Archive for October, 2010

Advertise the Past, Tomorrow!

I’m currently about four hours of writing away from completing a screenplay (Here’s looking at you, Thursday), which includes a sub-plot about a celebrity behaving badly, who then restores his image through that same media on which he misbehaved. It seemed easy until I started thinking about David O. Russell and Christian Bale and Mel Gibson and Nick Nolte and recently Junior Seau and Phil Spector way back when and Robert Blake and all-things-Lohan, -Spears, or -Hilton, and also essentially anything under the heading of Reality TV, including the whole “I’m Still Here” performance/spectacle/debacle. Oh how mundane the outrageous. How forgettable the insane. How common the self-destructive. It certainly makes writing more difficult, but I think the script is working (although I’ve started making a list of more outrageous incidents to include in future rewrites).

Three's a Crowd

And now tonight as I watched the NBA season get under way, all eyes were on the media frenzy in Boston for the Celtics’ game against the Miami Heat, who have the new “Big Three” in Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh. The press was out in double the force and the first game of the season was charged with a playoff-game-atmosphere. Which is why I was so thrilled to see the hype dwindle and end up like a bad taste in people’s mouths by the end of the first quarter when Miami had only scored nine points – a worse single-quarter performance than any from last season – you know, when they had all those losers on the team instead of the “Big Three.” It was nice to see the hype take a sharp nose-dive off a cliff, I’ll admit, and even nicer to see the Heat go on to lose the game. Nothing lasts anymore.

But one thing that’s totally fascinated me was Lebron James’ new Nike commercial:

Conceived by the advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy Entertainment or WKE (Check out their video “Synesthesia”), the spot is cold enough to give Don Draper chills.

For those not in the know, the TV spot plays on every bit of James’ persona – from his high school days to Cleveland to the set of “The Decision” (his classless televised departure from his former team that has brought him untold piles of (totally deserved) criticism about everything from his personal character to his professional legacy). Unfortunately for Nike, this all happened only a few months after they extended their endorsement of him for seven more years (the first seven cost them $93 million, the details of the new deal weren’t publicized). And which now puts Nike in the interesting position from which they created an ad that highlights some equally interesting things about celebrity and advertising.

It’s nothing new that a celebrity endorsement is more about the celebrity than the product, but this ad – which is more like a short film – is more about trying to get people to buy Lebron James as a person so that Lebron can advertise shoes again (except they still manage, don’t they, to sneak in the shoes to the commercial). Usually companies are making statements about how they don’t condone this or that thing their spokesman did – Michael Vick? This is more like a campaign than an advertisement because the ad is designed to change your mind about a person’s attitude and decision by asking what he should have done over and over and hoping you won’t simply say, “Simple, dumb-ass. Stay in Cleveland, and win in the playoffs next year.”

Don’t get me wrong, the construction of the ad is brilliant, and the concept is even more so. I’m in awe they had the balls to do this. It’s all very meta- in that way that I enjoy so much. Except for that it’s also three months too late, which makes it incredibly half-baked and counter-productive. Why bring up the infuriating past at the very moment when the hopeful future is beginning? The hype has moved on from Lebron leaving Cleveland to whether or not Miami will win games (which, unfortunately, they will) and a championship (which, thankfully, they won’t). We had all summer to be pissed off at Lebron. If this ad had come out then, it would have softened the edges of the criticism. By now people’s minds are made up, which means the ad’s chief by-product is to remind the viewer of all of those past (perceived) mistakes, thereby renewing the frustration of those most-enraged by compounding their anger with a new installment of the same sin as before – the unparalleled self-indulgence of Lebron James.


Getting Organized

Time Keeps on Slipping, Slipping, Slipping...

My least favorite part of having a mental to-do list is that I haven’t yet compiled it into a written, tangible to-do list. The penultimately worst part is knowing there are so many things to do that aren’t on my immediate to do list, so that they get relegated to the larger, long-term to do list that makes me sigh with frustration. For each time I silently wish for a full week of nothing to do but my to-do list, I have to make a mental note to wish for an additional week once all primary to-do’s are done so that I can get to the second-tier.

I have things that don’t belong to me: books borrowed from people that I’m not going to read or that I have read, including an entire comic book run (how do I transport that back to Kansas City for Christmas? Do I bite the bullet and mail it?), DVDs I haven’t watched in months and won’t watch for another few months. There are shelves sitting beside my book case that I meant to hang a year ago and another stack of smaller shelves in the closet that I bought but haven’t set up. And where there are un-hung shelves, there are pictures and knick-knacks and clutter, much of which should just be discarded anyway – yet another thing to do. There is my grand-parents’ typewriter that I want to get working again; old clothes to be taken to Goodwill; serving the community I keep wanting to do with my church; an impending oil-change; organization of financial records.

But this is the way these things go, you never get as much done as you want to. I’m notorious with myself for trying to pack usefulness into every spare second of the day and failing without fail.

