Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

The Summer Olympics are almost upon us, which means Olympic fever the world over. Soon, people will be glued to their TV sets to watch feats of human athleticism. I’ll admit that I enjoy watching many of the events, particularly track and field, gymnastics, swimming, and judo.

Unfortunately, the Olympics represent much that is wrong with the modern sports and entertainment apparatus, and a troubling blend of nationalist jingoism, shortened attention span, and corporate exploitation. Rather than a celebration of human achievement, they are increasingly a competition of sponsors, heavily subsidized national training programs, and unpaid labor.

Why do the Olympics suck so much?

  1. The athletes get hosed: Today, the Olympics no longer cares about only admitting amateur, non-professional athletes, which is fine, I guess. Unlike professional meets, the Olympic-organized events do not offer a purse for winners (some countries, like the U.S. do), which means that unless you’re Michael Phelps, you’re not getting steady income. Meanwhile, corporate sponsors for the Olympics (not to mention the highly corrupt IOC… which is such a foregone conclusion that it doesn’t even warrant its own bullet point) make tons of money off of the Olympics ($4B for the 2001-04 quadrennium), along with the various ancillary businesses that surround the Olympics. The only people not making money on the billions in revenue are the people competing. “OK,” you say, “but isn’t it great that the athletes are motivated by more than money?” I do, indeed! But that is all the more reason to making it easier to do what they love, rather than forcing them to beg for sponsorships to continue competing for our benefit.
  2. No one cares about these sports outside of the Olympics: Outside of, say, basketball, tennis, and maybe boxing, no one cares about these sports. They are amazing feats of stretching human achievement to the limit, but we pretend to enjoy them once every four years anyways. And why? Because they are “our” team, or because we like the way they look, or because they have a great narrative. But once the lights dim, our attention flits elsewhere. It’s a great international corporate lovefest, but it’s all a short-term fling, one that vanishes as quickly as it appeared.
  3. It professes apolitical ideals, yet encourages jingoism: Yeah, so I’m a big party pooper. Yelling “USA!” at the screen is half the fun! But I’m bothered by the fact that politics is carefully managed at the Olympics in a way that encourages only a certain kind of nationalism. These days we just gleefully cheer for our colors–the ones we had no part in supporting in a game we don’t care that much about. The narrative of triumphalism in athletics as triumphalism in foreign policy leads to all sorts of unfortunate ties between athletes and the countries they represent, as if someone’s most important identity were the flag over their head rather than their personal achievements. Meanwhile, when the “wrong” type of politics makes an appearance at the Olympics, there is always hell to pay. It’s a white-washed version of the world that not only ignores, but denigrates those who dare to speak out. Making an statement of protest = bad; kow-towing to nation-states and stereotypes = good.

Watch this (somewhat melodramatic) documentary on the 1968 Olympics’ black power salute to get an idea:

And if you think this kind of thing is over, Peter Norman, the silver medalist Australian who shared the podium with John Carlos and Tommie Smith, was not even invited to the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Last year, these clowns still won a silver medal.

In short, the Olympics exploit athletes, have only fleeting connection to its “fans,” and obsessively censor any sign of political unrest or turmoil. No wonder totalitarians everywhere have always loved them.

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Despite my schadenfreude at the hilarious Perry implosion at the “debate” last night, I want to point out that Perry is being lambasted for forgetting which three agencies he wanted to destroy, but he should have been disqualified for wanting to simply eliminate three federal agencies at all!

Instead, the whole Republican field is so far to the right that Perry’s position to eliminate federal agencies was downright moderate.

Rather than knocking Perry (or Cain) out for his awful policies and crazy ideas, it looks like the Republicans will probably just oust him for being a boob.

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Sweet Jesus, what the hell is going on?

No, that’s not from Toby Keith’s porn stash. That’s Miss USA’s ridiculous “native” costume. As NPR’s Linda Holmes puts it:

“It’s like Washington crossing the Delaware to go to Hooters.”

I’m sure there’s plenty of commentary to be mined here (no there’s not), but I will say that I think this goes to prove that Donald Trump can’t put his name on anything without class also being similarly attached.

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I’ve long thought that the ability of spoilers to ruin movies and novels is overstated. Don’t get me wrong, someone who watches The Sixth Sense for the first time deserves the surprise that that Bruce Willis was dead, so you shouldn’t be an ass about it and tell anyone about to watch Citizen Kane for the first time that Rosebud was his sled. But I tend to like intentional spoilers. Shakespeare wrote this in the prologue of Romeo and Juliet:

From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love,
And the continuance of their parents’ rage,
Which, but their children’s end, nought could remove,
Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage;
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.

