Saturday, December 15, 2007


INDEED, IT IS NOT OVER: Your best-selling album of 2007? Daughtry. Top single? Fergie's "Big Girls Don't Cry". Tons of interesting Billboard charts linked.
I DON'T REMEMBER THIS BEING PART OF THAT ATARI ARCADE GAME: How much should one provide one's New York Times Sat-Sun home delivery carrier as a holiday gift, when an envelope is provided annually for such purposes by the carrier and, one year, one found oneself receiving increasingly intermittent and inaccurate service from a previous carrier for not having gifted promptly?

Friday, December 14, 2007

SO THE ISLAND'S ACTUALLY JUST A HOSPITAL: The most shocking thing about ABC's spring schedule is that they're yanking almost everything that doesn't have new episodes. Grey's Anatomy? Gone. Pushing Daisies? Gone. Private Practice? Gone. Brothers and Sisters? Gone. Dirty Sexy Money? Gone. Of note for folks around here--Lost goes in to Thursdays at 9 starting 1/31, replacing Grey's in the "flagship" slot. (And to keep it away from Idol.) It gets the odd pairing as a leadout--Eli Stone, Greg Berlanti's midseason drama about a young lawyer who starts having visions (I suspect SpyDaddy + Berlanti + Lawyers alone = substantial ALOTT5MA tune-in).

reality blurred + Saleisha's modeling experiences and work with Tyra raise questions about her win

YES, I ALREADY MISS JASLENE'S MY LIFE AS A COVERGIRL SEGMENTS MORE THAN YOU CAN POSSIBLY IMAGINE: But to win America's Next Top Model, should you just maybe not be so successful that you've already been featured in a Wendy's commercial and done runway work on a previous cycle of ANTM?

This was not a great season -- cycle two (Yoanna/Shandi/Mercedes/Xiomara/TinyJenascia) remains the pinnacle, with cycle seven (CariDee, Melrose and the twins) high up there. But even a pretty-good season of TyraMail is better than most other reality shows.
THINKING OUTSIDE THE ENVELOPE: F/X, apparently eager to prolong the long-overdue retirement of the "box" analogy as a way of distinguishing one's own thinking from boring, rote, uncreative adherence to convention (conventions like using "box" analogies, for example), has adopted a shiny new stupid promotional campaign: There Is No Box.

Leaving aside the fact that, as our children all know, it's not a box, the FX World is a cold and uninviting place. Witness a typical Saturday in this dystopia: You wake up and tap a barrel of Special K for breakfast over the newspaper, where you read that Justin Timberlake and Andy Samberg have been arrested for indecency. You drive down to your local big-pile store, where you buy some gifts, including the Wire: Season 4 bagged set. In the afternoon, you spend some quality time reading to your kids, puzzling over the enduring appeal of a story about a behatted feline who unseals a burlap sack to release the bloodied and exhausted Thing One and the wet carcass of Thing Two. After making a coinpurse of Annie's Organic Arthuroni Mac + Cheese for the kids and tucking them in for the night, you settle down with a sack of Franzia for the Mayweather-Hatton slapping match. Ah, slapping -- the sweet science.
SO LONG, IT'S BEEN GOOD TO KNOW YA: I think last night's 30 Rock was the last one they got in the can before the strike. The plots dragged, but the throwaway lines were great, so I'm happy. My favorite: in keeping with the show's role as network television's most subversive parody of race relations and liberal hypocrisy about the same, Liz Lemon's home town is "White Haven."
ROCK, ROCK, ROCK AND ROLL RECESS: In May of 1974 Jon Landau reviewed a concert of a guy so utterly unheralded at the time that he was the opening act for Bonnie Raitt at a tiny club in Cambridge (where I grew up). Landau famously wrote:

“I saw my rock-and-roll past flash before my eyes. And I saw something else: I saw rock-and-roll’s future and its name is Bruce Springsteen. And on a night when I needed to feel young, he made me feel like I was hearing music for the very first time.”

