Thursday, March 31, 2011

Arnold Schwarzenegger used accounting tricks to lie to voters about California's budget, and he's supposed to fight supervillains?

Entertainment Weekly is reporting that Stan Lee is sullying himself by joining forces with the failed former governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, to create a comic book based on a caricature of Mr. Schwarzenegger's screen persona. It is called "The Crapinator."

Sorry. I mean, "The Governator."
The animated TV show and comic book, being co-developed by no less a superhero authority than Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee, won’t be out until next year, but this week EW offers an exclusive early look at Arnold’s cartoon alter-ego. “The Governator is going to be a great superhero, but he’ll also be Arnold Schwarzenegger,” Lee says of the semi-fictional character. “We’re using all the personal elements of Arnold’s life. We’re using his wife [Maria Shriver]. We’re using his kids. We’re using the fact that he used to be governor. Only after he leaves the governor’s office, Arnold decides to become a crime fighter and builds a secret high-tech crime-fighting center under his house in Brentwood.”
How effective will Mr. Schwarzenegger be as a crime fighter? Well, if his record as governor of California is any indication, not very.

Perhaps they should make "The Governator" a villain? He rides a recall wave, is swept into office to save the state from the abyss of financial ruination and... Leaves the state in worse shape than before, weaker, with higher unemployment, cities declining, and companies leaving.

This is the "Governator" who got roundly defeated by public sector unions and democrats back in 2005.

Shouldn't superheroes inspire confidence? Shouldn't they convey a sense of power? Let's leave aside the politics of what Mr. Schwarzenegger did. He took on the unions, and they beat him like a drum. So if you're pro union and think they should have everything that they were fighting for, then Schwarzenegger's a villain who tried to destroy the working man. If you think the unions shouldn't have won that special election, then your "hero" who took them on lost to a bunch of greedy bastards who are bleeding the state dry.

And of course that loss changed everything for him. Mr. Schwarzenegger didn't regroup and try again; he flip-flopped. A lot. He used budget tricks to understate the level of California's financial problems and push them off on future taxpayers (i.e., "the children").

As for his wife, Maria Shriver, she is a blatant law-breaker herself.

Stan Lee is the creator of Stripperella, for crying out loud. He can do better than this.

So can readers. Instead of "The Governator," why not try this comic book based on real people?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Charlie Sheen's less-than-sellout performance is probably a metaphor for our current financial crisis, somehow

When I read that Charlie Sheen's tour, performance art piece, whatever it was supposed to be had sold out performances (in a record-breaking 18 minutes, according to TMZ!), I admit I got a little down about it. Sure, I enjoyed watching a few minutes worth of Mr. Sheen's strange interviews, and blogged about them,  but, really, there's a point at which it's just tedious and let's move on.

I had a hard time imagining sitting still and watching him for 80 minutes. Especially when stories of what he was actually planning for these performances started coming out:
"It's all Charlie. I don't think it's a script, as much as he is going to riff like an artist...He will probably do most of it from memory, he's that talented."
"There will be some multimedia, but largely just him and a microphone and he's going to talk, and having heard some of the stuff he is going to say, people are going to be pleasantly surprised. There will be some things that are shocking and provoking, but you're going to laugh," he [Joey Scoleri, one of the show's producers] added.
Does that sound like fun to you? Or does it sound like that Carnegie Hall "MARVEL-ous Evening with Stan Lee" debacle?

To me it seemed like a tedious waste of time. Think about what it's like to attend a live event. You have to get ready to go. Drive to the venue. Find parking. Pay for parking. Walk to the venue. Watch the show. Go back to your car. Fight your way out of the parking area. Drive home.

That is a big commitment. We're not just talking about 80 minutes. We're talking about hours of your life committed to watching a very wealthy, privileged son of a massively famous actor father, a man who has never had to work a real job in his life, "riff" -- the man doesn't even respect you enough to actually prepare anything, apparently -- and take questions from the audience for 80 minutes -- about how terrible it is that he got fired from his $100 million-a-year job.

These people are suckers, I thought. It depressed me, a little, because I don't like to see people taken advantage of, even if it is their own damn fault. I am an optimist, and I generally have a positive view of humanity.

Well, today, I don't feel quite so down.
In case you're worrying that the entire nation has gone nutty and bought tickets to see what will pass for a performance from what many consider a very troubled man, turns out a lot of tickets were not bought by fans. They were bought by secondary sellers.

A lot.

The theater in Detroit only holds 5,049 people, but when I checked Stubhub last night, just this one site alone had 1,449 tickets available for the show! Even more surprising (maybe), many tickets are selling for LESS THAN FACE VALUE.
So the tickets were bought by "investors" who overestimated Mr. Sheen's appeal. But these "investors" then created a false impression of success for everyone, most especially Mr. Sheen himself, who seemed to think that the entire country would support a full-on tour. So a full tour has been mounted.

This is probably a metaphor for our current financial situation, but I'm not smart enough to make a connection like that. For now, let me just be relieved that the speculators were wrong in this case, that there aren't millions of people all over America who are anxious to watch Charlie Sheen walk around on a stage and "riff."

The world is starting to make sense again!

The image above was taken from here, a story from March 18 which leads with the following:
Charlie Sheen’s “My Violent Torpedo of Truth/Defeat Is Not an Option” ticket sales are so winning, that he has decided to add 12 more cities to his tour! Included in the additional shows, the 45-year-old actor will be invading Canada, taking it to the international level!

