Archive for April, 2014

On banning stuff

April 14, 2014

People do things that arguably aren’t perfectly healthy. 
Gambling is just one stock example.
Before you say, “I’m thinking of banning gambling this year” — STOP!
  Gambling, like so many other things, is an issue to be resolved by individuals and families directly affected by it. But personal issues are almost an alien concept these days, and it scares people. 
Banning is not resolving a specific instance by those directly involved in it. It is imposing laws upon others — many who would not wish to resolve the conflict in such a way. There is a simple solution here: Don’t gamble, and discourage others from gambling.
Generally speaking, I think the premise of banning something is in bad taste.
That’s one way to describe these circumstances. 
Or one can see it more as nipping at  another’s heels, so one person can feel morally superior; “I don’t engage in this or that questionable behavior, so I must be superior and make all those poor fools more like me!”
And attempts to legislate undesirable behavior often end up with weird, convoluted arguments in their defense.
Eventually, any pro-choicer somehow becomes a conspirator for the white devil movement. Or all “liberals” are out to convert heterosexual, white, Christian males to homosexuality.  Or all Batman wanted was to bang Vicki Vale.
A long time ago I decided to mind my own business, for the most part, and I haven’t veered too far from that since. 

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Rehashes giving me rashes

April 14, 2014

All television programming is subject to change.
So is music.
So is anything else in culture.
Creativity is not a static operation,
where some intended decency must be present at all times.
Still, why did Spike Lee have to remake the South Korean film “Oldboy”?  I’m not a bitter opponent of remakes, but there is nothing any film maker could have done to make that movie better, as far as I’m concerned.  I may even watch the remake some day, but right now it’s just too much.   

6 Ways The Entertainment Industry Harms Comedy

April 14, 2014

[For purposes of full disclosure, this is an article I originally attempted to pitch to Cracked.com.  This isn’t usually a humor blog, but I am capable of being at least somewhat funny.  I’m a bit biased, but I don’t think it’s such a bad article (and their article criteria is a little strange, in my view).  So here is the rejected article in all its glory.  Enjoy!] 

1.    Image Is Everything

Most people hate certain Hollywood celebrities, but pay attention to them anyway.  It’s like a collective scab we need to pick at and let bleed every so often, just for the hell of it.  Or is it because we’re inundated with their images, and focus on them accordingly? 
On TV and in tabloids, flashy Hollywood premieres, celebrity interviews and scandals abound to the point of obsession, and most of it is superficial nonsense. 
In Hollywood, and in the entertainment industry generally, there’s an expectation that things be glitzy and glamorous (with some obvious exceptions like Gary Busey).  Yet, paradoxically, the media is fascinated with celebrities falling short and appearing flawed — human, as it were.  All too often these perceived failings become the obsessive topics of mainstream comedy — not merely topics, but obsessive topics.  So-and-so is one drugs, engaging in slutty behavior, said something controversial or weird, etc.
 
 When celebrity failings are constantly brought up on every late night talk show, and on CNN, MSNBC and FOX News, one is occasionally tempted to locate the nearest Kevorkian.  Comedians talk about celebrity “meltdowns,” but a lot of those same fools have their own meltdowns and shortcomings, which also make the news cycle, and are regarded as somehow interesting. 
As a recent example, consider Piers Morgan’s little live TV spat with comedienne Chelsea Handler, in which she called him a “terrible interviewer.”  It was a minor skirmish, certainly, but such words will take a significance far greater than merited.  Maybe Piers Morgan is an unlikable British buttock who believes he’s a super hero for questioning American gun laws, but why should we care about it in our Facebook “trending” news feed?
He’s flawed to some.  We’re all flawed in some way.  Let’s move on.  Celebrity spats get boring.
Mountains out of molehills:       
http://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/2014/03/13/chelsea-handler-piers-morgan-terrible-interviewer-on-cnn-show/
     
2.  Too Many Usual Suspects

This is easily forgotten, but there are billions of funny people in existence.  Even people who aren’t always funny can be hilarious sometimes.  The internet has made this phenomenon even more noticeable.  For some, a stupid, relatively anonymous cat video ranks as the funniest thing of all time.  And why not?  Funny people and funny things are basically a dime a dozen.  Unfortunately, you wouldn’t know that from watching most TV.  Often, spliced in between commercials, we have these shows called “comedies,” and in these comedies we have many familiar faces and names appearing in a wide assortment of places, until their very existence is etched into our brains.  Some of these people are funny indeed, but what if we see them so regularly we begin to dislike them a little?  It’s reasonable to assume that’s possible.  Songs we like get tiring if we hear them constantly, don’t they?  Now imagine that song being in person form, and looking like Ben Stiller — a man who, at one point, seemed to appear in every other new comedic film.  Many people believe Ben Stiller is funny, but how often has the proverbial Ben Stiller received a role that others could have done?  How often has he received public attention that others could have received?  Ben Stiller has become almost an entity now, whose very presence overwhelms whatever it is near.  Meanwhile, some really funny stuff goes totally unnoticed, as Big Ears makes yet another faux pas for Robert De Niro.         
     No one’s saying enterprising comedians can’t enjoy steady work and success.
For example, back in 2005, it was written that “CRACKED’s new creative, editorial and business team includes experienced individuals from the publishing world – from companies such as Universal Studios, Dennis Publishing, American Media, Marvel Entertainment, Wenner
Media and National Lampoon.”
http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/cracked-magazine-re-launches-56173522.html
It’s all good in the hood there (right?).  But there’s a difference between steady, successful work and the feel of an all-consuming media presence.