When I was volunteering at my son’s school recess on Wednesday I saw something similar. It began like something you’d see in grainy black and white footage documenting the early days of Beatlemania. The vast majority of the third grade came out of the building in a screaming pack. Soon I noticed that they all appeared to be chasing a boy named Isaac.

I started to worry about the safety of Isaac and the other kids. I asked my son Liam what was going on. “Isaac promised us that he would sing at recess!” he replied.

Eventually the crowd more or less calmed down. Isaac and a few other children hopped up on the edge of one of the circular cement planters. Holding his hand near his mouth as if he were holding a microphone, one lad yelled “Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for my friend and the world’s greatest singer, Isaac!” Isaac sang! I confess that I couldn’t make out the words well enough to tell you what song he was singing, but he clearly had the crowd in the palm of his hand. Then a few other kids sang.

The highlight of the scene for me took place when it was a boy named Alex’s turn to sing. He started with an apology. “I’m just going to sing the chorus of this next song.” Then, with a dashing smile like an altar boy doing something the nuns might not approve of, he announced “I’m gonna sing a song by the group Kiss.”

He began to sing in a clear and melodic voice:

“I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day
I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day”

The crowd started to clap their hands in time to the music with their hands above their heads. A moment later about 60 3rd graders were singing along at the top of their lungs:

“I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day
I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day”

As the song petered out, the crowd gave Alex a huge round of applause. The bell announcing the end of recess rang.

To paraphrase Landau’s august pronouncement, these children made me feel like I was hearing music for the very first time.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

"SWEET, MERCIFUL CRAP" OR "ONE DAY YOU'RE OUT, AND THE NEXT DAY YOU'RE IN": We should have a space to talk about this week's dramatic, sad Project Runway with a thankfully predictable and deserved ending.

Also: "I've made more bad decisions at 3 o'clock in the morning than I can count." Thank you, Tim.
NEXT, THEY'LL TRY AND GO AFTER DIRTY SEXY MONEY: With Colbert off the air, we must provide our own Threatdown. Needless to say, bears remain at #1, but at least according to the fine folks at the New York Observer, there's a new contender--namely, Gossip Girl, which spreads the message that "Do not adjust your sets—everybody everywhere in this wonderful country is doing fabulously well! Especially in the fabulously big cities! Buy! Buy! Buy!" I know we have a number of fans (myself included), so react.
MICHAEL, I'VE MADE A HUGE MISTAKE: OK, so how awesome is the concept of Will Arnett as the voice of the Knight Industries Three Thousand in NBC's upcoming Knight Rider remake (aka--well, after Bionic Woman, maybe we can get it right this time)? Provide your favorite GOBisms for KITT to say, and KITT had better keep his radio tuned to some Europe.

A 'pointless Listmaking' Special Report: VH1 Ranks The '90s, Blames Gerardo Inclusion On Viewers

'90s NOSTALGIA, HEROIN, NOT STEROIDS VERSION: VH1 has finally made its list of the 100 Best Songs of the 90s.

Here's VH1's top 10 list:
1. Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit
2. U2 - One
3. Backstreet Boys - I Want It That Way
4. Whitney Houston - I Will Always Love You
5. Madonna - Vogue
6. Sir Mix-A-Lot - Baby Got Back
7. Britney Spears - ...Baby One More Time
8. TLC - Waterfalls
9. R.E.M. - Losing My Religion
10. Sinéad O'Connor - Nothing Compares 2 U
And here was our user-generated list from back in September:
1. One by U2 (VH1 rank--2)
2. Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana (1)
2. Losing My Religion by R.E.M. (9)
4. You Oughta Know by Alanis Morissette (12)
5. Jeremy by Pearl Jam (11)
5. Nothing Compares 2 U by Sinead O'Connor (10)
7. Loser by Beck (22)
7. Groove Is in the Heart by DeeeLite (67)
7. I'm Just a Girl by No Doubt (NR)
7. Buddy Holly by Weezer (59)
THEY HIT THE SECRET CHORD THAT DAVID PLAYED AND IT PLEASED THE LORD: While the fact that John Mellencamp would be getting into the Rock Hall was disclosed some time ago, and anyone could tell you that Madonna was a Nolan Ryan-level first ballot shoo-in for the Hall, we finally have a formal announcement--joining Madge and Mellencamp as inductees this year:
  • Leonard Cohen ("Hallelujah," "Everybody Knows")
  • The Ventures ("Theme From Hawaii Five-O")
  • The Dave Clark Five
  • Little Walter ("sideman" category, blues harmonica player)
  • Gamble & Huff (producers behind the Philadelphia International label)

