- er, most people -- the wrong way.

It tickles me a little that people are now saying that Easterbrook is batshit-insane because, like many of us, he says that the Patriots are evil, but unlike almost all of us, he actually means it literally. Yes, that position is batshit-insane, but folks, where have you been all these years? To wit: (1) he is a political scientist who thinks he is a football genius, based on his interesting theories that one should always run in short-yardage situations and never blitz -- two theories incontrovertibly proven, I suppose, by an anecdote per week; (2) his columns are Unabomberish in length, focus, and tone; and (3) despite being the brother of a prominent legal economist with a deep knowledge of antitrust law, he trots out his pet rant every year that the decision of one entity (the NFL) to distribute one product (the ability to view all games, instead of regionally-selected ones) through one distributor (DirecTV) violates the antitrust laws (and, presumably, is economically inefficient).

Which reminds me -- I used to read Easterbrook faithfully, but now I read him only occasionally, if ever. I still read most Simmons stuff, but not as enthusiastically. On the other hand, I look forward to Big Daddy Drew's Dick Joke Jambaroo and Potes's ANTM recap every week. What columnists have you dropped, and which ones do you look forward to now?
PROPOSITION FOR DEBATE: There is no more amusingly named historical event than the Defenestrations of Prague. The War of Jenkins' Ear is a clear second place finisher, however. Also, the following sentence, from the Wikipedia entry for Defenestrations of Prague, is a contender for most awesome sentence in Wikipedia: "More events of defenestration have occurred in Prague during its history, but they are not usually called defenestrations of Prague."
TWO ALL BEEF PATTIES, SPECIAL SAUCE, LETTUCE, CHEESE, PICKLES, ONIONS ON A SESAME SEED BUN: With news that Fatburger is finally intruding Manhattan and Five Guys opening an outpost in Midtown, it's time to discuss the following two topics:
  • What's the best fast food burger? I've never sampled In & Out or Five Guys, both of which I know have their defenders, but Fatburger and the McD's Angus Burger but put in strong contentions.
  • Defend your regional fast food chain. Where do you stand in the great Krystal v. White Castle war? Do we have any champions of Mrs. Winners? Any firm backers of Jack in The Box or Sonic?
YES, BUT WILL THERE BE SPACE WHORES? No, it's not the much rumored Faith: Vampire Slayer On A Motorcycle, but I'm sure some folks around here will be most interested in the fact that Fox has given Joss Whedon the greenlight to move forward with seven episodes of a new TV series for next fall to be titled Dollhouse and to star Eliza Dushku, which sounds kinda like the new Bionic Woman, except, hopefully, without all the sucking. Whedon's also signed on his cohort Tim Minear (king of the underrated, but failed show, with Wonderfalls, Drive, and The Inside) to help with the showrunning. Any suggestions for new folks you'd like to see handle Whedonese? How about Lauren Graham as a nice-seeming but actually evil handler for Dushku's agent?
OUR VALIANT FOREFATHERS OR A GROUP OF YOUNG HORSES? It's the biggest game of the NFL season so far, the undefeated New England Patriots against the Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts, who are also undefeated.

The last I heard, the Patriots were favored by 4-1/2 points even though the game is being played in Indianapolis. I wonder if this is the first time in history that a 7-0 Super Bowl champ playing at home has been an underdog?

I am a Patriots fan, although I have an undercurrent of unease about the arguably unsportsmanlike manner that the team has been playing lately. Were I a betting man, I would pick the Patriots against the spread.

Who do you like?
SHE'D BE 46 YEARS OLD NOW: The #1 song in the nation ten years ago today commemorated the life and death of Princess Diana, who died in a car crash on August 31, 1997. The song was of course Elton John's "Candle in the Wind 1997/Something About the Way You Look Tonight", a slightly reworked version of his 1974 hit "Candle in the Wind", which was written about the death of Marilyn Monroe, who like Diana was just 36 when she died.

The song bidding "Goodbye, England's rose" became the biggest selling single of all time, with the proceeds donated to Diana's favorite charities.
IT WAS 20 YEARS AGO TODAY, ROBIN SPRINKLES SPARKLES TAUGHT THE MALL TO PLAY: Exactly 20 years ago, Tiffany Darwisch at the age of 16 had the #1 song in the country, a pop remake of a song that had hit #4 for Tommy James and the Shondells during the summer of '67.

