Friday, March 18, 2011

Rebecca Black's "Friday" (or: in which I discuss exploiting starry-eyed teens and their parents for fun and profit)

So.  Rebecca Black.

Randy asked me to cover the rise of Rebecca Black, a girl I'd guess is a high school underclassman and who has become famous for a very bad song which is making the rounds.

If you have not seen the video that launched a meme, I'll go ahead and embed it below. I invite you to watch the video in order to inflate Rebecca's hit count and get some context here.

So, I'll be honest... yes, its vapid, pointless pop music, clearly cranked out quickly and cheaply.  It utilizes auto-tune to fix a non-professional's deficiencies, and to make it sound exactly like every other song that's on Top 40 radio. Sure, its hard to say much about the song other than "they really know how to repeat the same words over and over", and itts intended to appeal to an audience I'd guess is between the ages 5-15 (ie: children's music - which i doubt Black herself has grokked), but it is MOSTLY a song that Ms. Black's folks would feel completely comfortable to hear their child sing in front of a crowd (if one can ignore the poor grammar of "we so excited".  Which raises questions for me about the writer's intentions regarding who was supposed to sing this song, but let us not go there.)

The video and song have been mocked by folks online who know better* and believe themselves snarky.  Hey, that sounds sort of like what we do here, but let me be 100% honest with you:

I have absolutely no idea what is funny about this meme. This song sounds exactly in my head like what I hear when anyone from Hilary Duff to Miley Cyrus to Britney Spears to Ke$ha to (insert pop starlet using autotune who is the product of a producer looking to create a brand).  It sounds like bad pop, which is what it is.

Perspective, people.

Sure, its a stripped down version of the overproduced pop that's dominated kid's music since someone tried to make a go of making Tiffany a household name.  I salute Black's parents for not buying that she has to put on a skimpy faux-Catholic school girl Halloween costume ala Ms. Spears to get attention, nor that she should sing about wanting to be "rubbed the right way", as Aguilera insisted en route to making the Top 40.  She seems like a sweet kid, and if riding in a car is a big deal to her, more power.

But...  I am 35 and a dude, and this is not intended for me.  This is exactly what pop music sounds like right now no matter who is performing it and no matter how they're dressed.  The difference is that she's singing about the dumb stuff that I suppose most kids in middle-class and upper-class homes think about at her age. Honestly, isn't this her "Everybody's Working for the Weekend"** but for rich kids for whom Friday represents a chance to get a ride with her friend's mom to the Pizza place where that cute boy from Geometry might be hanging out?  At least she's singing about what she knows. 

The fact that she can't sing (thus: auto-tune) and the lyrics are asinine: I'm sorry, where were all you people when Will Smith decided his daughter needed to be a pop star and everyone talked about how great and catchy that @#$% was? 

In short, its silly, its badly written, it doesn't really work...  but that describes 95% of what gets generated out there that outsells all your favorite bands.  So let us all give poor Rebecca a brake.

And... did we just notice that there are cynical producers exploiting bright-eyed young people and their parents? Heck, I admire Ark for their brazen choice to put their label out front and announce to YouTube Nation exactly who was making mad bank off of this hack job. And who can say that this method hasn't worked for them?
  • Rebecca Black has a top-selling tune on iTunes.  
  • You have smug self-satisfaction and once entertained notions that Crash Test Dummies were a good band when you were trying to define your tastes as "alternative". 
It's the Disney Channel of music.  If we're going to bag on this, let's all tune into Wizards of Waverly Place and bag on that show for not being The Wire.

Now what I do love is that at 2:30 in the video, this random, much-older guy shows up and starts rapping about how he wants to echo Rebecca's sentiments regarding the awesomeness of Fridays and his joy at seeing a school bus.

Guy in car, I salute you.***

Also, at about 1:16 it seems Ms. Black was asked to invite her pals to join her in a video shoot, and, man...  her friend in the braces does just not know she is about to be an internet meme.

Now, I know what I was listening to by 7th grade, so I can say with confidence, this would have drawn the same blank stares from me that Ms. Debbie Gibson received during her reign (btw, is this really worse than Electric Youth?), but maybe in, like, 2nd grade I would have thought this would have been great to hear at Pizza Royale while plugging quarters into the Galaga machine.  Back then, this would have been right there in my wheelhouse. 