3.  Comedy Is Often Taken Too Seriously

As CRACKED magazine notes, CRACKED Magazine is “one of America’s oldest and most well-known humor magazines.”
http://www.cracked.com/article_15430_investor-group-acquires-cracked-magazine.html
What makes it so?  It is often funny, plain and simple.  It may not always be funny to everyone, but it’s consistently able to get the job done.  But that’s the question:  Is comedy just a job?  If so, what happens if a comedian, or any comedic gesture or statement, isn’t considered funny?  This question easily plagues anyone who tries to be funny, because no one wants to fail.  Failure leads to disgrace.  At the same time, this makes comedy more absurd, and not simply in the positive sense of absurdism.  Thinking about comedy as a business cheapens it, as business cheapens everything else.  Look at what happened to Michael Richards.  Was anything about that situation normal or funny?  It looked like someone in a high stress environment failing to make some folks laugh, getting heckled as a result, and lashing out in a highly offensive manner, thereby creating a media uproar and damaging his career.  Real fucking hilarious.  The possibility of that happening is more sad than it is funny.  Why could such a thing happen?  There are many reasons, but an obvious factor is that a paying customer might be disappointed, criticize the service rendered, and the stressed out server (in this case, comedian) completely loses his shit.  The lesson:  Don’t treat comedy merely as a business, and don’t lose your shit.  If you lose your shit in one sense you can lose your shit in another, and never quite get it back again.  

       
4.  Corporate Monopolist Censorship 

When Disney, Capital Cities and ABC merged, we may have learned this about
the CC/ABC Multimedia Group: 
    “The Multimedia Group develops and manages business opportunities
in new and emerging media technologies.  These include the
interactive television, pay-per-view, and video-on-demand areas;
video cassette and disc-based media; on-line services;
location-based entertainment; and HDTV and digital television.”
(http://www.thefreelibrary.com/%2FFIRST+AND+FINAL+ADD+–+DISNEY,+CAPITAL+CITIES%2FABC+AGREE+TO+MERGE%2F-a017368916)
That was quite a while back.  And what has happened since then?  Disney just kept growing, and bragging about everything it acquired, like the proud behemoth it is.  Unfortunately, Disney is typically a G rated or PG rated entity, which usually makes for shittier comedy.  Sure enough, Bill Maher was considered too edgy for ABC/Disney, who cancelled his show Politically Incorrect.  Why? 
After 9-11, he disagreed with Bush’s calling the terrorists cowards, saying: “We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That’s cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, not cowardly.”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rNMhNJDRnhU
In other words, he was cancelled for living up to the title of his show.
How cool is that?  Mickey Mouse is apparently a giant wuss.
 
Then there’s Gilbert Gottfried, who lost his gig voicing a corporate duck. 
Sure, one can still find edgy comedy in the corporate world.  However, as suggested before, commercialism tends to make it less edgy, and more conformist.  Perhaps a better example is the censored music video for “Gay Bar” by the often humorous band Electric Six, as shown on MTV. 
The offending lyrics?
 “Let’s start a war, start a nuclear war,
 At the gay bar, gay bar, gay bar.”
The words “War” and “nuclear war” were replaced by whip cracks.  
Why?  The song made its air debut at the start of the Iraq War.
(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bRWe_0sD33Y)
As one Youtube commenter notes:  “They censored ‘nuclear war’? I thought it was ‘suck a cock’ for years. They made it sound far worse…”  Indeed they did. 

5.   Excess Pressure For Comedians to be Edgy

Now we’re getting into the opposite problem, which is a little more difficult to tackle.  Every comedian is expected to be edgy; to mock, critique, offend, and criticize culture.  It sells, and gets respect from other comedians.  But sometimes it actually seems “tiresome, too-eager-to-offend,” as Variety said of Daniel Tosh’s show “Brickleberry.”  The problem is this:  Someone might joke about, say, eating out a raccoon, but where do they go from there?  Must every other joke involve something gross or offensive, or just some of them?  Asking this makes one sound like a prude, but it is a valid question.  To what extent can people go the Cosby route, but keep that raccoon on standby?  There is, of course, no real answer, but it’s an interesting question. 

  
6.  Comedy Central Needs A Wider View of Comedy

Comedy Central can be great.  As an example, the Daily Show is often considered a leading source for news (a fact Jon Stewart often laments).  Still, one thing is commonly missing from their lineup:  Old school and offbeat comedy.  Where in the hell is Redd Fox?  Bill Hicks?  For movies, how about some interesting choices like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, rather than seeing Clark Griswald or Daniel Tosh half the time?  The Marx Brothers made some truly hilarious comedy, yet their existence is virtually unknown to Comedy central viewers.  You would think a place where comedy is central would take more interest in the history of comedy, right?  Some people may find Charlie Chaplin funnier than Sinbad, if they were able to compare and contrast.