The artist got her start via an innovative promotion: her record company sent Tiffany on a tour of shopping malls in 14 different cities. The gimmick worked. The song "I Think We're Alone Now" zoomed all the way up the charts, hitting #1 for 2 weeks. I love the part where the couple in the song is "running just as fast" as they can while the drums pound out a rhythm depicting a romantic notion of two hearts beating together powerfully.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

STEWIE GOES HIGHBROW: In analyzing last night's Democratic debate, Jon Stewart said that it essentially boiled down to six men engaged in a systematic verbal attack against one woman for two hours, that it was "basically the world's most boring Neil LaBute play."

Well, I laughed. Also, Colbert just referred to trick-or-treaters as "pre-hoboes." How are the pre-hoboes by you? -- ours were pretty quiet tonight.

In other TDS/Colbert news, with the site now online, you can finally watch My Favorite Clip Ever whenever you want, as well as thousands of others. Any you feel like locating and recommending?
IS THERE ANYBODY ALIVE OUT THERE? From last night in Los Angeles, Bruce Springsteen made it to the stage in a manner appropriate for the season. More tour video here, including a kickass "State Trooper" from Ottawa with the kids from the Arcade Fire.
WE DON'T WANT "OTHERS". WE WANT ONE GUY, AND WE WANT HIM FAST. IT GIVES US OUR SECURITY BACK: Jeff Bridges as a paranoid college professor who might have reason for his paranoia, in the film he chose after completing The Big Lebowski. Tim Robbins as the neighbor too good to be true. Hope Davis and Joan Cusack and Hope Davis as the awesome seconds, and the guy who directed the "Jeremy" video directing.

The thriller Arlington Road has a lot of fans here. The less you know about it coming in, the better, but the more you know, the more we have to discuss in the comments.
MAYBE I'VE A REASON TO BELIEVE WE ALL WILL BE RECEIVED: Elvis Presley is the only individual performer who gets a whole lecture to himself in my course. Why? Well, let's see: a top-10 finisher on lists ranging from VH1's Greatest Artists of Rock & Roll and BBC's Voice of the Century to Rolling Stone's "Immortals" and Variety's Icons of the Century; the best-selling solo artist in American history; the star of 31 feature films; and last year's top-earning dead celebrity. If any pop-culture figure deserves the pretentious label of "icon," Elvis is it. Of course, it's precisely this iconic stature that can make it so difficult (and therefore so important) to recapture the reasons for his initial popularity in the mid-1950s. (The authoritative treatment of Presley's life and impact is Peter Guralnick's two-volume biography, but if you haven't got time for that many pages, check out Guralnick's moving short essay, "Elvis Presley and the American Dream," in his collection Lost Highway.)

Memphis played a crucial role in Elvis's social and musical development, providing not only the studio where he recorded his first hits but also a cultural atmosphere in which white youths were increasingly adopting black singing, speaking, and clothing styles. As with early rock 'n' roll in general, Elvis's music would blend black and white influences, drawing on country and western, rhythm and blues, even gospel. Peter Guralnick notes that even Elvis's earliest nicknames -- "The Hillbilly Cat," "The King of Western Bop" -- revealed this "cultural schizophrenia." He cut his first sides for Sun in July 1954; by November 1955, he'd been signed by RCA; and in 1956, he began his unmatched string of #1 hits, helped by sensational television appearances on the Milton Berle, Steve Allen, and Ed Sullivan shows.

As Guralnick admits, though, this mass-marketed Elvis became less a pioneer and more a "product": "a pop singer of real talent, catholic interests, negligent ease, and magnificent aplomb, but a pop singer nonetheless." His greatest commercial successes still lay ahead in the 1960s and early 1970s, and he even enjoyed a brief critical revival with his 1968 "comeback special." But by the time of his death in 1977, he'd become a sequined, bloated caricature of himself. It was hard (especially for 9-year-olds like me) to understand how he'd ever led a cultural revolution.