You aren't going to really convince me that this is a whole lot different from, say, Taylor Swift.  Teen singer, handled by agents and producers, singing repetitive, tuneless songs, not in control of her own destiny...  Actually, that's kind of how I feel about modern country in general, but I digress.  The difference seems to be just how much someone's parents were willing to spend on an investment and how much a producer thought they could make on a kid before they wised up and he moved on to the next kid.

I am also not convinced that this girl is any different from the 10's of 1000's of bright-eyed hopefuls who show up for American Idol, nor what becomes of the "winners" of that show.

Now, I am willing to embrace this video and song as silly, if you'll acknowledge that Avril Lavigne did far more damage to the music industry than a 1000 Rebecca Blacks could hope to accomplish.

*I've seen your record collection.  You don't know better, and you have some explaining to do.
**I would submit that "Working for the Weekend" and much of the Loverboy catalogue was weaker than this tune, but we still let that @#$% play over the PA at Red Robin three decades on.
***In the story I've written in my head to give the video a narrative, this is RB's aunt's boyfriend who is the only one who appreciates Ms. Black's auto-tuned talent.

Oh @#$%...  

Here she is going acoustic (thx, Randy!)

I think her friend in the braces is sitting there on the couch looking way more comfortable this time.

Aside from the fact the boots are blue, I am totally down with the Wonder Woman TV costume

From Entertainment Weekly

well, gosh

Well, yes, I think I will be watching this show.  Likely for the wrong reasons.

Oh, look! She has gold stars on the outside seam of her pants! That is so cool!

Not a problem, but I wonder why they changed the tiara? 

Also, I'm already over the fact that her boots are blue.

Michael Gough, the Alfred of 4 Batman movies, Merges with the Bat-Infinite

JimD has alerted me to the passing of Michael Gough, the British Thespian who played Wayne family butler Alfred Pennyworth in four Batman movies, beginning with Tim Burton's Batman and concluding with (sigh) Batman and Robin

Gough was the first actor to bring to life the dry wit regarding his boss's nocturnal activities with which Alfred had become infused in the comics in the 1970's and which became a staple of the character post-Dark Knight Returns.  He also was responsible for conveying the flipside to that relationship as Bruce's unacknowledged father figure (see the dinner sequence in Burton's Batman). 

Unfortunately, his last outing as Alfred included the "Alfred's dying, bring in Alicia Silverstone" decision which was one of many choices made by WB that knee-capped the franchise.  But it wasn't a crazy choice.  As the only actor to appear in all movies of that Bat-era, audiences were emotionally invested in the character, and what can a brother do about Alicia Silverstone's baby-voiced non-acting when his job is to lay there comfortably in silk pajamas?

We salute Gough and he will be well remembered here at LeagueHQ.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

New Trend in Social Media - Getting Rid of Comments (is a pretty good idea)

Last night I wrote perhaps my third of fourth letter ever to DC Comics. I wrote in to let them know I was very much enjoying the work of Chris Roberson on Superman, and that I hoped they would consider letting him continue on the book. My letter was perhaps too formal, but I wanted to ensure that the civility of my tone conveyed my sincerity.  I like my comics, but I am also aware of the insane entitlement and false sense of ownership which pervades all aspects of pop culture in a 24/7 world of online chatter.

Several months ago I wrote a post about the return of DC Letters columns.  I enthused about the decision and my hope for a better tomorrow vis-a-vis a managed conversation about comics.*
While letter cols no doubt will manage the conversation, there's also no doubt that the internet is an enabler for misplaced entitlement and bad behavior (why DC bothers to have a comment section on its blog is beyond me.  Its the same six guys criticizing every single item that goes up) and DC can manage their conversation with fans a bit better. 
Yesterday was the first time I'd noticed a letter column appearing in my issue of Superman 709, so I decided to use the channel offered to me by DC to share my opinion.   While I do not expect to see that letter make it to print, that wasn't the point.  I wanted someone at DC to have a chance of seeing a letter telling them "this is working for someone who likes to give you money.  Please keep it up."  Had I posted to the Message Boards or to a comment on a blog post, most assuredly, civility and a positive message would have been lost in the cacophony.