So where is Charlie taking his tiger blood now?

Boston, Atlantic City, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Tampa and Ft. Lauderdale Fla., Dallas, Houston, Denver, San Francisco and two Canadian stops have been added as of now — Toronto and Vancouver.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Dick Tracy: Use it or lose it

Deadline has a story about the controversy over the television and movie rights to the classic comic strip character Dick Tracy. Apparently, the actor who portrayed Det. Tracy in the 1990 movie version (does anyone remember that movie? all I remember is Madonna was in it!), Warren Beatty, has successfully prevented Tribune Company from reclaiming the rights that he purchased back in 1985.

How he managed to retain those rights is... well, it's just one of those wacky copyright stories you occasionally hear about.
U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson granted summary judgment in the producer/director/actor's favor yesterday, ruling that the fact Beatty had begun work on a half-hour TV special, which had Warren dressed as the Dick Tracy character answering questions from film critic Leonard Maltin, satisfied a use-it-or-lose-it clause in an agreement with Tribune to produce a Dick Tracy movie or TV show or lose the rights to the character.
As for that TV special which featured Beatty discussing how Dick Tracy has been portrayed on film over the years, it only ran on Turner Classic Movies in July 2009. Beatty only made it to keep his rights intact.
Mr. Beatty had to do something with the character. So he appeared wearing a yellow trenchcoat in a half-hour program that aired one time on Turner Classic Movies in 2009. Not only is this the most half-assed attempt to retain rights that I've ever heard of (I'm sure there have been worse, I'm no expert), but it actually sullies TCM as well. They gave up half an hour of airtime to help Warren Beatty in his cynical attempt to keep the rights to a property that he hasn't done anything with since 1990.

Of course, Tribune Company is a huge corporation, and whoever was the high-priced attorney who negotiated that original contract with Mr. Beatty, in which all he had to do to retain the rights to the character was wear a trenchcoat for half an hour, ought to be fired.  At least when DC and Warners were fighting their Superman copyfight, they had to actually start filming a movie.

There were two memorable aspects to the 1990 Dick Tracy film.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Denver the guilty dog: Trained in shame, and manipulating a nation

Companion animals are popular subjects for online amusement. The humans who enjoy these "viral videos" and "funny animal pictures!" find comfort in the anthropomorphizing of the dogs, cats, and other animals with whom they live. Poodle Bitch would like to remind humans that animals are not humans.

Which brings her to the latest "viral video" sensation, "Denver the guilty dog."

"You know the routine," the human says, 1:50 into this manipulative monstrosity. Indeed, Denver does "know the routine." Make the expression. That expression that gets the reaction.

Poodle Bitch never feels guilty partaking of sustenance that the humans in her midst have left in an accessible place. If the human in this video, the one who shot the footage and then set it to the weepy background music (the one redeeming factor in the whole sordid mess is that the musicians behind the song are getting some publicity, even if Poodle Bitch herself doesn't particularly care for the song), truly hadn't wanted Denver to eat the cat treats, he would not have left them in such a place as they could be found. Poodle Bitch does not believe that Denver feels guilt, either.

The human should feel ridiculous, perhaps even stupid. But Denver? Denver ate a bag of treats. Denver should feel satisfied, and most likely does. And, perhaps, smug, at the casual way in which he both manipulates his human companion, and plays along with his fiction.

Poodle Bitch notes that just a couple of years ago, a study was done that suggested that it's humans interpretations of animals' expressions that lead them to believe their companions feel "guilt."
During the videotaped study, owners were asked to leave the room after ordering their dogs not to eat a tasty treat. While the owner was away, Horowitz gave some of the dogs this forbidden treat before asking the owners back into the room. In some trials, the owners were told that their dog had eaten the forbidden treat; in others, they were told their dog had behaved properly and left the treat alone. What the owners were told, however, often did not correlate with reality.

Whether the dogs' demeanor included elements of the "guilty look" had little to do with whether the dogs had actually eaten the forbidden treat or not.

Dogs looked most "guilty" if they were admonished by their owners for eating the treat. In fact, dogs that had been obedient and had not eaten the treat, but were scolded by their (misinformed) owners, looked more "guilty" than those that had, in fact, eaten the treat.

In the "Denver the guilty dog" video, we clearly see the human feeding Denver not treats, but cues. From these cues, Denver knows exactly what the human expects. "Why does he want me to act that way?" he probably wonders. "Who cares? I am an agreeable canine companion, and I want him to be happy. I will do it."

"You know the routine," the human says, tellingly.

Nearly 5 million views on YouTube, and a facebook page with more than 23,500 fans. Denver and his human have a routine, and now the human has made Denver complicit in the manipulation of humans all over the country.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Amanda Hocking: Massively successful self-published author settles for deal with Olde Thyme traditional, quaint New York publishing house

Writer Amanda Hocking's is an inspiring success story:
Unknown, living paycheck to paycheck in Austin, Minnesota, rejected by publishers all over New York, Amanda Hocking decided to self-publish on ebook platforms only. She sold 100,000 of her works in December, and over 10 months she's more than 900,000. She's 26 and is now making enough money to quit her day job and become a full time writer, in fact she's a millionaire. She's going to be featured in Elle Magazine's April issue, all without what everyone thought was essential to make it as a writer: a big New York publishing house.