Critical reassessments and exhaustive biographies have helped to restore some of Elvis's pre-Vegas stature. Yet 21st-century observers are also more likely to see Elvis as an expropriator of "authentic" black idioms. In Public Enemy's "Fight the Power," Chuck D put it bluntly: "Elvis was a hero to most/But he never meant shit to me." Let's turn that statement back into question form: What is Elvis to you? What does he mean to you, and why?
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS SPONSORLOVE: THE DOUBLE-SIZED WEDNESDAY EDITION: Okay, two weeks ago I forgot my vow to watch all of the Friday Night Lights commercials, so I had to find the time to go back to the tape. And then I got a little behind. I just want to reassure the sponsors that this delay absolutely does not mean that I do not love and support them. Anyway, our beloved supersponsors this week, apart from Tecate, the Tijuana Clinic for the Injection of Shark Into Spinal Fluid, and the Benevolent Association of Law Enforcement Agencies Portrayed by Landry's Dad, are:
  • TV Guide. TV Guide's biggest problem is convincing people that it exists. Back in the pre-Internet/pre-digital days, TV Guide -- like telexes, record-cleaning spray, video rewinders, and The Club -- served a valuable purpose. As broadcast channels proliferated, it saved people from having to kneel in front of the TV, spinning the dial in the hope of finding something worth watching. Just when remote-control threatened to obsolete that advantage, the rise of cable, and newspapers' curious decision to relegate cable listings to the fine print, enabled TV Guide's comprehensive listings to maintain their utility, with such added bonuses as informative interviews with Anson Williams and glossy promotional photos of Dick Van Patten. Now, after the advent of the TV Guide Channel, digital programming guides, title-searchable DVR listings, and Internet schedules, it may be hard to imagine why on earth someone would buy TV Guide. The answer to this is obvious: some people are senile. If you cannot dial a non-rotary phone, you cannot cancel your subscription. So the next time you ask "why the hell do we need a TV-Guide-sponsored mid-FNL recap of what just happened in the first half-hour," please remember that TV Guide's sole audience at this point is people with mid-stage dementia.

  • Sleep Train Mattress Center. I know I've already featured Sleep Train, but it's having a Halloween blowout. Accordingly, in addition to its usual promise to knock you into peaceful rest with all the force of a runaway sleep train, Sleep Train will, for a limited time only, haunt your slumber with Hieronymous-Bosch-inspired nightmarish visions of tortured ghouls, masked serial-killers, predatory manimals, and sexy nurses. Sleep Train: Official Mattress Center of Concussed Terror-Sleep.
Once again, don't forget to lavish FNL's sponsors with your (legal) tender affection.
BUT WHERE DID IT GO? After a lengthy exchange with colleagues earlier this week about how the "Waffle/Bac" notation on our check meant that I was bringing waffle back (in fact, it meant I had ordered a waffle with bacon), and this sign in Brooklyn (and while I can understand the pumpkin flavored coffee/lattes and love pumpkin bread/loaf, the concept of the Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino just seems wrong), I take a moment to officially declare that "bringing _______ back" jokes are over.
EITHER "THE WILLIES" OR "THE HEEBIE-JEEBIES" ARE ACCEPTABLE: When's the last time something in our popular culture actually gave you a good scare? Do you have to go back to The Blair Witch Project?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A List Of Things Thrown Five Minutes Ago

THE RESCUING BUSINESS: If you remember Kurt Eichenwald's compelling NYT activist-journalism which ended up rescuing one teen from the underage online pornography business, you'll want to read the weird, unfortunate tale of what's happened to Eichenwald since. While that underlying story was chock-full of "a journalist probably shouldn't do that," I still look forward to the day when the man responsible for nonfiction storytelling like The Informant and A Conspiracy of Fools can return to being the author of journalism, and not its sad subject.
OH, THIS IS GOING TO BE FUN: I haven't been writing about Grey's Anatomy lately, partially because I haven't been writing about anything and partially because I've been watching everything on such a delayed basis that it seems silly to chime in on an episode a week after it airs. But I just got around to watching last week's episode, and along with a number of really poignant moments (Meredith and the Chief sending Ellis to the sea, Ava leaving the shirt on the pillow, and so forth) came such a gorgeously heartwrenching scene between Bailey and George that I just wanted to hop over here and say wow, what a gorgeously heartwrenching scene that was between Bailey and George.


WHATEVER YOU DO, DON'T BRING A SANDWICH: If you really want to scare people for Halloween, you could dress your kid up like Sen. Chris Dodd.

Robert Goulet, Actor, Dies at 73 - New York Times

VERA SAID THAT? Actor/singer Robert Goulet has passed away.

Exclusive: NBC Planning Major Office Expansion! - Ausiello Report |

NO, IT WILL NOT BE THE BOB VANCE, VANCE REFRIGERATION SMILE-TIME HOUR: Any interest in an Office spinoff featuring an all-new cast?