Of course, DC has had a Bulletin Board/ Message Board for years.  And the last time I visited that board regularly was around...  2002 or 2003.  Even at that time, the place was becoming hopelessly toxic. About three weeks ago, I accidentally stumbled onto the Boards while looking for help regarding DCU Online, and was completely amazed at the vitriol, ignorance, and stunningly awful grammar found in an Aquaman forum.

That same attitude, which is encouraged all over online (from my local paper to Gawker), had also trickled out to DC's very public blog.  Shockingly hateful comments, ignorance and bigotry, disturbing levels of entitlement, ugly personal attacks, and, frankly, an astounding lack of knowledge about the very subject of DC Comics, were on display in the comment sections of virtually every single post.  It was a quagmire.  And all I could think was "Why is DC giving any of these people a forum to do this in public?  And associate this horror with their official site?"

Well, I guess all that's over now.

According to Chris Sims at the Comics Alliance, DC has given up on offering comments on their website and pulled the gate down on the Message Board.  I, for one, think this was the right decision, and hope that the change is permanent.

Its also not without very recent precedent.  Recently the website for The Comics Journal, the supposed high-brow approach to comics (ahem, comix) underwent a change of management, and in that change, they dropped what some described as the worst-of-the-worst when it came to ill will and misplaced anger.  In short, the TCJ Message Board is no more, and the site managers seemed positively relieved.
It was a place that had some virtues but mostly, I think, it was a place where unhappy people went to be even less happy. Its time has more than passed...
At the crux of it, I'm not convinced that giving your more insane and obsessive customers a soapbox on your website from which to spend hours each day complaining is very good business.  Its a bit like asking the crackhead who wanders by your shop to go ahead and come inside every day from open to close on the off chance he might spend some money.

I'm a DC fan, and I find it off putting.  It does not make me want to engage with my fellow fans, and actually kind of makes me dislike my fellow fans.  I'm a DC fan, and I would rather fall into a swarm of bees than spend a week moderating the message boards, or get punched just once in the face rather than partake in a discussion on the message boards.

Frankly, media outlets have tried the whole "community" approach, and it doesn't work very well.  Self-organizing communities seem to do much better** in this regard, and with social applications now freely available all over the place, I don't think DC owes it to anyone to bother with these tools anymore.  After reading about the upcoming Batman release, frankly, I don't care what WildFang666 thinks about the creative team.  I care what I think, or maybe what you guys think, or what folks at the comic shop might say (all trusted sources). 

Look, the internet is absolutely still out there.  Those same few people who decided that the steps of the DC Blog were their hobo camp can claim a WordPress site or go off to Blogger.  But I think I'll be happier if DC takes steps to just let the comics and work speak for itself.  We don't need to know what DarkKnightBlade has to say.  I'm good, thanks.

Will this become a new trend?  Well, I don't see sites that are the business having much luck dropping comments.  The sense of community is part of what makes the site go, but its sad to know how much time must be spent moderating comments (its sort of the depressing factory job of the 21st Century).  But for sites trying to sell an actual product...?  I don't know.  And that product could be anything from comic books to soda to actual news.

I assume the generation that grew up with internet comments as a standard issue part of life will be shocked.  But for some of us who can remember a time when you needed an internet connection and a valid email to get into print or part of a conversation, we remember getting along just fine.  Editors edited and responded to letters, and there was the concept of the crank file.  Sadly, the crank file has become the discussion, and not just in comics.***

So, I vote for keeping it down.  Your primary job is to make comics, not babysit crazy people.

For someone who has embraced the insanity, I recommend Estate 4.1, who posts the best comments from wire services articles.  After you get done weeping for humanity, its actually pretty darn funny.

*I just totally quoted myself.  And that is terrible.

**I think you may have seen how quickly I've clamped down on comments around here when we've had a drive-by troll or two, and there's an astoundingly polite and friendly bunch of commenters on this site... in part due to the site's smallish readership.  Also, note I've patted myself on the back twice now in footnotes.

***CNN - cannot tell you how sad it makes me when you spend time reading Tweets on air or inviting anyone with an iPhone to submit content.

Special St. Patrick's Day Treat: Oh Danny Boy

And now: one of my favorite scenes in any movie, ever.

Decidedly Rated R for tommy gun-related violence.