She came by that success through a great deal of hard work that didn't stop at just writing the fiction she's sold.
Amanda Hocking isn’t “lucky.” She is entertaining and she knows what all successful writers know. She knows her audience. Intimately. She says, “I’ve been active on social networks and blogs for years.”
“I also send ARCs [advance review copies] out to book bloggers. Book bloggers are a really amazing community, and they’ve been tremendously supportive. They’ve definitely been a major force that got my books on the map.”

“When I first published, I did do a bit of promoting on the Amazon forums, but they’re not really open to that, so I haven’t really interacted there much at all in months. I hang out at Goodreads, Kindleboards, Facebook, Twitter, and I blog. And that’s about it.”
She's a millionaire who worked hard to get where she is, after being rejected by major publishing houses. She is an inspiration and a hero. I don't know if she's a good writer since I've never actually read any of her stuff -- I believe it is vampire stories aimed at young women -- but she is one of my favorite writers right now.

So I was heartbroken literally heartbroken when I read that she was throwing away all of her hard work.
As of Thursday, the former indie author from Minnesota is a vampire-hot New York publishing house property. Hocking has inked a four-book, $2 million-plus deal with Macmillan imprint St. Martin's Press, the New York Times reports. The agreement comes on the heels of what the Times described as a "heated auction" that apparently became a bit too heated for Random House, Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins. The first book in the series is set for a fall 2012 release.

But it's unclear how Hocking's royalties will compare with the profits she was reaping on her own. The author has said she was selling 100,000 copies of her nine ebooks every month for as much as $3 a piece; she keeps 70 percent of the revenue per the standard agreement between content creators and electronic vendors like Amazon.
4 books at $2 million-plus, call it $2.1 million, just over $500,000 per book. For the pleasure of dealing with a publishing house, editors, marketing people, etc, etc. Ms. Hocking -- you won without even having to play by their rules. I suppose there must be some satisfaction forcing them to come to you, after the rejections, but still, why would you sully yourself in this way?

Over at her blog, she offers a couple of reasons:
But the big question on everybody's lips isn't what the deal is but why? If I've sold over a million books and made close to $2 million dollars on my own, why oh why would I possibly want to give up rights? How could they possibly offer me more then what I'm getting myself?
It boils down to these points:

1. Readers inability to find my books when they want them. ...

2. Readers complaints about the editing of my books. ...

3. The amount of books I've written and the rate of speed that I write books. If it took me five years to write a book, and I only had one book written, I'd be thinking long and hard about this deal. But right now, I have 19 books currently written. By the time the Watersong series goes to print, I'll still have 19-24 titles at least that I can self-publish.
She also chastises those who question her decision:
If there's one thing I've proven in the past year is that I'm pretty business savvy. I'm practical and level-headed. I've thought this through and talked it over with a lot of different people.
She's right about that. She doesn't need to justify her decision at all -- it's her life, her career, and she should do exactly what she wants.

If someone came along from a major publishing house and offered me $2 million for the next four Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist books, I would probably run away in the opposite direction, because that someone would most likely be crazy, perhaps dangerously so. Also, I enjoy running. But after some consideration I would probably go ahead and take the deal, despite the fact that I have made over $100 from the first book already. That is a chance I would be willing to take.

So I suppose I shouldn't judge.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Chris Brown and the corruption of "mainstream" journalism

Recently, the singer, dancer, and (alleged!) woman beater Chris Brown appeared on a network morning "new" program entitled "Good Morning America," during which he gave an interview, and demonstrated his singing and dancing technique on camera. Off camera, he (allegedly!) demonstrated his "throwing a cooler through a window" technique.

He was in a fit of pique over being asked a vague question about a restraining order against him being "relaxed."

The restraining order was issued after Mr. Brown (allegedly!) beat his then girlfriend, the singer Rihanna, senseless back in February 2009. In February of this year, MediaTakeOut published some brutal, graphic photos of Rihanna's face which you can see here. They are gruesome.

These images were released around the time the restraining order was "relaxed." They are fresh in many peoples' minds. It isn't necessary to use your imagination to picture what Mr. Brown did to Rihanna; we can see it.

It seems that a "journalist" would be remiss if she did not ask Mr. Brown about the incident, given the opportunity to interview him. The "journalist" in question, Robin Roberts (who apparently got her start as that most loathsome of "journalists," the "sportscaster," whose job it is solely to provide propaganda for the corporations that own sports teams in the area-- Wikipedia notes that "She joined ESPN as a sportscaster in February 1990 and became well known on Sportscenter for her catchphrase, 'Go on with your bad self!'"), did the bare minimum required of her as a "journalist," although she went above and beyond as an "entertainment reporter."

Would you consider "Good Morning America" to be a news program? It has a segment during which a singer and dancer comes on and performs a song from his latest album, in an effort to promote it. "Good Morning America" is a promotional vehicle for celebrities. And when I say "celebrities," I am talking about singers, dancers, actors, politicians, sports figures, corporate executives, and the personalities who host the program themselves. (Robin Roberts is an author -- you can read an excerpt from her book on "Good Morning America's" website.)

I don't think that Mr. Brown should have been booked on such a national promotional vehicle. Have you seen the photos of what he (allegedly!) did to Rihanna? Why would you give such a man a platform? Well, Mr. Brown's record label is Jive Label Group, which is part of the Sony Music Group which is itself part of the Sony Corporation of America megaconglomerate. "Good Morning America" airs on ABC, which is part of the ABC-Disney Television group, which is part of the Disney Corporation megaconglomerate.