[Do such things really count as spinoffs? For example, there's no connection between Mork and Mindy and Happy Days other than the set-up episode and the trippy return visit. Here's a good review of other such "stealth pilots," including the aborted Brady Bunch spinoff called Kelly's Kids.]
HERB TARLEK CALLED--HE WANTS HIS BLAZER BACK: Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you selections from the summer 1977 JC Penney catalogue, which allows you to wonder, what exactly happened to the "all purpose jumpsuit."
THERE HAS BEEN AN INCIDENT AT SEDAN: Granted, the Cal Bears have suffered the most catastrophic collapse since the Fall of France. But at least the Regents get to finally boot the hippies out of the trees and start rebuilding Memorial Stadium.

In other Cal Bear news: there was a play last weekend that involved more laterals, but sadly fewer Stanford trombone players, than The Play.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Guilty Pleasure Monday:: Politicians, Athletes and Musicians Hosting Saturday Night Live | The A.V. Club

WAIKIKI HOCKEY? THE QUESTION IS MOOT: The AV Club reviews some of the best and worst moments in politicians, athletes and musicians hosting Saturday Night Live over the years. I don't have to dribble the ball fast, or throw the ball into the basket...
YES, BUT HOW WERE THE PRETZELS? Claire Zulkey went to Scranton's Office fanfest convention, and filed a series of reports. Meanwhile, according to attendee and Scranton native Sen. Bob Casey Jr., in a cryptic line that could have been offered by Michael Scott himself, "What happened yesterday and what is happening today is about tomorrow."
THE SHAME OF THE BOOTS: While the BigLaw recruiting tactics shown on HIMYM tonight seem less than entirely accurate, we certainly need a thread to discuss Marshall Erickson, Wachtell associate, Barney's screenplay again demonstrating the effectiveness of "Ted Mosby, Architect" as a pickup line, and a touch of reality (how exactly does Lily manage to pay for that designer wardrobe?). Also, slap o'clock is in a mere three weeks.
ALSO, ON THANKSGIVING, THEY'LL BE AIRING THE WORLD SERIES OF FLONKERTON: NBC's sweeps press release is out, and, as usual, contains spoilers galore, including a big plot twist or two on Chuck, Comedy Night Done Green, at least one new baby, a groundbreaking lawsuit on The Office, and a couple of FNL tidbits. Most surprising? Not a single NBC show appears to be getting pulled for sweeps, though 30 Rock is getting preempted once.
TELL TCHAIKOVSKY THE NEWS: The heyday of "rock 'n' roll," strictly defined, was surprisingly short -- just a few years in the mid-1950s -- but what a time it was. Rock 'n' roll took the teenage rebellion that had been percolating in movies and comic books, blended it with the integrationist fervor of the early civil rights movement, and created a pop-culture phenomenon with genuinely transformative impact, both socially and musically. (Needless to say, there's a staggering amount of writing on early rock 'n' roll; for two good historical overviews, see Charlie Gillett's The Sound of the City, for the music and business sides of the story, and Glenn Altschuler's All Shook Up, for the broader social-political context.)

Rock 'n' roll drew on several musical styles that had enjoyed success outside of the musical mainstream. Rhythm and blues (or "race music") furnished danceable beats, suggestive lyrics, and doo-wop harmonies, as in the Dominoes' "Sixty Minute Man" (1951). From country and western (or "hillbilly music") came chugging guitars, reedy vocals, and a prominent backbeat, heard in Hank Williams' "Hey Good Lookin'" (1951). Through the early 'fifties, performers, producers, and disc jockeys helped to spread these musical influences from city to city, from South to North, and across the color line, gradually creating a musical genre beholden to its predecessors yet unmistakably new.

Between 1955 and 1957, the dam burst, as a whole slew of first-ballot Hall of Famers launched their careers: Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, and of course Elvis Presley (who'll get a post of his own on Wednesday). Rather than blather on about these artists, I'd urge you to follow some of those links and check out the performance clips. The energy, exuberance, and wit of those singers still leaps off the screen, over fifty years later. Now just imagine how revolutionary those performances must have felt at a time when songs like this ruled the pop charts.

And yet almost as soon as rock 'n' roll made its raucous entrance, it was transformed into something different. Like ragtime and jazz, rock 'n' roll was gradually softened for middle-class white audiences. Within just a couple of years, the stage belonged to teen idols like Neil Sedaka and Fabian and dance fads like the Twist, all promoted in more corporate and polished settings, like Dick Clark's American Bandstand. A series of unfortunate events also pulled several leading rockers away from the spotlight in the late '50s and early '60s. To be sure, plenty of fabulous music appeared during those post-Buddy-pre-Beatles years -- but it wasn't rock 'n' roll.