And Shoemaker sends this along:

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

It's St. Patrick's Day! Hope you put on some green. These guys did.

Ollie and Hal urge you to drink responsibly

Happy Birthday to my Brother

March 17 is my brother's birthday.  Some of you know Jason (aka:  Steanso), many of you do not.  It is no secret to many of the people of Austin that the Bros. Steans come largely as a package deal.  You get one, you get the other.  And we're just different enough to be completely annoying to each other and everyone who has to listen to us.

mi hermano
These days Jason is an attorney for Travis County where he works with two special courts that I know of, a court for folks with mental health issues and a new court for veterans.  We're all very proud.  We just wish he'd clean his garage.

Of late, Jason has teamed up with AmyD, who is a crowd favorite at our house (we suspect that she will eventually even get him to clean the garage). 

Every year he shares his birthday with two things - St. Patrick's Day and SXSW.  So, basically, the man's birthday just gets totally co-opted each and every year.

Attorney, musician, dog-owner, and unlikely king of ballet - Happy Birthday, my man.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

In which I recommend Schools Let Bigger Kids Beat Up Smaller Kids

A video meme is making the rounds in which a fairly big kid is seemingly just standing there and a smaller kid bounces up to him and within a few seconds goes from annoying twerp to slapping the bigger kid, taunting him while their peers look on.  From the look of the video, it seems the twerpy kid got his friend to record him as he decided to demonstrate his alpha maleness over a target he must have believed would not fight back.  The big kid is heavy-set with red hair, a sort of blank expression...

You can see the video here, although the video has become controversial and keeps getting pulled down.  (So, I apologize in advance for the racy ads on this site, but I was tired of looking for the video).  You can read commentary all over the internet.

The video, which lasts only a few seconds, takes an odd turn when the big kid moves in, picks up the smaller kid, and then slams him into the concrete.  The big kid then wanders out of frame while the smaller kid gets up and hobbles, seemingly shaken (if not injured), toward the camera.

If I don't sound particularly sympathetic to the smaller kid, its because from 5th-8th grade, I was the big kid on infrequent occasions.  And I was witness to many more incidents with other kids who were just trying to avoid trouble, and I can't tell you how many incidents almost exactly like the one in the video played out in hallways and locker rooms when adult supervision wasn't around.

Being a big kid (6'2" by 8th grade) who people think won't hit back leaves you in a weird spot.  Those little kids are counting on the fact that if you DO decide to hit back it will be seen by your peers and adults alike that you took a swing because "you can't take it" - and that's a character flaw.  And even if that kid is hitting, its going to be seen as being somehow unfair to that smaller kid when you do smack him back.  There's this odd balance of "oh, well, the little kid couldn't actually hurt him" that comes into play, and it becomes this unreal set of rules that an alarming number of adults seem more than willing to play along with that if you're big, its your responsibility to just take it.

For example, if you're wondering what happened in the aftermath?:  the big kid got suspended, and may possibly have legal action taken against him.  There's no reported recourse against the smaller kid.

I am certain that in today's atmosphere of litigation and child psychologists the "appropriate" response is to run off to tell a teacher or an adult whenever you're unhappy.  But kids aren't stupid.  They know that getting an adult involved has an effect 100x worse than just standing there and taking it.  That little twerp is just going to be back at school the next day making sure everybody knows the big kid ran to tell the teacher because he was too much of a wimp to defend himself.  Yes, he has terrible parents.

Its unorthodox, and its hard to draw the line, but its hard not to believe that two important lessons couldn't have been drawn from by these two kids had the video never made its way online and this thing had just ended in that breezeway.

1)  The Twerpy kid would have learned exactly what line he crossed and thought twice before shooting his own mouth off
2)  The Big kid would have learned that you can actually stand up for yourself in ugly situations, and that may be one of the most important things you can learn in this life

By punishing that kid for, frankly, not taking it, what does that boy learn?  He learns that (1) he is forbidden from solving his own problems and needs to just deal with the ensuing humiliation, and that (2) he should be paralyzed with fear when challenged - lest he make a move and the consequences become infinitely worse than getting punched in the face.  

Now, of course, you can't advocate student-on-student violence, so don't hang that on me.  But what you can say is that there's video evidence, and anyone who was ever in middle school should be able to understand what they're looking at.

