Quotulatiousness

June 19, 2017

Political crossovers

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the most recent G-File “news”letter, Jonah Goldberg nerds out on the crossovers in comic books and TV shows, before pointing out that we’re living in the biggest crossover yet:

Well, the Donald Trump presidency is the mother of all crossovers. The primetime reality-TV universe has merged with the cable-news universe — and both sides are playing the part. This is a hugely important point, and one I think my fellow Trump-skeptics should keep in mind. Take, for instance, that cabinet meeting where everybody reportedly sucked up to the president. As Andy Ferguson notes, that’s not really what happened. Reince Priebus did the full Renfield, and so did Mike Pence, but most of the others played it fairly straight.

Don’t get me wrong: Donald Trump’s need for praise is a real thing, so much so he has to invent it or pluck it from random Twitter-feed suck ups. (Remember when he told the AP that “some people said” his address to Congress “was the single best speech ever made in that chamber”?) So, yeah, Trump acts like a reality-show character, but much of the political press is covering him like they’re reality-show producers.

As I’ve talked about a bunch, the mainstream media MacGuffinized Barack Obama’s presidency, making him the hero in every storyline. With Trump, they’re covering the White House like an episode of Big Brother or MTV’s Real World. By encouraging officials to gossip and snipe about each other and the boss, they too are playing the game. Much of MSNBC’s and CNN’s coverage feels like it should be called “Desperate Housewives of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”

So, when you look at how that cabinet meeting was covered, it felt less Stalinesque and more like a creepy spinoff of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette or some sure-to-come non-gendered version (working title, “I Could Be into That”). I kept wanting the anchor to break away to a confession-cam interview with Mike Pence. If he doesn’t give me a rose but gives one to Reince, I will be like, “Oh no he didn’t!”

Meanwhile, Trump’s tweeting seems less like what it is — the panicked outbursts of narcissist with a persecution complex — and more like a premise of The Apprentice in which contestants have to deal with the boss’s rhetorical monkey wrenches. Back in the West Wing, the producers (who just finished congratulating themselves for coming up with the crossover idea of having Apprentice alumnus Dennis Rodman give Kim Jong-un a copy of The Art of the Deal) are trying to craft the best possible tweets to get Sean Spicer to pop a vein in his neck.

June 2, 2017

QotD: Daytime TV

Filed under: Media, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I’m writing this sentence (who can say where I’ll be in an hour) at the Brooklyn Diner off Times Square (the pastrami frittata is fantastic!). I’m about a block away from the set of Good Morning America, where hundreds of decent, normal Americans are willingly turning themselves into meat props for a three-hour spectacle, two hours and forty-five minutes of which is dedicated to something someone named Kanyé said about someone else; the troubling rise in Pilates injuries; J-Lo’s ass; and breaking news of a puppy making friends with a stuffed toy — from someone’s Facebook page somewhere out in America. I don’t actually know that’s what’s on today’s show, but I’m pretty confident it’s not that far off either.

I don’t mean to single out Good Morning AmericaThe Today Show is equally vapid. It’s just that Good Morning America is fresh in my mind because I happened to watch an hour or so of it earlier this week while waiting for my car at the shop. I would have blown my brains out, but the show depleted my IQ so rapidly I couldn’t manage even the most rudimentary tasks. I got so dumb, Debbie Wasserman Schultz could have beaten me at checkers. But I did learn how Victoria Beckham struggles to have it all as a working mom. I don’t know how she does it. She’s a trooper.

And then there was the long segment on Suzy Favor Hamilton, the courageous former Olympic runner who married her college sweetheart, won a bunch of medals, started a family and a business, and then, “after one night with a Vegas call girl,” decided to become a hooker herself. “That light-bulb moment in my head, wow, why shouldn’t I get paid for sex?” she told GMA’s Lara Spencer. We then learn that her husband knew all about her moonlighting in Vegas, but he disapproved, as all decent husbands would, don’t ya know. You can read all about it in her new book (and so can her daughter). Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that — there’s a book. Contain your surprise.