To many of today's listeners, raised on punk, grunge, hip hop, and hair bands, early rock 'n' roll sounds quaint and innocent, hardly the stuff of cultural and musical revolt. How about you? Do you listen to early rock 'n' roll? Why or why not?
IF IVAN TURGENEV HAD BEEN A RED SOX FAN: Several months ago, my dear friend Rosi Amador of the band Sol y Canto invited me and my family to participate in a celebration on the evening of Sunday October 28th of Noche de Muertos, Mexico’s lively and colorful community festival honoring departed ancestors. Although this sacred holiday takes place at about the same time as Halloween, All Saints' Day and All Souls Day, the emphasis in Noche de Muertos is on celebrating and honoring the lives of the deceased, and celebrating the continuation of life. The belief is not that death is the end, but rather the beginning of a new stage in life.

The multi-media celebration consisted of giant projected images created by photographer/historian Susan Wilson, illuminating traditional dancing skulls, marigold bouquets, bustling marketplaces and the faces of families in celebration, taking you to the heart of Michoacán, one of Mexico's most historic states. The Sol y Canto sextet added live interpretations of beloved Mexican classics as well as evocative new compositions in a powerful combination of Mexican and pan-Latin rhythms, with special guest violinist Rebecca Strauss. It was a stunning performance.

Immediately outside the concert space, there was an astonishingly beautiful altar featuring a Christian cross, a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, marigolds and other flowers, pictures of deceased relatives, and hundreds of candles. Traditionally, families spend time around the altar praying and telling anecdotes about the deceased. Without any prompting, Liam, my 8-year old son, dropped to his knees and started to pray. “I’m praying for Grandpa David (my father) and Uncle Murray” he explained when he finished. Then we all kneeled down and I led the family in another prayer in their honor.

We rushed home in time to see Jon Lester, the Red Sox pitcher, retire the Rockies in the bottom of the 4th. Watching Lester, a cancer survivor, made me think of my father, who died suddenly of cancer almost exactly three years ago, a scant three weeks before the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004. The Sox never won a championship during his lifetime. I hugged my sons, both of whom were wearing their Red Sox jerseys.

Suddenly I was seven. I saw my father pitching whiffle balls to me on Cambridge Common when we lived in Harvard Square.

During the 2004 ALCS when the Sox were down 3 games to none against the Yankees, I needed something to take my mind off what I figured might be the sting of another painful loss and the lingering pain of my father’s recent death. So while watching Game 4 I prepared handwritten notes for the people who had sent us condolence cards concerning my father’s death. You probably know what happened on the field. Dave Roberts stole second, the Sox won Game 4 and the next three games against the Yankees, and later the Red Sox defeated the Cardinals in the World Series. During every game, I continued to write these notes expressing my gratitude to the people who offered their support when my dad died.

Following my father’s death, the issue of cancer weighed heavily upon me. I’m the type who likes to solve problems, but I knew that there was no way that I could make a major contribution to our battle with cancer. But I couldn’t stand to do nothing. So despite having not touched a bike for a decade or so, I signed up for the Pan-Mass Challenge a very long bike ride across Massachusetts that raises money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, a leading cancer research center in Boston. My father was treated there about 4 weeks before he passed away.

I did the nearly 200-mile long ride again this year. During the dark moments of this year’s ALCS, when the Sox were down 3-1 against the Indians, I decided to prepare handwritten notes for the people (including many of you) who had contributed to the Pan-Mass Challenge on my behalf this summer. I did the same thing during the next three games against the Indians and the next four games against the Rockies, all of which turned out to be Sox victories.

Did expressing my appreciation to the people who supported my efforts to raise money for cancer research, to the people who gave money because they had loved my father, and to the people who had given money because their lives had been touched by cancer, improve the mojo favoring the Red Sox? Who knows? Either way, though, you can understand that the Sox success thus far is inexorably tied up for me with the loss of my dad, my determination to make even a small difference in our battle against cancer, and my appreciation for the kindness, generosity, and sympathy of all those people.

