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Tuesday, Feb 23, 2010

So, it has been over a week since my last contribution to this blog, and I am going to put blame where blame is due – the Olympics.  I have been obsessing majorly over the Olympics throughout the past ten days, and, as they wind down here throughout the week, I want to record the duality of my feelings toward them (and, particularly, NBC’s coverage of them). Yesterday, I looked at the good. Today, the bad…


Like a gassy, bloated cow, NBC’s coverage of the Olympics continues to trudge forward toward its predictable end. Complemented by the talking puppets of the Today Show, NBC’s exhaustive (and exhausting, in most cases) coverage of various events spans many, many hours on many, many channels.


The biggest problem with the coverage is how thoroughly sanitized it is. The majority of the events are shown many hours after they occur, making the entire primetime broadcast a really compelling viewing experience… FOR MY GRANDMA!  I mean, apart from the rare event taking place late into the evening, isn’t anyone who really cares about Lindsey Vonn’s gold medal pursuit going to look on the million websites where this information is readily available in real-time?


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Monday, Feb 22, 2010
Most people know 24 as a taut thrill ride in real time. But there is a seamier side of the show that caters to the unfulfilled fantasy lives of our nation’s foreign policy and national security policymakers.

It’s a foreign policy nightmare. A country with a radical Islamic government that hates the U.S. is developing a nuclear weapons capability. Nukes and terrorists are pretty scary on their own; combine the two and it’s time to hide in the bunker. If only our enemies would talk to us. We could work it out.


But wait. What’s that you say?  An American President is sitting down right now with the leader of this Islamic Republic? They’re not only talking, but they’re within striking distance of an agreement to end the rogue weapons program. All they need is to agree on the composition of an international inspection regime. Furious international diplomacy ensues – and an accord is reached. There will be peace in the Middle East.


Clearly, this is the crowning achievement of the Obama Administration. The culmination of its stated policy of engagement with our enemies. Oh, wait. It’s not the Obama Administration talking to Iran. It’s the Taylor Administration talking to the Islamic Republic of Kamistan – no, you won’t find it on a map – in the first episode of this season of 24. In the real world, Iran is still charging ahead with its nuclear program and thumbing its nose at any proposed compromise.


Tagged as: 24
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Monday, Feb 22, 2010

So, it has been over a week since my last contribution to this blog, and I am going to put blame where blame is due—the Olympics. I have been obsessing majorly over the Olympics throughout the past ten days, and, as they wind down here throughout the week, I want to record the duality of my feelings toward them (and, particularly, NBC’s coverage of them). Today, the good…


The Olympics are thoroughly compelling, both as emotional and physical drama. From the little-seen hockey games that must be sought out on CNBC to the ratings-grabbing figure skating competitions, from the slow-moving cross country skiing to the adrenaline-rush of short-track speed skating, the Olympics are engaging, appointment television. The commentators for the individual events are complemented by the recorded pieces giving more detailed background about particular athletes, and they combine to give real substance to the experience of watching an event.


Tagged as: olympics, nbc
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Thursday, Feb 18, 2010
The Top 24 was just a Bing away for the last two weeks, but that didn’t stop American Idol from dragging out the official unveiling over two nights and three hours. In the end, though, it should be a fun competition with the remaining hopefuls.

A few days ago, Ryan Seacrest tweeted that he had just watched the final cut of tonight’s episode and described it as “gut wrenching” and the “most dramatic [he’d] ever seen”. Perhaps Ryno was trying to draw folks away from the Olympics—or at least relegate DVR space to them—in favor of watching the judges whittle the 70-odd contestants down to the highly-anticipated (but previously leaked) Top 24. Yes, the Dirty Double-Dozen was just a Bing away for the last two weeks, but that didn’t stop American Idol from dragging out the official unveiling over an excruciatingly boring three hours.


So with Lindsey Vonn and Shaun White winning gold on another network, Idol stretched across two nights what could have been effectively accomplished in 15 minutes; instead, they made 46 contestants walk to the stage one at a time so the judges could act out a tired fake-out (“You know there were a lot of talented singers this year, and we only had room for 24…”) before letting them through, often delivered with Simon’s little wink, the subtlest in all of show business. The only entertaining twist on this charade was Ellen’s, who lampooned the whole thing by talking at length about how cruel it was to keep contestants’ fates a mystery by talking at length.


Tagged as: american idol, top 24
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Friday, Feb 12, 2010

At the outset, I admit that I used the shady rhetorical trick of finding incidental common threads and declaring them definitional. On the other hand, it’s the perfect huckster sleight of hand with which to skewer Runway‘s tiresome embedded advertising. When I spent some wonderful time in unemployment earlier this year, I developed something bordering on an addiction to right-wing radio (the guiltiest of guilty pleasures for an unrepentant liberal). While I loved to sit and argue by myself, I repeatedly groaned whenever the host would melt into tent revival testimonial for sponsors like the website that acts as your hard drive back up. Rush Limbaugh could be in mid-diatribe when suddenly he would segue into a seemingly personal anecdote that would turn into cheap shilling for gold, online meeting software or inhalable heavy metals. By ladling the advertising into the script, the players do far more then give advertisers a space to marketing themselves; they lend the brands their accrued authority and credibility. They advocate for these corporations rather than merely allowing advertising to fund the entertainment.


In an age where everyone purports to be a media critic and bias sleuth, it’s an awkwardly retro mode, an aesthetic choice that makes both Project Runway and talk radio gaudy. With the AM cognoscenti this tackiness amounts to a badge of authenticity, but on Runway, our supposed glimpse into the world of superior taste, it forces the show into constant, embarrassing interruption. This throwback in style and attitude where the “stars” of programs hold up cereal boxes and smoke Pall Malls on stallions is not the kind of homage that, in the demolition phrasing of the show, one could call “fashion forward”.


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