Now, I’m not going to get all judgey here — because that would be wrong. Hamilton says she had serious mental-health problems, and that certainly seems more than plausible. Besides, we live in an age where having addictions, conditions, disorders, and issues is often a moral get-out-of-jail-free card. I have my own “issues” with that. But that’s a topic for another day.

[…]

And that was that. Hamilton betrayed her family and then compounded that “hurt” by splashing it all across the country — and somehow in a matter of seconds this becomes proof of her heroic struggle. She will have to live with this, but it was worth it because another journalist pandering to an interview subject said something that may or may not be true.

I’m not a big consumer of bipolar tell-alls, but I kind of feel like there are already more than a few out there and that it’s possible — just possible — the genre didn’t need one more, at least this one more. I’m sure this book helped someone, somewhere. But I resent the idea that somehow we’re all expected to celebrate this woman’s struggle and honesty and heroism and blah blah blah. And if we don’t celebrate it, not only are we the bad guys, but our judgmentalism makes her more of a hero.

It seems to me that if you don’t want people to judge you, maybe you shouldn’t herd your demons onto a public stage like they’re contestants in a beauty pageant?

Yeah, maybe her book will help someone out there. But maybe her top priority should be helping her family? I’d bet the book tour isn’t doing that.

Jonah Goldberg, “Our Culture Makes a Virtue Out of Victimhood”, National Review, 2015-09-18.

May 10, 2017

QotD: “Reality” TV

Filed under: Media, Quotations, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

“Reality”-based game shows, by no means a U.S.-driven or U.S.-invented phenomenon, may recruit individuals who appear truly random. In practice, the contestants are selected for extreme personality features that the format elicits quickly. The future annals of reality TV will tell how little time it took for shows like Survivor to abandon their original regular-folks pretense — it was a matter of weeks in the case of the U.S. Survivor. Within months the more typical reality-competition show was something like Real World/Road Rules Challenge, i.e., a cauldron of freewheeling pathology spiced with sex and violence.

At any rate, everyone who appears on an actual television program has passed an implicit “can be on television” test for looks. The test is not strict: I was a semi-regular on a deep-cable panel show, and look at me. But try walking in the downtown of any major city and counting the number of people who have tics or wens or facial asymmetries that would disqualify them outright from TV. Needless to say, you don’t hear quite the same range of accents you do at a food-court MacDonald’s, either. It is probably to the good that we are disconnecting from television as a total environment, a multidimensional image of society plunged into at birth: those of us who were reared under those conditions must have weird, unfixable blind spots.

Colby Cosh, “On the ignominious downfall of Jared from Subway”, National Post, 2015-08-20.

April 30, 2017

QotD: Famous for being famous

Filed under: Britain, Media, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Every country that has television, which is all of them, must have celebrities who are famous for almost nothing. The U.K. practically specializes in this. But the “almost” is important. Even the weird layer of U.K. celebrity that subsists on the old country’s old-fashioned panel and reality shows normally tends to demand that a celeb have been a member of Parliament or received a surgically enhanced bosom. If possible, both.

Colby Cosh, “On the ignominious downfall of Jared from Subway”, National Post, 2015-08-20.

March 25, 2017

When reality TV goes feral

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In the Guardian, a sad tale of a failed reality TV show that went off the air … but the people involved were not told about it:

After a year cut off from modern life in the Scottish Highlands, imagine re-emerging to find a world where Donald Trump is US president, Britain has left the EU and Leicester won the Premier League.

For the contestants of the Channel 4 programme Eden, coming back from isolation means not just coming to terms with 2017 but also the news that their year of toil in the wilderness barely made it on to television.

The programme, which first aired in July last year, was billed as a social experiment where 23 strangers were brought to the remote west Highlands of Scotland to build a self-sufficient community away from technology and modern tools. The year-long saga would be recorded by four crew members and personal cameras.