Mr. Brown is a cog in the corporate machine. Disney helps Sony, as Sony helps Disney. They all promote each other. That is how it works. Mr. Brown got angry because Ms. Roberts asked him something unpleasant that had nothing to do with promoting his corporate work -- that might, in fact, hurt his sales by reminding people (no, I actually don't believe this myself but hey maybe) of what he did.

And a few clicks on google (another corporation!) and you might end up looking at the battered face of Rihanna.

Anyway, like a good corporate player with a new album out, Mr. Brown apologized for his (alleged! --actually, if he's apologizing, do I have to keep saying it's "alleged"? that's a legal question) outburst.
"First of all, I want to apologize to anybody who was startled in the office, or anybody who was offended or really looked, and [was] disappointed at my actions," Brown said, according to a transcript of his live appearance on BET's "106 & Park." "Because I'm disappointed in the way I acted.

"Yes, I got very emotional," he later added. "And I apologize for acting like that."

Brown emphasized that he did not hurt anyone backstage at "GMA" but had to release "the anger that I had inside of me." He grew angry after, he claimed, he was thrown off balance by questions about his domestic abuse incident involving his ex-girlfriend, pop singer Rihanna, in an interview he believed would focus on his new album.
Ms. Roberts has stated that she was confused by Mr. Brown's anger, because she thought it was all part of the camaraderie the two share:
"You saw me laughing during the interview because when he was doing that, I thought he was joking about some things because of the easy relationship that we have," Roberts said.
There you go. The "journalist" Robin Roberts has an "easy relationship" with the subject of her interview (she interviewed him about the assault of Rihanna back in December 2009).

They all have "easy" relationships with each other. They're all part of the same system. They're all working for the corporations, all helping promote themselves and their companies. They're all out to make money.

This isn't limited to "entertainment news" such as you find on the morning programs. The "journalists" who are supposed to be covering government's actions are in fact mostly in the business of promotion. These "journalists" have what is a very "cozy" relationship with the officials they're supposed to cover. They all hang out together. They go to the same parties. They attend functions such as "The White House Correspondents Dinner."

Remember this notorious clip from the 2007 Radio and Television Correspondents Association?

That is former president G. W. Bush adviser Karl Rove dancing with members of the "Whose Line is it Anyway?" cast (oh, shame on them! it was such a great show!), and a man called David Gregory.

David Gregory was the NBC news division's White House correspondent. He was a "journalist" charged with gathering news about the doings of the executive branch of government. He is now the host of NBC's weekly politician's promotional program "Meet the Press."

This man was laughing and dancing with someone he should have been investigating.

One doesn't need to agree with former Alaska governor Sarah Palin on much to agree with her that we have been saddled with a "lamestream media" that has its own agenda, which very often runs counter to our best interests. The internet has given us many wonders, among them are the information outlets that serve as alternatives to what we've gotten from the "lamestream media" in the past. Outlets such as MediaTakeOut, that will publish photos of Rihanna, and outlets such as Salon, where Glenn Greenwald has been writing about presidential abuses of power. And of course YouTube where there are plenty of reminders of David Gregory's dancing.

Please don't forget that when you hear people in the government talking about a "bailout" for newspapers, or when someone in the government starts talking about regulating the quality of journalism based on what it considers to be a "public values test."

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Daisy California issues available now!

You can purchase the first two volumes of the "Daisy California" comic book that I am creating with my seven year-old niece. It's her character, based on her, and her ideas. If you like little children and you like superheroes and you like comic books, then this should, in theory, be right up your alley. If you are unsure, you can visit the Daisy California website (consider "liking" her on facebook!) to preview the two available issues.

The "Preview Issue," in which Daisy California battles the nefarious villain Stranger Danger, can be purchased here.

The first issue, in which Daisy California battles the nefarious villain Nuketard, and along the way meets the superhero Purple Extravagance and the supervillain Loquacious Lexus Looney, can be purchased here.

These issues are guaranteed to go up in value. Not monetary value, but sentimental/artistic/historical value, as in you'll be able to tell your grandchildren that you got in on the ground floor of what is sure to become a major pop culture phenomenon, etc.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The new Wonder Woman TV show: Is this the best they could do?

Over at When Falls the Coliseum, I have posted a piece about my second favorite modern superhero, Wonder Woman, and the new television program based upon her. A sample:

Entertainment Weekly has a photo of the costume to be featured in the new Wonder Woman television pilot, written by David E. Kelley.


The new Wonder Woman is portrayed by an actress called Adrianne Palicki. She apparently got her start in a television drama program about high school football. That would probably explain why I had never heard of her before.

But one must admit that Ms. Palicki fills out the Wonder Woman costume quite well. She is an elegantly constructed human. Given the fact that no human woman could ever adequately embody all of the physical, spiritual, and emotional aspects of the character, Wonder Woman is a tough role. After all, she has "perfect modern Venus measurements":

In fact, the only human who could have portrayed her does not and has never existed. However, using cutting edge computer technology, not unlike that utilized by the famous motion pictures "Avatar," and "Machete," I have created an image of the only woman who could have portrayed the character:

That is an actress created by placing the head of the delightful Ms. Myrna Loy on the supple body of the beautiful Ms. Esther Williams. I am calling this actress Myrna Williams. Or, if you prefer, Esther Loy. I prefer Myrna Williams.
The rest of the piece can be read by following this link!

