Saturday, September 6, 2003

SCHMO MONEY, SCHMO PROBLEMS: Let me jump ahead of the curve in favor of something, which I haven't for awhile. The new SpikeTV reality spoof The Joe Schmo Show is, without a doubt, must-see television.

"Joe Schmo" is the happy cross-fertilization of The Truman Show's contrived realism with the snarky, knowing smile of "Joe Millionaire". (In fact, imagine The Truman Show, only with Eurosnob director/creator Ed Harris replaced by Will Ferrell.)

The premise: take one doofus, tell him he's on a reality competition called "The Lap of Luxury", but put him in a house with a bunch of actors playing reality-tv archetypes (The Virgin, The Bitch, The Grizzled Veteran, The Puck Guy, The Polynesian Gay Guy Who's Neither Polynesian Nor Gay In Real Life) rather than real people, and then orchestrate the whole experience to humiliate the crap out of the one guy who thinks it's real and send him for the ride of his life.

Oh, sure, I can see how it could go too far, and be sadistic and not pleasurable. It could be "Fear Factor" with the added minus of the competitors not knowing they're eating horse rectum.

But so far, it works. It's got the same cheeky charm as "Joe Millionaire", only this time it's all the contestants lying to one of them instead of one guy lying to all the contestants, and it shares the same thrills of imperfect cast training as that show did, as the actors aren't always entirely on-script. Matt Kennedy Gould, the schmo in question, is wonderfully gullible, and takes his humiliations in good spirit. The show is goofy fun, and it made me laugh out loud. Repeatedly.

Let Tim Goodman at the SF Chronicle and the NY Daily News' David Bianculli tell you more.
WHATEVER YOU DO, TAKE CARE OF YOUR FOOD: Ladies and gentlemen, attending Phish concerts can be hazardous to your health, and not just if you're an eleven-year-old girl.

Via the CDC's latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report:
In July 2003, a cluster of hepatitis A cases was identified among young adults who had attended outdoor concert and camping events featuring various "jam bands." As of September 2, a total of 25 cases have been reported among residents of nine states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Indiana, Michigan, New York, Oregon, Tennessee, and Wisconsin). The majority of cases were among young adults who attended concerts during the spring and summer. The median age of infected persons was 23 years (range: 17--44 years); 14 (56%) were male. . . .

The three bands that infected persons most commonly followed completed their summer concert tours in early August. However, fall tours are scheduled to begin in September. Concert attendees are advised to wash their hands frequently with soap and water, particularly after using the bathroom and before eating; to cook their food and drink only potable water; and to avoid food or drugs that could have been prepared under unsanitary conditions or handled by an infected person.

On July 9, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment first notified all other states and CDC of a possible cluster of hepatitis A among concert attendees; CDC requested reports of similar cases from other health departments. CDC plans to continue enhanced surveillance for additional cases. Because of the relatively long incubation period for hepatitis A (15--50 days), persons exposed at summer concerts might not become symptomatic until early fall, and transmission could continue with the start of fall tours. CDC requests that young to middle-aged adults with newly diagnosed hepatitis A be asked if they have attended a "jam band" concert or any outdoor concert and associated camping event.

Symptoms of Hepatitis A "include jaundice, fatigue, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, intermittent nausea, and diarrhea."

Let's just hope they're not also serving muktuk at these shows.
NOT THAT YOU WEREN'T GOING TO PICK IT UP ANYWAY: But the Fall TV Preview issue of Entertainment Weekly is a must-read. Every single page. Where else are you going to find out what failed-tv-heroes Zach Galifianakis, Jon Cryer and Adrian Pasdar are up to?

Plus which, you get a hard copy version of this letter from member of the Throwing Things Hall of Heroes Tom Shales of the Washington Post, with bile a'plenty to spare:
I am a big -- in fact big, fat -- fan of EW but am dismayed almost beyond words (or I wouldn't have been able to write this) that you are giving the superrich and overexposed Stephen King a regular column (The Pop of King). His first one, predictably, was all about his damn self. Why further enrich this hack when the spot, and the money, could have gone to a bright young writer with something fresh to say? At the least, King out to donate the fee to charity. I find him more repulsive than any horror story he ever wrote.

Tom Shales
TV Critic, The Washington Post
Washington, D.C.

By the way, I haven't been watching The O.C. yet. Do I need to start?
ALL THE BENEFITS OF SHOPPING DOWNTOWN, ONLY WITHOUT THE GOOD STUFF: I have a new bĂȘte noire, and I call it faux urbanism. As it turns out, developers have discovered that while people enjoy some aspects of cities, like having a diverse mix of shops next door to each other and being outside, not in a sterile mall enviroment, they don't so much like having to deal with city traffic, parking or, y'know, poor people in order to do so.

So, welcome to the "lifestyle retail and entertainment center". Take all your favorite mall destinations -- Old Navy, Bath & Body Works, etc., throw in a bunch of "eclectic" restaurants (Chili's, Don Pablo's), and place them on a fake "main street experience" in the back lot of a mall, with ample parking all around. Indeed, so much parking that no one can walk there from the nearest development, as if suburban shoppers would walk anywhere further than three blocks away in the first place. And put it as far away from an actual city as you can.

It's hard to describe the creepiness of these places without visiting one, but let me give one example: at a bookstore at one of these fake downtowns, a staffer told me the story of when Hillary Clinton came to the store to sign books. Well, there were protestors on the "street" in front of the store, bitching about this or that. Except that because it's not a real street -- it's all private property, even though it looks like a street and people can walk or drive along it -- they were able to have security remove these people to a far-off location so as not to disturb the carefully-arranged happy shopping mood.

Finally, these places are an insult to the real cities that inspire them. The one in suburban Maryland I visited was only a half-hour away from downtown Baltimore -- a real, trendy, vibrant, earthy city with all the shopping, culture and atmosphere you could ever want. The city of John Waters and Barry Levinson deserves better.

Faux urbanism is the Olestra of the commercial development world: sure, it may make you think you're experiencing the same thing as before, but boy do you feel sick afterwards . . . .

Sunday, August 31, 2003

OF THE SAN FRANCISCO BEAT BOYS YOU WERE THE FAVORITE: Hey Jack, now for the tricky part: Kerouac Bobble Heads.

Keep reading.