However, only four episodes of the show – covering March, April and May – were screened, as viewing figures dropped from 1.7m to 800,000. Sexual jealousy, infighting and hunger also meant that over the year, a reported 13 of the 23 contestants left the show, though Channel 4 would not confirm the dropouts.

Despite the show being taken off air, those still toiling for survival in the wilds of the 600-acre estate on the Ardnamurchan peninsula were not informed that their ordeal had not been broadcast since August.

So much for those dreams of fame and fortune from “starring” in a reality TV show.

H/t to Colby Cosh for the link.

September 20, 2015

Perhaps this is the real reason Bruce became Cait

Filed under: Media, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Dr. Helen Smith may have figured out the key motivation for Bruce Jenner’s decision to become Caitlyn:

Really, Kris is now happy for Caitlyn and didn’t want to talk to her when she was angry? Why wasn’t she that considerate when Caitlyn was Bruce? Even Caitlyn mentions what crap she was treated like in their marriage when he (she) was just Bruce for years. If you doubt me, take a look at the past episodes of Keeping Up with the Kardashians where Bruce’s opinions were ignored; he pretty much lived in the garage and anger was thrown his way with abandon by the family and Kris in particular. Sound familiar? This is the way many men are treated by families every day, and no one gives a crap. After all, they’re just men and probably have no feelings.

Now that Bruce has come out as a woman, his feelings are treated with care, and everyone, including Kris, is walking on eggshells. Why? It is socially unacceptable to trash talk women, particularly transgender women. Kris must feel angry inside, but can’t really express it. She has to pretend to be happy for Cait. To profess otherwise makes her into the bad guy. Now, if Cait were a man, she could talk with abandon and her anger would be justified. But she has been one-upped by Caitlyn. Maybe more men should transition to women as an act of self-defense as misandry spreads. Bruce joined the winning team and really, who can blame him?

I don’t know how much water this theory holds, but I have to admit that I had to Google search the phrase “Keeping Up with the Kardashians”, so perhaps it’s not something I really need to have an opinion on…

March 2, 2015

“That’s when it hit me. Feminism was created by men.”

Filed under: Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Gavin McInnes makes the contrarian case that men were the driving force behind the feminist movement:

Men are the original feminists. Female men’s rights activist Karen Straughan talks about this a lot, and points out that before women could vote, it was men who wanted to bring back the whipping post to punish guys who hit their wives. A man sees a woman getting abused and thinks “Beat him!” — whereas a woman would be more likely to want to work it out. I no longer believe the suffragette movement was made up of women who were mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. I now think it was men pushing them from behind while saying, “Aren’t you mad as hell? You shouldn’t take this anymore.”

Women aren’t fighters by nature. They aren’t “kick-ass.” They’re more about their immediate surroundings than changing the world. Studies show young male chimps are drawn to toy trucks while young females like dolls. It is inherently male to want to control things across the world and run over anything that stands in our way. It is inherently female to want to nest and nurture and make the home a safe place to be. When male chimps write parts for women, they put a truck in her hand and say she’s in the driver’s seat. This is what girl power has always been about.

[…]

You see the same character played by Sarah Silverman in Wreck-It Ralph. Women don’t do this in real life. No woman has ever won NASCAR. They can barely drive a motorbike over a log. Yet we keep telling them they’re kick-ass and sticking them in the driver’s seat. This is because we love looking at fast cars and we love looking at hot chicks. Ford Mustang recently released a prank video where some “dumb blonde” pretends she can’t drive but reveals she is actually a stunt driver after blowing everyone’s minds with some intense burnouts. This is presented as a feminist statement that shatters stereotypes, but it’s just men making women do man stuff because they like both.

On a recent episode of Mob Wives, one of the loudmouthed sluts yells, “It takes balls to admit you’re wrong, and if she doesn’t apologize to me, SHE HAS NO BALLS!” I don’t want women to have balls. I want them to have vaginas. I’m not saying I want them to stay at home fluttering their lashes and handing me a steak while wearing high heels (though I wouldn’t complain if my wife gave that a try). I’m saying being kick-ass only appeals to the nerds who play video games and want the Tomb Raider they’re looking at to also have big tits. It’s not feminist to see a chick do a backflip and blow a monster’s head off. It’s male-ist.