Friday, March 18, 2011

It's Friday -- Time to start raising our children

For decades "we" have been telling "our" children (it takes a village to raise a child, remember?) that they are special. Every single one of them. They can do anything they want. They are the future. Whenever politicians do anything, they claim to be doing it "for the children." They are entitled. They all get awards now simply for participating.

And as a result... now, the primary goal of young people is to be famous. They don't want to accomplish something. They want to be famous. No matter what, they want to be famous. And the adults around those children will do anything they can to help their special little standard-bearers of the future to achieve their goals.

And where are we heading? Well, because yesterday was Thursday, today must be Friday, Friday.

The last day of the week is as good a day as any to examine exactly what is wrong with the way in which "we" (by which I mean you) are raising "our" (by which I mean your, I don't want any credit for them) children. Nothing that I could type here would top the video I've embedded above. Plus, it's been all over the internets for awhile now.

I would like to point out, however, that that video is not the fault of Rebecca Black. She is just a child. She doesn't know any better. She has been poorly raised by parents who were themselves taught the exact wrong way in which to raise children. Not every child should or will get to do whatever she wants. Some kids might wish that they could sing, but no amount of autotune is going to imbue them with talent. Some kids might long to be songwriters, but just stringing words together doesn't make you such. It is up the parents to be parents and say, "You can do other things better, let's look into those," or at least, "You're not ready yet."

Then again, it's hard to blame the adults around her, when this is popular:

And this:

And this:

And this:

In other words, what do I know? This is what I listen to:

And this:

And this:

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

"The world of the future will need laughter..."

Over at When Falls the Coliseum, I have posted a new piece about comedian Gilbert Gottfried's tweeting of jokes about the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear plant meltdowns in Japan. Small sample:
In the episode of "The Simpsons" entitled "Bart's Comet," Bart Simpson discovers a comet is heading straight toward Springfield. All the town's inhabitants cram themselves into Ned Flanders' bomb shelter; however, there isn't room for everyone. As the citizens try to decide which of them will leave the shelter to die in the catastrophe, Krusty the Clown pleads his own case, and says,
"OK, OK, let's figure out who should stay. The world of the future will need laughter, so I'm in."
Or, put another way,
"That's what comedians do!!! We react to tragedy by making jokes to help people in tough times feel better through laughter."
That is a tweet from comedian Joan Rivers, in defense of another comedian, Gilbert Gottfried. Comedians are humor specialists who could be doing other more lucrative work, such as plumbing, but have instead decided to sacrifice themselves for the good of us all-- to make us laugh in difficult times.

You can read the whole thing here.

He just wants you to laugh.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

"Enema Man": Why is Alan Simpson complaining about Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist?

Recently, the former senator from Wyoming Alan Simpson went on a tirade against rappers like "Snoopy Snoopy Poop Dog" and fictional characters like "Enema Man." Of course, he was actually referring to the rapper Snoop Dogg and the fictional character Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist, the famous enema murderer.

He really needs to get his references straight! If only he'd read the novel, Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist, he wouldn't make such embarrassing mistakes.

Thanks to the great Chris Wisnia for the fantastic illustration above.

Dr. Drew Pinsky cares enough to tweet when one of his patients dies

Devastating to hear of Mike Starr succumbing to his illness. So very sad. Our prayers are with his family
Above is the heartfelt tweet that Dr. Drew Pinsky sent out when heard that his former Celebrity Rehab "patient," Mike Starr, had died.

Let's leave aside for a moment that I find Dr. Drew to be a reprehensible human being. Leave aside for a moment that Celebrity Rehab is the second most loathsome show on television (most loathsome? it's companion piece, Sober House). Let's even leave aside the fact that Dr. Drew Pinsky tweeted his sadness over losing a television patient.

Read the tweet.

It says that Mr. Starr "succumbed to his illness." Actually, as of right now, we don't know why he died. Not officially, anyway.
The original bassist for Alice in Chains was found dead Tuesday in Utah. He was 44. Cause of death has not yet been released.
That is the second paragraph from a story on e online. The first paragraph?
Mike Starr's demons tragically caught up with him.
We don't know what killed him. But we know what killed him. His "demons." His "illness."

Also there's this, from the third paragraph of that e story:
Starr, who battled drug addiction, appeared on the third season of Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew in 2009 and gave a testimonial marking six months and seven days of sobriety during season four.
Just a few months ago, "Dr. Drew" was holding this man up as a success story. In fact, in February of last year, Dr. Drew wrote the following:
People ask me why I do the work that I do. Well, take one look at Mike Starr and I think you will understand.

If you watch Celebrity Rehab you have seen how sick Mike became and how he struggled. I suggest you log on to and watch his video. You will see how amazingly he is doing today. He is doing fantastic and truly an inspiration. He was great on Loveline.
He was great on Loveline, the radio show. When the cameras and microphones are on, he's great. He's doing "amazingly."

And now Mr. Starr's body isn't even cold and he's willing to speculate that he "succumbed to his illness." Of course, Dr. Drew is a man who is willing to offer speculation on the states of mind and the alleged addictions of people like Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen without having even met them.

Moreover, Dr. Drew claims that his "prayers are with his family." Dr. Drew is an atheist. So to what or whom is Dr. Drew praying, exactly? The spirits of fame? The god of celebrity?