Likewise, in the very first episode of How I met Your Mother, we learn that Ted does not marry Robin. Nevertheless, the whole first season is dedicated to his pursuit of her, and the entire second season is about their relationship, which ends in the season 2 finale. Does knowing that Romeo and Juliet die, or that Robin and Ted don’t end up together, ruin these experiences? I say that the advanced knowledge makes them better. It’s that much more agonizing and tragic when you see the multiple opportunities that could have prevented R&J’s demise. Likewise, there is a certain poignancy to watching the early stages of a doomed relationship.

That’s just my view of course, and there’s a difference between stories in which the author intended for you to learn the ending first vs. those in which they did not. However, now SCIENCE comes along to back me up. In today’s issue of Science that just posted, I see the following summary of an article published in Psychological Science:

Story spoilers “ruin” the ending of a tale and leave people with a bad taste in their mouth—right? Wrong, say psychologist Nicholas Christenfeld and colleagues at the University of California, San Diego. The team assessed how readers responded to having the ending spoiled for a variety of short stories in three genres of literature, including mysteries, ironic-twist tales (such as Anton Chekhov’s “The Bet” and Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”), and literary classics (such as Stephen Crane’s “A Dark-Brown Dog”).

The team asked more than 800 test subjects to read three different tales within a genre—each with a different “spoiler” condition. For one piece, the readers learned the ending of the story right at the beginning; in a second, the spoiler was threaded into the tale; and in the last, the reader remained unspoiled throughout. After each reading, subjects were asked to rate their enjoyment of the story on a scale of 1 to 10.

To the researchers’ surprise, spoilers didn’t lessen readers’ enjoyment, but significantly increased it, they report in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science. “Lots of people find this counterintuitive,” Christenfeld says, but “one’s sense that the critical thing about reading is getting to the end and discovering what happens is wrong.”

The results may help explain why many people still enjoy books, movies, and shows the second or third time around. And the results may also call into question how much people like surprises: Engagement champagne and birthday cake might taste even sweeter if they were spoiled.

It’s very interesting to me that they deliberately picked stories in which the ending is supposed to be a surprise, and yet those who heard the spoiler first reported more enjoyment.

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I recently proposed to a couple of friends that critically adored, unwatched Friday Night Lights (first 4 seasons now available on Netflix!) is superior to critically adored, unwatched The Wire. It was a provocation to be sure, and although TV critics mostly love FNL, The Wire reigns supreme in most minds with its coherent vision, scope, and depth. The Wire grew as a strange, beautiful anomaly, almost existing outside the world of TV entirely — a revolution in episode format.

In this light, Friday Night Lights is just so darn quaint. It doesn’t break any ground plot-wise; there are no political struggles to chart or social issues to pioneer. There’s no attempt to depict the world as “real”; the show breezes by plausibility, entirely content with television reality. Where The Wire sprawled its cast over a huge ensemble without any “main characters,” FNL fixes itself on a coach’s family and a football team.

And yet, FNL and The Wire both study the stark contrasts in the way they view America. FNL is rural; The Wire is urban. FNL is all about the prospect of moving up to middle class success; The Wire is about how success is almost always impossible from the perspective of poverty. FNL revels in its genre tropes — the cheerleader torn between her boyfriend and the “bad boy,” the coach’s daughter and the quarterback, the last-minute play that saves the day; The Wire refuses almost all genre trappings of the police/crime procedural — the police don’t solve the cases; the good guys don’t win; and everything is painted in shades of maddening gray.

These differences, from the cosmetic to the fundamental, create two diametrically opposed worlds. At their cores, these two shows believe in love and community in different ways, though they construct their worlds in similarly authentic ways (both shows filmed heavily on location — The Wire in Baltimore, and FNL outside Austin, TX). For The Wire, the physical place of Bulletmore feeds its own malignancy, spreading its tendrils into its newest residents and binding them closer to its poisons. Love may help mend wounds, but it is always secondary to the dynamics of power (see Beadie and McNulty). For FNL, Dillon’s strength is its community, a family built around the super-family of the Taylors that can hold together the most difficult residents. Love is an afterthought for The Wire, but it builds the essential foundation for FNL. Love here is not a means to an end or a distraction for side plots; it is the main attraction. If anything, the football almost distracts from the characters we care about.


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(NSFW for language)

Sure, there’s a long Internet history of cartoon characters synced with rap songs, but this is among the best.

Sorry for the preponderance of video posts lately. We’ll get back to serious things soon enough.

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Iron Chef America is clearly inferior to its Japanese predecessor. But there’s something I love about the American chairman yelling out “ARCTIC CHAR!”

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