We tell women they’re men and they should fuck like men. This leads them to march down the street in Slut Walks baring their breasts and demanding they be allowed to do so. (It’s already legal in New York, yet they keep doing this protest with no complaints from any men whatsoever.) They demanded we let them burn their bras so we can see their tits better. They insisted we stop seeing them as baby machines, so we banged them until their ovaries dried up and then kicked them to the curb. We’ve got them so brainwashed, they think “vagina” is a sexist term because it excludes women with a penis. We say feminism is empowering, but kick-ass chicks end up 40 and alone with their dog, while you’ll rarely see a happier woman than a young married Catholic chick with three or more kids.

January 2, 2015

QotD: The democratization of fame

Filed under: Media, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The radicalization of renown is good for America.

In these times of seemingly limited job and business opportunities, celebrity has become a goal attainable by all.

Gaining public attention by performing for the masses once required skills — deft strokes with ochre on the walls of Paleolithic caves, facility with trident and net in the Roman coliseum, recitation of iambic pentameter by the swath from the stage at the Globe.

Talent and practice were needed for popularity from the dawn of time until the debut of America’s Funniest Home Videos in 1990. And even then a contestant had to have steady hands and steely resolve to keep the video rolling while his son pedaled off an improvised plywood ramp trying to leap a row of Tonka toys on his Big Wheel and got whacked in the testicles.

But what does 18-year-old Bethany Mota who still lives at home with her parents (two-page spread, People, pp. 196-7) do? She does “reviews of new makeup, clothes, and other mall finds.” Her YouTube channel has 5.9 million subscribers. She “reportedly makes $40,000 a month.”

There are 10,900,000 teenage girls in America, an estimated 10,899,999 of whom have the same skill set as Bethany. This includes the teenage girl at my house who is presently locked in her bedroom sharing “reviews of new makeup, clothes, and other mall finds” with her 5.9 million Facebook friends. She is about to get pages 196 and 197, torn from People and heavily marked with a highlighter pen, shoved under her door. Bethany Mota, you are a beacon of hope.

P.J. O’Rourke, “Welcome to Showbiz Sharia Law: No talent? Kind of dim-witted? No shame? Perfect. The celebrity industry needs you — just don’t ever veil your face”, The Daily Beast, 2014-05-04

December 22, 2014

QotD: Celebrity gossip as a common good

Filed under: Humour, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Celebrity gossip is psychologically healthy.

It provides an outlet, a useful sublimation, of our self-destructive subconscious compulsion to lean over the back fence and cluck (or tweet) about the godawful things our relatives, friends, and neighbors do.

Celebrities are not our family. Although there are so many celebrities that we are probably related to some. But they’re not the niece looking daggers at us across the Thanksgiving turkey because of what we said to Uncle Bill about her hookup with that McDermott idiot. They’re not the daughter locked in her bedroom running up our Visa card bill with online shopping for new makeup, clothes, and other mall finds.

Celebrities are not our friends. They don’t borrow our money or power tools. They don’t forget it’s their turn to carpool the kids to junior high. They don’t come over when we’re busy watching The View and litter the kitchen table with used Kleenex, pouring their hearts out about their (remarkably frequent) divorces. They don’t get caught — unless Dean McDermott is late to the set for his televised therapy session on True Tori — necking with our spouses in the coat closet at our cocktail parties.

P.J. O’Rourke, “Welcome to Showbiz Sharia Law: No talent? Kind of dim-witted? No shame? Perfect. The celebrity industry needs you — just don’t ever veil your face”, The Daily Beast, 2014-05-04

November 29, 2014

QotD: Celebrity journalism

Filed under: Humour, Media, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:01

The formula for celebrity journalism is to mix schadenfreude with celebration at about the ratio of gin to vermouth in a dry martini.