If you watched Mr. Starr's season of Celebrity Rehab and Sober House, you saw a desperate man trying to deal with issues that were clearly beyond the scope of Dr. Drew. You saw a group of people -- every one of those characters -- being told repeatedly that they were helpless in the face of their addiction. That they were victims. That they were always going to be addicts, that they were always going to be teetering precariously on the brink of relapse. That they could neither control nor trust themselves. That they were pathetic. The best they could hope for was a life of constant struggle with a "disease" that was no different from cancer that was going to do everything it could to kill them. If they did not submit unconditionally to Dr. Drew, they would DIE.

It's a wonder more of them don't just give up. If that's your motivational message, what hope is there?

There is currently a fifth season of Celebrity Rehab filming. Look for Dr. Drew to exploit Mr. Starr's death as a way to motivate Michael Lohan et al to finally get clean.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Using children as political props

Music is supposed to inspire.

Did you know that? So say the brave children of a group called Watoto of the Nile, three little props who are trying to impose their definition of "inspire" on the rest of the world. The ostensible target of their ire: Lil Wayne, a musician who dares to create music for adults, about adult subject matter. The kids don't like that.

Lil Wayne sings about premarital sex. He sings about cheating on your spouse/partner. He sings about accommodating women. He uses words that are considered "dirty."

One song in particular that has apparently deeply offended Watoto of the Nile is a song called "I'm Single," in which Mr. Wayne declares that, although he's in a committed relationship, for one night at least, he is "single." The song is probably not safe for work.

That song is full of foul language and grown-up sentiment. It's a song for adults, not for kids. Parents probably shouldn't allow their children to listen to the song. If they do, they should explain that sometimes adults do act like the narrator of the song, but that you must decide for yourself, when you're older, if that is how you want to act.

Watoto of the Nile wants to eliminate the song altogether. They want to try to shame Mr. Wayne into only making songs that are kid-appropriate. Music is supposed to inspire, one of them whines at the end of their aural complaint, "Letter to Lil Wayne" -- apparently their parents apparently aren't inspiring them.

Or, maybe their parents are inspiring them? Inspiring them to create a song decrying the existence of a musician who doesn't make music directly aimed at them.

Over the weekend, yahoo music had a column about the song, headlined, Lil Wayne's Negative Lyrics Prompt Complaint Song From Little Girls.

How's that for a dispassionate, balanced headline? In case you don't know with whom the writer's sympathies lie, check out this from the second paragraph:
[E]arlier this week, Lil Wayne was called to task by three little girls. Sisters Nia, 10, Nya, 9, and Kamaria, 5, who form the Baltimore, Maryland-based group Watoto From The Nile, released a song, "Letter To Lil Wayne," that questions the New Orleans rapper's lyrics that degrade women and promote drug abuse.
Mr. Wayne's songs promote drug abuse and degrade women.

Children must be protected from this! If they listen to this song, they will be inspired to abuse drugs and degrade women. So, Lil Wayne should stop creating art.

Barring that, one would hope that the parents of these little girls would do everything they could to shield their children from Mr. Wayne's terrible worldview.
Watoto From The Mile decided to write to Lil Wayne after hearing his song "I'm Single" on the radio. The group was shocked that so much of the song was bleeped out because of the explicit lyrics.
First of all, why were these little girls allowed to listen to a radio station that would play a song that degrades women and promotes drug abuse? Didn't their parents tell them not to listen to that station?

Second of all, the radio station bleeped out the explicit lyrics. Do you know why they bleeped out those "explicit" lyrics? Because it is illegal for broadcast radio stations to air "explicit" language. They get fined by the FCC, a government organization charged with ensuring that people won't have their delicate ears damaged by hearing "explicit" language. (This despite the fact that we have a First Amendment to the Constitution which states Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. Please note that it does not say anything about, "except if such speech might offend children or other delicate people.")

But the girls' father isn't doing much to shield his children from the song.
The song ["Letter to Lil Wayne"] has received mixed responses, according to Jabari Natur, the girls' father and the song's producer and co-writer.
He co-wrote this song. And:
"Letter To Lil Wayne" is recorded over an instrumental of the Lil Wayne song "I'm Single."
So this man exposed his delicate children to Mr. Wayne's song, in his effort to exploit his children to make a point about how music just isn't "right."
"We want to take back the radio airwaves," Natur said. "We want music to get right."
Does that not sound just a bit sinister to you? He wants music to meet his definition of "right."

No "negative" lyrics.

No "degrading" women.

No "promoting" "drug abuse."

Music is supposed to inspire.

Mr. Natur doesn't see anything inspiring in a work of art that does not conform to his idea of "right." He can't be inspired by a well-crafted song if the message that he takes away from it is "negative." No artist can control how his art is consumed. Artists shouldn't try. Mr. Wayne has absolutely no obligation to your children, Mr. Natur. He has an obligation to create art. If enough people like what he creates, he will be successful and make tons of money. If enough don't like what he creates, if they think it's "negative," he won't be successful. He'll try something else.

Mr. Natur allows his children to listen to radio stations that play music that's not "right." If he really cared about his children and what they were listening to, he wouldn't allow them to listen to those stations. If others who feel as he does do the same thing, they too will not allow their children to listen to those stations. As those stations lose listeners, they will change their format. They will play music that is "right." Watoto of the Nile is based in Baltimore, Maryland. They have a lot of radio stations from which to choose. Surely one of these plays music that Mr. Natur would find to be "right?"