(Not making the cut? Afrika Bambatta, Beastie Boys, Chic, and Donna Summer)

SO I'VE GOT THAT GOING FOR ME, WHICH IS NICE: Some fellows have digitally reprocessed the last scene in Lost in Translation. So if you want to know what Bill Murray said to Ms. Johansen, here's your chance.
FROM THE SAME PEOPLE WHO BROUGHT YOU PIA ZADORA AS "BEST NEW STAR OF THE YEAR": Golden Globe nominations have been announced, including seven (?!) nominees for Best Picture-Drama, a John C. Reilly nod for Best Actor-Comedy/Musical for Walk Hard, a clearly not-yet-updated-online Best Actress list for Comedy/Musical,** and much general love for Atonement, Charlie Wilson's War (as a Comedy/Musical?), Michael Clayton and No Country for Old Men. No mention of Sidney Lumet's Before The Devil Knows You're Dead, which I know had many awards-rooters as well.

**Actual list, according to the wires, which will please many here: Amy Adams, "Enchanted"; Nikki Blonsky, "Hairspray"; Helena Bonham Carter, "Sweeney Todd"; Marion Cotillard, "La Vie En Rose"; Ellen Page, "Juno."
MAKING A LIST, CHECKING IT TWICE: The Mitchell Report comes out tomorrow, also known, for those of you living in the wrong time zones, as "today." Sorry, not that Mitchell Report, this Mitchell Report. Hold it, hold it, wrong again -- this Mitchell Report. Different Mitchells. What's that? Oh, the same Mitchells. Guy gets around. Anyway, ESPN reports that it will name "as many as 80 current and former players" in connection with the use or acquisition of performance-enhancing drugs. ESPN promises that the report will be "salacious," so maybe it will have a little bit of steroids and a little bit of Stephon Marbury.

My question, prompted by the chance viewing of a photograph this week: will the list include Willie Mays? I know that picture was taken before modern steroids were synthesized, but willya look at those guns?

In conclusion, steroids, yay.

edited by Adam, 11:50am: Here's the first leaked list of names expected to be named: Albert Pujols is the big shocker.

1:45p: The media source is no longer standing behind that list.

2:15p: Here's the Report. There is no "list" -- you'll have to search through it. Many of the neames on that initial list do not appear here, including Pujols. Roger Clemens and Andy Pettite, however ...

2:47p: Deadspin does the work for you. Here's the list.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

WHAT ABOUT FROSTING? Important dilemma--cake: a lie or a pretty funky alt-rock band? (Or cup?)
I'LL RECONSIDER MY FOOLISH NOTION/I NEED SOMEONE TO HOLD ME, BUT I WAIT FOR SOMETHING MORE: In Part 1 of our Life of Pi book club discussion, we talked about our unreliable narrator's stories and which one(s) we think are true. This isn't a book about boys and tigers, though -- it's a book about religion. How do Pi's stories inform his discussion of religion? How does religion inform his stories of his journey? And what is Martel -- the real one, not the fictional one -- saying about religion? Put another way, is Pi a spiritual man or a pragmatic one?
THAT NAME'S GOT MY DADDY'S BLOOD WRITTEN ALL OVER IT: One of the more complicated and terrifying villains in both screen and twentieth-century musical history, Ike Turner has passed away at the age of 76.
NO STANK, NO AUTISM: The tale of the tape for tonight's ANTM finale -- traditionally the tightest, least-bloated finale in reality TV:

Height: Tall
Girth: Thin
Hair: The masterpiece of a talented and extravagantly angry wig stylist
Signature runway move: Dimple + shrug
Personal journey: Arrived looking like the model-equivalent of a litter of puppies stapled to a kitten hanging from a tree that has been trimmed to resemble a baby in an Anne Geddes photograph. For undisclosed crime, was sentenced to a season wearing the scalp of Dorothy Hamill. Judges felt that ugly hair and occasional jumping completed transition from "commercial" to "edgy/high-fashion" (the latter being another way of saying "ugly").
Most likely signature sponsor: Pottery Barn Kids
Will not win because of: Commerciality, hair
Will win because of: Best remaining spokesmodel (then again, Danielle and Jaslene have won, so this doesn't matter), Tyra's pending adoption of her, Cover Girl acceptability

Height: Tall
Girth: Thin
Hair: Ivana Trump circa 1982
Signature runway move: Self-gratification
Personal journey: Declared self the best model; never wavered; never once wiped bangs from eyes
Most likely signature sponsor: Ford concept car, 2009 Detroit Auto Show
Will not win because of: Thorough ordinariness, no story arc
Will win because of: Judicial indifference, accident

Height: Tall
Girth: Thin
Hair: Unfurled steel-wool weave, painted with yellow Hi-Lighter pen
Signature runway move: Violent head-swivel, self-doubt-and-pivot
Personal journey: Started strong, but finished strong in a way that made judges doubt commitment and fortitude
Most likely signature sponsor: Bausch & Lomb Specialty Extra-Large Contact Lenses for the Bug-Eyed
Will not win because of: Poor judgment in obtaining tooth extensions; insufficient supplication to Tyra
Will win because of: General modeling aptitude when teeth are concealed

Edited to add: Eh. Girls, never ever ever forget: Once Tyra eats your tears, she has no more use for you.
DIRTY HANDS: This is simply priceless. It appears that the Jets were videotaping the Patriots last year!

Update: The NFL reports that what the Jets did was legal.
I'VE MADE A HUGE MISTAKE: That, I suppose, is what Bobby Petrino was thinking at some point in this first year of his coaching the Atlanta Falcons, when his star quarterback was getting fitted for black-and-white striped pajamas (literally -- Georgia actually still uses the black-and-whites), his star backup was starting and starring for the Houston Texans when healthy, and his remaining options were awful Joey Harrington and broken Byron Leftwich. So Petrino walked out, quitting after only 13 games to take the head coach job at Arkansas. Don't be surprised, though, if Arkansas partisans are saying the same thing -- "we've made a huge mistake," that is -- in the not-distant future. They hired a guy too lazy to make even a full-season's worth of effort to fix the problems with the team he agreed to coach and one too dumb to play Jerious Norwood (who leads the league in yards-per-carry among RBs with more than 20 carries, ahead even of Adrian Peterson) enough to find out if he really is the best player on the team. There are some rules that you just can't go wrong following, and alongside "don't eat fast food fish" and "never trust a man with a mustache but no beard" is "when you meet a grown man with a little boy's name, expect him to act like a little boy."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

IT SUCKS TO BE GREEN: Three years ago, Avenue Q garnered an upset Tony win for Best Musical over Wicked (as well as The Boy From Oz and Caroline, or Change). With the benefit of hindsight, and with more of us now having seen both productions, is it time to say that the puppet-preferring plebiscite may have gotten it wrong?
WHAT IS MYOCARDIAL INFARCTION, ALEX? The news that Alex Trebek has suffered a heart attack (and is expected to make a full recovery) coupled with the fact that Jeopardy! continues to get darn solid ratings (10 million viewers, putting it ahead of Oprah, and in the neighborhood of prime time ratings for Private Practice) raises a question--when Trebek hangs it up, who's the replacement? In discussion over Thanksgiving, my mother proposed Ken Jennings, though his moment may have passed. What communal wisdom do the ThingThrowers offer on this pressing issue. Please be sure to phrase your answer in the form of a question.
HE'S GAINING ON YOU SO YOU BETTER LOOK ALIVE: The latest Speed Racer trailer.