The May 5 issue of People may not be the best example. Its theme is “50 Most Beautiful” and those selected do look enviably better than you and me. But, going back to the April 28th issue, the lead story is “Tori & Dean in Therapy on TV — Sex-Addiction Nightmare.” There’s a headline that provides us all with contentment and joy in our ordinary, un-illustrious lives. This is a great social good.

And in the matter of “making anyone and everyone prominent,” who the heck are Tori and Dean? They are Tori Spelling and Dean McDermott. “Tori Spelling” rang a bell. She was on Beverly Hills 90210 20 years ago, appeared in such films as Scary Movie 2, wrote an autobiography that would have been more interesting if she’d waited for Dean to start mainlining booty, did some reality-TV stuff, and had a falling out with her mother over a bunch of money her dad didn’t leave her in his will. If you fertilized your lawn today, you have led a more productive life than Tori Spelling.

P.J. O’Rourke, “Welcome to Showbiz Sharia Law: No talent? Kind of dim-witted? No shame? Perfect. The celebrity industry needs you — just don’t ever veil your face”, The Daily Beast, 2014-05-04

May 4, 2014

Three Japanese fencers and 50 opponents

Filed under: Japan, Sports — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:02

H/T to Tim Harford for the link.

January 19, 2014

TV as a form of birth control

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:59

There’s been some noise made about how the “reality TV” show 16 and Pregnant has influenced teens to such a degree that the teenage pregnancy rate dropped by a significant figure. Nick Gillespie has a few questions about the claims:

Television: Is there anything it can’t do?

After decades of being slammed by bluenoses, bureaucrats, and Bruce Springsteen for sexing up and dumbing down the masses, it turns out that the small screen has accomplished what no amount of promise rings, Twilight movies, or mandatory banana-on-a-condom classes have managed to do: reduce the number of teenage births.

At least that’s what the authors of a widely discussed new study say. In “Media Influences on Social Outcomes: The Impact of MTV’s 16 and Pregnant on Teen Childbearing,” (available online for the low, low price of $5.00 from the National Bureau of Economic Research, economists Melissa S. Kearney (University of Maryland) and Phillip B. Levine (Wellesley College) write “The introduction of 16 and Pregnant along with its partner shows, Teen Mom and Teen Mom 2, led teens to noticeably reduce the rate at which they give birth.” According to their calculations, the shows are responsible for “a 5.7 percent reduction in teen births in the 18 months following [their] introduction.”

[…]

The study is far less interesting for the specific claims it makes about teen birth rates than it is as a variation on persistent attitudes toward cultural production and consumption redolent of Frankfurt School anxieties over media’s impact on the proletariat. In many ways, “Media Influences on Social Outcomes” is simply the latest echo of the idea that TV, music, movies, novels, and the like don’t simply move audiences to laughter, tears, or contemplation but compel them to act in particular ways.

In other words, we’re all just mindless, easily brainwashed dupes who are being programmed by our media.

In more doctrinaire versions of Frankfurt School analysis, the producers of content are drivers and audience members are, well, just passengers along for the ride. To their credit, Kearney and Levine aren’t nearly so deterministic, even though they are quick to ascribe causative power to a particular set of programs.

In 2002’s Is Art Good for Us?, University of Tulsa professor Joli Jensen refers to this sort of thinking as an “instrumental view of culture.” It presumes “that art is an instrument like medicine or a toxin that can be injected into us and transform us.” This view, says Jensen, “is very tempting because if certain kinds of culture cause bad things in society, then you can change that culture and fix society.” The instrumental view implies formal or informal commissars that must oversee and direct cultural production, making sure more “good” art is made. After all, you are what you read, or watch, or hear. Morally suspect art leads to crime, chaos, and bad behavior.