Here's the thing:  I can tell you exactly what happened after the big kid walks out of frame.  He cried like a baby.

I got in my first fight when I was about 12, and it was terribly odd.  I was sitting on an electric box in front of my house and a kid I knew, one grade beneath me and with whom I'd eaten graham crackers and played soccer, showed up with an older kid at my house.  The older kid must have been watching movies because they quite literally informed us they wanted to "rumble".  We had just been sitting there, and not talked to those kids in a couple days.  After we'd had a good laugh at the word "rumble" (which, I assure you, did not help), the older kid goaded my buddy into starting things off by going after me.  

The rest was just a blur of two chubby kids in glasses slap-fighting.  I distinctly remember the fact that my buddy ran away and I was told I'd won, but I just went into the front door of my house and cried.  It was - as I figured out from watching A Christmas Story, wherein Ralphie finally loses it and beats up the bullying Scoot Farkis he had yellow eyes!) - a pretty common reaction to kids fighting, once the adrenaline wears off. 

I hit middle school shortly thereafter, and sure, I was big, but it wasn't like I was out telling other kids "I'm the fastest gun in the west, and ain't nobody going to knock me off this hill".  I was a goofy 12 year old who liked X-Men comics, Mr. Spock, Batman and robot novels.  I played the tuba, for God's sake. 

If you don't want to get into a fight, and you get drawn in, winning isn't any better than losing.  You have to already know that the minute you take a swing, you're going to be asked to pay for something that you did not start, but which, as they say...  you did finish.  Its bewildering, you've just broken promises to your parents, of codes of conduct for good kids, and seen your attempts to lay low resulted only in extending the inevitable.

The monkeysphere for most people is terribly small, and in middle school it usually consists exclusively of your immediate circle of friends and that one girl in your math class you can't figure out how to talk to.  Likely because I was such an enormous freak of a kid, I never felt like I needed to prove to anyone that I could intimidate somebody, and likely due more to nurture than nature (I had been told since toddler-hood that I could hurt other children my own age were I not careful) I spent more time making sure that swinging an arm to tell a story, or even falling over due to tripping over my own feet, would not mean injury to someone else nearby.*

Fights in middle school have consequences, and those kids who decided to bait me and looked for a fight didn't really get how much more trouble it would be for me at home if I got sent to the office for fighting.  ie - Kid, you may be annoying, but you have nothing on the creative punishment combos of interminable lecturing, grounding, and removing of comics that will last for weeks or months if I wind up in the office.

But, yeah, every once in a while a kid, and often a kid you knew pretty well and had been friendly with right up til that moment, would make this bizarro decision to earn his bones by taking on a much bigger kid.  Upon occasion, that could could sometimes be me.** 

I don't recall ever actually getting any of my classmates clear over my head, but I do remember holding one kid by the top of his head while his short little arms smacked me around the shoulder, and folding another kid in half against a bench in the locker room.  Usually, it just wound up with me pinning the other kid by the throat, which almost never got them to back down.  But, no matter what, it was always awful because it was so confusing.

But I did learn - when there isn't a coach or teacher around:
  • decide what your line is
  • let them know they're about to cross it, even if it sounds cheesy and they think its funny
  • be ready to commit (because if you never do anything, you're all talk, and that's bad, too)
  • or:  I found waiting until you're alone and then telling the kid "do it again, and we have a problem" was useful, although it often meant the kid would try to save face for a week by telling everyone you "lost it" and "couldn't take it", in which case a laughing, "oh, he practically wet himself" and alerting the crowd exactly what really happened usually got the final word in
And, frankly, that wound up working pretty well for me.

This all sort of ended before 9th grade, so I was a little surprised to read these kids were 16, an age by which most kids would have had enough trial and error.  By 16, I'd also moved, quit wearing Spock T-shirts (because...  girls) and people generally didn't know me at my school.  By my last two years of school when they did know me, I guess that stuff was all pretty much in the past.

So am I endorsing letting kids just duke it out?  I don't know.  But I also think "zero tolerance" policies are the shelter of cowardly and lazy administrators unwilling to make hard decisions and responsibility.  And as much as I also detest bullying, I'm not sure that the school administrators who decided to punish the bullied kid here aren't also bullying in their own way.