[Sweet Merciful God. I think they get it. -Ed.]

N.B.: You can see a few still photos and a better version of the trailer here.

Monday, December 10, 2007

SIT RIGHT BACK AND YOU'LL HEAR A TALE: Some reasons why I'm unqualified to lead this inaugural/experimental ALOTT5MA book club:
  • Never led a book club;
  • Never participated in a book club;
  • Never led a club;
  • Most serious literary analysis performed: English 129, 1988-89 (note: faked way through Ulysses);
  • Occasionally read slowly
All of the reasons why I'm qualified to lead this inaugural/experimental ALOTT5MA book club:
  • Have read book
So everybody please take a breath and lower your expectations to, say, "stars Dane Cook and Whoopi Goldberg," and then please, please, please join me in discussing Life of Pi.

I'd like to do this discussion in two parts: Pi's actual journey, and then his spiritual journey. Man and earth first, then God and heaven. Or, for you lawyers out there, the facts now, the holding later.

Martel tells us a number of times, in a number of subtle and not-subtle ways, that Pi's narrative is not going to be entirely straightforward. He gives us an introduction that is mostly-fiction, but part real. On the very first page of that introduction, Martel (or "Yann Martel") tells us that "the word bamboozle was my one preparation for the rich, noisy, functioning madness of India," and whatever we think of Pi's story, it's clear that we're being bamboozled. Near the end of the introduction, he promises inaccuracies, but -- playfully, or perhaps ironically? -- invokes the literary acknowledger's boilerplate disclaimer that any such inaccuracies "are mine." In Chapter 96 of the book, Pi himself gives two possible versions of the story, one improbable and the other gruesome, and on re-reading, one might notice some of the other hints Martel has dropped about the different picture one can get by observing details carefully:
This house is more than a box full of icons. I start noticing small signs of conjugal existence. They were there all along, but I hadn't seen them because I wasn't looking for them.
Before we can pick the better story, we have to know our choices. So put on your Japanese Transport Ministry badge and tell me, what exactly did happen on that lifeboat in those 227 days? Pi gives us two options: A tiger, an orangatan, a zebra, a boy, and a blind Frenchman; or a cook, a sailor, a mother, and a boy. I say that there are more options than that -- I have my theories. And, to paraphrase Marsha, what the hell does the carnivorous vegetable island have to do with it?
SO WHAT'S THE STORY WITH YOU AND JOHNNY? Mr. Cosmo just summoned me into the living room: "Close your eyes, walk in here, and prove your bona fides." I walked in, and he unpaused the TV. After a mere two measures of the intro (at most, as I was giggling after about four notes), it was time to dance and sing along:

"Come on everybody, gather round. I'm gonna show you how to (caesura) knock 'em down."

(HBO Family, right now.) Mr. Cosmo was more than a little dismayed at the depth of my knowledge.

Rather than issuing my standard clarion call for the Grease 2 love, I will instead solicit views on the following topic:

Resolved: "They can try to stop the paradise we're -- dreaming of" is the gratist caesura evir.
THIRTY-EIGHT PITCHES: As part of our ongoing celebrity endorsement tracker, an unkempt Curt Schilling has cut a New Hampshire tv ad for John McCain, while three-time Grammy Award winner for Best Spoken Word Album Maya Angelou (1994, 1996, 2003) has released a South Carolina radio ad on behalf of Hillary Clinton (1997 winner in the category), in her race against 2006 Grammy winner Barack Obama, who's up again in the 2008 awards against Dr. Angelou, Bill Clinton (2005 winner), Alan Alda and Jimmy Carter, the latter two of whom have endorsed anyone yet. But we'll keep you posted.
PLEASE USE NO. 2 PENCILS AND FILL IN THE CIRCLES COMPLETELY: Well, we've reached the end of the semester. I hope you've enjoyed HIS 2781, "Popular Culture in the United States." Since you all are just auditing this course, I've decided that you're officially exempt from the final exam -- but you are still expected to fill out the student evaluations. In the comments, please let me know what you thought of our little virtual classroom. Which topics worked best and worst? Which subjects did you want to spend more or less time discussing? Which topics did I leave out? Would you have organized the course differently? (It might also be useful to discuss various ways to frame the whole concept of a "lecture series," seeing as the ALOTT5MA management has solicited proposals for future guest posters.)