But this gets to another, larger problem in our culture. A recent study suggests that parents exaggerate the emotional benefits of raising children to justify the massive expense they incur. I would suggest that many parents do not merely exaggerate the emotional benefits -- we're all familiar with the phenomenon of living vicariously through your children. We've all seen parents who feel unfulfilled in their own lives, falling short of whatever goals they've set for themselves, who then attempt to mold their children into more perfect versions of themselves. We've seen the politicians who claim to be doing something "for the children." It's a tedious cliche.

I'm starting to wonder if the main reason people have children is to use them as leverage in political arguments.

You can't argue with children. They're so cute and innocent. Their souls are pure. They are "the future." Which is why they make such effective propaganda tools. To wit:




I do not wish to argue the relative merits of any of the causes being promoted by the children in any of the above images or videos. But I do find it offensive when I see children used in this way.

We now know that the brains of human beings don't fully form until their mid-20s. Kids cannot make serious decisions on their own. They can't fully grasp complex political ideas. They can't be expected to make rational judgments. They can be expected to parrot whatever it is that their parents are telling them. They are being manipulated by the authority figures who are charged with raising them.

To the people who are taking your children to political events, who are "helping" them to make videos -- you might be scoring political points, and you might be impressing your friends, but you are doing a disservice to your children. Take care of them. Protect them. Give them time for their brains to fully form before you force your ideology upon them. Give them the tools to reason, and let them make up their own minds. When they've grown up.

And to the little girls of Watoto of the Nile, I leave you with something that the late, great Oscar Wilde once wrote:

"The artist can express anything."

Think about it. Now go outside and play, and try to ignore the crap your father is feeding you.

George Bush bumper sticker source.

Wisconsin kids picture source.

Westboro kids picture source.

Kid with Bush tombstone pic source.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Charlie Sheen's obituary, his success, adoration, Two and a Half Men, and the unfairness of our criminal justice system

Under the provocative title, Charlie Sheen's Obituary in the Works in Major Network Newsrooms?, complete with an ominous question mark (can you believe it???), PopEater has a non-story about, well, "newsrooms" preparing an obituary for the actor Charlie Sheen.
Following months of epic parties, hospitalizations and unabashed drug use where he was "bangin' 7-gram rocks and finishing them," major news organizations including the actor's home at CBS have begun preparing obituaries for the unraveling-before-our-eyes star, sources tell me.

"No one is wishing the worst but as a news organization for us not to be prepared for one of the biggest stories in a long time would be unprofessional," a CBS insider tells me.
Every news organization has canned obituaries ready to go for dozens of people. This is not a story, except that PopEater wanted to go at the Charlie Sheen story from yet another angle -- and this kind of "don't-they-seem-like-vultures" posting really gets people going.

I'm just shocked, shocked I tell you! that a news organization might can a segment about someone who might die -- so they can be first with the story.

And just in case you misunderstand the author's reason for writing the post, he ends it with:
Lets all hope and pray the news orgs won't have to run what they are working on for a long, long time.
Yes, let's, because Mr. Sheen is fun to write about. I've done three or four posts about him this week, myself (I'm too lazy to go back and check).

And, this week, I actually did something I haven't done, ever. I watched an episode of "Two and a Half Men." Actually, I watched three episodes of "Two and a Half Men." It's about what I expected, only a bit dirtier. I know that CBS runs those hideously gruesome crime programs, that feature close-ups of soft gooey tissue being torn into that's just as graphic as anything Dario Argento ever showed, but I had no idea that you could talk about your "balls" during a prime time show.

Or make so many vaginal jokes. One episode that I watched contained at least three jokes about vaginas ("vaginae"?), including one about a Nazi sexual fetishist who shaved her pubic hair so that it resembled Adolph Hitler's mustache. I'm not kidding about that.

Another episode -- or maybe it was the same one, they all kind of blurred together -- contained a running gag about the little boy (the "half man," I suppose), peeing all over the house, including showing how he aims his pee to hit the kitchen sink, the edge of which is about a foot taller than he.

In other words, this show is right up my alley. So what's not to like? Well, the punchlines are telegraphed from about five miles away. In fact, every scene is geared toward the punchlines, not toward developing the characters. Every episode is just an excuse to string together a series of scatological and sexual jokes, some of which are actually pretty funny (the shows did have a few good one-liners), but it all lacks context. The characters are uniformly unlikeable (although the actors who portray them aren't) and are merely props for the aforementioned gags.

In a strange way, I admire the way in which the program is constructed. It's like a gag machine. You can see all the gears working, and you can see what it's doing, but it is actually working. It's trying to make you laugh, dammit, not really make you think.

For crying out loud, I watched every episode of every (aired) season of "I Love Money."

The show is massively successful. It's the biggest sitcom on television right now. Mr. Sheen is the highest paid actor on television. Given what it is that he does, and how handsomely he's compensated, it's a wonder he's not even more arrogant. But his relative humility isn't the only thing to admire about him, and now he's inspired some writers to, well, enthuse about him. For instance, a guy called Brendan O'Neill in the Telegraph calls Mr. Sheen his "hero,"
because he refuses to allow his behaviour to be psychologised. He refuses to genuflect before the Oprahite altar of psychobabble and blame his antics on his “inner demons”. Instead he’s fighting like a terrier against experts’ attempts to brand him as “disordered” and in the process has made himself into a one-man army of resistance to the tyranny of therapy that has the twenty-first-century in its grip.