*I attempted physical bullying once, and it went poorly.  I was trying some BS Robert DeNiro stuff and slapped a kid lightly on the cheek, which sent his glasses sailing, and I remember watching in horror as his glasses shattered to bits.  I remember looking at the kid absolutely  horrified and making it worse yelling: "Jesus Christ!  You had GLASS in your glasses?"  My head was full of images of, had my finger caught the glasses going the wrong way, the poor kid with his eyes full of tiny glass shards .

Looking back, I can't believe what a goody-two-shoes I was.  I remember sitting down with the kid (who was just sobbing like crazy) and getting his home phone number so I could figure out how I was going to pay this kid back for his new glasses I figured I'd have to buy.  Well, apparently he was due for new glasses anyway or something and it all worked out.  And I still remember saying, before hanging up the phone, "Man, for god's sake, get plastic lenses.  You're going to lose an eye."

**it was also sometimes one of my pals, in which case I often just stepped between them and held the kids apart with firm reminders about detention

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Signal Watch Watches: Hell's Half Acre

I was a little unconvinced that Hawaii would make a good back drop for a noir film, and while its a little hard to feel terribly gritty around loud floral shirts and hukilaus, I think the particular neighborhood (Hell's Half Acre, natch) frames the action in an understanable way.  Even in paradise, there's always some hive of scum and villainy.  The movie is a bit even tempered for noir, and so its hard to say it has any gut emotional impact or leaves you with any particular impression, but the plot isn't all bad - ie - it's not exactly The Big Heat, but after Crack-Up, I felt like I was getting back in the Noir groove.

I learned about the movie flipping through a book on noir, and was particularly interested in this movie as it stars the lovely Evelyn Keyes and has two of my other favorite women on the silver screen, Marie "Narrow Margin" Windsor and Elsa "Bride of Frankenstein" Lanchester.  The male actors are okay, though lead Wendell Corey doesn't radiate grit so much as a sort of anxiousness, and was just overpowered on screen by Phillip Ahn.

Its an interesting movie not because the plot is all that fascinating, but because there's some stuff in the movie that, frankly, I was surprised slipped by the censors, including a near rape and what appeared to be the start of a conversation regarding Elsa Lanchester's character's homosexuality.

As per things that surprised me for the time:  The movie also makes no bones about both putting Asians into the film and making it clear that there's equal footing here in Hawaii (that said, the character of "Ippy" is incredibly complicated as I have no idea if that was offensive or not.  But it was goofy.).

You guys know I love Marie Windsor when she shows up in a movie, and she gets some pretty darn good lines and scenes, but she's not in the movie all that much (though her role is pivotal).

Its probably not required noir viewing, but its interesting to see the genre moved to a location of such distinct character and the film embrace some small part of the culture of the location in order to tell a story.

No Post Tuesday as well

Blame NathanC for a lack of posting.  He is staying at my house and he is more interesting than me typing.

Anyway, Randy and his wife welcomed their child, Evelyn, into the world on Monday, so make sure you congratulate Randolph and The Mysterious M on child #2.  Randy is excited as this baby shall raise a hefty sum from the gypsies just in time for the iPad 2.

Anyhow, that's it for now.  If you have a problem, you may bring it up with Ms. Brooks.

Monday, March 14, 2011

No Post Monday

Spent the weekend surprisingly busy.

  • Spent Friday watching CNN re: Japan
  • Saturday woke late
  • walked the dogs
  • read
  • got an iPhone
  • monkeyed with iPhone (continuous for remainder of weekend)
  • went to TXRD (Lonestar Rollerderby)
  • Didn't really understand the rage at Chip Kidd about him not liking the All-Star Superman cover.  (he's a man with an opinion and a designer.  I mean, he's not quite getting it, but is it a shock that anyone but hardcore Superman fans likes Superman or would get this?)
  • Got up Sunday
  • wept about the time change
  • went to Jason's to "help" with his new Ikea furniture
  • met up with old pals as Kevin is in for SXSW
  • came home, watched an episode of Symbionic Titan
  • NathanC showed up, as he's staying with us for SXSW

So, there you go

Please consider donating what you can to the Red Cross.  They are helping with relief efforts in Japan.