But now, between now and the end of the year, I see some very achievable things to be done that almost always make my to-do lists. By the end of the month, I’m going to finish reading Freedom (almost to page 400 now), finish writing a screenplay, continue looking for a job – I have multiple leads in a few wildly different job markets – and continue daily devotionals, which include praying, reading in both the Old and New Testaments, and occasionally journaling. These things are doable.

Looking a little further ahead, which gets a little more dangerous, I’d like to complete two more short screenplays by the end of the year, totaling no more than 40 pages total, and have definitive plans to make one of three different short films in the first quarter of next year. The big goal right now, though, is, and has to be, getting a job. An industry job would be ideal and is possible, but any of a few different things will do. I’m getting antsy. My bank account is by no means dwindled, but neither can I describe it as full or robust.

Time is my problem. Organization can be a fickle friend. But things will happen and before long I’ll be longing for the ability to stay up until 3:45am writing a blog on a whim that was definitely not on today’s to-do list.


About 150 pages into Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, Freedom, one thing about the evolution of his writing style has become clear. Where his first two novels were large-canvass thrillers – tapestries of a dozen or so characters at a given time, surrounding a given social issue – his next two are each about one specific family, and the way that the full breadth of their pasts illuminates themes latent in the short term present.

Read This Book

It’s a curious way to construct a story, it’s decidedly literary, since it wouldn’t work even half as well in Television or film – anytime multiple actors play the same role, you risk doing the math wrong when trying to add up multiple individual performances to equal one complete character (though exceptions certainly exist, sure I get that). This technique works brilliantly in The Corrections, which re-reading made me see the book more clearly and enjoy more completely but also have to admit that my 19-year old self’s initial reaction that it was the best book ever written was a bit naive. So far, Freedom‘s math is mostly accurate, although I’ll wait to judge for sure until Franzen shows his work a bit.

Anyway, there are two friends, Walter and Richard, and we’ve seen them so far age from early-20s into mid-40s, and it struck me how much weight the relationship carries. These aren’t friends who see each other all the time or even talk all the time, but when they interact, the scenes feel fuller and bigger because of the range of the relationship.

This isn’t anything ground-breaking or really that new; that our earliest relationships tend to be the ones we return to, even if the people aren’t anything like they were. There is comfort in the known, there is ease in sinking into a history, in having a conversation that’s been happening for years.

It’s strange. I live near my friend Tyler, who I’ve known for 11 years now, and who, it’s become evident, will be someone I see often all my life. There are other people I’ve come to know who I get that sense with, too. Like, “We’ll be seeing each other for a while, won’t we?” These are the people, I find, I am most willing to argue with, which is a strange form of almost anti-affection, but it also shows someone that you trust them to be willing to disagree with them sometimes and still want to be friends, because there’s so much more that you do agree about.

Then there are those people who you’re friends with but you know it’s temporary. You can just see the writing on the wall, especially in a city like this: these people have other places to go and things to do. A lot of things are temporal here, and that doesn’t necessarily make them void of meaning. It’s just at some point their lives will take them away and that will be okay. It will be a loss that you’ve been expecting. Contact will minimize, you’ll lose touch, and both of you will notice it, but what’s to be done, that’s life?

But introductions are powerful. I haven’t seen my high school friend, Royce since January of 2009. I haven’t talked to him in over a year, since just after he became a father. And okay, I feel a bit guilty about that, because chances are he’s busier than I am, so I could’ve made an effort. But there is an implied scope to the friendship, though. This is two years out of a lifetime. I’ve got decades to see him. Catching up with him and his wife could be accomplished over a long weekend. With friends like these, where enough history is involved, the relationship sortof sustains itself in separation. Because we’ve been friends for a long time, already.

I think that’s one of the reasons the new film by David Fincher, “The Social Network,” is so effective. The drama of betrayal and acceptance and status feels stronger when we’re in our late teens/early 20s, because the relationships and events are formative. Change is possible at any stage of life, but it gets more difficult.

Think of the ways that pain stays with us from childhood or adolescence. Most of us still hate someone from high school, because of something that, compared to the perils of life in college, as a young adult, as a parent, et al, is mostly insignificant. The meager weight of the incident itself is overcome by the weight of how it felt when it happened, plus time; or, history.

Guilty As Charged

It’s true for other things as well, though. Think of your introductions to your favorite music or films or books (or internet videos). I know The Corrections isn’t the best book ever written (although it’s very VERY good and great), I know “American Beauty” isn’t the best film ever made, and I sure as hell know that Everclear isn’t even remotely close to the best music ever made (feel the pain), but because those represented introductions in some way to really considering the power of those forms, they all have significance to me disproportionate to their actual worth – except probably The Corrections, I’m telling you, it’s amazing.

I saw a movie the other night, “It’s Kind of a Funny Story.” It’s down-the-line mediocre, with a notably solid performance by Zach Galifianakis. But watching it, I couldn’t help but admire it for being unabashedly meant for its intended audience – high schoolers. It’s quirky and funny and structured so that every single character has a little arc and everyone learns a lesson and there is a musical number and an animated sequence and some romance. It’s everything the typical high school kid wants in a movie about high school kids. It’s not the best movie of the year or even of this past week, but it’s a fine introduction to movies for a lot of teenagers out there.