As the game ended and pandemonium ensued on the field, I hugged Aidan, my 10-year old son, and told him that he would always remember this moment (Liam had already fallen asleep). I then put Aidan to bed (it was a school night!) and returned to the post-game coverage. When Mike Lowell, another cancer survivor, was named World Series MVP, I figured that some sort of cosmic karma was being made manifest.

I flashed back to Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, the famous “Carlton Fisk home run game”, which my father took me to. I remember Bernie Carbo’s home run that night. I remember Dwight Evans’ great catch that night. But what I remember most vividly about that night is my father putting his arm around my slender shoulders as we left the game, drawing me close to him. Keeping me safe as we made our way through the thicket of the crowd to the subway in Kenmore Square. The faint smell of tobacco and Old Spice aftershave on him. The rough texture of his tweed jacket as it brushed my tender cheek when he held me during the bumpy subway ride home.

Noche de Muertos celebrates the continuation of life. The belief is not that death is the end, but rather the beginning of a new stage in life. Fathers, sons, and baseball. It’s a never-ending story.

AND WE STILL AREN'T GETTING JOSS WHEDON'S WONDER WOMAN: I'm well aware that studios are trying to lock down projects right now in anctipation of potential writers' strike, but, dear ThingThrowers, which of these superhero projects is more misguided:

The Berlanti one is interesting, since there hasn't been a single Berlanti-led project I haven't enjoyed, but it's certainly a risky choice to give him the reins of a big-budget, effects heavy, film given his background in small, character-centric dramas. Gregory Smith for Hal Jordan? And I suppose this means we're going to have a "comic" Flash, possibly even with Vince Vaughn as the World's Fastest Man.

FEATURING A BROKEN OX, A CHISELED SNOW GLOBE AND A VIETNAMESE FERRY: With a week to go before the new season begins, TWoP's Miss Alli lists the best nine episodes in Amazing Race history.

It's a pretty good list, though I'd have included the season two taxi-plus-run finale in San Francisco ahead of the Lincoln Tunnel v. George Washington Bridge battle of the first; plus Rob Mariano's all-you-can't-eat feast (which showed just how much he'd affect the season); maybe the Caviar Challenge; and certainly season two's Australia episode with the Sydney Harbor bridge walk, opal mining, boomerangs and the most random game of golf you've ever seen.
GAME OVER, SERIES OVER, AND THE RED SOX ARE WORLD CHAMPS AGAIN: Red Sox Nation, the rest of the world salutes you this evening. From down 3-1 to Cleveland to seven straight wins to close out the season.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

FOR THOSE ABOUT TO ROCK, WE SALUTE YOU: With Guitar Hero III having arrived in stores today and Rock Band arriving in stores in less than a month, a question for the ThingThrowers--what would you like to be able to rock out to? My picks include:
  • Pretty much any of the mid-90s Aerosmith--Janie's Got A Gun, Cryin', Livin' On The Edge. (Exclude I Don't Want To Miss A Thing, please.)
  • Some Bruce (Born In The USA, Born To Run)
  • I Want You To Want Me
  • Totally F**ked (from Spring Awakening).

I'll be buying Rock Band for sure, if just because of the announced content--the entirety of Who's Next will be well worth the purchase price.

HOW CAN WE OVERCOME EVERYTHING WE KNOW ABOUT YOU AND COME TO HIRE YOU? It's a very good question, when the "you" is Yale Law student Elizabeth Wurtzel and the "we" is A Big BigLaw Firm, and the "everything we know about you" sounds like this:

Forget about the idiotic post-9/11 remarks, because lots of law students do stupid things. And let's even put aside her weird explanation as to why she went to law school -- that post-9/11, “I really had the feeling that the whole world had gone crazy. I felt very powerless. If I’d been a lawyer, I would have known what to do," because as a lawyer post-9/11, I can assure you that it was an unsettling period for everyone else as well.

No, instead, let's talk about the fact that with a 160 on the LSATs, Wurtzel was much better suited for Northeastern than Northwestern, let alone YLS, which raises serious questions as to their admissions standards. And, more importantly, can she pass the character and fitness portion of the Bar, what with the being fired from the Dallas Morning News for plagiarism and then the going on book tour and having her friends FedEx her cocaine while on book tour (and using her publisher's shipping number).

Stephen Glass didn't pass the New York Bar's character and fitness review, though his substitution of fiction for fact was certainly more pervasive than Wurtzel's decade-old plagiarism. Still, adding the plagiarism to the drugs ... anyone here willing to exclude her from the profession?