FYI, and in case you missed anything, here are all of my posts in chronological order, with main themes highlighted.

  1. Introduction
  2. Theories of Pop-Culture Studies (and the Pop-Culture Autobiography)
  3. Early American Bestsellers
  4. Shakespeare and/as/in Popular Culture
  5. Blackface Minstrelsy
  6. P.T. Barnum
  7. Westerns
  8. Coney Island
  9. Vaudeville
  10. Tin Pan Alley and the Phonograph
  11. The Birth of Motion Pictures
  12. Birth of a Nation
  13. The First Movie Stars
  14. The "New Woman" in Movies and the Blues
  15. Radio
  16. Amos 'n' Andy on Radio
  17. Amos 'n' Andy on Film and TV
  18. Gangsters and Detectives
  19. Jazz and Swing
  20. Mickey, Bugs, and Cartoons
  21. Hollywood's Golden Age
  22. Wartime Hollywood
  23. Television
  24. Movies in the 1950s
  25. Comic Books
  26. Rock 'n' Roll
  27. Elvis
  28. Boomer Girls' Pop Culture
  29. Boomer Women's Pop Culture
  30. Counterculture and Counterrevolution
  31. The 1970s Revival of Hollywood
  32. Punk and Disco
  33. VCRs and Cable
  34. MTV
  35. Rap and Hip Hop
  36. Content Ratings Systems
  37. Media Consolidation
  38. Reality Television
  39. Video Games
  40. "Smarter" TV
  41. Is Pop Culture Really Good for You?

Many thanks to Adam & Company for generously agreeing to host this pedagogical experiment, and to all of you for your witty and thoughtful contributions to our discussions. I've learned a lot from this experience, and I hope that you have, too. See you in the comments section.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

LIKE TETRIS: On the one hand, a really likeable team was Philiminated from the Race tonight. On the other hand, it was because airport intrigue actually mattered, and one of those tiny rules that Race fans know well crept up again.

This has been a very old-school season for the show, and I'm a fan. That said, part of that means we're likely going to end up with Young, Athletic Types in the end, and are already bereft of all-female teams. We've got a lot of world left to travel with not a lot of teams remaining ... they're usually well into Asia by the time there's just six left.
I DIDN'T STEAL TELEVISION, BUT IF I DID, I DID IT FAIR AND SQUARE: Aaron Sorkin's The Farnsworth Invention got pretty roundly panned by Ben Brantley, but my assessment of it is far more kind. The first question is whether Sorkin has learned from the failings of Studio 60, and the answer is mostly yes. Although the play could be read as being self-justifying with Farnsworth as Sorkin's proxy being taken advantage of by the evil RCA/NBC people, two things undermine that reading. First, Sorkin's clearly been fascinated by this story for a long time (see, e.g., the early Sports Night discussion of the topic). Second, David Sarnoff (the RCA head) isn't one-dimensionally evil--he's as close as there is to a villain in the piece, but is far more complex (and credit not only to the script, but to Hank Azaria's performance there). Also, this is Sorkin's least political (and certainly least partisan) work in a good while. There's little or no political sermonizing.

And the good stuff's mostly still there. People still talk fast and talk smart. Sorkin's big themes--the goodness of American idealism and innovation, the dangerous relationship between addiction and creativity, and the idea that television can be a force not just for moneymaking, but for good--are evident in his prior work as well. Indeed, the play ultimately is about the power of American innovation winning over obstacles and the joy of creativity (the response not just when there's an initial image, but when Farnsworth figures out how to get a sharp picture are just moments of unbridled joy). Yes, there are flaws (the narrative device of having Farnsworth and Sarnoff each narrate the other's story isn't entirely effective, and the play can be a bit didactic at times), but it's a darn solid afternoon or evening at the theatre.