Tone Deaf

Been thinking the last few days what to write about. There’s a lot going on right now, everywhere you look. My group of friends has spent a lot of time talking about Tyler Clementi and the tragedy of that entire situation. If you think it’s simple, you haven’t been paying attention. But the question is, how to write about that, really write about it in a way that says anything useful? Then this thing with the trailer for “The Dilemma” happened and people started writing about it (like Roger Ebert’s online editor, Jim Emerson. Read his opinion here and watch him misconstrue the parabola of cultural acceptability for the comedic potential of the word “gay”). The more I read about it, the more annoyed I became and here we go. The offending trailer:

Mostly, it shakes down like this. “The Dilemma” is a painfully un-funny looking movie, in which stars Vince Vaughn and Kevin James show director Ron Howard how to collect a paycheck. There’s a bland but harmless joke about electric cars being gay. Harmless? Yes. Harmless because it isn’t tactless because it wasn’t written, directed, or performed in conjunction with or response to  (and certainly not to make light of) any of the tragedies involving homosexuals that have been occurring over the past couple months. Look at the tone of the joke’s delivery. This is not hate speech. There is such a thing as hate speech. This isn’t it. This is poor timing for a movie whose release date has probably been set for a long time. If it had been released six months ago, would any of this be happening? (True, but it’s not six months ago. It’s now. Better idea would have been to use that joke as a secondary trailer around mid-late December.)

Which in any case didn’t stop Anderson “Don’t Call Me Silver Fox” Cooper from being upset about it on “Ellen” recently, and which didn’t stop GLAAD from grossly over-reacting and contesting that “it plays on the sorts of stereotypes that give license to bullies and should be taken out.” (Also let’s pause to reflect that the outrage has centered at a) Vince Vaughn and b) Universal, who is releasing the movie. What about the writers? Has there been confirmation that this scene was improv? What about director Ron Howard? What a poorly conceived outrage.)

And all of this is extremely eyeball-roll-inducing, but how’s this for some real bullshit hypocrisy: this past Sunday on “60 Minutes,” there was a story about rapper Eminem. An awful story. A pointless story. More akin to a junior high-school newspaper profile (If you have 13-ish minutes to be bored, watch it here). “Hey Em, had a hard life?” “Sure did!” It sheds no light on his mixture of self & persona. It wades only into the kiddie pool of his lyrics’ power. And the interviewer was… Anderson Cooper. He quotes some of Eminem’s lyrics – which are more incisive and offensive than anything Vince Vaughn has done since… “Made” ? – and after Eminem essentially shrugs it off by saying he don’t hate nobody, the matter is dropped.

And strangely, surprisingly, confoundingly, Cooper seems to accept this answer as sufficient. Now, I happen to be a fan of Eminem, but if I’m choosing something potentially homophobic and damaging to get pissed off about, “The Dilemma” is tee-ball compared to Eminem’s lyrics. So why all the commotion about the movie? Why not a single question in the interview about how Eminem’s lyrics could be used to incite bullying and violence?

If you watch the segment with Cooper from Ellen’s show, the discussion is focused on the power of specific words. And to an extent, I agree. Words have meaning, meaning has power. What it doesn’t mention is the all-important discussion of tone. It is tone and context, not content, that make a thing funny or mean or hurtful (or wonderful or beautiful).

Which of course makes things more difficult, because tone can be so widely interpreted and terribly misinterpreted. But the fact that it’s tricky and gray and confusing isn’t a reason to completely transfer the issue to something more palatable and limit it to a list of words that can’t be said. This simplifies a complex issue and promotes an easy solution while the issue continues to get worse. And if word usage is such a major response trigger, then where is the outrage at Eminem? Has GLAAD just conceded that fight? His albums still sell in the millions, so it’s certainly not that he’s become culturally obsolete. At the very least, to use a loaded metaphor, Anderson Cooper seems to be focussing on a tiny speck while trees fall all around him. Hence, hypocrisy.

What I find most alarming is that GLAAD thinks it has the right to demand the joke be removed from the movie. Lookit, it’s probably not going to be a good movie anyway. Hopefully it will be overlooked upon its release in January by the hoard of big budget holiday films and Oscar contenders trickling out to more and more theaters. Regardless, though: to suggest that their organization should be able to dictate the content of a film because they dislike it is more grossly offensive than anything “The Dilemma” has brought to the table. And the reason is the tone of the statement, the self-bestowed entitlement it carries with it.

Things are tense right now. Parents, administrators and activists (and also celebrities playing activists on TV) are in a frenzy trying to figure out what to do to stop bullying – nevermind any other factors that may be at play in these situations, we’ll take our problem’s origins in the form most easy-to-package/easier-to-rage-about, thank you very much. Over-reactions are perhaps understandable right now, but that doesn’t make them right, and being compassionate isn’t the same thing as giving in to the loudest voice around. Times like these, emotion trumps logic and big hearts trump sharp minds. And as a result, is it any big surprise that things are getting ridiculous?

It Has Come to This

October 2010
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