May 7, 2013

Fox cancels COPS after extremely long run

Filed under: Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Andrew Kirell bids an unfond farewell to a show that spent all its time on the air glorifying the police:

After a 25-year run valorizing America’s police forces to the thumping reggae pulse of Inner Circle’s “Bad Boys,” Fox has canceled its weekly reality TV series COPS. To which we should say: good riddance.

Yes, the show is being picked up by all-things-manly cable network Spike TV, but critics of the increasing militarization of American police should celebrate nevertheless: the long-running series will no longer air its highly-selective take on “policing” to as large an audience as Fox’s Saturday night lineup.

Of all the police reality shows available for viewing today, COPS may actually be the most tolerable. Unlike its cop-shows-on-steroids successors, COPS often did a good job depicting the monotonies of police beat work, and the oddities of dealing with some of the more bizarre domestic disputes. That being said, the show’s legacy is one of glorifying and overlooking abuse through a highly-selective, heavily-edited depiction of “reality.”

As part of its 25-year-long weekly reveling in the humiliation of perps and victims alike, COPS provided a cringe-worthy dose of schadenfreude for those who enjoy hearty laughter at tatted-and-toothless caricatures being taken to task by virtuous, cowboy-like heroes. Viewers with a more skeptical eye, however, might recoil at police officers bragging about “tasing a man” or the weekly knee-in-the-back of a minority teenager for the victimless crime of carrying a bag of marijuana.

Yes, there are many violent crimes broken up by the hardworking police officers shown on COPS, with plenty of gracious victims being helped. But for every breaking up of domestic violence, there are embarrassing displays of arrogance. COPS‘ turning of serious matters into cheap entertainment has often been coupled with the willful neglect of serious issues like police misconduct and civil rights.

October 4, 2012

Here’s a reality TV show that should exist

Filed under: Humour, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:20

At Marginal Revolution, Alex Tabarrok has a pitch for a new reality TV show that deserves a chance:

I suggest a game show, So You Think You Can Be President? SYTYCBP would have at least three segments.

Coase it Out: Presidential candidates have 12 hours to get a bitterly divorcing couple to divide their assets in a mutually agreeable manner. (Bonus points are awarded if the candidate convinces the couple to stay together.)

Game Theory: Candidates compete in a game of Diplomacy. I would also include several ringers — say Robin Hanson, Bryan Caplan and Salma Hayek. Why these three? Robin is cold, calculating and merciless — make a logical mistake and he will make you pay. Bryan is crafty and experienced. And Salma? I couldn’t refuse her anything but presidents should be made of stronger stuff so we need a test.

Spot the Fraud: Presidential candidates are provided with an economic scenario (mortgage defaults are up, hedge funds are crashing, liquidity is tight). Three experts propose plans. The candidate must choose one of the plans. After the candidate chooses, the true identities of the “experts” are revealed. One is a trucker, another a scuba diver instructor and the last a distinguished economist. Which did the candidate choose?

Entertaining? Check. Correlated with important skills for governing? Check. Can the voters tell who the winner is? Check.

“Reality TV may even be the next stage in the evolution of television”

Filed under: Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:42

Grant McCracken goes ultra-contrarian in this article at Wired:

It’s easy to assume reality TV is the place where bad TV went to hide when the rest of TV got a lot better. Like that old Wild West town where criminals congregate, reality TV is often perceived as the last, “vast wasteland”: uncouth, desperate, lawless.

But while some shows seem irredeemably bad (Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, anyone?), others offer an indication of good things to come. In fact, by turning all of us into virtual anthropologists, reality TV may lead to the improvement – dare I say it – of Western civilization. Reality TV may even be the next stage in the evolution of television.

In its early days, TV was confronted with a series of problems. It was a new medium struggling to find a place in the world. It had quality-control problems in sound and image. And it was talking to millions of American for whom English was a second language and American culture was still a mystery. TV solved these problems by relying on genre. Once you understood you were watching a “cop show” or a “Western,” the rest was easy.

Genre was like a cheat sheet. It flattened every difficulty: technical, intellectual, cultural, linguistic.

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