Easily the most shocking thing about the Charlie Sheen affair is not his recent debauched behaviour – Stop the press: Hollywood actor behaves hedonistically! – but rather the unstoppable march of a zombie-eyed army of therapists who want to diagnose Sheen from a distance as “mentally ill”. Every cod-psychologist in search of a headline, and increased business, is offering to write a prescription for Sheen. Under the headline “Addict or Bipolar? Examining the ‘Passion’ of Charlie Sheen”, Time magazine admits “it isn’t possible to diagnose patients at a distance”. And yet it proceeds to do precisely that, employing two experts to discuss whether Sheen is suffering from narcissistic personality disorder, bipolar mania, depression, anxiety or addiction.

Over at a blog called The Macho Response, the intriguingly nommed Crack Emcee says,
His nothing-can-take-me-down attitude, in the face of this wimpy, middle class, wet rag nanny state finger-wagging opinion is winning. This is a man, owning his actions and insisting everyone else come clean and take responsibility for theirs as well. (Our favorite line? Interviewer: "One of the women said she was afraid she might O.D.". Sheen [incredulous]: "What's that got to do with me?") Seriously, considering the most this loser culture can come up with now is awful Lady GaGa (and Britney Spears) records, vs. watching Beibermania or Kim Kardashian's ass from afar, do you really think everyone is, or wants to be, stuck in this same lame no fun existence the rest of you seem, if not enthused by, at least comfortable with? Really? Are you kidding us?
At When Falls the Coliseum, Mike McGowan claims that Mr. Sheen is "more rational and honest than anyone else on TV."
Look at his life, from his perspective. Everything he’s done has worked. He’s made an incredible amount of money, he has been famous for years, he’s always had this habit and it’s never slowed him down. If you lived his life, why wouldn’t you begin to think that you’re just that talented? How does society measure success for a man? Lots of money? He’s got it. Lots of women? He’s got it. Lots of drink/drugs? He’s all over that one in particular. Fame? Everyone knows who he is.

It is possible to overpraise Mr. Sheen because we are living through The Apology Generation. We've all grown up hearing that "everyone makes mistakes." "We're all human." You're expected to falter on occasion. Drink to excess. Party too hard. Cheat on your spouse.

But you had damn well better feel guilty about it. You had damn well better go out and apologize for it. You had damn well better suffer for it.

Think about your own life. Yes, you can (allegedly) party to excess. You can (allegedly) cheat on your wife. You can (allegedly) threaten her with physical violence. You can (allegedly) trash hotel rooms. But for you there will be consequences. Mr. Sheen doesn't apologize for his life at all. Moreover, he lashes out at those "regular guys" who judge him:
"[Regular guys] lay down with their ugly wives in front of their ugly children and just look at their loser lives and then they look at me and they say 'I can't process it!' Well, no, and you never will! Stop trying! Just sit back and enjoy the show!"

I admire some of Mr. Sheen's antics, in particular his interviews. They have been full of entertainment -- much more entertainment, to my mind, than his television work. I very much look forward to reading his book, should he ever decide to write one. He certainly has a way with words. But my enthusiasm for him is checked by a couple of things.

The first thing is, his father is Martin Sheen. The younger Sheen was born into Hollywood. Yes, he has some talent as a performer, and he has some charisma and screen presence, but every door was opened to him by virtue of his birth. Aside from perhaps attending a few acting classes, how much work did he really have to put into "winning"? I'm not criticizing him for this -- it's not his fault that he was born on third base, as they say, but I do have a lot more respect for the talented actors who struggle in Hollywood to get small parts and work their way up into starring roles.

The second thing is much more important. He is the living embodiment of what that great statesman John Edwards called "the two Americas." If you or I, as "regular guys," behaved even a little as Mr. Sheen has, we would at best be in prison. Think about what he's been accused of. Destruction of property, spousal abuse, threatening someone's life, and drug use. Up until now, there have been no consequences for this man -- or, they have been insignificant. And now, the consequences he's suffering are not from our "justice system," which is a joke of course, but from his employers. The remainder of his program's season was canceled not because he held a knife to his girlfriend's throat (did he even miss a day of work for that?), but because he insulted the producer of his show.

In the real world, there are more than 100 military style drug raids perpetrated against Americans every day. On the merest suspicion of drug use. Just a few ounces of marijuana can get your door broken down and your dog shot in the middle of the night. Or it can get you killed.

We live in an America where very few people know this. Who among you has heard of Corey Maye, for instance?

Do you remember Aiyana Stanley-Jones? She was a seven year-old girl in Detroit who was killed by police who were "serving" a search warrant at her house.

We are militarizing our police. It's people who aren't rich, aren't famous, aren't connected, who are suffering for it. People like Mr. Sheen can apparently do whatever they want, without consequence. The consequences for the rest of us are all out of proportion.

That's not Mr. Sheen's fault. He didn't create this situation -- he is taking full advantage, as he always has. But perhaps we can channel some of our admiration for Mr. Sheen, or at least our fascination with him, into a push for fairness in our "justice system," or at the very least an honest examination of bitched up it really is.

UPDATE @ 2:02 PM PST: I'm not the only one who feels this way.
His forays into 9/11 trutherism, attacks on the creators of the sitcom that made him the highest-paid high-school dropout on TV, and possession of "tiger blood and Adonis DNA" are tedious in more than 30-second bursts. More disturbingly, his ability to avoid the sorts of regular-joe penalties for violent threats and actions is, alas, nothing new in a criminal justice system that enforces different codes of behavior for Sheens and the rest of us.
That was published on Wednesday, and I missed it. I also forgot about the 9/11 Trutherism stuff, but I have mentioned it in previous posts.